Note to future self (and others): I will make lots of mistakes

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I had one of my favorite mixergy interviews with Zaadz founder, Brian Johnson on in the background today while doing some work.  Brian is my kind of entrepreneur, a guy who has seemed to have found the amazing intersection of personal meaning and business.   There’s a ton of great stuff in this interview, things I will most likely write about down the road, but there was one thing in particular that struck me.  Brian says he’s learning to embrace the fact that he is an entrepreneur, a creator and with the lifestyle comes mistakes. Lots of them. There is no avoiding them or denying them, they will come sooner or later.  So as he’s embraced who he is, he’s also learning to embrace the falling down and the more comfortable he gets in the falling down, the less he fears it.  I want to embrace it too.

So I guess this blog post is a first step there.  As I’ve discussed before, I struggle as much if not more with the fear of what others will think of me after a mistake as the consequences of the mistake itself.  So let’s just get this out of the way now: For anyone working with me or anyone who may work with me in the near or distant future, I’m going to make mistakes.  In fact I  may make a lot mistakes, but I will get up and move on from each one a little bit smarter. I’m telling you now, so it will be even easier to tell you later. I will do my best to deal with whatever the consequences of the mistakes may be. I’ll do all I can to learn from them and move forward.

There, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on with the doing…

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no regrets about going with my gut.

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Image by Mick Opportunity via Flickr

So I was watching the Techcrunch 50 tonight live on ustream while waiting for Julie to get off the phone before watching Mad Men, and just as I was about to switch it off, I saw a name I recognized.  The upcoming presenter was a company called Yext, a company I knew.  My jaw hit the floor.

You see when I first moved to NYC 3 years ago this week, I was all open and up for anything.  I told myself I just wanted to do something interesting with people I could have fun with and learn from.  I wanted to continue pursuing my path as an entrepreneur either by starting my own company or coming on board VERY early with another startup.  So I went to all sorts of meetups, NextNY events, and made lots of random linkedin meetings.  It was actually fun, and quite honestly I don’t remember a lot of the people I met with during that time, but I do have to say, I remember Howard.

I actually met Howard on Craigslist.  One of the things I did at that time to increase my chances of meeting interesting people was to post something on Craigslist saying basically I was an entrepreneur, I had just moved here, and I was looking for another entrepreneur to to partner up with.  I got a LOT of responses to that posting, and about 99% of them were junk (no offense to the responders).  But Howard’s for some reason intrigued me.  I think it simply said “I’m interested, tell me more,” but I did a little digging on his email address and I found an old article about him being a hot shot college entrepreneur.  I gave him a call, we connected over the phone so we decided to meet.  We met for drinks a few nights later.

I actually liked Howard right away.  He’s clearly very smart, he’s very direct, and he’s vision driven.  He had a lot more experience as an entrepreneur than I did, and really knew his way around NYC.  He told me he was working on an idea around generating leads for local businesses, using his previous company experience “driving millions of qualified leads (he said this a lot).”  He said he had another co-founder, the tech guy, and they were looking for someone else to bring on.  I was very intrigued.  Actually I was really excited.  We agreed to meet a few more times, and to meet when his partner came into town.

After a few more meetings, and a quick trip to Chicago for a conference where I was able to see reactions of potential customers, they offered me a deal.  They wanted me to join them as a founder and to buy into the company at somewhat higher valuations than they had.  I also had to agree to stay on for at least 3 years to get all of my equity (I forget exactly all of the details).  I was a little nervous about the money, but was really nervous about being locked in for 3 years.  This is something I’ve grown quite a bit on since, but back then I was terried of being locked down for anything.  I had only spent a couple of days with these guys, and they were asking me to invest money and committ 3 years of my life. What if I didn’t like it?  What if I wasn’t as good as they or I thought I was?  What if I found something better?  Deeper down than the fear of time committment, I knew 2 things:

1.) Howard would make it work.  He would make a big, successful company, and he would do it quickly

2.) I really didn’t want to be part of it.

