Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

An Antifragile Team – When Each Person Stands on Their Own Two Feet


I adore the team we’ve assembled at the helm of the Atlanta Tech Village  They are amazing individuals who impress and inspire me every day. They believe in what we’re doing, they take ownership of everything, they get along, they are nice, they don’t hesitate to dream big, and they sure as heck know how to work hard and play hard!

One observation that I think makes this team especially unique and should be the goal for every startup: each team member can stand on his or her own two feet.    What do I mean?   Here are some examples and observations.

  • Self Confidence.  This is the biggest. Each team member has confidence in his or her abilities. This leads to much cleaner communication, more efficient and healthy disagreements, and a “presence” that just makes it enjoyable to spend time with them.  I’m not sure how to describe someone’s presence, but I think you know what I mean.  You just have this feeling that they have their shit together.
  • Passion. Not just passion for what we’re doing, but passion for life all around. Passion fuels ability. It gives it legs.  Passion is the salt that makes anything worthwhile.
  • Side projects. I love that we have personal blogs, side contracts, weekend gigs, non-profits, even book projects underway. It gives us all the balance to keep our sanity and to not over-focus or burn out on the Village. After all: (job != life).
  • Meaningful activities.  I also find it super impressive that many of the non-Village activities our team engages in are related to non-profits or other causes that they find important. This is just the same value that entrepreneurs get from being involved in a religious or spiritual group. It gives you a greater sense of perspective on where you stand in the universe. Keeping this perspective is key.
  • Relationships.  Having a team that each has their own strong networks can be a powerful accelerant for any organization. People make the difference. People who know more people can make a bigger difference than others.   (Granted, we aren’t a tech company therefore we don’t have any introverts… so that does skew this crowd a little.  Heck, even our accountant likes to party!)
  • They Choose to be Here.  I think all of the above items lead to this one.  Each team member has the resources, confidence, and abilities needed to go get any other job they want. They aren’t here because it’s the only option. They’re here because they choose to be.

This is an antifragile team.    We could pull the Tony Hsieh and offer them $2,000 to quit and they wouldn’t even consider it.    Every startup should make this the goal. The best team is the team that doesn’t need you. They choose you.   The amazing things they will accomplish will change your organization’s trajectory!

So here’s the quick shout out (in no order) to the awesome: Lindsay, Karen, Erin, Ben, TPaz, Durrty M (yes, two R’s), DLight, Kaitlyn, and JPach.  Thanks guys.


Start with Why – Simon Sinek TED Talk Transcript by TranscriptsHQ


We recently made an investment in Atlanta tech startup TranscriptsHQ.   The founder, Eugene Yukin is one of the most passionate entrepreneurs I’ve met in a long time and I’m already enjoying working with him.   Having a background as a reporter who was constantly purchasing transcripts for audio files, phone calls, and videos, Eugene believes that transcripts and summaries can be purchased a better way.   The service is super simple and very affordable. They still use humans to power the transcription which allows them to do summaries and notes– along with great quality.   Since I love the service, and since I have tons of traffic to this site for the Simon Sinek Ted Talk “Start with Why,” I thought it appropriate to provide a transcript of that popular video here.   

Videos through blogs are great, but personally, I prefer to just read. I like going at my own pace (faster than the video) and having the option to skim, highlight, copy, paste and more.   With all that background, here is the transcript of Simon Sinek’s TED talk, mandatory content for every startup entrepreneur in Atlanta and the Atlanta Tech Village. 



Transcript — Simon Sinek TED Talk: Start With Why (Original Video Here and Here)

We assume that we know why we do what we do, but then how do you explain when things don’t go as we assume. Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all the assumptions. For example, why is Apple so innovative year after year after year? They are more innovative than all their competition and yet, they are just a computer company. They are just like everyone else. They have the same access to the same talent, the same agencies, the same consultants and the same media. Why is it that they seem to have something different? Why is that Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement? He wasn’t the only man who suffered in pre civil rights America and he certainly wasn’t the only great orator of the day. Why him? And why is it that the Wright brothers were able to figure out control powered manned flight when there were certainly other teams who were better qualified and funded, and they didn’t achieve powered manned flight. The Wright brothers beat them to it. There’s something else at play here.

About three and a half years ago, I made a discovery and this discovery profoundly changed my view on how I thought the world worked and it even profoundly changed the way in which I operate in it. As it turns out there’s a pattern. All the great and inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers – they all think, act, and communicate the exact same way and it’s the complete opposite to everyone else. All I did was codify it. It’s probably the world’s simplest idea and I call it the Golden Circle. Why? How? What?

This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others are not. Let me define the terms very quickly.

Every single person and organization in the planet knows what they do 100%. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiating proposition or proprietary process or USP. But very very few people and organizations know why they do what they do. And by why I don’t mean to make a profit – that’s a result. It’s always a result. By why I mean, what’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist?

As a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. It’s obvious; we go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and organizations, regardless of their size or industry, all think, act, and communicate from the inside out. Let me give you an example.

I use Apple because they are easy to understand and everybody gets it. If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them may sound like this: We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?


