Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Predicting Your Crazy: Profile Your Team. DISC Profiles are Mandatory for Startup CEOs

 

“God is great. Beer is good, and people are crazy.” – Billy Currington

This is one of the best country song lyrics of all time.
As it turns out though, that people are crazy in entirely predictable ways.

A Pretty Typical Entrepreneur's DISC Profile

A Pretty Typical Entrepreneur’s DISC Profile

Early as an entrepreneur, I had a lot of exposure to personality profile systems and tools, but I never dove in.   I had an exec on my team who convinced me not to use them because he “can make the test say whatever he wants me to think is his personality style.”    That was pretty logical so I caved and we never implemented it. The part I missed is that if you want to skew the test, then the team learns about your results is helpful too! (Faked results can be even more helpful depending on some of the controls in the profiling system you use.)

My personal favorite profiles are DISC and HBDI. I’ve found DISC the most helpful in day-to-day thinking.   My own DISC profile is above, which anyone who knows me, won’t be surprised to see. I am a high “D” and high “I.” Until the last couple of years, I was a higher “I,” but lately my “D” has been coming up, so watch out, because I’m now pegged at 99, the highest possible score. :)   Also notice that extremely low “S” … meaning my preferences toward stability are pretty darn low. I love change, obviously.

DISC is helpful as an entrepreneur because you learn how people are wired to communicate. This isn’t pigeonholing anyone and you don’t make any important decisions based solely on a personality profile.  However, with a good DISC profile for your team, you will learn generally how each team member…

  • … prefers to communicate with you.
  • … prefers to communicate with each other.
  • … handles conflict.
  • … manages stress.
  • … likes to work (heads down vs. collaborative).
  • … learns the best (reading, writing, doing, talking, etc.).
  • … is best motivated.
  • … will behave in social settings.
  • … makes decisions and evaluates options.
  • … evaluates risk in their own life.

So many problems can be avoided and strengths can be leveraged when you have a solid understanding of personality profiles and each team member.

If this is new to you, here is a quick DISC 101:

  • High D’s. Decisive.  Think Donald Trump.      Characteristics:   Forceful, dariing, determined, competitive, driving.
  • High I’s. Interactive. Think Jim Carrey.  Characteristics: Persuasive, inspiring, enthusiastic, sociable.
  • High S’s. Stabilizing. Think Mother Teresa or Mr. Rogers.   Characteristics: Predictable, passive, complacent, stable.
  • High C’s. Cautious.  Think Joe Friday (“Just the Facts, Ma’am”).   Characteristics:  Perfectionist, systematic, careful, analytical.

As a CEO, I want my team to know my profile as well.  It helps them be prepared for my strong opinions and high-energy communication styles.

For core startup teams, it is imperative to have some of each style on your team. It is healthy and gives your team a higher likelihood of surviving the long haul when scaling changes the dynamics of growing your company.

  • D’s – generally the D’s will be the CEO and occasionally will be in a sales role. Make decisions quickly and act with “no fear” in more settings than the other profiles.
  • I’s – lots of I’s go into sales, but also do great in marketing. Great story tellers, actors, and persuaders.
  • S’s – this is your GM or COO. The checklist oriented glue that keeps the rest of the knuckleheads together. The chief rhythm officer to keep the cadence. The guy or gal who takes the plan seriously and has to be convinced if the CEO get’s a crazy idea to go “off plan.” (Ahem, ahem, which is hourly on most teams.)  My saying is this: “To an S, EVERYTHING is a big deal!”
  • C’s – You want the C’s managing the books and writing the code!  These are two things that need to be done with a perfectionist at the helm.
DISC Profiles on every desk in Dave Ramsey's building.

DISC Profiles on every desk in Dave Ramsey’s building.

Last fall I toured Dave Ramsey’s building in Nashville with my EO Forum. They have 300+ employees in the building and run an impressive operation. I was blown away to see that each team member (executive to admin) posts their DISC profile on their door or their desk as a reminder to anyone communicating with them “here is how I like to communicate.”  See pic here.  It was awesome to see that the HR folks were all high S’s and C’s while sales and marketing were the D’s and I’s.

Once you learn the DISC profiles, you will find that this knowledge finds it’s way into your day multiple times, every single day.   You will learn how to plan your communication strategies better and people all of a sudden start to make a whole lot more sense.

 

Resource Note: The free DISC Profile available on Tony Robbins site is, hands down the best free tool out there.

Bonus note:  If you lead a sales team, I highly recommend finding a trainer such as Jim Ryerson with Sales Octane to come in and help your front-line reps learn how to use DISC to communicate with their prospects and customers.   Communicating with the right style to the right person at the right time is a skill that can be learned and DISC provides the fundamentals of what they need to know.

