Entrepreneurial Insomnia

How well are you sleeping? I know many entrepreneurs who aren’t. The reasons are many. One particular friend of mine has been struggling with this for a while. He has started going to bed earlier each evening because he knows he is going to wake up around 3:30 or 4:00 and won’t be able to go back to sleep. So, he has resorted to getting up at that time and working for a few hours from home before heading to his office.

My friend explains that he is awakened because his mind starts churning. The frustrating thing for him is the fact that he knows he’s obsessing over small stuff – sometimes it’s infinitesimally small stuff. Most of the time the thoughts he is having are about things going on in his business that he shouldn’t even be worrying about. I certainly understand what he’s going through – I’ve been there many times myself. So what’s the solution?

For starters, my friend knows he needs to delegate. There are others in his organization who should be handling the issues that are keeping him awake. Thus, the first step in fixing his slumber problem is to make sure that he has people on his team who are responsible for handling the nitty-gritty items so that he can focus at working on his business rather than in it.

The next step in my friend’s process is physical activity. He is used to working out but there are days where he blows it off. Physical exercise produces endorphins which help reduce stress and generate positive feelings. A brisk walk or run along with lifting weights for 30 minutes or more each day will do the trick. If I miss a day due to travel I find myself actually craving my workout regimen. Generally I find that physical activity first thing in the morning gets my day started off right. My friend has re-committed to doing the same.

In addition to daily exercise it’s critical that we spend time becoming centered through meditation. This practice enables us to clear our minds of the clutter that tends to accumulate. My friend has attested to the benefits he enjoys when he meditates for 15 minutes each day. He finds that meditation lowers his blood pressure and pulse rate. He feels calmer as his anxiety melts away.

Journaling is another technique that has been helpful for my friend. He is working to become more disciplined at recording the various aspects of his day in a journal. Notes are made about the high points and the low points – he can then look for patterns that shed light on what might be working in his subconscious to keep him from sleeping.

Each of us has much for which to be grateful. My friend acknowledges this and is working on starting and ending each day in gratitude. I like to take this a step further. Before making any phone call or entering a meeting, I try to hold a thought of gratitude in my mind. It may just be an image of one of my daughters, my wife or my grandchildren. But whatever the thought or image, it sets the tone for my encounters with others, and it keeps a smile on my face throughout the day.

I gave my friend another piece of advice that works consistently for me. One way I avoid becoming too wrapped up in daily frustrations is to “get out of myself.” What does this mean? Very simply I find that when I am doing something for someone else I forget about my own troubles. There are so many ways to do this – large and small. Turning the focus away from ourselves and onto others can be a powerful sleeping pill. We go to sleep with the satisfaction that we helped make a difference in someone else’s life.

My friend is amazing at creating trust and building relationships with others. His whole face shone as he professed that the high point of his day is when he can make a sales presentation or interact with a prospective customer. I told him that he ought to program his schedule so that he can do this at least once a day. We should all make sure that we are doing what we love and enjoy every single day.

Entrepreneurial insomnia can be cured by a cocktail of physical activity, meditation, maintaining a journal, living in gratitude, getting out of ourselves and dose of doing something we love each day. I guarantee that if you follow this recipe you’ll sleep like a baby. Sweet dreams.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 2 – The When Affliction.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

How to Become a Great Entrepreneur

I am part of a group of investors that formed a funding platform for early stage companies. Some might call us angel investors. We look at a lot of start-up companies and evaluate their founders and product or service ideas. Over the years we’ve identified a number of founder attributes that are needed for entrepreneurial success in the start-up world. So, what traits and tendencies does the ideal founder possess?

A clear vision is at the top of the list. I’ve said before that vision is what it looks like when we get there. A great entrepreneur can articulate with clarity what the future looks like for his or her company and the products/services that it provides. For example, here’s an example of a clear vision statement – “To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.” It’s pretty clear what it looks like when Southwest Airlines “gets there.” Of course the appropriate metrics can be layered onto this vision in order to quantify it.

