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I’m doing a one hour CEO roundtable on an “about weekly basis” with each of the Techstars classes. Yesterday I did a face to face with the Techstars Boulder CEOs (they are across the hall from my office) and then I did my meetings with the Techstars Chicago CEOs and the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator CEOs by video conference.
This is a new experiment for me. I’m trying a different approach to mentoring the Techstars teams this year. I’m still a lead mentor for two of the Boulder teams (Kato and SnowShoe) but for all the other programs, including Boulder, I’m trying a weekly one hour CEO only session.
One of my big goals is to generate more peer interaction between the CEOs of the various companies. We do this aggressively within the Foundry Group portfolio and it’s one of the really powerful things about Techstars. But historically it’s been adhoc and random, rather than in an organized way. This is an effort to get the CEOs to really bond with every one of the other CEOs during the program.
So far the experiment is working great from my perspective. I’m stunned by the depth of the conversation and I can see the relationship dynamics being very broad as well as intellectually and emotionally intense.
Each of the three meetings yesterday were totally different, as Techstars Boulder is in week 8, Techstars Chicago is in week 4, and Kaplan EdTech is in week 2. As I was taking a shower this morning, I kept thinking about the rant I went on during the last 10 minutes of the meeting with the Techstars Chicago CEOs.
By week 4, a team is deep in things. The stress is showing. Everyone is tired and working at their max capacity. They’ve been exposed to a wide range of mentors and lots of conflicting data. Stuff is breaking all the time. Everything is uncomfortable and – in some cases – distressing.
In reaction to a particular conversation, I strung together quotes from three of my favorite books about entrepreneurship. The rant went as follows:
- “It’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering.” – John Galt in Atlas Shrugged
- “Fear is the mind-killer.” - the Bene Gesserit is Dune
- “Anxiety, the next gumption trap, is sort of the opposite of ego. You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all.” – Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I used the quotes as the anchors on a longer rant, but I did it extemporaneously. I hadn’t realized how nicely these quotes fit together until this particular moment, prompted by the particular situation. In hindsight, the only quote I forgot was my favorite of all time – “Do or do not, there is no try.” – Yoda.
And – it reminded me that three books should be on every Startup CEO’s reading list along with Matt Blumberg’s new book, Startup CEO.
A few weeks ago my dad said “Brad, you have to read the book I Am John Galt: Today’s Heroic Innovators Building the World and the Villainous Parasites Destroying It. You’ll love it.” That’s all the recommendation I needed – it went to the top of my Kindle reading list.
I read it the other night in a jet lagged haze on my couch. I was wide awake at 2am without the book, but it had me consumed for a few hours. The author, Donald Luskin, is polarizing, as evidenced by his wikipedia page and entertaining conflict with Paul Krugman (who he skewers in the book).
If you aren’t an Atlas Shrugged fan, this book isn’t for you. But if you are, go grab it now – you’ll love it. Luskin does the biography of the following nine men by lining them up with characters in Atlas Shrugged. He does a magnificent job of deconstructing the people in the context of the Altas Shrugged character, while writing an original narrative on the character and biography on the person being referenced.
- Steve Jobs – Howard Roark
- Paul Krugman – Ellsworth Toohey
- John Allison – John Galt
- Angelo Mozilo – James Taggart
- Bill Gates – Henry Rearden
- Barney Frank – Wesley Mouch
- T.J. Rodgers – Francisco d’Anconia
- Alan Greenspan – Robert Stadler
- Milton Friedman – Hugh Akston
My only disappointment was that he didn’t tackle a character for Dagny Taggart.