Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Bad Breath and Food In Your Teeth Socially

 

Few people have the guts to tell us when we have bad breath or food in our teeth. We know this and don’t expect to be told. So we are sensitive to it and self-monitor as best we can. We check our teeth in the mirror when dining out. We pop mints. We try to smell our breath.

But what about your perceived attitude?   Do you know anyone who comes across as constantly negative?   Someone who is sarcastic, always laughing, always making jokes, but perhaps at the extent of someone else?   Or perhaps they believe they are coming across as inquisitive, but are actually seen as disagreeable by those around them.    We’ve all met these people and we usually don’t enjoy being around them.

Perhaps we should start thinking about what we say and how we say it with the same sensitivity as our breath and the food in our teeth.

Think back on your conversations in social settings.   Look at your own Twitter stream.   How many times do you come across negative vs. positive? Assume there is no gray area. Each Tweet, each comment is either a +1 or a -1. take your last 50 comments and score them.

It is statistically unlikely that if you have “bad energy breath” that someone will  tell you directly.    Instead they will avoid you.   You will not realize their absence, but your success will be limited.  We are the sum of the people we spend time with. If fewer people want to spend time with you, you understand the math.

I admit, of those people who simply chose not to be around you because you are negative person, I will be one of them.

 

 

Keep Your Center – Just Start Writing Already!

 

Entrepreneurs live on a roller-coaster.   Things are screaming fast up or spiraling out of control down. You are about to take over the world (or you already have, in your mind), or the world is eating you alive and you are guaranteed to not make it another day.

How do you manage the insanity?  With everything being an extreme, how do you keep your center?

For me, it’s writing. It’s this blog.    If this serves no other purpose, it’s to bring me back to center on a regular basis.   Writing helps you get out of your head. It helps you slow down and step back from the immediate crisis of the minute and think about the big picture. Not only do you have to focus on the big picture, but you have to design your thoughts around in a way that is suitable for public consumption. Which means you’re going to apply some reason and rational thinking… two things that are hard to come by when you’re in either the pit of despair or the throne of world domination.

If you are an entrepreneur or success-oriented person and are afraid of start a blog, why?

Are you worried about your ability to put a sentence together in public?  … Hmm, How is this different from your posts to Facebook and Twitter in front of hundreds or thousands of friends and followers?     Do you really think you can be successful and make an impact on the world, without being able to write something for the public to read?

Do you think you don’t have enough thoughts and ideas?    Grow up.  Don’t ever claim that you want to be successful if you can’t come up with one new idea of something to write about per week.

You don’t have time?   Please, stop whining.   We have all the time in the world. You are in charge of how you spend your time.  You have time for everything that you make time for.

For myself and others that write blogs, I can tell you that we have all be surprised by the value we’ve received from starting.  Just start already. You won’t be sorry.

 

 

 

Hard Parts are Not What You Expect them To Be

 

You will find that being a startup entrepreneur has its easy parts that are fun and its hard parts, but they aren’t always what you expect. They also aren’t what are top of mind on any given weekday morning.

Easy parts:

  • Talking to a customer about the product you are so passionate about: also known as selling!
  • Following the plan for the next step, checking the box of a big step (First 10 customers, etc)
  • Raising money when you’ve done everything right and you have the confidence that you don’t need the money to survive. Closing the deal, checking the bank account balance, getting serious.
  • Making an offer to the right team member and coming to agreement.
  • Joining the organizations like EO that will change your trajectory.

Hard parts:

  • Starting.
  • Exercising every day or worst case every other day.
  • Eating right.
  • Sleeping right.
  • Managing your calendar to meet 3-5 new people each week and build deeper relationships.
  • Being intentional about your family and personal relationships through the intensity of a startup phase.
  • Overcoming fear.
  • Extracting value of mentor advice even if it conflicts with your plans.

 

Internalizing What You Read – My Top Four

 

Successful entrepreneurs generally love reading. Reading is a great way to force ourselves into some “deep work” (I love the blog by Cal Newport on this topic).   We move so fast, juggle so many topics, and are constantly shifting gears that putting our heads down into a single topic for a week or several months and plowing through a book is rewarding.   Most of us use books as idea synthesis. We learn and apply.  We are Macgyver for ideas. We put them together and find new ways to create.

One downside of all this reading though is that we move from one book to the next and rarely internalize the teaching enough to unlock the value that lies beneath the surface of the first read.

My friend Boaz helped me realize this by suggesting that everyone read two of his top books at least five to ten times in repeat over 1-2 years. He suggests reading 10 pages in one of these two books every day of the week.   I followed Boaz’s suggestion as much as I can and have found it to be a totally different experience. This method works wonders for your psyche if you select the right books.

