Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Unstructured Data is Good for the Mind

While unstructured data may be bad for your company, there is a place where it can add unbelievable value to your life. 

When we read books, we expose our mind to new ideas, thoughts, and stories. These ideas more than likely aren’t able to always be structured in our head. There is no card-catalog of the mind where you visit when you encounter a real life opportunity to apply an idea you’ve read about, find the category, remember the book, and apply the idea.  It doesn’t work like that. 

Instead we are forming a complex view of the world where ideas collide with memories and experiences and we navigate forward based on those collisions. 

Reading books only adds to the ideas and experiences our mind uses.  

Maybe one day science will be able to show us the structured database of how the mind works, but today, I’m perfectly happy knowing that it is 100% unstructured.

You can’t tell how you will use the ideas you read about this morning, but you were exposed to them, and as you overlay them on what you experience today, what you hear about from others, and what you read about tomorrow, you will begin to form your own new ideas, opinions, and path forward. 

This is why consistent mental diet of reading books and blogs is so important. There isn’t a predetermined amount of content we need to consume to succeed. Instead, we need to make content consumption a regular part of our life. 

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. 

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. 

Never Let it Bother You

When something bothers you, it brings your energy down. As someone who has decided to work hard to stay “up and to the right” in the energy quadrant. (Up is high energy vs. low energy and right is positive energy vs. negative energy), anything that is on your mind pulling you down needs to be dealt with.

The way I handle these things is my leaning on my core value of being Open and Direct. I just address it. Deal with it so you can move on.

You may need to accept that because of this, people think you have no filter and you say anything that comes to your mind even if it’s not the softest thing to say. This is true. But you have chosen to address things, rather than let them bother you.

This should be included in the “Memo about working with Me,” if I were to write one. It would include this line:

“Johnson is open and direct. If he notices something that he doesn’t care for, that bothers him, or causes him to have anxiety, he will say something about it. He won’t hold back. Don’t be offended. This is how he is wired.”

Hiring Opportunities are Everywhere

Jack Daly is the trainer who finally made it click for me.

For the key roles in your company (usually, this is sales and engineering), you should have a Top 15 recruits list at all times. The reasoning is that when (not if) you need to hire these key positions, you need to have named targets ready to go. “A” players don’t just wait for your job postings and then send in their resume. Top performers must be recruited.

Think of a pro sports team. When the Falcons (I hate to say it), are ready for a new quarterback (soon? maybe?), do you expect them to post a job on Craigslist?! Hell no. When you want a new engineer, do you want a guy waiting for posts to pop on craigslist or do you want the top guy at [Fill in Awesome Tech Co Here]?

When you get in the mindset of keeping a Top 15 list, you will find yourself always recruiting.

Some of the random places I’ve found myself recruiting:

  • Uber Drivers. Big time! These are folks who want some extra cash and are self-starting enough to use their car and sign up and start giving rides.
  • Kids selling stuff door-to-door. Not the sad Comcast guy who can’t get any other job. I mean the 14 year old neighborhood kid who decides he’s going to crush the class fundraiser and do it the hard way.
  • All fine arts and sports programs. Any hobby/sport/art that requires focus, practice, hard work, dedication, and a competitive edge is a great start.
  • Races. Runners are intense. I will give an interview to a runner over a non-runner any day of the week.


Long Distance [Professional] Relationships

One of my best decisions in 2014 was to start building my network in the Bay Area and as such it is also a 2015 “resolution” (even though I hate that word) to continue that effort. Building a tight network from 2000 miles away can be challenging.

Here are some ideas on how I am trying to be more involved in the tech capital of the universe:

  • Schedule 4-6 standing trips per year and just go. This is useful for me. Even if I go out for one day and back, I can always fill up a day with coffee meetings and lunches. There are potential clients in every city you will visit. Investors, especially in the Bay Area.
  • Give extra effort to provide introductions. I work hard to be sure that my friends and contacts in the Bay Area see me as a valuable connection to Atlanta.
  • Curate the outbound introductions carefully. Double opt in as the minimum standard. This one is unique: many times entrepreneurs in Atlanta see that I’m connected on LinkedIn to some well known Valley VC’s and ask for direct introductions. I normally just will politely decline unless I really believe there is potential value to be created. And even then, I always ask the VC first if they are ok with an intro by giving them a quick one liner about the entrepreneur.

Yes, the world is small and flat nowadays, but face-to-face meetings and serendipitous meetings still rule for building deep relationships. Getting on a plane is the only way to really make it happen long distance.

