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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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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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What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

I spoke with a founder who’s smart, and the solution he’s looking to build could bring real value to customers. He wants to raise capital but isn’t familiar with the venture capital process and doesn’t know anyone who’s been through it. Recognizing his knowledge gap, he wanted some pointers.

This founder’s approach is a good one. Try to fill your gaps and build a network of people who are knowledgeable about raising venture capital before you begin trying to do it. I suggest getting as many perspectives as possible. Socialize your idea with investors and ask for feedback. During those chats, you can ask them how their firms’ investment processes work and what they’re seeing in the market. Founders are a great source of knowledge too. They can give you their takes on current market dynamics and valuable insights gleaned from their experiences.

Maybe you don’t have physical proximity to any of these people, but you always have digital proximity. Blog posts, Twitter threads, YouTube videos—investors and founders have put out a lot of content about fundraising.

In the end, you want to avoid being in a situation where you’re at a disadvantage with respect to information or knowledge about the process and current market when you start raising. Not knowing can have a big impact on the outcome of your fundraising.

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New Year = Opportunity for New Routines

Today is my first workday of the new year. I spent part of the day talking with founders about their plans for 2022 and what they plan to do differently. I told them that I view the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of it.

Most of the year, I have a routine. I go from week to week doing the same things (good or bad). The Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays give me a significant break in the routine. When the holidays end, it takes a bit of energy to get back into a groove—it doesn’t just happen like it does after a weekend.

This window of time when I try to get back into the groove is an opportunity. I like to think about what worked and didn’t work and the new routines I want to establish. I then spend time establishing a new groove instead of just jumping back into the old one. Once I’ve entrenched my new routine in the first few weeks of January, I’m likely to maintain it for the rest of the year.

Looking forward to establishing my new routine for 2022 over the next few weeks.

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The Shift from Reactive to Proactive

Since March of 2020, we’ve experienced massive change, and some companies were perfectly positioned to benefit from it. Consumers and businesses were forced to quickly seek new solutions to existing problems. And new solutions—many of them digital—were rapidly adopted. Some tech companies saw more growth in a few quarters than they would have seen in five years without the pandemic.

When you experience unexpected hyper growth in an uncertain environment like a pandemic, your strategy changes. The five-year plan goes out the window. You go from being proactive to being reactive. You focus on trying to keep your head above water on all fronts.

As we enter 2022, U.S. companies are approaching two years of navigating a pandemic. Most teams have gotten a handle on managing hyper growth and navigating macro uncertainty. The seas are still rough, but they’ve gotten used to sailing in rough waters.

I foresee that 2022 will be another important year for companies. Many have spent time adjusting their visions to our new reality and developing new strategic plans to turn them into reality. I’m looking forward to hearing where companies see themselves going and seeing them begin executing to get there.

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The Founder Trait

In a chat with a friend today, he asked me a great question: Is there a trait founders consistently have? I had to think about it a bit. There are many founder traits, but one that’s common to all? That took more thought. Finally, I said that founders are problem solvers at their core.

Every founder I know is always thinking about and working on solving some problem. They’re not the sort of people who sit around and do nothing. They’re always looking for something they believe needs to be solved—and then trying to solve it. This drive to solve problems is hard-wired in them, I believe. Not all the solutions they work on will be successful, of course, but that doesn’t stop them from trying!

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The First-Principles Approach

A friend shared with me a recent Elon Musk interview in which Musk explained his views on first-principles thinking:

To create a new product, many people start by understanding the available tools and methods. Then they use them to create the product. This is a flawed way of going about it. Existing tools and methods act as constraints, limiting our thinking about what’s possible. If something can’t be built with existing means, most people think it can’t be done. So, they create what’s possible given the available tools and methods, not what’s ideal.

To apply a first-principles approach, begin by imagining the theoretical perfect product. Then try to figure out how to build it. If existing tools and methods can be used, great. If not, create the necessary tools and methods!

First-principles thinking isn’t new, but it was interesting to hear Musk’s take on it.

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Personal Operating System

I listened today to a great interview of a successful entrepreneur and investor. One part of it especially stood out. He was asked how he manages to relax even though he’s constantly engaged in high-output activities, and his answer was enlightening:

  • Simplify life – He doesn’t want more things in his life that he must think about or do. He minimizes the number of daily decisions he has to make and the things he does regularly. He constantly downsizes to further simplify his life.
  • Avoid mental chaos – He could do lots of things, but juggling too many things creates mental chaos and stress. When he’s stressed, his energy changes, he’s not in a good place, and he’s not effective in his work. To avoid this, his default response is no.
  • Hyper focus – He says yes to something only when he anticipates massive output for a decent amount of effort. He will hyper focus on that project, blocking out time on his schedule to do so. The rest of his time is unscheduled and used for relational activities and learning.
  • Optimize his “personal operating system” – He knows what he can handle and how he operates best. He doesn’t want to overload his personal OS by taking on too much. Instead, he optimizes for a few things that have the potential for a big impact.  

This approach is unique. It’s counter to what I’ve heard from other successful people. I really like how he is so self-aware that he’s able to optimize his approach to what works best for him while ignoring how other people manage their work and lives.

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Will Supply Chains Return to Normal?

During the holidays, chatting with friends and family, I heard about challenges with buying goods. Furniture, appliances, cars . . . people are looking for specific items but can’t find them. Many things are on back order and delayed. This is affecting people’s plans and forcing them to seek alternatives, many of them costly.

Supply chain issues have been pervasive all year. The impact on the availability of goods and their prices has been significant. I met with a few founders during the year who are running product companies. Their businesses were seriously affected by these issues. They figured out temporary work-arounds but planned for the issues to be resolved by EOY. Things would be back to normal going into 2022, they thought.

I’m curious to see how the supply chain looks in 2022. If there isn’t a clear line of sight to normality, I think companies will develop new strategies and seek out new solutions to get goods in the hands of their consumers. They’ll be thinking more long-term this time, not about temporary work-arounds. If that happens, we could see rapid innovation in supply chains, which could have a big ripple effect on other industries and the broader economy.

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