Are You Having Fun?

 

Last week I was talking to one of our Voxa team members about how we’re doing as a team.   We now have 7 full-time and with some extra hands helping out part time, it’s a very early-stage team of 9 high-energy Voxans.  It was a good dialog around finding the best role for everyone on the team and how and where each person adds value specifically. He wanted to be sure he was performing up to par.  Knowing how you’re doing can be tricky when the roles are so early and not yet clearly defined.  Of course I assured him that he’s doing a fantastic job and then it occurred to me to ask him a very important question:

“Are you having fun?”

At the time, that question even caught me a little off guard. In all my years leading small teams, I have asked many questions. Questions like:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how are you feeling this week about the company?
  • Are you satisfied with your job here?
  • Would you recommend to your best friend get a job here?

But for some reason, I have never thought to ask “Are you having fun?”

I’m not sure why I’ve never asked that question. Perhaps because work isn’t about having fun, it’s about making money, getting s**t done, making a mark. But isn’t doing something meaningful supposed to be fun? Isn’t pushing yourself to be better and to make a mark supposed to be FUN? If it’s not fun, then isn’t there something else you can be doing?

This question has been hanging in my mind since last week and I will continue to think about it. Even when it’s hard as hell, when we lose deals, when people quit, when competitors win… looking back, it should still be fun… I think. Don’t you?

Our parents never came home from work and answered the “How was your day at the office” question with “It was FUN!”   And looking at my own routine, I probably don’t say that enough either.  But as I sit here writing in the clear-thought and positivity of the morning with an objective outlook on the day, I’m wondering if I should start focusing more on the fact that what I do is a ton of fun.   What if my kids can grow up hearing me say repeatedly that when I was away from them, I was having fun.

Why not? What’s the downside?   If you look at the construction of success, I hardly think you would find that fun is a detractor.  Winning customers is fun. A productive team is fun. A hard day of meetings is even fun.    The challenge of a hard competitive battle over a big deal is fun… even when you lose (sometimes).

This is an energy boosting topic for me and I hope it will be for you as well. Ask your team if they are having fun and try to evaluate your day and verbalize to others that you’re having fun.   Who knows— maybe if you say it often enough, the next hard day that comes along won’t feel quite as hard and you might even squeeze out a grin.

 

How You Win

 


We spend a lot of time painting the picture of the ideal entrepreneur. We talk about what you should focus on, how you should prioritize and sling around advice constantly.

In the end, the ultimate goal of all this is to win.

Winning means beating the odds, building a company, making a few bucks and along the way having thousands of little wins. It takes a lot of winning to build something.

So then all of this advice that we sling around is all about “how to win.”

However, if you ask the question “How will I win?” the answer will probably not be something you read on a blog. The answer is unique to you.

You will win by being yourself, and being the best at being yourself.  You have a very specific set of skills. These combine to give you advantages that the other guy doesn’t have and can’t develop.

Figure out what it is, embrace it, and go nuts.

Liam Neeson - Skills

 

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.

The Rah-Rah CEO is Priority Number 3 of a Good Startup CEO

 

The third of the top 3 Startup CEO priorities, I believe, is to be the Rah-Rah CEO Face of the Company guy.    People who have pitched us in Atlanta Ventures have heard me ask this question: “Which one of you is the Rah-Rah guy?”

What I mean is this: Who is going to be “out there” jumping up and down, grabbing attention and being the face of the company?   Every company needs a persons face. It’s not enough to be a cool brand.   Facebook is Zuck.  Apple is Jobs.   MSFT is Gates.   Dell is, well, Dell.  Yahoo is Marissa. Salesloft is Porter.  Pardot was Cummings… now is Salesforce, is Benioff.  AirWatch is Dabierre.  ISS was Klaus. Oracle is… Virgin is… Twitter is… Google is… Turner is…     You see where I’m going with this.   Even a 3-person startup, needs the Rah-Rah “face guy.”

Here are some tips and thoughts on being the Rah-Rah guy.

Be active on social media.   Not obsessed. Just active. Show a personality. Share thoughts, share opinions. Be funny. Be where the discussion is happening. Get mentioned there. Not a company twitter handle, a personal Twitter handle.

Write.   Personal blogs are hugely important for Startup CEOs. It gives you an outlet to discuss macro views of the world that aren’t specifically appropriate to your corporate blog. It also gives you good rhythm and is a nice personal brand platform. It’s pretty likely this won’t be your last company. Make sure people know what you are doing.

Be a person.   Don’t be afraid to share personal stories and parts of your life that are important to you.

Speak, educate, inspire.   Startup CEOs need to be in front of an audience every chance they get. If possible, set a yearly goal for how many public presentations you will give.  Help educate your market about what you do. Help them accomplish their mission in their own businesses and they will repay you.  Don’t always be selling in these presentations. Just be there, be inspiring and be helpful.