And that’s how most of us communicate. That’s how most marketing and sales are done and that’s how most of us communicate interpersonally. We say what we do, we say how we are different or how we are better, and we expect some sort of behavior – a purchase or vote or something like that. “Here’s our new law firm. We have the best lawyers with the biggest clients. We always perform for our clients – do business with us.” “Here’s our new car – it gets great gas mileage, it has leather seats – buy our car.” But this is uninspiring.

Here’s how Apple actually communicates – Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

Totally different, right? You’re ready to buy a computer from me. All I did was reverse the order of the information. People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it. This explains why every single person in this room is perfectly comfortable buying a computer from Apple. But we are also perfectly comfortable buying an MP3 player from Apple, or a phone from Apple or a DVR from Apple. But as I said before, Apple is just a computer company. There’s nothing that distinguishes them structurally from any of their competitors. Their competitors are all equally qualified to make all of these products. In fact they tried. A few years ago Gateway came out with flat screen TVs. They are imminently qualified to make flat screen TVs, they have been making flat screen monitors for years. Nobody bought one.

Dell came out with MP3 players and PDAs and they make great quality products and they can make perfectly well designed products and nobody bought one. In fact, talking about it now we can’t even imagine buying an MP3 player from Dell. Why would you buy an MP3 player from a computer company? But we do it everyday. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe. Here’s the best part. None of what I’m telling you is my opinion. It’s all grounded in the tenants of biology. Not psychology – biology.

If you look at a cross section of the human brain, looking from the top down, what you see is that the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the Golden Circle. Our newest brain – our homosapien brain, our neocortex corresponds with the “what” level. The neocortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought and language.

The middle two sections make up our limbic brains and our limbic brain is responsible for all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for all human behavior and decision making, and it has no capacity for language. In other words, when we communicate from the outside in then yes, people can understand vast amount of complicated information like features, benefits, facts, and figures, just doesn’t drive behavior. When we communicate from the inside out, we are talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior and then we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do. This is where gut decisions come from.

You know, sometimes, you can give somebody all the facts and figures and they say, “I know what all the facts and details are but it just doesn’t feel right.” Why do we use that verb? It doesn’t feel right. Because the part of the brain that controls the decision-making, doesn’t control language and the best we can muster up is, “I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right.”

Or sometimes you say you’re leading with your heart or you’re leading with your soul. Well, I hate to break it to you, those aren’t other body parts controlling your behavior, that’s all happening here in your limbic brain. The part of the brain that controls decision-making and not language. But if you don’t know why you do what you do and people respond to why you do what you do, then how will you ever get someone to vote for you, buy something from you, or more importantly be loyal and want to be a part of what it is that you do. Again, the goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have, the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe. The goal is not just to hire people who need a job, it is to hire people who believe what you believe.

I always say that if you hire people just because they can do a job, they will work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they will work for you with blood, sweat, and tears. And nowhere else is there a better example of this than with the Wright brothers.

Most people don’t know about Samuel Pierpont Langley and back in the early 20th century, the pursuit of powered manned flight was like the dotcom of the day. Everybody was trying it. Samuel Pierpont Langley had what we assume to be the recipe for success. I mean, even now when we ask, “Why did your product or company fail?” People always give you the same permutations of the same three things. Undercapitalized, the wrong people, bad market conditions. It’s always the same three things. So let’s explore that. Samuel Pierpont Langley was given $50,000 by the War Department to figure out this flying machine. Money was no problem. He held a seat at Harvard and worked at the Smithsonian and was extremely well connected. He knew all the big minds of the day. He hired the best minds money could find and the market conditions were fantastic. The New York Times followed him around everywhere and everyone was rooting for Langley. Then how come we have never heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley? A few hundred miles away in Dayton, Ohio lived Orville and Wilbur Wright. They had none of what we consider to be the recipe for success.

They had no money, they paid for their dream with the proceeds from their bicycle shop. Not a single person on the Wright brothers’ team had a college education. Not even Orville or Wilbur. And the New York Times followed them around nowhere. The difference was that Orville and Wilbur were driven by a cause, a purpose, a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it will change the course of the world.

Samuel Pierpont Langley was different. He wanted to be rich and he wanted to be famous. He was in pursuit of the result, he was in pursuit of the riches and lo and behold look what happened. The people who believed in the Wright brothers’ dream worked with them with blood, sweat, and tears. The others just worked for the paycheck. And they tell stories about how every time the Wright brothers’ went out, they would have to take five sets of parts because that’s how many times they would crash before they came in for supper. And eventually on December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers took flight and no one was there to even experience it. We found out about it a few days later.

And further proof that Langley was motivated by the wrong thing – the day the Wright brothers took flight, he quit. He could have said, “That’s an amazing discovery guys and I will improve upon your technology.” But he didn’t. He wasn’t first, he didn’t get rich, he didn’t get famous, so he quit. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And if you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe. Well, why is important to attract those who believe what you believe?

