Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Thoughts on Community Conversations in Atlanta – How they Happen

 

nucleus_actinLast week when a few of us did the How I Work posts, Allen Nance made the comment that it makes him laugh that us in the entrepreneurial tech community are “blogging at each other.” All in good fun, and yes, I’m giggle at how cute we are, but I’ve also been stewing on this for a while and have some thoughts.

The Atlanta Startup Community, like every other community/ecosystem has layers of participants. There is the inner circle leaders and outspoken proponents. Then there are the participants who love the community but aren’t leaders, then there are varying fringe layers of participation. Some layers include folks who drift in and out of the community and some are there always but silent.

For a community to thrive, the inner circle needs to be tight. It needs to be active and it needs to be dense.  Similar to an atom structure: the nucleus determines a lot of what happens around it.

I’m a daily reader of Fred Wilson’s blog at AVC.com.  The most impressive thing about AVC is the community of commenters.  I have no idea what the average number of comments is, but I suspect it’s at least 50-100 per post.  The site is really more of a community site than a blog, acting like a Forum, with Fred’s post teeing up the topic of conversation for the day. The names become familiar and it really does feel like an online community.

I love our Atlanta community of bloggers. I love that conversations happen via blogs.  We don’t have a single site like AVC where all these conversations are happen (Hint, hint for some great journalistic entrepreneur out there…), but the blogging community is healthy and vibrant and that’s just what we need.

I also love these things about it, and you should to:

- It’s completely open. Anyone can start writing, commenting, and participating.

- There are tons of resources to make a difference if you step and decide to become a leader.

- If you have an opinion and are willing to share, it’s easy to stand out. The vast majority of people keep their opinions to themselves and don’t have the courage to step up and write publicly.

- We have a friendly community.  Even our disagreements with Urvaksh are handled with Southern courtesy.

2013 was a great year for Startups in Atlanta. I have a feeling though, that it will look tiny compared to the startup successes we will see in 2014-2018. Many new things were set in motion this year… now is the time to get involved.

 

You Already Have the Advantage

 
confident-pilotConfidence. That’s the biggest advantage you can give yourself in life. Yes, you can give it to yourself. Confidence is a decision. You have to decide to be confident.  When you are confident, you have the advantage over the other guy.

When you are confident:

Focus on the wins.   Live them up. Celebrate victories. Frame them and hang them on the wall. Talk about them often. Get pumped up.

Ignore the losses. Treat a loss like a coroner treats a cadaver. Get what you need out of it and move on. Do not let it stay with you.

Make active decisions. Stay in motion. Don’t sit still. Constantly evaluate where you are and where you are going.   Confidence must be fed with motion. Stagnation doesn’t help confidence.

Be aware of your surroundings.   Confidence needs information. You need to know what’s trying to kill you so that you can fire the first shot and take it down.

Never forget the fundamentals.   Focusing on fundamentals more than the other guy will make you win. Stay healthy. Read. Write. Learn. Balance your family. Be intentional.

Keeping your confidence alive, fresh, and healthy is just the advantage you need as you look to 2014.   Beware of the thin line where confidence spills over to arrogance.  Try hard not to cross that line, but be sure you go right up to the edge.

3 Jobs I Wish I Did in High School

 

Private JetLooking back at my high school and college days, I can’t help but wonder if there are things I could have done to accelerated the learning that happened in my 20’s.   I notice that some kids coming out of college are super impressive and “get it” and others are more in line with expectations.

Thinking about my own kids, I focus on what can I encourage them to do that could trigger the acceleration of some worldly wisdom. The obvious answer is entrepreneurship. I try hard to teach them that they don’t have to work for someone else to make money… that to make money, you just have to decide that you want money. Then figure out how to get it.

But there is still so much value in working for other people, especially when you’re young.   Here are some jobs that I think if I had had them on the list, they would have been valuable for me.

A Gopher / Personal Assistant to someone successful.  I’ve know several entrepreneurs who point to a single person they worked for in this capacity.  Someone who takes you under their wing and treats you with tons of respect and helps you because they see that you work hard for them.

Intern at a Wealth Management Office. If only I had learned 15 years earlier the value of a connected and powerful network for my own trajectory. It’s hard to find a better place to build this network than the place where they go to manage their money.

General Aviation / Private Jet ramper. So maybe there is one other place where you could build this network… at the airport, helping the movers and shakers fuel their jets, warm their coffee, ice their in-flight champagne.

