Call Option on the Next Big One

Have you kicked yourselves for not investing in or working on virus related technologies the past few years? You’d be in the spotlight right now. Of course chances are your funding would’ve dried up by now unless you timed things perfectly. That rarely happens in life.

Imagine this. You saw Bill Gates TED talk in 2015:

After that you decided to start a pandemic focus fund or company. I think there are ways you could’ve prepped for this outbreak while not running out of cash.

For example, design and line up manufacturers for a simple ventilator. Don’t manufacture it until needed. Do the same with dialysis machines. Work on a platform that can quickly spin up new vaccines like Moderna. They’re in the driver seat for a new vaccine. This platform could be used for other vaccines to make money waiting for the Big virus outbreak. For medical supplies, you could stockpile but that’s costly. You could also have production lined up but not sure if that’s possible. Then for testing you could have a platform that doesn’t need swabs. Breath comes to mind. That’s super biased though since we’re working on a breath platform,

So what big catastrophe is next? Climate Change. Yes. The electrical grid. Yes. Let’s talk about that one. Maybe the chances of the grid going down in parts of the USA for two weeks are almost zero, but if it does, it’s Catastrophic. No water. No electricity or heat. No transportation. No Internet. No communication.

I don’t think we can comprehend how much our lives would be affected. A terrorist attack is probably the most likely to bring down the grid for a long period of time.

Other countries have regular power outages. They’re used to it. They’re less fragile. The USA is super fragile.
Should someone start a fund or startup to prevent a complete grid shutdown? I don’t know. It sounds kind of fun but you need to sell a Hollywood story to potential investors. But many of the processes and tech that would make our grid and generation more resilient, like grid batteries and alternative energy, are helpful for climate change too. That could work.

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New Ideas

I wish I could find a new amazing idea every week. Wouldn’t that be fun. But good new ideas are rare.

I want to build a robot that will do my laundry and cook for me. That’s an idea. But it’s not a very good one. How in the world do you execute that. It’ll happen. But you’ll run out of money before it’s commercially ready in 15 years.

We’re looking for good ideas with a good team. The idea needs to be executable in the nearish future. And the team would ideally have some startup experience. Without that experience it’s a steep learning curve. If the idea person or inventor doesn’t have that experience, might be good to find a partner who does.

It also has to be the right timing for an idea. That’s almost half the battle. If you time an idea correctly, the wave will cover a lot of inexperience or mistakes. How do you know it’s the correct time? That’s hard to know. You often won’t until you’re multiple years into a startup. You really need to find that famous customer market fit. 

But there will be indications of good timing along the way. One indicator is that potential partners and clients actually call you back. They want things to move forward. If you’re constantly harassing them with minimal initiative on their part, that’s not a good sign.

The other way to know is that channel partners are eager to sell you. If they can sell you, then you’re on to something. Or if customers find you on Google naturally, that’s money.

I’ve never been a part of something that felt like perfect timing. Maybe no one has. But some startups definitely time it right and are able to ride the wave.

The key is to find even a small wave for your idea/product. Most of the time it’s a grueling uphill battle. But when you find even a small wave it feels easier. You’ll know it when the sales cycle moves faster or people search you out. 

Here’s to the big wave.

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I wished I smiled more. When I’m centered, I have always have a slight smile. Life feels lighter with a smile. This seems like the way to live. Easier said than done though.

It’s funny. We’ll do anything to make babies smile. Once they do smile, it’s like the whole world is in that smile. Nothing else matters. Every hour we should try to make a baby smile. Maybe we need to start having office babies.

Or we should try to make each other smile more. Why is it OK to look ridiculous making a baby smile but not an adult? Babies don’t judge. Adults do. I do. I try not to though.

Every business meeting should start with a few breaths and making everyone smile. We also need smile breaks throughout the day.
More smiles equal more productivity, more creativity, more happiness. This is documented in many studies. It’s not. But I bet it’s true.

Smiling also makes you look 10 years more awesome. That should be enough for my vanity.

Here’s to smiling and babies.

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What to focus on?

I ask myself this often. How do people decide what to focus on? Should you focus on researching a new tv or a drawing class for kids, or focus on all your work related stuff? 

I don’t have a boss per se (I have clients and partners), so it’s a tough thing to figure out. Not being told what to do seems like freedom, and it should be. I’m lucky. 

But I often feel like a slave to time. How to allocate my time most efficiently. That doesn’t sound pleasant. Sounds like a life tied to the clock.

There is this constant balance of how to spend my time. How does everyone else figure this out in my shoes? I don’t know.

I’m always feeling guilty. When I’m working I should be relaxing more, enjoying life. When I’m trying to relax or play with my kids, I should be working. You know this story.

Is there a way out of this? I haven’t found it. As I get older, my perception of striving for riches and glory has changed. Family, friends and people are really all that matter. I need to be able to pay the bills and have an interesting career. But in the end connecting with people is all that matters.

So much of my 20s and 30s were focused on career. Every waking second I had to be productive, learning, striving. It just hurts saying it. 