Something called the law of diffusion of innovation. And if you don’t know the law, then you definitely know the terminology. The first two and half percent of our population are our innovators. The next 13.5 percent of our population are our early adopters, the next 34% are your early majority, the late majority, and your laggards. The only reason these people buy touchtone phones is because you can’t buy rotary phones anymore. We all sit at various places at various times on this scale but what the law of diffusion of innovation tells us is that if you want mass market success or mass market acceptance of an idea, you cannot have it until you achieve this tipping point between 15 and 18 percent market penetration and then the system tips.

I love asking businesses what’s your conversion on new business and they love to tell you proudly, “Oh, it’s about ten percent.” Well you can trip over ten percent of the customers. We all have ten percent who just “get it”. That’s how we describe them. That’s like that gut feeling. “Oh, they just get it.” The problem is how do you find the ones who just get it before you are doing business with them versus the ones who don’t get it. So, it’s this here, this little gap that you have to close as Geoffrey Moore calls it, “Closing the Chasm.” You see, the early majority will not try something until someone else has tried it first and these guys, the innovators and the early adopters, they are comfortable making those gut decisions. They are more comfortable making those intuitive decisions that are driven by what they believe about the world and not just what product is available. These are the people who stood in line for six hours to buy an iPhone when they first came out. When you could have just walked into a store the next week and bought one off the shelf. These are the people who spent $40,000 on flat screen TVs when they first came out even though the technology was substandard. And by the way, they didn’t do it because the technology was so great. They did it for themselves, it’s because they wanted to be first. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it and what you do simply proves what you believe. In fact, people will do the things that prove what they believe. The reason the person bought the iPhone in the first six hours was because of what they believed about the world and how they wanted everybody to see them. They were first.

So let me give you a famous example – a famous failure and a famous success of the law of diffusion of innovation. First the famous failure. It’s a commercial example. As we said before a second ago, the recipe for success is money, and the right people and the right marketing conditions, and you should have success then. Look at TIVO. From the time TIVO came out about eight or nine years ago to this current day, they are the single, highest quality product on the market. Hands down there is no dispute. They are extremely well funded, market conditions were fantastic. I mean we used TIVO as a word, “I love TIVO stuff on my piece of junk Time Warner DVR all the time.” But TIVO is a commercial failure, they never made money. And when they went IPO their stock was about $30 or $40 dollars and then plummeted and it’s never traded above $10. In fact, I don’t think it’s traded above $6 except a couple of little spikes. Because you see, when TIVO launched their product, they told us all what they had. They said, “We have a product that pauses live TV, skips commercials, rewinds live TV and memorizes your viewing habits without you even asking.” And the cynical majority said, “We don’t believe you. We don’t need it. We don’t like it. You’re scaring us.” What if they had said, “If you are the kind of person who likes to have total control over every aspect of your life, boy do we have a product for you. It pauses live TV, skips commercials, memorizes your viewing habits etc.” People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it and what you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.

Now let me give you a successful example of the law of diffusion of innovation. In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people showed up on the Mall of Washington, DC. to hear Dr. King speak. They sent out no invitations and there was no website to check the date. How do you do that? Well, Dr. King wasn’t the only man in America who was a great orator. He wasn’t the only man in America who suffered in pre civil rights America. In fact some of his ideas were bad but he had a gift. He didn’t go around telling people what needed to change in America. He went around and told people what he believed. “I believe, I believe, I believe,” he told people. And people who believed what he believed took his cause and made it their own and they told people. And some of those people created structures to get the word out to even more people. And lo and behold, 250,000 people showed up on the right day, at the right time to hear him speak. How many of them showed up for him? Zero. They showed up for themselves. It’s what they believed about America that got them to travel in a bus for eight hours to stand in the sun in Washington in the middle of August. It’s what they believed. And it wasn’t about black versus white. Twenty five percent of the audience was white.

Dr. King believed that there were two types of laws in this world: those that are made by a higher authority and those that are made by man and not until all the laws that are made by man are consistent with the laws that are made by a higher authority will we live in a just world. It just so happens that the Civil Rights Movement was the perfect thing to help him bring his cause to life. We follow him not for him, but for ourselves. And by the way, he gave the I Have a Dream speech not the I Have a Plan speech. Listen to politicians now with their comprehensive 12 point plans, they don’t inspire anybody. Because there are leaders and then there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority but those who lead inspire us, whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with “why?” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them. Thank you.


To get video and audio files transcribed like this for your own content and marketing, be sure to check out  


Entrepreneurial Disorientation Dangers


I just read an aviation accident aftermath report and the entrepreneurial learning opportunity is huge.   A pilot was flying in IFR conditions (in the clouds, no outside references, trust your instruments to know which way is up, etc…).   He was changing altitudes and headings erratically and not following ATC instructions properly.   When ATC bluntly asked him basically “What is going on dude?” … he responded with a short and frightening comment:  “Uhm, yeah, just, uhm, just a little disoriented up here.”

Shortly after that comment he crashed and lost his life.

In aviation, we study this phenomenon and have labeled it Spacial Disorientation. I’ve seen this in entrepreneurs before as well. Disoriented is dangerous. Here are some of the situations I’ve observed entrepreneurial disorientation.

