A successful entrepreneur whom I met at an event in Bahrain recently told me: “I can always start all over again,” as we were overlooking a golf course in the middle of the night. We were talking about what makes relationships work, what is essential in life, and our definition of success. It all boiled down to two main things. First and most important is trust. Trust in yourself and trust in others. It took me a while to understand why he was saying that he can start all over again. He was talking about how much trust he has in himself. If everything goes to shit tomorrow, I can always start over and build something new again. Second, is impact. His comments showed me that he’s not obsessed with success, but that’s it’s more important to put his all into creating great things with people he trusts.
How is this important to you as a founder and to me as a venture capitalist? 2019 for me, has been a pivotal year. At 44 years, it never ceases to amaze me how much I still need to learn. I have used a personal mentor earlier this year to work on insecurities, focus, and improving work structure. In sports, I am used to working with a coach. It took a long time for me to decide to work with a business coach. In the end, I am glad I did. Working with a coach helped me learn to trust in my abilities and feel confident to voice my opinion. My coach showed me how to build my framework for decision-making and stick to my philosophy in difficult times.
My key takeaways for 2019 are:
- Show Up
- Be Relentless
- Stick to your strategy
- Face issues head-on
- Say no and be transparent about it
- Check-in on health
We all know that feeling when you initially said ‘yes’ to a meeting or a dinner, but as it approaches, you’re dreading to go. Nothing wrong with that. It’s human nature. Instead of cancelling the meetup, just go. You will create a habit of “showing up.” Showing up for me is making an appointment and sticking to it and being responsive. The most successful and busiest people I know always manage to respond fast to email or be on time for every meeting they attend. When I ask how they handle this, the usual answer I get is that it is part of their work ethics to show up.
The meaning of relentless is unceasingly intense. It implies determination and focus (source Oxford and vocabulary.com). The year 2019 has been one of the busiest professionally; I also decided to join my second Ironman 70.3 in Hawaii and prepare for three Ironman 70.3 races in 2020.
I made a big mental switch in 2019. If I commit to anything, I commit 1000%, and I won’t let go until it’s finished, or I need to update my objectives. It’s intense, and to be honest, it’s quite exhausting as well, but the pleasure of making progress is more significant. Relentlessness also forces you to focus more and say no to random disturbances.
Stick to your strategy
Days, when your plans don’t work out, are the toughest. Sometimes your day is full of wrong decisions and outcomes. You might get insecure about your approach or need outside validation that you’re still on the right track. The easiest thing to do on those days is to throw everything overboard and start something new or give up and tell yourself it didn’t work out. The biggest favor you can do yourself is to stick to your original strategy (unless clear feedback and data tell you to tweak the plan). Why is this so important? It takes time for a strategy to come to fruition. Beginning of the year, we launched a new project within our firm. Halfway through the year, it wasn’t easy to convince our stakeholders that the timing for this project was right, coming out of a busy 2018. Towards the end of the year, the project gained strong momentum, giving the team new energy. I have seen it with this project, but looking back, I have seen this happen over and over again. Give your strategy a chance, build a case for your strategy, work on the right arguments and gather data to support your choices. But most importantly, don’t let the first, second, and third disappointment catch you off guard.
Face issues head-on
The toughest habit to build is to get up in the morning and pick up the most complicated problem to solve first. It’s such an open door. As a founder, leaving urgent or complex issues outstanding can seriously hurt your business. In the back of our heads, we know this, but it’s tough to put it in practice. Cleaning up a toxic environment in the team, a client issue that needs solving, or responding to shareholders’ questions. I have learned earlier this year; it doesn’t matter how complex the problem is, it matters which framework you use and your understanding of the urgency. Managing urgency is different for everyone, but one effective practice helped me. Every morning I write down what my intended outcome for the day needs to be and what I need to do to get there. Let me be clear. The day never ends the way I planned it, but this simple writing exercise helps me to visualize the biggest challenges for the day. For the framework, I use the structure I worked on with my coach. For anything complex I need to solve or work on, I ask myself these questions:
- How do I extract value and deliver returns for my counterpart
- Is there alignment with our strategy and policies
- How do I slow down to generate long term growth
- What do I need to do, to protect the downside
Say no and be transparent about it
It remains difficult saying no when people ask for help. Mainly when you’re used to helping others out. The intention is not to speak to anyone that asks for help but to be more critical on me. Anytime someone asks for help, I ask myself first if I can help, if I can honestly make time and if someone is better off with or without my help. In the past year, I have learned that giving direction and let others figure things out for themselves is stronger than blindly trying to help everyone. It is as simple as saying: “have you tried this yet?” You don’t have to be everything to everyone.
Check-in on health
Everyone will have their take on health. There is no one right away to approach it. I decided to stop drinking for the last three months of 2019. Why? I spend a significant amount of my professional time on an airplane. Combined with long working hours, my desire to stay fit, triathlons, family life (2 kids), and spending time with friends, I felt I needed to change something before I wore my body and mind out. Quitting with alcohol seemed like a quick win, and after 2 1/2 months, it has indeed made me feel much better. During the day, I feel much sharper, and it’s easier to focus. I also sleep a lot better; more hours and feel rested. Not drinking helped me recover faster after my runs or a long-haul flight. There is, however, a downside, though. Socially it’s not entirely accepted not to imbibe. In the last few months, I have had to explain myself for not drinking. Or people try to convince you to have a drink and not be such a weakling. The best I’ve heard is: “one drink doesn’t make much difference.” It makes all the difference to me; I am not about to break this promise to myself.
This was my 2019, and I hope my lessons have helped you give some insights for 2020. We’re at the end of this millennium’s teens, how will you start the new decade?
Thanks to Jamaur Bronner and Karim Raffa for reviewing the draft.