Rest, Reflection, Discipline, & Culture: A slower & calmer way

Tom Serres
Oct 25, 2017 · 8 min read

The other night had the privilege of co-hosting an old friend at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Author and Entrepreneur Eric Ries. I couldn’t have been more proud to see him and to hear about the success of his new book, The Startup Way. He’s really done a fantastic job over the last 10 years.

I can distinctly remember meeting up with him in my early Silicon Valley days — at a regis style office building over on spear street just down the road from Rally’s first office. He was in mid stride working on his blog Startup Lessons Learned, and compiling many of his thoughts in preparation for what would become . Ever since that moment, I’ve been extraordinarily privileged to meet with him on a semi-regular basis, and to learn from his key insights over the years. I can most certainly credit some number of my own wins to that of the lessons I learned from Eric.

For those of you who don’t know, he wrote a best selling business book called The Lean Startup, and has recently published his second book .

There are many things to take away from Eric’s new book — most notably the importance of entrepreneurial leadership, but I want to call out two things that jumped out at me during the event as he talked with Thomas Eisenmann, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and Faculty Co-Chair of the HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship.

  1. Culture is everything
  2. Long, what I generally bucket as “slow”, is the ultimate path to drive innovation

When building my first startup, Rally, I honestly didn’t take culture seriously enough. Sure we had the cool logos on our walls, excellent growth stories, tv screens with charts, fantastical parties, and inspirational startup slogans out the wazoo, but it generally seemed to lack the kind of depth that I’m experiencing today with the building of . We obviously had a great deal of success and put many wins on the scoreboard — but by the end of the experience I was overweight, exhausted, burned out, broken, and needed extreme amounts of recovery time in-order to prepare myself for the next chapter in my entrepreneurial career.

That’s when it began to change for me — the moment I matured as an entrepreneur.

But before I start, some data. I recently started using a fit bit again after taking a short break. Until now I was mostly operating off of mental data points, journal entries, and personal reflections for most of the things mentioned.

When I logged into my Fitbit account I actually had a lot of historical data in there that I had frankly forgotten about. Data that captured my gradual increase in weight as I built Rally (which was quite significant — you’re seeing the later half below), and the near immediate impact on personal health and well-being after exiting Rally.

This is what I call my first “Rest and Reflection” period. It was about 3 years ago. I took time to explore the world and invest in quality of life. I lived in a tree house in Costa Rica, wrote and read for hours a day at street side cafes in Berlin, I wandered around Croatian castles, took in the historical monuments of Rome, Munich, and other cities — journaling and resting for days on end.

My Fitbit data since ~2012

Outside of a short uptick working at a large corporate entity void of anything that even resembled work life balance — I was generally on a very positive path.

Then a little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with what would become a chronic disease that will likely have to managed for the remainder of my life — or at least until I can find out the source of my fundamental autoimmune issue. An issue that adversely effects both my eyes, and regularly strong arms me into dealing with various periods of significant visual impairment. Lately I’ve had to overhaul many of my “normal” processes in order to continue operating optimal performance, But that’s a story for another day. I haven’t been super public about this yet — but I’m becoming increasingly inclined to talk about it — especially as I heal and look for ways to improve this disaster of a healthcare system we all have.

The point is, you can see the gradual gains driven by the steroids that I was put on to immediately tackle the issue — to basically keep me from going blind. My doctor is absolutely phenomenal, and someone I frequently refer to as my hero. Despite all this, we worked tirelessly to maintain the practice and eventually tapered off. Today, despite the fact that Animal is growing like a beautiful beast — I and all the teammates at Animal have successfully maintained their quality of life. I am so proud and am so excited to celebrate this over any business win.

OVERT POLITICAL STATEMENT (I can’t hold back any more): Now, this was extraordinarily difficult to manage and over come. Frankly still fighting, and I have a lot more empathy for people dealing with the screwed up healthcare system we have today. A system I hope someone rises to the challenge to fix. Frankly, It’s not a republican or democrat issue — and — all options (past and present) basically suck. The republican plan sucks, Obamacare sucks, they all suck. We need an entirely new system, and we will eventually chat more about this as well.

