Food for thought: Success is in the eyes of the beholder

I’m 31 years old. Since I was a kid my mother tells me that I always had a curiosity and passion to build, invent, love, make music, and make friends. She reminded me of the time I tried to build a small boat from scratch. How I designed it on paper (I still remember it looked more like an airboat — which was probably appropriate being that I was from Florida), built the frame with plywood, and then sealed it with fiberglass coating. Too bad it sunk quickly once we placed it in the canal near my childhood home! About 2 years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a substantial amount of time with my mother — yep at 30 years old I was bunking up with my mom and during those several months she shared so many stories that started to bring the puzzle pieces together.

Continue reading “Life, Love, and Entrepreneurship”

I always joke around about how I have been torturing myself for nearly 10 years by being in the startup game as an entrepreneur. When I first started my career, I guess thats what you call it — “a career”, I swore I’d be rich and famous by 22, then it was 23, then it was; well, you get the point. Today, I’m 31 years old and happier than ever as an entrepreneur. Have I made $20 million dollars, nope. Do I have the mansion on the beach in Miami (my hometown), negative. Have I had a tremendously successful exit, no. So why am I happier than ever you may ask yourself?

Well, its because I understand what this whole entrepreneurship thing is all about now. For the overwhelming majority of us, its not a quick road to financial success. And in fact, if you are doing it for the glamour and fame, you are better off moving to Hollywood and trying to be an actor. For me its been a life journey. My life as an entrepreneur has grown and evolved in the way that I have grown and evolved as a human being. I was once a child and now I am an adult. At one point I thought that my drive to be a entrepreneur was all about the money; yes, I’ll admit it. I consider this my youthful days of my entrepreneurial life. I thought it was a quick road if I worked hard enough and that patience was for losers. Again, part of my youthful days. You see, there is no doubt that financial success is meaningful and I still strive for it, yet money is not something that motivates long term and patience is a discipline that enables you to manage both the wins and the loses. You realize over time that this is who you are — you are an entrepreneur. You are not crazy and must accept that this is who you are, and thats its ok to want to build your own castle as opposed to living in someone else’s. You must also understand that this is not an overnight process. You will climb the mountain and run out of energy, resources, spirit, etc, — many, many times; most call this failure. 
Entrepreneurship is a life decision. A commitment to live your life the way you want to. And for others that means being an accountant, doctor, police officer, etc, etc – and thats perfectly fine. For this whole thing called life and society to work, it requires everyone fitting into the role that they are passionate about. Yet, for you people like us, this is a life full of ups and downs. And just as in all growth processes, over time you become accustomed to these changes and although “failure” will always sting, wisdom is achieved and your spirit becomes stronger and less penetrable.  

Happiness and Balance

My friend Steli Efti Founder and CEO of Elastic Sales, talks a lot about being a happy entrepreneur. I couldn’t agree more. Look its tough; very tough. Yet that cant allow you to become a bitter cynical person when things dont work out the way to planned they would. Entrepreneurship is a journey as is life. And although I am incapable of explaining to you why horrible things happen in life on a daily basis, I can assure you that focusing on these awful things doesn’t help anyone. And in business, you should learn from your mistakes and difficult moments and make the decision to chalk them up as a opportunities for growth. Focus on the good that has occurred even if its hard sometimes to see it. You must fight for this clarity. After my previous startup failed, I was so depressed and discouraged that I could not see the good that it had brought. Today I am so thankful for having gone through that experience. Each venture grows your network, teaches you valuable lessons, and makes you that much more ready to run a successful company and be a good leader. 

Steli also spoke about adding meditation to his life and not working himself to complete exhaustion. I also agree with this. I too used to work myself to the point that my brain would just shut off. And although, doing a startup requires an immense amount of dedication and time spent working, it’s important to focus on the things that matter and know when your effort needs to be redirected. I believe that in order to be at your best, make sound decisions, and be a great leader, you need to be able to develop the discipline needed to know when you need a break for personal development and nurturing. If you think about it, what does it all matter if you have destroyed your health, both mental and physical, in the process? — Since I have committed to working equally as hard on my personal development including physically, mentally, and spiritually, I have not only become a better person yet have seen my career improve 10x. 