  • Disoriented to your own technology. This is often when a sales oriented leader is at the helm and attempting to sell a highly technical product or solution.   Perhaps even a product whose advantages over the competition are purely technical. A smooth pitch, great stories and beautiful cost/benefit analysis won’t work when confidence that you understand technical solution you are selling.   Your buyers (or investors) must be confident in your technical understanding of your product, and if you are winging it in front of technical buyers, your disorientation will not go unnoticed.
  • Disoriented to how people see you. This is straightforward self-awareness. Do you understand yourself enough to understand how people see you? Are you aware of your habits and mannerisms that people love and people hate? If you are often misunderstood, do you know why? Do you admit it and work to overcome misunderstandings. There is nothing more painful than being in a room watching an entrepreneur pitch when they’ve lost the confidence of the room… and everyone knows it, but him.
  • Disoriented to where you are financially.  This commonly happens when an entrepreneur believes he has made it based on the P&L without regard to the balance sheet. I’m talking about leveraging up to get going, and once you get going failing to pay down the debt but burning cash and taking more home. In SaaS and products businesses, obviously this is different situation than in services businesses. The important thing is to be intentional about both your balance sheet and P&L and recognize how you need to manage them to maximize value.

Obviously we can’t always see the future and be perfectly comfortable. Entrepreneurship is all about getting comfortable being uncomfortable. But keeping your wits and orientation is important.

For more thoughts, you may enjoy this post from Venture Village about Zen and Entrepreneurship and “seeing clearly.”

Stages of Entrepreneurship and Swinging for the Fences


Chipper Swining for the FenceAfter SxSW this year a blog post emerged from Austin’s Brett Hurt entitled “The State of Tech Entrepreneurship in Austin.”  I recommend all those in and around tech entrepreneurs to read this post. It’s not just about Austin. It’s about the stages of entrepreneurship, what it means to truly swing for the fences, and the challenges that many cities face (not just Austin) in growing this attitude.

Here are some of quick notes from the post.

  • The best way to bring the Valley mentality to your city is to send your best and brightest to the Valley. It’s an attitude and a way of doing things that can only be learned by being there. These folks will bring it back to your city.
  • There are stages of entrepreneurial businesses:
    • First stage – consulting or services. The most obvious, the easiest to launch. Limited potential to create economic impact on a large scale. Most first stage businesses in Austin (and Atlanta) are 20 people or less.
    • Second stage – a product based business, almost always investor backed. “Second stage businesses are far more valuable than first-stage businesses under almost any scenario. And if you care about creating a lot of jobs and economic ripples as an entrepreneur, you should focus on thinking bigger than the most obvious business opportunity in front of you…”
    • Third stage – a product-based business that has returned it’s investor capital and then some and is in a long-term phase of Growth. In Austin, Dell and Whole Foods are examples of third-stage entrepreneurial companies.  “These entrepreneurs represent the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – self-actualization – and numerous books are written about them.”
  • Hurt is convinced Austin is stuck in a first-stage entrepreneurial mentality. He shares the story of an entrepreneur who pitched him his plan to fund his product company with his successful consulting/services company.  He points out that none of the great product companies that impress us today were started with funds from a services business.   (In Atlanta, however, I have to point out that Mailchimp is exactly that– a great product that came from a few guys who were funding it with their consulting services.)
  • On going for a second stage product based company:   You have more energy in your 30’s than you will in your 40’s… and if you are this age, now is the time to “park” your first-stage ambitions for lifestyle and personal cash-flow  and swing for the fences.   If you miss the window to change gears, you will enter the vicious cycle where you need to sell more consulting business to fund your growing need to pivot to a product business and that will make you even more defocused.

I encourage everyone to read the post by Brett and ponder what this means for your city:



Young Entrepreneur Jon Birdsong, CEO of



Jon Birdsong, is one of everybody’s favorite young entrepreneurs in Atlanta. Having worked for multiple tech startups, gone through the famous TechStars Accelerator in Boulder, CO, and even founded several community organizations in Atlanta, @JonnyBird has taken the leap to start his own tech startup. is a sales process management software that helps drive compention among sales reps and bring better automation to tasks that happen to close deals. It’s good stuff in the works.

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

Call, text, and make time for them. Ben Franklin has a famous line “friendships are always in need of constant repair” Prioritizing a call with a brother, a text convo with a friend is important or brunch with the girlfriend is important

What is your exercise routine?

50 pushups every night before I go to bed.
Then I run three to four miles 3-5 times a week.

What gives you the most personal energy?

Progress and traction. Doing something that works. There’s nothing more that motivates me than going down the right path and getting validation it’s succeeding.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

People who drain me.

How are you involved in the community?

Predominately two ways:

The Atlanta Startup Community. I write for and co-organize the monthly Atlanta Startup Village.

Families First: They are an organization focused on building families in and around the Atlanta area. Actually, we have a really fun event coming up on February 28th at Sweetwater Brewery. You should come!

Are you involved in a church or other religious organization? How do you think spirituality is important to your entrepreneurial success?

