There is No Such Thing as a Great Team, Only Great Habits

Sometimes, an investor gets lucky.  They invest in a company with an idea that doesn't go anywhere, the company pivots, and you wind up in the next big thing.  

In hindsight, an investor will tell you that they knew they had backed a great team and that was the key to the investment.  It's never luck.  

I have a lot of trouble with the "great team" scenario, because it just doesn't seem to play out in real life.  What about when a company clearly makes a stupid acquisition?  When they spend hundreds of millions to buy you only to turn off your product and shut it off later, were you a great team, but you wouldn't have been a great team if you ran out of money two weeks earlier?

Is greatness innate?  Are you born to be an entrepreneur?  

Why don't all the people who have "great" entrepreneurial qualities succeed?  Wouldn't there be some test you could give all first time entrepreneurs to gage their entrepreneurial prowess to understand how good they'll be at running a company?

It feels like a lot of hocus pocus half the time--where we mistake agressiveness and ambition for qualities of good management in startups.  Maybe that's why half the time it seems that entrepreneurs are getting in trouble these days--because investors aren't as good as we think they are at funding the kind of people you want to back.

Adam D'Augelli, a very smart investor over at True Ventures, mentioned to me the other day something that rang true--that the best entrepreneurs update their investors with metrics, not stories.  That made a lot of sense to me, but what also led from that was the idea that watching metrics was a habit, not something you're born with.  It's something that anyone can get into the habit of doing.  Knowing your metrics and following them is a discipline and being disciplined is really what being a manager is all about.  Do you create processes that bring the right people to your company?  Do you create processes that allow them to communicate well with each other and execute?  The thing that makes a team more than just a collection of individuals is a system.  

The best entrepreneurs I've worked with have great habits and they create great habits in their companies.  They have a way to do just about everything--including how they go about learning what they don't know.  Good learning habits are key to success, because no one is born knowing everything.

I like this habit model of great entrepreneurs because it means anyone can get their given determination and discipline.  It makes greatness accessable.  

It's the same with culture.  Culture isn't innate to a company--it's a series of habits and practices.  It derives from conscious language choices when you hear from management both in public and private--from where incentives are placed, and related to how much emphasize is put on values, communication, and mutual respect.  It doesn't just happen.  It's a habitual practice.  

It's very similar to my own experience with running.

When you're younger, so much of your physical ability derives from the randomness of who sprouts up earlier, who was born just before the cutoff and happens to be almost a year older than everyone, etc.  Over time, those advantages disappear as the playing field evens out.  Your ability to be a good runner at the recreational level, as you get older, has more to do with your diet and exercise routine than it has anything to do with genetics.  In the top 1%, that might not hold, but I'm routinely finishing around the top 5% of my races these days without ever having been anything in the realm of being a top athlete when I was younger.  I'm just a lot more disciplined than a lot of my 30-something peers these days, and that's a big advantage.

Greatness is a practice that anyone can achieve.  I like it better that way.  

The Things that Will Break in My Lifetime

The Cost of a College Education

I just looked up how much my alma mater costs in tuition.  Fordham University, the 56th best college in the country, is now $44,000 a year.  That's a 6% annual increase since 1997 when I started and it was $16,000 a year.  Take that forward to when my future kid might be going to school and you're talking $141,000 a year tuition.  

What in the world could college possibly do for you to justify over half a million dollars in cost.  There's no way anyone will be able to economically justify that cost.  Hell, it would be cheaper just to hire private tutors in every subject and pay for the kid to live in a cheap apartment somewhere.  There's no way the college cost bubble won't implode.

 

Obesity

Diabetes rates, especially among kids, are off the charts and at some point, we're going to have to get serious about eating real food and exercising.  You'll see more and more companies like Tinkergarten that motivate kids and parents to get out of the house and out from behind the screen.  Maybe we'll figure out the ice bucket challege for heart disease, but if we don't turn our attention from long tail diseases that affect 30,000 people annually, a dozen potential ISIS trained Americans living somewhere in the US and the infintissimally small threat of child kidnapping, we'll figure out how to address the #1 cost burden on our healthcare system and actual killer of humans.  

 

Mobile Distraction

Look around the next time you go into a restaurant.  Both adults and kids are face down in their phones--swiping, liking, texting, etc.  Up to a quarter of auto crashes involve cell phones these days.  It's even causing marital difficulties as partners are complaining that their spouses just aren't present in the small amount of personal time they have together.  We're soon going to realize that we don't need every single notification at every single moment and the phones will get put away in favor of devices like Ringly that screen the world and filter notifications to right time/right place.

