3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need to Test Their Limits

3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need to Test Their Limits

Inspiration Parenting Startup Grind

This past Father’s Day I received a card from our entrepreneur son, Joshua, with a hand written note inside.  It was a very nice, heart felt note and in part of it he thanked me for challenging him.  I’ve told him on more than one occasion that if he could survive me, he’d be OK.  When he was younger, he didn’t appreciate what that meant as much as he does now.  When he was 17 the ARK Challenge business accelerator tested his limits . . . and he stood up to the challenge.  Fourteen hour days, a high level of competition, countless deadlines, multiple failures, and constant learning.  Why is it important that entrepreneurs routinely test their limits?

  1. We must routinely test our mental toughness, our physical endurance and our ability to perform under pressure. – We will be tested to our limits many times in our quest for success.  We will have to deal with the stress of running out of money, product issues with a deadline looming, firing people (sometimes even our co-founders), and our loved ones needing our attention when we cannot give it.  Will better planning, strong leadership, and hiring the right people help us avoid stress and tough decisions?  Yes, but we have no control over many factors that can cause our company to spin wildly out of control and create challenges.  It’s all about being prepared to handle whatever comes our way.
  2. We should test our limits in controlled environments –  I test my mental toughness and physical endurance five times per week in the gym.  I try to embrace the stress of deadlines and finalizing deals.  I also have quiet time and practice my faith as a form of meditation.  I do it because I need to know that I have the mental toughness, physical endurance, and confidence to deal with any challenge.  As entrepreneurs we also must be self-aware and assess our own performance in pressure packed, challenging situations.
  3. Gather data on our own performance – While we may not be able to do it in the heat of the moment, we need to assess what happened after the fact and ask ourselves and others how we performed.  We have to be brutally honest in these assessments to identify what we did well and where we need work.  Once identified, we can pinpoint strategies for improvement and to make us better prepared.  Knowing we are prepared to handle whatever comes will give us the confidence to embrace stress and challenges.

THE TAKE AWAY:  The Boy and Girl Scouts got it right with their moto of BE PREPARED.  It takes all we have to be successful entrepreneurs.  With the odds of success already stacked against us, we must do everything we can, that is moral and legal, to gain an advantage.  Most things we can do are pretty basic and just as important in our daily routine as our most important meetings or product deadlines.  Even if you don’t like doing it, push yourself to be organized, plan ahead, exercise, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, practice quiet meditation, and be thankful for your many gifts and opportunities every day.  A positive attitude and confidence may be our best tools for dealing with adversity.

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Non-Entrepreneurial Father

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Non-Entrepreneurial Father

Inspiration Mentorship Parenting

My father wasn’t an entrepreneur.  He was raised during the Great Depression, never attended college, worked in a foundry, sold candy, had a thirty-year career as a civil servant at a military installation, served as our small town’s first mayor and continued his mostly unpaid service in that position for sixteen of the next twenty years.  He has an elementary school, a community service award and the snack bar at a water park named after him.  How many people can say they have a bar named after them!  So what could this guy teach me about entrepreneurship?

The answer is “plenty”, although I didn’t know it at the time.  Despite never starting or running his own business, his work ethic, ability to engage and motivate people, willingness to try new things and risk failure (if you think starting a business is tough, try incorporating and running a city), team building, never ending thirst for knowledge, problem solving ability, and focus on the customer (citizens) were all entrepreneurial traits.  Dad was old school.  I don’t recall him ever actually trying to teach me any of these things.  He taught by doing and providing examples.  The rest was up to me.  We have a fancy name for this now – experiential, project based learning.  What my dad would have called “gettin’ stuff done”.

In addition to these traits, my dad was married to my mom for forty-five years and raised us three kids with her.  He never left the house without giving her a kiss and I can’t recall him ever missing an event, mostly sports related, that I was involved in.  He treated people that worked for him with respect.  He didn’t take himself too seriously and was known to dress in a bathing suit or a dress with makeup and wig (womanless beauty pageant) for a school or church charity event.  So let’s add ability to pick a great co-founder, loyalty, work-life balance, respect for others, community service, and a sense of humor to the list of entrepreneurial traits.

