Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Your Decisions – The Positive Energy Version of Persistence

When you decide to do something, it’s your decision. You are doing it because you “want to.”  Yet, many times, we feel pressure to continue and this can be negative energy.  We feel a weight on our shoulders as if continuing down a tough path has a lot of resistance.

Let’s go with exercising, waking up early, or writing regularly.   Working on developing new habits can be hard work.  If you miss a workout or a blog post the guilt can start, and if you miss another one, it even gets heavier.

All of this changes when you step back and realize that you decided to go after this habit because you want it. You don’t need to write blog posts regularly, you want to.   You don’t need to make your startup successful, you want to. A few things happens when you realize that you made your own decision:

1. You realize that you are free to make any decision you want. You can decide not to, you can decide to continue. The important realization is that you are in charge of your own destiny.

2. The weight becomes less when you use the word “want” instead of “need.”  Try it for your next workout. Think in your head that you want to go workout, and you will find it easier to hop out of bed and get after it. 

3. When you lighten the load with “want” and realize you are free to opt out of the previous decision, it becomes even easier and more obvious that you chose correctly to begin with and the best thing for your success and happiness is to stick with it, continue, and make it happen.

Some people call this persistence, but I believe you have a lot more energy when you constantly remind yourself that continuing down a path (especially when there is resistance) is reminding yourself that the path forward is still your decision. 

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Ridiculously Good Life

With three kids under 10 in our house, “domestic operations” is a pretty busy department.  The food service area is a big part of that. Getting the team fed, keeping the kitchen stocked, and doing it on a repeated basis day in and day out is no small job. 

Recently, our dishwasher went out for a week.   A circuit board went out and needed to be re-ordered and it would take a while. (Who knew that computers are even washing our dishes?!)

Let’s just say you don’t appreciate certain things in life until you live without them.  For us, it took about 36 hours to realize that some dramatic workflow changes needed to happen to live life sans automatic dishwasher.  It meant even the lowest level staff (3 years old), needed to join the party by grabbing a towel once in a while and pitching in.  We tried to use fewer dishes, more paper plates or paper towels, and generally were always aware that if we used it, we would be washing it by hand.

This week, we have our dishwasher back.  Just this morning as I went to grab a clean coffee cup from it, I realized how amazing our life is with a dishwasher.  Like, really amazing.  

It was a nice reminder that our life overall is ridiculously, amazing, almost disgustingly good. The automation and comfort surrounding us is awe inspiring. Human innovation is awesome.   

It’s healthy to remember this. It’s healthy to say it out loud.  

God Bless Dishwashers. 

Expanding Out of Trouble

One of the most impressive things about Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial journey, as chronicled in his book, is how many times his company was in a near-death situations, and how most times he managed not only to get out of a tight spot, but also take the company to the next level.  

Growing a record label and chain of record stores takes a lot of capital, and a lot of good banking relationships (read: debt!).  On more than one occasion, Virgin Records was about to have their line called, or something with the bank was going sideways and it looked like the end could be near. 

However, the most impressive lesson from Branson is how he managed each crisis. Each time, rather than retreating, playing defense, or “cutting fat,” he found ways to expand to the next level.  Whether it was adding a store, buying a company, or making a big bet, he had a lot of offensive moves that got them out of hot water.

Don’t get me wrong, there was no small amount of good luck that accompanied those moves, and I’m sure many seasoned entrepreneurs and business school professors would say he made some terrible decisions that could have gone horribly wrong.  But they didn’t. He got lucky and kept at it.   

It’s inspiring to think about using a tight spot as an opportunity to go bigger, play offense, and expand into the next level.  

Travel Reviews are a Double Edged Sword

Do you remember what it was like to travel or try a new restaurant before there were reviews?

Do you remember having to pick vacation spots, hotels, or restaurants in a new city before there was TripAdvisor or Yelp?  

I have to admit, it’s difficult for me to think back.  I honestly can’t remember how we would pick hotels or fun things to do in cities. I guess we used those paper things from those places that keep them. (Libr… something?)

Now that we live in a world where we can read a review about anything we do before we do it, making decisions is much easier. 

However, there is a downside to the mentality of reviews.   If you pay attention, you will notice that you are inevitably guilty of this: Often, we notice negative aspects of our experiences only because we read about them in reviews.