 

Cable Television

The idea of a channel that you pay for over and above just a data pipe is definitely going to go the way of the printed local newspaper.  When I can download any show, why am I paying for the channel that carries the show?  

 

The Release Cycle of Content

It's already happening.  Look at House of Cards--the full season gets released all in one day.  Soon, someone is going to enable me to pay $50 to watch Guardians of the Galaxy in my house the day it gets released.  Companies like Drip create a direct relationship between creators and content where you could send something to your fans every week instead of going through traditional channels to create and launch an album.  

 

The Job

One day, we'll mostly be freelancers, floating from project to project--and the idea that you only do one thing, working for a company will be the exception rather than the rule.  

 

Personal Lives

One day, no one is going to give a crap what you do on your own time.  You'll elect a single, atheist President or someone in an open relationship and it just won't matter to anyone.  The idea that we cared that anyone did anything that isn't any worse than stuff we've done will be a moot point.  

The Things that Fall Down

The other day, I found this neat inbox stats tool from Front App called Inbox Checkup.  (Thanks Product Hunt!) I've been wanting something like this for a while.  

Apparently, I respond to 18% of my e-mails, way above the average of 11%, and was #62 out of over 4,000 in terms of e-mails sent.  It was happy to know that I'm getting to a lot of things.  

Unfortunately, I was also #145 in actually getting e-mails, so what that also means is that while I'm getting to a lot, I'm also missing out on a lot.  What is painful is when I know there's that one note I should be responding to or one thing I promised to do that just keeps getting pushed off to the next day.  Like a splinter, you feel it distracting you just a little bit.

What's hard is that other people don't understand it.  What they've asked you to do will just take a minute.  Why is that so hard?

Those minutes add up, though... and you have to make some priorities.  I need to call my parents, my nana, respond back to that text about where I'm having dinner tonight, and oh yeah, my softball team needs an extra player for tonight otherwise we'll forfeit, so that's a problem.  And that's just personal stuff that doesn't include my desire to go to the gym or get some extra biking in so that I can beat Dave Morgan in our charity challege for the marathon. (Donate!)

I've got things I need to do for my portfolio companies, deals in process, investors of mine asking questions, and the list goes on and on...

And with each new thing, you try and slot it in somewhere... and sometimes, it's after midnight and you're done.  Whatever was on that list, well, this teller window is now closed and it will just have to wait.

It's frustrating and there really isn't a good solution, unless someone wants to make extra minutes in the day.  I feel like I'm getting to a ton and super efficient--but that doesn't mean I don't feel bad when I fail to recommend that content person to a few VC firms I know, or I didn't pitch that later stage video startup to a couple of investors.  There was that young entrepreneur who wanted an intro to the brand rep I knew back in the fall--he's in my mind, too.  There are probably about five or ten things just floating around that I never got around to.  I have a vertical blind missing from my living room window.  There's chicken in the freezer I needed to throw out....like... two years ago probably.  

Sometimes, it just falls down the list.

 

Resolve to Be

Last night, at a New Years Eve party, I asked a few people if they had any resolutions for 2014.  It was a mix of the usual--get more sleep, wake up early, eat better, go to the gym, get something accomplished at work, etc.

No matter what people said, though--it all seemed kind of... well... fragile.  When you resolve to do something, so many things could get in the way, not the least of which is a change of priorities.  Maybe running a marathon isn't going to be nearly as important to you by the time November comes. 

That's why instead of resolving to *do* anything, I'm thinking about the ways I could resolve to *be*.  I may or may not break 2:30 in my triathalon, but I can be more attentive, be a better friend, be more organized, more thoughtful and more curious.  

Goals about what kind of person I want to be keeps me focused on the drivers and intentions, not the results.  If you can change your intentions, it's like fixing the operating system versus changing up the apps--and everything will run closer to the way you want it to.

 

When New York City comes together for the Marathon #ingnycm

There are only a few times in my life where I felt like all of NYC was on the same page--sharing the same moment, and most of them were pretty bad.  We all went through 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy together, but of course, we'd rather not have had to endure those tragedies, even though we were resiliant.  

The blackout was shared citywide, and I suppose we fared ok, taking it in stride and even having a little fun, but again, we probably wouldn't choose to go through it again if we had to.

Sports championships aren't the same.  Yankee fans weren't all that enthused in '86 and lord knows us long sufferring blue and orange folk weren't thrilled to have to see the Pinstripes come down Broadway time and time again.  At least I'm not a Jet fan, too.

But yesterday--yesterday was all in for the NYC Marathon, including me.  I finally ran my first after last year obviously didn't work out.  The race was extremely hard.  I'm not going to lie--it was the hardest phyiscal thing I've ever pushed myself to do, and I say that after doing four NYC Triathlons and a Tough Mudder.  

