Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Hard Parts are Not What You Expect them To Be

 

You will find that being a startup entrepreneur has its easy parts that are fun and its hard parts, but they aren’t always what you expect. They also aren’t what are top of mind on any given weekday morning.

Easy parts:

  • Talking to a customer about the product you are so passionate about: also known as selling!
  • Following the plan for the next step, checking the box of a big step (First 10 customers, etc)
  • Raising money when you’ve done everything right and you have the confidence that you don’t need the money to survive. Closing the deal, checking the bank account balance, getting serious.
  • Making an offer to the right team member and coming to agreement.
  • Joining the organizations like EO that will change your trajectory.

Hard parts:

  • Starting.
  • Exercising every day or worst case every other day.
  • Eating right.
  • Sleeping right.
  • Managing your calendar to meet 3-5 new people each week and build deeper relationships.
  • Being intentional about your family and personal relationships through the intensity of a startup phase.
  • Overcoming fear.
  • Extracting value of mentor advice even if it conflicts with your plans.

 

Seek Optionality – Creating Options for Wannapreneuers

 

One characteristic of antifragile is optionality.  When you have optionality, your downside is limited but your upside is unlimited. There’s a lesson here for the wannapreneurs out there.

Young entrepreneurs usually learn this lesson through your relationship with cold calling. You learned early that for your business to go anywhere, you won’t avoid the requirement of some cold calls. It is unavoidable. You may be terrified of cold calling, just like most [normal] people. But a mentor helped me see the light with this: “Just define the worst that can happen from each call.   You get rejected? You upset someone?  Now imagine that actually happens– how bad is it really?

This put things into perspective. You may never enjoy cold calling, but at least you can approach it with no fear and confidence that it’s like that hard workout that has to happen.

This question is one way the risk-averse, mortgage-bearing, family guys can evaluate jumping full time into their startup.

What’s the worst that could happen? Define it. Talk about it. Deal with it. 

Let’s assume you don’t take any debt and you operate the business solely through equity financing and bootstrapping. This means you don’t put your house at risk to open a line of credit or anything silly like that.  How much savings do you have? How much runway? 6-months? 12-months? 2 years?    Does your spouse work? Can you live off a single income? If so, how long? Then double that length of time… is it still do-able? What’s the worst that happens (again, not taking on additional debt here). How long could you go before you had to get another j-o-b?

What are the other bad things that could happen… you are climbing the corporate ladder, right? So you jump off to do a startup? Do you really think you lose your place in line? Do you think that this job is the only one you could get?     Not to mention, how much more valuable you will be on a corporate org chart after 2-years out doing your own thing, failing and not making a penny.   Is that really so bad?

What other awful things keep you from doing this?  Are you worried your spouse is going to leave you? Your kids will disown you? You might have to cancel that lease on the Benz and drive a Honda for a while? You will have to pay out of pocket for health insurance? Ok, well some of these would be pretty bad– I’ll let you decide which– and if there is a risk, then yeah, that’s pretty bad. But be realistic about the worst, deal with it, and work it into your plan. Be smart and be fearless.

Acknowledge the risks (the downside), but don’t lose sight of the upside. The unlimited upside.  Then make a decision, make a plan, and be content.

 

 

Internalizing What You Read – My Top Four

 

Successful entrepreneurs generally love reading. Reading is a great way to force ourselves into some “deep work” (I love the blog by Cal Newport on this topic).   We move so fast, juggle so many topics, and are constantly shifting gears that putting our heads down into a single topic for a week or several months and plowing through a book is rewarding.   Most of us use books as idea synthesis. We learn and apply.  We are Macgyver for ideas. We put them together and find new ways to create.

One downside of all this reading though is that we move from one book to the next and rarely internalize the teaching enough to unlock the value that lies beneath the surface of the first read.

My friend Boaz helped me realize this by suggesting that everyone read two of his top books at least five to ten times in repeat over 1-2 years. He suggests reading 10 pages in one of these two books every day of the week.   I followed Boaz’s suggestion as much as I can and have found it to be a totally different experience. This method works wonders for your psyche if you select the right books.

As far as my own deep work goes, my top four books are the ones that I aim to internalize. I’ve listed them on my books page and encourage entrepreneurs looking to take it to the next level to spend some quality time with these books.   This is my suggested curriculum for “Life 101.”

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  Jonathan Livingston Seagull  – Richard Bach
  Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
  How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

 

Considering a New Core Value: Simplify. Always.

 

zen-widescreen-212876My Seven Core Values are hugely important to me. Believe it or not, I reference them often in my daily life. It’s a great way to double-check gut feelings on things and even medium-size decisions.  One of the most valuable parts of my EO Forum is that we regularly do exercises on values and this past weekend we had a retreat where we did just that.     We revisited the exercise that I described here, and I discovered that I may have a new core value, or perhaps a replacement to a previous one.