Share your personal values.    Along with sharing your personality, share what’s meaningful to you. People will connect with you, because more than likely, other people care about some of the same things you care about. Don’t silo your beliefs and passions away from your company. Be open and transparent about them.

Be an active leader in the community.    Participating in non-profits, leadership or otherwise, is a valuable activity for any Startup CEO. It will help you keep perspective on your own problems, but if you have the right intentions, it will repay you with new opportunities, new ideas, new contacts, new inputs that will help your startup.

Don’t be too afraid of other entrepreneurial projects.   The most successful entrepreneurs I know always have more than one thing going on.  One of my friends tells me that he sees his life as a stool, and he wants it to have four-legs.  Your stool can still stand on 3 legs if one of them falls out from under you.   This goes against what most think about being focused and only doing one thing.  While I agree, for first time entrepreneurs, keeping the plates spinning requires 150% focus and attention, but once you’ve been around the block at least once, you will begin to understand that adding diversity to your energy output makes you learn how to be more efficient.   Done right, you can create a personal synergistic ecosystem where each project feeds the others.

Last point… if you aren’t the Rah-Rah guy, it may be hard to come out of your shell and go find him or her. I sympathize with you, although I can’t relate. :)  My advice to you is to get in front of the connectors around you. Investors, bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs.   Be humble and tell them you need a Rah-Rah CEO.  The good thing about Rah-Rah CEOs is that they aren’t hard to find if they are good at being visible.      I can say with confidence that there are plenty high energy guys out there looking to be your Startup CEO.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Hollis on Texas Holdem and His Entrepreneurial Competitive Advantage – (Part 3 of 3)

 

hollisToday the Ron Hollis Mini-Series comes to a close with a bang. This is the grand finale that will NOT disappoint.  Heads up– this post takes come concentration. So find a chunk of time to process it. It took me several reads, but as with all time spent with Ron, I’m a better man for it.

For background on the Ron Hollis Mini-Series, see the opening here and the second post here.

 

What hobbies are important to you and why do they give you energy?

Interestingly, I have never been a “hobby” guy, but someone that finds activities that can help my overall purpose or role in the world.  I struggle with a concept of doing some activity for the sake of passing precious time in one’s life without some applicability elsewhere.  Of course this is an easy position to allow my rationalization to obscure my hypocrisy.

Typically, activities find me and their alignment creates a strong interest to learn more. I struggle doing things for the sake of doing them. I tried to collect coins, stamps, etc when I was younger, but quickly lost interest when the concept of collecting was mastered and there was little thrill in a perpetual purpose of searching.

As my life has evolved, I considered “business” as my hobby since it has been an area that I have been involved in since my early teens. I became fascinated with the system of commerce, customers, profits, risks, etc. Fortunately, I was also interested in the complex systems of nature and invested many years of my life studying engineering. As my career evolved, I always knew that I would find a way to merge the fields into a common area for me to focus. This allowed me to follow Hill’s guidance of doing what you love and you never have to work. I found this merged purpose with Quickparts, which was a great career and hobby for me. I was able to invest all my career time in the business and my excess time studying about the business. From there, I was able to build a strong foundation of knowledge, wisdom and confidence to succeed.

Since exiting the company, I have been in transition working with other entrepreneurs and their businesses. As has been typical in my life, the universe has aligned my interest in another area that I consider positive and applicable to my core purpose. Many, particularly my wife, would strongly consider this just a hobby, but for me it is an area that I can study, apply new knowledge, assess and improve. This area is amazingly enough tournament style No-limit Texas Holdem Poker.  As most folks, I have played randomly for much of my life, but only within the past year did I realize the real world of Holdem and power of the game.

As an interesting aside, my participation in the game is serendipitous, thus reinforcing the belief that the universe guides our opportunities as long as we are willing to listen and act.  I had stumbled upon Holdem on my I-phone and started playing. I found it mostly dull since most folks were just shoving their stacks with in any two cards, but I was intrigued that some folks had large bank rolls and I thought they had earned them (instead of bought them). I wanted to know what made some players different in a game other than just random luck. So, I started reading blogs online about poker and realized there was an entire world of poker that was spawned in the last decade from online poker, which had become some $16B industry until the US government shut down online poker in the US.

Wow, all of this activity, energy and data that was now dormant and looking for a home. I studied that poker was actually a combination of areas that are interesting and complex. It contains statistics to understand odds that support decisions regarding future events (Analytics), it contained human behavior modeling to understand what action a person is mostly to do in a given situation (Intuition), and randomness (Luck).