Spirituality is very important to an entrepreneurs’ success. How you build and grow your organization is a reflection of your mental and, I’d even go as far to say, your physical health.

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

Following a path that’s truly mine and…of course the future!

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

Outside of my work in the Atlanta Startup Community and Families First, I try to just listen. Listen to everybody. People always need someone to talk talk to and bounce ideas/problems/goals on. Listening to folks is a really powerful way to help.

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

I try to play golf once every other week. It’s such a great way to apply the challenges and struggles of real life to sport. The bottom line, on every shot, you’ve got to dig deep and give it your all.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they?

I grew up with the Golden Rule being cemented in my head. Thanks Mom.

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

You know, I don’t. Or at least it’s not structured that way. I have folks who’s opinion I significantly respect and when I’m looking for guidance, they’re the first ones I go to. Anyone with energy emits energy — I like to hang out with high-energy folks.

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 genuinely like working with people. There’s nothing more exciting than building a team, tackling a problem, and having a ton of fun in the mean time. One quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower has resonated with me for quite some time: “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he/she wants to do.”




True Students of Entrepreneurship


pianoIn the last 100 days, as I have been full throttle on studying how we can grow and accelerate the startup ecosystem in Atlanta, it has been a deep-dive observation on entrepreneurship, not just in our city, but in general.  One theme I’m starting to see is the dramatic differences between lifestyle entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs.

Seth Godin had a brilliant post recently:

Studying entrepreneurship without doing it

…is like studying the appreciation of music without listening to it.

The cost of setting up a lemonade stand (or whatever metaphorical equivalent you dream up) is almost 100% internal. Until you confront the fear and discomfort of being in the world and saying, “here, I made this,” it’s impossible to understand anything at all about what it means to be a entrepreneur. Or an artist.

In that sense, I’m starting to see that individuals who have a single profitable lifestyle company, generating piles of cash for their families aren’t as similar as you may think to the entrepreneurs who create company after company, after company.

When you think about it, how can they be?   If you have to solve each problem just once, for one particular situation, in one market, with one team, to serve one purpose– you don’t learn about the processes of solving those problems, you just solve the problems.

If you create one painting, are you in the same league as someone who paints for a living?

If you land a plane once, are you now a pilot?

If you learn Chopsticks on the piano, are you a pianist?

Building a team, attacking a market, building a product– lifestyle entrepreneurs learn how do it just for that one company in one situation.   The most impressive entrepreneurs I’ve met are the serial entrepreneurs. They  learn these lessons beyond a single instance. They are true students of entrepreneurship, not just students of one company.

Serial entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody. I am not promoting that you aren’t an entrepreneur if you don’t pursue multiple companies.

What I am promoting are these two morals:

a) as an ecosystem, it is important for us to recognize the different types of entrepreneurs.

b) as individuals running companies, self-awareness of our own entrepreneurial journey will give us the right stuff to improve.





Cade McDonald – Mr. Positive


CadeMcdonaldMr. Positive, as he’s known in many circles, aka Cade McDonald, is another entrepreneur I admire and respect immensely. I have learned a lot from Cade and am honored to call him my friend. Cade is the Founder & Chairman of, an uber successful online retailer of all things that help with allergies. He’s now found another big deposit of entrepreneurial energy and is a Partner in a Venture Capital firm in Atlanta, United Capital.  Following on yesterday’s post, Cade is also a major keystone individual in the Atlanta entrepreneurial ecosystem.   I am thankful to Cade for answering some of the questions that I hope will inspire others as they have done for me.