Not only must a great entrepreneur be able to explain the vision for the company, but he or she should be able to constantly communicate clearly and effectively across a wide range of topics. We’ve funded some promising companies that have high potential for success. Unfortunately the founders are tone deaf when it comes to staying in touch with their investors. We must always think about what others need to know. You’ll go a long way to building confidence with us if you communicate proactively and we don’t have to chase you for status updates.

We are reluctant to fund solo founders. There’s simply too much risk when betting on a single individual to grow a business and make all of the right decisions. Instead, we are looking for a founding team that offers strong domain expertise and business acumen. A great entrepreneur is able to assemble such a team and retain them to build a great company.

The entrepreneurial world is a rough and tumble business. Setbacks are experienced every single day and can really take a toll on morale over time. We’re looking for founders that are able to get off the ground, brush themselves off and get back on the horse. An almost stubborn resilience is highly valued and also is requisite for another quality – perseverance. Patience does not come easy for entrepreneurs – we want things to happen yesterday. As an angel investor, we need to know that not only will a founder be able to bounce back from adversity, but will also stick to his/her plan over the long haul.

Great entrepreneurs have high levels of energy. Their energy is palpable and contagious. Moreover they are indefatigable and can outwork everyone. Entrepreneurship requires a great deal of stamina and you’ll never hear a top-flight founder say that there aren’t enough hours in the day. He or she simply figures out a way to manufacture more hours!

There’s no question that passion is a quality that is a mandatory element of success. When we’re listening to a founder’s pitch, it’s obvious if there’s passion. He or she exudes confidence and is actually inspirational when explaining the product or service. This enthusiasm is powerful in persuading customers, investors and other stakeholders to say yes.

Finally, we’re looking for entrepreneurs that know their stuff. They have mastered the facts and avoid the B.S. I remember one pitch session where a founder was asked about his projections and how he justified capturing such a large market share. His response was, “We’ve studied the market and don’t see much competition. So we think we can hit our target.” This was a classic B.S. response unsupported by any factual evidence. Needless to say he didn’t get funded. Contrast this with a similar response from another founder who answered the same question. She walked us through the various factual assumptions that built to a market share that felt realistic to us. It was quite clear she had done her homework.

Great entrepreneurs – whether they are founders or not – possess traits and tendencies that constitute a winning formula. A clear vision; clear communications; the ability to assemble and retain a team; resilience; perseverance; energy and indefatigable spirit; passion; mastery of the facts, and avoiding B.S., are what we look for when interviewing great entrepreneurs.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 91 – Replay Rules.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Chicken Feed

What do sandpaper, tiny bits of stone and gravel, a 1969 John Wayne movie and successful people – especially entrepreneurs – have in common? The one-word answer is . . . grit. I’ve written before about perseverance, but grit takes this idea a step beyond. It’s one thing to keep on keeping on, but grit adds a special dimension to the notion of resolve. But before we dive in, let’s go back to the opening sentence for some context. Sandpaper has a very rough surface that is referred to as grit. This grit can be very coarse or very fine depending upon the project at hand. Chickens eat tiny bits of stone and gravel to help them digest their food. These small particles are also called grit. And who can forget the classic John Wayne movie called True Grit, in which a young teenage girl works in tandem with a drunken U.S. marshal to track down her father’s killer.

Many of us call it quits too early when something isn’t going the way we had envisioned. As entrepreneurs we are told that we must persevere and eventually things will turn out the way we want. So we slog on and keep fighting the good fight. However, this isn’t grit. Remember the earlier mention of sandpaper. Everyone knows that if we rub sandpaper on our skin we can draw blood. Grit does this metaphorically. We invest more of ourselves in whatever we are pursuing than just time and stick-to-it-ness. In the process we may get a little bloodied. We may get a black eye or a broken nose. But in the end we win.

So just how does grit manifest in more concrete terms? Let’s look at some people who have demonstrated “true grit” in exemplary fashion. Singer/songwriter Dolly Parton grew up dirt poor as she describes it, in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Even so, she maintained a cheerful and positive mindset throughout her childhood that has served her well during her long and illustrious career. Today, at age 71, she has amassed a fortune worth more than $500 million. She claims she had more “guts than talent.” But I think it was her optimism and sunny disposition that helped her overcome the obstacles she faced along the way.

