Weekly Reflection: Week Ninety-Four

Today marks the end of my ninety-fourth week of working from home (mostly). Here are my takeaways from week ninety-four:

  • More current learning Learning new things is important to me. And reading books is one of my favorite ways to learn. One problem: the pace of change in the world is accelerating, and books aren’t always up-to-date. This week I spent time thinking about other ways I can learn more current information efficiently.
  • Habits – I implemented some new habits this week. Some went well, while others will take more work. I’m confident they’re the right habits, but it will take time for them to become second nature.

Week ninety-four was productive and steady. Looking forward to keeping up the momentum next week.

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Growth Requires Teamwork

I listened to an investor talk about an investment he made in an early-stage company. Smart founder, painful problem, growing market. Even so, the investor is concerned about the investment. The founder wants to grow the business but isn’t growing the team. He’s personally in the middle of everything, so nothing gets completed and growth isn’t what it should be.

It takes a team to build a big company. As a founder, it’s hard to let go. There’s always the feeling that no one can do it as well as you. I experienced this, as did several of my founder friends. In the end, we all had the same experience. When we found the right people and empowered them (i.e., got out of their way!), they did a better job than we could have ever done. We wish we had done it much earlier in our journey.

If you’re a founder aiming to build something big, remember: teamwork is dream work.

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Evaluating High-Level Early Hires

Finding a co-founder can be a challenge. Especially for non-technical founders. I was chatting with one today who asked about my early founder experience evaluating people who might become cofounders or high-level team members.

There are lots of examples of teams with high-caliber individuals who can’t make it work as a team. For this reason and others, I opted to evaluate two potential leaders by working with them before extending full-time offers.

There was no shortage of problems that needed to be solved, so I created two projects of short duration—a few weeks to a month—and assigned each of them to a project, paying them as a consultant to solve it. I was able to gauge their working styles, and they were able to gauge mine. The projects were a success, and I knew I could work with each of them individually.

The next thing I needed to figure out was if we could all work together as a team. I created another short-term project for the three of us to collaborate on. I tried to make sure each person contributed strategically and tactically to the project. It turned out that we worked well together, and I was ready to add them to the team full-time.

With this approach, I was able to evaluate these two people individually and then as part of a team with me. It gave me confidence not only in their individual abilities but also in our chemistry. In the end, this team helped scale the company to eight-figure revenue.

This approach won’t work for all founders, but it worked for me.

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2022: The Year of Growth by Acquisition?

I’ve been following public and private companies that benefited tremendously from COVID-19. Some saw more growth in a few quarters than they would have seen in five years without the pandemic. Last week I shared my view that these companies will shift from reactive to proactive in 2022.

These companies will focus on driving growth instead of managing it. Doing so with a larger revenue base and fewer macro tailwinds is more challenging. Expectations for many are high, which can mean patience is low. Results of evaluations of whether to build something or buy have likely shifted.

I foresee acquisitions playing a role in the 2022 strategy of companies that benefited from COVID and are flush with cash. The size of the acquisitions will vary. Some will be acqui-hires to get people in the company who can turbocharge initiatives with their expertise, while others will be traditional acquisitions of proven solutions with paying customers. Regardless of size, the reason for acquisitions will likely be to help achieve growth goals.

I’m curious about how this will play out and will be watching it closely.

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Focusing on the Upside: An Investor Perspective

I had a great conversation with another investor today. One of the things he shared was his view on how important perspective is in many areas of life, especially investing. He’s a fan of focusing on the upside potential of an investment. He does his due diligence and is aware of the downside, but he doesn’t focus on it or optimize his deals for it.

Investors are partners. When founders take investments, they’re usually agreeing to partner with this person or group for many years. There will be ups and downs. Understanding the perspective of your partners is important because it will help you understand how they’ll respond and support you when things aren’t going so well.

If you’re a founder considering accepting investment, take the time to understand what everyone is focused on—the downside or the upside. Hopefully, it’s the latter.

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The Rise of the Nomad

Over the last two years, remote work has exploded. Absent the need to be in the office, many people have incorporated exploring new places into their work routine. I talk to founders regularly. During first calls, I’ve started asking where they’re calling from. Paris, one founder responded this week.