  • What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)? 
    I am there for my wife and kids unconditionally.  Family comes first for me.  If I have to miss a dinner, a breakfast, or a bedtime routine, I make it up.  I make an effort to be a good example to my kids and my wife by putting my phone away when I am at home.  I do not miss school, church or after school activity functions.
  • What is your exercise routine? 
    I have a bad back from playing golf.  In the warmer months, March – November, I swim 1500-2000 yards 4 times per week.  In the off season I walk / run 2 times per week.
  • What gives you the most personal energy? 
    My positive attitude and other positive people.  Getting things done.
  • What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?  Negative people, negative situations, inefficiency and latency.
  • How are you involved in the community? 
    I recently accepted a position on the board of EO and hope to have the opportunity to help other entrepreneurs.  I am on the golf tournament committee at my golf club and I am coaching my older daughters soccer team.  From time to time I help my wife teach Sunday school.
  • Are you involved in a church or other religious organization? How do you think spirituality is important to your entrepreneurial success? 
    Yes, my wife and I are members of Peachtree Presbyterian Church.  We also enjoy listening to Andy Stanley’s series at Buckhead Church.  Spirituality is very important to my entrepreneurial success.  First of all you have to have faith that you can accomplish the near impossible.  Second you have to believe and understand that so many things are out of your hands that you can do absolutely nothing about.  Third, attitude is everything.  Through the music, sermons and fellowship at our church I am constantly learning and maintaining my positive attitude.  I am so lucky and so blessed and I know that everything is going to work out.
  • What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?  Obviously finding my wife Ali and having our two beautiful daughters are the three best things that have ever happened to me.  To me my happy, healthy marriage is what I am most proud of.  Having someone so supportive and enjoyable to be around in my life enhances everything.  Secondly being a father to two daughters is something I am proud of.  While there is no such thing as perfect parenting, with the help of my wife, our kids’ teachers, our church and our friends we are doing our best to be great parents.
  • How do you find ways to help others and give back? 
    This is an area I can improve upon greatly.  I help steer other entrepreneurs to the best of my ability.  I encourage them to get involved in organizations like EO.
  • What hobbies are important to you and why do they give you energy? 
    I love golf though I do not play much.  It takes too long and the guilt factor of being away from my family or my work.  I am a passionate amateur photographer.  I love photographing my kids and freezing moments in time.  My organizational skills also come into play here, I have almost 100,000 photographs spread across 12 external hard drives.  I love post processing digital images and I love sharing them with friends and family.  Photography gives me energy because I know I can always improve, learn more and become a better photography.  I also love that my five year old enjoys taking pictures with me.
  • Do you have written personal core values, what are they?
    I do not.  If I did they would like something like this.  Do not lie, ever.  Respect your wife.  Do something nice for your wife today.  Dream big.  Make time in your life for your dreams.  Don’t do things you don’t love.
  • Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy? 
    I am blessed to be involved with EO and to have a forum of people who know absolutely everything about my personal and professional life.  It gives me great comfort that I can and have taken things to them and know that I will not be judged.
  • 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? 
    My first job out of college was as a cold caller at a brokerage firm.  That experience taught me that I can have a comfortable conversation with anyone.  I am hyper-organized and hyper-anal and because of those two things, I miss nothing.


Thanks Cade!



Kicking Pavlov’s Dog – by Russell Holcombe


HolcombeThis is why I love entrepreneurs.  Russell Holcombe is one of the successful entrepreneurs I planned to feature in this series, and upon accepting my offer to write something, he decided to throw my questions out the window and create his own guest post about entrpereneurial energy.   I love that he decided to stick it to the man… and I’m the man!  I hope you  enjoy Russell’s post… and if so, his first book is featured on my Books page.

Kicking Pavlov’s Dog

We have all heard the story of Pavlov’s dog. He trained dogs to salivate when the bell rang by promising them food. This natural response is wired into our bodies; we all learn to salivate when the bell rings. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wired us for small, frequent rewards.

Ask anyone to make the choice of making $100,000 per year versus nothing for nine years and then receive $1 million in year 10, and almost everyone chooses option 1. After all, if the food disappeared for nine years, most of us would stop salivating and go find a real job. Only the entrepreneur finds joy in the latter journey. We are in the home run business, which means the bell rings every day, we keep salivating, and the reward is delayed until tomorrow. It would drive a dog mad and most other human beings as well. We violate human nature and it leads to many bad habits at home.

Each day of the entrepreneurial journey is dictated by some massive bell ringing without an immediate reward. It is unnatural. And long term unhealthy. The entrepreneur’s mind makes decisions that violate the natural homeostasis of the body with the constant release of stress hormones called cortisol’s. These build up over time and damage the body. When I was writing my first book, Tanya sat me down one night and explained how one more vodka soda was not going to make it go away. She was right and it took some energy to find a new way to handle the anxiety of creating something from scratch. Is it good enough, will it be helpful, can I make people feel what I want them to feel? All of these thoughts are emotionally disfiguring.

I have discovered that talking about it helped me handle it. In one study, patients that spent 15 minutes a day writing about their daily troubles felt better about their prognosis even though their outcome was all but predestined. This is why support groups like Entrepreneur Organization and collaborative workspaces like Atlanta Tech Village and ROAM are so critical to the entrepreneur. Getting it out of our head prepares us to handle the ringing bells tomorrow. Finding a place where someone can listen to your thoughts is critical to health and happiness at home.


Lisa Calhoun, CEO of Write2Market


Lisa_Calhoun1Continuing my series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.    Today, my good friend and past president of EO Atlanta Lisa Calhoun provides her thoughts.  Lisa Calhoun, recognized as 2012 “Female Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Stevies, builds industry leadership agency Write2Market around the core values of listen, learn and lead. Catch up with her on a personal level at

What gives you the most personal energy?

Yesterday I was absolutely buzzing after meeting with three entrepreneurs and advising them on their industry leadership campaigns. One flew in from Denver, and is CEO of an energy tech company that operates in 70 countries. Next, the CEO I had lunch with runs a pre-revenue health-tech start-up. And the afternoon was spent with a leading inventor from Chattanooga closing out his series A around.

All three are facing substantial challenges being recognized for what they are: the absolute industry leaders in their field. And hiking through the landscape of how to make that happen, and seeing it happen, always brings me “power joy.”

When I want to center myself, I write or I take just pictures. Creating things calms me. That’s been my habit since I was six years old. Most of what I write or shoot gets tossed, but I got to experience the act of creation first, which was the important factor.

