Entrepreneurship

No 11. Move Like Water

I have been a late bloomer in life in many ways; particularly in areas related to physical and emotional maturity. The day I started high school, I measured five feet tall (no inches) and weighed a startling 100 lbs. A freshman trapped in a fifth-grade body.

I could write a blog exclusively on the suffering I chose in early adulthood based on the story I created around this subject. One of the most troubling parts of that story was that I never believed I was capable of standing up for myself in high school, in a myriad of embarrassing situations. The result was a mountain of frustration and rage, stacked on top of an existing mass of standard-issue, teenage confusion. 

Solution: Learn to kick some ass. 

Income martial arts. Combine a God-given, world-class stubbornness, a double dose of late adolescent aggression, and hand-to-hand combat training. Thankfully, I never really liked being hit or hitting other people, but I was committed to becoming a force to be respected. I was going to become a man and learn to fight.

I studied two Korean disciplines, the stances, and forms of which suited my tall, lean body type. Tang Soo Do was for striking and Hapkido, for self-defense. In essence, Hapkido is a derivative of Aikido with low leg kicks, and the art of leveraging the momentum of an opponent’s energy against them. I studied for three years before I ran out of classes to take at Junior College. Underwater Basket Weaving sounded intriguing, but I knew deep down it was time to move on.

An interesting aspect of Hapkido, which loosely translates to “move like water”, was its opposite approach to what I was seeking. Softening was the last thing I imagined would devastate my aggressors. For the first time in my life, a healthy dose of eastern culture first taught me that conflict and physical altercation were to be avoided unless absolutely necessary and, that one way to navigate through a contentious or dangerous situation is to give into and accept what you are offered, even if it involves a punch or weapon with intent to hurt or kill you.

I guess the metaphor didn’t totally stick. For years, with some exceptions, I have been fighting, resisting, pushing back, pushing forward, responding to the world and acting from the fear of the small, frightened ego, instead of listening, feeling and being mindful of what the environment around me is offering.

The last three years have been full of examples of situations that could have been more fluid and involved far less suffering, had I been willing to soften instead of swimming against the tide. 

Lessons learned (hopefully not repeated): 

  • Instead of the futility of trying to change reality when my children are crying and expressing frustrated/painful emotion, welcome it, embrace them

  • When a relationship is not working or a disagreement arises, get ahead of it immediately, first seek to understand, take responsibility for your part, try to find common ground, and a win-win. If a resolution is not feasible, end the relationship or agree to disagree

  • If a business or strategy is not working, step back, consider all possibilities, even if you can’t imagine how they might work, pivot.

Of course, this is easy to say now. Hindsight is 20/20

There are times in life, particularly in entrepreneurship, that require fighting fire with fire and pure perseverance. In the moment, it is often challenging to distinguish when to pivot, and when to press onward. Most worthy endeavors and certainly creative projects that do not fit the status quo, almost always require climbing over significant hurdles. 

Here are some questions I now ask myself to help distinguish whether to push or “move like water”. 

  • Is this situation or relationship coming to me or, did I create it?

  • Is the situation working easily, is it flowing?

  • If not, is this common in this industry or type of relationship?

  • Am I centered in my meditation and spiritual practices?

  • Am I willing to and have I surrendered the outcome I have imagined?

  • What story am I telling myself about this situation or person?

  • What feedback is the world offering me at this moment?

  • What are the facts? What is the present reality?

Today I consciously choose my past and my present. I am creating possibility from the nothingness and emptiness that is before and beneath all the labels, expectations and shoulds my ego-mind confuses for “self”. I forgive myself and all those with whom I have held resentment. I am moving forward and doing my best to practice softening, listening, and surrendering to what comes. I remain a proponent of human potential and doing the best with the gifts and talents we have been given. I will keep opening my heart. I will continue to pursue challenging projects that exist at the intersection of sustainability and design. Perfection is a myth. Evolution and growth are only possible as a result of irritation and friction; thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I am grateful for the abundant blessings in my life and the learning that comes in so many unexpected forms. From the joy and reflection of being a father to the suffering of loss, it is a precious gift to experience life and connect to the love and creation inside of us.  

