A day or two ago, I was trimming my beard. It isn’t an unusual thing.

As I worked to tame the gray hairs that have a growth plan that they haven’t seen fit to share with me yet, I had one of those thoughts that can only happen when your are by yourself, working through a thoughtless task – Why am I spending so much time working on the fine details of my hirsute chin?

I don’t enjoy it. I don’t think I do it very well. In fact, Stephanie at StephanieLouis Salon always humors me and tells me I am getting better at it every time I get my haircut. The only time I ever really see my face is the two times a day when I am brushing my teeth. I never comb my hair, and when I shave, the shower mirror doesn’t catch my whole face. The state of my beard is almost comically unimportant to my daily life.

But I worry about my beard. I run my hands along it a dozen times a day and think that I need to deal with this mess. When I see myself in the mirror, I am almost always shocked when I see my beard, not because it is unkempt, but rather I forget that I have a beard. My face doesn’t look on the outside the way it looks on the inside. On the inside, I look the way I did in high school or college – clean-shaven, 30(?) pounds lighter, 30 years younger.

But my face shows a different version of me to you – an adult version of me. It is this hairy, wrinkled face I share with you every day. It is the face that my children see when I tell them I am proud of them. It is the face that I share with my clients and and colleagues when they look for advice or collaboration. It is the face that my wife sees when we face challenges and joys.

This adult face isn’t a mask. It is me. It carries in it all of the times that I have succeeded and failed. It carries all of my pride and shame. It carries all of my love and apathy. It carries all of my joy and sorrow. It carries you in it, too.

The times I see your version of my face, I am always surprised – sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not. However, I wear it happily, because it is your face. It is the face that you and I created together. It is the map of my life.

The version of my face that I carry on the inside looks at all of you with awe. You are accomplished and striving. You are joyful and despondent. You are loved and alone. My face loves your face.

I trim my beard because it belongs to you.

 

 

It has been a long time since I’ve blogged here – I’ve been busy with AdChemix and my sales and marketing blog, Selling to The C, as well as distributed blogging forms like Medium. But it is time to get back here – under my own name.

Look for more content starting soon.

When I wake up in the morning, in those precious few moments before the day begins, before my coffee has circulated all the way to my brain, I get a chance to think. I think about my kids, my wife, our house, and so on. And then, before the day bolts ahead, I think, for just a moment or two, about my company, Adchemix.

Honestly, I think about my company all the time. But in these quiet moments, I think about how I feel about my creation. The rest of the time, I am on a relentless prowl for growth, money, solutions, talent and so on… But in the silent moments, when I get to examine how I feel about Adchemix, I stumble on the right words to describe my state. Primarily, I am just excited. We’ve all seen kids jumping up and down with excitement as the parade prepares to march past. That is how I feel all the time about the solutions that we are creating, and the problems we are solving. This is just fun. The future as always racing closer, and it is full of opportunity and excitement. So, I am just jumping up and down, because I know what is going to happen next, and I can’t wait.

But there is more. It isn’t all fun and games. Building a business is hard. There are financial sacrifices, emotional turmoil, indecision, the never-ending sales process (see my post, Chief Selling Officer), and the constant quest for what is just over the next hill. It is hard work. Still exciting, but hard. There is another feeling that comes along for the ride with excitement – it is the inverse – there is a lot of terror in building a business. The media celebrates entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs are always killing it, crushing it, and whatever other silly words we use to say that we are being successful before we really are… But inside of every builder, of every maker, of every startup founder, there is real terror. Did I make the right choice? Is this the right technology? Is this the right hire? Can we make payroll? Are we going to get fired by our biggest client? Am I smart enough to be the CEO? Am I going to let everybody down?

So, the feeling is excitrified. Excited and terrified. In that moment before the day accelerates, I let myself feel it all. The terror tamps down the excitement so you can make smart choices. The excitement pulls you out of the mental fetal position that the terror can put you in. I love being excitrified. It makes me more alive.

So, there seems to be a theme of me telling people they are wrong in this blog (see here and here and an angry rant). So maybe it is just the nature of an opinion-based blog to do this, but Conductor, the really great SEO tool company, has got it all wrong with their “Break The Addiction to Paid Media” campaign (Hey, guys, you are welcome for the link, BTW.)