So I did what I had always done up to that point…I  found a way to ease out the back door.  I talked to one friend, a VC in Columbus, who told me exactly what I wanted to hear at that time (that the deal was not great for me), and I made my decision: I was walking away. I told Howard via email I was not doing the deal.  I do regret that now (not telling him to his face), but that was how I did things back then. But I felt like a freed prisoner and it felt amazing.  I remember walking down broadway thinking to myself, “wow I really do know what I want.”  I guess I was impressed that I was able to look through an opportunity to probably make a lot of money, and do a lot of the things I want to do, and still hear my gut say “it’s not this one.”

Which leads me to tonight..There on the tv before me, with my jaw on the floor, was Howard and Brent (the two co-founders) presenting their newest product offering at the Techcrunch 50 conference. On top of that they were presenting to some people I really admire and would like to meet someday, and quite frankly their demo was VERY impressive.  During the demo Howard let it slip that their current business, the one I was asked to co-found and invest in, will do $20M in revenues this year. I laughed out loud.  I turned to Julie and laughed again, saying “now THAT would have been a good investment.”  I laughed some more and finally said to her “well I was good enough to find an opportunity like that once, and was good enough to know it wasn’t for me, so I’m certainly capable of finding another one that good again.”

And as hard as that may be to believe, I feel that way.  I’m very happy and proud of what Howard and his team have been able to do, and I knew they would do it.  And yes sometimes I wish that I had made better decisions financially in my life.  But as good as that one would have been for my bank account, it would have been worse to ignore my gut. I have no regrets about my decision. And my gut says now if I was good enough to find an opportunity that big once, I can do it again.  But this time it will be right for me.

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Tinker don’t perfect

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I’ve spoken to several entrepreneurs this week as well as spent some time thinking about my past endeavors, and one thought keeps popping in my head: “tinker, don’t perfect.”   When I look back on some things that I’ve worked on, some of them things I REALLY was  passionate about (have some thoughts about passion, but that’s another post), I realize that a common theme was I was trying to finish them before I started them.  A good example was All is Well.

My basic plan and goal with All is Well was to take an this image that my sister had found after my mom had passed away (to the right) and put it on t-shirts using cafepress, create a simple website to tell the story and sell the shirts, then split the proceeds between the company and several causes my mom cared about.  It quite frankly was a simple

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process, one that could have been wrapped up in a week or two.  And I was very close to doing just that…until I had a problem.  The programmer I was working with had basically agreed to put the site together for a very low rate because of the nature of the project.  Unfortunately they got stuck on one issue with cafepress and integrating it within wordpress. Now at this time you could actually buy the t-shirts on cafepress (in fact you still can) but I became obsessed with the site being perfect before I told anyone about it.  So I waited, and waited, and waited, and slowly I realized the programmer had moved on to something else.  The 2 week project became a month long project, which became a 3 month long project, and now a 2 year project.  With each passing day,  I beat myself up more for it not being completed, perfect, and live.  And the more I beat myself up about it, the less time I wanted to spend on it.

Now I will say that there is certainly a whole other layer of issues related to this particular project, and a lot of emotions attached to it, but the point I’m trying to make here is that I was afraid to do anything until I thought it was perfect.  If I had just been willing to accept that perfection, if ever possible, comes with time and tinkering, I most likely would have just gone with what I had, or actually gone with the simplest path to what matters: spreading the message through selling shirts.  So I guess there are 2 lessons I’m seeing here: 1.) tinker, don’t perfect 2.) remember what’s important. What’s the goal?  Don’t get bogged down on all sorts little things that in the end don’t mean all that much to what you’re trying to do.

So whatever you’re working on, give yourself a break.  It is not going to be perfect right away if ever.  But you’re better off playing and sharing and testing, than hiding and perfecting.  Get out there and see what happens.

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Albert Einstein quote -via Kareem Mayan’s Weblog

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

— Albert Einstein (via reluctantbuddha) (via rahmin)

I enjoyed this.