Lots of people will point out the golf course as another place where young people can build this network. I actually did work at a golf course in high school, and I agree.  The trick is getting in the right job where you can build a network.  Caddies are fantastic.   Cart guys like myself usually have such a minimal interaction with the golfers that it’s hard to build any meaningful relationships.

The bottom line is the importance of learning the value of a personal network. I didn’t appreciate it soon enough and how incredible life can be if you know the right people in the right places with the right kind of relationships.

 

This is How I Work

 

Jeff Hilimire kicked off a blogger-equivalent of a chain letter, with this How I Work post.   David Cummings took it next and handed it to me.   Not wanting 7 years of bad luck on my family or any such problems, I will carry on.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Doesn’t have to be tech.
I pretty much live in Chrome on my Mac. Tabs that stay open pretty much all the time: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Pandora, Salesforce.com.   Other than Chrome, Evernote is usually open.

(Bonus) What apps are on your phone home screen right now?
Calendar, Camera, Google Maps, Nike Running, Pandora, Evernote, Twitter, Flipboard, RadStat (to control my thermostats at home), Google Hangouts, Audible, Philips Hue (to control the lights at home), Loom (for backing up and managing photos and videos on the phone)

What’s your workspace like?
I am computerless, in that I don’t have a single “main” computer any more. Dropbox keeps the magic happening for me. At the office, I’m rarely sitting at my desk and hop between huddle rooms and conference rooms most of the day.  When I do sit at the desk, I have a Macbook Pro and Thunderbolt display.  At home, I have a nice quiet cave in the basement with just my Macbook Air and a large HP monitor.  Side note:  For the last 12 months, I’ve used the Apple magic trackpad at the office and a Logitech mouse at home… I’ve just decided I’m going back to the mouse. It’s just so comfortable.

What’s your best time-saving trick?
Inbox Zero.  I archive e-mails like a mad man.  For responses, if it’s a short one, I try to respond immediately from my iPhone. For longer, when I need to type on a keyboard, I try to respond within 24 hours.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I use my Inbox as my To-do list. Inbox Zero is more of a mindset than an actual hard zero.  When something sits in the inbox, it is undone. So occasionally, things will sit for a while if there is some work product in progress connected to getting it out of the inbox.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
My car.  It’s nothing fancy, but man I love the gadgetry.  I’ve often toyed with the idea of starting or hiring a car service, but I enjoy driving too much.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Connecting dots.    Whether the dots are people, technology, ideas, markets, resources.  I can’t turn it off. I love to hook stuff together.

What do you listen to while at work?
It’s hard for me to listen to music while I work.  I focus hard on music so it doesn’t work as background for me.

What are you currently reading?
I am slowly inching my way through the Steve Jobs biography (no rush). Just finished The Advantage by Lencioni and an awesome re-read of Getting Real by 37Signals.

Are you an introvert or an extravert?
I’m extreme on both ends.  I’m mostly an extravert, but when I run out of extravert juice or when I have something to focus on that excites me, I like to go completely and totally into my introvert cave.

What’s your sleep routine like?
If I don’t get at least 8-9 hours, I’m miserable.  I’ve always wished I could squeeze out those extra few hours of productivity at night, but it’s just not in me.   I’m useless after 9pm.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
Let’s go with Allen Nance!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Just be who you are, be confident.

Is there anything else you want to add?
Lots more about me in this post.

Your Plan Will Go to Out the Window

 

Yesterday David posted about Annual Planning for Entrepreneurs. In the post, he made this comment:

Why do entrepreneurs love planning? Easy, because it’s an opportunity to dream about the future. Entrepreneurs love scheming up the next big thing.

MudpitTotally agree. Planning is fun. I’ve been doing some planning of my own lately and have really been struck at how relaxing and fun planning is. I even tweeted this on Monday:

Working inside your product (wireframes, etc) feels like reading a book on a rainy day. Reality is more like fighting a war on the same day. -@Johnson_Cook

I get the same calm, in-control feeling when creating budgets, future cap tables, fundraising scenarios, and looking at OTE plans for future and current sales guys.   Oh baby, and those bottom-up sales forecasts:   At $1000 MRR per deal, if each rep closes 1 deal per week, we just add one new rep each week… Voila, it’s a magic unstoppable snowball of money!!!

It’s fun to live the fantasy where deals are closed because you make the spreadsheet say they will close.

Obviously, per my tweet, building a company is never as simple as a spreadsheet says it will be. An entrepreneur friend of mine laughs at my love for spreadsheets and says: The best battle plans go immediately to hell as soon as the first shot is fired.

