Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

10 Best Decisions I Made In 2014

As we look forward to a new year and folks start talking about resolutions for 2015, I decided to first take a look back at 2014 and make a list of the things I got right. This will help guide my thinking to the new year, and reflecting on the big wins is a positive energy exercise that you would enjoy doing as well.

Here’s my list.

#1. Relocated my family 34 miles closer to my office.

This may be the smartest thing I’ve done in the last 3 years. It has been positive for so many reasons beyond just reclaiming 12-15 hours/week I was spending in the car. Having my personal life in the same community as my professional life is synergistic in ways I didn’t anticipate. The family is better off. My company is better off. My professional relationships accelerate because of our family relationships. Being “all in” on a single community without spreading out our energy is a life altering change.  

#2. Decided that eating right is a way of living.

In the last 90 days of the year, it finally clicked. All the stuff that I know I shouldn’t eat, I just don’t eat. It’s not the pursuit of a number, or a short term dieting approach. It’s just a “this is who I am” mentality and it actually works. I’m ending the year at a weight I haven’t seen since I was 18 years old and feel better than I’ve ever felt in my adult life.

#3. Played offense on my startup.

When survival of your company is constantly in question, it is so easy, natural (and maybe logical) to make all decisions based on what path is most likely to help you survive.  However in this at-bat for me, I’ve made the decision that this one is a “go big” venture. It has meant stepping slightly farther out of my risk tolerance zone, but so far, in the first 14 months, every offensive decision has paid off.  Survival isn’t the goal; the goal is to make a giant impact on an industry and thousands of lives. If we do that, we will survive and then some. 

#4. Sent my wife on a week long vacation with Sir Richard Branson.

Yes, it’s a long crazy story. And yes, there are plenty of photos. And no, I didn’t go! And yes, she came home. But so much good happened out of that. Getting the mom-of-3 little ones out on a vacation of her own rejuvenated her and brought new energy to our home.   For me, taking a week to be a single-working-dad was actually a ton of fun. Thanks to boat-loads of family support, I was able to stay engaged with work, keep the house together, and have some good memories with the kids. It was good for me to have an “all in” week of Dad duty.  And yes, wifey getting to be buddies with a group of entrepreneurs and a Knighted Billionaire on his private island has very little downside for me (so long as she still comes home). :)

#5. Invested in people.

In both my startup and Atlanta Ventures, I made investments in people and they have paid off. In our startup, I really embraced the importance this time around of having Class A++ founders and early team members.   On the investment side, we picked some solid young entrepreneurs and those investments appear to be on the right track. (evidenced here and here)

#6. Decided that the best place to build personal network outside of Atlanta is in Silicon Valley.

I love the Atlanta tech community. That community is a cross-section of two communities: Atlanta and tech. To put energy into the second half of that, then you must admit that the center of the tech world is the San Francisco Bay Area. I spent several amazing trips out West and will continue to put intentional energy into building my relationships in the tech capital of the world. It not only pays off for my own startup, but also helps Atlanta build a bridge to where the overwhelming majority of early stage capital lives.

#7. Made my big decisions with long term in mind.

It only took me 35 years of life on this planet to finally start putting problems and decisions in perspective. In 2014, I was finally able to think about my decisions and frame them in the context of “when I look back in 5 years, will this decision really matter?”  

#8. Re-engaged with an amazing church.

By moving back ITP, our family was able to get involved again at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.   Having that back in our lives, not just Sunday mornings, but all week long for the kids activities and community fellowship, is huge. It keeps our family positive and in a cadence of good energy with people making the world a better place.

#9.  Integrated personality profile into my daily thinking and re-tooling how I handle conflict.

I’ve normally been very bad at handling conflict. However, in 2014, I’ve found that with my understanding of DISC profiles and other personality assessments, I understand people better. By realizing now who is an S-I, or a C-D, I now can predict conflict before it happens. I also know how the other person thinks. I know why. And I also know my own D-I self to know why I don’t think the same way.  DISC has helped me stay calm and process interactions with friction with a level-head. Bonus for me: This even goes as far as understanding family members better. Who knew!?    Hat tip to my friend Matt Granados for helping me embrace the use of DISC. It only took me about 3 years to get it, Matt. 

