Tuesday, June 25, 2019

My Startup Journey - Emotion

Fast and furious
We find joy and deep sadness
The startup journey

Any role in a startup can be a roller coaster ride. My first 60 days as a founder has proven to me that it is a fast, furious and deeply emotional ride. Over the last two weeks, I shared a couple of posts on the journey so far. The first post is about the excitement of starting something new and feeling that, despite the many years I have spent helping grow and scale companies, starting my own is an entirely different journey. The second post is about the doubts and feelings of being an imposter that can creep in when you are starting the journey. The third post is about the constant struggle and the insidious idea that maybe I should take the safe route and just nibble. The fourth and most recent post is about the challenge of maintaining perspective and not letting a GSD (get shit done) mindset undermine the sense of progress because of a lack of external validation.

I am at once incredibly invigorated to be doing something new, inspired by the potential to solve an enormous problem and excited to be finally pursuing my dream of building my own company. At the same time, I’m genuinely scared of failing, of making big or obvious mistakes and being judged an imposter or worse, someone who simply can’t get shit done. I’m 60 days in and it’s an amazing ride and well worth the years of anticipation and “someday” thinking. I am reminding myself to pause and enjoy the journey. Whether it is excitement, doubt, risk or just trying to maintain perspective, the cliche’ is spot on: it is all about the journey and not the destination.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall. Please take a minute to follow the Olifano company page on LinkedIn for updates and an early opportunity to register for the beta launch.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

My Startup Journey - Perspective

There is always more
Product to build, work to do 
Keeping perspective

I recently started my own company, Olifano. This is the fourth post in a series about the lessons I am learning along the way.

I love to work. It is a part of my identity. I also love that one of the first things many people who have worked with me would say is that I just get shit done. Well, they would probably say a few other things first but if pressed for a positive they would say I get shit done. I think that is a positive attribute for anyone working in a startup. For a founder, especially so. But what I have learned from my own startup journey is that without the perspective of others the get shit done (GSD) mindset can drive you crazy. It’s never enough when there is no one but yourself watching. It’s never enough when there is no one telling you, “Great job!”. It is never enough when you know how much more there is to do.

One of the challenges in my own founder's journey is simply keeping perspective. In the first week, I created a chart with the key milestones I needed to achieve to get to launch. It is only 17 items long, and some of the items are pretty big (e.g., define a go-to-market strategy), but it helps me keep the big picture in mind and not get lost in all of the small and seemingly endless GSD details of the day-to-day. If that sounds trite, it is. This is not the secret sauce to successfully starting a company. It is super basic but important. We usually create milestone charts and project plans to keep teams aligned and working on the right things. I created this one for myself, on paper. I have found it is hard to keep perspective without reminding myself of the milestones and progress. It’s on paper so it is always staring at me from the desk, regardless of what’s on the screen in front of me. There is more to do. But perspective on all the work done so far helps.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall so please stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

My Startup Journey - Eating Shit

Go big or go home
The warning signs are quite clear
Getting out of bounds

I recently started my own company, Olifano. This is the third post in a series about the lessons I am learning along the way. You can find the first here and the second here.

Still one of my favorite quotes, Ben Horowitz in his book “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” notes that “if you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble”. The ski bums here in Park City say, “Go big or go home.” As a startup founder, you have to believe in your idea. That just makes sense, otherwise, why bother. I believe, quite passionately, in the idea of Olifano but I find that I am constantly fighting the temptation to nibble at it.

“Maybe I should keep working as a Chief Customer Officer and start Olifano as a side-hustle?”.

“Maybe I should start with a really small pilot group of users so I don’t disappoint too many people with the MVP.”

“Maybe I should self-fund it all, that way you don’t have to put anyone else’s money at risk.”

The temptation is to nibble. To stay on the easy green ski runs. Stay in bounds. It might work to go slow, start small and build slowly. Proceed cautiously and not risk anything more than I have to. I find that I have to keep reminding myself, don’t nibble! I have yard saled on tough slopes and walked away with more than a few bruises. They healed. I have been fired from jobs I loved. It ultimately worked out for the best. I keep coming back to the Horowitz quote. “Don’t nibble”. It might be easier to play it safe but I might also miss the real opportunity. It might be easier (and a lot less embarrassing) to fail small but I won’t learn what it could have been. It is a constant struggle for me, and a surprise of the founder journey, the constant doubts and that insidious idea that maybe I should stick to nibbling.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall so please stay tuned! You can follow Olifano on LinkedIn.