Conductor has a new spin on SEO, suggesting that it is no longer about search rankings or keywords, but rather it is “Web Presence Optimization”, using advanced SEO techniques to expose content that appeals to specific “personas” and that will allow consumers to engage better with your content. Apparently Conductor, unknowingly, has been trapped in the world of 1999 SEO where organic search presence was full of doorway pages, skinny content pages and poor results. Web presence optimization, in Conductor’s parlance, is this new approach of creating great content to appeal to different segments of your potential customer base at different points along the purchase or engagement funnel. That sounds AWESOME.

But, hey, isn’t that called marketing?

Marketing is the act of trying to influence a targeted group of people to do what you want. In order to do that, you create compelling content, and gain visibility for it. Conductor is making a strong separation between the value of earned media (i.e., SEO and Social) vs paid media (paid search, social advertising, etc.). They say that paid media is “rented presence” whereas Conductor shaped content is “earned presence”. This is like saying junk mail sent via First Class is somehow more worthy that that sent by bulk rate. Is there a real difference between paying for advertising and creating content that is algorithmically-favored by Google or Facebook? It just changes who you pay, right? SEO, Social, Paid Search – it is ALL advertising! Native ads, advertorials, links, testimonials, retargeting, pop-ups, pop-unders – it is ALL advertising. (By the way, this blog post is a form of advertising, too. I want you to think that I know what the hell I am talking about so that you will hire my company Adchemix, or ask me to speak at a conference, or simply gratify my ego by asking my advice.)

Retargeting From Conductor

Retargeting From Conductor

This blog post is an example of earned media. I have earned any visibility that I get from it because I spent the time to think, write, and hit the publish button. Conductor earned the right to their visibility by coming up with the catchy approach. But then they reinforce their right to visibility with PAID ADVERTISING. OMG.

So, there is no real difference between paid and earned media. It is all media. It is all marketing, and Conductor is trying to influence you to buy their product – that helps you create and promote algorithmically favored content. C’mon guys, you can’t BS a BS’er. Get off your high horse. It’s all advertising, regardless of how you spin it..

I got some new business cards recently. They are nice, if not a little anachronistic. I have 1000 of them. I rarely hand them out. But, my kids are enjoying playing with them. My 11 year old picked one up, and said, “You are the CEO. Does that mean, like, you are the boss?” T responded, “Yeah, Q,  that does mean that I am the boss.”

But as I started to reflect on what I really do as the CEO of Adchemix, I am totally not “the boss” in that captain of industry, autocratic way my son might think. I might change my title, at least in my own head, from Chief Executive Officer, to Chief SELLING Officer. Because what I really do all day is sell.

SALES TARGETS

I have a lot of sales targets. I don’t track them in Salesforce or anything. The most important selling I do happens pretty close to home:

  1. ME: My first sales target was (and continues to be) me. I started with selling myself on starting a company. In some respects, convincing myself that I should was easy. But if you look into the eyes of any founder, you look into the soul of their very best sales target. Regardless of how convinced they are that their idea is phenomenal, every day they have to sell themselves on the idea that they are the one to lead the charge. Trust me, they all do it, every day. Wake up, convince yourself that you deserve another day at the helm, and start kicking some ass. Selling yourself is really hard. You carry baggage, you carry fear, you carry responsibilities, you carry dreams – that sale needs to be made each and every day.
  2. SAM: Then I needed to sell my co-founder on the idea of jumping in on my concept. That was a hard sale. Not because Sam was unwilling or overly cautious, but because I needed to sell him on the idea that I was the right partner, with the right idea at the right time. Now, honestly, entrepreneurs are a pretty optimistic bunch, and consequently, I think we are pretty easily sold. We see opportunity everywhere. Sam was no different. But that is a sale that took gumption on my part and faith on his. The difficult thing about this sale is that it never ends. Every day, I need to re-close this sale, and Sam has to sign up again. We are going on on our 372nd sale. So far, so good.
  3. SPOUSE: This, too, is a sale that needs to be made every day. I need to be able to look at my wife and convince her that this is the right path. She needs to understand that this dream of mine is a dream for us. I think the entreprenuer’s spouse or significant other shares our optimistic outlook. When I tell her that revenue is headed up, she believes me. But regardless of her willingness to be part of this process, I need to continually reinforce the value proposition of the unstable nature of startups. Now, honestly,  my wife is as big a part of Adchemix as anyone, and her buy-in is really high, but everyday, I feel like I need to prove the value of what we are doing.
  4. COMPANY: Yeah, this sounds funny, but you need to sell your own company to your own employees every day. You need to sell the mission, the tactics, the direction, the fun, the joy, the fear…You need to sell it every day to everyone who relies on you to feed their families. This is your most important audience. Because without their buy in, your company fails. Your employees are your MOST important audience every day.
  5. CUSTOMERS: This is pretty obvious, but you need to sell customers to get business, and also to keep business heading in the right direction. Lots of folks talk about this, but as an entrepreneur, you should know that no business is ever safe. You need to reinforce your value proposition to your clients every single time you speak with them.
  6. INVESTORS/BANKERS: This is an easy one. They have the money. You need to sell them on your business, its potential, and YOU.