So, this became a game that was not just based on the flip of the coin, but one in that you had to make decisions on actions to increase your chance of success. So, there is luck involved, but you can do things to increase your luck and decrease your competitors luck.  Also, it gives the best financial leverage to those decisions (I can bet $1 to win a pot that has $7 in it, so I have to determine my likelihood of success in winning against risking my $1).  The defining factor for me was that I studied the folks that always were at the final table playing for the tournament winnings. I discovered that it was typically the same core folks playing at the final table. So, these were either some very luck poker players OR there was more than random luck involved.

Serendipity at work… After playing on my phone for a month, I wanted to play some live games which created an interesting serendipitous life occurrence. I was at the lake in Cumming, Georgia when I did a Google search for live poker. A result was a poker club in the area that played poker every day of the week. They met at various restaurants to play. And most important to me, it was free to play, so you never risked your money to play and learn the game.

Their business model was that you would eat and drink at the restaurant in order to play and they got paid for bringing in new customers, so a win-win situation. I went to the game that night expecting 2-3 other poker neophytes sitting around looking at the ceiling and walked into a room with 50 folks ready to play. It was amazing that there were so many folks playing in a small Georgia town. This was a blessing for me because I was able to play 100’s of tournaments without risking my money on all of the mistakes that beginners inevitably make. I would play, study and play again the next day. A chapter can be written on the perils of free poker, but for me it was a blessing in that I could improve my game with no risk. Most folks have to learn poker playing in real games with real dollars that they will easily lose in the early days of their learning curve and struggle to really hone their skills. It turns out that Atlanta is a bit unique with free poker in that they have some of the largest free poker groups in the country with some high quality talent. This is the result of a melting pot city in the middle of the bible belt where gambling is illegal.

Anyway, I have moved to an area (St. Petersburg,  FL) where there is no free poker, but a couple of great poker rooms where the real players go. I am able to play and compete in these rooms to risk my money and win more money, which so far has been positive.

Why is poker aligned with my earlier passion of business…Well, it turns out that Holdem has the unique characteristics that are similar to starting and building a business except the process is accelerated so that you know the result of your decisions faster. A poker tournament can last hours to days, while a business can go on for months or years. Some of the common characteristics include the concept of investing in a hand, making decisions about the outcome of  hand based on the information you have (internal knowledge) and the information you don’t have (external market information and competitive threats). You have to decide how much of your cash (chips) to invest and risk as well as the consequences of a mistake in that investment.

If you invest all of your cash (all-in) and you lose the hand, then your tournament life is over just as your business life would be in a similar mistake. When the hands are dealt, there are typically nine other human personalities all making decisions just like you. However, each one has their own personalities, risks profiles, motivations and patience. You have to determine the weak from the strong, the gambler from the analytic, and the proactive (raiser) from the reactive (caller). You have to market your position with your bets and posturing. Do you want others to call your bet or just fold because they think they are beat?

Another key aspect of the game is that it is very personal. You are all alone in your journey on the poker tournament. Most folks never see a full hand evolve and even fewer would understand why you did what you did. There is also the very lonely walk to the rail when you lose all of your chips to a better hand that you decided to compete against. Your decision resulted in your death. This is true of the thriving entrepreneur that bets their life savings on a business idea. They make the decisions and live with the consequences. Being an entrepreneur is actually a very lonely place where few can ever understand or appreciate what you are thinking and how you are handling the decisions. As you become more successful, the consequences of these decisions compound with more lives/families involved.

Sitting deep stacked at the final table against four poker pros that are deep stacked and ready to eat you for dinner can provide a similar emotional isolation that is empowering and debilitating. You thrive on the opportunity of success and winning, but can become frozen from the risk of failure if you make the wrong decision.  Should you play this hand, if so, should you raise or just limp in? You have a pair of Queens, should you go all-in and risk the entire game on the next guy having a pair of Aces? In a Holdem tournament, the structure is designed to force an end of the game. Eventually, everyone will run out of chips except for the winner. So, doing nothing is a path to death but doing something can escalate ones death. So, you have to make decisions on what success really looks like now and in the future. Business is quite similar except that business is crueler than Holdem. Holdem will force you to a death, while business will let a bad business and/or bad business leader continue to exist even when death is imminent. Their business becomes the “walking dead” and the entrepreneur just continues to waste his precious time (particularly career time to recoup his losses) and his final dollars because his ego or ignorance refuses to face reality and shut down the business. He can’t just go “all-in” and see where he stands.