My dad helped found a city, but not a startup.  He scaled some fish, but never a company.  He made plenty of deals, but not with investors.  He taught me most everything I needed to know to run a startup and help others do so successfully, without ever doing it himself.  I only hope that I can have a similar impact on Joshua, our young entrepreneur. It is not lost on me that my dad’s legacy lives on in me and hopefully in our kids.  What a blessing it was to have my dad in my life.  He was my role model and mentor and I think of him every day, and especially on Father’s Day.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY DAD!!  Love you.

THE TAKEAWAY:  For all you young entrepreneurs who, like me, had a father in your life that has helped you develop your skills and knowledge, even if indirectly, I urge you to make sure they know what a positive impact they’ve had on you and how thankful you are for them.  For those of you who were blessed with strong mothers who served as both mother and father, do something very special for her on Father’s Day as well.  These moms deserve two holidays!

4 Things That Baby Chics and Young Entrepreneurs Have in Common

4 Things That Baby Chics and Young Entrepreneurs Have in Common

Failure Inspiration Parenting

I’m a process oriented guy by nature. I believe that there are actually only a few basic processes in the world and that we simply use those basic processes in a multitude of applications from scientific discovery, to solving engineering challenges, to developing employees.  Unless you grew up on a farm with chickens, one of the processes that you may not know much about is the early stage of life for a baby chicken.  I find it interesting that the process of a baby chic escaping its shell is similar to the development process for  young entrepreneurs.

According to a host of forums and information sources on hatching chics (yes, there are discussion forums for such topics) chicks are fully capable of breaking out of their shells with the egg tooth on the top of their beaks… it is what they were designed for!  There is no owner’s manual or set of instructions.  They’re wired to survive.  Humans are wired for survival as well.  As if survival and growth for all humans isn’t challenging enough, the path for young entrepreneurs can be even more challenging.

What can we learn from the similarities of the first hours of life for baby chics and the early years of life for young entrepreneurs?

  1. The Process Takes Time – While it can take chics from hours to all day to hatch, it takes young entrepreneurs years to develop. The comparison is a bit like the concept of dog years.  For the novice chicken farmer these hours can seem like an eternity and can be filled with concern about the chic’s survival.  Similarly, for young entrepreneurs and their parents, gaining the skills and knowledge to be an entrepreneur takes years of persistent effort.
  1. Be Patient and Only Help When Necessary – For the chicken farmer, patience and the discipline to not help the baby chic break out of their shell unless it is absolutely necessary are key to the chic’s survival. While there are techniques for helping the chic break out of its own shell, helping the chic too much will undermine the intent of the natural process.  It is the same with young entrepreneurs.  They must be given the time and freedom to figure things out on their own.  Like the baby chics, they were born with the capacity to be independent but we have to give them the opportunity.  Like the chicken farmer, we can help soften the shell just a little so they can peck their way out.  However, if we peel away the shell for them, they will not survive long term.
  1. The Struggle is Necessary for Near Term Survival – In the hatching process, baby chics gradually build lung capacity and physical strength. Both of which are required for the chic to endure the long hours and effort it takes to peck its way out of the shell.  Young entrepreneurs also need to struggle through many small challenges early in their development.  Dealing with these struggles early on will force them to build their knowledge and skills to solve problems and give them confidence in their ability to handle diversity.
  1. The Struggle is Necessary for Long Term Survival – The ability of baby chics to survive the hatching process is a key to their long term survival. As challenging as the hatching process was for them, the challenges of survival outside the shell are far greater.  The life of an entrepreneur is similar.  Building knowledge, skill and confidence early on will prepare the young entrepreneur for the greater challenges ahead.  These challenges are not limited to business but also include relationships, physical and mental health, and living a balanced life.