We all die. And in the end no one will care if you made more money. In fact in 80 years no one will even remember who you really are. Humans have been around for 100,000+ years. 80 years is nothing.

I know this. Yet I still struggle with the balance. Because I still want to make money and do some interesting things with my career. 

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Do we get more tired as we age?

As we get older, everyone complains they’re more tired. They blame it on old age. I’m not sure.

I think it has more to do with the accumulated junk we have in our mind. The constant posturing in our minds dealing with regrets (should’ve tried harder in soccer) to fears (what if I’m not a success) to anxieties (I’m nervous about tomorrow’s meeting).

Our mind does a great job burying these uncomfortable feelings. Before we know it we’re bury feelings all the time. That takes energy. It’s exhausting.

The older we get the more we have buried. Decades of things buried. Managing all that burial is hard exhausting work.

That’s why people are tired. Their bodies may ache. That’s not good. But when my spirit aches from dealing with junk I’ve pushed down, that’s exhausting. How many times can you relive high school? The answer. Everyday for your entire life. Lots of people do. I do sometimes. It’s embarrassing and takes away from life.

You know what to do. Let these uncomfortable feelings (regret, fear, anxieties) go. Relax with them. Yes. Relax with that boy or girl you wish you would’ve dated in high school. It’s OK. Let it go.

Relax with that meeting coming up tomorrow. A little anxiety is OK. Relax and breathe love into that meeting, the people there. It’s the people we’re always worried about. What will they think? Will I get the deal? It’s people. Give love to these people now and at the meeting.

It might end up being a disaster. I just accidentally missed an important sales call. Terrible. Or sometimes in a meeting I’ll babble on making no sense. But I just try keep breathing love to myself and the people. I often forget to do this though.

Life’s too short to not let go of stuff. I don’t want to be 80 thinking about my life in retrospect. What could’ve I changed, blah blah. I want to be 80 and just content, eyes alert, giving love.

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Feel like you’re on vacation

Is stress killing me? Sort of. We’re all marching towards death. Stress just gets us there faster.

Some stress is good. If I need to close a dea, a little stress helps me think through the issues that might arise. That’s good.

But 99.5% of stress is bad. Life is wasted on stress. People take drugs, get therapy, try treatments, all to manage their stress. It’s crazy.

Stress can come in so many forms. That’s another post.

All those treatments help temporarily. After the effects have worn off, it’s just you and your mind.

Unnecessary stress sucks. It’s insane to be stressed. What’s the point about being stressed if someone likes you, if you’re going to close a deal, that you might die. I don’t know. It’s insane.

To eliminate stress I center myself throughout the day, at the computer, in the car, playing with my kids.

I make sure I feel super relaxed. Like I’m on a vacation. Just sitting there, without a care.

But I do have cares everyday you say. That’s true. Too many sometimes. I’m always trying to push business ideas ahead, play with me kids, help others.

What will happen to these cares if I’m centered and relaxed? I’ve found I get more done. I have more energy. I can give more love.

But most of the time I mess up and I’m not centered and relaxed. Yes. I’m insane. I choose stress over being relaxed.

Even when I’m watching a show I feel tense. Definitely when I’m in a business meeting, I feel tense. That’s not my natural state.

Feeling like you’re walking through the woods, or sitting on the beach, or hugging your family, that’s our natural state.

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We’re all weak

We’re all weak. I’m super weak. We’re weak when we deal with our uncomfortable feelings and energy.

For example, I’m sensitive when I feel like I’m letting someone down. I can feel the feeling. It’s not nice. I want to get rid of it. Only happy feelings here thank you.

I’m weak. By trying to push away that yucky feeling I’m making it much much worse. I’m giving all the power to the people I’m letting down. I can’t enjoy this moment. And I’m not learning anything. The next time it happens I’ll also feel yucky.

This yucky feeling prevents me from enjoying life, being creative, giving love. That makes no sense.

So what to do? This is easier said than done. Deal with that uncomfortable feeling right now. Don’t push it down. Embrace it.

How? I don’t know. The great religious books dance around the exact details. There are many other resources that point in the direction. But it’s up to you to know.

For me, at least with my current limited understanding, I sense these uncomfortable feelings by staying centered. They’re right in front of you. Right there. Instead of disregarding these feelings, stay with them, lean into them. Then make sure your whole body and mind is relaxed.

Feel the yucky feeling drift away. It might take a while. Now you have owned that feeling. Often it’s fear. So now you’ve owned that fear. Next time it comes up it’ll be slightly easier. Do it a 100 times and you’ll notice a big difference. Own that yucky feeling.

Now you’re the toughest person in the world. This is the tough work. It’s the work that makes life vibrant, free.

Do you want to feel free even for a moment? Then do the tough work. Don’t be weak.

Live in the moment and relax with your uncomfortable feelings and fear. It’s fun, kind of, and scary all at the same time.

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Ideas, is this a good one?