Friday, June 14, 2019

My Startup Journey - Doubt

Brilliant ideas

The right place at the right time
... and then the doubts came

I recently started my own company, Olifano. This is the second in a series of posts about the lessons I am learning along the way. Here is a link to the first.

I knew from years of reading about startups and startup founders that there would be moments of doubt. Reid Hoffman described it as “the valley of the shadow” and Ben Horowitz “the struggle”. In my own experience as an executive leading large teams of brilliant people I often suffered from imposter syndrome and moments of doubt as to whether I was really smart enough to lead others. But as a new founder when doubt hits it can really smack you.

“What are you doing?!”

“Why do you think you can make this work?”

“Most startups fail, why would you risk your reputation and spend... wait, how much?”

Not only are the questions bracing, for me at least, but they hit every day. I walk my dogs at 4:30 in the morning and in the darkness of Park City I think about the day ahead. For the last 60 days, running through the list of doubts has been the recurring theme. It’s tough to start the day with, “WTF are you doing?!”

I don’t have good answers for dealing with doubt or imposter syndrome. It might be one of those things that never really goes away. Maybe some of the founders reading this can chime in with how they deal with the doubt. For now, I remind myself that doubt is expected. It is a part of the process. I tell myself, almost every morning, “Just calm the f* down, this is a part of the journey.” And, “If you weren’t feeling this doubt something would be wrong”. It is a bit of a mantra given how often I worry about whether I am on the right track or not.

Doubt can be a good thing. It can lead to the tough questions that you should be asking. But it shouldn’t stop you. I won’t let it stop me.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall so please stay tuned! You can follow Olifano on LinkedIn.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

My Startup Journey - New Beginning

A new beginning
Learning from the seasons past
My startup journey

My startup journey actually began in 2002 when I joined my first startup, a dozen or so people building an HR platform in Dallas. Since then I have spent my career building and scaling teams at startups including SuccessFactors, HireVue, Kahuna and most recently Degreed. It has been the quintessential startup roller coaster: the grind of hands-on software implementations and frustrated customer calls, the highs of IPO and acquisition, and all the way down to the lows of laying off some of the great people I have hired. Despite these challenges and the often hard-earned experience, I feel like my startup journey is really only 60 days old. This year I started Olifano. It’s the first startup where I am the founder - employee number one. We haven’t launched yet so it’s okay if you haven’t heard of it.

I am fortunate to have had the incredible career experiences I have had so far. I have hired and worked with amazing teams, built an extensive network of customers, colleagues, and friends and gained tremendous experience across functions. But - and it’s a big but - I have found that nothing prepared me to be the founder of my own startup. Just 60 days in and it is absolutely clear that it is going to be something brand new. From the painful loneliness of starting something from scratch to the emptiness of knowing nothing happens unless you do it yourself, it is already a profoundly unique experience.

There is a lot of great content written about startups and founders and I won’t pretend to have the answers. I am passionate about learning and sharing with others so over the next few days I will share a handful of the things that I have experienced and learned in my first 60 days. I hope you find the insights valuable.

I can’t wait to share what we are building at Olifano. We launch this fall so please stay tuned! You can follow Olifano on LinkedIn or on Twitter.

About David Verhaag 

David has spent his career building and scaling teams at some of the leading HR technology companies. He was most recently the Chief Customer Officer at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, he held leadership positions at Kahuna, HireVue, and SuccessFactors. David lives in Park City, Utah.

Follow on Twitter Connect on LinkedIn

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

On Spring and Being Relentlessly Resourceful

Complex elegance
Relentlessly resourceful
Imagining Growth

Paul Graham wrote a short blog post back in 2009 describing the characteristics of a good startup founder. His two-word description was “relentlessly resourceful”. I came across this great post again this morning after listening to Harry Stebbings and the 20 Minute VC interview with Geoff Ralston, President of Y Combinator. Ralston noted that he wants to invest in “resourceful and determined” founders, “people who can build”, founders who he believes are going to be able to “create things.” These descriptions of great founder characteristics sound simple, almost silicon valley cliche’, but they stuck with me this morning as Kiya and I took our hike and I thought about today’s haiku.

