On community and courage: The story of Nachshon ben Aminadav

This past weekend was a very proud one for me and Debra as parents.  Our daughter, Rachel Leah Hurt, became a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday.  Her Torah portion, Parshat Beshalach (Song of the Sea), was an especially challenging one and she read it just perfectly.  This took her hundreds of hours of study in 2017 (and she had an amazing teacher in Nancyellen Seiden).   Alongside this study, she also wrote her first book, Guardians of the Forest, which also took hundreds of hours in 2017.  It is a truly beautiful book for children ages 6-14 and I know she would appreciate it if you bought a copy at that link.  And, during all of this, Rachel made all top grades at her middle school (including in all of the AP classes that she can take).  I truly consider my most important job in life to be a good parent.  I have had many influences in this regard, including my own parents (Lucky7 is named in tribute to my mom), Debra's parents, and even my friend Michael Dell, who has had a hugely positive influence on his children, including the one I know best, Zachary (watch him become an extraordinary entrepreneur one day).  I'll write a blog post on parenting one day, but I certainly don't want you to think I've got it all figured out.  In many ways, to be a good parent is more challenging than starting a company and I'm certainly trying my best.  It requires constant work (and innovation), but I digress.

I woke up this early this morning, around 4:40am, thinking about this past weekend.  There were some good leadership lessons in this Torah portion, especially the one given by Nachshon ben Aminadav.  Nachshon is certainly a lesser known figure in the Parting of the Red Sea, especially as compared to Moses.  To that end, I would love to share with you a portion of Rachel's speech, given by her after she read from the Torah.  And I would love to hear your stories of where either you've been a Nachshon or you've seen someone close to you be a Nachshon.  We all know the stories of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, MLK Jr., and many other incredible leaders throughout history.  But who are the lesser known figures that took the first actions to show the rest?  Please share those much lesser known stories with me (and all of the Lucky7 readers) in your comments below - it would be a lot of fun to get a dialogue going about this.

The collaborating executive

I received a text a little over a week ago from a CEO I coach (I've served on his Advisory Board for years now and have loved seeing his company prosper - and him grow so much personally through a lot of adversity).  It read, "How much collaboration with the rest of leadership would you expect from your [insert executive title here] when it comes to [insert critical for the entire company task]?".  Obviously I'm being careful not to disclose the details to protect confidentiality.

Here we find ourselves on Martin Luther King Jr. Day - a celebration of one of history's ultimate collaborators and change-agents.  Everyone in American schools studies MLK, of course, but I got to go a little deeper on his leadership in my studies at The Aspen Institute as a Henry Crown Fellow.  One of our readings was "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and I couldn't recommend more highly that you read it (you can do so here).  It is one of the most amazing leadership readings I've ever been introduced to.  It is a systematic, gentlemanly takedown of one of the most challenging times in American history - by the ultimate collaborative leader.  Pay close attention in the letter to how MLK challenges his opposition to collaborate with him by looking within themselves and within their own religion.  The religious undertones are reminiscent to what is probably the best speech I've ever read, also introduced to me by The Aspen Institute, by Frederick Douglass.  It is titled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?".  It is also a systematic takedown with a strong uppercut punch (you can read it here).  I highly recommend you study both of these incredibly historic speeches on this MLK day - the most appropriate day to do so.  At a minimum, all lovers of leadership should bookmark and read these pieces in 2018.

The importance of an Always Be Learning life

Happy New Year's, everyone!  I wish you much prosperity and love in 2018.

As you may have seen me tweet earlier this week, my New Year's Resolution is to write more.  I truly love writing - to write is to serve, to write is to learn, to write is to meditate.  I'm going to take a different tact this year, though - I'm going to write more frequently and hopefully much shorter.  I like writing longer posts but I'm spending over 70 hours per week on data.world and then some time on our startup investments - and of course I very much care about spending time with my wife and children.  So, in short there just isn't much room for more.  As a matter of fact, in 2017 I resigned from two non-profit Boards (Conscious Capitalism and Entrepreneurs Foundation) that I really love just to create more time for data.world.  Both were painful decisions for me but a startup really needs that type of focus, and I'm truly having a blast working alongside an incredible team at data.world on a very important mission.