Obviously Holdem is interesting to me today and I am blessed to get to play several times per week. However, there is randomness(luck) that does exists and I am studying to figure out how much a factor luck really plays in the game so that I can equate it to the amount of luck that is required to have a successful business. In business, I believe the axiom that “luck is at the corner of opportunity and preparedness”, however, in Holdem, sometimes the donkey that calls your bet with seven-deuce can still take your chips.   When that happens, you can feel pretty pissed and decide that it’s just a dumb game of luck. However, on the drive home you can have a head-on crash with a drunk and your game of life is over just as quick, so I guess there is a lot of luck everywhere.

Since it’s a question on hobbies, other things that I invest time, energy and dollars include flying (private pilot) for the utility of the going from point A to point B.  I enjoy boating (sailing in BVI, etc.) for the tranquility and intimidation of the sea. I play golf to become frustrated while enjoying being outside.  As my son grows up, I’m sure there will be other activities that I invest in based on a desire to spend time with him and what his evolution.

 

What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that have made you more successful than the guy you are competing against in business?

Fortunately, I have always had a strong work-ethic which allowed me to easily be willing to work harder and smarter than the next guy. I have never been a 9-5 guy that quit what I was doing because of the time of day. I focus on activities and accomplishments to assess when I would quit for the day. If this was well past “quitting time” then so be it. I was programmed this way from my early days, and interestingly, it created some challenges for me in the beginning of my career at Boeing. When I wanted to keep working to finish project, my peers and bosses were ready to go at 5pm and made it clear that it was not my choice to work longer. While a bit shocking, I realized that there are different views and approaches to work.

An innate competitive advantage was recently illustrated to me in reading an article about John McEnroe and why he was acted the way he did on the courts. He said what drove him was that he “hated to lose more than he loved to win.”  Unless this is part of your personality, it may be hard to understand, but for me it explained a life filled with emotional reactions and major sacrifices to prevent losing, while having a personality that didn’t care to celebrate the victories. Even as a CEO, where celebrating successes is imperative for a positive culture, I would have to “act the part” in the celebrations all the while I was thinking about the next goal or accomplishment. I’m not sure this is a healthy trait, but it does provide the motivation to invest all of your energy to prevent losing (which typically means winning). Interestingly, poker is a bit therapeutic here since there is a lot of losing that occurs.

Other life advantages that I have been given was that I was raised very poor which allowed me to be ostracized from the normal society and to be stereotyped as being lazy or stupid or something. It is easily assumed that if you are poor than you are probably not smart, however, I was blessed with intelligence and could easily overachieve academically. I made it a personal mission to always prove that I am just as smart at the rich kids that go to the fancy private schools. Interestingly, this motivation carried forward in my career where I was peers with engineers from high end schools (MIT, etc.) and I was just a guy from Alabama. I would work harder and study more to be ahead. I learned that having intelligence is only one of the keys to success in life; another equally important part is the attitude to apply that intelligence wisely. While my peers were intelligent and degreed from MIT and other fancy schools, they were also less inclined to work hard and expected success to be given to them instead of being earned by them.

I have always been very focused on my defined goals and unwilling to compromise my time and energy in their pursuit. Fortunately, I have been blessed with a perfect wife for me in that she has always supported my journey and never tried to interfere with our success with some typical spousal demands that could force a compromise.

I have a strong sense of urgency to get things done yesterday. I believe that time is a critical component to all success, so use it wisely and avoid doing today what should have been done yesterday.

Lastly, I hate waste. This disdain has cultivated a strong sense of detail and pursuit of excellence. If things can be done more efficiently, then I have a primal urge to pursue this new path of efficiency. This allows for flexibility to change what has worked and turns out to be a key trait of building an entrepreneurial company. Most successful companies are growing, thus changing their composition every day with more employees, systems and problems. By focusing on eliminating waste, which drives efficiencies, then the organization can always be adapting to their new composition. Many companies grow to a certain level and stall. They sit around wondering why they are not growing and then become more worried when they start retreating. They refuse to understand that doing what worked yesterday will only allow an organization of yesterday to exist. A simple, yet complex reality.

 

Thank you Ron for these awesome and helpful thoughts.  Ron is an inspirational role model for anyone who is looking to harness their high energy and move the needle in meaningful ways.

 

 

 

 

 

Hollis on Energy Drains and Entrepreneurial Altrusim (Part 2 of 3)

hollis

Today the RHMS continues! (Ron Hollis Mini-Series). You know your DVR’s are set and you can’t wait to see what Ron says next.   Details and background on Ron here in the first post.

Let’s get back into the questions for Ron.

 

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

My personal energy is drained by poor planning, mismanagement of resources and waste. I have always strived to be a disciplined person that is willing to invest time to plan, track and execute what I wanted accomplished.   However, being associated with others that are less motivated can create energy drains.

