Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Reading Biographies and Autobiographies

How often do you read bios and autobios? I don’t read them often enough. I think the reason we pick up books with titles like “Predictable Revenue” before we pick up a biography is because we need an immediate “what’s in it for me” feeling about the investment to read it.

I couldn’t tell you why at the time, but I received an enormous amount of energy from reading the lengthy Jobs story. You would think the reason is because I’m curious about how the story led to the products Apple created, what happened, who, what why, etc…

But as I have lately been picking up bios more often (Mark Benioff, Richard Branson, Bill Gates), I’ve now realized why these are powerful books with a lot of energy for us:

Reading stories of other entrepreneurs helps us frame the context of what we’re doing right now into a bigger picture and filter out the noise of urgency that clutters our thinking.

If you think about your own story, how you would tell it, the words you use, the sequence of your life, you start to separate what is relevant in the big picture and what is on your mind today.

You will realize that the types of things likely on your mind this moment aren’t the types of things that would be written in your bio, and thus, aren’t nearly as important enough to justify the level of energy you are giving them.

In other words, reading bios is a great tool for not sweating the small stuff. That’s what’s in it for you.

[R] Rated Post on How to Live Your Life

As a good southern boy, proud Methodist church member who was raised in a Southern Baptist family… I can’t bring myself to re-post the following article. :)

So I considered editing it, but once (if!) you read it, you will understand why there is no way an edited version would make the same point.

This post has 100+ F’bombs, including in the title…. Yet, it is the one of the top pieces I have ever read on the internet. It is a guide to living a meaningful life.     

So if you’re not a fan of F-bombs, have a nice day.

Otherwise, enjoy this post and you will thank me if you haven’t seen it yet:
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, by Mark Manson

 

 

 

Self Aware and At Peace

Self Aware and At Peace.

My personal core values are equal and not ranked. Except this one. This one is the most important one. 

Without being self-aware and at peace, nothing else will happen.

This is two separate values that are attached as one. That distinction is important.

First, to be truly self-aware is extremely difficult. It takes constant inward evaluation and even more external soaking in of the world around you.  

It takes being quiet, but also paying attention. It takes experimentation to find your limits. It takes a lot of reading. It takes a lot of time considering what being spiritual means to you. Self aware comes first.

Once you have self-awareness, that’s when you can evaluate whether you are “at peace.”   When you are at peace, you will know it most when the shitstorm of chaos lands on your life.    

Peace is almost a luxury when life is cruising along and all is good. However, peace is the difference in life and death when your world comes crashing down.

The bottom line on being self-aware and at peace is that it will be different for every person. You have to find what it means for you and check it every day. 

Financially Enabled Freedom

Yes, I have a core value about money.  But for me, this core value isn’t “be rich.” or have $X before I die. It’s to have true freedom.   

Financially enabled freedom means not having a debt that can bite you. 

It’s mental freedom to not be worried that the family won’t eat if something goes wrong. It’s freedom to jump when a lifetime experience opportunity pops up. 

The trick with thinking about money- especially as an entrepreneur- is to balance your drive to win and your perspective on where you really stand in the world. 

We all have an embarrassment of riches. It’s important to keep that reminder. That is freedom. 

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On Being Resourceful

Being Resourceful doesn’t mean to me what you might think it means. 

It doesn’t mean being the fastest with Siri or Wikipedia. Being resourceful means that you can connect the dots. Dots are people. Dots are things you’ve learned, been exposed to, or studied at one point.

Entrepreneurship requires incredible resourcefulness. Building deep relationships that cover wide networks of people.   Understanding how a technology or solution can solve problems for a specific market.   Just being able to “make it up as you go” when you have no idea what you’re doing, is a form of resourcefulness. 

When you embrace something as a strength, you spend more time on it. Entrepreneurs should say out loud to themselves more often: “I am resourceful.”

Then when it gets hard, you know what you have to do. Be resourceful and find your way out. 

Intensity in Everything

This week I’m traveling, so to keep my 2015 rhythm going of daily posts I plan to write a short post about one of my core values each day. 

One of my favorite core values is “Intensity in Everything.”  

We all can be more intense about the way we go about our lives. 

Our work, our family, our play, our study, our craft.  Not being intense is too easy.  Being normal, average, mediocre.   

Being intense requires being intentional. If you are just following the natural what-comes-next path in your life, you very unlikely are not going about it in a very intense way.  It took me about 25 years on this rock to realize the achieving intensity required being intentional

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When a Superstar Crosses Your Path – Are you Ready?

Have you ever had the opportunity to meet someone of incredible fame, power, and influence and not had any idea what to say to them?  

I’ve had this happen several times in my life, and it’s embarrassing and frustrating to remember.    One was so bad several years ago that it still bothers me today and it motivates me to do a couple of things.