THE TAKEAWAY – The saying that “nothing worth doing in life is easy” was never truer than when describing the entrepreneurial life.  It is simultaneously incredibly challenging and amazingly rewarding.  It must be earned by years of knowledge acquisition, skills development, doing and learning, and sprinkled with periodic disappointment and failure.  If it were easy, anyone could do it, and entrepreneurs aren’t just anyone.

Passion:  How important is it for young entrepreneurs?

Passion: How important is it for young entrepreneurs?

Inspiration

I’ll save you the suspense.  The answer is “VERY IMPORTANT”.  But what exactly does that mean for a young entrepreneur who is 13-23 years old?  How does their passion manifest itself in what they do and how they think?  How can they have a passion for something they know little about at that age?

Our experience with our own teen entrepreneur is very informative.  Joshua started tearing apart McDonald’s Happy Meals when he was really young.  This could have been viewed as destructive behavior and we could have made him stop.  However, his destruction of these toys was more like disassembly than tearing them apart.  He didn’t smash them unless it was his only option because his goal was to learn how they worked.  He did this, sometimes to our dismay, with lots of items including phones (wish he would have limited this to our old phones), cameras, speakers, computers, and electronics in general.  This activity, combined with the internet research he did on his own as he got older, was how he learned about electronics, printed circuit boards, power supplies, and how to program software to control the electronics.

That is what I’m talking about when I say passion is important for young entrepreneurs.  At a young age, with limited other skill sets and resources, their passions manifest themselves in what they spend their time doing.   When Joshua had free time to do whatever he wanted, he chose building or researching product development.  That’s when we knew he had the necessary passion to be an entrepreneur.

I had a passion for sports when I was young.  I started playing organized sports when I was 8 years old but spent far more time outside of team practice trying to hone my skills.  While it was fun, my passion didn’t match my natural ability and when I got to college, I realized I had reached the limits of my natural talent.  However, all that time spent on my passion for sports did not go to waste.  In the process of trying to be the best athlete I could be, I learned so many other things from sports including:

  • how to work in, and lead, a team
  • how to work with people you don’t necessarily like
  • work ethic
  • sacrifice
  • loyalty
  • discipline
  • game planning
  • how to perform under pressure
  • what my limits appear to be and how to push myself beyond them if necessary

While I didn’t realize I needed them, all of these are critical soft skills.  I’ve used them every day for decades now. Young entrepreneurs MUST learn these soft skills as well.  So I had a passion for something that I didn’t have the natural talent to pursue at some point, but, in pursuing my passion I developed these soft skills that are the core of who I am and what I do for a living.  I got what I needed, even when I didn’t know I needed it.  Funny how that happens.

The final point here is that passion can’t be taught.  As parents, it is our job to expose our kids to a variety of experiences so that they can sort out for themselves the things for which they have both natural talent and great passion.  Joshua was a gifted athlete but he did not have a passion for it.  He played a variety of organized sports from age 5 through his sophomore year in high school.  He enjoyed sports and, like me, learned many things from the experience.  However, he seldom practiced outside of an organized team practice.  That was a sign that he didn’t have the passion to pursue sports long term.  Remember the Malcomb Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory?  His passion for developing products eventually overshadowed his attraction to sports.  He dropped out of sports to pursue entrepreneurship.  That appears to have been a good decision for him.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Passion without talent will only take you so far.  Talent without passion is unfulfilling.  Young people, and especially young entrepreneurs, have to try out lots of activities to help them identify those for which they have a passion so strong that they will push themselves to develop the necessary level of talent to be successful.  Most people, it seems, never discover this intersection of passion and talent for themselves.  For entrepreneurs, finding this intersection is imperative for success because the passion required to sustain the effort is great, and the skill set is vast.

Why Does Being Thankful Matter for Young Entrepreneurs?

Why Does Being Thankful Matter for Young Entrepreneurs?