When you read that a restaurant is great, but the music is too loud. You will probably be listening out for the music. 

When someone posts on TripAdvisor that a hotel is great, but the walk to the elevator is too long and the views are often partially blocked by trees, you will notice those problems.  

Most negative things we notice after reading a review aren’t negatives we would have noticed otherwise. 

Try to think about this the next time you research reviews then experience something and put those negative items in context. Ask yourself “Would I have noticed this on my own?”

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The Unhurried Startup CEO

 

Professional Startup CEOHave you ever watched a professional house painter work?

I’m always amazed at how fast they get things done.   Painting detailed trim, rolling, cleaning brushes… those pros can do an entire house in the amount of time it takes me personally to do a half a wall. Oh, and their quality is 50x better than mine.

But, somehow they never look hurried.  They don’t act hurried. They aren’t in a hurry. They just do their job and they are professional about it. Just so happens things move much faster.

I think Startup Entrepreneurs can be more professional about how we go about building companies. It’s a striking difference between successful serial entrepreneurs and first time startup entrepreneurs.

I’m not talking about the actual speed you move or how fast you build your company.   Speed is important. You can only be in startup mode for a certain period of time, then it’s game over.   But how fast you go and whether you feel/act rushed are two separate topics.

When you feel hurried:

- You rush through big decisions

- Your emotions are frantic… which affects your team… and your family… and your health

- Customers and investors will not be impressed with your professionalism

- You’ll lose perspective on the big picture

- You’ll exhaust yourself before the hard part of the race has begun

Unhurried is a mindset.  It is being confident that you know the plan ahead. You know the steps to take. You know how long they will take, and you know what levers and dials to push to adjust the speed of your company.

Some practical tips that help me slow down when I realize that I feel hurried:

  • Don’t check email first thing in the morning. Start with a cup of water. Then a cup of coffee if you’re so inclined. Then read a book… one that is paper and not connected to a device that will cause you to get ADD early in the morning to check email and deal with fires.  Start the day slow.
  • Miss a weekday in the office, just because. Whether it’s working from home or just putting the phone away and playing with the kids. It’s a nice rhythm breaker to step back and grab some perspective at a time when a hurried person would say “It’s impossible to break away on a day like this!”
  • Read as much as possible, and not industry specific books.   I’ve found so much calming joy in reading big picture books and stories of successful people.
  • Tell yourself often that you are lucky to have the problems that you have. You’ve already gotten farther than most people, just by starting a company. If you happen to have a team, even a product, and maybe a little bit of money… you’re in the top 1%, so you don’t have to injure yourself trying to get ahead.  Focus and be intentional.
  • If your calendar is as crazy as mine. Don’t hesitate or feel guilty about canceling meetings that have no purpose related to your primary mission.
  • One big thing per week.   A coach of mine several years ago helped me understand the value in having one main thing to accomplish each week. Not a 50 item todo list.

One more tip: I write this blog as therapy for the very reason discussed above. It’s less expensive than a shrink :) and is effective at keeping my head clear and energy focused.  This is a great way to keep perspective and start my day unhurried. Consider writing on your own if you are so inclined.

Do whatever it takes. Just don’t be in a hurry.

 

Startup Problems

I’m not different from most entrepreneurs in that I have the patience equivalent to that of gravity.   (E.g. If something has to come down, it may as well come down right now.)   We see where we want to be and when we decide we want to be there, we are immediately uncomfortable not being there.

In Startup Life, you set out to build a company. Maybe for the first 2 weeks you are excited to “do” a startup. But for those who have been down the path before, you know what the company looks like and it does not look like a startup.

As our startup team is starting to find our groove— deals are closing, issues are happening and being fixed, recruiting is going— all of these things are making it start to look more like a company and less like a startup.

But with all that patience we talked about before, we start to immediately think about ourselves as a company… and when we do that, a funny thing happens.    All of the things that are normal checklist items for a startup to get done to become a company, all of a sudden can feel like problems.

Problems everywhere!  Our offer letter sucks, that’s a problem.   We don’t have enough MRR to do X: problem.   Our product only has 20% of the capabilities that we want it to have: problem.    Our engineering team is too small: problem.