First, the story from several years ago. My company, Peach New Media, was sponsoring a webcast with the Georgia Tech College of Business where the keynote speaker was Craig Mundie, from Microsoft. Mundie was/is one of the original Microsoft software engineers and even today is the Chief Research and Strategy Officer.   Before the event, I had the opportunity to sit with him for 20 minutes one-on-one.  I still remember for that entire time together, I had nothing interesting to say. I was completely blank on interesting questions to ask him!  Shame on me! Sadly, the time was wasted in my opinion by talking about his travel schedule and, well… that’s about it. 

Since then, I have mostly successfully avoided the missed opportunities for good conversation.     Things you can do to be prepared:

1) Research and do your homework.

Basic. When you think there is a chance of bumping into a VIP, know who they are, what they look like, what they care about, who they know, what they do, where they are from. 

2) Have your go-to fall back questions.

Be ready with the good relationship building questions from Dale Carnegie: Where are you from? Where do you live now? How do you spend your time?     Remember that people love talking about themselves.

3) When you need to pitch. Do it without sounding like you are. 

It is natural in a conversation that flows that the person will ask what you do.  I love these opportunities and embrace the art of “pitching without pitching.”   The best way to do this is to find stories and examples.   My current non-pitchy pitch is “I’m working on a startup that is helping people and companies with a lot of email get control of it.”   I like it because it’s something I can assume almost everyone is dealing with and then it’s up to the other person to ask a follow-up question or just say “that’s nice.”

Relationships are the biggest driver for success and meeting VIPs is like a nitro boost for your trajectory. You will never fail to capitalize on the moment if you’re prepared, do your homework, and pounce on the opportunity when a VIP crosses your path. 

Thoughts on Finding Your Hammer

When you’re building a product and talking to customers at the same time, hopefully you’re spending your time on the questions: How would you use this product?  How can this product affect your company?  What else can this product do for you? 

But when you get the answers, it’s easy to feel frustrated when they are all over the place without obvious commonalities. Especially when selling into large enterprises, individual departments have specific, unique problems to solve.

I like to think when having these conversations that we are selling tools to contractors. When we talk to a roofer, his use case is: I need a roof installing tool.

The framer needs a stud installation device. 

The window guy needs a gentle leveling device. 

The carpet guy needs a device that can install carpet strips and edges. 

You may think that you’ll never find a solution, until you realize that they all need a hammer.  It’s not obvious that you’re selling a hammer when you spend all your time thinking about the roofer’s use case. That’s why it’s important to 

A) talk to as many different potential users as possible

B) peel back their layers asking why and how as many times as possible

C) present lots of options/ideas for how a roof installation could be helped

Once you start to discover the hammer, it’s important to realize that you aren’t going to come out with a Pneumatic Nail Gun on your first product. So it’s good to say “no” to some things when you can tell they are obviously out of reach for you.   But on the flip side of that, as Seth said in a great post on building softwareYou could, for example, make a hammer simpler by removing the nail puller on the other side. But that makes a useful tool less useful.

Discovering your hammer, how to describe it, and where the balance is between power and simplicity is not an easy task. But once you see it successfully sink that first nail, it’s exhilarating and rewarding. 

Your Energy is Best Spent on These Two Activities

I received a lot of notes about the Hard as Hell post on Monday. It seems I struck a chord with CEOs.  I thought a follow-up post on how I “lean in” would be helpful.

What specific tasks can you do during the day when you feel beat up? Where can you get energy?  For me, it comes from two places: 1) talking to prospects and customers and 2) working heads down on the product itself. 

Talking to Customers.  There is nothing more energizing than selling to someone who sees value in what you need.   Having good question after good question that pulls you through a demo of your product is awesome.   When you start to feel like you’re slowing down, go find some customers to spend time with. Ask them how they’re using your product. Or if they aren’t, just ask them how they do their jobs. Ask them what tools they are using.   Consider it a challenge to get as much information from your target customer as possible.  Information feeds ideas, feeds product.

Designing / Tinkering / Playing with Product.  For tech entrepreneurs and non-tech entrepreneurs, thinking about what value you deliver to the customer should be a great way to keep your head in the game.   Even though you can’t expect to “build it and they will come,” the inverse could also be true: “if it sucks, there’s no point in trying.”     For me, this isn’t as much expanding design and ideas on what our startup can do, rather it’s imagining new use cases, new ways to describe it, new examples and user stories. 

It’s important to keep moving when building a company. Just be sure you are moving on the right things.   Don’t let yourself fall back into low-impact activities.

Trust that any time you are spending with customers and in/on your product is high-impact, high-value time spent.

Blue Sky Thinking – Ideas are Everywhere

Since my wife’s trip to Necker Island where she was able to get to know Sir Richard Branson, we’ve been brining a lot of his ideas into our family, especially for our young boys.  The favorite is Sir Richard’s way of thinking: “find the impossible and make it possible.”    We try to regularly ask the kids: What is something impossible that you could make possible? It’s a fun family topic.  