We laugh because it’s true. The best way to overcome this is to think about the fun part being the actual battle. Accept and appreciate that bringing spreadsheets to life is messy and sloppy and we love it. That’s what we live for! We love waking up cold, wet, and sandy. We love war.

Enjoying the journey is great and all…just don’t imagine that the journey is like a walk in the park smelling flowers. The journey is flat out war.

Now grunt, scratch, and go kick some ass today.

 

 

 

Five Tips for Family Operations (Learned from Business)

 

crazy-golf-cart-familyMany books have been written and seminars sold out from speakers who teach that life can be happier if you run your personal life and family like a business.  The talks I’ve seen on the topic focus on basics like: have a business plan, set goals, give each other performance reviews.    I have some more to add to the best practices. Thoughts on my mind as we run the Cook Household that I find I’ve learned from running companies.

1. Outsource like crazy.

In business (especially startups), it doesn’t usually make sense to do things like: manage you own e-mail server, run your own web servers, do your own janitorial work, etc…   These things must be outsourced so you can focus on what matters the most for your company.

In your personal life, there are often things to be outsourced that you haven’t considered. The first consideration is always cost, but it’s important to consider the value of your time, your energy, and sanity.

I have a friend who has taken outsourcing his personal life to the extremes. Cooking, cleaning, and yard work are the basics. But think next level: His dry cleaners pick up from his laundry room and return to his bedroom closet.   His banker drops envelopes of cash off on his desk at his home study when he needs money.  He has even been known to outsource the installation and decorating of his Christmas tree.   In his view, these things are less important than spending time with his children. His work schedule is intense, and if he isn’t working, then he doesn’t want to be at the cleaners waiting for his shirts.

2. But, keep core competencies in house.

In tech companies, we say that engineering and sales should be your core competencies: and you don’t outsource them.  What are the equivalents at home?   What are the things that only you can do?

Only you can exercise for yourself.   Only you can be the parent that you need to be by spending quality time with each child. Only you can start and maintain family traditions around the holidays.  Only you can be there to cheer on the games and recitals. If it’s not something that only you can do, it can likely be outsourced.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

As a business grows, it becomes inefficient for the top leaders to focus on smallest issues. Whether it’s what kind of printer we buy, or that we pay $5 more per month for coffee than we could if we switched vendors, or that a $10/month online service could be free if we switched providers.   These are distractions. Leaders are overwhelmed with important, massively “stay-alive” decisions every day and shouldn’t let the small stuff detract from what matters.

The same goes for home. I’ve found our family occasionally getting worked up over silly ridiculous small stuff, that really isn’t helpful.   Just this weekend, I got irked because I discovered that we’re buying $4 Peanut Butter instead of the $2 peanut butter.  In retrospect, who cares. $2/week isn’t going to break us or make us.

4. Smart leverage.

Every entrepreneur knows that capital is the lifeblood of the business.  They also know that long term liabilities are a perfectly healthy way to grow a business.  It’s ok to borrow money. It’s more than ok, it’s expected if you want to grow.  If done in the right, smart way, of course.

I know a few families who take the “debt is evil” approach to the extremes.   I’m not in any way advocating that families live above their means.  I am only saying that my view is that I only have one life to live. And I’m ok having a mortgage instead of paying cash so I can have the comfort of a little cash in the bank and live in a comfortably-sized house.  I also love my Amex points and perks that cost me nothing to earn and use, and I pay off every card every month in full. For a person with some self-control and intelligence, I don’t understand the “credit cards are evil” way of living.

5. Culture at the top.

The culture and alignment of the management team is what will make or break a company. If you haven’t figured that out yet and are running a business, then expect to learn it the hard way if you don’t figure it out soon.

For parents, the same is true. When Margaret and I get frustrated with each other, it is immediately apparent in the morale of the troops. When we’re having grumpy thoughts about each other it’s as though the kids become extra pissy and fight, argue, and whine even more than usual.     Keeping the “management team” on the same page and delighted about the mission as helped us a lot. Weekly date nights and vacations together with no kids and no friends every 6 months has really helped us.

Lately we’ve been thinking about reversing these two and doing vacations together with no kids every WEEK! If only…

Bad Breath and Food In Your Teeth Socially

 

Few people have the guts to tell us when we have bad breath or food in our teeth. We know this and don’t expect to be told. So we are sensitive to it and self-monitor as best we can. We check our teeth in the mirror when dining out. We pop mints. We try to smell our breath.

