Remembering When Elon Almost Went Under

To all the aspiring entrepreneurs battling through COVID: With the hopeful Crew Dragon launch on Saturday, Elon will show us yet again what the human spirit is capable of and usher in manned space flight’s next chapter. However, I remember & experienced when not one but all three of his companies were on the brink of extinction at once at the end of 2009. Tesla was running out of money ( had a count-down timer), SolarCity lost its California tax incentives (rev dropped 90%) and SpaceX was down to one final, make or break rocket launch. The co-founder of Paypal was deep in the red.

I’ve known Elon since we were on a board together in the early 2000’s. When I was at DFJ Portage, DFJ was an early or initial investor in all three of his companies. We saw our investments flirt with death and witnessed first hand Elon’s tenacity, focus and force of will during this dire time. Below is an interesting short montage:  
There are a lot of things that make Elon who he is. At the risk of way over-simplifying, here are a couple:

  1. Be clear on your purpose & make it worthy as you will be tested hard. Too many entrepreneurs focus on the wrong things like making a fortune or feeding their ego with status/success. These provide no support and become emotional boat anchors during trying times. SpaceX: make space flight affordable to almost anyone (also, ensure the survival of mankind) and give people a sense of excitement in the future.
  2. Focus on only the key technical limiters in the way.  When Elon is focused on an issue, he is maniacally single-threaded in his attention. A common Entrepreneurial error is being distracted or focusing on non-essential matters. Know the core 1-2 things you need to deliver on for success and focus obsessively on it/them. Tesla: one was to build a 300 mile EV battery that wouldn’t burn up.
  3. Take definitive action in the face of fear and be relentless in your commitment. As Edison said:

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up…I have not failed [regarding the light bulb]. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  — Thomas Edison

In the end, Mercedes invested in Tesla (for the battery tech above) which triggered a $465m government loan. Fisker was not able to deliver on its tech, failed to get a loan and went under. SpaceX’s final rocket successfully launched, generating billions in launch backlog. Solar City’s subsidies came back.

So, as you strive diligently in these hard times, remember that daylight is around the corner eventually. As the Under Armor Phelps ad says: “What you do in the dark puts you in the light…Rule Yourself”.

The Two Arrows: Productive Pain vs Unnecessary Suffering

A lot of things seem upside down in the world right now. Many plans or dreams are deferred, if not upended and we feel anxiety in the face of uncertainty. However, this is a core part of flourishing. In entrepreneurship and in life, disappointment (AKA pain) is inevitable. However, suffering, which drives most of our unhappiness, is not. Pain is essential to grow. We need to get outside of our comfort zone to shake us out of our ways, to develop new skills, move into new jobs or change our status quo. As entrepreneurs, nothing goes exactly as planned given all of the external factors involved. But, as Darwin wrote, survival does not go to the strongest but to the most adaptable. More importantly, if customers were not seeking a new way to address an existing “pain”, they would not buy our products or services.  In other words, pain is essential to a successful life and is critical to our productivity.

However, we needlessly turn pain into suffering. We can’t help ourselves. We obsess on the current disappointment and fight with the reality we are facing. We think about the situation over and over again without taking action. I’ve always said that we have crossed over to suffering when we stress over the fact on the third or fourth time in our head.  Byron Katie has a great quote: “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100 percent of the time.”  Kristin Neff summaries this relationship up beautifully in one formula. The greater the resistance to reality, the greater the suffering. Think about this:

Suffering = Pain x Resistance (“this shouldn’t be happening”)

THE TWO ARROWS: Sages have been writing about this for thousands of years. In Shakespeare, Hamlet says “Things are neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” Buddhism talks about the two arrows. The first arrow is the disappointment that hits you. You can feel it and it fires up your fight or flight, your amygdala. However, this is just a flesh wound. The deep damage occurs when the Second Arrow hits…this is your interpretation of the event, the meaning you put around it and the stories that you begin to tell. Instead of reflecting on the first arrow, thinking through what actions can be taken and then taking action, we obsess around what just happened and begin to lean into why this shouldn’t be happening and what  impacts will come from it. The Second Arrow takes an opportunity for growth and turns it into an emotional tempest (a lost customer, an employee issue, a competitor lawsuit, a financing issue, a virus induced global pandemic, etc). What can we do to avoid the Second Arrow?