As an aside, I’m a big believer in using energy drains to identify deficiencies in your own plan or execution, particular as a business leader. My definition of energy drains are the compelling thoughts you are having about something that is not positive and causing you stress. A simple test is to assess what you are thinking about while driving in mind-numbing rush-hour traffic (there are plenty of these times in Atlanta). If you continue to think about the same person and their deficiencies, and just not sure why, then they are an energy drain.

As a CEO, I would document and review my current energy drains every morning. Since much of my responsibility is about putting the right people in the right position, it was typically a person (instead of something else) that was the energy drain. I challenged myself to remove an energy drain from the list within a few days. I would have a critical assessment of the energy drain and try to identify a cause. Sometimes this is easy, like when the sales person is just not closing their deals because they don’t have strong enough product knowledge.  While other times it could be that this person is just not getting it, but you’re not sure what they are missing and why.

Typically, my resolutions became a partnership with the person causing my energy drain. I would meet with them and let them know they are on my “energy drain list” and that WE must figure out what the cause is and how to resolve it quickly. Amazingly, this candid, and sometimes difficult, conversation is very effective with the issue being easily identified, like the sales person does not like the technical aspects of the product and so not motivated to master the information. With the issue identified, the resolution can be simple and mutual, like the sales person finding another job in a different field in which they are interested in mastering their product.  Either way, the energy drain is dissolved and life continues.

Also, I find negative people are energy drains and very frustrating. They can create the few situations where I will become emotionally expressive and critical. I will typically just remove myself from the situation. This is true in a meeting or a family get-together. These people have realized that it is easier to complain and predict failure, than to invest the time and energy to influence a positive outcome.

How do you find ways to help others and give back?

I’m not a big fan of typical philanthropic and charitable approaches. I think the business of the charity (donations, expansion, executives) typically gets in the way of the mission of the charity, so why waste my money on something that will have little impact. Most folks only give so they can check off their “feel good” action and think they have done their part with a cleared check and take no accountability if their investment was actually useful.

So, I work more on teaching a man to fish and then let him decide how to guide his own life. On  a personal level, my primary areas of ‘teaching” are about setting life goals, being accountable for one’s life and being willing to invest more today than you are being paid for (a basic tenet of Napoleon Hill). For life planning, I give a copy of Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and Tommy Newberry’s Success is Not an Accident. From there, I am willing to meet and discuss their progress. Since success requires a lot of work and unpaid effort, most give up fast, so it’s an easy way to free up my philanthropic calendar.

Another means of giving back is through what I call “entrepreneurial altruism”. This is where I will invest my time to work with a young business CEOs to help clear the clutter of their business path and increase the chances of success. I apply my skills of candor, logic and accountability to drive the business leader forward. I find this approach has more potential to impact the world since a successful company can touch exponentially more folks, but also find it hard to make a successful CEO out of a person that lacks the fundamental skills required to be a CEO. If  you don’t have  the courage to make the hard decisions, then you cannot succeed, regardless of who is helping.

While I was running Quickparts, my philosophy on philanthropic efforts and giving back was to invest heavily in building great leaders within the company. We would invest heavily in formal training and structured programs that would help a person become a better leader, both academically and practically. For the company, this was beneficial in that we had a strong foundation of young leaders to continue to build the company. Also, the altruistic rationalization was that a strong leader at work would also be a strong leader at home, in church, their kid’s schools and other areas of life. This would provide an exponential impact on the world that made our small investment have a great return.

 

Thanks again Ron! One more post tomorrow.

 

 

The Ron Hollis Mini-Series – Ron on Balance and Alignment (Part 1 of 3)

 

hollisIntroducing THE most fascinating, high-energy, deep entrepreneur I know.   For those that haven’t met Ron Hollis  you should add this to your bucket list. Ron is a successful Atlanta entrepreneur who built and sold Quickparts.com, which at the time was doing $25mm in annual revenue. He is also one of the original EO Atlanta members, having joined back in the mid 90’s.    Ron, with his PhD in hand, and crazy high energy conversationalist, is ridiculously smart and it shows. When I first read his answers to my questions profiling entrepreneurs for this blog, I was blown away and decided that he deserves his own mini-series! Two questions at a time.

Ron is a fantastic mentor of mine, and I hope that young entrepreneurs will take his words below to heart. Read them slowly and multiple times over.   You can even see the thought he put into these answers in this note he provided to me:

Johnson – The following responses were prepared with the intention to provide a deeper perspective to the provided question that possibly sparks additional intellectualization by the reader instead of just being a bunch of words espoused by someone responding the question.  My responses were overly cogitated to balance value to the reader while minimizing the boredom of reading about another person’s viewpoint, which we really don’t care about.  So, it is my desire that something sticks that can help provide a positive nudge on your path in life.  -Ron

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)?

