Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Don’t Force It

 

Sometimes blog posts flow from my fingers like schmoozing from a politician’s lips. And sometimes they don’t.  This morning, I was stressing about a lack of queued up thoughts and ideas for the blog and I was fortunate enough to have a Duh moment where I told myself “Don’t force it.”

There’s no rush on most things we’re working on. Getting that next big client. Raising the money from the investor to take it to the next level. Finding that perfect portfolio company to invest in.   Everything we do becomes easier when we take 10 deep breaths and remind ourselves: “There is no rush. Don’t force it.”

Achieving this clarity in the heat of battle is powerful.

And sometimes, this clarity will even yield the thing you were trying to force in the first place. In this case… it yielded a blog post called “Don’t Force It.”   ;)

 

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:

http://lucky7.io/post/the-state-of-tech-entrepreneurship-in-austin

 

 

Brer Entrepreneur in The New Wild West

 

Brer RabbitI received quite a few offline comments back on my post about Insightpool’s ability to automate relevant conversations between companies and individuals. Some were excited; they wanted an introduction to the founders. Others (several) expressed concern about the Minority-Report’esque privacy challenges with social media tools like this.

In the Internet today, we are at the early stages of the New Wild West. The platform is creating new opportunities to connect, learn, and grow by the hour. These opportunities will bring with them new problems and challenges. New grand challenges are food for entrepreneurs.

Challenges mean opportunities to solve them.  Conflict and uncertainty in society are the “briar patch” for little ol Brer Entrepreneurs. (if that doesn’t makes sense to you, shame on you, go here.)

A simplistic example follows, directly from the social marketing automation discussion:

The conversation went like this: “Do I have to assume that everything I say in my online social networks is always going to be available for global consumption? What if I want to have extremely private conversations using these tools?  What if my employer sees me say something that I wouldn’t want them to see? What if an insurance company uses something I say against me?”

The non-entrepreneur, aka common sense answer: “Well just accept that it is what it is and if you don’t want it seen, don’t type it.”

The entrepreneur, “boldly go” answer: “Sounds like you see a problem that needs solving. Maybe you aren’t the only one who sees the problem. Go build something to get you where you want to go and maybe others will see value in it as well.”

As we enter the New Wild West, it will pay to be Antifragile. Entrepreneurship in it’s most awesome, inspirational form is fueled by antifragility.

Oh, and please, please, don’t throw ME into the briar patch!

 

 

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 AchooAllergy.com, 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!

 

 

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 HowYouRuleTheWorld.com.

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, howyouruletheworld.com.

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 eonetwork.org.

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 www.howyouruletheworld.com).

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.”

 

Happiness isn’t a Four-Letter Word. Engagement is.

 

The word “engagement” annoys me.

Employee engagement. Member engagement. Community engagement.

The word engagement is just a cop out in place of the word: happiness.

We use it because it makes it acceptable to report: “My employees aren’t engaged.”   If you say that, it’s just an annoying cost of doing business and a little issue you have to deal with.  But what if you said this instead:

My employees aren’t happy.

Whoa! If your team isn’t happy – it’s a much bigger problem than if they aren’t engaged. Isn’t it?

But doesn’t it really mean the same thing?

If you are an association – you are certainly talking about and measuring member engagement and maybe even member satisfaction – but how much different would your sense of urgency be if you simply asked “Are our members happy?”

Using the word happy makes it real. Happiness is somehow tangible. It’s pretty much black and white. You are either happy or you are not.   I think happiness is the goal that we all should seek for our organizations and let’s stop kidding ourselves using the e-word.

It’s no coincidence the top thought leader of the last few years on great cultures, Tony Hsieh titled his book and his movement Delivering Happiness.

 

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 www.feld.com/. 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 Profile – Mike Landman of RippleIT

Landman

Continuing the series of entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business.   Mike Landman is the founder of Ripple IT and believes that freedom unleashes the best work and the best life. He also makes my “best dressed Entrepreneurs list.” (I just made the list up so I could put Mike on the top of it.)

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

I do the same thing I think others should be able to do. I let my work and my life blend as needed. The nice thing entrepreneurs get free with the job description is that they have complete freedom to balance their life as they see fit. Usually work is more fullfilling than watching reruns. One of my missions is to make sure everyone gets to make the same choices whether they start a company or work for one.

What is your exercise routine?

When my schedule is humming I work out 3-4x a week. When other things get in the way, sometime I don’t work out for a week.

What gives you the most personal energy?

Thinking out loud. Either with people or alone. One of the things I have to be cognizant of is that I will sometimes seem like I am passionately advocating an idea, but in fact I’m just thinking it through (aloud). If people aren’t aware of that, they can be left with the impression that I’m making my case for it. That’s confusing when 10 minutes later I’m making a very different argument.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

I avoid the telephone and voicemail. I avoid low-importance conflict. Sitting in one place. Cable news. Bad coffee.