Next, there’s the amazing success of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. Bezos graduated from Princeton in 1986 and went to work on Wall Street. He enjoyed a fairly lucrative career in the investment world but he had a dream. He saw that the Internet was going to dominate the future and gave up his hedge fund job to start Amazon in 1994. The catalyst for him was his passion for that which was scientific and technological.

Finally most of us know the story of J. K. Rowling. Divorced, on welfare and struggling to provide for her baby, she was nearly out of options in 1994. In spite of these challenges she wrote the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The manuscript was rejected by 12 different publishers before finding one that would print it. And in several cases, the rejections weren’t very kind. But Rowling had no choice but to bounce back and keep trying – it was either that or she would never be able to climb out of the deep hole she was in. Her resilience made all the difference – and of course the rest is history with 400 million copies of the Potter books being sold.

There are many other elements that can be included when defining grit – courage, bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fiber, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, determination, tenacity, guts and spunk, to name a few. I’m partial to a combination of optimism, passion and resilience that accompany persistence and endurance.

Call it what you will, grit is essential for moving beyond perseverance to the successful outcomes we desire. And yes, there will be blood, sweat and tears along the way. But they are merely proof that we have invested our heart and soul in the arduous and exhilarating process of fulfilling our vision.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 43 – Lincoln vs. Douglas.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs exactly who are we? What makes us tick? Is there some sort of DNA gene that we can point to? I’ve thought a lot about some of the exceptional entrepreneurs I’ve known over the past four decades and have identified some of their traits and tendencies that stand out.

Let’s start with creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs use their creative powers to innovate and find a better way to do something. Elon Musk has to be one of the most prolific entrepreneurs when it comes to innovation – Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Pay Pal and Solar City come to mind to name a few. Often, creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries. They have an uncanny ability to see into the future and understand what their customers will want and how their company needs to be designed to win. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman, is one of the foremost visionaries in America today. Who could ever have imagined a series of high definition video cameras that are small, durable and light enough to capture our daily adventures – daring and mundane? And successful entrepreneurs understand risk. Rather than taking risk they are adept at managing it.

When they get knocked down, great entrepreneurs get back up – over and over and over. They are amazingly resilient and don’t see failure . . . only opportunity. Walt Disney was fired by his employer, the Kansas City Star, because he supposedly lacked creativity. That didn’t seem to impact his storied career. When things don’t work out as planned they are flexible and know how to adapt and make the best of every situation. Top flight entrepreneurs are persuasive and can convince others to say yes. They do so through the power of their passion. Does Steve Jobs come to mind? Look what he convinced us to buy! Along with their persuasive powers, successful entrepreneurs are strong communicators in both verbal and written formats.

Entrepreneurs are assertive – the great ones are less aggressive than assertive. They have a healthy degree of empathy and are sensitive to the feelings of others. Entrepreneurs at the top of their game have a certain amount of charisma. They can be sociable and gregarious – even if those aren’t their core tendencies. Without charisma an entrepreneur will find it tougher to raise money, develop important relationships and influence others. Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is one of the most charismatic leaders on the planet. And he has woven his charisma into a tapestry of empathy and caring about other people.

Culture King is another descriptor for the cream-of-the-crop entrepreneur. Ben Chestnut is the founder and CEO of MailChimp fits into this category in the ways he has empowered the 500+ members of his team. Hand-in-hand with a strong culture is a smart entrepreneur’s ability to delegate. According to a 2013 Gallup survey of Inc. 500 CEOs, an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% was realized where the CEO had a high Delegator talent. Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of urgency and tend to be very self-structured – there’s no way anyone is going to tell them what to do! Entrepreneurs simply don’t want to be a cog in someone else’s machine. Most entrepreneurs also have the ability to juggle many things at once and in fact need to feel the rush and excitement of pursuing multiple projects and initiatives simultaneously. Finally, ultra-successful entrepreneurs are generally positive and optimistic people. They don’t dwell on mistakes and never play the victim.