Inspiration

These days the persona of successful entrepreneurs is that of a hard driving, rock star like, independent genius.  The bright lights of fawning attention and the “cool kids” factor can be blinding.  Being advised to constantly call attention to themselves and develop a “personal brand”, compounds the “it’s all about me” environment in which many entrepreneurs find themselves.   Well, Thanksgiving is in a few days and here are the things that really matter.

We are born with gifts, people cross our paths, and opportunities present themselves that we did not create.  Let the season of Thanksgiving prompt you to pause, reflect and be thankful for our many blessings.

Joshua, our young entrepreneurial son, starting discovering his gifts around age 12 when his curiosity led him to learning how to code, produce video, edit audio, and develop printed circuit boards.   I’ll never forget a conversation in which he was telling me about something he had done with a printed circuit board.  He said, “Dad, I don’t know how I know how to do this, but I do.  I just know it.  It’s weird”.  Equally impressive to me was his self-awareness.  He knew that his knowledge about electronics was a gift, and he was amazed by it and thankful for it.  I hope he never loses that sense of wonder.

So many people have had a positive impact on me.  Most you’ve never heard of.  Hopefully, some of them will read this post.  These folks quietly go about your daily lives thinking nothing of the good they do.  All my life, I have been surrounded by role models.  While I may never be able to pay many of them back for what they’ve given me, I only hope that I can pay forward to others the many blessings I’ve received.

As I’ve gotten to the stage where I have more of life behind me than ahead of me, I’ve spent more time looking back and analyzing my path.  The seemingly serendipitous series of events that worked out in my favor are almost too numerous to count.  Life has gone pretty well despite my attempts to intervene.  I’m blessed with a wife of 33 years whom I’ve described many times as a beautiful woman and poor judge of character.  That one certainly worked out in my favor.  Our kids and grandkids are doing well and handling the daily challenges of life.  I have relatives on both sides that love me despite knowing me pretty well.  I don’t have many close friends, but the ones I have will do almost anything for me, and I for them.  People are put in our paths for a reason.  It’s up to us to engage them and understand why they are there.  In my experience, this realization may only come later on, and sometimes we never know why.  That’s where faith comes in.  Do the things you know will put you on the right path for the right reason, embrace the journey and take it as it comes.  We are never alone on the path and, somehow, seem to have what we need, when we need it, to get where we are going.

I suspect the young entrepreneurs who may have started reading this post, realized there was little about day-to-day entrepreneurship here and dropped off in the second paragraph.  For those who stayed till the end, here’s . . .

The Takeaway:  During this busy week, I hope you can find some time to be thankful for the people in your life, your many blessings and the bonds that tie us one to another.  When we look back on our lives, it will be our relationships and the positive impact we’ve had on others, not material things, acclaim or business success, that sustain us and give us hope and peace.

Know that many times during the year, but especially the week of Thanksgiving, I will think of many of you and be thankful for our friendship and the positive impact you all have on me and my family.  I consider these friendships, and the bonds that anchor them, great blessings in my life.  As my friend Max has said many times, “God has blessed me in a mighty way”.

Happy Thanksgiving

Limits Testing and Entrepreneurship

Limits Testing and Entrepreneurship

Inspiration

From my NASA experience I know that limits testing is a critical element of flight hardware development.  In NASA, we didn’t build many pieces of flight hardware.  Ultimately, we needed one on orbit, a simulator on the ground for training and troubleshooting, and one to limit test.  In aerospace we tested flight hardware until it broke to confirm whether it actually met the design specifications.  As entrepreneurs, limit testing is something we need to do to ourselves to insure we can meet our performance requirements.  In 1986, NASA attempted to launch the orbiter Challenger in conditions which the solid rocket motor o-rings had not been designed or tested to withstand.  The result was the loss of seven astronauts, a muli-billion dollar vehicle and NASA’s reputation.