Anyone out there have a surefire way to find amazing ideas? It’s not easy. I often wonder how people figure out to work on an idea. Often it’ll be many years before there is a payoff.

Autonomous vehicles is a good example. The first DARPA challenge for AVs was in 2005. I still remember vividly seeing the trucks barely being able to move. It was funny how bad they were.

I should’ve started working on AV technology right then and there. I was younger. I don’t think I appreciate the potential for AVs. But if I would’ve started in 2005 we probably would’ve run out of money. Technology (sensors, processors, machine learning models) wasn’t far enough along then.

Timing is everything. So when should have I started. Google started in 2009. That’s four years after the first DARPA challenge. Google also has deep pockets. They can sustain years of living in the trough before the rest of the world catches up.

But then Cruise Automation, acquired by GM in 2016 for $600 million to $1 billion, started in 2013. That’s 4 years after Google and 8 years after the DARPA challenge.

Many people by then would’ve assumed by 2013 that it was too late to start an AV company. Google had it locked up. That’s obviously very far from the truth.

That’s the beauty of these large industries is that there is room for many companies. I also try to see what looks like a joke now but could come to change an industry.

One idea that’s early and interesting is robotic surgery. Google and J&J have started Verb. And of course there are others like Intuitive. But I still feel that industry is wide open. It could bring surgery to billions in developing countries over the coming decades.

I don’t have a crystal ball what to look for in an industry. Here’s what I think about. Is the problem actually solved? Will the industry and companies be looking for multiple tech solutions? For AVs, the car companies aren’t going to just let Google have this tech and roll over. They will fight and want their own tech. That’s many potential funders/acquirers.

Can you market it in a different way? Cruise started as a AV kit to modify existing cars. They changed to a more controlled environment later but they started with a different focus.

Will it change lives? This isn’t essential but it helps me get through the long days and nights of a startup. Having a mission doesn’t hurt.

Can you recruit a team to make something special? This is the hardest part. You need to find and attract the talent. They need to believe in you.

Both Cruise and another AV company, Nutonomy, both founded in 2013 were built by founders with the technical chops. Karl Iagnemma, who I interviewed on my Flyover Labs podcast, had been working on related research for years. Then at some point they were like, wait we should started an AV company. We have all the skills. It’s easiest to recruit yourself for technical talent. They sold to Aptiv for $400 million.

I’ll keep talking about what I look for with new ideas. I’ve never had a homerun for a company. I’ve learned a lot of things that don’t work. Timing is everything (did I say this before) 🙂

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Listen, Then Make Your Own Decisions

When I was in my 20’s I valued other people’s decisions too highly. I wasted a lot of time worrying what everyone was saying.

For example, when I started Flatt Cola and raised money with Paul Pucci (who brought in most of the external investors, nice work) for it, we got pushed around from investors. We had very little leverage. We were just a small struggling cola company desperate for money.

Whatever investors said at the most recent meeting we did. We need to go more online. OK. We need to allocate more equity to certain people. OK. It was a disaster.

It’s important to take in feedback from people. But it’s more important to follow your gut.

Most of these investors had no clue about the beverage industry. And many didn’t understand startups. I love taking startup advice from traditional commercial bankers, kidding of course.

And the funny thing was that the investors who had the most suggestions rarely invested. They just like giving advice and walking away. Thanks for that.

Now some of the advice was great. Your gut can often tell what advice does make sense.

I also (still do but less so) worried what everyone thought about everything. If a person said, I should be doing this or that. I worried about it. If someone didn’t approve of everything, I must stay awake thinking of this. Insanity.

That’s a huge time suck, and makes your life suck. It’s hard to get over it though.

The only thing that works for me is to stay centered, let those negative feelings slip away. Over time when those same feelings get awakened, they’re easier to do with.

Then you have more time for business, innovation and love.

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Life’s Purpose

Do we have a purpose for being on the planet? Who knows. I don’t think so. Unless just giving love to each other is a purpose. That just feels more like existing.

If you’re at a boring unfulfilling job, don’t worry. You don’t need to find your purpose in your work. Or your family. Or your hobbies.

In the end you can just find your purpose in just existing, giving love to others. That could be a smile in a meeting or listening to someone at work or home about an issue. Just give the love.

5,000 years ago people lived in small tribes. What was their purpose? Nothing, really. Just to be a part of the tribe, give love, enjoy life. They weren’t trying to save a million people or make a billion dollars. Those goals are fine but in the end people will remember you for the energy and love you give off. Not how good you’re at for closing a sale or even teaching kids or how big your house was.

There can be two first grade teachers doing the exact same thing. People and the students will remember the love much more than the instruction. Bring the love.

How do you give more love? It’s hard. Most days I’m too tired by the afternoon to feel like giving love. Or someone says something that makes my blood boil. Could be something small like criticizing something I did. Something that shouldn’t bother me at all.

Come back to the love. Give love by being centered, being present, hearing the nuance in someone’s voice. Are they OK? Feeling someone’s pain is much more powerful than having them tell you about it.

Stay centered, give the love.

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