You can get a sense of what I mean by looking at the pictures or reading my journal at my personal blog,

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

I never avoid things because they drain my personal energy.    My energy comes back; I can burn it as long as I make time to recharge.  Use it or lose it, I say.

Networking and running, for example, are seriously taxing for me different reasons. But rather than “avoid” them I try to “schedule” a regime that makes sense for me. I absolutely love some of the things that I find draining.

If I want to completely recharge, I put on a back pack and disappear into a forest. But sometimes the draining things are so much fun, my backpack stays on the hook for long periods of time.

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

I am devoted to my EO Forum. EO stands for Entrepreneur’s Organization, and it’s a global group of 8,000 company founders. The way the organization works itself, you belong to chapter (I belong to Atlanta with 130 members) and then you belong to small group called a Forum. In the forum, you meet monthly and air issues confidentially and collaboratively. I’ve been with my current forum for a couple of years, and the inspiration I get from close, reality-based, confidential connections with their world-class entrepreneurship is invigorating, enlightening, and simply beautiful on an aesthetic level. If you’re an entrepreneur, consider joining this association—you can find out more about it at

What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that has made / will make you more successful than the person you are competing against in business?

I don’t care about being MORE successful THAN the organization I’m coming against. The killer competitive advantage I have as a leader is that I’m competing with myself and I’m looking for absolute scale. I drive that message home at my business Write2Market, too. It’s why we created our own software to track our ROI for clients, for example.  Our core values at the company are LISTEN, LEARN and LEAD, but we measure that in how much industry leading media exposure, conference speaking engagements, and critical industry awards our clients win.

I believe the relevant information is to know your OWN scale and scope, whether you found companies or are leading teams or functions. I think a lot about this (more at

Given where and who I am, my competition is with me every day in my last best work as a leader at Write2Market and as an industrial teller of true tales. That’s the bar.  I don’t call on the “competition” alone—I call on my best vision, I call on legends like Merlin, I call on archetypes. And since I work on a national level in two terrific fields—technology and energy—I have plenty of data points on how I did in real time, and constant inspiration on doing better. I guess it’s how “we did” versus what we “dreamed to do.”


Baby Gates and Craig Heiser


Continuing the series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.    Next up is an investment banker turned entrepreneur.

craig-heiserCraig Heiser is the CEO of Cardinal Gates. When I first visited Craig’s facility, I was so amazed. I’ve never seen so many baby gates in one place! Awesome products, beautiful facility and a great team. I consider Craig a brilliant and inspirational entrepreneur and as with all others in the series, I enjoy learning how he operates at a personal level.

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

I don’t look at email on my iPhone after 6:00 and on weekends. If anything is that urgent I can be called.

 What is your exercise routine?

As little as possible. I thank my parents for a high metabolism.

 What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

Getting dragged down in the minutia of legal documents. Gossip.

Are you involved in a church or other religious organization? How do you think spirituality is important to your entrepreneurial success?

Yes, active in church. It’s a great reminder to be humble and understand that you aren’t ultimately in charge. Things happen for a reason.

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

Mission work through church and community organizations that focus on construction. I enjoy building and working on houses and it where my talents can be best used.

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

Woodworking – It’s quiet, methodical, and creative. Nothing better than seeing a project through from start to finish, great sense of satisfaction and completion.

 Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

EO Atlanta. Being in a room and sharing experiences with six other business owners gives me a kick start after our meetings every month.



Brad Feld, The Gandhi of Venture Capital


Brad-FeldBrad Feld needs no introduction.   I love this guy. Intense, open, and definitely thinking about the right things.   If you want to learn more about Brad, check out He’s also written a bunch of great books that I strongly recommend.   I am truly humbled and honored that Brad took some time to share some of his thoughts on the questions other entrepreneurs have been answering on this site.   Here we go….

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships?

I have a series of daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly rhythms that I use with my wife Amy. We start each morning with “four minutes in the morning”, where no matter were we are in the world – together or apart – we spend four minutes together. We finish the day with a few minutes together before going to bed. Whenever Amy calls during the day, I answer no matter what I’m doing (her ringtone, which she chose a while ago, is the Imperial March). We try to spend as much of each weekend together as things are very intense during the weekday. Once a month we go out for “life dinner” on the first day of each month. This isn’t “date night” but rather a chance for us to reflect on the previous month and look forward to the next month. As part of the life dinner ritual, we exchange a gift. Once a quarter, we go on a “Qx vacation off the grid” where I give Amy my iPhone on Saturday and she gives it back to me the following Saturday. We go somewhere and have a disconnected vacation – where we are just together, the two of us.

What is your exercise routine? 

I’m a marathon runner so I’m always training for a marathon (I’ve done 24 of them). I generally try to run five days a week with long runs on the weekend. I like to swim, but don’t do it as often as I’d like to. I’ve never figured out how to do a consistent weight training routine – maybe v47 of me will figure it out.

What gives you the most personal energy?

