Podcast: My interview on The Startup Sessions with Michael Knouse

I’m very humbled to share a recent interview I did as a guest on the Startup Sessions Podcast, where I talk about my current projects and how I go about the craziness of founder life. I enjoyed my conversation with Michael Knouse (he was a recent guest on Founders LIVE as well!)
I hope you find it helpful.
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Creating Your Own Wake

As a founder your survival is a function of how you create your own wake.

Wikipedia defines a wake as:

A wake is the region of recirculating flow immediately behind a moving or stationary solid body, caused by the flow of surrounding fluid around the body. There is formation of vortex in the wake which is the region of low pressure in it.

…The formation of these waves in liquids is analogous to the generation of shockwaves in compressible flow, such as those generated by rockets and aircraft traveling supersonic through air.

wake

Circulating flow.

Vortex.

Pressure.

Shockwaves.

If you read the entire definition you’ll likely get lost in a hell of a lot of science but those are the words that jump out to me when I read the definition of wake. It doesn’t just apply only to water either, if we could see movements of air we’d be seeing the impacts of wakes and shockwaves all around us.

To me, in human terms wake simply means your lasting impact on the world around you.

I have been thinking about this phenomenon recently since I made the leap back into entrepreneurship as a founder, (re)discovering all the painful and challenging issues you deal with as you are just starting out. So many things are working against you and the inertia of the world is quite similar to the inertia of water. A boat doesn’t create a wake unless its moving. Same for us. Forward progress in life requires some sort of energetic force to drive you forward, pushing against the inertia of the world and creating a wake that ripples outwardly away from you and positively impacting others around you.

There’s some social science for ya.

One of the most important lessons I learned in the last couple of years is you can make the entrepreneurial path a little easier by creating a wake around/behind yourself. This is not easy, because it requires effort and energy to do things we generally don’t want to do.  Going above and beyond our normal comfort zone to stand out is almost the antithesis to what we as humans feel we want to be doing each day/week/month.

But standing out – creating a wake impacting others – is what is required of you as a first time founder who is desperately wanting to make it to the next level. That or get lost in the thousands of others vying for the same attention, money and position.

What would a wake look like in real life? How would it involve humans, social interactions, business decisions, etc?

I find the key to gaining an edge when just starting out is finding specific actions to take to create a wake in an industry – shockwaves that keep spreading and impacting people you might not even have direct contact with.

Start writing on topics people in your industry might find interesting, posting them on social media and guest posting on other media outlets. Who cares what you write about (okay that’s kind of harsh but you get what I am saying) and what others might comment on, just having a voice and putting it out there places you at the top 10% in your industry. Be consistent in your writing efforts and don’t worry your audience will find you. Create video or other visual content which is entertaining and educational and that others can share with their networks. It doesn’t exactly matter what you record and put out, it just matters that you start and don’t stop so others start to recognize you. Organize local events and meetups around relevant industry topics so you can help others connect with each other. Be seen and be known. Work on and release products which are both interesting and have high potential to change your industry. Who knows, you might learn something new! Carry yourself, shake hands and talk in a way where people will be impressed.

These are the things people remember, they are what people share with others and what sticks in a room once you leave. That’s your wake.

 

Give Yourself Permission To Fail

Giving myself permission to fail has been a reoccurring thought as of late, and reading a recent post from Keen.io CEO Michelle Wetzler really solidified it for me.

After a few years in the back seat helping others in the building process I am back in the founding position. As I get back into the drivers seat I am reminded that my mental approach to this next journey determines so much of my trajectory and overall success.

If I am scared to fail, I most likely will fail. If I am worried we’ll go broke, we most likely will go broke. If I think I am not good enough to be CEO and not fit to lead a successful company, I most definitely will be those things.

BUT if I reverse that thinking I can reverse the psychology as well.  If I believe I’ll be successful, I most likely will. If I am confident in our finances, we most likely will stay afloat. If I think I am good enough to be CEO and fit to lead a successful company, I most definitely will be those things. And if I open myself up to possibility of failure I see that it is not that bad.

Michelle sums it up perfectly.

Giving myself permission to fail has been one of the most liberating, stress-relieving, and rewarding things I’ve done in last year.

The only way we can become a truly great company is if we open ourselves to the possibility that we might not be.

And you know what? It’s okay if we’re not. If Keen busts, we’ll all find new grand adventures. Some us could start a new company together, or get boring jobs at big co’s, or sail around the world, who knows, the world is full of lots of amazing opportunities.

…To give yourself permission to fail, you have to untangle your ego from your work. Having your ego tied up in your work is a handicap. You can’t think strategically or take risks when you and your personal well-being are on the line.

Basically, embracing reality frees you up to be everything you were meant to be. By not being paralyzed by what could happen, you are free to create what should happen.

This is an important lesson for founders, especially first timers who fall victim to impostor syndrome. Wikipedia defines it as “a term coined in the 1970s by psychologists and researchers to informally describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”

Another way to think of impostor syndrome is to be so frightened by your future (be it positive or negative) that you simply don’t believe you are doing the right things or are the right person for the job. You question every little decision you should make, you aren’t sure if you should go left or right. You think your peers see a different version of you, a lesser qualified person sitting in the front seat pretending they know what they are doing.  You start believing you are an impostor and thus end up failing in the end.

This is all wrong and can be mitigated by giving yourself permission to fail before you even start. That way you are free to make the correct decisions, knowing failure is just part of the process. It sounds crazy but a simple change in perspective makes all the difference. I have found the best perspective is that the world is full of lots of amazing opportunities, and if you fail at this one there’s always the next one.

That, my friends, is why I am back in the drivers seat.

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?

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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?

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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.

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?

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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.