Perhaps this is age (I’m not sure what else it could be, certainly not wisdom), but I’m finding that an area of my life that I want to focus harder on is this proposed core value:

Simplify. Always.

The value I’m considering replacing is “Intensity in Everything.”  I’m learning that intensity is my natural modus operandi.  I am an intense person and I am physically unable to do anything half-way.   Just as most entrepreneurs are, I’m an “all in, all the way, all the time” guy.

Realizing that intensity is a natural trait of entrepreneurs, how much more effective could we be if simplification became the focus?   What if we could make all decisions easy decisions?     What if we could slow down enough to become wise enough to cause the rest of the world to move in slow motion around us?

Valuing intensity is great, but how much more can we accomplish if we allow our intensity to fuel our focus on constant simplification?  Could simple living, simple thinking, and simple focus be a competitive advantage for you as an entrepreneur?

I don’t take a change to my stuff lightly, but I’m thinking hard about how simplification fits into my entrepreneurial life and perhaps it could help you out as well.

 

It Takes One Year to Develop Personal Capital in a New Network

 

A common topic in community discussions around the startup ecosystem is “What are the best types of businesses to start in Atlanta?” The question is intended to bring up topics like the clusters of FinTech, healthIT, Sensors, SaaS / Marketing Automation etc…

This is a top-down approach that may work for economic development people, but entrepreneurs should be thinking bottom up. The top-down answer always includes stats about Atlanta and the amazing clusters happening here, but the bottom-up answer is much more simple: The best kind of business to start is where the entrepreneur’s personal network is the strongest.

So the natural next question usually goes like this: I know my idea is huge and will change the world, but I don’t have a network in this arena, at all… what do I do?

If you are intentional about it, you can build strong networks from nothing. I believe it takes twelve months of intense networking. Attend events. Build deep relationships and also cast a wide net. Ask for introductions. Pay attention to the super-connectors and be around them. Offer to help them. Volunteer at industry programs. Speak on what you know whenever offered the mic. After that full year, you should have the contacts necessary to launch something with plenty of resources.

Two Things that Get Me

 

For all the writing and talking I do about being intentional and antifragile, there are still two things that can take me out and make me feel fragile and unprepared.   Someone else mentioned these same two things to me recently so I’ve been giving them some thought.      For me, all the work on a solid morning routine, great workout plan, intentional vacations, intense all-in work mode, disciplined writing and reading… it’s all great until it falls apart. And the two things that get me are: (1) business travel and (2) getting sick.

On the travel front, I used to travel all the time and had some decent routines and rhythm around it. But now I try to keep it to one overnight trip per month or less– and that’s not enough to have “habits.”  (Both good and bad, right?) But even when I know it’s coming, I come back from even short trips and things start to lose rhythm. Workouts are missed, the blog is completely neglected, I’m tired, the inbox zero starts to slip away… and things just kind of get disorganized until after sometimes a week or two before I can catch back up and get ahead of life.

On the getting sick front, I’m a terrible patient. I have no tolerance for pain or feeling miserable. Even the slightest cold just completely wipes me out. When I’m wiped out, it means I lay in bed and don’t give a flying s*** about anything like inbox zero or blog posts. Yes, it’s kind of amusing how pathetic I can be.

I don’t have the answers to these two boogars, but I’m hoping by acknowledging it and writing about it, I can start to think about routines and antifragile habits that can be more resilient against the inevitable travel and whatever plague the children bring home from school next.

 

 

 

A Common Mistake in Evaluating Success

 

Most of the uber-successful entrepreneurs you will encounter will have some distinctively unique personality traits.   They usually stand out and have extremes in at least one way, but often multiple.  Here are some examples of traits that I’ve observed and discussed:

  • Crazy outgoing … bold, brash, life of the party, always making people laugh…
  • Super chill … never get’s stressed, anxious, or worried…
  • Amazing listener … always asking great questions, able to make the conversation more about you than them…
  • Freakishly creative … able to think of a new idea on the fly any minute of the day…
  • Constantly competitive … #winning is their mantra, everything is a competition…

I enjoy speaking with young and first time entrepreneurs about these rockstars. It’s fun to analyze them and try to figure out how they were able to make it to the top level; these types of character traits always come up in the conversation.   But here’s a common mistake in those conversations that shows naivety on the part of anyone looking to learn from rockstars. It’s this comment:

Well yeah, if I had a gazillion dollars in the bank, I would be [fill in the blank from above] also…

#Wrong!

An example of another "wrong answer" ....

An example of another “wrong answer” ….

#No!    If you think these traits are created because of success, think again. These people have the same traits before they made it big and before you knew about them. Very likely it is these traits that helped them get there.   So the next time you notice that a rockstar is always [calm and collected,] don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s because she has less stress because of her bank account. Assume that it was being calm and collected (or competitive, or a good listener, or creative, etc..) all the way, and that’s what enabled the energy to fill up the bank account.

Bottom line: be who you are, and go all out in doing so.