As far as my own deep work goes, my top four books are the ones that I aim to internalize. I’ve listed them on my books page and encourage entrepreneurs looking to take it to the next level to spend some quality time with these books.   This is my suggested curriculum for “Life 101.”

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  Jonathan Livingston Seagull  – Richard Bach
  Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
  How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

 

Considering a New Core Value: Simplify. Always.

 

zen-widescreen-212876My Seven Core Values are hugely important to me. Believe it or not, I reference them often in my daily life. It’s a great way to double-check gut feelings on things and even medium-size decisions.  One of the most valuable parts of my EO Forum is that we regularly do exercises on values and this past weekend we had a retreat where we did just that.     We revisited the exercise that I described here, and I discovered that I may have a new core value, or perhaps a replacement to a previous one.

Perhaps this is age (I’m not sure what else it could be, certainly not wisdom), but I’m finding that an area of my life that I want to focus harder on is this proposed core value:

Simplify. Always.

The value I’m considering replacing is “Intensity in Everything.”  I’m learning that intensity is my natural modus operandi.  I am an intense person and I am physically unable to do anything half-way.   Just as most entrepreneurs are, I’m an “all in, all the way, all the time” guy.

Realizing that intensity is a natural trait of entrepreneurs, how much more effective could we be if simplification became the focus?   What if we could make all decisions easy decisions?     What if we could slow down enough to become wise enough to cause the rest of the world to move in slow motion around us?

Valuing intensity is great, but how much more can we accomplish if we allow our intensity to fuel our focus on constant simplification?  Could simple living, simple thinking, and simple focus be a competitive advantage for you as an entrepreneur?

I don’t take a change to my stuff lightly, but I’m thinking hard about how simplification fits into my entrepreneurial life and perhaps it could help you out as well.

 

A Common Mistake in Evaluating Success

 

Most of the uber-successful entrepreneurs you will encounter will have some distinctively unique personality traits.   They usually stand out and have extremes in at least one way, but often multiple.  Here are some examples of traits that I’ve observed and discussed:

  • Crazy outgoing … bold, brash, life of the party, always making people laugh…
  • Super chill … never get’s stressed, anxious, or worried…
  • Amazing listener … always asking great questions, able to make the conversation more about you than them…
  • Freakishly creative … able to think of a new idea on the fly any minute of the day…
  • Constantly competitive … #winning is their mantra, everything is a competition…

I enjoy speaking with young and first time entrepreneurs about these rockstars. It’s fun to analyze them and try to figure out how they were able to make it to the top level; these types of character traits always come up in the conversation.   But here’s a common mistake in those conversations that shows naivety on the part of anyone looking to learn from rockstars. It’s this comment:

Well yeah, if I had a gazillion dollars in the bank, I would be [fill in the blank from above] also…

#Wrong!

An example of another "wrong answer" ....

An example of another “wrong answer” ….

#No!    If you think these traits are created because of success, think again. These people have the same traits before they made it big and before you knew about them. Very likely it is these traits that helped them get there.   So the next time you notice that a rockstar is always [calm and collected,] don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s because she has less stress because of her bank account. Assume that it was being calm and collected (or competitive, or a good listener, or creative, etc..) all the way, and that’s what enabled the energy to fill up the bank account.

Bottom line: be who you are, and go all out in doing so.

 

 

Sales Solves All Problems – As Long As…

 

Years ago a successful entrepreneur friend of mine told me “Dude, sales solves all problems. Put your foot on the sales accelerator and no matter what happens, don’t let up!”

I keep trying to find an exception to this absolute statement, but I haven’t yet found anything to truly  contradict this.  Some examples of the debate go like this:

- Having a hard time fundraising for growth capital? More revenue and faster growth rate of revenue will always attract investors and better valuations.

- Limitations with your product?  If you have revenue now, then you have something that people will pay for, so sell what you have. Fund the product enhancements with sales revenue.

- Team resource limited? Need more hires to deliver the goods you say, sell more stuff and get creative with your payment terms and delivery plans so that you can do what it takes to deliver and have money left over to invest back into cash that will eventually be able to grow the team.

I could go all day… and some days, I literally do have this conversation with startups all day long because they are stuck raising money and don’t know what else to do. It’s not a silver bullet, blue pill, or magic potion, but it “sell more” is the answer that startups usually need, whether they like it or not.

There are however, just a few assumptions that go into this [otherwise] absolute statement that sales solves all problems.

Assumption #1: Your business model is fundamentally sound and you make a respectable gross margin.

Assumption #2: You are fully committed to the business for the long term. There are no quick fixes in growing a business.