AMOR FATI: Nietzsche coined a phrase, pulling from the Stoics…Amor Fati: Love Your Fate. Don’t just accept it or put up with it. Don’t just like it. Love it…this makes me stronger.  As Epictetus, said: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”  Use it as fuel to energize your (or your company’s) next chapter. Become better for it having happened. Never waster a Good Crisis. You will be kicking yourself later when you realize that everything went up for grabs during the chaos.

ACTION KILLS ANXIETY: When we are hit with change/disappointment, our initial reaction is to freeze, assess and over-process. This is where the Second Arrow comes in as we over-think and foster anxiety.

   Step One: accept what has happened and what is
   Step Two: calm your mind, reduce your fight and flight
           * sit with it, invite the reality in, what it is telling you needs to happen
   Step Three: ask “what do I want?”
   Step Four: layout your plan to reach this
   Step Five: find something small & simple and do it…take action.
                     Then another and another and another

CULTIVATE COURAGE: To do this, you need to lean into your courage. Courage is not being fearless. Courage is feeling fear, pushing through it and doing what needs to be done. Brian Johnson talks about the “Courage Quotient” to “face challenges with grace, connect with and inspire others, and be a force for good.”

   Part One: curb your fears…using mindfulness, CBT or other techniques
   Part Two: boost your ability to take action…start small and build

We will go into this deeper into Cognitive Behavior Therapy on a future post.  This is form of therapy that examines and challenges your belief sets causing suffering vs trying to understand and “fix” events of the past. There are several variations on this from classic CBT to Byron Katie’s “The Work”. 

A key part of CBT is to put your beliefs on paper, process and turn them around. Write several columns on a piece paper rotated lengthwise. On it, label each column with these:

  1. Situation: describe in one sentence your current situation
  2. Thought: list the thoughts that arise when you think of the situation
  3. Feelings & Intensity: list one word feelings & 1-100 intensity rank each
  4. Error Type in Thinking: describe each thought with the classic errors (Fortune Telling, Catastrophizing, Mind reading, Jumping, Overgeneralizing)
  5. Impact: How would you be without this interpretation or these feelings?
  6. Turnaround: list out alternative facts or explanation and Turnaround your assessment, describe the true reality

In summary, we all face disappointments daily in both work and personal situations. We legitimately experience pain from these. However, this can be the fuel for our growth. Instead, we go down a well tread rabbit hole and turn these opportunities into extended causes for suffering. Watch out for the Second Arrow and Amor Fati!

Hypothesis: Do You Know the Bet You’re Making?

Since the future is unknowable, by definition, we are all making bets in our life, testing hypotheses and probabilities. However, often, we aren’t aware we are making a bet or what that bet is. As a result, we don’t prioritize nor focus on the key things. This applies to careers, relationships, schools or starting companies as well. When we underwrite new deals at Pritzker, we clearly state in a sentence what is our core Hypothesis & bet we are making. 

“I don’t know where I’m going but I’m making great time”

A Core Hypothesis is demarcated by the significance of the outcome. This is the bet of all bets whereby if you are right, you are off to the races and, if wrong, you are road kill. It integrates the key success factor(s) critical to win. From this, you can determine what are the three sub-factors that can kill you and the 2-3 sub-factors that will massively scale your business. Focus all of your time & money on these.

Why is this important? If you don’t know the bet, you won’t set the right priorities nor hire the right people nor properly define your product specs for fit. You risk taking the wrong ground and winning the battle but losing war. People/companies err in three ways:

  • Death 1: assume the wrong hypothesis (e.g. You think it is developing the best consumer app & owning the customer when it is actually owning the channel which gives you scale)
  • Death 2: right hypothesis but poor execution
  • Death 3: right hypothesis but defined the wrong sub-factors (e.g. what can kill or scale you)

When we invested in Coinbase, our core hypothesis was that interest in crypto would continue to grow over time but people would want a simple, reliable and trusted brand as their gateway into this world. Given how complex the regulatory environment is along with challenges around security/hacking and actual trade mechanics, Coinbase was in a key place to consolidate share and become the Facebook of crypto (the main gateway in the US). Investing in providing the simplest user interface, the most reliable backend trading platform and world class regulatory compliance and security infrastructure, Coinbase would expand share. If the core bet turned out to be that people just wanted the cheapest, low-fee solution with little regard for “trusted brand”, then our investment would end poorly.  So far, so good. Coinbase continues to distance itself in the US from other retail & custody players with increasing market share.