How are you involved in the community?

I am most active in entrepreneur-oriented activities. There’s an awesome myth that surrounds entrepreneurs – that we know what we are doing. But most of us really don’t. There’s nowhere to learn something you’re personally making up, other than counsel from other people who made stuff up. So I have been involved with leadership in EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) since 2007. Most recently as President of the Atlanta chapter, which was a great honor. But the role I’m most proud of in EO was launching the Accelerator program which is designed to help first-stage entrepreneurs get their businesses to $1M while still being awesome people. I am very pleased with the success we’ve had for 5 years.

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

I am not religious. I believe that people doing the right thing is the morality we’re all striving for. I try to do the right thing.

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

I don’t have a legacy yet, but I’m starting to think that ultimately I will have had some impact in the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) revolution. That my influence has touched and will continue to touch companies and inspire them to trust their employees and grant them the same freedoms and responsibilities that entrepreneurs get by virtue of their job title.

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

Most directly I give back by running a ROWE. Being a ROWE has allowed me to help people carve out the freedom in their lives to never miss their daughter’s recital, or their son’s soccer games. Two Ripplers have toured with bands for weeks while still getting their jobs done. Another was able to adopt a child from out of state because of ROWE, and nearly all of us have been able to attend to medical care for ourselves or family members that would have been impossible or very challenging in a traditional work environment.

Ripple are also new partners in On The House which is a great probono program started by the folks at Matchstic. Every year On The House chooses one charity or not-for-profit in need, and delivers a full suite of services from rebranding to IT consulting to app development. It’s an amazing overhaul for one organization in need, every year.

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

I have mostly adopted the Ripple Core Values. Our mantra is Humans First, and our values are:

  • Responsible
  • Enduring (relationships)
  • Fair
  • Open
  • Style in all we do

We call them REFOS

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

I have my EO Forum. Having a place of trust with 6 people that I know have my interests at heart to go to 1/2 day a month is great energy.

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 learned when I played tennis that in my DNA I’m never really competing against anyone else, but that I compete against myself. I didn’t know what that meant (except that tennis had made me crazy) until Jeff Bezos said, and I’m paraphrasing, that “you can either be competitor-focused or customer-focused.” But not both. I’m customer-focused.

 

I think there are qualities as an individual that have helped me; I’m nice, I like helping people, I don’t take myself too seriously, and I like to help people make connections and be successful. I think it rarely has to be a zero-sum game.

Play Hard – Signing Off

 

CaribbeanSailingIn the spirit of being intentional about vacations with no kids, I’m happy to share that I’m going completely off the grid today and won’t be back in the Matrix until next weekend.   My bride and I are sneaking away to blue water and sunny skies for a week.   We both need the disconnect.

We plan to fill our schedule with intense fun – no lounging on the beach for the Cooks. That’s not a vacation.   “Down time” just gives your mind to think about things you aren’t doing at work and home.  We just need fun time.  It’s the same relaxation as flying airplanes for me – the only way to truly disengage your mind is to engage it on something else.

Don’t get me wrong, the afternoon naps will be glorious power naps.

Neo out.

See you on the other side.

 

 

Person Building – The First Entrepreneur Profile

 

Since I launched this blog almost a year ago I’ve focused on topics around finding inspiration and energy required to build a better person. Specifically a person who happens to be building a business: the entrepreneur.

Most of the nuggets and ideas I’ve shared aren’t original. They are things I’ve picked up from the amazing people I meet every day.  So being a guy who is addicted to introducing people and making connections, I want to introduce you to some of these individuals directly.

In the coming weeks, I will be doing a series of short posts about successful entrepreneurs who have made a difference in my life.  They won’t be long in-depth write-ups, but they will be answers to a list of questions that always carry interesting answers.

I’ll do the proper thing and lead off by example, with my own answers to these questions. So first up: Johnson Cook.

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

My wife and I have a goal to schedule at least two 4+ day vacations per year with just each other (no kids, no friends). It’s important to schedule the next one as soon as we finish one – 6 months out. Otherwise the insanity of 3 young kids plus everything else keeps it from happening.  I also have a morning routine with my oldest – to do breakfast together and take him to school. It limits my availability for breakfast meetings or being at the office early, but I make up for it by getting up around 5am each day to get in several hours of good deep work.

 What is your exercise routine?

I don’t let two days go by without running. If I have extra time on a non-running day, I will go to the gym and swim. Peachtree City has amazing trails in the woods and lakes that make for great combination of tasks: running time is quiet time.

What gives you the most personal energy?