 

No 10. 11 Things I've Learned Through Success and Failure

As an entrepreneur and commercial real estate developer over the last thirteen years, I have learned a few lessons along the way.  Some from success and others from failure or, what I choose to call learning.  Failure is simply a temporary setback that shapes our current and future decisions, helps clarify what we want, and guides us toward our long-term goals.  I advocate for mentorship, which can help minimize the most painful mistakes, although some are inevitable to discover through experience.  I am thankful for these ostensibly challenging situations as they offer invaluable wisdom and define the goal posts of success (as we define it for ourselves). 

Comparable culture is essential for strong partnerships - Choosing, or attracting, the right partner/s is one of the most important decisions we make; particularly for those of us with long project cycles.  Qualifying the quality of emotional energy, behavior under pressure, alignment of long-term goals, complementary skills, and shared values are critical to rewarding, long-term relationships. 

Stay inside the core – There are plenty of developers and entrepreneurs who make money on the fringes but, I have found that the velocity of capital and deal flow is much more consistent, over a longer duration (of the economic cycle) in the core of the apple.  In real estate, that means, in the areas closest to the urban center.  In entrepreneurial endeavors, it means creating products that appeal to a scalable market via a wide demographic and/or psychographic range. 

Creativity = Capital – Some investors believe that money is more important and valuable than the creativity of the entrepreneur.  While this might be the case in commodity investing with an oversupply of deal flow, in more creative endeavors, it takes both creativity and capital for a deal to succeed.  Create the right deal structure to attract investment partners who are team players and equally value the investment in sweat. 

Align interest with proper deal structure – Fee structure, preferred return (“pref”), and cash flow splits/waterfall are the general levers available to create a well-aligned deal structure.  I generally develop and hold, which is essential to distinguish from a project built to be sold immediately upon stabilization.  Long-term structures often value these mechanisms differently and can include buy-out clauses, unique pref structures, and waterfalls.  A well-conceived deal structure will not bias a specific exit strategy.  I will expand on this concept in the next post. 

State your intentions up front – Have the hard conversations up front, especially with investors and partners.  If you intend to hold a deal long term or have identified specific risks, state those clearly in the beginning.  Investors are usually big boys, and they can decide whether the risk profile is appropriate for their portfolio. 

Pivot sooner – If something is not working and you are pushing, take a step back and reframe the problem.  Does your deal need more equity or a different plan?  Does your product, brand, or positioning need to be tweaked to achieve optimal market fit?   The line between the decision to persist and pivot is not always clear; do not be afraid to pivot sooner to succeed sooner. 

There is more than enough – Investors and equity often end up dictating terms because entrepreneurs perceive capital as difficult to obtain.  Be of the mindset that not only can you create a deal structure that is truly fair for both parties, but you will attract what you need.  As you meet investors who are not the right fit (i.e. insecurity, bragging about how many deals they have invested in or how much their house or ranch cost), politely say, "no, thank you" and wait for the right partners to show up.  There are plenty of deals and plenty of capital partners.  There is no reason to feel pressure due to a false illusion of scarcity.

Last 3-4% of the budget creates the best return on investment – This is not always true in commodity and mid-market projects.  My business is creating profitable investments at the intersection of sustainability and design.  To rationalize quality architecture and interior design, I develop projects in prime locations, with premium rents, which allows room for quality finishes in "select areas" of the project.  Please do not confuse this with overspending.  You must carefully study the competition and distinguish what expenditures will have the most positive impact on the investment.  In my experience, it is this last 3-4% of the budget that creates an immersive emotional experience to attract upscale tenants and clientele, who are willing to pay for the added value.  Quality and price are synonymous; if you deliver mid-grade in an A location (assuming the market is not over saturated with upscale supply) you will never be able to compete for the price/rent premiums that accompany a certain finish level.  I will expand on this in a subsequent post, although the primary elements to distinguish upscale, commercial design are building skin, glass, doors, floors, hardware, lighting, and select furniture items.  The increase in asset value you can achieve with only marginal rent premiums will generally far exceed the initial investment and create your best return. 

Selling is not about pushing a product or idea – It is about finding the right people who need and want what you have. 

Do not count on uncommitted investors or lenders – Keep building your pipeline of leads and opportunities.  Investors and lenders are picky and are not always forthcoming about competing deals they are considering, or the politics involved in obtaining a commitment for your project.  Many lenders and investors have committees, and your champion within those organizations does not often have control over the final decision.  It is your responsibility to qualify investors and lenders diligently, push for agreements, and continue pursuit of the right partners until your deal is funded.