But what about your perceived attitude?   Do you know anyone who comes across as constantly negative?   Someone who is sarcastic, always laughing, always making jokes, but perhaps at the extent of someone else?   Or perhaps they believe they are coming across as inquisitive, but are actually seen as disagreeable by those around them.    We’ve all met these people and we usually don’t enjoy being around them.

Perhaps we should start thinking about what we say and how we say it with the same sensitivity as our breath and the food in our teeth.

Think back on your conversations in social settings.   Look at your own Twitter stream.   How many times do you come across negative vs. positive? Assume there is no gray area. Each Tweet, each comment is either a +1 or a -1. take your last 50 comments and score them.

It is statistically unlikely that if you have “bad energy breath” that someone will  tell you directly.    Instead they will avoid you.   You will not realize their absence, but your success will be limited.  We are the sum of the people we spend time with. If fewer people want to spend time with you, you understand the math.

I admit, of those people who simply chose not to be around you because you are negative person, I will be one of them.

 

 

Keep Your Center – Just Start Writing Already!

 

Entrepreneurs live on a roller-coaster.   Things are screaming fast up or spiraling out of control down. You are about to take over the world (or you already have, in your mind), or the world is eating you alive and you are guaranteed to not make it another day.

How do you manage the insanity?  With everything being an extreme, how do you keep your center?

For me, it’s writing. It’s this blog.    If this serves no other purpose, it’s to bring me back to center on a regular basis.   Writing helps you get out of your head. It helps you slow down and step back from the immediate crisis of the minute and think about the big picture. Not only do you have to focus on the big picture, but you have to design your thoughts around in a way that is suitable for public consumption. Which means you’re going to apply some reason and rational thinking… two things that are hard to come by when you’re in either the pit of despair or the throne of world domination.

If you are an entrepreneur or success-oriented person and are afraid of start a blog, why?

Are you worried about your ability to put a sentence together in public?  … Hmm, How is this different from your posts to Facebook and Twitter in front of hundreds or thousands of friends and followers?     Do you really think you can be successful and make an impact on the world, without being able to write something for the public to read?

Do you think you don’t have enough thoughts and ideas?    Grow up.  Don’t ever claim that you want to be successful if you can’t come up with one new idea of something to write about per week.

You don’t have time?   Please, stop whining.   We have all the time in the world. You are in charge of how you spend your time.  You have time for everything that you make time for.

For myself and others that write blogs, I can tell you that we have all be surprised by the value we’ve received from starting.  Just start already. You won’t be sorry.

 

 

 

Peachtree City and the Atlanta Tech Village

 

Peachtree CityI mention regularly that my family lives way out in the south side burbs of Atlanta, in Peachtree City, GA. We love it here. People ask me: “When are you moving in town?” And my answer, at least for the next few years is “We can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Peachtree City (PTC) is also known as the bubble. Some say it reminds them of Stepford, Connecticut.   It’s because PTC is a planned community.  Back in the 60’s and 70’s, some ambitious entrepreneurs recognized that there was a need for a great community south of Atlanta, primarily to support the growing airline community (execs and pilots), since the rest of the booming family-friendly communities in Atlanta were headed north, but Hartsfield Airport was staying firmly located on the south side of town. They made a big bet. The planning is impressive. There are distinctly defined “villages” in Peachtree City. The industrial needs were planned. The parks, lakes, libraries, pools, neighborhoods, streets, recreation centers, and trails were planned. We now have hundreds of miles of recreational trails (fantastic for RUNNING), an amazing amphitheater, 3 fantastic lakes, parks and pools everywhere, and…. well, you get the picture… I’ll get to the point.

At the other end of my daily commute stands the Atlanta Tech Village.  Again, people ask me regularly: “Why don’t you just get an office closer to home?”   And again, my answer is: “I can’t imagine spending my days anywhere else.”    Why?

It’s not the coffee. Not the comfy chairs, fast internet, convenient burritos for lunch, or even Jeff Hilimire.  It’s the community.    The Village is a planned community, just like Peachtree City.  It’s intentional.  Who comes, why they come, how they fit the core values are all intentional.   Other than the other startup incubators, there aren’t any other office communities that are planned like the Village.   The Village is a planned community for businesses.

It’s inspiring to think that 30-40 years after some forward thinking guys started Peachtree City, it still brings so much value to so many people. I hope that in 50 years, the Atlanta Tech Village will still be as strong (whether it’s in the same building or not) and that entrepreneurs and their teams will see value from the work we are doing today.

