The Agony And Ecstasy of Entrepreneurship

Given my recent news of making the leap once again, I figured it was fitting to dive further in detail on what entrepreneurship is all about. This piece was written a few months back for a project I will talk more about once it becomes public, but should give you a good idea of the ups and downs of founder life.

Many people wonder what it takes to launch and grow a successful business today. Many also question what actually goes on in the mind of an entrepreneur.  Pure ambition, hopes of everlasting wealth, or recognition for changing the world are often cited as driving forces behind founders of successful companies. On the other hand some perceive starting a company as the epitome of stroking our own selfish and egotistical desires at the expense of others. Regardless of perspective, entrepreneurship is an enigma in our world – something we observe everyday yet still perplexes us as to what it actually is and why people choose to embrace it.

These questions got me thinking about what we do and why we do it, and how to best describe entrepreneurship. What most will discover is the challenge of entrepreneurship is not necessarily one of execution as it is psychological balance. I often talk about The Agony and The Ecstasy of Entrepreneurship, the never ending yo-yo effect of running a company and the toll it can take on the person who is not prepared. The agony can be described as an immense downward pressure, something akin to gasping for air when lacking oxygen. Starting a company requires creating almost everything out of thin air and demands extraordinary feats to pull off.  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Your progress will take twice as long as you expect and if you are an impatient person like myself it can be extremely difficult.  If entrepreneurship can be described as a roller-coaster ride, the agonizing times are the extreme downward dips a company founder and their stomach must constantly endure.

2941551448_b3ea80442f_z

Those who make it out of the dips shoot straight up to the highs and experience periods of ecstasy and bliss.  Similar to a chemical induced euphoria these naturally created feelings are what keep founders plowing through the entrepreneurial journey. A great meeting with a high profile investor, media coverage about a new product release or acquisition, and landing a new customer or partnership leading to a potentially lucrative deal are all exciting and exhilarating experiences. These euphoric feelings are what we live for as entrepreneurs.  And they are addictive.  They are additive because these types of positive experiences release dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain which result in a heightened state of emotion, and become what founders heavily rely on while they keep pushing forward.

What makes the journey so crazy is the shifts between ecstasy to agony seem to creep up like little critters in the night. One day you are on top of the world, thinking there’s nothing between you and one billion people touching your product. The next day you don’t know what just happened and if you are still leading a solvent company. Amazingly that same chemical process takes place as we experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol, as well as what is found in people who are diagnosed with mental disorders. I find it interesting how entrepreneurship and mental disorders are so close in relation yet looked upon from society in such extreme opposites. It’s important to keep in mind how damaging the cycle of Agony and Ecstasy can be to the entrepreneur if not identified and dealt with appropriately.

If entrepreneurship is analogous to a disease then it is a collection of many mental disorders found in appropriate combinations brought together to form a uniquely talented individual. Consequently, this individual has a choice on how they wield their sword. Entrepreneurs are all in – all the time. Entrepreneurs love what they do and obsess over it to a fault. It is a predisposition; a path that has already been laid out for chosen individuals. It is a character trait, a labor of love, a zeal that cannot be trained, a condition that cannot be treated, an illness that cannot be caught. And like any disease, if not treated appropriately entrepreneurship can be very damaging to oneself and others. If you find yourself holding the sword you must take precaution in how you use it.

Don’t be fooled, running a company can be one of the most difficult things a person will ever do in their life. If you are an entrepreneur – or choose to become one – prepare to be challenged more than you ever have in your life. You will be challenged physically. You will be challenged emotionally. You will also be challenged psychologically more than you ever thought possible.  You will ask yourself why you are doing this and to what cost is it worth. Technically, socially, professionally, psychologically and financially you will be stretched way past what you ever thought you could deal with.

Yet, it is also one of the most rewarding things a person can choose do with their lifetime. If pursued correctly, entrepreneurship is the gravity that pulls out greatness within each person. It is the grand stage on which we display our unique gifts and talents to the world. And it allows an environment for us to teach and employ others so they may also live healthy and fruitful lives. I have discovered it is the crucible we enter as rough, ugly and jagged only to emerge in time polished, beautiful and priceless.

