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Alongside some private events with EMC, MIT, HBS, and the N2 Conference, we’re doing a few public events which I would like to invite you to. On Tuesday night (10/28) we’ll be at Techstars Boston and on Wednesday night (10/29) we’ll be at Yesware.
10/29 – RSVP for the Yesware event
Charlie and I will be onstage talking about the importance of results and integrity – me from an entrepreneurial perspective and Charlie from his perspective as one of the most accomplished Fortune 1000 CIOs in the world. It’s a dynamic that isn’t often combined and I’m looking forward to exploring the similarities and differences with someone I consider one of my closest mentors and friends (as well as my uncle.)
A big thanks to Techstars Boston (with Foley Hoag) and Yesware for picking up copies of the book for all who attend each event. The book isn’t due to be released until mid-November but book tour has some early release copies of the book which is super fun.
If you’re not in Boston or can’t make it out to the events, here’s a brief overview to whet your leadership literature appetite.
The book is a perspective on leadership disguised as a biography of Wayne Calloway and his time at PepsiCo. Calloway served as an executive at Frito-Lay and PepsiCo for over twenty years and managed to put up some serious numbers. Year-on-year double digit growth for over 20 years which translates to doubling revenue and profit four times over that time frame. The numbers are amazing but the book is about both the leadership vision and nitty-gritty tactics that led to these results. A plus is that the book reads like an oral history of PepsiCo during that time due to the interview based format of the book. A second plus is that this book is the fifth title from FG Press, the publishing house that I co-founded with my Foundry Group partners.
You can pre-order The Calloway Way here.
Thanks for the all notes of concern about my bike accident on Thursday. I’m doing a lot better – still a little fuzzy and tired feeling – but on the mend. I’ve gotten confirmation that it wasn’t a hit and run – I clearly lost control of the bike during a turn, crashed into a curb, went over, and landed on my head. Lights out for a while.
I’m done biking. I’ve never really been a cyclist – I’ve always been a runner. Given that I’ve now had two single bike accidents that were 100% my fault, I’m clearly not cut out for being on a two-wheeled vehicle. So – back to running.
Over the weekend I took it easy and just let my mind drift around. A lot of friends came over to visit us which was nice. We hung out in our backyard by the pool, enjoyed the sunshine, and I let my mind drift around.
I had some weird dreams – some were clearly PTSD – but some were stuff I’ve read recently. I listened to Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion on Audible over the past two months on my bike rides and runs and lots of weird associations with it came up in my dreams, which, if you’ve read the books, is delightfully recursive.
All of this kept leading me back to robots and drones. We are investors in a number of companies in this arena, including Sphero, 3D Robotics, and Modular Robotics, and I think we are just at the beginning of a decade long revolution that has been a long time coming.
My friends at Techstars agree and last week launched – with Qualcomm – the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars. I mentioned it on my blog last week when writing about Mentors 8/18: Adopt At Least One Company Every Single Year. Experience Counts and I realized I missed a key nuance in the post, which was about engagement with new things.
It’s nice to talk about robots and drones. But if you don’t engage with them right now, you aren’t going to understand them, and the amazingly rapid trajectory they are going to be heading on. Reading science fiction can give you a sense of where they are going, but getting a drone right now from 3D Robotics, buying the new Ollie robot from Sphero, or grabbing the ModRobotics MOSS robot will change your understanding of these things. Oh – and these things are amazing fun.
Techstars and Qualcomm aren’t fooling around in this arena. Qualcomm gets this market – they’ve already been focused on it with their Snapdragon processor and work with Brain Corporation – and their participation in the program will be invaluable. The Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is another big leap forward for Qualcomm as they establish themselves as a leader in this market.
And – if you are an entrepreneur and want to go deep here along with hanging out in San Diego, check out the robotics revolution.
First off – I’m ok. But here’s the story.
“You’re in an ambulance. I’m just putting an IV in your arm,” said a disembodied voice.