Now our dinner table conversation consists of inventions and ideas such as:

  • A pillow that can record dreams
  • A net on a stick that goes beside the boat and catches fish automatically so you don’t have to use any line
  • A remote control fish with video camera that eats other fish and you play it like a video game for fishing
  • A beacon that goes underwater and can tell you what all the fish are thinking

Yes, we started the exercise at the beach over the holidays so the theme for fish/boat related ideas is heavy. Regardless, the more often we have the conversation, the more it becomes a way of thinking wherever we are. 

I enjoy blue sky sessions within startup world as well. Imagine the things you could do if you had no limits. What would you build? How would the world work?    Take some time and make a list of blue sky ideas.

You never know when you might stumble upon the path to making one of them happen.

Hard as Hell – Every Day

Hey entrepreneurs out there, ever notice how hard it is to build a company?  Yeah, it’s hard as hell.  This week I mentioned to one of my close entrepreneur friends how “It doesn’t matter how smart you think you are, how much money you have, or how many connections you have. It’s still hard as hell, every single day.”

He sent me back this note that I wanted to share. 

Johnson, 

You already know it’s hard. For true entrepreneurs, this is what every day looks like:

1. Work every day like you just lost your biggest client.

2. Work with integrity to your team, clients, and family.

3. Come in early and stay late.

4. Do your best every day. When you leave the office ask yourself: did I do my best today? If no… turn your ass around and go back.

5. Be hungry

6. Collaborate always and let others take credit. It’s not all yours.

7. Put a picture of your inspirational successful investors (for us, this is Tom Noonan) on your desk in an Uncle Sam hat pointing at you and look at it all the time. 

8. Constantly simplify the mission into bitesize chunks to keep yourself from being overwhelmed and to stay on task. 

9. Use your vision board. Think in detail about your successful future as if it is inevitable and operate as such. 

10. No matter what, keep your confidence. That’s the most important tool in your belt. If you lose that, everything will fall apart. 

NOW UNLEASH THE FURY.

-Sam

Stories of Margaret with Richard Branson

Richard Branson's Necker Island

Richard Branson’s Necker Island

As I shared recently, my wife Margaret had the opportunity to recently spend a week on Necker Island with a group of entrepreneurs and Sir Richard Branson.   As the wife of an entrepreneur (currently working on Voxa), she puts up with a lot, so the chance to give her a treat to relax and get to know one of the world’s most amazing entrepreneurs was exciting.  She came back transformed and full of life and ideas.    As you would expect, she brought home crazy stories of wild billionaire fun that usually had some impressive life lessons. 

Story #1- Kite surfing piggy back on Richard Branson.  Marg was trying to learn to kite surf and was frustrated at how much training time it takes to actually get to the point of being on the water.   So she decided to simply ask Richard: “will you take me kite surfing?”    Apparently, his first reaction was “Sure, on one condition: see this image [PG13].”   Funny enough, but my clever yet conservative wife was able to negotiate wearing a Cat Woman Costume instead of her birthday suit. He agreed.  Photos below.   It’s an outing she won’t soon forget. 

Lesson: Screw it. Be different.  Just ask. 

Sir Richard Branson

Cat Woman Margaret and Sir Richard (pre-kite surf)

Cat Woman rides piggy back

Cat Woman rides piggy back

Cat Woman Richard Branson Kite Surf

“It was fun to get you up.” – Richard Branson

Story #2- Dance on the tables.    From the photos that returned on the iPhones of the group, it was apparent that dinner on Necker Island involved frequent dancing on the tables.  Sir Richard Loves to dance. Especially on his table. 

- Lesson: Have fun, have fun, have fun. Life is short.

Table dancing Necker Island Dinner

Dinner on Necker Island is always an adventure.

Story #3- Unpredictable ass biting.    On the day of the Cat Woman Kite Surfing, there were pre-event photos of Margaret and Richard gearing up.  They posed nicely smiling, then Richard decides to pick her up, turn her upside down and bite her on the ass. No reason. Just fun. 

- Lesson: I have no idea.  Who cares. It’s hilarious. :)

Richard Branson

Unpredictable ass biting. “Because I can”

Seriously though, the best part about this whole trip is that it was last minute and unplanned.  We had 6 day notice that there was one spot for a female to join the group. Take it or leave it. We try to live spontaneously and be open for adventure when it pops up. This time, that way of living really paid off. 

Necker Island View - Richard Branson's Private Island

Awesome Views at Necker Island

Richard Branson's Lemurs on Necker Island

What? You don’t have lemurs on your private island? (Richard Branson’s Lemurs on Necker Island)

Now enough of this fun stuff, let’s get back to work.

Do me a favor, since you’re here, and go signup for Voxa’s new tool. It will help you do email smarter, spend list time, stop missing things… so you can be ready when the chance to go to Necker Island pops up.