So what is entrepreneurship again? I have found the crux in the entrepreneurial path is self actualization –  the place where the founder comes full circle on what, how and why they have embarked on the journey in the first place. Their life only make sense when they look back upon what they’ve done and connect the dots from where they have come.  It is in this place true entrepreneurs are born and true greatness can be achieved.

I don’t know… we may never know for sure what entrepreneurship really is but what I try to illustrate is how vital the entrepreneurial journey is in discovering yourself, your vision and your legacy. I hope this doesn’t scare you. In fact, I hope you are intrigued and invigorated. In the end, through entrepreneurship I hope you can gain a better understanding of who you are and how you will choose to leave your lasting legacy.

Founders RAW: Rahul Sood – How to Build A Luxury Brand

I recently sat down for a Founders RAW conversation with Rahul Sood to talk about entpreneurship and various aspects of startup life. Rahul is cofounder and CEO of Unikrn, a Mark Cuban backed startup in the massively growing esports industry. Below is a short clip on how to build a luxury brand.

Goodbye and Hello

I’ve contemplated writing this post for more than 3 weeks now – and low and behold – today is the right day to share what’s been happening in my life and take a bit of a dive on the new direction.

Don’t worry, there’s good news at the end.

First a little background and to make sense of why I have not written since November. Two days before Thanksgiving I was laid off from the startup where I had been working full time for a year and a half. Yep, laid off and by one of my best friends to make it even worse. Due to budgeting and funding constraints the founders let half the team go, without warning and under very unfortunate circumstances. I’ll save other details to protect the involved but although I wish them well suffice it to say I was blindsided and quite disappointed.

Thanksgiving, of all weeks!

Being on the receiving end of that sort of news during Thanksgiving week makes it a lot harder to give thanks to your family and to the world, I’ll tell you that much for sure. The sudden change placed me in a quite challenging situation for this holiday season, but one I know I can get through with support from family and friends.

I gotta be honest, it was tough to swallow. How could “I” be let go from a company I felt really needed me? And how does our ego hit so hard upside the head?

Screenshot 2015-12-16 at 5.06.59 PM

The best thing about being let go so unexpectedly is you are given back your time, which provided me a chance to reflect on the trajectory in my life as an entrepreneur and where I was currently heading. I realized I was not at all where I wanted to be professionally and not utilizing my strengths in the ways in which I wanted.

Through it all I can now honestly say I am relieved and energized. As a fighter and a survivor (and most importantly an entrepreneur) this news simply gives me a stronger fire in the belly to strike out on my own and create things that need to exist in the world. It was the excuse I was waiting for, and it served as a nudge from the world to get my ass going again after a few years hiatus.

We should be thankful for every door that closes in our face – there’s probably a damn good reason it needed to be slammed.

See, I had been working on some things during my downtime which oh-so-subtly was getting me very excited, and now I am afforded the time and energy to dive into them full time. I am here to announce I will officially launch them in early 2016.

Yes, I said thing(s).

Two. Things. I. Think. Can. Be. Really. Cool.

And. Maybe. Even. Really. Big.

I am not at liberty to let too much out of the bag yet so a few hints and previews will have to do at this time.  One of them is a really cool new experience for sports fans around the world. I am sure we all have seen the crazy growth (and commercials) of Daily Fantasy Sports and yet might not really know how to play them or feel comfortable with the whole – legal or illegal – sports gambling experience. We definitely aren’t launching another version of DraftKings or FanDuel! But we will be launching a much more lightweight, fun, mobile, and social sports experience where you can share your sports knowledge with the world during your favorite sporting events. If this sounds at all familiar, it is since we are resurrecting an idea I had about 3 years ago but then shelved it due to timing challenges. We’ve determined the time is now and are working under the hood as we speak.

The other startup is best categorized as an entertainment and media brand, and was born out of the combination of a few of my side projects – Founders RAW and Feature Friday, an event I hold in Seattle each month where I pick 5 local startups to demo to a crowd of attendees. Although it won’t be like either one of those projects what I can mention is it will be video based and web distributed. We haven’t found anything identical out there but you will definitely notice similarities to other “shows” or “series” you might see on NBC or FOX. I can also say is it will be fun, entertaining, competitive and hopefully watched by people around the world.