We must routinely test our mental toughness, our physical endurance and our ability to perform under pressure.  Why . . . because we will be tested to our limits many times in our quest for success.  We will have to deal with the stress of running out of money, product issues with a deadline looming, firing people – sometimes even our cofounders, and our loved ones needing our attention when we cannot give it.  Will better planning, strong leadership, and hiring the right people help us avoid stress and tough decisions?  Yes, but we have no control over many factors that can cause our company to spin wildly out of control and create challenges.  It’s all about being prepared to handle whatever comes our way.

We can test our limits in more controlled environments in a number of ways.  I test my mental toughness and physical endurance five times per week in the gym.  I push myself through workouts even when I could easily stop and rest.  I also have quiet time and practice my faith as a form of meditation.  I do it because I need to know that I have the mental toughness, physical endurance, and confidence to deal with any challenge.  As entrepreneurs we also must be self-aware and assess our own performance in pressure packed, challenging situations.  We gather all sorts of data on product performance and need to do the same thing on ourselves.  While we may not be able to do it in the heat of the moment, we need to assess what happened after the fact and ask ourselves and others how we performed.  We have to be brutally honest in these assessments to identify what we did well and where we need work.  Once identified, we can pinpoint strategies for improvement and to make us better prepared.  Knowing we are prepared to handle whatever comes will give us the confidence to embrace stress and challenges.

THE TAKE AWAY:  The Boy and Girl Scouts got it right with their moto of BE PREPARED.  It takes all we have to be successful entrepreneurs.  With the odds of success already stacked against us, we must do everything we can, that is moral and legal, to gain an advantage.  Most things we can do are pretty basic and just as important in our daily routine as our most important meetings or product deadlines.  Even if you don’t like doing it, push yourself to be organized, plan ahead, exercise, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, practice quiet meditation, and be thankful for your many gifts and opportunities every day.  A positive attitude and confidence may be our best tools for dealing with adversity.

Lessons From My Brother

Lessons From My Brother

Inspiration

We buried my brother last week.  We tend to become reflective when things like this happen and, among other things, I’ve been thinking about my fellow entrepreneurs.

My brother John was a husband, father of four, family man, veteran and a Christian. It was only two weeks from his diagnosis to his passing. The cancer started in his lungs and moved rapidly to other parts of his body.

As I reflect on his life and passing, several thoughts come to mind for entrepreneurs:

  1. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. We must constantly measure our business performance and our own health and attitude. Sometimes we fear the truth about how our business is actually performing and how we are doing as humans.  By the time my brother sought testing and diagnosis, his treatment options were limited.  Overcome the fear, measure, manage.
  2. Make spiritual, physical and mental fitness a priority. No matter how busy we are as entrepreneurs, we must eat well, exercise daily, get enough rest, schedule regular medical checkups and make time each day for a few minutes of peace.  These things are no less important than the most important meetings of the day. Schedule and execute like you do with everything else.  As counter intuitive as it may seem to make time for these things when we are so busy, fitness in these areas allows us to sustain our hectic pace. Think of it as inflight refueling.
  3. Nurture your relationships. Personal communication, via phone or a hand written note, helps us sustain our most important relationships. I know it’s old school but emails and texts just aren’t as personal.  Plan time each week to take a few minutes and think of folks, in both your business and personal life, that you know could use a kind word, a thank you, or with whom you haven’t communicated in some time. Set aside time to make the call or write a note.  Again, just like planning a meeting.  I am always amazed at how much good comes out of this activity. The people with whom we communicate will be thankful and appreciative, and I always feel better knowing I’ve served others in some small way. Our family has not always done a good job of this. My brother’s passing has caused us to recommit to family unity.  That will be his legacy.

The words below are spoken as the military honor guard presents the U.S. flag to the next of kin.

“On behalf of the President of the United States, a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service”

I love you John. Thank you for your service to family and country.  Your legacy lives on.