So, that is what I do all day. And while I might sell like a boss, the CEO isn’t the boss – the CEO is in charge of selling – at least this one is…

            “Obviously, you don’t know much about adventure.” – Cervantes, Don Quixote

 

I had a really good job at a fabulous e-commerce company. Everyday was an exercise in managing runaway growth and creating process. I had a wonderful boss (really, a total peach of a guy – Hi Mike!), got a good paycheck, had great benefits, wonderful co-workers, free snacks, and a great downtown office. Life was good.

 

Then, one day, my wife asked me a simple question, “Hey, how was your day?”And before I knew it, it all tumbled out of my mouth. I was far enough from the C-level where I felt vaguely emasculated. I commuted on a train, I walked into a sterile high-rise office building, As soon as I hit the elevator button, I stopped thinking about my job. In short, I had become somebody that I never expected to be – I was an employee. But I have 5 kids, two mortgages, car payments, horseback riding lessons, college to pay for and more! I couldn’t give up the employee life. I am a responsible adult. I was doing what adults do. They trade their time for money to support those that they love. That is the smart thing to do.

 

It was that day, that I gave myself 7 Reasons To Not Start a Company.

 

  1. Money: Forget about WhatsApp being acquired for $19B, or Oculus Rift going from Kickstarter to $2B acquisition, startups aren’t about money. In fact, according to the Washington Post, about 50% of businesses have closed their doors after 5 years, and over 70% after 10. My father worked for the local power utility for 42 years. Betting your financial health on something that has a 70% chance of ceasing to exist in a decade is a sucker’s bet.
  2. OPM: During the first dot com boom, the goal was to always play with OPM (Other People’s Money). And that is easy, right? Throw together a pitch deck, pop up at a few angel groups, and pretty soon you’ve got a 7-figure bankroll to play with. Easy peasy, no? I was at an IEEE event this week, and I learned that Harvard accepted 5.8% of of its applicants in 2013. Two investor groups (an angel investment group and an early stage VC) shared their 2013 acceptance rates:

   Firm 1: Saw 238 company pitches. Funded 3. (1.26% chance of success.)

   Firm 2: Saw 1300 company pitches. Funded 30. (2.3% chance of success.)

  1. I Want To Work For Myself: That is the dream, isn’t it? To work for oneself, to be the captain of one’s own ship? It is very American, very “Manifest Destiny”, very Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”. But when you run a company, you work for your customers, you work for your employees, you work for your investors, you work for your family. You work for everyone except you. You may be the captain of your own ship, but you are subject to the wind and waves of everyone who is not you.
  2. Life/Work Balance: I have said for years that 2 weeks of vacation isn’t enough. Millions of people in America break their backs for those 14 days of freedom. When you work for yourself, when it is your company, you can spend August at the beach, and take off from Christmas to MLK Day, right? After all it is your company. Guess what happens when you take off for a month? The whole thing grinds to a halt. Decisions don’t get made, business isn’t landed, and your dream floats out with the August tides.
  3. I Really Want To Focus On What I Love: That is admirable. But being an entrepreneur isn’t an exercise in focus, it is in an exercise is keeping everything moving in the right direction until it all magically works. When you run your own business, you end up focusing on things like payroll and tax nexus, HR policies and cap tables, local labor laws and the machinations of regulatory bodies, none of which drive the thing you love. Starting a company often means that you work for the business, not in the business.
  4. I Don’t Want To Deal With: Maybe it is office politics, or selling, or corporate bureaucracy, or whatever. When I start my business, we aren’t going to have THAT. Well, guess what, you are going to have it, or something like it. Those kinds of things that you rail against, you will invent different versions of them. You might not see them immediately, but the folks that work with you will. Organizations are full of compromise and conflict, and, inevitably, your company will have that too.
  5. Finally, I Will Be Able To: Work at home, see my kids, choose my own hours, and so on. Yeah you can do all that but the tradeoffs in stress and sleepless nights isn’t worthwhile. Starting a company isn’t fun, it is work. Really hard, stressful work that obeys no timetable.

