Which Remake Are You In?
There’s nothing new under the sun. What happens today is the past with a twist. Think of a remake of a classic movie. Same storyline, new cast, better technology, bigger budget, a few plot tweaks.
Why am I talking about this? Simple . . . knowing it’s true improves the likelihood that I’ll achieve my goals. Being aware of the past improves my decision making at critical junctures. I’m less likely to make fateful decisions at forks in the road that jeopardize what I’m trying to do.
I’ve embraced history more than ever before. It never excited me in school. In fact, I hated it. Now, I enjoy it. It’s a vast trove of experiences to draw upon. The more I learn about history, the more clearly I see the present and understand what I need to do today and in the future.
I think that entrepreneurs should study history—at least the part of it that’s most relevant to them. History is full of great entrepreneurs who built amazing companies. Their stories may not make or break your journey, but they will inform it . . . inspire it . . . add interest to it.
Next time you’re in a difficult situation, consider: “What is this a remake of?”
Working from Home: Week Eleven
Friday marked the end of my eleventh week of working exclusively from home. Here are my takeaways from week eleven:
- Memorial Day – I took a day off, but I didn’t go back to work recharged. Connecting with others is what I like most about holidays. Less socializing diminished the holiday joy.
- New work normal – I’m thinking of testing working in a private office in a smaller building with fewer people. I think I’d be more comfortable doing that than going back to my former crowded office. I’ll research spaces and explore subleasing.
- Macro – Lots of granular things are happening daily. It’s noisy and distracting. And it makes it difficult to understand what’s occurred from a macro perspective. I decided to start focusing on the forest more than the trees. I want to identify where things are headed.
Week eleven was a short but good week. My big takeaway: Get away from the noisy details and look at things from fifty thousand feet.
I’ll continue to learn from this unique situation, adjust as necessary, and share my experience.
I’m a Hustler
Founding teams have been on my mind lately. I’m curious about what traits increase their chances of success. I’ve heard many opinions on this, but the Hipster–Hacker–Hustler concept kept coming up. I decided to look into it further. Here’s what I found:
- Hipster – The Hipster focuses on the product being desirable to customers. They think about things like user experience and product design. They tend to be in tune with what’s trendy and cool. They have a unique customer-driven perspective.
- Hacker – The Hacker is the builder. Building new stuff excites them and they can focus intensely on it. They are driven by data and logic. They see the world as black and white and may not have as much charisma.
- Hustler – The Hustler makes sure that things get done. They relate well with people and are persuasive. They can hold people accountable to results, sell to customers, and rally people behind their vision.
I think this is a great template for a founding team. It probably won’t work in all instances, but it’s a good framework to consider.
I’m a Hustler for sure. I’m laser focused on achieving the desired result, enjoy talking with people, and take psychological ownership of what I say I’ll do. As I kid, I convinced neighbors and classmates to become customers. I bootstrapped CCAW from nothing to eight-figure revenue. All by being a Hustler. At times it was painful, but I learned a lot about others and myself. I can see now how a Hipster and Hacker could have added a lot of value and accelerated CCAW’s success.
I encourage rising entrepreneurs to consider the makeup of their founding team. Being a solo founder can work against you. So can having a team of founders with similar expertise and perspectives. Diversity is important and can lead to amazing things!
Virtual Learning: Atlanta Social Impact Demo Day
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sharing my story—the story of CCAW—with a group of rising entrepreneurs. The dinner that was scheduled ended up being a Zoom meeting because of the pandemic. This group was the inaugural cohort of Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator Powered by Techstars. Techstars runs accelerators in various cities worldwide, including Atlanta.
Accelerators are three-month programs that give entrepreneurs “funding, mentorship and access to the Techstars network for life.” Techstars accelerators give entrepreneurs access to a lot of really smart people—including past and present entrepreneurs in the Techstars network—who can help them fast-track their progress and otherwise support them.
Demo days are a great way for entrepreneurs to get introduced to customers and potential investors. The cohort’s demo day was held virtually today and is available for anyone to view here.
I was happy to share my story with this cohort, and I wish every member success on his or her journey!
Over the past year, I’ve become more intentional about helping rising entrepreneurs, mostly in Atlanta. Without the wisdom of seasoned entrepreneurs and the camaraderie of peers, I would’ve failed. So, I’ve been doing more to help others by mentoring, making introductions, etc. After all, I was in their shoes not long ago.
When I started CCAW, there weren’t many resources available to help entrepreneurs in Atlanta, or in the southeast for that matter. Because of the financial crisis the world was in survival mode, so that makes sense. Today there are in-person and virtual accelerators . . . meetups . . . coworking spaces . . . start-up labs. Entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know, but they do know they need help. These resources bridge gaps. They do a great job of introducing startup concepts, creating peer groups, and helping entrepreneurs establish relationships with knowledgeable people. Without a doubt, they are a valuable part of the Atlanta ecosystem.
As I’ve worked with more entrepreneurs, though, I’ve noticed that there’s still a chasm. Some capable founders aren’t able to cross it and get to the next critical phase of the journey. They end up in what I call early-stage limbo. Their idea may be great, but they’re unable to acquire customers or get meaningful traction. “Thanks, but what do I do now?” I imagine them asking. They feel stymied, so they revisit the same resources in hopes of jump-starting their business. This usually doesn’t work. The next thing they know, two or three years have passed.