I think that in today’s world, there is no such thing as work-life balance and that one should plan their life with a complete integration of all activities and experiences.  Their “job” should be part of an overall strategy of a whole life, in alignment with their spousal relationships, children, friends, health, recreation, etc, instead of seeing their job as an extracurricular activity they are required to “clock-in” and “clock-out” of during their work week. This is much easier to do if you are pursuing your passion instead of just going through the motions of life.

For me, I have never felt that I was un-balanced in life, but was willing to invest my time into what I felt was most important at the time, which was usually my business.  A key is being a structured, disciplined and candid person, which allows the opportunity for expectations to be set with all areas of life so that disappointments are minimized. Candid communication about what I am doing and why it is important is critical to allow everyone to be on the same page in my world.  This is true for relationships with your spouse, children, business and with yourself, such as with your own health. For example, my family always has dinner together on Mondays that includes our family meeting to discuss our goals, schedules and challenges. I treat this meeting with the same commitment as a customer meeting and consider it equally important. By having the meeting scheduled and my commitment to be sure that I attend ensures a continued investment in important areas of my life. If I am unable or unwilling to attend my son’s sporting event, then this is communicated beforehand to avoid misunderstands and unnecessary disappointments.

During the early days of my career, I was always willing to sacrifice my Friday nights and weekends to work on something that could grow my skills, knowledge and value while my friends were out enjoying life partying. My rationalization was that the harder I worked then would allow me more freedom to enjoy life later. The risk I was accepting was a premature death, and then the strategy would have been wrong. So far, this approach has been successful for me. It is interesting to find so many folks that want to reap the rewards of success without being willing to invest their time and energy planting the seeds for their future.

So, balance is what you define it to be and not some fairy tale perception that you can invest equally in all areas that you consider important. I find that most folks naturally invest their own time in areas that THEY want to spend their time in and then blame work-life balance as an excuse for neglecting other areas that are seeking attention. An avid golfer will always find a way to play golf and then rationalize the time lost elsewhere.

What gives you the most personal energy?

My personal energy is driven from being aligned to my purpose in the world. When I am investing every precious minute towards my overall purpose, then I am happy and rejuvenated. Typically my alignment is around having a positive impact on the world around me, particularly in the area of business and life management.

I enjoy the power and impact of successful business enterprises in positively affecting their customers, the company’s team members, and the community of those team members. By investing time and energy, with appropriate discipline, it is empowering to see the positive transformations that can occur.  These transformations have very long-term and exponential impacts on the lives of those around you (both those you know and the folks you don’t know exist).

My alignment is also driven by association with other positive and impactful people. I have little tolerance for ignorance and laziness and I will willingly ostracize those people out of my life. This does not matter if it is my neighbor or my family. I think you become the average of the people you spend your time with, so I work to always be averaging up by intentionally finding and associating with those stronger than me in areas I wish to improve. Equally important is to NOT invest time around those that are negative, unmotivated and unwilling to manage the opportunities of their life.

 Stay tuned for part 2 of 3 of the Ron Hollis Mini-Series!

 

 

Entrepreneur Profile – Craig Hyde, CEO of Rigor

Continuing my occasional series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business, we have a good one.     Craig Hyde is the CEO of Rigor.com – a rising star in web performance monitoring companies on the Atlanta tech scene.   I have the pleasure of seeing Craig’s face every day in the Atlanta Tech Village.

What is your exercise routine?
I work out early in the morning (5:30 or 6:30am) before I start my day, otherwise I won’t get to it at all. I aim to get in the gym at least 3x a week and do CrossFit to pack as much into a workout as possible. [Insert plug for Dan MacDougald and CrossFit Atlanta.]

What gives you the most personal energy?
Any challenge. As an entrepreneur, I love when we beat the competition. On the technical side, I love figuring out hacks and workarounds for difficult problems. I also get all pumped up whenever my team mates, Hubert and Kyle, show off their new Rigor creations.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?
Negativity and status quo.

How are you involved in the community?
I’m involved in too many community organizations to count. Keeping a peer network of others who are working on similar things is invaluable to me. A few organizations that I am involved in include:

  • EO Accelerator
  • Atlanta Tech Village
  • Atlanta CEO Council
  • ATDC Select
  • MIT Forum
  • TAG
  • Peachtree Toastmasters

How do you find ways to help others and give back?
I’ve gained a lot from others over the years, so I make it a point to pay it forward when I can. Here are some recent activities I’ve been a part of:

Paying it forward has the added benefit of helping me reflect and better learn from past experiences.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they?
Now I do:

  • Be optimistic
  • Never burn bridges
  • Give first and expect nothing in return
  • Work harder
  • Have fun
  • Get better

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?
I’ve got a number of them – All of which are invaluable. Most notable are the connections that I’ve made are through Georgia Tech, EO, and the Atlanta Ventures team.