Spring in the mountains is endlessly inspiring. Growth is all around us. It’s not just the new growth that comes with spring that is inspiring though. It is the relentlessly resourceful growth. Trees grow through cracks in the jagged rocks, grass pushes through layer upon layer of fallen decaying aspen leaves, and the flowers of the mountains bloom in exceptional and brilliant ways to compete for attention. My wife inspired me to capture photos of the spring, and the close encounters, like the one above, have been eye-opening. So much complexity grows beneath our feet. There is elegant and beautiful complexity that grows through the spring rains and the mountain storms. There is relentless and resourceful growth in the mountains and it is simply amazing.

Graham notes in his post that there are probably other fields where “relentlessly resourceful” might be a recipe for success. I could not agree more. I believe that Client Experience teams (aka Customer Success) benefit as much, if not more, than any other function from individuals who demonstrate relentless resourcefulness. Serving customers in today’s enterprise software market is incredibly challenging. There is so much technology chasing our customer’s attention. I read recently that the average knowledge worker uses 36 cloud services in their day-to-day work. Thirty-six! And it’s not just the technology that complicates how we serve our customers. Our customer’s lives are increasingly complex as today’s dynamic organizations change, restructure, and evolve. Breaking through to our customers is a challenge but that is only the beginning. Today’s enterprise customers live with and are often obsessed with consumer-grade technology and experiences. Their expectations for enterprise technology are no different. Serving them and delivering the outcomes they need requires everyone in CX to become relentlessly resourceful.
How do we become relentlessly resourceful? As startup investors, founders and leaders how do we encourage and develop this critical characteristic in others? Here are three ideas.

Encourage Authenticity

Christopher Lochhead wrote a great piece this morning on authenticity. I have long admired Lochhead’s own authenticity in designing legendary businesses and brands and his Legends and Losers podcast is a must listen for anyone interested in building something truly unique. As Lochhead notes, “People don’t want to be sold on an idea — they want to learn from a real person through a natural conversation.” To be relentlessly resourceful we need to encourage, and not just encourage but actively draw out, the authenticity in ourselves and others. Authenticity is an exceptionally powerful resource that too often sits on the shelf. Individuals are encouraged, either directly or through implied norms, to look and act like others. Almost by definition, relentlessly resourceful individuals will leverage all of their strengths, including their own unique voice, style, and ideas, to break through and drive outcomes for customers.

Give it Room

Another silicon valley cliche’ is the idea of “failing fast”. Benedict Evans had a great post some years ago “In Praise of Failure” that did an excellent job of articulating the value in creating room to fail. As Evans explained, “You need to ask not whether this idea will fail, let alone whether it could fail, but rather, ‘what would it be if it worked?’ You need, in a sense, to ‘suspend disbelief’ - to put aside your normal human risk-aversion and skepticism, accept the probability that it could go to zero, and ask if this could 'put a dent in the world', and if so, how big.” Despite the article’s unfortunate title, and how many have misinterpreted this well-worn sound byte, building relentless resourcefulness is not about celebrating failure but allowing room for it. It is about accepting that in order to win big you need to play big and try new things and yes, sometimes those big ideas will fail. To be relentlessly resourceful and develop that characteristic in others we need to create room for them to fail. Practically that might mean giving a manager room to make a hiring decision that you don’t completely agree with, giving them the space to test a new methodology that you don’t completely buy into, or focusing on stretch assignments for well placed passive employees on the team. Relentlessly resourceful is not about casting seeds into the wind and telling your team it is okay if they fail but giving your team the opportunity to plant, nurture and grow in unconventional places and ways.

Push. Hard.

Many people have achieved great things without being challenged along the way. That doesn’t sound quite right, does it? Challenge is essential to achieving great things. Pushing one another enables us to run faster. Ben Horowitz wrote in The Hard Thing About Hard Things, “Most business relationships either become too tense to tolerate or not tense enough to be productive after a while. Either people challenge each other to the point where they don’t like each other or they become complacent about each other’s feedback and no longer benefit from the relationship.” Horowitz noted about his relationship with Marc Andreessen, “Even after eighteen years, he upsets me almost every day by finding something wrong in my thinking, and I do the same for him. It works.” To help our teams develop the relentlessly resourceful characteristics that will help fuel our business success, and their ultimate career success, they need the challenge. I am not suggesting, which might surprise some people that I have worked with, that everyone should be a hard ass all of the time. But I am suggesting that winning the leadership popularity contest is not a recipe for driving or delivering exceptional results. To develop ourselves and others we need to push and push hard. We need to challenge one another and sometimes that will be uncomfortable. Doing so provides the friction needed for growth and can help to create the environment for relentless resourcefulness.