Add 20% to your initial budget (35% if you are phasing the project) – Inflation is as real as death by 1,000 paper cuts.  It is often not large budget categories that end up costing more than you anticipate.  Rather, a series of smaller items add up to a large number.  Add inflation during design and development, and you will almost always have a more expensive project than anticipated at the time of your initial budget.  It is also challenging to project pricing and rental rate inflation that occurs during the explosive growth period of any economic expansion.  Be realistic, although it is appropriate to assume reasonable inflation on income to balance conservative cost projections.  Of course, the risk increases as the economic cycle matures.  State your assumptions clearly to investors, and they can decide if they agree with your methodology. 

 

No 8. A Hobby Can Improve Your Productivity

I recently read an article in the New York Times that claimed procrastination is not a time management issue.  It is an emotional regulation issue. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html)

When we put something off, we are likely experiencing a negative emotion or mood; boredom, fear, anxiety, insecurity, self-doubt, etc..  We also delay because the task we are avoiding requires acute concentration and focus, a long, uninterrupted block of time, or creates an unwanted situational or emotional consequence. 

When I get stuck in this frustrating state, my first thought is often to distract myself with a simple task that might be important but is not time sensitive, which usually leads to dissatisfaction. 

All that we fear does not exist.

Doing things now often takes less time and less emotional energy than putting them off until later. Interestingly, I often find that the task I was stressing over was considerably easier than the mental image I created (this is certainly not always the case).  Sometimes we are overwhelmed, and instead of adding another item to our task list, we need to take a break and recover. 

The mind that created the problem…

It is in taking the opposite approach that has proven most helpful.  I have found that creating space to do things I enjoy, reduces my likelihood of procrastinating to begin with.  In essence, if my physical and emotional states are balanced, I am ready to tackle any tasks. 

What is balance?

In my experience, mental and emotional balance comes from activities that stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.  I have no shortage of left brain stimulation, between business, abundant personal obligations, and being a single parent of twins.  Creating time for right brain activities is critical for my well-being. 

Activities that activate my right brain and bring me into the present moment:

-    Meditation

-    Playing guitar or drums

-    Stretching, yoga or going for a walk

-    Any form of cardiovascular exercise

-    Being in nature

-    Doing something fun with my twins

-    Driving in a circle – i.e. racing my Mazda Miata or on an open road with no traffic or cell phone

-    Listening to music or going to live shows

I recently committed to spending three hours every week in nature.  I do this during the work week as a reminder that this time is an investment in my overall productivity.  This quiet time is for self-reflection, getting clear about what I want and allowing new ideas to surface.  Since starting this practice, I have noticed a turbo boost in motivation, especially to do the things I’ve been putting off and the essential items that move me toward my long term goals.   

We live in a world bombarded by distractions and external stimuli; our minds and nervous systems are often overwhelmed.  Hobbies and self-care are essential for our health and wellness.  Creating space for these activities grounds us, re-centers our minds, and bring us back into the present moment.  After all, what is life for?  What is most important?  Instead of projecting our happiness into the future, we can commit to taking time to care for ourselves and allow our productivity to flourish and the abundance of possibilities to flow. 

No 5. 5am Start and Monk Morning

In high school, I vividly remember dad coming into my room four-five times, at increasing volume, to wake me and essentially drag me out of bed for school.  Needless to say, I historically have not been much of a morning person.  I’ve always enjoyed staying up late engaging with hobbies, working or studying. 

For years in my professional life, I started my day at 8 am and worked late into the evening.

I would often start with email and other tasks that led to instant gratification and frequently found myself at 5 pm, without having made sufficient progress toward my long-term goals.  As a result, I would stay up and work until 11:30 or 12 am.  While I found productivity with this workflow, my mind was not as flexible and sharp late in the evening and, I experienced regular bouts of burn out.  Inversely, I always felt great on the days I would rise early, meditate, and get a head start, focusing on critical, creative work first. 

Enter twins.

Either my routine is changing, or I am going to need a clone (and a psychiatrist).  My twins wake up between 6:30-6:45 am and I love to spend 30-45 minutes with them at this sweet hour.  Chalk up an hour to get everyone dressed, fed, and ready for school.  By the time I drop them off, it’s 8:30 or 9 am.  A 4:30 pm pickup leaves a very compressed workday.  After an exhausting few months of working late nights and desperately trying to catch up on sleep, I decided to make a major change.