Albert Einstein quote -via Kareem Mayan’s Weblog

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

— Albert Einstein (via reluctantbuddha) (via rahmin)

I enjoyed this.

lessons in failure

I enjoyed Fred Wilson’s post this morning on failure (inspired by Obama’s speech to students a few days ago).  He wrote this, quoting from Obama:

you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time

He goes on to talk about how when he first started in the VC business, he was so afraid of failure that he worked overly hard to prevent any failures. But  failures were unavoidable in the VC business in 2001 – 2003, and during that time Fred and his firm had a lot of them.  He doesn’t hide from those failures and he doesn’t deny them, he embraces them.

I think embracing failure is one of the things that makes this country such a great place to do business in. In many parts of the world, if you fail once, you are done. People won’t touch you with a ten foot pole. But here in the US, it’s almost a badge of honor. And our President explains why.

We’ve of course heard this all before.  I think most people if you asked them would tell you that they embrace failure and its lessons, but I think what people say and what they feel are very different here.  We all have this fear.

With that said, I do feel so much differently about failure now than I did even a few years ago.  When I look back at my “careerography,” which was written right before I moved to NYC at the end of 2006, my strong fear of failure and my equally strong fear of other’s perceptions of my failures are very evident.  I guess for me the worst part of failing was not so much of what might go wrong, but more so of what others might think of me when things go wrong.  I do feel different now.  That’s not to say I’m not afraid to fail, I still feel that fear.  But I am no longer afraid to openly discuss my failures…in fact as Fred says, I wear them like badges of courage.

Everyone has failures.  What distinguishes us is how we deal with them.

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Hey Multitasker, you’re lousy at everything..

This NY Times article somehow snuck by me last week, but I went back and dug it up after someone recommended it to me (why?). Basically it discusses unsurprising findings of a Stanford University study on multitaskers: people who try to do 4 things at once are usually mediocre or bad at all of them.

But, wait. Should it be breaking news that a single person can’t juggle knives and explain quantum physics while polishing off an artichoke?

Breaking news and a shock to the researchers themselves, as it turns out. Originally, the team of researchers, whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were trying to find out what unusual cognitive gifts multitaskers possessed that made them so successful at multitasking.

They’re still looking.

“Multitaskers were just lousy at everything,” said Clifford I. Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford and one of the study’s investigators. “It was a complete and total shock to me.”

Initially suspecting that multitaskers possessed some rare and enviable qualities that helped them process simultaneous channels of information, Professor Nass had been “in awe of them,” he said, acknowledging that he himself is “dreadful” at multitasking. “I was sure they had some secret ability. But it turns out that high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy.”

I’ll be the first to admit I have my moments where I’m in the middle of 5 things all at the same time.  I’ll also admit that I’m usually on the computer doing something while on a phone call (checking email, looking things up, etc), and I KNOW that I’m not doing either task (talking on the phone or reading on the internet or email) particularly well, yet I can’t help myself.  I’ve been more aware of my multitasking over the last few months, making an effort to only have one thing in front of me at a time, but I have to say it is REALLY hard.  Multitasking is a really hard habit to break.  I wonder if that in a world where multitasking is supported, encouraged, heck even forced, we’re putting ourselves in a position to have to work more in order to make up for mediocrity.

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The voice that eats my dreams

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Ok so the title is a little dramatic, but it was the first thing that came to mind.

I just got out of a good meeting with a friend where I realized that in probably 10 years of playing with business ideas, the most exciting ideas to me all have a common theme, obviously something I am passionate about.  So here again is this theme popping up as an opportunity, one that is front of me to go after, but it seems that voice, the one that “eats my dreams” is back. It has so eloquently told me all the reasons why going to work on this is a bad idea, why my life will be worse off for doing it, why I’ll feel terrible all the time, and I’ll lose the life I love just for trying it…not even getting into what it would be like if I fail (the voice has a lot of opinions there as well).  It’s really hard not to get pulled down by the voice, and honestly I have been so many times in the past.  It is different this time, if only because I at least have been able to separate reality from the voice. The voice isn’t based on any sort of truths or facts, it’s just talking out of fear.  It still makes me feel bad, but I feel better in knowing that is only one side of opinions on the situation, and I can choose to believe anything I want.  So, although hard, I’m going to choose to ignore “the voice,” as it’s only proven to be wrong.  Here goes…

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