There is a lot we can learn about driving startup success from a simple hike in the mountains. The flowers beneath our feet grow and flourish when they excel in their ability to attract the pollinators. They do this through unique and innovative designs. In our startup journey, success is often realized through our individuality and authenticity. Mountain flowers grow when there is room. When there isn’t, either growth doesn’t happen or, like the trees pushing through cracks in the stone, they make room. Similarly, for our teams, we need to make room to grow. It won’t always work out but we need to take our best shot. Finally, like spring growth in the mountains, we have to push, often hard, to find the sunlight. The fallen aspen leaves, the decay of prior seasons, can bury the flowers if they don’t push hard enough to find the light. The strong survive. In our startup lives, we need the challenge, we need to push and be pushed in order to thrive. Life is relentlessly resourceful. With work, we and our teams can be as well.   

Thursday, May 16, 2019

You're Distracted and Chasing Rabbits

In her element
Prepared to go the distance
Is that a rabbit?

Kiya is a good dog. A true Alaskan Malamute she is strong, friendly and loves hiking the snow-covered trails as much as anything. Kiya is also a bad dog. Like most Malamutes she can be stubborn, has a high prey drive that takes control and sheds like … oh god how she sheds.

Kiya is also easily distracted. We hike every day, often along the same trails behind our home in Park City. But every time is like the first time. She pulls me along the trail to explore the same tree she has smelled a hundred times. She grabs the perfect stick, really more of a tree, from the trail and carries it as happy as she was yesterday when she rediscovered it for the 10th time. FULL STOP! Drop the stick. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” A rabbit, a leaf falling, often nothing at all. High Alert! She scans the forest, ears perked, ready to go. And then we are moving again. It was nothing. It’s often nothing. Kiya is easily distracted.

We are all easily distracted. Like the mysterious rabbit that teases Kiya’s imagination our dark forests of technology haunt ours. The snap and rustle of our communication tools keep us all on high alert. WAIT! DID YOU HEAR THAT? Someone was commenting on my post. Someone liked my status update. Someone browsed my profile. Is that an email! Oh, wait. It was nothing. Back to work.

We are all too easily distracted. Work for a bit. See the ping from Slack. Work for a bit. Hear the ping of Twitter. Work for a bit. Suspect maybe another email… and on we go. Our rabbit is out there. Like Kiya, we must be vigilant if we are going to catch it. I read recently that the average knowledge worker only spends about 3 minutes on any given task before switching. 3 minutes on a task and 2 minutes before switching digital tools. It’s crazy! Is it the fallacy of multitasking or is it an obsession with rabbits? The same post noted that we find only an hour and twelve minutes a day of completely focused work. Six hours per week. Only 15% of our work week is focused work. The rest, rapid task switching, falling into the trap of multitasking, searching for… oh look M&Ms are on sale.

Kiya’s distraction drives me nuts. Co-worker distraction also drives me nuts. When new hires join my team I admit to them, very early on, that I have three major pet peeves. Showing up late to meetings, not being on camera when we are on Zoom meetings and... multitasking. Especially when we are on calls together or with clients, it’s just not okay. We all know better but… RABBIT! A few years ago I wrote a very snarky blog post about multitasking, specifically challenging that ass in the room to put down the phone. With almost 30k views I think it resonated with others as well. We really all do know better. We all hate that guy. The multitasking, the distraction, the… RABBITS!

Unfortunately, they aren’t going away. The well-worn paths of our daily habits will have distractions that continue to multiply like so many rabbits. Our 15% of focused productivity each week will be chipped away at until it is all task shifting and bouncing noise back and forth. Unless… we put down and turn over the phones, turn off the notifications, and challenge ourselves, and those we lead and care about, to focus. It's hard. No one likes the reminder. But, we are better for it when we do. When it’s time to focus, focus. When it's time to find rabbits, take the dog for a walk.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Chilling Out

Overwhelmed with angst 
Searching for resolution 
Maybe, just chill out

This morning I saw #DearMeTenYearsAgo trending on Twitter and I paused to think of all of the things I wish I had known ten years ago. It's a long list. I was 35 ten years ago and had already mastered the art of the mistake. Divorced twice, five kids with six different mothers, addicted to Skittles on wheat bread, three felonies in five states and all sailboat related to say nothing my neurotic habit of overthinking things. There had been tough times. One of the many, many, things I wish I had known ten years was to just chill out.  