What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that has made / will make you more successful than the guy you are competing against in business?
I’ve carved out a niche for myself by learning how to bridge the gap between people and technology, where most people focus on one or the other. Also, I tend to aim high in life, and occasionally I’m lucky enough to hit my target. Dream big!

 

 

Observations of Trying on a New Hat – Entrepreneur to Investor

 

Bad Ass Bumblebee TransformerWith the launch of our Atlanta Ventures Accelerator along with some opportunistic angel investments through Atlanta Ventures, I’ve had the opportunity that is one of the most fun for any entrepreneur: to wear the hat of the investor.

No telling where exactly I will land in the bell curve of how well entrepreneurs transition into successful investors, but so far I feel like it’s a natural fit: given my love for connecting people, helping those I can help, and focusing on the right people for the right roles with the right values.  It’s also exhilarating and educational given that I’ve always bootstrapped and never had the opportunity to raise equity money in my previous companies. We always used personal credit cards, family, and bank debt to get from point A to B.   (I’m not sure I would do it that way if I had it to do over again, but that’s for another post.)

Some observations that any entrepreneur who transitions to investor will experience:

Optimism’s Complicated Role.

This is by far the biggest contrast between the two roles. Typically, the most successful entrepreneurs I know are the most optimistic ones. It’s not that they don’t acknowledge the dangers and challenges out there, it’s that they choose to focus on their resources at hand, and the vision of what they’re trying to accomplish. They are constantly and relentlessly optimistic. I’ve been told a few times that this describes me.      Now that I’m wearing the investor hat, however, it is impossible, and as such, ill-advised to invest in every opportunity that comes along. :)  (That’s putting it lightly. )     I meet tons of amazing people. I hear about countless brilliant ideas. Yet, optimism as to be put aside and realistic measures of probability of success have to be counted on when making decisions about a very limited supply of capital and unlimited demand.

At SxSW last year, Peter Theil describe a quadrant of macro economic sentiment.   It crossed Informed vs. Uninformed with Optimistic vs. Pessimistic.    His point of the talk was to say that we are currently in the  quadrant of Uninformed-Optimism.  He generalized that we are happy about the world right now, and we are saving up tons of cash, but we don’t really have a large purpose of overall societal goal.

That’s a long way to say that the frame work of Uninformed Optimism vs. Informed Optimism is how I have to think about investments we make despite my naturally optimistic tendencies. Where an entrepreneur can typically do well with Uninformed Optimism as the M.O., an investor must be informed about the Optimism. There must be overarching goals with intentional strategies and directional control from Day 1.  At a minimum, there must be some basis for the decision to invest other than “it just feels right.”

Patience.

As an entrepreneur, I can’t tell you how many times I would think of a new idea or direction as I was falling asleep and jump out of bed to spend several hours in the middle of the night creating, launching, building, or plotting. As an investor, everything is driven by conversations with people. I cannot decide that tomorrow I want to meet 10 investable startups. It just won’t happen.   I can control only one thing– the top of the funnel. I can meet more people. I can help my team meet more people. If we fill the top of the funnel, we will find some percentage of investable deals.   This is a fun transition for me.    I’m not sure I would have had the patience for this just 5 years ago.  It’s a new understanding of slowing down to go faster.

Freedom and Joy of Accountability.

It’s not secret, just like most VC’s out there, I too am using mostly OPM in these investments.  As a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I reported to nobody but my customers (and I can fire them).   If I felt like a half-ass year was ok with my bank account, there was nobody to discuss it with except my wife.      Investors with Partners who fund the activities however, have a fiduciary obligation to deploy capital and answer for the decisions made.   I have to be honest, I absolutely love this structure. It gives me a needle to move and for some reason I do much better when challenged externally.   If left to my own money and total freedom I find it hard to achieve the same focussed staying power.

Helping Seems Easier.

Because I meet so many people every week (for details on this, read The Grind post by Fred Wilson. This is spot on.), I find it much easier to make connections that change trajectories for people.   For talented folks looking to be placed, I have no problem finding them a role in some startup I’ve met… same goes for startups looking for team members, customers, or even additional investors.    I felt connected as an entrepreneur, but nothing like now.

Gut feelings still help, but must be checked.

Believe it or not, a gut feeling comes in handy as an entrepreneur turned investor, but there’s a caveat. First, it requires the self-awareness to know that my FIRST gut feeling almost every time will be an optimistic one.  After I’ve gotten over that and still like an opportunity, I’ve already benefited from acting on a gut feeling either positive or negative. When a fut feeling turns out to be right, it’s awesome.

I enjoy this new hat very much and look forward to sharing more thoughts here on the journey.