If most ICO projects will fail, what does winning look like?

“What does winning look like?”

This was the question I was asked a few week’s ago by one of Left’s corporate Directors. And given that I argued last week that ‘Most ICO Projects Will Fail’, I thought I better answer that question publicly.

“Damn.” I thought, “I don’t know anymore.”

To clarify this internalization. My answer to this question wasn’t a response to a question asking for the company’s vision or mission statement, nor was it a response to the medium post in question. These elements were still very clear in my mind and in my heart. Immutable. Unwavering. We were building something of real and lasting value that bettered our Community. We wanted to be proud of the mark we’ve made.

For over twenty years, my personal ethos (and thus, it became one of the 10 core values on which we built Left) was to “Make a mark”, the rationale for which I explained in an earlier post. With RightMesh, I felt for the first time in my career I had/have an opportunity to make a mark of such significance that it had a chance to impact every person and every device on the planet. I even have a t-shirt that reads, “It is hard to sleep while trying to change the world.

But this doubt towards giving an answer was deeper than that.

Nearly seven years ago, I attended a conference where we heard tales from Biz Stone about some of the early days of Twitter. Through the fog of time, I don’t recall exactly the narrative, but one of the things that was shared was a story about rebuffing advances from Facebook, where Evan Williams (?) turned down an offer to sell Twitter for $500M. True or not, I don’t know. But it was great stage theatre at the time.

In the back of the hall where we sat, I leaned over to Chris (my co-founder) and whispered to him, “If you ever turn down $500M for this venture of ours, I know where you live, and I will hunt you down and kill you.

In context, the size of our company was exactly two full-time employees (him and I) and two contractors, and we were just two guys in a garage/Starbucks. So the idea that somewhere in our future was a $500M exit was so far out of our reality, it was incomprehensible.

Over Christmas last year, my wife and I were talking about, what does retirement look like for each of us? My vision was one where I had a significant exit (or 3), and thus had significant funds to become some sort of super angel investor, travelling the world advising entrepreneurs, giving advice, sharing stories, and trying to help those who were trying to make the world a better place. I picked a random, large number as a financial target that would allow me to achieve that objective.

And thus, when asked, “What does winning look like?” My mind raced in all sorts of directions.

Winning to me was not financial. I knew that. Our existing Left Travel division is doing quite well. If it was only financial, we would do only that. And now with RightMesh growing as it is, and on the verge of tokenizing, that side of the business will also soon be set up for success, assuming we continue to do those little things right over the next few months and years, and as I illustrated last week — we are not afraid to pivot to obtain product-market fit. However, I did see now what the guys from Twitter saw in their vision: selling out at that time would not have been winning. They had too much left yet to do.

However, winning was also not about market dominance or even about bringing connectivity to the next billion people. I have had several conversations this past week about cooperating with other mesh networking and distributed computing projects, be it with Althea Mesh, GoTenna, the Orchid Protocol, or others who are vision aligned.

It was also not about making my mark. This was the one that hit me the most. It is what we are focused on doing for sure. But if we were to achieve this — with others or by ourselves — would this feel like winning? It didn’t feel like it to me.

So what was winning?

A sample of what I am missing every time I travel. This is the tree outside of the Left & RightMesh offices in Maple Ridge, BC (October 2017) #NoFilter

Two weeks ago, I drove my 11-year old son to school for the first time in over a month. The pursuit of business takes a toll on your family. Upon getting into the office, I caught up with the team before we headed out for a team-building event where we went curling then to the pub for a cold beer afterwards. And yes, that is so stereotypically Canadian that I almost didn’t include it here, eh… but it was a blast. After travelling extensively to conferences and tradeshows in 6 different cities where we had great conversation after great conversation about the power and potential of RightMesh, this single day of routine was easily my best day in weeks. Camaraderie, laughter, and family. Was this winning?

I went on the road again last week. This time , for the first time in six weeks, it was not to attend another blockchain conference — it was to gather with peers at a 2-day executive retreat for tech founders. Last year, I joined FoundersNetwork to connect and share experiences with others who are going through the ups and downs of starting and scaling a company. Once again this was about camaraderie, laughter, and family — albeit of a slightly different sort.

On the drive out to the resort in Carmel, California… about 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, I was carpooling with other founders and one of them asked, “What do you want to achieve over the next 2 days?”

“I wanted to know what winning is,” I replied.

Over the next two days, I had dozens of conversations with other tech founders… from all stages. Some doing really well, some in-between ventures, some struggling — and I had an amazing time. Every time I shared a story of our success (and our failures), I felt alive. As much as I was giving of my time to others, I was being energized by others. This, I thought, was what I talked about with my wife about what retirement looked like.

One of the more thought-provoking sessions of the retreat was a fireside talk by James Brooman, who recently scaled Mount Everest without oxygen earlier this year (Great read here: https://everestwithoutoxygen.wordpress.com/). Those of us in the audience were held spellbound as we peppered him with questions. And yes, the fact that he was standing in front of us revealed the spoiler of his survival, but this didn’t spoil the suspense.

I mean it. Go read his story here for inspiration: https://everestwithoutoxygen.wordpress.com/

The next day, while listening to a few other talks about The Entrepreneur’s Ethos (by Jarie Bolander) and about using business as a force for good in the world, it all became real. I had found my answer.

In recounting his tale in conquering Everest, James brought us up to the peak and back, telling a story that must have lasted over an hour, though it could have been more or less — nobody really cared. We were just along for the journey.

What was revealing, however, was that the time he spent describing the summit itself lasted only one minute or less. “So, then we got to the summit… we looked around for a few minutes… spent about 15 minutes up there… then started the descent back down”.

There it is. It is not the summit. It is not the pinnacle. It was the journey itself.

I had been leading myself down the path in recent months that what we are building with RightMesh and our small, 7-year old startup of Left was about the big wins, it was about conquering the obstacles along the way, successfully completing our token sale, measuring myself by the miles achieved rather than the mileposts passed.

Mike Novogratz at Ethereal Summit, San Francisco (October 2017)

This past week, I was on the road again — back to San Francisco in fact — though this time to the Ethereal Summit from the team at Consensys. Speaker after speaker — from Joseph Lubin and Peter Diamandis, to Juan Benet, Bill Tai, and Steve Waterhouse — they all had the same message spoken humbly by Mike Novogratz of Galaxy IP:

“At the center of this revolution is the spirit to change the world.”

Entrepreneurship is the game. All the preparation you put into summit-ting your own personal Everest is why we do what we do. It is not the final result that counts, but did you play your hardest? Did you stand up to be counted when it mattered? Did you make a difference and try to change the world for the better? Did you go all in and enjoy the moment? This is what winning means to me. To be given the opportunity to play the game and enjoy every step of the journey.

I scribbled in my fnSummit-branded notebook, “Make Your Mark” but right next to it I wrote, “Every Day”.

n.b. When I was driving back to the SFO airport upon returning from the FN retreat in Carmel, I was involved in a car accident that could have been a lot more serious than it was. We were the lead car in a three-car pileup, the last vehicle driven by a new driver with so much in front of them literally and figuratively. This new driver failed to notice that we were at a dead stop on the freeway. In the end, everyone seemed to come out of the incident mostly unscathed (for myself I had some bruising, whiplash, and a mild concussion). However, it did hammer home to me though about how quickly things can change, and if you are not looking to make your mark every single day, and if you don’t appreciate how quickly things can change, you are going to miss the important wins along the way.

john