I had no idea where I was. I had a vague recollection that I had been on a bike.
“You’re in ambulance. You are ok. Stay calm.”
I realized I was tightly strapped to a board and couldn’t move if I wanted to. My legs hurt. My ribs hurt. My shoulders hurt.
I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I couldn’t process where I was. I felt like I was coming out of a dream, but I couldn’t remember the dream. I couldn’t open my eyes.
The doctor asked, “What day is it.”
I responded, “I have no idea.” I forgot to say that I usually have no idea what day it is.
Patiently, the doctor asked, “Who is the president?”
I thought to myself “George Bush” but I paused, knowing that wasn’t correct. After a short time, I answered “Barack Obama.”
“What is your name.”
“Good. You seem ok. Do you know what day it is yet?”
I responded, “I generally don’t know what day it is.”
The next thing I remember was hitting a bump and opening my eyes to see a woman pushing me through some doors.
“Hang on – we are just wheeling you into the emergency room.”
Some time must have passed. I felt someone pick me up and put me back down on a bed. I felt myself being slowly pushed. I opened my eyes again.
“We are doing a CT scan to check your brain.”
Some more time passed. I remember someone doing something with my left hand, which hurt like hell. I must have said something since once a disembodied voice said, “Stay calm. I’m just checked your thumb to see if it’s broken.”
More time passed. A police officer woke me up.
“Brad, I’m with the Boulder Police. I just want to ask a few questions. In case you don’t remember this, I’ve put my card in your jacket pocket.” (It turned out the officer was Chris Burke, who was awesome, efficient, and very patient with me. Amy called him later to get more information and he was incredibly helpful, including giving her details on the six 911 calls that people made when they saw me on the side of the road and the fact that he didn’t think I was unconscious at all, or for very long, just completely out of it.)
I don’t remember our conversation at all.
The next thing I realized was that my partners Jason and Seth were in the room. I vaguely remembered sending an email to Amy and my assistant Colleen somewhere between getting to the hospital and being in the room I was in. It was so powerful to see them. I suddenly felt safe again, knowing that people I knew were around. I have no idea what we talked about, but then Amy showed up.
Finally, I was starting to feel a tiny bit lucid. Amy took over and Jason and Seth went back to their lives. I told Jason I had a fireside chat event with Frank Gruber about his new book and could he step in for me (he did, and did great.) Amy called Colleen and told her to cancel my day. The CT scan checked out clear and the hospital released me. Amy and I stopped at Jamba Juice for a giant Peanut Butter and Chocolate Moo. I went home and promptly slept until dinner, which was Noodles Mac and Cheese that Seth picked up for us.
Reflecting on this, it’s amazing to me how little of the first 60 minutes I can remember. According to the police office, I was conscious the entire time. But I have no memory of what actually happened. The last thing I remember, after much prompting, was turning left onto Iris from Broadway. While the 911 calls were all for a hit and run, there’s no real evidence of that since my bike is generally fine and nothing, including me, looks like it was hit by a car. At this point, I’m guessing that I took the turn too wide and must have hit the curb and lost control of the bike. Maybe I squeezed my breaks and went over my handlebars. Or maybe I crossed over into a parallel universe for a little while and when I came back landed on my face.
I’m doing ok today. Nothing is broken and according to the hospital I don’t have a concussion. I’ve very banged up. I’ll probably have two black eyes, I have a sprained thumb, and lots of cuts and bruises everywhere. My face is very swollen and my head is very bumpy and weird from all the swelling. I have a persistent headache, no matter how much Advil I take. My glasses are destroyed so I’m wearing some old ones, which probably isn’t helping.
I slept well last night (although Amy woke me up every few hours to make sure I wasn’t dead) and feel perky right now, but expect I’ll run out of gas later today.
My biking career, short as it was, is officially over. I’ve had two accidents in three years – the first in Slovenia left blood on the streets. It was much more serious in hindsight than this one, but I remember much less about this one. Both were when I was making a sharp left turn so part of the problem may be that I don’t have the right spacial orientation on that side. I don’t have great depth perception, especially at night, so maybe this is part of the problem.