 

So that was it. Those 7 rules saved me. They helped clarify my thinking. Those 7 rules lead me down the right path – towards the next rule.

 

RULE 7.5: Screw it. Starting a business is awesome

Dear Red Sox,

Thanks. That was an amazing season. It was thrilling, it was fun, and it was gritty. I will let all the sportswriters make comparisons and parallels to teams past and discuss personalities current. But I want to focus on a single, quiet moment that happened last night while champagne was being sprayed all about the Fens.

My dear 11 year old son, who had just run up and down the chilly street in his pajamas because his joy no longer fit inside his frame, was lying on the couch, basking in the glow of his team’s victory. I put my hand on his head, and I felt him settle into the fatigue that he earned with many late nights and the relief of victory .

For that one, small moment, I was truly connected to him in a new way. We basked in the glow of the team that we follow, that we share, that we treasure. Now, he was alive in 2004 and 2007 for Red Sox victories, but he is, sadly, too young to remember them well. So, those moments belong to me. But 2013 belongs to us. I never got to share this kind of moment with my own father. Despite the fact that my own paternal relationship was really complicated, we missed the opportunity for this simple joy. Maybe it was the Curse or bad luck, but our beloved BoSox never reached these peaks of success while he was alive. Because of the complications, if my father and I had ever had the chance to share this kind of joy, the connection would have frayed by the time the revelers left Kenmore Square. But this moment, with my dear boy, will last.

So, all I can say is thank you. It was a great season, and this victory is a touchstone that my son and I can share forever.

 

Gratefully,

T

OK, Sportfans, quick ramblings on a chilly Monday morning in Boston:

    1. Amazon: My curious 4 year old twins are truly denizens of the digital age. They were able to spend $23.99 on their favorite TV show on our Kindle Fire (which, btw, for $139 is an awesome deal – great media consumption tablet). It was a show that we already own. I contacted Amazon and they processed a refund with no issues, despite the fact that their return policy for video is final sale. I was geared up for a fight, and Amazon made it easy. This is why their revenue is growing dramatically. Fantastic pricing and fantastic service. Every retailer should be this facile.
    2. Baseball: The Red Sox are keeping me up late at night. The Detroit Tigers series was amazing and thrilling. The current World Series against the Cardinals is whacky, but equally engaging. There is something so compelling about the long-form playoff, with evolving story lines and characters that doesn’t happen in short form playoffs, like the NFL. The drama around match ups and reflections upon last night’s performance makes this drama of the highest order. With the Cards running out amazingly young, amazingly talented big-armed pitcher after pitcher, and the rag-tag Red Sox shuffling lineups to work some kind of arcane statistical advantage, the umpiring crew taking on an out-sized position in determining the outcome and nearly every game running to a fevered pitch in the late innings, this is what makes sports, and specifically baseball, so compelling. And for hero worship, there is no sport better. Almost every play lends itself to the opportunity to do something extraordinary, and this series has given us heroes and goats. Heros, villains, flaws and gods – this out of the Iliad.
    3. Books: OK – back to more books. After my last recap of baseball books, I wanted to give you three more books that have captured my interest:
      • We Are Water, by Wally Lamb, while trendy of topic (same sex marriage), is something is on my short read list because I have missed Wally Lamb’s voice. (If you never read it,  please give She’s Come Undone a chance to witness the emergence of a unique voice in American letters.)
      • Jim Henson – A new biography of Jim Henson. Despite his impact on millions (billions?) of children worldwide, I know next to nothing about the creative genius that created the Muppets. I heard the author on NPR, and I want to dive in.
      • David & Goliath: I am a sucker for Malcolm Gladwell. He has that kind of wild-haired genius and insight that those of us who have neither wild-hair nor any discoverable genius can only imagine. But better than just insight, they guy is a phenomenal story teller. He makes his insight come alive, and his subjects aren’t examples, but rather characters. There is a Tom Wolfe/Michael Lewis ability to make real people into wonderfully exciting characters. It is a gift and I look forward to cracking open the digital cover of his latest.

That’s it for today, I have to save my energy to be able to watch tonight’s baseball game!

