Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

If You Don’t Have Anything to Say

 

fireThe awesome Joe Koufman has been great lately about sharing to the Atlanta blogger community some articles and insights on better blogging.   The most recent one was this article    The point that jumped out at me here is “Whatever you write, write it with passion.”

I was glad to hear this, and here’s why.   I often feel guilty for not being the set-your-watch-by-my-posts kind of writer. I just don’t have the rhythm of ideas and creative juices.   My best brain waves come in blasts. Tsunamis, I suppose. You never know when they will come, but when they arrive, I need to be ready using tools like these.

But I admit, I do sometimes feel a little lazy for not writing daily, so sometimes, I will sit down during my morning routine and start to hammer out something from thin air.  It never works.  I don’t post it if I don’t love it.

Seeing this article about writing with passion is exactly in line with my habits. If I’m not dying to say it, then I don’t say it.   If I can actually stand to wait saying it, then it’s not worth saying.

So for those who do follow my tsunami rhythm, I thank you. I promise to write only what I’m passionate about and hopefully there will be some value somewhere for someone.

 

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.

 

 

Setting External Goals – EO, YPO, Village Verified and the 83.3 Club

 

When I started my first business, I discovered the Young Entrepreneurs Organization early. It was just for me… until I realized that it had a revenue threshold of $1mm in annual gross revenue.  I was equally bummed and motivated. I realized that I needed to set $1mm as a target for my business because I wanted to be in that group.    For my next business, I have the YPO target in mind already. $12mm in annual revenue, be the CEO or President, and join before your 45th birthday. (And a few other requirements, here.) I’m not there yet, but 11 years to go!

There is something valuable in goals that are external to you and your company.

If you set an internal only goal like one of these, it would be easy to make excuses and say things like “we decided that revenue isn’t important, and we want to focus on user growth.”  If you set the goal to Join EO or Join YPO, then there are metrics outside of your control. Giving up is not an option.

See Seth’s post on Owning It. This one made it to my “classics” folder.

In the Atlanta Tech Village, we are hoping to provide some stepping stone goals for all companies in the Village.    The first one is our Village Verified program.    This is our six-figure club: meaning that a startup has reached $100,000 in either funding or annual revenue.   Once in Village Verified, serious new perks and meetups will be unlocked to a startup founding team.   Villagers reading this- members can apply to become Village Verified here on F6S.

Next up for us in the Village is to create the 83.3 Club.   This is the equivalent of the EO membership target. $83,333 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is a giant accomplishment for tech startups. This means you are at the $1mm annual recurring revenue (ARR) mark and have proven serious traction.

Don’t shy away from big goals like this. Put it out there. Put a timeline out there, and go for it.

 

Intentional Mentor Relationships – Acknowledge Growth and Chapters In Your Journey

 

One of the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs is their ability to leverage mentor relationships along their journey.  An interesting observation here that few people talk about is that mentors for one chapter in your journey may not be the most effective for future chapters.  Of course there are different kinds of mentors: personal mentors, family mentors, industry mentors, and general entrepreneurial mentors.

From my own experience, I have a ton of love and respect for my mentors along the way. But I admit, and they will tell you, that what I needed to get my very first business off the ground at the age of 20 is different than the mentoring that I needed to grow it and different again for what I need now. Many of my early mentors I now consider my closest friends (more than mentors) and will appreciate them forever.

You too will find that you will outgrow your mentors, and there’s no shame in this, as long as you show respect and remember to pay it forward and help others, just as those early mentors helped you.

A great book on this topic and others is listed on my books page: Necessary Endings. It is a super encouraging book around how we grow, how we prune our lives and move forward when it’s time to move forward.

I encourage entrepreneurs to constantly be evaluating your mentor relationships. Be intentional about them. If you aren’t being challenged and fed loads of helpful value, it’s ok to look around and add mentor horsepower to your calendar.

 

The Top 3 Jobs of a Startup CEO

In Atlanta Ventures, we see quite a few brilliant single technical founder startups. These are smart guys who really know how to build stuff, have a great personality, great insight on the problems of the world, and tons of energy.   Yet, of every one that we’ve seen we have agreed internally that they aren’t investable until they find a good Startup CEO.

There are a whole host of reasons why every company needs at least 2 co-founders. But I’d like to specifically share my thoughts on the CEO role.   It really comes down to three priorities.  In my opinion these 3 things should the 90% focus of every startup CEO.

JOB #1.  Cash. Fundraising.

This may be the CEO’s own money. Or it more likely means doing the road show and pitching to investors. However it happens, it is the CEOs job to be sure that the company is well capitalized to accomplish it’s mission. Setting out on a journey to build a company takes capital. There’s no way around it.   Bootstrapping is always an option, so if that’s the chosen path, then the CEO should be an amazing sales guy at bringing in customers to get that cash needed to bootstrap.  Bottom line, CEO needs to fill up the gas tank.

JOB #2.   Recruiting and Supporting the Team.

I learned this two-part lesson from two guys named Jack.