For much of my early career, I had been overwhelmed with angst. Some of this anxiety was positive. It motivated me to over prepare for meetings, to speak less and listen more, and to work harder than I needed to on small things. Just as often though, maybe more often, the angst led me to worry about things that I couldn't control like what people thought or were saying about me. It led me to worry excessively, neurotically, about how my career was progressing. Was it fast enough? Was the role big enough? How did I compare to my peers? It led me to incredible frustration when things, and you can name a million of them, didn't go the way that I expected them to. So much of my career has been filled with angst. Not just angst though. 

So much of my career has been filled searching for resolution. Not just any resolution though. The resolution that I want. The resolution that I expected. Promotion decisions that didn't come quickly enough, project assignments that didn't land the way that I wanted them to, co-worker interactions that left me frustrated or outright angry. So much of my early career was spent frustrated and looking for resolutions that didn't come fast enough, didn't turn out how I wanted them to or just as often never came at all. 

I think many people feel this way. Overwhelmed with internal angst and searching for resolution. We compare ourselves to others that we don't really know. We worry about what people think of us when they don't think of us at all. We struggle to compete on things that don't matter and neglect the things that do. We search for answers we don't need and waste the energy we don't have on the search. We all get spun up in our own thoughts and detached from reality. 

My #DearMeTenYearsAgo, just chill out. Relax. Nothing is as serious as it seems at the moment. The angst, the anxiety, the worry is all wasted. Ten years later you won't remember because it won't matter. It never mattered. Just chill out. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Choosing Adventure

Moving fast or slow
Obstacles are relative
Choosing adventure

"It is hard becoming a new version of yourself." A simple understated line from season 4 episode 6 of "Billions". It is hard. The obstacles standing in your way are all relative. Others might see them as small. They might see them as insignificant. But obstacles are relative. Everything is relative. The challenges that stand in your way are yours. It is hard to become a new version of yourself. It is even harder to become the best version of yourself. 

Today I have been struggling to become a new version of myself. Habits that once served me well no longer do. They are simply no longer relevant. My addiction to being hyper-responsive on Slack or email serves no one. After deleting the Slack app there is no longer even anything to respond to. But I pick up my phone. I look and see the empty home page slot where my attention once lived. It is mindless. The habit is empty. Truth is, I see now, it always was. Once it is gone it is hard to remember why it ever mattered. 

I am struggling. I instinctively check email. The little red notification, that magical little flag that validated my checking email, doesn't appear. It's turned off. I still check. It is a hard habit to break even when there is no validation at the end. There is no little red icon telling me that I am important to someone. Its absence is unsettling. I am embarrassed by the habit. Why did I ever feel like I needed to constantly check this? Did it ever really matter? Why am I holding my phone? When the little red validation is gone it leaves a hole. It leaves a question. 

It is hard to become a better version of yourself in part because who we are - who I am - is formed by habits and routines that are often mindless. Ideas that I latched onto early in my career became a part of who I am. Always on. Always at the ready. A click away. It is hard not to be that person. 

It is an obstacle that may sound insignificant. A bad phone habit. That's all. Who doesn't check their phone too much? Who doesn't want to see that little red alert that begs for your attention? It's all relative. It's not just the checking that keeps me from becoming a better version of myself. It's the need to keep checking. Checking when it no longer makes sense. Checking when it never made sense. It's hard. Hard to break a habit of external validation. Harder still to create a new habit. 

It's all relative. Maybe for you, the little red icon doesn't mean anything. Maybe for you, it is a like from a friend on your Instagram or Facebook post. Maybe for you, it is a congratulation on your LinkedIn post. Maybe for you, it is [ fill in your own blank ]. We all have them. Our mindless habits. Our work habits. Our moments of need for external validation. Does it matter? If it was turned off tomorrow would it really matter? Did it ever matter? 

It is hard to become a new version of yourself. The obstacles that stand in the way are all relative. The choice is yours though. The choice is mine. To overcome, we must choose. I am choosing the adventure. The adventure of overcoming my obstacles. You? 