It seems to me that resources are lacking to help entrepreneurs acquire enough traction to transition from early stage (idea or mvp) to product–market fit in Atlanta and other southeastern cities. My thinking on this is preliminary. I’ll try to crystallize it, but I think there’s an opportunity to fill this void and help more founders successfully navigate the entrepreneurial journey.
I’d love to hear your views (good, bad, or ugly) on my observation.
Ideas Are Worthless
A friend called me once wanting to discuss a business idea. He’d had a successful corporate career for 15 years. He’s smart, resourceful, and a natural leader. I was super excited about getting to hear about the problem he was focused on, his solution, and his perspective on the space. We agreed on a time to chat and I asked him to send me anything I should read beforehand. He asked me to promise, in writing, to keep the idea secret. I talk with a fair number of people who have ideas and I thought this was odd, but I agreed.
We eventually met and I described my experience building CCAW. Early on, I was like him—hesitant to share my idea. I worried it would be stolen, and also I didn’t want to be questioned about it because there were lots of things I couldn’t answer. My reluctance to share hurt me. I didn’t lose customers, but my progress was slower than it could have been.
As I matured and settled into entrepreneurship, I became more confident and knowledgeable through experience. I began to open up and share my ideas with credible people. And I listened to their feedback. The result? My ideas got better and my company flourished.
Ideas are great, but they’re honestly not worth much. Everybody has ideas. It’s ideas that are acted on that are valuable. The hard part is figuring out how to turn an idea into reality—that is, a company.
After sharing my experience with him, I encouraged my friend to talk with as many credible people as possible about his idea. Sure, someone might try to steal it, but the chances of them executing on it and having success were slim to none. On the other hand, it was quite likely that he would fine-tune his idea or be introduced to someone helpful. My big takeaway: The upside to sharing ideas (with credible people) far outweighs the risks. Share your ideas and be open to feedback—even if you don’t like what you’re hearing. The more you do, the better your ideas will become.
How has sharing helped accelerate your progress?
A Tough Road to Travel
I read and have been thinking about Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, which is an excellent book. I enjoy reading detailed accounts of the journeys of impactful people and companies. Twitter’s impact has been profound and the journey to create the company was full of twists and turns. Here are a few takeaways:
- Pivot – Great things can come from pivoting a company. Twitter is a prime example.
- Politics – As organizations become large, politics can take a toll on them. Building and reinforcing a strong culture is critical as you scale.
- Founders – Founders’ relationships aren’t always pretty and in fact can get downright ugly. The severity of Twitter’s founders’ issues surprised me.
- Values – Morals and values matter. Be sure to include them in your evaluation criteria when you’re considering co-founders and early key team members.
I don’t know how accurate Hatching Twitter is, but it’s a great read. It offers a much-needed dose of realism about what building something great is like: It’s difficult. It’s full of emotional highs and lows. Conflicts are unavoidable and must be overcome. But when people do it for the right reasons and persevere, the impact on society can be huge.
The Side Hustlers Are Coming
I read an article about this past week’s jobless claims report. Almost 39 million people have filed for unemployment insurance benefits in the last nine weeks. I’m hopeful that each of these people will find employment quickly and minimize the financial disruption of their life. But what happens if they can’t? More than likely, our communities are facing prolonged dark days.
When employment options are thin on the ground, supplementing income with side hustles is common. These endeavors start at a micro scale. They’re simplistic and crude. But they can be gateways to lifelong entrepreneurial journeys. A side hustle usually involves testing on a small scale and growing organically as you achieve product–market fit and customer awareness. Then one day you look up and you have a thriving company generating meaningful revenue, with real customers and real employees. You’ve created a company of value that has an impact on people in the company and in the community.
If high levels of unemployment remain with us for long, I predict a surge in people trying their hands at side hustles. I believe that with more awareness, resources, and mentoring, a wave of successful entrepreneurs can emerge from the gloom we’re enduring. They will positively affect their communities via employment and other activities that stimulate the economy. They will also inspire the next wave of entrepreneurs by facilitating proximity to success. Entrepreneurship is one element that, alongside coordinated programs and other efforts in the community, can be a positive force in transitioning a community from troubles to prosperity.
How could we help aspiring entrepreneurs succeed during this difficult time?
Working from Home: Week Ten
Today marked the end of my tenth week of working exclusively from home. Here are my takeaways from week ten:
- New work normal – I’ve been thinking about what this will mean for me. Working exclusively from home probably isn’t sustainable. I want to start experimenting with new ways of getting things done that feel safe over the next few weeks.
- Video – Video has been great, but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s another communication method.
- In-person meetings – Someone proposed meeting outside with proper social distancing. Not sure how I feel about that yet.
- Productivity – I’ve found that can be productive at home, but my productivity isn’t as consistent as when I’m working in an office. I have more off days.
Week ten was a positive week. My big takeaway: think more about what my new normal for work will be.
I’ll continue to learn from this unique situation, adjust as necessary, and share my experience.