There you have it – not one but two new things to keep me busy during the day and up at night!

I once heard a saying:

“When you see a ship disappear on the ocean horizon, it always appears to someone standing somewhere else in the world. When you say goodbye, someone else is saying hello.”

I might have just butchered that quote but I think you get the picture of where I am at and what I am feeling right now. It’s looking like 2016 will be unlike any other year in my life. I hope it is for you too.

image courtesy of Flickr user kylehixson

Coasting To Perfection

Am I doing all I can each day to reach my own pinnacle in life? Have I done everything possible to become the person I was created to be or am I just coasting along the highway…?

A post today piqued my interest and spurred this intense inner monologue. MG Siegler writes about a recent SI article on Michael Phelps which details his comeback and rehabilitation from alcohol related incidents.  The article touches on a variety of events in his career but what jumped out to me was a very interesting and possibly troubling assessment by Phelps himself, where he simply admits he has never given it his all. Ever. Even after numerous Olympics and all the medal records he feels he under-performed and still has his best inside him. Siegler ties that thought back to all of us:

“we don’t often hear about someone at the pinnacle of what they’re doing also failing to give their all — and yet, that’s clearly the case with Phelps….. And so in a way, I think that’s a more interesting point from which to look inward. If you’re really fucking up and squandering your talents, it’s pretty obvious for everyone to see. But what if you’re only not “giving it your all” and coasting on doing the minimum to still be successful — even very successful? Or maybe not even the minimum, but something less than all you’ve got. I think a lot of people are guilty of this. Maybe even most people. Certainly I am, in some regard.”

So I ask you, are you just coasting through your life?

It’s a troubling thought if you really consider the question when its asked another way: will you ever reach your full potential with your current output of energy, focus and determination?

14534715858_77044068c6_z

I ponder this question quite a bit and maybe it’s the reason I have a number of current projects/companies ongoing in my life. It’s almost as if I can’t not do them. I don’t want to ever look back and realize I could have done more, that I should have applied myself more fully to the things and people in my life, and that I coasted lazily while others looked upon me with slight disappointment knowing I was fully talented and capable of greatness but in the end never doing anything worthwhile.

Wasted talent they’d say.

This is why I push myself to write even on days when I don’t want to or don’t feel like it. I want to follow my writing talent as far as it will possibly take me.

This is why I get in front of the camera and shoot more Founders RAW conversations.  Setting aside the enjoyment I get from doing them it’s not easy being comfortable in front of a camera and I believe people need to hear the messages we are putting out. I also want to follow my talent in media creation as far as it will possibly take me.

This is why I get on stage in front of hundreds of people each month and host Feature Friday events in Seattle – a monthly event which highlights 5 new up-and-coming area startups. This pushes me to become very comfortable on stage in front of crowds and calms the public speaking nerves, a wise move given public speaking is the #1 fear in the world.

This is why I push myself to build new apps and create whole new companies. I don’t ever want to find myself out of the loop on the latest trends, as well as sometimes it just takes a few cycles before the big idea takes hold.

This is not rocket science but I do these things so that I get better at them until a time comes where they are second nature to me. This is the 10,000 hours stuff Malcolm Gladwell talks about. It is said by the time the Beattles led the “British Invasion” with Beattlemania and brought their music into America they had already played together as a band live so many times they had eclipsed their 10,000 hours threshold and were very very tight as a band. That’s why they were so damn good so early on.

But it didn’t come overnight.

The Beattles believed – as I am starting to now – you are only as good as you choose to be. And “to choose” means you determine to do whatever it takes, however long it takes, with whatever means you have at your disposal to achieve you potential. Anything less is just cheating yourself and the greater world in the process.

Some have it easy you might say. They are naturally talented and without doing EVERYTHING THEY CAN they turn out to be Olympic champions and record setters. LeBron James, Michael Phelps, ect.. Simply more talented than anyone else. I say good for them.

But I am more impressed with the one who wasn’t God gifted with the most talent in the world yet works so diligently at their craft they become one with it, they become the legends we read about. The Wright Brothers. Steve Jobs, etc. The ones who came from nowhere, with no money and no connections, no Ivy League schooling, no Silver Spoon or lucky sperm club card to show off.