Income the 5 am Start and Monk Morning.

I’ve reclaimed my productivity and morning self-care routine by waking up at 5 am.  I co-parent the twins on a 50/50 schedule, alternating between three and five days a week.  On the days they are with me, I meditate, do 15-45 minutes of physical movement (yoga, stretching, Qi gong, or resistance training) and work for one 45-60 minute interval, before they wake.  As soon as I drop them off, I head to the office to continue my day with no emails, meetings, or distractions until lunch.  On days I don’t have the twins, I wake at 5:30 am.  This routine allows ample, uninterrupted time for critical, creative work and leaves the afternoons for meetings, responding to messages and other essential tasks. 

“Waking up is not hard to do”...although, it does require commitment and, regular recommitment.

Tips on how to establish an early routine:

 -    Set the alarm for 5am

-    Go to bed at your usual time

-    No snooze, when the alarm goes off, wake up and start your day 

-    Anticipate being a little tired for a few days as your body adjusts

-    Eat something light (berries, nuts or fruit) to wake up your body

-    Allow a flexible day to sleep in for occasional late nights or when recovering from a hard workout

-    It’s not about perfection, if you miss a day, simply recommit to your routine

Few things compare to the quiet, solitude of an early morning.  A peaceful meditation and a cycle of creative work that moves us closer to our long-term goals is a great way to begin each day.   In my experience, this practice has led to increased productivity and a more nourishing and rewarding workflow, resulting in greater joy and satisfaction. 

No 4. The Most Simple Time Management System

Years ago, I attended a Franklin Covey, time management course, which has been one of the best investments I ever made in myself.  It forever changed the way I approached my daily, weekly and monthly planning and was the beginning of my quest for ultimate productivity.  The course inspired me to read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which became a bible to me; a book I read, outlined and studied for over two years. 

One of the core concepts is the Four Quadrants (see diagram below).  The top row represents important tasks, the bottom row, unimportant tasks; the left column urgent tasks and the right, not-urgent.  The goal is to shift our focus away from unimportant and urgent tasks and create increasingly more space for Quadrant 2 activities, which are important and not urgent.  In essence, we do “first things first,” essential tasks before they become critical. 

Quadrant 2 tasks are all the things that drive our business and often require large blocks of time: planning, revenue-generating activities, business and relationship development, identifying new opportunities, underwriting projects, design time, etc. 

The Four Quadrants - Franklin Covey

The Four Quadrants - Franklin Covey

While making a daily to-do list is helpful, doing the most important things first assures we create consistent space for daily action toward the attainment of our long-term goals.  We can easily become bombarded responding to email, messages, and interruptions.  Most emails and messages are not urgent, and many are unimportant or imply an urgency that is not consistent with our priorities.  In my next blog post, I will expand on this concept of working in shifts and “the Monk Morning.”

I worked at Cisco Systems for six years and, during that time, I learned that our CEO, John Chambers, who remains one of my heroes, set a daily goal to do just three things.  Building on this process, I refined my daily schedule to a simple, four-item task list.  To help narrow my selections, I ask myself the question, “what four things can I do today that will leave me feeling effective and joyful.”

Simple Daily Time Management System:

 •    Meditation and Movement (non-negotiable)

1)    Quadrant 2 task (1) - ex: Write blog and Social Media for online retail business – 1 hour

2)    Quadrant 2 task (2) – ex: 4 calls to new suppliers or equity partners – 1.5 hours

3)    Quadrant 1 task or an investment in myself – ex: research, reading, etc. – 30 min

4)    Personal item or an additional Quadrant 1 or 2 task

 Tactics that have helped elevate my focus and productivity:

-    Break things down into bites – staring at a list that is too long leads to disappointment and stress (as a over-achiever, this is my most challenging parameter to remember)

-    Restrict email to specific intervals – I check three times/day

-    Minimize distractions - only use notifications for meeting reminders, turn all others off

-    Be flexible – Work ebbs and flows, at times you have five, six or maybe only three items

-    This is real life - include necessary personal items in your daily lists

-    Embrace imperfection - some days are overwhelming and some days we have to respond to incoming distractions and emergencies.  Be gentle with yourself; tomorrow is a new day. 