Assumption #3: You aren’t disappointing your customers. You may not be able to exceed their expectations, but at least delivering to the expected value is mandatory.

Assumption #4: You have an awesome culture and your team is on board with you and enjoying life.

 As long as these fundamentals are in place, then I stand by the motto “sales solves all problems” for startups. Roll up those sleeves and make some cold calls.

Action item: need advice on how to sell? Read Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross YESTERDAY!

 

 

Go Big or Don’t Go

This post goes out to those entrepreneurs who have been around the block once or twice and are actively seeking the next thing.  It’s not for the first time startup CEO.

Allen Nance is on a crusade to get Atlanta to GO BIG.   I’m in. I totally agree.

Here’s why it’s the only thing you should be considering if you are looking for your next thing…

Opportunities are everywhere.

Holy cow this is so true. There are really good ideas, smart people, great investment opportunities around every corner. They are everywhere! If you think there aren’t deals and good startups in Atlanta, then you aren’t spending enough time in Midtown at Spring and Fifth and Buckhead at Piedmont and Lenox.  There is an awe-inspiring amount of energy going into tech startups in Atlanta right now.  With so much quantity of opportunity, we have the unique luxury of waiting for a big one.  Take your time– you will find one.

It’s too easy to go small.

Everybody is starting something these days. Doing another one that fits in with the crowd doesn’t get me going, nor will it fire up a proven entrepreneur.  You know from the last one that this shit is hard. Really, really freaking hard.  You don’t need to be going into your next company thinking “money ball”… getting on base isn’t enough for the fire that you need to build a giant team, raise a ton of money, and create a world-changing product.

You owe it to the community.

You are in possession of the most expensive education an entrepreneur can posses. You’ve already been there. You know what is ahead of you.   You are the equivalent of a physician with a license to practice medicine and an MD after your name.  Put that education to work and do something bigger this time around.

But Johnson, why is this only going out to proven entrepreneurs? Are you saying I can’t go big the first time out?  What about (fill in the blank)?

Of course there are tons of companies that are successful from the first time. But this post is not about the reality of the success, size, or scope of the company: it’s about the MENTALITY OF THE ENTREPRENEUR.    Remember, my goal is to create entrepreneurial inspiration as fuel for entrepreneurs.  We should all be so lucky as Steve Jobs to have our own personal Reality-Distortion Field around us. Proven entrepreneurs have the self-awareness to engage this RDF and still get cool stuff done.

 

 

 

Adventures and Lessons in Commercial Real-Estate

 

The first photo of the future Atlanta Tech Village Event Center

The first photo of the future Atlanta Tech Village Event Center

I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble about us with this post, but if you didn’t know already, for those of of us at the helm of the Atlanta Tech Village … this is our first venture in world of commercial real-estate development.  It has been a ton of fun, and already I can start to see the lessons learned that will make the next project even more fun.

A few of the top lessons learned and surprises from my first year in CRE:

There are few fixed processes.
This was the biggest surprise to me. With an industry so old, with so much history and money, I really expected there to be more questions that are answered with: “This is just how it’s done.”  But the truth is, things can be done however you want them done. Each project is unique. Every relationship is unique.  Every contract, every price, every process is unique to any given project.  This surprised me, but it has been fun to navigate.

There is an opportunity to be creative around every corner.
A year ago if you told me that a real-estate developer is successful because he/she is more creative than those around him, I would have giggled.   Building + tenant. How creative can you get?   I couldn’t have been more wrong!   To develop real-estate takes a TON of creativity. You have to find ways around, in, over and under things… from regulations, to fixed laws of physics, to financial arrangements, to personal relationship building, negotiations, and especially vision.

Teams must be managed differently than in a startup.
Unlike in tech startups where you can recruit a team to your own culture and can build around core values, this doesn’t work quite the same in CRE development.  The biggest difference is that you are outsourcing everything. You aren’t going to have a rockstar architect, general contractor, permit expeditor, urban planners, audio-visual experts, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, cleaning crews, equipment rental, etc, on your team in-house.  You are forced to use a team made up of 95% contractors. Culture is different here. Where a startup team can and usually should be left to make ton of assumptions for you, this can’t happen with this much variety of personalities at the table. You have to work hard to get what you want and keep on everyone.

The constant challenge— forward motion.
Given these contractors and the nature of their business (that they have other clients besides you), keeping your project in motion is the most difficult thing I’ve discovered. There is always one hand waiting on another hand. Getting the hands to transfer information and requirements from one to another is challenging.

