Slow: Build

Tom Serres
Sep 24, 2017 · 8 min read

The Camino de Santiago had enormous impact on my personal health, mental wellbeing, and spiritual goals. Although they weren’t entirely new thoughts; spending 8–10 hours a day walking and being with your thoughts has a magical way of helping you codify that which has been slowly baking in the back of your mind. And I’ve had a lot baking for a very long time.

has been on my mind for a while now. Over the last year or so I’ve been putting many of our slow build principals to work at Animal Ventures — and the results have been positive on a number of levels.

Mostly these principles have been centered on a few different ideas:

  1. Culture first business second
  2. All decisions should revolve around your values
  3. Build for your needs then build for others
  4. Start small, evolve decisively, and hire slowly
  5. Revenue — it dwarfs old spice as the world’s best kind of deodorant

Culture first business second

It might sound like a known known, but after building my first business Rally, it became vastly apparent that culture is the one thing that trumps business. No, I’m not talking about our celebrity apprentice president, I’m talking about the way you build, nurture, and define the cultural framework of the entity you’re building — and — the role it plays in radically defining the growth and performance of your company.

Sure, you can sell products {and you definitely need to) — but at the end of the day, you’re better off trying to define and sell culture first. Build a long lasting cultural icon, and you’ll discover new fuel that will breath incredible life, power, and determination into your business. This kind of power — it far exceeds any kind of brute force method one can apply.

People often say legacy is more valuable than currency — and if we believe that’s the case, will people remember you for the company or products you built, or will they remember you for the culture you helped lead and design? Value creation, and thus Business, is purely a byproduct of the culture we build and participate in. So build culture — not business. Then the rest will follow.

Cultures are built calmly, slowly, and purposefully, so embrace this — prioritize culture over business. As a person who has suffered greatly over my short life time — suffering can indeed be a powerful tool for growth, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds from it — but suffering for suffering’s sake is void of the fundamental lessons one must learn. One must also rest and reflect to learn. And learning is not just about lessons identified — it’s also about lessons implemented. Discipline yourself to do this, and growth will be even more powerful.

The Animal Way: Sprint, Rest, Reflect, Fine Tune, and Sprint again. We prioritize this way of existence above pretty much everything else. We are training to be olympians and elite teams — building a cultural framework around becoming the world’s greatest curators of emergent technologies and investing heavily in all animals becoming lifestyle designers.

Taking time to rest, loving on some very happy cattle

All decisions should revolve around your values

If “culture first” is the mandate (which for us, it is), then that means we need to root all ideas and decisions in the values that define our culture.

Just before we left for Camino de Santiago and our other Animals prepared to venture out for their rest and reflection period — the Animal Ventures crew took time to have a deep dive session to provide us all with pondering fuel. During this session we took note of our three stated values. To be an Animal at Animal Ventures, one must be Disciplined, Magnanimous, and Nimble. The first and most important, discipline.

Discipline comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil. Therefore, Discipline is the treatment suited to a disciple or learner; education; development of the faculties by instruction and exercise; training, whether physical, mental, or moral. Ultimately, discipline is training to improve one’s strength or self-control.

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all. — George Washington

Nimble is from the 14th century Old English næmel, meaning “quick to grasp,” it refers to one’s mental quickness or physical agility. If you’re nimble, you can move quickly and with ease, and that spryness can be both physical and mental.

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage — Jack Welch

Magnanimous comes from Latin magnus “great” and animus “soul,” and describes someone who is big-hearted. It is a person that shows over-sized spirit by being noble or brave, or by easily forgiving others and not showing resentment. It’s the soul of Animal Ventures to inspire more generous, understanding, and tolerant Animals.

“It is the characteristic of the magnanimous man to ask no favor but to be ready to do kindness to others.” — Aristotle

Every decision we make must take these three distinct values into consideration as apart of our everyday process. Who we work with, who we hire, how we partner, and what projects we choose to work on. These three distinct lenses provide amazing clarity around all decision making processes and eases the burden of execution. And, as any builder will tell you — execution is 9 / 10ths of the battle in almost all cases.