I had a fantasy for a few weeks about taking a bike tour across America next year. I was even planning to get a sweet Trek Domane 5.9 this weekend just to get the feel for it. But, no more. I now have three nice bikes for sale (two Specialized and one LeMond) in case anyone out there is looking for a bike.
Thanks for all the Facebook notes, tweets, emails, and checkins. I feel really lucky to have so many in the people watching out for me.
As we continue deconstructing the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, element #8 is Adopt At Least One Company Every Single Year. Experience Counts.
But first, it’s worth noting that yesterday Techstars announced its newest accelerator program, this time the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars. This is our first accelerator with Qualcomm, our first accelerator in San Diego, and all about Robotics. I’m psyched about the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator Mentor List, which includes a great mix of experienced Techstars mentors along with some new ones.
When I talk to a new mentor, I suggest that they focus on one program during the accelerator program. There’s a tendency as a mentor to skim or do a fly by, where you spend a little time with every company. In a typical Techstars program, this is between 10 and 13 companies, so if you spend an hour a week over the course of the program as a mentor, that’s about an hour per company in total.
In contrast, if you spend a few hours getting to know all the companies in the first two weeks and then commit an hour over the remaining ten weeks to one company, you can really go deep with them as a mentor.
We structure the Techstars programs so the first month is “mentor madness.” The first week of Techstars is total chaos as all of the entrepreneurs and mentors are getting up to speed. The next week or two is endless mentor meetings – lots of “get to know you sessions” – but a huge amount of substance in the mix for the founders. They suffer from a lot of mentor whiplash, where they get feedback from some mentors that contracts feedback from other mentors. This builds incredible muscle early, as the founders learn that the feedback from mentors is merely data that they have to process, not directions that they have to pursue or advice they have to listen to.
By week three, we are starting to more aggressively match lead mentors with companies. By the end of the first month, the best companies have engaged with, for least an hour a week, between three and five lead mentors. Each of these lead mentors has committed to go deep with the company and the best lead mentors limit themselves to one, or possible two (if they are very experienced mentors) companies during the program.
This doesn’t mean that the lead mentor doesn’t spend any time with any of the other companies. Many of the mentors, especially the experienced ones, spend more than an hour a week mentoring at Techstars. But they put extra focus and commitment on one of the companies.
They do this year after year, program after program. One doesn’t magically become a great mentor – you learn how to do it. I’ve seen lots of experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers show up for the first time as a mentor, engage, and just be horribly ineffective. At Techstars, we give all of the mentors feedback, try to help them to be better in real time, and when necessary, be very direct about how they can improve.
But nothing helps a mentor improve more than practice. Continuing to try new things, see how it works, get the feedback loop of mentoring a company, seeing the result, and helping some more. And most importantly, listening to the feedback from the entrepreneurs on what they think is helping them and what is getting in their way, slowing them down, confusing them, or undermining them.
Every mentor has her own style. But all mentors have limited capacity to mentor. Go deep with one company at a time, but do it over and over and over again.
William Hertling is a web strategist, programmer, father, short-order cook and the author of two award-winning and best-selling techothrillers: Avogadro Corp: The Singularity is Closer than It Appears and A.I. Apocalypse. You can follow him at @hertling or on his blog, williamhertling.com.
Maybe you want to write an app or a book. Maybe you want to start a business or learn to play the piano. Maybe you just want to kick butt in your day job. If there’s anything at all that you’ve wanted to do, but struggle to find the time and energy to do it, the tips below will help.
In the last five years, I’ve managed to find the time to write, publish and promote multiple books, including two award-winning bestsellers, develop a web application, maintain a blog, and present at conferences. I did all that while still excelling at my day job and actively raising three young children.