These people will it into existence. They are the ones we love to read about and crave to hear speak in public.

My guess is you fit that bill just as I do. So do yourself a favor each day and ask yourself if you are giving it your all – and be honest with your answer. My guess is you’ll be surprised at how much farther within yourself you can dig.

THE NEWS POISONS YOUR BRAIN, SO STOP WATCHING!!

I am in the middle of a massive mental overhaul and it feels great.

Not that I really felt I needed it or was in danger going off the cliff, but I understand continual refinement is one of the secrets to life so recently I pushed into hitting a greater mental/emotional/professional learning curve.  With that I will say I think it’s time we start taking back our minds and not walking around the world like brainless mummies.

You are in charge of what goes into your mind and what you think about. It starts with what you choose to pay attention to and let into your conscious – subconscious even. If the brainless mummy comment was a bit harsh… well that is exactly what the media thinks of you.

I am talking about the news (industry in general) and how much of a bullshit clickbait crockshow it has become. Just look at a quick screenshot of cnn.com today.

Screenshot 2015-11-17 at 2.03.07 PM

It’s as if CNN just reported on the end of the world.

Evacuated.

Terror.

Explosions.

Scared.

Clicks.

Dollars.

Cha-Ching!

That’s what’s going on and I am done with it. So should you.

News and media outlets have long left you in the dust and pretty much focus only on what will bring the most revenue in the bank. They show shock, terror and scare over anything else. It’s all about money and you are being poisoned in the process.

No wonder there are so many shootings and terrorist attacks around the world now. If media stopped reporting it maybe they would stop bombing buildings and killing innocent people since their names wouldn’t be plastered everywhere.

Maybe confused teenage kids who want their 15 minutes of fame on TV and social media would choose another path other than to walk into school and start shooting. But how did they get that idea in the first place??

Oh wait… right.

It’s a challenging topic especially now due to weekly terrorist threats and the latest Paris bombings leading to an unfortunate death toll numbered in the hundreds. My heart goes out to any affected. But it pains me to see this happening and only frustrates me when I see and hear about it.

It actually makes me mad. To the point where I might act on that anger. And that’s why I don’t do it anymore and for the sake of society I hope others do the same.

For an even worse stroll down scaryville-our-society-is-going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket lane just turn on your local news. Murders. Rapes. Kidnappings. Robberies. Fires. OMG. We have a responsibility to take control of our thoughts and emotions, and never-ending scare tactics meant to keep us glued to the TV or computer screen do not help us achieve peace of mind.

You know what does achieve peace of mind?

Reading positive things.

Meditating each day on the good you will do in the world.

Spending quality time with loved ones and friends.

Putting the newspaper down, shutting the TV off, clicking off the website and then going out to do good in the world.

Go to work and do your part to move the world forward, no matter how big or small your impact may be. Don’t worry about missing out on events in the world – the important stuff happening around the world and in your own city will find you. Until it does, protect your own mind and spirit with all you have since that is all you have.

This I know for sure: Making your own world as positive and generous as possible starts with shutting out the negative messages of the media, which starts in your mind and that is 100% under your control.

 

Do Something Everyday That Terrifies You

1805756738_ec05607189_zHere’s some advice that might be scary to you: Do something everyday that terrifies you.

It’s a simple sentence yes, but its consequences reach far and wide. Having courage to do things that scare you is the essence of growth and progress, in both your personal and professional life.

I noticed this phenomenon recently in my own life when I chose to start meditating every day. Before I started, I viewed mediation as a foreign activity, something only eastern religions practiced. But actually, I was scared about doing it for some weird reason, namely because it was new and different to me.

Yet I decided to lean into my fear, push it aside and dive right in. Five months later and I am still going strong, maybe missing one day per week on the weekends when something comes up in the morning and I am not able to sit quietly. I can’t even describe the benefits I have enjoyed and the new growth opportunities I have opened up simply because I am sitting quietly each day and contemplating this crazy world we live in.

I also learned doing terrifying things are good for the soul when I reach out to people and sit down with them for a Founders RAW conversation. More and more of my guests are noteworthy people who have founded well known companies or are successful in their previous ventures.

