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.

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.

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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.

 

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.

The Tales We Tell Ourself About Failure

One thing we humans do really well is self doubt.

In the last week I have had two separate conversations with fellow founders about the grave situations their companies are in, how they are staring “defeat” right in the face and don’t really see any other option than to move on.

Both people are down and out right now.  And rightfully so… They have put years of blood, sweat, tears and money in pursuit of their dreams. They feel troubled with the fact that they didn’t succeed in the way they felt they could, didn’t build a meaningful and growing company. I know what they are going through, I have was there a few years ago and had a hard time knowing when it was time to pull the plug.

My advice to them is this:

It’s okay. You think the company (and you) are a failure because you have to move on and go do something else. You may have put your self worth into the company so much so that as the company faces a failure in operation you are feeling like a failure in life. You might be feeling a bit embarrassed because of all the things you said to your friends, family, coworkers, and industry partners now make you look at best untrustworthy, and at worst fraudulent.

These are all normal fears and feelings. They are all accurate and a normal part of the grieving process of a failed attempt at a startup company. But these are all fairy tales we repeat internally.

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The reality is the very fact you set out and tried something unique and different is the success in this story. The very fact that you had the courage to attempt something most people would be afraid to do is the success. The fact that you were looking to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem is the success. Most likely your entrepreneurial decisions inspired at least one other person to jump up and start their own entrepreneurial journey. And further, maybe that person and their project turns out to be a massive success, impacting millions of people around the world, lots of that due to you. You may never know… but it’s a possibility isn’t it?

Many people lean on the stat that something like 75-90% of all startups fail, they don’t reach a point of self sustaining profits. I feel this stat is misleading since it only measures financial outcomes of each entity. Is the company alive, or dead? Red or black? Running or shuttered? Successful or not?

A better measure – albeit much more difficult – is to evaluate the impact each person and their endeavors have on the people around them. I guarantee if we were to measure the impact and success of each founder who ventures out on their own by looking at how they affected, influenced and inspired others we’d be talking about a whole different number. I bet it would possibly be the inverse, which would be quite inspirational. We’d be saying something like “Only 10-15% of startups really fail to impact the world so you must go and do it!”

To all those who are currently struggling with what to do and which decision to make for your company right now, heed this advice. The only failure in your situation would have been not choosing to attempt the impossible, since that is the only reason you are able to sit in the chair you are sitting in right now, reading this on your device you are holding in your hand, sipping the drink you are tasting right now, and driving in the car you just drove in.

Success is simply choosing to attempt the impossible and inspiring others to do the same.

Is It Fair That Founders Get The Lions Share of Equity?

Something has bothered me for some time and its just now starting to get talked about.  Below is not a rant, but rather an exercise in thinking about fairness in compensation.

Founders receive huge amounts of equity in the companies they start, yet over time as more and more employees join on and work incredibly hard to help grow the business into a successful enterprise the percentage ownership (cap table) doesn’t reflect adequate compensation.  Why is it that an employee that joined just a few months or a year after the founder receive orders of magnitude less equity – and cash after a liquidity event – than the original founders?

Does it really matter if you were there first and if it was your idea to begin with?  If so, how important and impactful is it?  Millions of dollars?  Billions of dollars worth of difference?

Yes, founders do take inordinate amount of risk in starting a new venture and they should receive compensation to reflect that.  But when we are talking about $billion+ outcomes we then start to talk about income inequality on absurd levels.  The difference between a founder receiving $1 billion or $2 billion is not the same as taking that extra $1 billion and spreading it over 100 or 500 employees – that which makes quite a bit of difference in each of those people’s lives.

The fact is early and middle employees are hugely important to the success of a startup and should be compensated accordingly.  More so, they might even be vital to the company’s success, such as a Director of Sales or VP of Engineering may be in helping a gangly startup grow up into a mature and profitable company.

A recent podcast from Andreessen Horowitz covers this issue, and touches on how founders can think about structuring their equity grants a bit differently so that they can appropriately compensate early and later employees.

Anyway, listen to the podcast as it covers a lot of points in this touchy subject.

Chop Wood; Carry Water

I recently sat down for a great lunch conversation with Nick Soman, a founder friend of mine here in Seattle.  Nick is the founder and CEO of LikeBright and a TechStars graduate.

As we were reminiscing about the founder life he said something quite profound.

Chop Wood; Carry Water.

It’s obviously a nod to early times in society where life depended on staying warm and keeping hydrated.  People couldn’t just hide in their cave if something went wrong, they would eventually die.  Or if successful, they couldn’t just rest on their laurels when something went right.  Simply put, life goes on. They needed to keep chopping wood and carrying water no matter what.

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I believe that thinking applies today.  Actually, the principle applies even more today than ever since we have so many distractions in the palm of our hands and right in front of our faces.

If you have experienced something exhilarating, exciting and greatly advantageous for you or your business, the question is what do you do next?

You need to chop wood; carry water.

If you are down and out, struggling with life and fighting the feelings of disappointment the question is what are you going to do tomorrow?

You need to chop wood; carry water.

The point is you need to stay alive.  You need to keep working.  You need to keep doing what got you that advantageous opportunity in the first place.  And if you have hit a negative streak you need to just keep going, things will come back if you get back into the game and work on the basics.

Successful people make it a habit to be steadfast in their ways – they don’t get too high when things go well and they don’t get too low when things get challenging.  They stay even keel.

They keep chopping their wood and carrying their water no matter what happens to them.

I like that.  And it’s what I have been telling myself lately as I have been enduring some exciting times.

I hope you do as well.