How we work won’t go back to pre-2020 norms anytime soon, if ever. This got me thinking about the intersection of vacation and work. Historically, people have scheduled vacation time to spend time away from their office and home city. During quarantine, many people camped out and worked remotely in new locations outside their home cities. From anecdotal evidence, it appears this trend is continuing.

How people work has changed for sure. But I think where people work will also change. I foresee some people early in their career (or without attachments) adopting more of a nomadic lifestyle. The line between work and vacation will start to blur a bit. They’ll spend a few weeks or months working remotely from a location that interests them or where they have community. When they want a change of scene, they’ll go to another location for a similar amount of time. They’ll have the opportunity to learn about new cultures or places, build or strengthen relationships, etc.

I think the people doing this now are hacking it together on their own. Going forward, I see an opportunity for employers to gain a recruiting advantage by supporting and even encouraging this work-from-wherever approach. I also see lots of entrepreneurial opportunities to help the nomads make the best of their experience.

I’ll be paying close attention to this trend this year to see how it unfolds.

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Insights of an Atlanta Real Estate Agent

I spent part of the day touring properties in various Atlanta neighborhoods with a friend who’s moving. I was able to chat with his agent. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Inquiries from people relocating from outside Georgia remain brisk. Atlanta is a desirable city for a variety of reasons. People are recognizing the value it offers relative to other cities and making the move.
  • Neighborhoods that are transitioning from undesirable to desirable are doing so at an accelerated pace.
  • Inventory of single-family homes for rent and purchase remains very tight. Properties in desirable neighborhoods don’t last long.
  • Construction of single-family homes and townhomes continues but isn’t keeping up with demand.
  • Infrastructure may not be keeping pace with population growth. Traffic is likely to get worse before it gets better.
  • Density is increasing in desirable neighborhoods inside the perimeter.

I enjoy talking with real estate agents. They’re on the front lines and always have interesting insights to share. Atlanta is a great city with lots to offer. I suspect we’ll continue to see people moving here for the foreseeable future.

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Weekly Reflection: Week Ninety-Three

Today marks the end of my ninety-third week of working from home (mostly). Here are my takeaways from week ninety-three:

  • New year This week was the first week of the new year and the first week back in the office. Felt great to start fresh. I’m focused on being more intentional as I get this year going.
  • Something planned – It’s hard to plan far out in the current environment, but I want to always have something planned that I can look forward to.  

Week ninety-three was a great week. I’m energized and ready for 2022!

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Physical to Digital in Laggard Industries

I had a great conversation today with a founder who brought something to my attention. He said that in certain industries, a significant amount of information, communication, etc. still moves between people in the physical world. He gave me examples of many government offices and other entities still relying heavily on the postal system to communicate with their customers and constituents. I’m a digital-first person, so I hadn’t thought much about this.

Lots of things shifted from physical first to digital first in people’s personal lives in the last 24 months. People ordered pretty much everything online and even learned to accept virtual meetings. But there are still industries that haven’t made this change. Physical interaction or physically exchanging information, or both, are core to their operations. These laggard industries are likely at a point now where they realize they too must make this change (or adopt a hybrid approach). Many would never have considered this before because they simply didn’t have to. Their customers and counterparts didn’t expect it. That’s changed now.

Laggard industries aren’t sexy, but they’re a great opportunity. Entrepreneurs who understand the nuances of these industries and can build digital or hybrid solutions can create massive value for these customers and build large businesses doing so.

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Ask Customers the Right Questions to Get Valuable Insights

Being customer-focused is the way to build a great company. While building their solutions, early-stage founders should stay close to customers to ensure they’re solving pain points well enough for customers to be willing to pay. Talking to customers and obtaining actionable feedback from them is the way to do this.

The key to getting actionable feedback is asking the right questions. It sounds simple and easy, but it’s harder in practice than you’d think. Asking closed-ended or vague questions is a common pitfall and something I was guilty of as an early founder. When you’re crafting questions, be mindful that you should ask questions that help you understand what the customer thinks of your solutions, and why. Ask the right questions, and you’ll get a treasure trove of nuggets. Ask the wrong questions, and you’ll get data you can’t do anything with.

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