One of the many beautiful mornings walking across rural spain

Build for your needs then build for others

Whenever we consider an internal venture project at Animal, we take the lense of building for ourselves first before we consider building it for others. We have a number of venture projects under development at Animal, all of which are designed to drastically improve the overall state of Animal Ventures. They also happen to be potentially beneficial for a lot of other people.

By focusing on solving for our own needs we dramatically improve the overall product experience, and at the end of the day, we’re able to improve our overall state of existence. If this product can also help others, which in almost all cases it does, then we’ve already gotten a return on our investment long before we looked for more external returns. It also helps provide internal clarity on achieving results.

Chef Jose Gordon from El Capricho is one of my new hero’s

Start small and evolve decisively

It’s easy to want to grow big and grow fast. Spending millions of dollars per month, waking to a scripted and scheduled day, and never taking the time to really know people can be detrimental to your success in the long run. My mantra used to be, “go big or go home”. Some times I won big, but often times I went home. Today it’s culture first, business second. So generally speaking, I’m investing in building an amazing home.

Starting small takes real discipline. Evolving slowly but decisively is extraordinarily hard to do. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs and companies I’ve met — many most have never even heard of — started small and built slowly over a very long period of time.

We look at the founders of some of these iconic companies that scaled to billions seemingly overnight — and often treat them as though their shit’s wrapped in plastic. We paint them has legends and gods…take aim at replicating that which they have supposedly done, and do this without ever really thinking about the canvas behind the paint and ultimately how it was built.

Today, my favorite companies and entrepreneurs, are the ones that most people have never heard about, people who are crushing it quietly and at the end of the day gaining real life and power through the lives they impact around them. They do this by building incredible culture.

Stay out of the spotlight — and you’ll never fade your suit. Lesson learned.

Yet another beautiful golden morning with my fabulous partner

Revenue — it dwarfs old spice as the world’s best kind of deodorant

Reality time has hit the classroom. Revenue, Revenue, Revenue. One of my first investors once told me “Revenue is the best form of deodorant”. He could not have been more right. Revenue is indeed one of the world’s most effect forms of deodorant.

I hear it all the time when people pitch us, “Give me $X dollars and I’ll turn it into $Y billions”. Sure….ok. My follow up question, have you made your first million yet? Tackle that first, then let’s chat.

If you live in Silicon Valley long enough, you might think start believing that revenue sits up there with pretty much every negative thing one could possibly imagine. It’s hard not to. Random apps (one can’t call them companies in most cases) raising millions and billions at unprecedented rates, a cultural dogma built around perpetual fundraising cycles, and parties designed to literally celebrate the amount of money raised in exchange for large amount of equity given away.

This is not to say that fundraising is a bad thing — if anything, it’s a timing and purpose thing. Fundraising can be a powerful tool — once you’ve figured a few things out. But often times, we fall victim to the “shit wrapped in plastic syndrome” and forget to read between the lines. There are all sorts of companies that generate revenue and engage in fundraising — but generally speaking, it’s because they actually have something to talk about.

We’ve made a few investments in pre-revenue early stage ideas and blockchain tokens at Animal Ventures — in most cases, we’re investing in the people (who match our values) — because we believe in them. In almost all cases, frankly, we’re of the mind that we’ll never see that investment again. We’d prefer to be pleasantly surprised by the people we believe in — and hold no grudge if the opposite happens — because we believe in investing in people not businesses.

Bottom line, revenue is not a bad thing and It doesn’t make you an evil capitalist. If anything, is makes you a pragmatic venture architect poised to drive real value in the world. Don’t chase venture funding, let funding find you. But preferably, build something that will delight others and sustainably generate revenue so you can invest more in the culture behind it. I love investing in people and culture.

Animal Ventures

Connecting forward looking companies to transformative technologies

Tom Serres

Written by

Tom Serres is a seasoned entrepreneur, public speaker, and technology executive. Co-Founder of Animal Ventures, Host of Tech on Politics, & Founder of Rally

Animal Ventures

Connecting forward looking companies to transformative technologies