But in reality, these aren’t problems, they are just things to do.   At the end of the day sometimes, I walk out of the Village thinking “Oh crap, we have a company with tons of problems.”  But honestly, every thing that we see is a problem, isn’t something that fell apart because we haven’t been paying attention, it’s just something that we haven’t gotten to… yet.

It is excruciatingly difficult to step back, remember the big picture, and slow down the analysis. But when you do, you’ll remember who you really are, how impressive it is what you’ve accomplished already, and how to enjoy the fact that you have so many opportunities every day to shape what will become a great organization.   Just keep moving. Each day, get something important done.

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.

 

Timing Your Upshift and How I’m Managing Mine

 

stick_shiftIn your entrepreneurial journey, you will find that everything comes in cycles. I’ve written previously about cycles of low and high energy and how being aware of them can make you more resilient  (Inspiration is for Amateurs) . Another cycle that has run it’s course is the period of high-RPM’s and low torque.  It’s time to shift up a gear.

Starting a new chapter usually requires you to downshift at first. You have to be willing to slow down forward progress, run at higher RPM’s to see more ideas, meet more people, and broaden your field of view.   This is common for entrepreneurs who are between companies.  It’s really hard to find the next big thing. It requires a lot of cycles. As bad as you want to go deep instead of spreading yourself thin, you find that picking the right big bet takes longer than you expect.  As VC’s put it: you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.

But when you do finally slow down the idea review process and find the bet you’re ready to make, it’s important to know how to shift up a gear.

With 2014, my goal is to shift up. Here are three big ways I’m doing it.

1. Tighter Meeting Filter.
I need to accept many fewer meetings around advice giving or general connecting. The last two years, I’ve done a ton of meetings just for the sake of relationship building. I believe I successfully accomplished by 2013 goal of adding value for every person I met with through the year. In 2014, I need to increase the bar for these “just want to get to know you” meetings. My calendar is already too full.

2. Slower Cadence.
New Rhythms… mainly with the blog.   I’ve decided that 3-5 posts/week is at the present time, an unrealistic goal. For the past few weeks, I have established a new rhythm of 1 slightly longer post each week. This is a really healthy change for me. It has allowed my quiet time and my running time to think deeper about the challenges ahead for Voxa, our growing team, and how I can be the best CEO possible.   Those cycles were previously spent on new blog post topics.

3. More Off-Village time.
Whether I work from home, a Starbucks, a beach, or a cabin, I need to find more time in 2014 out of the high energy and extremely-high-RPM environment of the Village. The problem with the awesomeness of the Village is that it’s too awesome.  I want to be there 8 days a week! I love the density of people, ideas, of work hard play hard. But like many entrepreneurs, I am afflicted with extreme ADD.  It’s really hard for me to slow down when I’m in the Village.   I’m setting the goal to spend at least 1 half-day per week out of the Village, working from home, etc… and I’m setting the goal to take 2-4 weeks completely out of the hustle of the building. (Note, this doesn’t mean losing the daily touch rhythm with Team Voxa, it means physically forcing limits of my focus Priority 1: Family and Priority 2: Team Voxa.)

As with an upshift in a car, forward velocity will increase as RPM’s decrease. You have to already have the momentum to sustain the added force, but when you time it just right, I’ve seen the slow down to go faster do magical transformations in entrepreneurs’ lives.

When it’s time for your upshift, I hope you’ll consider what it really means to slow down to go faster.

 

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

 

Register for the Race

 

I have enjoyed thinking about health and exercise from the perspective of establishing a system, thanks to Melonakos’s blog about the subject.   As I hear people talk about getting healthy in the New Year, I encourage them to do the same thing that worked for me to finally get my lazy butt in gear.   Pick a race 3-6 months out, register for it, and bite the bullet to get training.   Looking this far out makes any goal less intimidating.

It just so happens that exactly 11 weeks from right now is the Publix Full & Half Marathon in Atlanta. Guess what, if you can run/walk 3 miles, then you have time to train to complete 13.1. I brushed it off for years as well, and last year I finally did my first half. It was incredibly rewarding. So I will be chugging through 13.1 in Atlanta on March 23.

Here is what you need to know. A novice training plan, courtesy of HalHigdon.com is pasted below, along with the dates you need to track for this race.  Look, I’ve done all the work for you.

Register for the race RIGHT NOW.  Use this code courtesy of ITL Coaching to get $10 off.  LGITLPGM14 ($10 off) — Check out what ITL Coaching is doing to help runners set small goals to meet big ones!

