12/15/19

The Feel For Running A Business

There are a great many things in life in which there is an element of earthy knowledge that I call “The Feel.” The Feel is real.

In my own life, I’ve run businesses for more than 33 years and have advised others for 8 years, ran Army units for 5 years. One of the big differences I find is the comfort with which a CEO is able to settle into the job and run the business, not solely by feel, but with a sense of feeling they know what they are doing.

I experienced this notion in a number of different undertakings:

There is a moment when you are sailing a largish sailboat when the wind, the sails, the heel of the boat, the current, the swells, the point of sail are all in perfect equilibrium. You can hear the wind wind singing in the shrouds. You are in the slot and you can feel it. If you let the wheel go, the boat stays obediently on that point of sail until one of those elements change. This is The Feel and, baby, you’ve got it.

When you are landing an airplane in a crosswind, you have to dip the upwind wing, you stand on the rudder, you control the speed, you manage the angle of attack, you tease the throttle — done well, the plane obeys and while it is wont to move about on short final because of the crosswind, it does not. The plane touches the upwind wheel, gently puts the other one down, you keep a bit of that rudder in, and you roll down the centerline of that runway. Because you have mastered The Feel of it.

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12/6/19

Field Expedient

As the CEO/Founder of a startup, you will develop practices that you know work. Many times, these practices will not be perfectly “normal.” They will reflect your own personal style or they will be things that you just know work.

These are what I call field expedients.

Back in the day, when I was a combat engineer officer overseas, I had a damn good sergeant who worked for me. We were blowing up old fortifications in South Korea just south of the DMZ. When we demolished them, we cut all the rebar with cutting torches, removed the concrete pieces with dozers, dug a big hole, and buried the detritus (reinforced concrete). I used to recover all the steel and send it down to Seoul.

Then, we rebuilt them — often in slightly different locations and to a substantially higher structural strength — to withstand then modern artillery.

Here’s a picture of what it looks like when 100 lbs of C4 is exploded underneath a shallow bridge abutment. The bridge abutment was in the way of our river crossing site if we had to attack into North Korea. So, me and another sergeant used scuba gear and wedged 100 lbs of C4 under it and voila!

Blasting Out Old Bridge Column

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11/24/19

CEO Shoptalk — Balance, Intensity

Lovely sunny day in the ATX. Ahh, on Earth as it is in Texas!

As a young, first time CEO, you may hear a lot about work-life balance. It is a worthy subject and suggests that there is some balance beam wherein work sits calmly on the left and life sits serenely on the right and it is your job to find the delicate balance between these two extremes, or, worse still, to create that balance. Good luck with that.

To which notion your Big Red Car says: Poppycock!

First, go look at my qualifier — “. . . young, first time CEO.” I am talking to you and not the serial 5X entrepreneur, who not only can achieve such balance in his/her life, but can teach the subject.

I am speaking to you if you are that young, first time CEO — slightly confused by the novelty of it all, a bit perplexed by the complexity, willing to work your way out of a jam, and with a fire in your belly that can weld titanium.

For you, go all in. Take the leap. Burn the boats. Get the tattoo. Feed the monster. Just do it.

The intensity that a young person — let’s say 22-35 — brings to an entrepreneurial, startup endeavor is similar to what I experienced in the Army upon graduation from Virginia Military Institute last century.

The last vestiges of the Vietnam War were still about (the US Embassy in Saigon would be stormed and taken in early May 1975). It was a time in which the Army was working 24/7/365 and nobody was feeling sorry for themselves or complaining. It was what was done.

Similarly, I want to urge you as a young, first time CEO to operate on a equivalent war time footing.

There are a few caveats:

 1. Exercise regularly to counter the stress.

 2. Eat right. Eat well. Drive your energy from your food.

 3. Get a physical and adhere to the doctor’s admonitions. Tell him you are an entrepreneur and that you are working some incredible hours. [Maybe he will want to invest some of his healthcare bonanza in your fledgling startup. JK]

 4. Have a written plan. Please have a written Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, and be receptive to developing a Culture.

A written plan ensures that you strike a square blow on the nail that is your business. An angled blow, a disorganized blow — bends the nail, requires remedial work, and results in a weakened nail when next you get ready to strike it. For all that is good and holy, have a written plan.

 5. Take regular cleansing vacations — not to Bali — wherein you disconnect from everything digital. Do it for at last 2 days, twice a year.

 6. Celebrate your birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and those of your parents. If you have a beloved, then get them in the mix.