Details are exhausting.
Now that we are finally in all out construction mode at the Village, I’m starting to develop a twitch and lose sleep.  Now we are seeing the culmination of 10 months of planning, almost a million dollars of design and prep work, and thousands of people hours come together. Now the “What if” questions are non-stop for me. What did we miss?   Did we remember power beside every conference room for the iPad apps? Did we discuss the automation enough? What about the elevators? Light switches are where?  Are we clear on the security systems? And on and on… Staying on top of the details is what separates the awesome buildings from the mediocre ones and we plan to be nothing less than awesome.

Everything takes longer.
Ok, so this is true in software too… but no, in the world of CRE, it REALLLLLLY takes longer!!

More factors are out of your control.
This is the last big surprise for me. So much of the process is out of your control. Of course things can be “influenced” (and that’s part of the forward motion challenge), but controlling these elements is a lot different than influencing them.   Neighborhood planning units. Design review committees. City planners.  Building inspectors. OSHA inspectors. DOT officials.    The outside interactions that you have to navigate are far more intense than anything else I’ve done in my life and admittedly it does take lot of the fun out of the process.

Overall, this has been an awesome journey and now that glass walls are starting to come up and our work is starting to show visible rewards, it’s getting even better.   Give us a few months and if things go according to plan, we will have a gorgeous building to show off where people are doing amazing things in an amazing space.

 

Inputs Drive Output, Dummy

 

I should be more embarrassed to say this:  It took me almost 2 years of disciplined running to really figure out that what you eat and drink hours and days before any run affects how you feel during the run more than anything else.

Once I started figuring out how to manage intake– I realized that the output happened. It was like magic.   Yeah right, you say.  Dummy, JC.

Luckily I’m not as embarrassed to say it took me about 30 years to learn that the same lesson applies to my entrepreneurial output.   What you put in dramatically affects your output. Call it productivity, effectiveness, efficiency, or success. Call it whatever you want. It’s output.  And input determines output.

When I started this blog almost 2 years ago (hey wait, that’s when you said you started running… coincidence? Of course not!), I added a section called “Fuel.”  I also had the tagline: “Seeking inspiration as entrepreneurial fuel.”

I finally started to learn that what you fuel yourself with determines your output.  Your output determines your trajectory.

Fuel for entrepreneurs:

- Books. Constantly.

- Mentors.   Intentionally chosen.

- Mastermind Forums.   Uber confidential accountability groups. Structured.

- Music / Art = Creative Inputs

- Exercise = Oxygen for your brain + Energy for your day

- Disciplined cadence. Rhythm.

- Intentional Good Life, like this and this.

Consider this the reciprocal to “garbage in, garbage out.” This isn’t about garbage. It’s about neutral inputs vs. positive inputs.  More positive inputs = more forward motion.

 

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.

 

 

 

Forgetfulness

 

Isn’t it funny how we are so forgetful?  I am amazed at how we, both as individuals and a society are able to forget things.   We’ve all had those times in life where we started to figure things out. When we found something motivating, or some clarity, a new habit, or some inspiration that caused us to start working on the fundamentals and what we know is important. Yet, we still forget.  Energy fades. Focus wanes.

Even the most profound, life changing realizations and positive attitudes can fade away if not kept current.

The obvious example is exercise routines: the ol’ New Years resolution phenomenon. But there are other areas in life like being intentional, morning routines, thinking positive, smiling in public, networking — all of these are fertilizer for thriving in life, yet we still forget about them.

I don’t have the antidote to this affliction of forgetfulness.  But here are a few things I’m trying to maintain the energy from discoveries thus far and continue to move forward (not the other way!):

Say things over and and over and over and over.  This is one reason I blog. It is said that most bloggers only have one thing to say. They just say it differently over and over all the time. I’m cool with that. I’m saying it for me, anyway.

Being public about your goals and attitudes. Again, blogging is the public forum. Fear of embarrassment is a powerful motivator. There’s nothing like blogging that you love to run and realizing you are turning into a fatass.  People will notice.

Forums and accountability groups.  When you’re high energy like most entrepreneurs, you tend to be erratic. Setting the rhythm of a monthly accountability group is key to reentering on a regular cadence.

Have a big picture view.  This is in line with riding a motorcycle around a curve. When I was learning, I always wanted to look down at the wheels, monitor the bank angle of the bike, and look closely at the mechanics of the turn…. but then I learned I was doing it all wrong.  You look UP. You look to where you WANT to go instead of where you are now, and everything just works. All the little things just fall into place if your head is up and your attention is placed on the destination. This goes for life and startups too.   For me the big picture view comes from quiet time, music, and attending church on a fairly regular basis.

I wish I could say I know how to program myself and never drop a new habit. But I’m not there yet. The best I can do is to repeat out loud my chosen path and remind myself to stay the course.