Pro Tip:  Write your name on your shirt so everyone cheering will call your name out across all 26.2 miles.  That really helped.

Being a part of yesterday was like something I've never experienced.  Literally, the whole city was watching--across so many different communities, both local and international.  Standing on the Verrazano Bridge was amazing--and it's the one time you can do that.  I've cycled over just about every other bridge we have.  

Honestly, it was really hard not to run too fast, which I completely did, because of all the excitement.  Yes, I blame you, NYC, with all your cheering, makeshift signage and little kid high fives, for convincing me that I could run at an 8:15 pace the whole day.  That dream died around Mile 17, with 8:30 dying around Mile 20.  

Damn you supportive folk!

I saw my dad just after the bridge, on the turn to 92nd street in Bay Ridge.  I ran out of the turn over to give him a high five.  I think he was holding the "Go Charlie" sign my mom had made for one of my triathlons.  Hilarious.

I'm glad he made it out, because he has a knack for talking himself out of crowds and events.  He'd generally watch things on the big screen and his couch, and avoid the frustration of parking, pushing, shoving, but he picked out a spot and made it work.  

I need to thank two other specific people.  One kid, I'll probably never know.  Around Mile 18 on the Upper East Side, I was in serious need of some food.  I burned right through breakfast, and was on the hunt for something solid, regretting that I had passed on earlier offerings.  I visually scanned the crowd for small yellow curvatures and spotted one out of the corner of my eye--a little kid who was awkwardly holding onto a banana.  He was so small that I think he was standing under the rope.  I'm not totally sure he knew what he was supposed to do with it.  I almost ran past him and then doubled back a little bit with my hand out.  I hope that wasn't his banana, but he did hand it to me as I approached.  It was a lifesaver.  Thanks, kid.  

Once I got through the Bronx and back into the city, I was in one foot in front of the other mode, chanting "Forward" to myself as I mentally did the math on how fast I needed to go to still make four hours.  Things were not going well and the mile markers weren't coming fast enough.  As I exited the park, each attempt to move just a little faster was greeted with cramps in each calf.  

Then, out of the blue, I saw Cyna Alderman, who runs the NY Daily News Innovation Lab and who couldn't be more enthusiastic about working with the startup community.  A career lawyer, she's turned her attention towards innovation in the publishing space and has been incredibly fun to work with.  I didn't expect to see her--other than my Dad and a random friend from junior high school I hadn't spotted too many people in the crowd that day.  It couldn't have been better timing.  She screamed her head off when she saw me and it was enough to kickstart my legs.  I started my ususal all out sprint to the finish with about a half mile to go.

My legs had other plans and my left hamstring cramped up big time.  I said out loud, "Oh, no no no no... we're doing this.  I don't care, " and ran through it.  I'll deal with you later, legs.  I sprinted into the park and grunted my way in with each step.  There might have been grandstands of people, I'm really not sure.  I just locked onto the Finish Line, and just pumped as hard as I could. 

Done!

It was incredibly rewarding--but honestly, that wasn't even the best part.

The best part was after--on the street, in the subways, on Twitter and Instagram.  Everyone knows what you went through.  The moment I finished, I was getting texts of congratulations.  I called my mom as soon as I crossed, knowing that she was tracking me on the iPad she's just learning to use.  She's not feeling well enough quite yet to navigate the walk and the crowds, but the internet and Apple brought the race into her living room in a very personal way.

Some Hispanic guy on the subway fistbumped me after asking about the run.

"All five boroughs?  Serious?  Mad props, yo.  Congrats."

There was a couple who had just gotten engaged riding along with us.  Seemed like she said yes, but perhaps on the condition that he gets his lazy ass into the race next year.  

A girl tried to give me her seat, but I was too afraid I wouldn't be able to get back up again.  I'd rather lean against the pole in my bright orange poncho, but thanks.  The sales associate in Foot Locker asked me if I had won--and I thought about the Kenyans.  You know, everyone thinks what they do is about stamina, but then you have to remember that they're running like 12-13 miles per hour, too.  That's the most impressive part about their run--they're running the whole marathon faster than most people can sprint.  

Everyone I saw on the street congratulated me--and there were thousands, millions of people headed home, talking about the race.  Everyone gets behind you, whether they know you or not.

Well, thank you, New York.  I couldn't have done it without you.  I'm glad to see you back up on your feet after last year.  It's days like yesterday that make me wonder why anyone ever asks me, "Do you think you'll ever live somewhere else?"  

Seriously?

Why?