I’m not here to brag, but I do want to emphasize that if I can do all that while raising twins (twins!), then you too can find the time and drive to accomplish something big, whether that’s starting a business, developing a mobile app, or writing a book.
I’m going to share a bit of my own personal path as well as nine key techniques to making time, creating personal drive, and prioritizing activities that you enable you to accomplish anything.
Enter the Craziness
In 2002, I met Libba and Gifford Pinchot, cofounders of Bainbridge Graduate Institute, at a retreat. The two tried to convince me to enroll in their new MBA program focused on sustainable business. I protested, saying that I was too busy. Libba said something similar to, “You can be busy for the next two years, or you can be busy for the next two years and get an MBA.” I ultimately chose to be busy and get the MBA.
Life may seem busy, but it always seems busy. That alone isn’t a reason to avoid taking on a new project. (I ultimately finished that MBA program while working full-time and with a newborn child, whom I brought to class with me.)
Once I was enrolled in the program, I grew to become friends with Libba and Gifford, frequently staying at their home. I noticed that Gifford worked all the time. Other than short breaks to play disc golf or to participate in drumming circles, I never noticed Gifford partaking in what I then considered relaxation activities: watching television or just sitting around doing nothing. I asked him about this. He told me that when he was doing what he loved to do, then it was enjoyable. The joy of accomplishing something worthwhile exceeded the joy he received from more mundane activities like passively consuming entertainment.
I should also mention that Gifford did take summers partially off: he would work only a third or half of the day, and spent the remaining time outdoors, chopping wood, kayaking, going on hikes, or doing woodworking projects.
The Nine Principles
Accomplishing something is a combination of having a goal (e.g. finishing a novel), making effort toward that goal (e.g. sitting down to write for an hour each morning), and making the most effective use of the effort (a combination of efficiency and priorities).
There are many techniques I use, but I want to share the most important.
The Only Person I Have to Cheat is Myself
Purpose: Fostering motivation and focus
When I was writing my first novel, Avogadro Corp, I would spend my most productive time writing in coffee shops. I developed a rule for myself: I imagined that if anyone in the coffee shop saw me surfing Facebook or the web, they’d laugh at me: “He doesn’t have anything better to do than surf Facebook.”
The sad truth is that on a moment by moment basis, it was vaguely satisfying to check in on Facebook and see what my friends were doing. But the time I had in the coffee shop was precious: carefully carved out of my daily schedule, limited to an hour or two at most. I could spend that time on Facebook, but at the cost of not writing. Or I could write, which might be painful on a minute by minute basis, but was immensely satisfying as I saw my novel take form.
In effect, I was using willpower (as facilitated by imagined peer ridicule) to exercise self-control to work on what was most important to me.
The notion that willpower is an exhaustible resource, also known as ego depletion, has been much discussed regularly. However, a 2010 study found that “reduced self-control after a depleting task or during demanding periods may reflect people’s beliefs about the availability of willpower rather than true resource depletion”. (My emphasis added.)
In my own experience with weight loss, I found that the trick to avoid exhausting my willpower was to decrease the amount of time spent thinking about it. When trying to lose thirty pounds in 2011, I found myself thinking at length about the cookies, cake, and ice cream I was passing up, trying to rationalize whether I could have a small piece, what the effect might be, and whether I even wanted to lose weight. After many days of agonizing over my desire for sweets, I realized that no one else cared whether I ate those sweets or if I was fat or thin or somewhere in between. No parent, teacher, friend or spouse was going to tell me what to do, and quite frankly, I was exhausted debating it with myself.
I developed a simple mantra: “The only person I have to cheat is myself.” Instead of spending a great deal of mental energy over every sweet craving, I shortcut the process.
The phrase embodies three ideas: That your goals are important to you, you’ll disappoint yourself if you don’t focus on achieving them, and you can’t escape responsibility by expecting someone else to step in.
This simple mantra works for any goal you’ve decided is important to you.