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Courage to Say It

Clay cup of courage 
Inspiration wearing thin 
The end of the week

I am worn out. That shouldn't be hard to admit though, right? Why is it? It's Friday. It was a long week. I worked hard. I did good work. Some of the best work of my career I think. I should be feeling a little spent. I should feel like I left it on the field. That's okay, right? As long as I worked hard, gave 100% it's okay to feel worn out, right?

But still. Admitting I am worn out feels like defeat. It's only Friday. Not just that, it's Friday morning. What does it mean that I am "worn out"? Does it mean I am getting old? Does it mean I am a part of the problem with kids today? Does it mean I can't keep up? Why am I worn out? My Dad worked for 40 years, in the same spot, doing the same thing. Many of those years he worked 6 days a week to provide for us. How can I be worn out not even halfway through my career? a wonderful constantly evolving career, and worn out on a Friday morning? What's wrong with me!? 

I have had this conversation with myself more than once. I  suspect many others go through a similar battle with themselves. I suspect many coffee cups endure the long hard introspective stares of people wrestling with the day ahead, even when it's Friday. Even when the glassy stare is coming from someone who has achieved amazing things during the week, or achieved amazing things in their career or done more than their 40 or loaded more than 15 tons. 

It shouldn't be so hard to admit that when we are worn out. It should be a positive sign of self-awareness. It should be a healthy sign of managing yourself and your emotions. But, for me, it's not. It's hard to admit. Its always hard to admit I am worn out. It's another long conversation with a coffee cup. 

If you find yourself having the same conversation, you are not alone. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Defining Moments in Leadership

Sharing honestly

Spring growth and transformation 
Defining moments

I believe leadership is defined in the small decisions and interactions we have as much as the big and highly visible ones. When many people think of strong leaders they often picture the individuals at the top of the org chart who share the big strategic announcements, make the key executive hires or drive M&A activity. Leadership stuff. Real leadership though isn't all big moments. It's not all top of the org chart.

The best leaders I have worked with made the small one-on-one moments feel just as important as the big public leadership events. They took the time to listen - really listen - and engage in the conversation with as much focus and attention as they would a board meeting. The best leaders shared feedback honestly, candidly. No bullshit. No tiptoeing around the corners to avoid confronting the hard facts. Simple honesty. "Here is what you can do better" or "here is what you need to do to get what you want from your career."

We all want that honesty. It is lacking so much today that we are desperate for it. It sucks to hear critical feedback. It just does. No one likes it at the moment. But we all want it. We all need it. The best leaders share it and ultimately we are all better for it. Leaders, real leaders - not just the top of the org chart individuals - take those small interactions, those small opportunities for honesty and growth, and make them defining moments.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Reflections on Growth

From passing showers 

Brief moments to remember 

Reflections on growth

Yesterday it rained in Park City. It rained and then snowed and then rained some more. This morning I walked the dogs in the leftover slush. It is that beautiful time of year in the mountains when everything is growing and the air is fresh and clean with spring. It is also that frustrating time of year when the trails almost dry out enough to get the mountain bike out and then it rains and snows and everything turns to mud again. From hour to hour, and day to day things change.

I have been reflecting a lot on professional growth, both my own and the growth of some of the remarkable individuals I have had the opportunity to work mentor over the years. Professional growth can feel a lot like spring weather. One day, your professional life can be sunny and bright with clearly defined development goals, strong mentors and an ambitious but achievable career plan. It's sunny and bright.

Later that same day, things change. It clouds up and starts raining. Maybe someone moves your cheese or your mentor leaves or that once achievable career plan starts to look more like a muddy trail to nowhere. It's wet and dark.

With all of the wonderful spring growth around Park City, I am reminded that it is not despite the weather but because of it that growth occurs. In our professional lives, it is not despite the challenges of shifting career plans that our growth occurs but because of it. Someone moves our cheese so we find new cheese - better cheese, we lose a mentor but find new ones with fresh perspectives and advice, our career plan turns out to be all wet but we find a new path and a path that is ready to ride. From day to day, hour to hour things change and that is where we grow.

Sometimes, after it been raining we just need to pause and reflect and remind ourselves of the growth to come.

Today, it's sunny.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Spring and the Opportunity to Grow

The snow melts away 

Ideas like lilies bloom 
The changing seasons

Spring in the mountains is such an inspiring time of year. The snow slowly melts away and the flowers and grass push through the decay of past seasons. The air is fresh and cool and everything feels new. Showers come and go and life all around truly glistens. 