 7. Go to church and learn to pray. This will turn out to be very soothing and calming. It is a skill, like learning to code.

 8. Get a CEO coach, a mentor, a gray haired eminence. This is a relief valve, and it is always helpful to have someone tell you, “Sorry, that’s normal” when the butterflies turn to condors and try to claw their way out of your acid pool of a stomach on THOSE days. Sorry. It is normal.

 9. Spend ten minutes a day writing in a diary. This will document something very important — the journey. You will look back after a year and say, “Holy smokes was I that freakin’ naive. Did I really get that much stuff done?”

If you will only do those nine things, then you can work like a whirling dervish and say, “Work balance, be damned!”

You can’t do it forever, but you can while you’re young and a first time CEO. While you’re learning your craft.

Then, guess what? You learn your craft, you become an experienced CEO and the world is all milk and honey. Unfortunately, you turn out to be lactose intolerant and it never really gets “easy” but you learn to do it.

Be well, amigo.

But, hey,  what the Hell do I really known anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Have a great week.

10/25/19

Ownership v Stewardship For The CEO Class

Stewardship — huh?

It is cold in the ATX this morning — 48F, but it will be 62F this afternoon and 82F on Saturday. I may lay off the sunscreen today, but back on it on Saturday.

So, about a year and a half ago, I’m speaking with a recently exited CEO who is in that special place that drives the question, “What’s next? Is there a second act?”

Luckily for him, this question of a second actship (see what I did right there, made that word up) is not really a pressing issue as the financial outcome provides breathing room for a couple of centuries — maybe a millenium — at his current burn rate.

So, we get to discussing, “What did you really learn? What do you leave with other than money?”

We get into the discussion of ownership v stewardship.

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10/21/19

CEO Shoptalk — Trust, A Deliverable Commodity

One of those days in the ATX when you know things are going to be alright — not a cloud in the sky, Pantone blue [Pantone PMS Process Blue C/#0085ca].

So, a CEO is talking to me about trust in a global sense. We define it thusly: Trust is the reliance upon the integrity, strength, surety of a person or a thing thereby engendering confidence.

Seems to fit the bill. From a business perspective, it is one of those things that you want, but how do you manage it?

So, he says, “To get this conversation started tell me some things or people you trust.” To which I reply thusly.

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10/8/19

Chaos >>> Order

If you are a founder, entrepreneur, startup CEO then you are familiar with the notion of transforming chaos into order. [OK, let me say — “I hope you are.” However, we both know it is not as well ingrained as we might hope.]

If you are an “aspirin” startup — meaning the raison d’etre of your love child is to reduce the pain of mankind, the chaos is the pain and the order is the pain free — or lessened pain — environment that results thereafter.

If you are a “vitamin” startup — meaning the raison d’etre of your little bastard is to improve the quality of life, the chaos is the inferior quality of the before and the order is the higher quality plane of the after.

There is a decided “before” v “after” transformation.

Bit extreme, but it makes my point. Guy lost a lot of weight? What a magical transformation. I imagine he feels a lot better. Took those bad eating habits and created some order, no?

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10/4/19

Product Positioning — May I Please Have A Hard Seltzer?

Somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind is a thought trying to break its way into your consciousness — it is repeating a mantra: Product, Price, Placement, Promotion — maybe joined by: Positioning, People, Packaging. A lot of P’s.

Image it like a Gregorian Chant coming at you like a throbbing headache.

Do you recognize the basics of marketing? Yes you do.

Product

Packaging

Price

People

Placement

Positioning

Promotion

Could there be some overlap in these subjects? Sure, but work with me on this.

Today, we talk about the positioning of a relatively new product — hard seltzer.

Hard seltzer is an emerging product with $295MM in sales last year. It is not yet an important slice of the beer, wine, and spirits market, but it suggests, and illuminates an interesting phenomenon.

You have to position your product for the audience you want to attract and appeal to. Getting out in front of the competition in an emerging market is always a big of all right, no?

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09/8/19

Transformational Storytelling

As a CEO of a startup or a company that has escaped from the cradle into “small company-dom” you are in a constant state of storytelling, storytelling that dictates the transformation of you as the CEO and your company.

As a writer of stories, you are told to “write what you know” while your Big Red Car believes the correct bit of inspiration is: “Write what you imagine based on what you know.”

They key thing here is that you are not writing a history, but a story of what the future will be because you are charged with creating that future.

 

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