So, whether it is your next career move, your start-up or your next relationship, ask yourself if you know the bet you are making and what is at the core to prove out that hypothesis. As John Doerr used to say, know the three things that can make, the three things that can tank you and spend all your money on those.

Enough: Your Savior or Your Demon

My partner, Carter, has hypothesized “…that behind every driven CEO is a 6 year old child seeking its parents’ approval”. In these formative years, we start the dance with being enough (and feeling we aren’t enough). We create coping mechanism to deal with this discomfort whether it be over-achieving, addictions, Instagram posts, compulsive behavior, etc. All of this is focused on filling an unfillable void (which actually is non-existent & manufactured by our mind).

This is especially true for entrepreneurs since we live in a world that is scrappier and has fewer resources. Our companies walk on tightwires and strive to avoid Darwin’s grasp. Ironically, there is also an abundance of creativity, freedom to operate, ability to connect with each other due to small firm size, flexibility/agility, etc. So, at any point in time, there is both Abundance and Scarcity. The difference is our perception of “ENOUGH”.

The source of most misery, conflict, wars, addictions & other fun things stems from one of three phrases:

  1. I’m not enough
  2. There’s not enough
  3. It’s not enough

The CLG coaching framework has a great representation of this by asking people if they are coming from “above the line” or “below the line”. Above is abundance, trust, being enough and Below is scarcity, fear and not being enough. When we dip below the line, we begin to self-optimize, make decisions from a place of fear, bath in anxiety, think win-lose and are short-term oriented. Armageddon is around the corner. We cling to outcomes and, as our fight or flight over-rides our rational pre-frontal cortex, we begin to make crappier and crappier decisions layered on top of each other. We justify bathing in this survival mode by telling ourselves that “if we lose our fear, we lose our drive & risk extinction”.  This is a red herring. As Ving Rhames says in Pulp Fiction…”…you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride [ego] fucking with you. F@&k pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”

When above the line, we are more connected to others, we seek win-win, we make decisions from a place of confidence, we enjoy what we do, we are resilient, we make clearer decisions and we can think long-term. We can actually enjoy the ride and welcome the challenges.

The heart of entrepreneurship (or just being a content human) hangs upon our ability to be self-aware about being above/below the line and on our tactics/behaviors we deploy to self-manage “ENOUGH”. The trick is to catch the downward cascade early in its formation…otherwise, you are going along for the ride. You are going to get tumbled mercilessly in the undertow of the wave. There is an array of successful practices to do this. Here are just a couple:

  • Somatic awareness (body): we all carry our emotions in our body. Some carry it in their necks, their stomachs, their backs, etc. When you go below the line, where do you carry your tension? Use this “body wisdom” as an alarm clock and check in during the day. If you feel the tension in that spot, you are probably swimming in the deep end below the line. Stop and address.
  • Foundation: monitor/track how much sleep you are getting, how often you are exercising, what you are eating (sugar & carbs or healthy food), how much time spent with family & friends. If you erode your base, below the line is unavoidable. Working massive hours, sleeping 4-5 hours a night, not moving your body will result in the Covey “Dull Saw” (the lumberjack doesn’t take time to sharpen his saw because he doesn’t have time…so it takes twice as long to cut down the tree.)
  • Mindfulness: when you feel yourself tensing up, unplug and go for a short walk (or do walking meetings), jog stairs, sit/breath deeply & meditate (feel the energy in your body & focus on stilling it), call a friend.
  • Attitude Check: describe your current story to yourself (or to a friend/partner). Are you a victim? Are you bemoaning how you don’t have enough xyz? Are you bathing in the fact that you “aren’t enough” or up to the task? Is your environment out to get you…you are alone? Rewrite each line from the perspective that you have everything you need? If it was a hero story, what amazing thing would your hero do? Position the “challenge” as something meant to make you better (like lifting a weight).
  • Say Thank You: Brian Johnson has a great practice of saying “thank you” to what comes into his life…especially the shitty stuff. Say what? First of all, your ego/brain get confused and start to search for reasons why something is being “thanked”. It begins to rewrite the story. Second, it shifts your perspective to one of events being gifts. As he says, who would Hercules be if he didn’t have monsters and armies to battle? He wouldn’t be a hero…he would simply be a really strong, big guy who wasn’t growing nor whose mettle was strengthening.
  • Integrity Check: be clear on both your values (what energizes you) and your mission/purpose. Why did you start the company? What change in the world are you seeking to see? What would the “highest version” of yourself do? How do you want to show up on a daily basis? Then ask yourself: “right now, am I behaving in alignment with this? Is this fulfilling the mission & am I the leader I could tell my kids proudly that I am?” (the “kid” test).

“Anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”    — David Whyte

Our genetics are set for species survival so our Sympathetic “fight or flight” alarm clock has a hair-trigger sensitivity. We are programmed to feel “not enough”.  If we don’t consciously monitor this, we will swim deep below the line. We are each enough & have enough. 

Real Is Mandatory

Real Is Mandatory

“Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”
 — Bob Dylan

The venture markets are a-changin’ with investors and public markets demanding rational business models, visibility to profitable growth and inherently sound economics. Companies like Homejoy and Sidecar have gone under while stars like Uber have raised capital at flat valuations from a year ago. Companies going public are now being valued off of EBITDA multiples (what is this?). The old is new again as greed has swung to concern, heading to fear in the venture business as the IPO markets and multiples have compressed.

Historically, this has been when the true breakout companies shine. They are maniacally focused on customer needs, efficient capital use and culture as their less disciplined brethren are swept away in the tides. Trial by fire as they say. Real is mandatory in Darwin’s eyes.

An example of this has been our company, SMS, who crossed a major milestone this week, raising $150m from Goldman Sachs and continues to grow at 50–100% a year while having been increasingly profitable for each of the past 7 years. Few companies have pipelines like theirs approaching several billion dollars. Our journey with SMS Assist has been exceptionally rewarding as we’ve rolled up our sleeves next to an extraordinary team and founder. They have built one of the fastest growing enterprise companies in the country, in one of the grittiest industries through technology…facilities management. SMS’s story is both inspirational and instructional in a world of increasing headwinds and fading unicorns.

The power of the SMS platform is simple. The ONE platform controls over 500,000 sub-contractor technicians performing over 1 million services across 46 services like HVAC repair, landscaping, floor strip & wax to over 100,000 locations. Store managers and home owners simply drop a service request into their residential or corporate portal and ONE’s cloud systems pre-qualifies (e.g. for HVAC, did the circuit breaker trip or is it a real problem), identifies the most qualified sub-contractor based on over 420 tracked metrics, dispatches, manages the service, confirms & rates the service, pays the provider and delivers reporting for over 70 levels at the corporation…all automated without a man in the loop other than an occasional escalation to the call center. While traditional firms or in-sourced solutions rely on call centers and owned/operated fleets with few people on their tech teams, SMS delivers most of this on an automated basis with a 140+ person global technology team. The company has been profitable almost since inception. They run weekly scrums to codify best practices and process learnings into their business logic in the cloud.

One of the greatest barrier to entry/competitive advantage in venture is that rare entrepreneur who has exceptionally deep domain knowledge and strong technology chops going after a gritty industry with a technology and elegance. They are rare. Flawed competitors fall into two major categories. One is the star technology team which doesn’t appreciate the traditions, relationships or behaviors of the industry. The other is the industry team with deep domain expertise that simply automates existing processes with complex, uncompelling technology. Mike Rothman is a true “unicorn” and visionary along with his star lieutenant, Marc Shiffman. Mike has a brilliance to see things that others simply can’t. They are exceptionally detailed oriented, highly complimentary to each other and able to translate complex business needs to technical requirement with tenacious speed while also seeing a larger strategic vision for the future. They also have a palpable sense of inevitability in their belief and have fused talent from industry, the Valley and the Midwest.