Spring is a wonderful and inspiring season and one that many companies desperately need. Even in startups, the processes and practices and policies can build up like so much snow and bury the innovation and new growth. Too many brilliant beautiful ideas stay buried in the frozen cold for far too long. 

Spring can inspire. Leaders should take a moment to step outside. Take your team. Take a walk in the mountains. Breath in the fresh clean air and new life. Soak up the energy of the warming sun or pause and celebrate the passing shower. Spring can be an opportunity to melt away the cold frozen practices of the past season and create room for the new growth the beautiful and inspiring ideas. 

Pleasing Everyone

Furry coworkers 
Millennials or Gen X 
Can’t please everyone

Leadership often sucks. The role isn't about being everyone's friend. It's not about being the hero of the story. It's not about pleasing everyone all the time. Leadership is about creating an opportunity for others to do their best work. It's about creating a vision that resonates and inspires and that others will want to work towards. It's about providing the feedback - both positive and constructive - that challenges others to learn and grow and actually do their best work and produce results they didn't believe were possible. It's not always fun. 

Leadership, more often than not, sucks. You can lead with your heart. You can lead with inspiration. You can lead from the front hands on and in the weeds or you can lead from behind with coaching and counseling and encouragement. The hard truth is, the team won't always like you. The weakest performers may hate you. 

Leadership often sucks. The reason to carry on, the reason to maintain faith in the vision, the reason to persist in the face of the grouchy is the opportunity to uncover the greatness of others, to discover through challenge the hidden talent, the rising stars, the future leaders and ultimately to do what others, those that are simply focused on pleasing others, simply can't.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

What if There are Bears?

Lonely nighttime walks 

Thinking of all we might build 
What if there are bears

A few years ago I wrote a short blog post about the bears that lived near my home in Truckee, CA and overcoming my fear of the dark and unknown. Last year I gave a talk to more than 200 people at a customer event and used the wonderful and funny video "What if there are Bears?" to highlight the important value of lifelong learning in increasingly long careers. I love the wild and unknown that bears can represent. 

Last week, walking the dogs in the early morning near my home in Park City I came across this wonderful bear statue. It wasn't so much scary as inspiring, though the lack of fear may have had more to do with the lighting than the bear itself. It's a great statue of a stern-looking bear. It is also a great reminder that there might be bears. In our careers, in our personal lives, there might be big and scary unknowns that we need to confront. There might be a big and scary unknowns that we are forced to confront. 

This week I have been thinking a lot about startup life and the big ideas that inspire individuals and teams to do great things. Having spent the last 15 years leading in startups I have come to appreciate that there are many unknowns on the startup journey. There are always bears. The best teams I have been a part of are consistently confronting those unknowns, they understand that they are out there and they try to plan for them. They embrace the potential fear and uncertainty and use that to improve. I think that is a part of what makes the startup journey worth taking, confronting the scary and unknown. It's not what if there are bears, it's what if there aren't? 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Doubts Along the Way

The path was not dry 
Doubts came up along the way 
We just kept going

Despite the rain, the mud, and the rough trail over slippery tree roots Kiya is just happy to be the journey. Maybe the real lesson of startup life is in that. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Getting Soaked

Soaked from the way here
New growth dripping with the spring 
Timely reminder

Regardless of which role you play, the startup journey can be incredibly difficult. Along the way, you are likely to fail. Failure comes in different forms from big failures like product ideas, go-to-market strategy and market fit to the more common failures like hiring mistakes, leadership decisions and projects or initiatives that don't come together. Startup culture supports and often even celebrates failure but at a personal level, that doesn't make it any easier. 

Hiking on the Oregon coast last week I was reminded of the value of failure to learning and career growth by the spring rain. Kiya, my Alaskan Malamute, and I were absolutely soaked from a long hike in the rain and the several inches of mud on the trail. It was quintessential Oregon and Oregon in the spring where the rain is falling fast. At the moment, being completely soaked wasn't awesome. It was a great reminder though. Because of all of the rain, the flowers were starting to bloom, the trees were bright with new growth and the sprouts of life were starting to poke through the soft forest floor. The challenges of startup life, including outright failure, aren't always fun but they can serve as tremendous learning opportunities that fuel learning and career growth.