It has been a long time since I wrote anything on my Lucky7 blog and there is good reason for that. Back in June, I started to brainstorm my next big idea with long-time friends Jon Loyens and Matt Laessig (both of whom were amazing at Bazaarvoice and had moved on to HomeAway). Bryon Jacob (a 10-year veteran at HomeAway) soon got involved as an idea he had been thinking about was better than anything we came up with and one thing led to another until we founded data.world.
It may feel curious to my regular readers that I would jump back into the arena as the CEO of a company built from scratch. After all, our investments in startups and venture capital funds have been performing well, including a recent exit with Deep Eddy Vodka being acquired (and us subsequently investing in Clayton Christopher’s VC fund, CAVU). There are many factors that led to this calling for me:
1. Our 11-year old daughter, who I involved in different startup competitions as a co-judge and at different pitch meetings at our home and Lola Savannah, kept asking me when I was going to start another business. I thought deep and hard about that - wasn’t she already seeing how I was helping startups and staying very active in our community? And then it hit me. Some of the most formative years of her childhood had been visiting Bazaarvoice, such as attending our All-Hands meetings at the Alamo Draft House or our Client Summits. Those early years at Bazaarvoice truly felt magical - it was an electric environment, you could literally feel the energy in the air just walking around the office and at those events. She must have felt that and it just isn’t the same to her with me being an investor or coach/advisor. She was just six-months old when I founded Bazaarvoice with Brant Barton. Now at almost age 44 (my birthday is on Valentine’s Day), I realized that our six-year old son hadn’t seen the same. Abraham Lincoln said, "There is just one way to bring up a child in the way he should go and that is to travel that way yourself.”
2. I’m only (almost) 44-years old. I think I would have felt differently about this if our children were grown but that remains to be seen as I get older. There is no doubt that entrepreneurship is in my blood - my parents were entrepreneurs as well. Getting “good” at being an investor and an entrepreneurial advisor basically taught me that I can do that at any time. I had achieved a level of comfort and that in a way gives you a hall pass to move on to your next calling. And there will always be more entrepreneurs to help, more businesses to be started, and more money that will be needed to fuel them - a return to that would be “easy”. But at this age, I feel like I’m in my prime. I’ve seen 1,100 pitches in the last three years, gotten involved with 40 startups and 10 venture funds, and it is time to put that level of knowledge back to use. Frankly, I felt like a caged tiger in some ways, ready to be unleashed again into the arena. There were some huge influences in my life last year as well, such as becoming a Henry Crown Fellow (thanks again to Josh Baer for nominating me), and going through our first week of discussing some incredibly influential leadership readings together (with some of the best leaders I've ever been around), as well as joining the Conscious Capitalism Board of Directors and attending the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit. In both of these mediums, surrounded by truly extraordinary people and discussing capitalism as a major force for good (when best applied), I couldn’t help but be incredibly inspired to get back in there and continue to help create our future directly vs. indirectly.
3. Most importantly, the mission is worth fighting for and the people at data.world are worth doing it with (truly the best of the best). I look forward to telling you all about our business as our story unfolds. Right now we are mostly in stealth (we’ve been in stealth to the point that we didn’t disclose our name until just recently). With the skills and network I’ve acquired and worked hard for over the years, this was a mission that I literally felt pulled to pursue. data.world has the potential to do so much good for the world - and I happen to be very uniquely qualified to lead it (the same is true for my co-founders, Bryon, Jon, and Matt). This is a quote that inspired us:
If the universe of data were suddenly made available, it would unleash the creativity of problem-solvers to combine different data sets – public and private – to develop innovative solutions to innumerable challenges.
Mikael Hagstrom, former Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Data-Driven Development
Looking back at my few posts for 2015, I feel compelled to reconcile a few things (if not for you, at least for me - as my blog is also a kind of living journal or diary). When I gave the commencement speech to the 2015 MSTC graduates at U.T. Austin, I was already thinking about getting back into the arena and what an amazing time we live in. I had written about The Golden Age of Technology in a series in 2014 and the timing for something as ambitious as data.world only got better in 2015. When I wrote about my 42nd year and how it was the answer to my life, the universe, and everything (a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference, for you Douglas Adams fans), it is true that I absolutely love helping entrepreneurs as an investor and advisor. I now understand why the great VCs and executive coaches (like Kirk Dando) love it so much. And when I wrote about big life transitions, I left it open that I could indeed step back into the arena at one point. What I didn’t realize when I wrote that is that the mission had to be worth fighting for and it had to be with the right people. data.world was too important of a calling not to pursue.
So how does it feel to get back into the arena after three years of helping entrepreneurs and practicing entrepreneurship indirectly instead of directly? Damn good. I’ve had three years to reflect on my experience at Bazaarvoice, learn from many entrepreneurs and VCs, and spend a lot of time with my family and travel the world. I feel not just completely recharged but I feel like I got another advanced degree - one in life management as well as advanced entrepreneurial studies! I find myself loving my drive into work and looking forward to our morning Founders Standup meeting (Jon Loyen’s idea, we do it daily and I highly recommend it). We’ve been listening to the book Exponential Organizations on our drive in - it describes the type of business we are aspiring to build. I highly recommend it as well. And I’ve been loving applying so much of what I’ve learned from my five previous startups as well as the amazing past three years of life and entrepreneurial lessons into data.world.
I wrote about Viktor Frankl, the famous author and Holocaust survivor, in my effort to help middle-aged entrepreneurs (including those joining startups for the first time, instead of starting a company themselves). The big point in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is that a mission in life is what matters most. This is becoming more and more of the norm of what you read today (and it is something that Millennials especially care about) but back when Frankl wrote his book, it was a pretty unique way of thinking about life and happiness. I’m proud to write that I’m onto a huge mission with data.world - I truly feel pulled to do this. I’ll do my best to share lessons along the way here at Lucky7 but as you can see, I’ve been really busy since June, so no promises! With this being my sixth startup as a founder, I’m under no illusions about how much energy and focus this really takes. And I’m having a blast.