Prioritizing the Three Most Important Actions
Purpose: Free up time and increase effectiveness
Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek is loved by some and reviled by others. Part lifestyle choice, part time management, part promotion and marketing, and part entrepreneurship, the book advocates minimizing the time invested in traditional jobs.
One of the techniques Tim recommends is to start the day with a list of the top one to three most important actions for the day that lead towards your higher goals. Focus on those actions until they are complete. Then you’re free to spend the rest of the day however you want.
I believe that without clear priorities on what will achieve the most, most of us will fritter away the day on email and menial tasks. All that busy work is procrastination that avoids the most important tasks.
I used this principle while working at Hewlett-Packard. Each morning I’d spend ten minutes thinking about the most important things I could do that day to achieve my higher level work objectives. I‘d do the first before I’d check email for the day. Then I’d work on the second and third.
By remaining truly focused on the few most important things, we can be far more effective than we are otherwise. During this period, I helped Hewlett-Packard save on the order of ten million dollars a year on customer support costs, roughly a 100x return on my salary.
This principle not only helps you be more effective at what you’re doing, it helps you free up the time to do more. If I finished the three most important things I needed to do, and it was only two o’clock in the afternoon, I felt that I earned the right to choose how to spend the rest of my day. I might choose to fritter it away on menial tasks and email at HP, or I could choose to invest it in new interesting projects at HP, or I could leave early and go work on my own projects.
Stacking Functions: The Permaculture Principle
Purpose: Task efficiency
There’s a permaculture principle known as stacking functions, the notion that everything you plant in a garden should serve at least three functions. For example, an apple tree might provide fruit to eat, shade for another plant, and beautify your landscape.
This principle can also be employed towards work. As a blogger, I’m always looking for good content. If I need to research something for my job, or write a forum response to a question, I leverage that content and turn it into a blog post. My blog posts, in turn, get repurposed into books.
When I surf the web to read about the latest developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (fodder for my scifi novels), I use bufferapp to schedule out tweets to articles of interest. I’m researching at the same time I’m engaging with readers.
Anything can be stacked. With three kids and full work and writing schedules, I don’t get much time for social outings. So when my writing critique group meets, I bring a flask of bourbon.
Avoid Time Sinks (aka Why All-Clad is better than a Nintendo DS)
Purpose: Free up time
In 2006, I’d gotten a check for my birthday, and was wondering what to spend it on. My friend Gene Kim, cofounder of Tripwire and author of When IT Fails, suggested I get a handheld gaming device. (This was before smartphones.) He promised that it was not only a ton of fun, but that the games were playable in five minute increments. But as I had three kids in diapers, I couldn’t possibly imagine having even five minutes.
That’s when it hit me: I couldn’t bring anything into my life that consumed more time. No matter how awesomely great the handheld game console was, I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy it if it required a new investment of time. I could only bring things into my life that either reduced an existing time investment or replaced time spent.
I pondered this for some time, and eventually decided to spend my money on an All-Clad pan. I already spent time cooking. An insanely great pan would improve my quality of life doing something I was already doing.
Although I don’t have kids in diapers any more, I still think about the stuff and activities I bring into my life, and consider whether they require a time investment, create time savings, or are a one for one replacement.
Purpose: Free up time and maintain focus
Gifford and Libba Pinchot ran a consulting business, authored multiple groundbreaking business books and founded an MBA school, all while raising three children. They were smart, passionate, hard-working people, but at some point, that’s not enough.
Guess what? They hired someone else to wash the dishes and clean the house.
Outsourcing household work (cleaning and yardwork) is often one of the first steps. But it’s sometimes harder to figure out the next step.
After I published Avogadro Corp, I knew that I wanted to send review copies to newspapers, bloggers, and other folks in the tech industry. At the same time, I needed to be blogging and engaging online. And I needed to work on the sequel. I simply could not do all this in the time I had.
I was able to hire a friend to work about ten hours a week over the course of a month to research outlets, draft cover letters, and send out review copies. For my second novel, I hired someone to research Amazon’s top reviewers for me.
