A good friend once told me that running is like a “bath for your business brain”. It’s absolutely true.
My cofounders and I took up running as a team about four months ago as a way to relieve stress, keep focused and counterbalance our startup diet. We signed up for the Big Sur Half Marathon to keep us accountable and the race is now just four days away.
This morning was my last “long run”. I’m a terrible example of half-marathon training. Prior to today my longest run was five miles. For comparison, my cofounders have been running 12 mile long runs for the past three weeks.
It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Stanford Technology Ventures podcasts. As a CEO and founder, I constantly feel the pressure to make the best possible decisions and avoid derailing the success of the company. At times, it can be extremely isolating and stressful. Hearing the gritty details of other entrepreneurs’ struggles and aha moments helps give me perspective and motivation.
This morning we started the run in Menlo Park, headed down University Ave and back through Stanford. We ran right passed the building where these STV class takes place and I found myself inspired by all of the great founders who had passed through and encouraged others to keep at it. Think about all of the innovation, jobs and dollars that originated in just a few square miles. It made me feel extremely fortunate to be in a place with immediate access to the top talent, thought leaders, investors and academics. Unfortunately, success does not occur by osmosis.
I realized recently that it often takes two different phases of learning before something crystallizes in my brain: pre-learning and experience. I derive most of my startup related pre-learning from speaking to other founders or investors, reading business books or Quora.
My brain understands that what I am ingesting is beneficial and therefor stores it for some later use. But clearly, even though one may have heard Steve Blank talk about the importance of customer development prior to building a product, you don’t really *know* what he means until you experience the results (positive or negative) yourself.
Anecdotally however, I have found that podcasts that I listen to while running or exercising tend to affect and stick with me much more effectively than those that I listen to while, say, working at a computer. It’s a great feeling to zone out, forget that you are running and let your mind apply all the extra endorphins running through your body to your business.
I also make it a point to revisit books, podcasts or conversation notes after actually living the experience. For example, prior to raising our seed round, I did a ton of reasearch about round dynamics, negotiations, networking etc. Post-raise I listened to the 'Angel Investors Revealed' podcast again and was amazed by how much more the words meant to me.
The combination of both direct and indirect experience has helped me to fully articulate my thoughts on raising a seed round when others ask me advice about fundraising.
Here are a few of the things that stuck with me from the Polyvore podcast on this morning’s run. If you are a runner, I highly encourage you to try the “founder motivation route" I’ve shared here. If you aren’t a runner, throw on some shoes and don’t forget your podcasts.
Path and Purpose of a First Time CEO: Jess Lee of Polyvore
- When given two choices in your career, take the path that is most challenging
- Success and failure are their own unique breeds of education
- Witnessing hyperscale (Google) is valuable but don’t stay too long
- Hire to offset your deficits as a CEO
- Don’t waste time doing admin work (searching for office real estate)
- If you reach gridlock with cofounders, pick a direction and set time to prove success
- CEOs focus on *systems* to build product, less on building product
- Build company as blocks that work well independently but have “APIs” to others
- Don’t isolate: talk to other founders for mental health, data points, solutions
- Fire people who don’t fit, in spite of your emotional ties
- You must fall in love with the purpose of the company
- Really great companies spend a lot of time thinking about why they exist
- Filter out candidates with different motivations than that of the company mission
- Executive team must have shared, interlocking direction “this is what we are committed to beyond ourselves”