#10. Finally discovered how to enjoy the ride.

Building a startup is hard.  Raising 3 kids is ridiculously hard. Keeping a marriage together after 14 years, not easy.  Staying healthy, a constant battle. But through all of this, in 2014, it clicked for me that these things are hard for everybody.   Brad Feld posted recently: Life Is Messy for Everyone … and he’s right. Once you realize that, you can make an intentional decision to just roll with it. Make the best decisions you can then focus on the little wins and things you’ve done right so far.  Keeping that energy in the “high” and “positive” quadrant is so important.

I hope you’ll go make your list of Top 10 Wins for 2014 and then reflect on it and enjoy it.

Merry Everything!

Ordinary People Have No Imagination

Let’s start this post by defining who is included in the categorization of “ordinary people.”

If you are an entrepreneur, ordinary people includes: everybody.  

Yes, even other entrepreneurs.

In your universe, in your corner of industry, with your product, your market opportunity, and your vision— you have superpowers. You have the vision and you are the expert.  Everybody else is ordinary compared to you when it comes to your vision.

So here’s what you need to learn quickly about these other people… the ordinaries:   They have inferior imaginations compared to you.   I continue relearning this lesson daily.  

You spend your days telling people what you’re building, how you’re building it and why you’re building it. You draw it on whiteboards and bar napkins. You use multiple metaphors. You mix the metaphors. You layer the metaphors. You even tell personal stories to build up the vision. But still, people never imagine the vision as clear as it is in your head. 

That is, until you show them something.  Give them something to play with.  Or walk them through a demo of something in action.  Even if it is mocked up screen shots or a clickable prototype.   This is the only true way to describe a product to someone and make it “click.”    This is why we work so hard to win “Demos” with customers. We don’t win slide presentations or meetings, we win the opportunity to show off a product or results.

This week, I learned this truth yet again.   With Voxa Alerts invites going out  and users getting their hands on it, I see the lightbulbs going off.   I’m getting notes with compliments and praises about how brilliant our idea is.   Of course, I want to respond and say “Yeah duh. I’ve been telling you this idea for 6 months now.”  But instead, I’m getting more value out of the “Cool. Now that you’ve seen it, what else do you think it could do?”

And that’s how you help ordinary people work through their lack of imagination. 


It is Not Okay to be Bad at Email


Cal Newport, a blogger/academic I enjoy following, wrote a post recently called “It’s Okay to be Bad at Email.”    Cal writes about finding deep study time and shares tips on not being distracted.   I love his stuff, but I have to disagree with the being bad at email post.

Here’s why.

1. Email is connective tissue of relationships.
Email isn’t a separate channel or category in life. There’s no wall separating it from everything else. Email is simply one of many ways we communicate with other people.  If I am haphazard about reading, scanning, and replying to emails, it’s not a problem that will just affect my Inbox: it affects the people on the other end of those emails.   Being someone who values relationships as a key driver to success, I don’t believe that being bad at a primary communication tool for those relationships is a sustainable approach.

2. Not all email is created equal. 
Not responding to group threads, customer service surveys, and other random junk is not the same as not responding to a customer, a prospect, a close friend, mentor, investor, or other VIP in your life.   You need tools and techniques to be sure that you filter up what is important to you.  Not making the effort to prioritize VIPs is inexcusable.

3. Sometimes you just need to respond faster.
What does “being good at email” really mean?  If you think about it hard, it will always boil down to the speed at which you respond (either by actually sending a reply, or taking appropriate action) to important messages.

Faster response to important messages = you are awesome at email.

Slower response, or no response = you suck at email.

4. Pro Tip: Being good can also include your outbound emails.
I’ve realized for my personal life that managing email successfully doesn’t just mean responding and reacting to incoming emails, but also tracking who I’ve sent emails to and if they responded or not.   Having open ended inquiries is usually a cascading problem.  In most cases, when I’ve asked someone a question, it’s because someone else down the line is waiting for me to make something happen.    See the final point, on how I manage this!