So, I read an article on Bookish.com the other day from a Sports Illustrated writer about his favorite baseball books. So, I thought I would throw (ha – see what I did there? Throw – baseball – HA!) together my own list:

  1. Ball Four: Great, funny scandalous work about the real life of a baseball player. Written by the very funny Jim Bouton, who in addition to being a knuckleballer, helped invent Big League Chew. This takes you through baseball in the 1960s and 1970s – different than today, but fun, engaging and timeless.
  2. The Art of Fielding: College baseball, May-December secret romances, depression, and a scruffily bearded friend and an untimely death. What else do you need?
  3. Catcher with a Glass Arm: OK, so anything by Matt Christopher had me riveted when I was 8, but this book has stayed with me for decades. (And I was a little crushed when my baseball obsessed son didn’t love it as much as I did, but when I read it, it is a little dated. But whatever. It still makes the list.
  4. The Catcher Was a Spy: Baseball and spies?!? Yeah, the story of Moe Berg, a journeyman catcher who just happened to work for the OSS. Awesome stuff. Read it. Seriously.
  5. Shoeless Joe: I will admit that the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams was actually better than the book, but totally read it. There is magic here..
  6. A Pitcher’s Story: Anything that Roger Angell writes about baseball is worth reading. And when he writes about thoughtful and passionate people like David Cone, only good things can happen.
  7. Moneyball: Baseball is a business. And I dare anyone to find a better business writer than Michael Lewis. He makes dull things like WAR (wins above replacement value) come alive, and makes drama from the data that is the business of baseball. Skip the Brad Pitt version and read the book. It is great.
  8. Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion: So, Roger Angell makes it twice. His look at baseball is just the right mix of cerebral and emotional. He is enthralled with the boyhood hero-worship of the men that roam the green grass of the diamond. But he knows that they are flawed and imperfect heroes. This kind of tension haunts Angell’s writing to make him the finest long-form baseball writer ever. (I would posit that Peter Gammons is the finest short-form writer.)
  9. The Wrong Stuff: So, it ISN’T a great book. Bill “Spaceman” Lee is completely insane, and his editorial voice wanders. But this is reminiscent of Bouton. Bill Lee was (and is, still) an original voice in baseball. For any Red Sox fan, this is worth reading.
  10. Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball : You either like George Will or you hate him. I dislike his conservatism immensely. However, he has a romance with baseball that is true and real. Like Angell, he wonders at the majesty of the players – their athleticism, their grace. But he sees them for who they are, and it is this flawed hero worship that I am drawn to again and again.

What are your favorites?

I read Rob May’s post on Venture Beat over the weekend. The general thrust is this – the internet kills innovation because everyone in tech is part of a self-selecting club. We wear the same pants, all have the same phone, like the same stuff, therefore the culture and viewpoint of the tech community is fixed and unchanging.

There is an argument to be made around insular communities driving self-reinforcing beliefs. Political parties, religions, and cults all require some agreement on fundamental values and world-views before you join. They then give you a world-view that reinforces their premise. So, sure, they can be limiting because they force you to think about things from a particular viewpoint. Tech can be insular, too. Check out Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble (and I wrote about this book here). Basically, Google watches what you click on and feeds you more stuff like it, so if you are liberal, you see more liberal leaning content, etc. That can be insular, too.

But Rob, to say that the internet is killing innovation is just this side of silly. The internet has made our world more connected. And you are right, connectedness breeds cultural cross-contamination. But that is the nature of human interaction. It has happened for hundreds of thousands of years. Languages, religions, fashions and political beliefs have spread over the world and given different cultures a common place to engage. When ideas and beliefs spread, they change both the converted and the evangelist.

You say that we’ve homogenized the startup culture – you may be right in a superficial way. Homogenization doesn’t mean that innovation is dead, it just means that you have to look a little more closely to see the variations in community and culture that rest beneath the obvious surface similarities. Because we all speak English (language is a very homogenizing force) US/UK/AUS aren’t the same – and Spain and Mexico could hardly be more different.

What you call homogenized, I call connected. So, yeah, tech folks may all have iPhones and think about artisanal foods, but we are connected in those commonalities. Those commonalities allow us to discuss those things that are dissimilar in our approach – and that is where innovation comes from. You and I both wear glasses and have facial hair – and you are in Cambridge, MA and I am in Arlington, MA. It seems like we would be the same, then. Homogeneous, even. I bet we aren’t.

So, forget about dismissing the internet as a force that kills innovation. Forget about surface homogenization as a crushing blow to ingenuity. Forget haircuts, forget phones and focus on the particular set of experiences and emotional influences that you brought to this very moment. They are the fuel that powers disruptive thinking – not what kind of restaurants you frequent. You have confused social trends and proclivities for thinking.

Let’s have lunch sometime – somewhere outside of Kendall Sq – you know – in the real world 😉