Opportunities for Growth or Growth Moments

Lastly, I want to talk to you about what I call growth moments. These are challenging moments in our lives where things might be going terribly wrong. Whether its in our personal lives or with our startup, these are moments where our character and spirit is put  to the test and many times knock us down to the floor barely hanging on. Does this sound familiar? — If It does I am here to say that you have made it through ok. And if you are currently dealing with this, I can assure you that this too shall pass. These are what I call opportunities for growth or growth moments. The caveat is that we have to make the decision to be open to growth. Whether you have lost an important business deal, cant seem to raise capital, or experienced a startup failing, these are all opportunities to grow. Now, Im not saying its gonna be easy. Most growth comes with a little and sometimes a lot of resistance, yet I can assure you that this is merely part of your journey. Its part of the process that we all must go through as entrepreneurs. Accept it now and move forward. 

So for now, take a deep breath and enjoy the journey. This is a bumpy yet road amazing road we are on NOW and what lies ahead will come in due time…

I have spent alot of time this year thinking about entrepreneurship, particularly as it relates to the start up technology world from a non-technical founder’s perspective, and I have come to a few conclusions:

1) If you are a non-technical CEO/founder your life will suck for a long time.
The tech world is ruled by, yes you guessed it — technical people, engineers, developers etc. Guys/gals who can write their own code or challenge the integrity of their team’s code. These are the folks who build the first iterations of their company’s products and use it to recruit others and validate their ideas. Non-technical founders end up hiring consultants to build stuff (I’ve done it); which most of the time is a mistake. Why is it a mistake? Well, for one, what you build today is obsolete the moment you commit the code. Two, it usually means you have paid out of pocket; and unless you are a rich guy/gal, this is generally very painful. Three, software is never done. You hire a consultant to build like 1.0 (if you’re lucky), and you end up dumping more money into bug fixing. Then you have to actually release something to some sort of user/s whether its alpha, beta or whatever the hell you choose to call it. And then, things break = more bugs = more money, etc etc. Not to mention the moment you release something, you’ll want to change it; oh, yeah and 98% of your initial users will find something wrong with it and suggest changes = more money spent on the consultant, etc etc. And then reality sets in: you have spent ALOT of money out of pocket, or the money runs out and its game over.
Another route the Non-technical founder takes instead of dumping his life savings into hiring consultants, is selling the “the dream/vision”. Not only does he/she have to find and convince technical people to embrace the idea enough to commit a substantial amount of their heart, soul, and attention to the venture, yet have to make sure that they maintain the enthusiasm long enough to develop something meaningful. And developing something meaningful just gets you to first base.
You do have exceptions to the rule, such as Steve Jobs. Yet, do remember that Steve was only as good as his TEAM. His ideas didn’t mean anything unless his team was able to execute. Plus Steve is a complete anomaly.

2) Ideas are blaw; Team is EVERYTHING
I have been guilty of thinking that just cause I had an idea, I had a business. Then the years passed and a million ideas later, I realized that ideas are as useless as being the only player on a hockey team that knows how to skate; you wont even have a chance to play the game and will have to forfeit every time.
Repeat after me; TEAM IS EVERYTHING. Great teams can build things. Great teams can overcome obstacles and challenges. Great teams support each other when times are tough, cause they will get tough. Needing a great team is especially important for the non-technical, tech start up co-founder. He/she is literally useless without this team. And moreover this team has to be ever more awesome to be able to persevere on alongside their non-technical leader.
If you dont have a great team, you will not win. I dont give a shit what anyone else says, you are only as strong as your team. Here are some tips:
  1. Keep Teams Local (as much as possible): Its tough enough building a company when your team is in your back yard. Working with remote teams makes it much harder. I’m convinced that having a great team is like having a great relationship — it takes work. And when you are not able to interact regularly with your teammates, because they are in another time zone is makes it much harder. Many times there are cultural and language barriers. As we all know, often times tones and meanings can be unclear in the virtual world. Now, I’m not saying that its impossible; and in fact there are a ton of examples of teams that have been able to pull it off. My point is, if you are going to have an offshore or remote team, get ready for the challenges that you will face.
  2. Be Clear, Definitive, and Make the Though Calls: You need to set the tone and expectation for the team from day one. Sometimes a non-technical founder will be so afraid of loosing their technical team that they will turn a blind eye to red flags or try to rationalize why things are not getting done. If they cant hack it, let them go. Its not healthy for anyone involved.
  3. Build SOMETHING you know something about: Too many times do you see entrepreneurs building businesses that they are clueless about. I am definitely guilty of this. I have tried to start businesses that I didnt know much about and perhaps was just cool. Then reality hit.