I think to myself “they get hit up all the time so why would they answer my email? And why would they want to talk with me anyway?!”

But you know what?

I send it anyway.

And they answer it!

Meeting set, great conversation had, sweet new Founders RAW video for you all to watch, and new contact/friend made.

All because I chose to be uncomfortable and reach out to someone who might turn me down or not respond to my request. It’s crazy how your mind twists reality to scare you from doing things each day that would totally change your life. You have to acknowledge the warning but then push past it.

Ask for the sale.

Ask the guy or girl out.

Ask the investor for more money.

Jump off the cliff into the water.

Write the blog post you’ve been thinking about.

Smile at the stranger.

Talk to the stranger.

Post the picture.

Build the prototype.

Recruit the team.

Start the company.

Ask for the raise.

Join the new company offering you a promotion.

Move to the new city if you feel the pull.

Guys and girls – the principle works. Do something new and scary each day of your life and you’ll be shocked at what happens next.

People Are More Impressed With Who You Are Than What You Do

We’ve all been asked that dreaded question at a networking event.

“So… what do you do?”

I drive myself insane wondering why people lead with that question in social situations. My guess is they are just nervous and it’s the first and easiest thing that comes to mind and then out of their mouths.

Yet, it’s the dumbest and worst question to lead with once you shake hands with someone. It shows the other person you are about to judge them and looking for the lowest hanging fruit to make your snap judgement. So do yourself and the person in front of you a favor and don’t ask it anymore.

So what SHOULD you ask?

Anything. Except for the above question anything is fair game. Ask about their clothes. Ask about their background or where they came from. Inquire about something unrelated to the topic of the evenings event like the weather, local sports team, the coffee shop where you are sitting, a funny off-the-cuff joke about the random people you are watching. Really, anything will work here. Absolving yourself of the “what do you do” question will invariably raise you right to the top of the list of people the other person wants to converse with.

But why is this so?

22166850790_dd4ffa724b_z

The “what do you do” question makes people feel like they are being interrogated. Especially if the person you find yourself talking with has recently made a huge life change and is in between jobs or startups. Take it from me, when in that phase of life this is the last question any of us want to answer. And the thing is you never know who has recently made that decision or is currently in that phase so better to be cautious and not take a salt shaker and dump it on someones fresh wound right out of the gate.

The “what do you do” question also makes people feel uneasy since its origins can be found in us humans trying to compare ourselves to others. Instinctively, our goal is to find someone who we feel superior to so we can make ourselves feel better, even for a brief moment. If I ask you what do you do and you tell me “I’m a lawyer” or “I just sold my startup to Google” I now know where we stand economically and socially. If you respond with a lower status job description I also know where we stand and feel better about myself.

But what about the people who ask the question only so you ask them the same question so then they can pitch you their business? Same result holds here: not a good idea to lead with your elevator pitch to a stranger that didn’t ask for it. I don’t know about you but I don’t want the first interaction with every person I meet to be a pitch session about what they are working on and how I can get involved. This is also a very shallow and quite self-serving interaction and again puts people on the defensive.

What I have found works best is to be genuinely interested in other people, and ask questions about them and what they care about. Becoming interested in others is quite easy if you don’t lead with “what do you do” questions. I try to challenge myself and get creative in how I converse with people, how much I can get them to talk about their ideas and passions. Initiating conversations without asking about profession or job shows the other person you are genuinely interested in their story and them as people, not just about professional comparisons. One or two great questions or comments unrelated to their profession can jump start a quality interaction with pretty much anyone.  I have found this is the best and quickest way to illustrate who I am and my inner character without saying a thing – outside of asking the intriguing questions.  The less I say the more I listen – and thus show who I am – resulting in a strong trusted connection with the other person.

The crazy and counter-intuitive thing about this strategy is once you start a conversation with another person not asking about their profession the other person will inevitably bring it up, but on their own terms. And since you didn’t come across as aggressive or interrogating you will find they are very engaged in the conversation and will walk away thinking you were one of the best conversationalists they have ever encountered even though they did most of the talking.

And in this way you will find each and every conversation is a way to learn something new about the world, something new about another person and a fun way to add to your wisdom of the world.

Seek first to understand, then be understood.