At Animal we’ve been doing our part, investing heavily in this idea of Sprint, Rest, Reflect, Tune, and Sprint again. Not only as a prototyping / venture sprinting model — but also as a life model. This model coupled with a very clear understanding of our values — has driven our cultural experience to a whole new level. Everyone who works with us has a fundamental opportunity to succeed — AND — an opportunity to live a happy and healthy life. It is the Animal Way, and we take it really seriously.

Today, despite the chronic disease, I’m in my lowest weight class since my early college days. I’ve dropped my body fat percentage from “a number that will be publicized later” to about 16% — with an overall goal of hitting the 14–15% range. While I credit this with hard work and effort — I mostly credit this with the disciplined investments in quality of life that I made 3 years ago after exiting Rally — an investment in a slower, calmer, and more disciplined way of life.

Now, I don’t want to entirely crap on Rally it was definitely a place where we helped tens of millions of people connect with amazing causes for nearly a decade. We did extraordinary things and helped a shit load of people. I am extremely proud of what we accomplished there — but we could have done so much more had I known what I know today. The scale of our achievement would have been 10x what it was when I finally exited the company. This, I’m certain of.

This leads me too my thoughts on Eric’s “long” being my “slow”.

First of all — being “slow” requires extreme amounts of discipline. When the rest of the world is watching 100M+ ICO’s and the headlines are blowing up all around you — it’s hard not to feel rushed. Here’s a key insight — 98% of those things you hear about, read, or watch happen — they are going to die in the next few years. It’s inevitable. The 80/20 rule is very real. So take your time, be disciplined, slow, and calm in your pursuits. You will have a happier and healthier life — and — you will likely be at a greater advantage when everyone else burns out.

To me slow incorporates a number of different things — all of which you can read and in the two articles I wrote after Bettina and I walked 500 miles across northern Spain on the infamous Camino de Santiago.

Eric’s new company, the Long Term Stock Exchange, is a fucking fantastic idea. — I’m not going to explain the whole thing to you, it’s better you just read it. I reflect back on my — and we talked a great deal about “incentives in a system” and the need to change them in-order to fundamentally affect the system. The goal of LTSE is basically that. It’s a market that’s designed to change the incentives in the system by rewarding companies and shareholders who focus on long term investments in innovation instead of the typical strategies companies deploy to garner short term wins in the market to drive value creation for shareholders looking for immediate wins.

How does this tie back to “Slow”? Well, it’s similar in nature. Although, perhaps more culture and lifestyle focused on things like Resting, Reflecting, and Fine Tuning your personal and organizational system after a lesson has been identified. The Sprint period is really just a time boxed moment where you work extraordinarily hard — because, fuck the 4-hour work week, we all know that hard work and effort are definitely essential to success. The key is cadence. Manage it and you’ll manage your flow more efficiently.

The parts we often forget are the ones that lead us back to resting and reflecting on what we just did. Rest being essential to getting ready for proper reflection and identifying lessons that we can actually need learn. And if you remember from my previous article — one of the big lessons I took away from my Season 2 interview with General David Petreous — it’s not a lesson “learned” until you make an organizational, policy, or behavioral change. It’s purely just a lesson identified until that point in time.

So “Slow” to me incorporates a number of different elements

  1. Sprinting — hard work and real effort, because I’ve never met anyone who’s successful who didn’t work hard.
  2. Resting — preparing your mind so that you can actually take in and get into a position of reflection. Depending on how hard the sprint was, this may take more or less time.
  3. Reflection — Using your prepared mind to begin identifying lessons — rest is essential to doing this.
  4. Tuning — Going from lessons identified to lessons learned, probably the most difficult piece to actually do because it means we actually have to make changes to ourselves or the system we operate in.

Just like Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and pretty much any other discipline one chooses to be a practitioner of — Slow is a personal and evolving science. It’s been nearly a 3 year experiment for myself. One that I will continue to invest in for many years to come.

If you are interested in the concept of Slow — I’d be curious to hear your thoughts and experiences as well. — and I’ll definitely reach out to learn more. I’d put my email out there, but I’l likely end up getting spammed by some outsourced technology firm trying to sell me over seas development talent.

Until next time — stay calm, rest regularly, and invest in a slower way of life.

Animal Ventures

Connecting forward looking companies to transformative technologies

Tom Serres

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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