Remember the DNA thing I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? Well, there may be something to it. A February 17, 2016, research paper published in the Austin Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology reported on the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene and concluded that entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk-taking in part, due to this gene (Link to research publication.). Apparently genetics govern approximately 30% of what makes one an entrepreneur. But that leaves 70% to a wide range of personality traits and tendencies.

There are many such traits and tendencies that are identified with entrepreneurs. No one person possesses them all, but the more to which we lay claim the closer we come to attaining world class status.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 2 – The When Affliction.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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P+A+C=I

“. . . we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’.” Winston Churchill uttered these words during World War II and led Great Britain through one of its darkest periods in history.

“. . . I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King made this proclamation at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, witnessed by 250,000 civil rights supporters.

Have you ever heard of Patrick Henry Hughes? He is an amazing story. Born without eyes and a congenital birth defect that prevented him from straightening his arms and legs, Patrick became an accomplished vocalist as well as playing the piano and trumpet. He even became a member of the University of Louisville Marching and Pep Bands, and a UP Premiere movie, “I Am Potential,” is based upon his life and success.

What is the common theme for these three individuals? Inarguably each is an inspiration. Churchill inspired his countrymen to stand strong during the difficult days when Britain was under siege. King inspired millions seeking equality in their everyday lives. Patrick Henry Hughes as served as an inspiration for everyone who has encountered a challenge – and haven’t we all?

As entrepreneurs we want to be inspirational leaders. We want to lead inspirational organizations. We want our mission and vision to be inspirational. But sometimes the notion of inspiration can be confusing and even elusive. Exactly how do we inspire? I’ve looked high and low and there’s no handbook. There are as many definitions as there are inspirational quotes – the quantities are massive. Here’s an equation that I’ve developed over the years that I believe stimulates inspiration.

Passion + Authenticity + Conviction = Inspiration

This formula can be measured by the likes of Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Patrick Henry Hughes. Is there any question that each had incredible passion for their cause? And is there any doubt as to their authenticity? Think about it. How could anyone play-act the power and impact that each had on society? Finally, they never wavered. They never quit. They stood by their beliefs no matter what. When we genuinely have a deep and lasting positive passion; demonstrate it in authentic ways, and are steadfast in maintaining this passion, we can’t help but inspire others. People aren’t inspired by wishy-washy. People aren’t inspired by fake. And people aren’t inspired by quitters.

Inspirational intelligence exists in great leaders. By emulating the inspirational formula, Passion + Authenticity + Conviction, we too can motivate others to join with us in doing great things.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Shooting Star

Imagine a warm summer night, a meadow away from the city lights and a cloudless, moonless sky. A blanket is spread on the ground and you stretch out on your back and gaze at the heavens above. Trillions of pin dots twinkle back at you. Suddenly, as luck would have it, a streak of light crosses right in front of your eyes – a brief moment of intense action in an otherwise passive setting. Yes, a meteor is truly a sight to behold and provides a metaphorical warning to us as entrepreneurs.

The romanticism of a shooting star quickly gives way to the realization that we have just witnessed a piece of interplanetary debris burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. The operative words here are “burning up.” In entrepreneurial parlance, we’re talking about “burning out.” We all know what burnout is, so I don’t need to describe its symptoms. In fact, we’ve all probably experienced burnout in some form over the course of our careers. More important are two central questions. How do we prevent burnout in the first place? And how do we get out of burnout if it already holds us captive?

Preventing burnout in the first place is actually easier than figuring out how to get out of it once we’re in it. Consider this example. Jeff is focused on his software training business in laser-like fashion. He eats, sleeps and breathes software training and hasn’t had a vacation in six years. The business is growing in a very profitable fashion, but Jeff worries every day that if he takes his eye off the ball, his competition could easily overtake him and he’d begin losing money. He justifies his herculean efforts as the right way to provide for his family (but he’s missed eight of his son’s last ten soccer games). By contrast, Amy has a competing software training business. She is passionate about her company which is growing like Jeff’s and is also profitable. Amy has learned through time management techniques and following a carefully thought plan, how to be incredibly productive while she’s at work. She serves on a non-profit board, exercises and meditates every day, volunteers at a local homeless shelter, plays tennis and takes a ten-day vacation every six months. It’s pretty obvious which entrepreneur is a prime candidate for burnout. Because she has embraced a life balance, Amy is more creative and innovative. When Jeff finally hits the wall Amy will blow on by him because she has learned how to build a strong team to which she can delegate.