You’re Missing Out – Leverage Professional Associations

The first decade of my entrepreneurial career was spent selling online learning solutions to professional associations. We lived mostly in the Bar Association, Accounting Society, and Medical society worlds, but we worked with all kinds of associations. Yes, there is an association for everything. Funeral directors, organ donors, veterinarians, clowns, circus owners, makeup artists… everything. Our favorites when I was working in the industry was, of course, the Associations of Association Executives. But wait, one more level: then there is the Association of Association Executives who run the Associations of Association Executives. No, I’m not kidding.

Anyway…. on the topic of being resourceful, I find that I am now making the mistake that I think most people make in their careers: we don’t leverage the value of organized associations nearly as much as we could.

Paying the dues and attending the annual conferences is usually as far as most people go. Maybe you read the newsletters. But go deeper!  Members of your industry associations can be your biggest resource when you’re hunting for clients, partners, vendors, employees, or even just ideas. Just find a way to get involved.

Remember, associations are usually powered by tons of volunteers. Yes, even professional associations with expensive dues. If you want to grow yourself, start by giving to your industry by via an association.


Core Values as Blog Categories

One of the things I’m trying to do in 2015 is rethink my blog topics (and write more). I’ve learned that the best use of this blog is a way to give smart advice to myself. Early in the morning, when I write is when I think clearly about life, about the day, about big challenges ahead.

One idea I’m trying is to create a WordPress category for each of my personal core values and write small topics regularly on each one. Yes, this is more about me than about you, the reader, so forgive me but follow along if you like. :)

My core values have been the same for about 4 years now and I don’t see any changes coming soon:

  • Self Aware and at Peace
  • Resourceful
  • Open and Direct
  • Financially Enabled Freedom
  • Engaged with Family and Friends
  • Laughter is Air
  • Intensity in Everything

This post goes in “Resourceful” category, as hopefully it is a tool to further develop myself in these areas.

Outsource Everything

Outsource Everything is a mantra that was told to me by the same mentor who likes to remind me that “time is not a limiting factor, you are the limiting factor.” In this case, it’s not just a business tip. It’s a life tip. I try to think about this whenever possible when I find myself doing time-consuming mundane tasks.

This can work for you too. First, you have to assume that your time is actually worth money. If it’s not, then you have other issues. Once you’ve made an agreement with yourself that your time is worth money, then you can start to hunt for big areas where you can reclaim large amounts of time by outsourcing life.

Here are some random ideas I’ve heard on outsourcing life.

  • Housecleaning. Duh.
  • Laundry. Duh.
  • Dry cleaning. I have a friend who realized that just going to and from cleaners was a massive inefficiency so found a cleaner who drops off and picks up at his house.
  • Car washes. Stacey at the Village is awesome.
  • Yard work… that’s a tricky one for me. Currently outsourced, but I have to admit I miss it. Mowing used to be good clear thinking time.

Outsourcing is a useful way to add more time to your life. If you think you’re busy, think again… look again for ways to create time for yourself… then look one more time.

My Favorite Productivity Tools

As we begin a new year, I love taking inventory of how I work and exploring new tools. I’ve done this post before, but it’s good for me to revisit.

My top tools that help me be more productive:

GMail Web Client. My keyboard shortcuts have me rocking and rolling. Not being attached to a single computer and always being web-based is the only way to live. I can’t imagine going back to a desktop mail client. I hear good things about the new, so I’m not saying I’m Gmail forever, just that I’m web-based for the mid-term future. (with an email connector). I spend a good bit of time each day reviewing the conversations with our team and our customers. I like to see what the customers are saying mostly. I just start by sorting our Open Opportunities by Last Activity and see the latest conversation on each one.

Evernote. Still my favorite tool for blogging and meeting note taking because I am always in sync with my laptop, phone, and cloud.

Google Docs. I’m finding the need to use Excel is going down as Spreadsheets has gotten better.

FullStory. Being a product focused company, it is important to me to see stats about how people are using our app. It’s now a regular part of my routine.

Personally: FitBit Aria… I love this little scale. I step on it every morning and it tracks my weight and body fat. I have the last 2 years of weight in my phone and always at my fingertips.

Agenday by PGi. I’ve [almost] stopped using the native iOS calendar for this amazing app. It helps me jump into conference calls, pull up Salesforce data, see LinkedIn profiles, even get maps to meetings or send notes to all the attendees. This little [free!] app is super powerful and worth checking out.

I love productivity apps, so if you have one, feel free to post it in the comments.