While SMS has a lot of hard work ahead of it to realize its full potential, it has done a number of things right:

  • conviction…when you talk with Mike Rothman, he has a Steve Jobs like inevitability about him. When there is setback, he figures out alternative plans A, B & C. He redefines tenacity. Jim Clark (founder WebMD, Netscape, etc) used to say “Great companies are built. They are willed into existence”
  • know your core advantage…early on, they realized their “tip of the spear” was technology and focused heavy resources on it, ramping the tech team from 10 to 140+. They are continuously automating and building business logic into the cloud which allows them to handle more locations & services with existing infrastructure. More locations/services gives greater density and lower operating costs, leading to lower pricing with strong profitability.
  • hire strong…Mike has hired strong management around him. Many founders under-hire, feeling intimidated. Mike has brought on stars like Shiffman from Ron Perlman, Matt Renner (top Oracle sales head), Mike Travalini (top RE ops manager from Starwood) and others.
  • focus…while the SMS platform could expand into Industrial or other sectors, they have stayed focused on where they can compound advantage/density in retail and now residential. Too often, firms grab opportunity wherever they can and do nothing well.
  • rapid execution…this team moves from concept/opportunity to implementation and test with significant speed. They rolled out a corporate portal for retail store managers to trigger/manage services in only 6 weeks. Many would over design this and take 6–8 months. Simplicity is king.

SMS has been a great partnership with Pritzker. They quickly follow-up on resources and opportunities we bring them (or promptly say “no thanks”). We introduced a top technologist and operator to them and they engaged him, pivoted their platform to the cloud, rolled out mobile and expanded their team. We introduced a major institutional REIT to them (SMS was only in retail at the time) and they rolled out a major residential offering, staffed up a residential team and ramped business to nine figures in less than a year. We introduced a top enterprise sales advisor to them and they re-engineered their sales organization, hired a top SRO from Oracle and brought on 10 “chairman club” calibre sales people from industry and the Valley. This is how culture, vision, execution and responsiveness all meet.

We love our companies that bring next generation solutions with real business models to real customers. Whether it is companies bringing new technology to old industries like Fleetmatics (NYSE: FLTX), TicketsNow (acquired by Ticketmaster), Eved or technology firms bringing innovation to emerging fields (Viv and in AI; Mapbox and Airmap in GeoSpatial/Drones; Augury in IoT; SpaceX in transport or Facebook in Social). Real is Mandatory and Substance is King.

These times are a-changin’. Business models and fundamentals will increasingly be tested. Many in this market have not been through a down turn nor can fully appreciate the magnitude of its implications. Whether you have a month or two years, take this time to pressure test your business and assess if you’ll be the benefactor or the victim in the coming cycle. Also, look around and see if you have the people around you (team, advisors, investors, board members, partners, etc) that will help you thrive during these times. As Warren Buffett always says, “when the tide pulls out, you see who is wearing a bathing suit”.

Follow Your Bliss — Finding Joe

Joseph Campbell is the most influential person to have impacted my life. He was the world's leading mythologist and had an amazing capacity to show the common threads that cut across all religions, movies, books and stories. An awesome movie just came out about him and The Heroe's Journey that I have mentioned to everyone I know. Everyone of them has referred it onto their friends. It's that moving and insightful. For anyone trying to launch a business or to find their bliss or in a life transition or…, this is a great movie to see. You can buy/stream it at  Below is the trailer for it:


Touched by Something Greater

Even in death, Steve Jobs connects us and reminds us of something greater. It is amazing the impact that Steve's death has had. Nearly everyone I know seems saddened almost at a personal level. It's as if we all realized this special, creative presence has now moved on…communal loss. Very interesting. I think some of us almost viewed him as immortal given his many recoveries. Others realized that his creativity and entrepreneurship reaffirmed our connection to something greater than ourselves. Most feel a tangible loss. He was the ultimate embodiment of innovation and entrepreneurship…how it inspires and raises us to a greater plane. 

I've reposted his 2005 Commencement Speech (over 15m views) which I first blogged about 5 years ago. Steve, we'll miss you 🙁

This Too Shall Pass

With all of the activity at work over the past 18 months as well as a host of mid-life course corrections, I have been negligent in feeding the blog gods. With Maria Katris's kind encouragement at Built in Chicago, I thought I would start posting more often.

