Kirk Dando

An unusual, but beautiful, method of forming your company's values

I've got the Conscious Capitalism Summit on my mind as I write this.  Specifically, the main Summit (in Dallas this year), which my daughter, Rachel, and I are leaving for tonight.  Rachel is one of the keynotes and I couldn't be more proud of her.  She will be speaking about the process of writing her first book, Guardians of the Forest, which has been her dream since she was eight-years old and just happened this past January, after a year of work and years of saving up to pay for it (she paid 100% of her savings to the illustrator, Ryan Durney).  My good friend, John Mackey, will be introducing her on stage.  He has been a mentor to me for years and most recently her, for her book.  There are many good lessons for living a fulfilled life in her book and she is certainly an emerging conscious capitalist.  You can see all of the speakers here, and in the spirit of the post I wrote at the beginning of this year on continuous learning, I highly recommend you attend this Summit in the future (or the CEO Summit if you qualify).

But I've got the Conscious Capitalism Summit on my mind for another reason, and it is because of what it has taught me as an entrepreneur.  Last year, at the CEO Summit version of their events, I heard a CEO say on stage, "If you want to learn something amazing, just ask each of your employees to share with you the core values that they bring to work each and every day."  This immediately resonated with me as I had been thinking about how beautiful our culture was becoming at data.world but yet we hadn't written our core values down yet.  This isn't that unusual, BTW.  We didn't write down our core values at my previous startups, Coremetrics and Bazaarvoice, until we were around this age.  You want to get some operating history and some significant team build-out going before you do this exercise or it is just aspirational with no real resonance for how you've actually been living your day-to-day business life as a collective.

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. 

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:

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).

Listening to your soul

Last week was one of the toughest I’ve had. But the struggle was worth it. In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he outlines how one’s search for meaning – when conducted authentically – is very hard.

I’m writing to tell you that I’ve decided not to continue to pursue Hurt+Harbach. Please let me be very clear up front on several things:

What Hurt+Harbach learned at Lola Savannah, and our next three events

What Hurt+Harbach learned at Lola Savannah, and our next three events

August 27th is a day that Jeff and I will never forget. We spent the evening with many of Austin's best entrepreneurs at the perfect communual venue - Lola Savannah. Together, we began mapping out the future of Hurt+Harbach, and the Austin entrepreneurial scene. We intended to keep the event small - at around 50 people - but hummingbirds can't be stopped and around 125 showed with just a few days notice. All throughout Lola Savannah, boards were displayed with provocative questions and answers were gathered via post-it notes. The awesome Stacy Weitzner, Creative Director of Sunni Brown, Ink, created a mural in real-time in the back to visually represent and memorialize it. It was a happening scene, and it was both humbling and energizing to be a part of it all. The beginning of something really great.

Middle-aged entrepreneurs - this is your five-step program to freedom

Middle-aged entrepreneurs - this is your five-step program to freedom

We are at the tail-end of RISE week here in beautiful Austin. If I was an aspiring entrepreneur, I would take a vacation during RISE week and attend as many sessions as I could. I was happy to do my part and present on fundraising both Monday at Austin Ventures as well as Tuesday along with panelists from CTAN (the Central Texas Angel Network). And, overall, it has been another great week for Austin, with TechStars announcing their launch, which I wrote about in this Lucky7 post.

How to leverage advisors and investors as your extended team

As an entrepreneur, I fostered an unusual communication practice with our investors and advisors. I treated them as I would have wanted to be treated if I were in their shoes. This is the Golden Rule in action.

You need to have empathy for those that you raise money from. They aren't the "man in the arena" (one of my favorite quotes from Theodore Roosevelt), but they can be very supportive - should you choose to treat them as part of your extended team. They are putting their money (if they are angel investors) - or their investors' money (as is the case for venture capitalists) - into your venture and you should treat that capital as if it were your own. And if it were your own capital ask yourself, "What kind of updates would I want?" My guess is you would want to always know how the business is doing and how you could help the business - and therefore help your investment. Part of the thrill of investing is to see the entrepreneur succeed - both changing their life and many other people's lives in the process. Investors enjoy telling their friends - other investors and family - about the success of your business. The journey is more important than any return they get (although to be clear they don't want to lose either their money or their investors' money). The more they help you, the more they live vicariously through you - and their fingerprints are all over your business. This is called a "helper's high" by my good friend and CEO coach, Kirk Dando (you can read more about Kirk and the value of CEO coaches in my Lucky7 post about the 7 lessons learned on the journey from founder to CEO).