Entrepreneurship: Shoot for the Moon

Entrepreneurship: Shoot for the Moon

Inspiration

This picture hangs in my home office.  It reminds me every day that when there is commitment to a clear vision and a strong team to execute the mission, nothing is impossible.  I watched the moon landing on television when I was a young boy and grew up to work for NASA for a decade and in the aerospace business for 13 years. I was fortunate to be involved in the early days of the Shuttle missions and the design and development phase of the International Space Station program.

I have been involved in several investment decisions with technology companies where the technology was considered to be too early in the development stage and therefore, too great a risk of failure.  Consider the technical unknowns and the state of key technologies when President Kennedy announced that the United States “… should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

  • No rocket had ever reached deep space and the technology to do so was unproven
  • No human had ever been launched into space, orbited the earth, or performed a space walk
  • The effect of space on humans was unknown
  • We knew little about the atmosphere & terrain of the moon
  • There was no precedent for managing a government/contractor organization of this size to perform such a technically complex mission on such a short timeline
  • Computing technology was in its infancy – Univac, IBM and CDC were developing the first supercomputers
  • The internet was in early development
  • Cell phones, email, teleconferencing and video conferencing had not been invented
  • The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) had less computing power than a modern toaster – 64Kbyte of memory, operating at 0.043MHz

Other than that, it was a piece of cake.

THE TAKEAWAY – DREAM BIG, young entrepreneurs.  Commit to the vision.  Compel others to see it as well and want to be part of it.  Allow the mission to be bigger than your ego, and surround yourself with the right people to execute successfully.

Entrepreneurship vs Major League Baseball

Entrepreneurship vs Major League Baseball

Inspiration

Working with first or second time startup founders, I’ve begun to compare their definition of success to hitting a baseball in the major leagues.

Many sports pundits have stated that hitting major league pitching (90 + mph fast balls) is possibly the most difficult feat in all of sports.  It takes .4 seconds for a 95 MPH pitch to travel 60 feet to home plate. The batter has to determine the rotation of the ball and velocity in the first 12 feet.  From 12 to 30 feet, .14 seconds, the batter must decide if the pitch is hittable.  This leaves him approximately .2 seconds, near the limit of human reaction time, to swing the bat.  A variance of a fraction of a second or a fraction of an inch can be the difference between a hit and a called strike, foul ball or grounding out.  In the time it takes a human to blink, a 95 MPH fastball will travel 48 feet.  Yet, major league batters expect a hit every time they go to the plate.  That belief, despite the odds, is what gives them the courage and confidence to be successful.  Even when a batter fails, he learns something about the pitcher that increases his odds of success the next time up to bat.  In the pros, a batting average over .300 in a long career can land you in the Hall of Fame.  Ty Cobb, arguably the greatest hitter ever, had a lifetime batting average of .366 over a 24 year career.

What if you failed 7 of 10 times you tried something?  In baseball, only the best hitters in the game get a hit 1 out of 3 times at bat.   In addition, if you hit the ball only 1 out of 4 times at bat, play great defense, make clutch plays, and have a long career, you can still make the Hall of fame.

The point here is that every young entrepreneur aspires to hit it out of the park their first time at bat.  Like baseball players, it takes that kind of bold approach and confidence to even have a chance of success.  The more likely scenario is that an entrepreneur will fail far more that they succeed.  However, if you learn from your failures and continue to improve your skills, you can have a great life as an entrepreneur.  Would you consider yourself financially successful if you started 10 businesses over a 40 year period, failed at 3 of them but didn’t lose too much money, had mediocre lifestyle businesses with 4 of them, and liquidity events with the other 3 that yielded a net income of $7-10M? I would.  In addition, what if that journey provided you the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people, travel the world, help others, and bring your family and friends along for the ride?  Now that’s a successful life.

THE TAKEAWAY – Young Entrepreneurs – Expect to hit a homerun your first time at bat as a startup founder, but don’t be too disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  Remember, businesses fail, not people.  Learn from the failure, nurture your contacts and mentors, continue to improve your technical and soft skills, and keep looking for that next GREAT IDEA.  Entrepreneurship is a journey, not an event.