One topic that comes up with increasing frequency these days is around managing one's future or career. In addition to all of the bubbly successes, there is a growing amount of stress and angst. Every entrepreneur and VC, at some point in time, has had one (if not many) gut wrenching, anxietal periods. Like a bad night at Texas Hold 'em, the cards keep coming up weak and you begin to question both your sanity and why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes this is because others are hitting winners in the new SoMoLo (social, mobile, local) wild frontier while you watch and sometimes, it's because you are simply struggling to keep your head above water (dealing with debt, personal issues, non-scaling business, etc). Worse yet, you extrapolate out from today towards a draconian future. It's a terrific formula for sleepless nights (that or writing late night blog posts…).

In all my years, somehow, that draconian future never seems to hit like people think. While they don't get what they want, they often get what they need (thanks, Mick, for the words). So, when things just don't seem to be going your way and others seem to be passing you by or your future is opaque (and driving you nuts), what should you do?

My friend Carter reminded me of a Lincoln tale. When asked how he dealt with setback and issues he recounted a tale about a king who sent his wisest sages out into the world to find out how to live a content and fulfilling life. They returned, huddled and came back with a common finding…the words "This too shall pass".

In my favorite personal blog post, The Significance of the Karma Bracelet, I discuss my own journey down such a path during the last Bubble apocalypse. And again, in the past two years, nearly every aspect of my life has changed and one thing that has kept me balance and moving forward optimistically are these four words. Another friend once said, when you find yourself reinforcing your stress by linearly projecting the present, stop…don't think out more than 2 days and focus on what you have the ability to change not the phantom ghosts you can't. Things will change, synchronicity will come into play and life (or company) will right itself. Nearly all great start-ups have to nearly dance with death at least once and you haven't earned your stripes if you have not found yourself lost at sea in a foggy mist. As my partner, Ed, once said, it is a lot harder to kill a company than you think.

That said, what have you found to be helpful in handling adversity, setbacks and stress?


Carter Cast on the “Drama of Comparative Living”

My friend, Carter Cast, gave a wonderful talk to a large group of Fortune 500 executives and non-profit leaders. I highly recommend everyone reading this to take this to heart given where Carter comes from. Carter has had a career unmatched by most I know. Starting as one of the star swimmers on Stanford's national championship team, he has progressed through a host of successes ranging from being employee 4 (CMO) at Blue Nile, defining its successful launch strategy to being the CMO of eBay to CEO of (growing it from less than $100m to several billion). On top of this, he is one of the most down to earth, humble people you'll meet and his former lieutenants will tell you how engaged he was in their development. Enjoy…

"For much of my adult life, a subtle form of fear has been my constant companion.  Eventually, I found myself in the position where I could no longer attempt to ignore it. It had sufficiently eroded my health that I was forced to confront it.

From my own personal experience, (and this is by no means an academic definition) fear can be grouped in three areas of descending intensity: 1) the anticipation of direct danger to one’s being—the guy in the alley coming my way, to fight or give flight; 2) the fear that something I have will be taken away—my house, my job, my loved ones. (In this category, the Buddhist preaching of acceptance of life’s impermanence has helped me.) 3) The feeling that I am not enough, that I don’t measure up to some ever-moving standard of worthiness. This last category of fear is the one I will discuss tonight.

In this categorization, there exists a kind of anxiety gap between what is and what we think should be. “I should have a PhD like Rob Wolcott.” “I deserve to be as wealthy as Ben Elowitz, because I was instrumental in building the Blue Nile business.” This is the drama of comparative living. Bertrand Russell, in The Conquest of Happiness, calls it “worry fatigue.” He says, “Envy is a form of vice which consists of seeing things never in themselves, but only in their relations.” He had a great example: “Napoleon envied Caesar; Caesar envied Alexander; Alexander I daresay envied Hercules, who didn’t exist.”