Read more facts about PTC on the Wikipedia page.

 

 

Sneaky Catalysts to Reinvention

 

revolutionIt’s interesting what triggers big change. Often, change comes from something we don’t expect.  Often, it sneaks up on us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mobile lately and how our mobile computing capabilities are forcing change in almost every established software market, whether it’s obvious or not.

Already, you could make the case that mobile completely changed the importance of e-mail in our lives.

Would Twitter be as massive as it is without mobile.

Facebook?

So what else is mobile going to cause to be reinvented? Some examples in my life…

The internet of things… I use my phone to manage my thermostats in my house. Can mobile be the trigger that causes a market shift for mechanical controls and building automation?     I love my FitBit Aria scale… is mobile responsible for a “health technology” revolution?

What about CRM?   We all say that Salesforce.com is ready to be disrupted as the market leader in CRM for SMBs. But how is this going to happen? It doesn’t seem to be coming from Sugar or Zoho offering web-based knock offs. Perhaps a mobile revolution in CRM is what the world needs to disrupt the intense pricing and overly complicated experience with Salesforce.

What about online learning?

What about word processing?   Presentation software?   (Can PowerPoint finally just die already?)

Maybe it will be mobile that sneaks up and disrupts these, or maybe it will be something else.   My point is that often a disruptor isn’t what we expect it to be.    If you’re a startup seeking to disrupt players Clayton Christensen style, be on the lookout for the catalyst that will accelerate your mission.

 

 

What Most Startups Forget When Seeking Product-Market Fit

When startups are hunting for product-market fit, there are a couple of ways to think about the goal of the process. How you approach the goal of Stage 1 (Product-Market fit), can dramatically affect the outcome.

Approach 1 (the most common): We are building a product that is the absolute best product and will win on its own against other products.

Approach 2 (the least common): We are building a product that we can build a customer acquisition machine around and scale like crazy.

I can already hear the objections to #2: if this is your goal, then you lack passion for the product. You are only working towards incremental improvements and you aren’t trying to offer a transformative solution.  They may even say you are a “sell out” and have little character.

Yet, at the same time, once the business is up and running we talk all know and embrace this quote:

Work ON the business not IN the business.

So why wait until you have a product to think about the business as the product?

Your product can be the best thing since sliced-anything, but if nobody knows about it, nobody is using it, then what have you accomplished?

Remember that in the earliest stages of a startup, as you explore product/market fit, that you still have to build a business around that product.  How this happens is not trivial and the plan to scale should be coordinated with the what you are going to scale.

 

These 8 Talking Points Could Save Your Life at Holiday Parties

 

It’s December and that means it’s party season.  Time to see friends, neighbors, and colleagues that you often only see once a year. Time to reconnect with extended family galore.

Many of these people will be far removed from the tech scene that we live and breathe. However, if you are in any way affiliated with a tech company, or have brought up anything related to the Atlanta Tech Village in conversation, you should be prepared for these unavoidable party topics.  Don’t be caught off guard!

8 Topics you will be forced to discuss because of this affiliation:

TOPIC 1: New in 2013. Bitcoin.
What is it? How does it work? Isn’t this illegal? Should I buy some? Do you have any? I don’t understand why it exists.
Best answer: I don’t know.

TOPIC 2: The NSA.
Best answer: Just be careful what you say in your e-mail, granddad.

TOPIC 3: Healthcare.gov Debacle…
Why didn’t it work? What happened?
Best answer: I need more wine.

TOPIC 4: Traditional favorite: Can you fix my printer?
Best answer: You know, I hear cousin Johnny (who just started college) is taking a computer class. He can probably fix it better than I can.

TOPIC 5: The One that won’t Die: My Windows 98 computer just started popping up an error message on startup?  It takes too long to load Outlook Express, do I have a virus?
Best Answer: This turkey is delicious. Is this homemade dressing or stove top stuffing?

TOPIC 6: Should I get an iPhone?
Best answer: Yes.

TOPIC 7: I don’t “get” the Atlanta Technical Village. What exactly is it?
Best answer: It’s hard to explain. You have to come see it.
Alternative answer:  We aren’t allowed to talk about it. We’re working with the government.

TOPIC 8: Tell me again, what does your new company do?
Best answer: Computer stuff, mom.

It’s a jungle out there. Best of luck to you all.
See you on the other side!