Another of my favorite business philosophers is the late Jim Rohn who said, “failure is not a cataclysmic event that happens overnight, it is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.” Inversely, success is a series of daily disciplines that ultimately bring greater happiness and the fulfillment of our long-term desires.

No 3. Meditation Changed my Life

After 15 years of serious commitment to personal and spiritual growth, I credit meditation as one of the single most transformative practices that changed my life.  Twelve years ago I was struggling with anxiety and panic disorder and following the advice of a doctor, elected to take prescription medication.  The doctor said I would likely never be able to manage life without drugs.  I got serious about meditation.  Twenty minutes a day and two years later, I stopped taking the meds and never looked back.  Fast forward to today, I maintain a daily practice and have rarely experienced similar symptoms.  What was at first a step to take responsibility for my mind and mental health has now become the source of infinite consciousness, awareness, and joy. 

Meditation has many well-documented benefits including increasing brain mass of the medial prefrontal cortex, which leads to higher concentration and attention.  Research also points to a reduction in the mass of the amygdala, part of our primal base brain responsible for fight or flight.  In essence, over time, our lower, primal stress responses are supplanted with more conscious ones, which originate from the higher functions of our brain.  In addition to stress reduction, meditation is used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from anxiety and depression, chronic pain, addiction, and tinnitus.  Some evidence suggests it can expedite recovery from cancer. 

People often tell me they want to begin meditating but don’t have the time or don’t know how to start.  View your practice as an investment, not a sacrifice.  Meditation slows down time and provides a baseline of calm and self-awareness that lasts throughout the day; the time you dedicate will pay dividends. 

Interestingly, I’ve consistently heard friends say they “aren’t good at it.”  The initial objective of meditation is not to remain in a constant state of attunement or bliss, but to train our minds by practicing returning to attunement once we realize our attachment to thought.  If we are distracted 100 times in a 10-minute meditation, that is 100 opportunities to practice returning to our center. 

There are many forms of meditation including, guided, silent and chanting.  All have many benefits although, for this post, I will concentrate on silent, mindful meditation, which includes forms such as Transcendental Meditation and Centering Prayer.  Guided meditation is an excellent way for a beginner to establish a practice, although a primary goal of meditation is to learn to let go and disengage with the mind and its incessant thoughts, which is difficult when focused on a speaking guide.  I have found the most simple form to share with beginners is Centering Prayer, which is identical to Transcendental Meditation, except it suggests a self-chosen word to return to attunement, versus a mantra provided by a guru. 

Simple Meditation Steps:

-    Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine

-    Pick a word, two-syllables or less with a peaceful or loving meaning

-    Sit in silence with eyes closed, breath into your low belly, your attention focused between your eye-brows

-    Observe thoughts that arise, let them pass like a log floating down a river

-    When you realize you are attached to a thought, lovingly and calmly say (eventually think) the word and return to attunement

 

A few suggestions that may help your practice:

-    Move and stretch for a few minutes before you sit

-    Meditate in the AM so you may return to the peaceful state throughout the day

-    Consistency is key:  5-10 min/daily can be more rewarding than 20 min 2-3 times/week

-    If you miss a day or two, be gentle with yourself, simply recommit to your practice

-    20 min a day is recommended, a second 20 min sit can be transformative

One of the most helpful bits of advice I garnered from a meditation course taught by the late Father Thomas Keating was, “when you realize you are attached to a thought, speak the chosen word as if a feather were landing on a pillow”.  The practice of being gentle with ourselves is contrary to the response of frustration we may initially feel as we learn to accept that thoughts have limited meaning and are often based on fear, from deep in the subconscious mind.  Over time, attunement will shift from focus between eyebrows to a state of observing your thoughts and feeling connected to your whole being and nervous system, often without awareness of the body; this is the state of bliss and the beginning of a relationship with our self.  

Meditation is not a religion although I consider it a form of deep prayer.  At the very least if you are more emotionally balanced and in tune with yourself, you will be more peaceful in your relationships and community.  Regardless what your faith is, meditation puts us consistently in a state of communion with ourselves and to the part of us that recognizes our connection to the whole.  Rumi so eloquently said “Everything in the universe is inside you.  Ask all of yourself.”