First Jack Daly — the most amazing speaker I’ve ever seen, who helps entrepreneurs get off their ass and build a sales organization.  He reminds you over and over that you have to be always actively recruiting your sales team.   Good sales people DO NOT apply for jobs. They make a ton of money, already. They are GOOD. Instead, you have to ABR (Always Be Recruiting). You have to know the A-players around you and be forming relationships with them so you can bring them to your team on their schedule, not yours.

The same goes for engineers. Especially now, when engineers are the scarcest resource for every company, no matter the size… you can’t rest.  You must always be out there recruiting.

Second was Jack Welch. I’ll never forget when I was in the College of Business at Georgia Tech and he came to speak. He said that he always told the folks at GE Headquarters their phone should ring more inbound than calls outbound. They should reply to more e-mails than they initiate. His point is that management’s job is to support the company. Not create work for the company. I believe the Startup CEO is about the only management there is in early stage, so it’s important to be there to support your team. Not manage them.

Another good example is Home Depot’s upside down org chart. The customer is on the top, followed by the front line store service people, with the corporate management being all the way at the bottom.   You get the idea.

The third job of a Startup CEO….   let’s hold that one for tomorrow. It’s my favorite.

 

Ingredients and Indicators of a Startup Chances of Success

 

Today I will share what I believe are the top indicators of a startup chance of success for very early stage companies.  Some folks may disagree with this breakdown, and there are of course cases that prove otherwise. That’s cool. This is from my own experience. I specifically want to focus on the top variables that are in an entrepreneur’s control in Stage 1 and Stage 2 of a startup.

Here’s the high level breakdown:

  • 20% of startup success is your Idea
  • 30% of startup success is You
  • 50% of startup success your Team

startup success

20% Your Idea – Painkiller Index

  • Is your target market big enough, do you know it well enough, are they ready for your solution or do you have to convince them that their pain hurts so you can sell the pain killer?
  • Your execution – Is your solution is clunky, have too much friction to use or acquire? Can you create an easy to use solution that buyers need, and can you deliver to the level they expect?
  • Your Timing – believe it or not, timing is a discussion in the idea of startups. I don’t mean trying to time the market in the traditional way the term is used (often associated with the stock market and is something that is next to impossible to do)… instead, as far as a painkiller goes.   I may have a pain of needing a more efficient route algorithm, or colder cocktails to enjoy in  my driverless car, but the timing of these painkillers isn’t right.
  • Focus – Is the idea small enough that you can accomplish it as a startup, with the world against you?

30% Yourself

  • Your intentional life balance – Starting a company is brutal. If you aren’t geared up to handle it in your life, things can go sideways quickly. Are you healthy?  Are you intentional about where your time goes? Do you have a bigger picture view of the world, spiritual or otherwise? Are you giving back to those around you in order to better learn?   Do you have your priorities and your s**t together?
  • Your confidence – Confidence is often the biggest difference between a kickass entrepreneur and one who is mediocre and spinning his wheels.   Finding the thin line between extremely confident and overly arrogant is a tricky challenge, but one that can make or break you.
  • Your discipline – Back to the intentionality: can you hold the line?  Can you keep going even when you’re exhausted?
  • Your abilities – Do you have the knowledge and experience in your market?

50% Your Team

  • YES, I propose that the team you assemble is the largest variable in your control over your chance of success.  So this means if you score low and put the wrong team in place, your odds of success are painfully slim.  This is the top takeaway, I hope you’ll see from this post. The team is the biggest chance you have for success.  It doesn’t just mean the co-founders, it means everyone around you. Your Investors, Directors, Advisors, Employees, Managers, even Vendors.    Get the first two right, but even if you screw up a little on the Idea or Yourself, having an amazing team can carry you through these.

 

 

No Friction? No Progress!

 

In my experience, I’ve started detecting a pattern:   the more friction and resistance I have, the more forward progress I make.   I’ve seen the same for organizations and startups as well.

Mine started as an undergrad at Georgia Tech. I realized around my senior year that each time I registered for 18-21 hours per semester, I made the best grades. My worst semesters were the ones when I took 1 or 2 classes and wasn’t even registered full time.

The same goes for my entrepreneurial experiences. The more friction against my desired direction, the farther and faster I seemed to go. When I felt like resistance was less, meaning, things were on cruise control and I felt good about where I was and didn’t feel the urge to go farther, faster, higher… that’s when both my momentum and my satisfaction waned.

This lesson has so many applications for startups and entrepreneurs: 

1. If you have a 100% close rate, you either aren’t charging enough or aren’t putting enough deals in the top of the funnel.

2. If your innovation pipeline is empty with no “wishes and wants” for your product, you are on the path to irrelevance.

3. If your schedule is open (unintentionally), then you aren’t working your network to its maximum potential.

4. If you hire every person you interview, then you aren’t interviewing enough people.

5. If your workout doesn’t make you hurt (at least once in a while), you aren’t getting stronger.

6. If your run or swim isn’t longer than you thought you could do, then it wasn’t long enough. There’s no such thing as feeling great while in “maintenance mode” as a runner, I’m learning.