Extracting ourselves from the clutches of burnout is a real challenge. The first step is to go back to the basics and determine if our vision and mission are the same now as they were when we were filled with passion at the outset of our endeavor. Do they need to be tweaked? What made us passionate about what we started doing in the first place? Are our core values intact? Reconnecting with our passion is critical and can only happen when we become grounded in our vision, mission and values. Without this re-set we cannot know for certain if the passion is truly alive.

Next, we need to make the choice to move toward a more balanced approach to life. Nothing prevents us from adopting Amy’s M.O. Experts say that it takes three weeks to form a habit. Every day we must become intentional about identifying and implementing the different elements that will compose our newly balanced life. Getting out of ourselves and doing good things for others is one of the best ways to break out of the burnout cycle.

Finding a balance in life is the best preventive medicine for warding off burnout . . . and for getting out of it. While shooting stars are spectacular to watch there’s no need to be one.

Shooting stars

The E Factor

Here’s a simple test. Do you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to tackle the day ahead? Does your brain function in overdrive with an idea a minute? Are you ever bored? Are you able to stay in “the zone” from a productivity standpoint for long periods of time? Do you experience endorphin rushes at times other than when you are exercising? Are you almost always in an upbeat mood no matter what? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions except for being bored (and answered it “no”) then you are experiencing the “E” Factor.

The E Factor is a major ingredient in the recipe for the success of an entrepreneur (and everyone else for that matter). The E Factor is . . . Exhilaration! Exhilaration is the energizing excitement that puts an exclamation point on our lives. There’s no drudgery in Exhilaration. There’s no exhaustion in Exhilaration. There’s no negativity in Exhilaration. There’s nothing boring about Exhilaration. Exhilaration is all about positivity, optimism, the glass is overflowing (as opposed to half full), fireworks-on-the-4th-of-July, the sun is always shining and everything WOW!

From personal experience I can tell you that my life is so much richer and fuller as a result of reaching and staying in a state of Exhilaration. The little setbacks along the way that might throw others for a loop are mere speed bumps for me. My existence goes far beyond my vocation and has become totally holistic in nature. I know this may sound corny, but I truly am in love with life and life is in love with me.

How do we reach and stay in a state of Exhilaration? There are three steps that have worked for me. First we must make serious choices about how we think. If you read my blogs regularly, you know that I constantly talk about how much of a difference our mindset can make. We all know this for the most part, but it’s not always easy to remember. Maintaining a positive state of mind is absolutely and totally critical to the E Factor. We must recognize when we are starting to veer into negative thinking; stop and release the negative thought, and replace it with a positive thought. I have found that a positive affirmation said over and over is a perfect replacement for a negative thought.

Second, we deserve to live our passion. I realize that sometimes there needs to be a ramp-up process to reach this passion. My passion isn’t just what I do for a living. My passion is the way I live. It’s filled with many things for which I have a passion including my relationships, my philanthropy, my health, my creativity, my faith and many more elements. I’ve said numerous times that passion is what allows us to see in color. Just because we may not be totally passionate about our careers at the moment doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other aspects to our lives for which we can have passion. And with respect to our careers – we should have a step-by-step plan that provides the light at the end of the tunnel for when our career does become our passion.

Finally, we must practice intense gratitude. Being grateful for what we have and what we receive keeps the energy channel open for us to receive more good in our lives. When I think back over the years about all the wonderful people who have done wonderful things for me, my gratitude needle explodes off the meter. Saying thank you isn’t enough. Doing good things for other people is an expression of our gratitude that recognizes what others have done for us. It’s a bit of a pay-it-forward mentality.

We can live in a state of Exhilaration if we choose to do so. It’s as simple as that. And to achieve the E Factor we must be positive, passionate and grateful. Enjoy the fireworks show!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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