The trick to outsourcing creative work is to have a clearly defined goal (e.g. send a copy to each person in this 150 row spreadsheet, with a cover letter customized to them), and to set up a review point part-way into the work (e.g. “Draft all the material for the first ten rows, and let me review it before you go on.”)
Are you concerned about the investment? Are you wondering how you could justify spending money on an activity that might only be a hobby? In my experience, once I’m investing money, I’m even more motivated to ensure that I’m using my own time wisely. If I’m going to spend $15 an hour to have someone else do something, I want to be using my own time to do something worth way more than $15 an hour.
Don’t Wait for the Perfect Idea
Purpose: Increase kung fu and avoid procrastination
Gifford Pinchot used to say “early learning beats better planning”, and in some ways, this is the entire mantra of the startup movement. Tech startups succeed so often because they excel at doing and learning from their doing, while big corporations excel at planning.
There’s a relatively famous quote from Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Jason Glaspey used to give a talk called Build Something, Build Anything. Jason, who has built multiple successful businesses from scratch, also emphasizes that every new project is a learning opportunity. He interviewed me a few months ago, and we discussed how I’d ping-ponged back and forth: Competing for the Netflix Prize taught me about recommendation engines, which led me to create a customer support recommendation engine at HP, a wishlist recommendation engine for Facebook, and finally led me to write a science-fiction novel in which recommendations engines lead to the first sentient computer software.
If you were to judge it by personal financial success, competing for the Netflix Prize, the Facebook app, and the HP project were all failures, because none of them netted me anything. (OK, I drew a salary while at HP.) But they did lead to expanding my social network, new technical expertise, speaking opportunities at SXSW Interactive, freedom to pursue new projects at HP, and the idea to write a best-selling novel.
Build something, build anything. Cultivate a maker mentality, and improve the quality of what you do.
Cultivate a peer group of similarly driven people
Purpose: Increase motivation, focus, and personal skills
It’s been shown in dieting, exercise, and smoking and alcohol cessation, that the most important group that will either help or hinder you to make changes in your habits is your peer group.
The most important relationship you can cultivate is with your spouse or partner. Fortunately, my spouse, Erin, is also a do-er: competing in triathlons and half-marathons, founding the band Ruby Calling, and recording music. We support each other in our goals and accomplishments.
Having friends like the Pinchots, Gene Kim, and Jason Glaspey is also inspiring, challenging, and educational.
Friends who do things inspire and challenge you to do more. Keeping up with the Joneses has a whole new meaning. And, of course, they can help you.
Gene and I get together at least monthly to share our objectives and talk things through. Occasionally we can offer direct help (I edited a scene in his book, he’s critiqued much of my writing), but the real help comes in the form of advice: “Are you sure that’s the highest priority? Have you considered X? Here’s how to calculate break-even point in sales.”
Purpose: Free up time and increase focus
If you have the option to telecommute, it can be a great productivity enhancer. I telecommuted three or four days a week for eight years. By doing this, I gained about ninety minutes back per day that would otherwise have been spent commuting to work, transitioning between spaces, and other inefficiencies. That’s about six hours a week: nearly an entire workday of gained time.
But more importantly, I could maintain a higher focus on the most important priorities, which both increased my effectiveness (because I only worked on the things with the biggest impact) and freed up more time (because once I was done with the highest priority tasks, I could decide how to spend my time.)
Some question the effectiveness of telecommuting. I don’t. It was during this time that I contributed the most to my employer. I had the freedom to imagine what would make the biggest impact to my organization and then to implement without the distractions that come from the office environment.
I still enjoyed my one or two days a week in the office, and used these mostly as networking activities to connect face to face with coworkers.
Minimum Viable Product
Purpose: Avoid procrastination and increase efficiency
Don’t do more than necessary. I could write about more techniques. But the more time I spent writing this, the less time I have to edit my next novel or spend with my kids. When you’ve reached the minimum viable product, it’s time to stop.