I've already got a running list of seven more topics (and growing quickly) that I plan to write about as soon as I can but for now - for my first post in a long time - I want to talk about the importance of having an Always Be Learning mindset and practice. 

The Incredible Challenge and Joy of Building the data.world Community

The Incredible Challenge and Joy of Building the data.world Community

On July 11, 2016, we launched data.world to the public. Before that date, we were in stealth mode with only this quote on our home page:

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, EVP at SAS (at the World Economic Forum)

It was revealing and very inspirational, if you knew what we were up to. And if you walked into our office, you would have seen our mission statement hanging proudly in the lobby:

To build the most meaningful, collaborative, and abundant data resource in the world.

Last week, we celebrated our one-year anniversary since going live, and I want to take a moment to reflect on the incredible challenge and joy of building the data.world community over the past twelve months.

Back in the arena: the beginning of data.world

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:

My commencement speech for the 2015 MSTC graduates at U.T. Austin

It was an honor on Saturday to be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2015 MSTC (Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization) graduates at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the graduates, Rainya Mosher was kind enough to summarize her takeaways from my speech in her blog post and the full text of the speech follows:

Was 42 the answer to my life, universe, and everything?

Was 42 the answer to my life, universe, and everything?

Today is my 43rd birthday. As I think about the last year, my good friend and CEO coach, Kirk Dando, comes to mind. On page 141 of his excellent book Predictive Leadership, Kirk writes:

Why big life transitions are so hard and why it is so worth it to keep at it

Why big life transitions are so hard and why it is so worth it to keep at it

Life is like a record album, composed of songs to form the whole. From age 24 to 40, I had been playing the song "entrepreneur". I set a goal when I was 25 to one day found a tech company and take it public - by the time I was 40. Fifteen years later, I achieved that goal (my ultimate BHAG - "Big Hairy Audacious Goal"). Society didn't know about this very personal BHAG (only a few friends, my parents, and my wife did), and they expected me to keep playing the same song over and over again. This was natural, expected even. But as I wrote about in my "time is money or is money time" post, I was determined to step back and think deeply about my next move post being the CEO of Bazaarvoice. I didn't want to just set the same goal all over again (i.e., "now I'll found a sixth company and take it public again"). I knew I wanted to help entrepreneurs - I had always enjoyed doing so while I was at Bazaarvoice or Coremetrics but I had done so very sparingly due to the time constraints that I had (managing high-growth ventures takes a lot of time). I had love in my heart for Austin and thought I should do my part, along with many others like Josh Baer of Capital Factory, to help our scene evolve. So I jumped into that part of the arena - but in a more "grandfatherly" role as opposed to being the actual "man in the arena" (a nod to Theodore Roosevelt's powerful speech in 1910). As far as becoming an entrepreneur again and going back to that song, I had to think very deeply about it.

What I love about angel investing

What I love about angel investing

Today is my 43rd birthday (you can read about what I learned over the past year inmy Lucky7 post about age 42). Looking back on my last year, I've grown to really love angel investing. My wife, Debra, and I run a family office that we call Hurt Family Investments. She takes the lead on philanthropic projects, and I take the lead on startup investing. For the past two years, we've invested the same financial amount in non-profits as we have in startups. We always agree on what to invest in - she has to meet the entrepreneurs before we make a decision - and that leverages the best of both of us. Debra is a contrarian thinker and was also born to entrepreneur parents. We both learned a lot about entrepreneurship growing up, and we actually started Coremetrics, my fourth business, together. She has terrific entrepreneurial instincts and there are a number of companies that I haven't started because I listened to her (thankfully), when I was playing the song "entrepreneur" on my record of life. Now, we are involved in 34 startups (mostly in Austin) and multiple VC funds that give us exposure to at least as many additional startups (you can see our portfolio here).

Facebook made the most epic tech company pivot of this decade, and on pivots in general

Facebook made the most epic tech company pivot of this decade, and on pivots in general

Pivots are gut wrenching. The more eyes there are on the company, the tougher they are. Therefore, public-company pivots are usually the most gut wrenching. Many public companies of the past ceased to stay public because their leaders couldn't face the pivot (change is a bitch - who moved my cheese?!), their business radically declined, and they eventually got delisted from NASDAQ or the NYSE.