7. If balancing work and family time come easy, then you aren’t pushing hard enough forward on one side or another.  I will ALWAYS want more family time and ALWAYS want more work time. I know I’m at the sweet spot and making progress when they are both maxed out.  (Note: to be at this point, you must learn the art of not being stressed when you are at full throttle.  Being intentional means knowing that your situation is what you want it to be, and you should be able to relax with a smile every evening knowing you accomplished what you intended to that day.)

 

Don’t shy away from friction. Go find it. It will make you better!

 

 

Forget Teaching Entrepreneurship! Can you Teach Wexlering, Birdsonging, Wijesinghing and Portering?

 

I’ve overheard people say that sales and marketing is in the DNA of the Atlanta Tech Village.  It’s true, have a sales and growth focused culture.   Our community thrives when a smart product-focused entrepreneur starts building a business development engine around a great product.  This leads to a discussion we’ve been having a lot lately:

For a product-focused entrepreneur, can you teach the hungry, scrappy, do-anything mentality that it takes to get customer traction as soon as possible? 

Put another way, can you teach Adam Wexlering, Kyle Portering, Devon Wijesinghing, and Jon Birdsonging?

These 4 guys are the ultra hungry hustlers that every growth entrepreneur should want to be. They are machines. Each one of them has a special way of getting their foot, hand, and well, their whole body in the door where they need to go.   If you could combine them into a single entrepreneurial selling machine, you would end up with something like this:

Devastator-Robot_1234767532

This is the Devastator robot— when all the Transformers combined to make one giant super robot.

 

Here are some of the weapons used by the four super hustlers:

Kyle Porter, the master growth hacker.

Kyle Porter, the master growth hacker.

Portering
Top skill: Getting masses of people excited about what he wants them to be excited about.
Story: Kyle Porter, of Salesloft fame, is quickly become a professional growth hacker. He knows how to get content on any site, any day of the week and how to get it to pull people back to his own site to sign up for something. He also knows how to plan and execute awesome events like B2BCamp. How many people do you know who can gather 200+ people on a Saturday morning to hear a sales pitch?  Sure, B2BCamp is more than a Salesloft User Group meeting. Sure it is.
Nugget: As Kyle walks down the street, panhandlers give him money.

 

Wexlerbombing. Happens worldwide.

Wexlerbombing. Happens worldwide.

Wexlering
Top Skill: Getting a pitch with anybody, anywhere, any time.
Story: Adam Wexler (Insightpool) is becoming famous for this. It has been said that when Wexler decides he needs to find someone and pitch them, that he doesn’t sleep until his mission is accomplished. I’ve heard stories of offering to share hotel rooms with prospects.  No prospect is too far. He will fly, drive, even swim. He’s the master of CouchSurfing.  I’ve been at parties 10 states away, invitation only, with presidential security and suddenly Wexler drops in, smiling and asking “Who’s here that I need to know?”
Nugget: The US State Department doesn’t require Wexler to have his photograph on his passport.

 

Just say Devon. Everyone knows who you're talking about.

Just say Devon. Everyone knows who you’re talking about.

Wijesinghing
Top skill: Operating in the Atlanta startup world like a mob boss. (A friendly one, of course).
Story: Devon Wijesinghe knows everyone. He has a unique skill of building an extremely high powered network and then capitalizing on it. He goes for the ask early and often. And he does it in a way that doesn’t offend the person being asked. What’s more impressive is that if any of us tried to pull off the asks that Devon drops, we would quickly become the least popular guy on the block. Yet he continues to work his network like a master and his companies are in a constant motion forward because of it.
Nugget:   When Devon drives a car off the lot, it increases in value.

 

Jon Birdsong, the one and only.

Jon Birdsong, the one and only.

Birdsonging
Top skill: Making your feel like he is your best friend.
Story: I am Jon Birdsong’s (Rivalry.com) best friend. Doesn’t matter what you say. If he has something for me to buy, I would buy it.  But wait, everybody feels this way about Birdsong. Everybody is JonnyBird’s best friend!  He’s the nicest guy in town. (And yes, JonnyBird for Mayor is something we should all get used to hearing).  What’s awesome about JonnyBird– he knows how to turn nice into contracts.  He may be the fastest product-startup-to-first-paying-customer record in the Village.    Why JonnyBird is a 1% awesome growth entrepreneur: he is genuine. He’s as genuine as they come. If you feel like he likes you, it’s because he really does like you.  What you see is what you get. My favorite Birdsong story is when he was selling to a VP of sales who ran out of time for their meeting in Atlanta and tried to cancel. So Jon offered to meet him at his office, ride with him to the airport (selling all the way), drop him off at the terminal, return his rental car, and catch Marta back to the Village.  Yep, he closed that deal.
Nugget: When Jon dines out, he tips an astonishing 200%.

 

There’s a lot more to being a growth entrepreneur than the stats of cold calls, demos, meetings. It’s a unique skill set that makes up these guys and I enjoy learning from them every day.     If you have a startup in Atlanta and don’t know all four of these guys, I’d suggest you find a way to get to know them better. Learn from them. The good news is– it’s easy to find them. So easy in fact, that they will likely find you first.