Feel free to register along with team Atlanta Tech Village. (I don’t really know what this means, but it’s cool to say you’re with a team.)

Now get on it.   Don’t just start running without a goal and an end point. If you don’t register for this one, register for something.

WEEK MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
1
Dec 30
Rest 3 m run 3 m run 3 m run Rest 4 m run cross
2
Jan 6
Rest 3 m run 3 m pace 3 m run Rest 5 m run cross
3
Jan 13
Rest 3 m run 4 m run 3 m run Rest 6 m run cross
4
Jan 20
Rest 3 m run 4 m pace 3 m run Rest 7 m run cross
5
Jan 27
Rest 3 m run 4 m run 3 m run Rest 8 m run cross
6
Feb 3
Rest 3 m run 4 m pace 3 m run Rest 5-K Race cross
7
Feb 10
Rest 3 m run 5 m run 3 m run Rest 9 m run cross
8
Feb 17
Rest 3 m run 5 m pace 3 m run Rest 10 m run cross
9
Feb 24
Rest 3 m run 5 m run 3 m run Rest 10-K Race cross
10
Mar 3
Rest 3 m run 5 m pace 3 m run Rest 11 m run cross
11
Mar 10
Rest 3 m run 5 m run 3 m run Rest 12 m run cross
12
Mar 17
Rest 3 m run 2 m pace 2 m run Rest Rest Half Marathon

 

You Already Have the Advantage

 
confident-pilotConfidence. That’s the biggest advantage you can give yourself in life. Yes, you can give it to yourself. Confidence is a decision. You have to decide to be confident.  When you are confident, you have the advantage over the other guy.

When you are confident:

Focus on the wins.   Live them up. Celebrate victories. Frame them and hang them on the wall. Talk about them often. Get pumped up.

Ignore the losses. Treat a loss like a coroner treats a cadaver. Get what you need out of it and move on. Do not let it stay with you.

Make active decisions. Stay in motion. Don’t sit still. Constantly evaluate where you are and where you are going.   Confidence must be fed with motion. Stagnation doesn’t help confidence.

Be aware of your surroundings.   Confidence needs information. You need to know what’s trying to kill you so that you can fire the first shot and take it down.

Never forget the fundamentals.   Focusing on fundamentals more than the other guy will make you win. Stay healthy. Read. Write. Learn. Balance your family. Be intentional.

Keeping your confidence alive, fresh, and healthy is just the advantage you need as you look to 2014.   Beware of the thin line where confidence spills over to arrogance.  Try hard not to cross that line, but be sure you go right up to the edge.

Your Plan Will Go to Out the Window

 

Yesterday David posted about Annual Planning for Entrepreneurs. In the post, he made this comment:

Why do entrepreneurs love planning? Easy, because it’s an opportunity to dream about the future. Entrepreneurs love scheming up the next big thing.

MudpitTotally agree. Planning is fun. I’ve been doing some planning of my own lately and have really been struck at how relaxing and fun planning is. I even tweeted this on Monday:

Working inside your product (wireframes, etc) feels like reading a book on a rainy day. Reality is more like fighting a war on the same day. -@Johnson_Cook

I get the same calm, in-control feeling when creating budgets, future cap tables, fundraising scenarios, and looking at OTE plans for future and current sales guys.   Oh baby, and those bottom-up sales forecasts:   At $1000 MRR per deal, if each rep closes 1 deal per week, we just add one new rep each week… Voila, it’s a magic unstoppable snowball of money!!!

It’s fun to live the fantasy where deals are closed because you make the spreadsheet say they will close.

Obviously, per my tweet, building a company is never as simple as a spreadsheet says it will be. An entrepreneur friend of mine laughs at my love for spreadsheets and says: The best battle plans go immediately to hell as soon as the first shot is fired.

We laugh because it’s true. The best way to overcome this is to think about the fun part being the actual battle. Accept and appreciate that bringing spreadsheets to life is messy and sloppy and we love it. That’s what we live for! We love waking up cold, wet, and sandy. We love war.

Enjoying the journey is great and all…just don’t imagine that the journey is like a walk in the park smelling flowers. The journey is flat out war.

Now grunt, scratch, and go kick some ass today.