I’m an introvert who functions extremely well in public settings. But to build up my personal energy, I need to sit quietly, either alone or with Amy. I like dinners with one other couple, long runs, and lots of time on the couch reading next to my awesome wife and dog Brooks.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

I don’t really avoid anything, but my normal routine, which includes a large amount of public activity, group meetings, and endless real time interactions, really drains me. 

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

I don’t think of myself in the context of having a legacy. I live in the moment, and try to do my best all the time with what I’ve got in front of me.

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

Amy and I have been very public and visible about giving to a wide variety of causes. Our goal is to give away all of our money while we are alive – we view the money as a tool to help us contribute what we want to the world. We also love to do things randomly – we call them random acts of kindness. They range for paying for dinner anonymously for the young couple on a date in a restaurant we are in to funding undergraduate education for amazing people we know who can’t afford the school they want to go to.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they?

I have a deeply held belief in “giving before you get.” I am willing to put energy into any relationship without any specific expectation of what I’m going to get in return. This isn’t altruism – I expect that the return I get across the sum of all the energy I put into things will dwarf what I put in – and it has over the 30 years of my adult life. However, I don’t need to define the transaction dynamics up front – I think this limits what you get out.


Entrepreneur – Scott Weiss, CEO of Speakeasy


ScottWeiss_HeadshotContinuing the series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.   Scott Weiss is the CEO of Speakeasy, an amazing organization that helps executives and entrepreneurs communicate better in every setting. I’ve written about Speakeasy before here. Now some personal energy questions for Scott….

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

Mentoring. Given my 30 years in business, I’m privileged to know many leaders as young as college students and as old as retired executives. I am referred to often for a variety of mentoring opportunities from “how to interview for my first job” to how to become a more authentic and transparent communicator. I enjoy sharing past experiences, stories, and observations that help individuals at all ages move forward in various stages of their career and personal lives. I am committed to being accessible in this regard and generous with my time, as I am well aware of those that have helped me in the same way throughout my life and continue to do so.

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

I was very fortunate early in my career before it was too late to have a mentor teach me about the value of “family time.” As a young executive at Turner Broadcasting, I was traveling every week while two of my three kids were very young…I missed a lot. Then came an epiphany delivered by my most trusted mentor, Terry McGuirk, current Chairman of the Atlanta Braves and former CEO of Turner Broadcasting. I had my missed my oldest child’s first day of Kindergarten due to a business meeting. I had consulted with Terry on if I had made mistake.   Terry asked me how much I would be willing to pay to get that day back. We conversed about various prices before he finally said; “you know that regardless of how successful you become or how much money you make, you will never actually be able to buy that day back…ever. It’s just not for sale.” I will never forget that moment. From that day on I made significantly better choices to be with my family, and the business lived without me. I realized a very valuable lesson. No one is that important.

What gives you the most personal energy?

I recharge with self contemplation outdoors. I’m a bit of an introvert in that regard. I get recharged by quiet. I enjoy hiking, climbing, finding a desolate spot on the lake where I have a boat, anywhere that allows me to think, in quiet space, where the oxygen is pure, and I can fully immerse myself in everything that nature has to offer. I take this to a fairly extreme level once a year by participating in expedition with three of my best friends. We’ve been doing this for 12 years now. We’ve been to some amazing places including summits in British Columbia, the Grand Teton, Navaho Basin, and a 37 mile trek to Machu Pichu. It without question renews my personal energy.

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

I have many personal moments with my wife of 27 years, Marci, in which our proudest and greatest hoped for legacy lies with our three kids. However, with respect to my entrepreneurism, I have two.

First, I was responsible in founding Turner Private Networks during my tenure at Turner Broadcasting. This operating division oversees a number of “placed based media networks” for Turner, including the CNN Airport Channel which I created and launched and is now in 40 airports worldwide. Creating new media properties under the leadership of Ted Turner was extremely demanding, and I was successful at a very young age. But more importantly, I was making a real difference in furthering the mission of CNN in bringing news and information to the world.

Secondly, also while at Turner I became increasingly aware of how challenging it was for minority students to get jobs out of college in the television industry. As a result I founded a non-profit Foundation in 1994 in Washington D.C. that I named after another mentor of mine, Taylor Howard, a Stamford University scientist and inventor. I served as Chairman for the Foundation for its first ten years, and now the Foundation has grown to one of the most successful media Foundations in the industry supported by every major media organization from Viacom to Time Warner. The Foundation places 100 interns every year in media companies in which dozens of them become permanent positions, making a real impact in the industry.

How are you involved in the community?

My youngest child is passionate about baseball. I served as a community Coach for his teams from the age of 5 to 14. I met hundreds of great kids and families and helped teach the game and life lessons at the same time. It was extremely rewarding and I absolutely cherished the relationships I had with those little boys who became young men in the blink of an eye. As part of that journey I began volunteering for Cobb County in managing and taking care of one of the County baseball fields, which I still do to this day even though my son has moved on to high school and very serious travel ball.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

I’ve learned over the years that the one thing I find myself running away from because it drains my personal energy is arrogant and pompous people. I have major difficulty connecting with them and my desire to be authentic leaves very little room for common ground, so I avoid getting into those situations.