I am fairly certain that the destructive emotion of envy has increased in the age in which we are living. Amidst all of the opulence we not face the alarming gap between the have and the have-nots, we now also have the ability, due to the opening up of the world through technology, to compare ourselves to others with just a few keystrokes. We all do this. Everyone in this room has done it. How many of us have gone on Zillow or another real estate site to check out the value of our neighbor’s house? How many of us, when perusing Facebook, have seen that one of our friends just dined with someone fancy, dined somewhere fancy or become downright fancy themselves? And then and felt…envious. Today we have the dubious “opportunity” to gauge our progress relative to just about everyone with an Internet connection. And we can gauge the progress of those without one too. Meet your new neighbor, commit to memory his name, and Google the guy when you get home…Only a few hundred years ago, we compared ourselves to the work product of the one other blacksmith in our village. Now we compare our work to all the blacksmiths in all the villages throughout the land…If our values aren’t strong and properly reinforced, we will feel envious. And if we don’t pay attention to this destructive emotion, it can spin out of control and turn into a deep-set fear that we just aren’t good enough.

If you think about it, this comparative frame of reference should only matter when we’re competing in a zero-sum situation. He gets it, I don’t. There’s a winner and a loser. Yet most of the situations we find ourselves in, on a daily basis, do not involve zero-sum outcomes. In most of our life experiences, we find ourselves working with others in situations where we all can benefit. Even in very complex negotiations, creative solutions exist that expand the pie and leave plenty of slices for everyone.

So in reality, in the vast majority of the many millions of discrete moments that make up our lives, we have the ability to choose not to participate in the drama of comparative living.  And that is my epiphany: that through awareness and discipline, I can choose to see things not in their relation to others, but only in their relation to myself—in relation to my own spiritual and intellectual development. Am I increasing in my capacity to show compassion to others? Am I increasing my business skills in order to be more useful to others? Now, at night, I reflect and remind myself that my development as a human being is relative to no one else, just myself and where I was at a prior state of development.

Everyone in this room is in the bonus scoring round of life. We’ve taken the tests and passed. We’ve auditioned and gotten the gig. We’ve made it—the degree, the car, the house. We have respect. Yet the only respect we really need is our own. We can choose keep trying to make it, over and over again, or we can realize we don’t have to live our lives in pursuit mode. We don’t have to keep trying to keep up with the beat of an imaginary metronome. We can say, “I am enough.” As Thomas Merton said, “We have what we seek.” Harmony, for me, lies in this thought."


The Entrepreneur’s Greatest Enemy

Anxiety and fear are the greatest enemies of the entrepreneur. You attract what you focus on and anxiety and fear not only focus on negativity, but eat up energy that can be applied more productively. Even worse anxiety and fear trigger the fight or flight portion of your brain which literally shuts down your ability to do abstract thinking. With this region asleep, it is hard to visualize a new revolution.

During the Bubble implosion in 2000, I lived perpetually in this state for 18 months until exhaustion and 16 lost pounds forced me to reconsider. I got nothing done during this time.

In this market there are three things are creating anxiety and fear in the entrepreneur. Economic conditions are poor, leading to stress around funding and revenue. Secondly, the market is in a momentum phase in which each entrepreneur is trying to keep up with the latest exit of momentum exit. Third, by definition start ups have poor visibility and their success depends on non-linear, unpredictable outcomes.

Anxiety is toxic. No one wins and it is a remnant from our evolution when it was essential for our physical survival. Healthy paranoia and respect/understanding of what you don’t know is essential but not energy draining emotion.

Top entrepreneurs use a handful of techniques to manage this.

0) live in the present and stop fearing what horrible outcome might happen. You will always amplify the worst case case. They focus on what they can effect…the here and now.

1) they clearly visualize and define the promised land and communicate it clearly to their employees.

2) they remain focused only the core subset of activities necessary to reach them (versus frantically throwing noodles into the storm).

3) they maintain a calm conviction and confidence in the inevitability of the end success (will the company into existence).

4) appreciate and accept the possibility of the worst case…the Samurai’s would accept death first and then enter battle with no fear.

5) try to take care of themselves by eating and working out as needed.

6) focus on the things that count in your life…family and friends and mentors. Use them as your foundation and sounding board.

So, be aware of your anxiety level. High anxiety helps insure failure with your firm/team and health issues. It leads to nothing productive and it is driven most often by fear of the unknown future. Know where you are going but focus on the tasks at hand and bypass Anxietal Paralysis.