Reading in the morning and exercise.  After exercise I feel unstoppable. If I miss a workout, I feel like crap.

 What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

People who are always down on their luck. People who constantly complaining but who don’t take action.  People who’re generally negative towards others.

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

Part of what prompted the idea of this series of questions for other entrepreneurs is that I started noticing a trend that most “rockstar entrepreneurs” I know are either heavily involved in their church or are deeply spiritual in other ways.  Yes, I’m active in our church, (Peachtree City United Methodist Church) and occasionally attend different churches.   Our family is Methodist.  I believe having a rhythm to slow down and be in a large group on a regular basis that is pondering issues bigger than our day-to-day is very healthy.   (Side note: I also think that organized religion has done a lot to screw up the way people experience God. It’s a shame that churches in general have turned so many people away from an important personal necessity. But I won’t go there today.)

 What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

I work hard to teach my kids that they are in charge of their own lives.  This especially focuses on entrepreneurship, but also on how they manage their decisions. I don’t think I had this realization until way too late in life and I think they can make a difference in the world if at least if they hear the right words over and over.

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

I love making introductions, because I love helping people exchange talents, ideas, and resources.  I love, love it. I’m all about giving on an individual level more than an institutional level. Give to someone where you can see the direct impact that minute. It’s so rewarding and can go so far.

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

Golf is great time to connect with friends.   Flying airplanes is great mental challenge, although something that my schedule has kept me from doing as much as I’d like. I don’t count running as a hobby because it’s way more important. Hobbies can be ignored.

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

My Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) forum, and my Quench Network (Quench) forum. They are amazing and are the most critical relationships to me aside from my family.

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 believe my morning routine is my competitive advantage. It’s setup nicely where I get all the fundamentals in first thing. I have established a rhythm of waking up very early, reading, writing, family time, and then workout. It’s the best way to start the day I can imagine.

I enjoyed answering these questions, and I hope you find a nugget that is useful.

 

 

Dream Bigger

 

Dream BiggerOne of our core values at the Atlanta Tech Village is: Dream Big. But it occurs to me that we should change it to Dream Bigger.

Here’s why.

We’ve been told our whole lives to dream big.  Everybody dreams big. Of course our dreams are big, otherwise they wouldn’t be dreams. They would just be life.  But the coolest people and the crazy successful people I have encountered in life are self-aware of where they stand in the universe to know that even their big dreams aren’t as big and great as they can be.

Our potential is not limited by anything other than our own self.

Big isn’t satisfying. True satisfaction comes from the pursuit of bigger.

There isn’t a limit to what you can accomplish. There isn’t an end result in “bigger.” You will never get to “bigger.” That’s why you should chase it.

You’ve heard this many times stated another way: It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Dreaming big implies that you can get to big; but dreaming bigger means you commit to the pursuit of greatness… of bigger… a pursuit that will not end.

 

Startup Momentum comes from a Delicate Balance

 

Balance Product R&D with SalesFor a tech startup, creating momentum is the most important thing to do in the beginning. Momentum means traction. It means progress that matters for the long game. Progress that is sustainable and that increases the chance of startup success by the day.  Momentum for a startup means turning all that potential energy into kinetic energy.   In the first weeks at the Atlanta Tech Village, I’ve spoken with at least 65 tech startups in all stages.  In each of these conversations, I’m seeking to identify what programs, services, and amenities the Village can provide that will have the most impact on a startup’s momentum.

The reoccurring theme across startups of all stages (from successful, to on their way, to doomed) is that traction occurs when entrepreneurs find the right balance of building a product and selling that product.

Some examples: there are some startups who have gone through accelerator or mentor driven programs that focus intensely on customer discovery. They interview, interview, interview… they find out all the answers, but they don’t actually build anything that they can sell.  In the end, there is no momentum. There is no kinetic energy. They’ve added potential energy only.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, there are hack-a-thons and other really cool geekfests that output a lot of cool shiny products that the entrepreneurs don’t ever take the next step and release, market, promote, and sell! They have kinetic energy, but without some motion towards revenue, they won’t last long.

I’ve noticed that the ones that are the most successful are able to find that very delicate balance of building products that are just enough to sell, then refining the products while the sales efforts are ramped up.

It seems to be that if there is a secret to a successful startup it is this: balancing product R&D with sales that drive revenue.

Our goal at the ATV will be one of helping tech companies find that balance and constantly focusing on both sides, that are equally important to succeed.

 

Foot note– this perspective is from the “bootstrapped startup” approach. This already complex balance becomes even more complicated when you have VCs and certain angels involved.  Not that you shouldn’t raise money if you can raise money, just that you may change the dynamics of your short-term progress with more folks having a vested interest in your company.