Is a character flaw an enabler or disabler

I have my fair share of flaws and all of you reading this do to.  The greatest professional gift that I was ever given was from my previous job where I was under the microscope each and every day and was “reviewed” by my peers and direct managers multiple times a month.  It gave me a distinct understanding of my own shortcomings, helped me improve, and ultimately gave me a thick skin.  Most of my biggest issues flow directly from a condition known as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) that I’ve had since I was a young child.  As I’ve learned about myself, I’ve also learned to control many of the negative effects and have come to view my condition as an enabler of my success and not a disabler as most people do.  If you follow a strategy that plays to your strengths and pair with people that have the exact opposite strengths it produces a powerful combination.  Let me explain.

Since I was a young child I was the kid with too much energy and too little patience and focus.  Unlike many of you, my thoughts are not linear.  My mind jumps extremely quickly from one thing to another which makes doing things that require attention to detail very difficult.  The jumping is not illogical, its just takes a different path than most people think along.  For instance, if we are talking about a business concept I’ll likely be thinking about your company and a few others that have related underlying concepts.  Clearly I miss some of the details and thats a distinct weakness.  On the flip side, it makes me really good at brainstorming, comparative analysis and creative problem solving.  I don’t need a lot of explanation to get the point, in fact I usually get it far before its made and so I’ll sometimes be an interrupter.  Waiting around for a point I already understand doesn’t work for me.  Is that presumptuous to assume I understand what people are talking about? Probably, but after 27 years of experience I’d say I usually have the point correctly.

The hyperactivity part of the disorder gives me a distinct preference for trying things versus thinking them through.  I do things twice as fast as most people but also screw up twice as often. At the end of the day its usually the exact same outcome and time as someone using a more step-by-step approach.  Most people say that my approach is wrong, that I should correct it.  My old managers always brought up mistakes I made with details.  What I’ve found is that when I pair my impulsive doing tendencies with someone like Chad who is a deliberate thinker we tend to get things done super quickly and without major mistakes.  A great example of this is when Chad and I put together a ceiling fan.  He immediately started reading the directions while I had already started putting in the screws.  As I made mistakes he would point them out and we’d move on.  It worked pretty damn well, and that fan went up super quickly.  So is this flaw a disabler? I’d argue no if you understand it and correct by pairing with someone who is a thinker.

Its obvious that in many environments my flaws would be crippling and probably inhibit professional and personal advancement. In my previous job, I was acutely hiding certain character traits and not acting myself in order to advance.  One of the unspoken reasons of moving to Boulder and getting into the startup world was my belief that this environment and profession plays to (and values) my specific strengths.  At the end of the day, everyone has different issues to to contend with and how we choose to face them and leverage them has a direct impact on our happiness and success.  Do any of you have “flaws” you consider to be enablers in some sense?

Is a character flaw an enabler or disabler

Why @ZackShapiro wants to be an entrepreneur

This is a guest post by Zack Shapiro, a student at the University of Colorado. He also runs an iPhone
development company called 59thirty and is currently working on a stealth
startup.

Want the short version? I want to be an entrepreneur because I can’t sit still. I work on projects and help others out all while day dreaming about my own goals, my ideas that I can’t seem to shake from the front of my mind.

I’ve had business ideas since I was 12 or 13. That’s as far back as I can remember throwing away small amounts of money on short-lived ideas. I created and developed blogs and then dumped them for a new one. I outsourced web design and small coding projects only to realize I didn’t know what to do next.

I didn’t know this was entrepreneurship. I just thought I was antsy.

In high school I ran my most successful website, a comedy blog. This lead to a podcast that culminated with former Tech TV personality Martin Sargent appearing on our second-to-last episode and his sidekick, Joey the Intern appearing on our final one. That was my first “exit.” I couldn’t top myself there, so I went out on a high note.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college: the iPhone is taking over the planet. I take a computer science class and develop what would become my first app. With the encouragement of my newly found mentor Dave Taylor I finish it and release it as an experiment. 8 months later 1200 copies have been sold.

I’m in.

A friend once told me that he knew most of what he learned in college prior to going, he just didn’t know the associated terms. I guess I’ve always known this was what I wanted to do. I just didn’t have a name for it.

So now I’m two years through undergrad, sure of what I want to do, and tapping my foot impatiently to do it full-time. Classes like astronomy are a waste of my time, so I’m auditing an MBA class on venture capital. I’m hungry for knowledge and dying to apply it.

Once I walk across that stage I’ll put in an order for business cards that screams with a full ethos, “I’m an entrepreneur.”

Why @ZackShapiro wants to be an entrepreneur

Rejection is my yardstick of success

I get rejected a lot. Not only do I get rejected a lot, but I get rejected in a lot of different ways, too. I get rejected with unanswered “cold call” emails, and by politely worded “not interested” responses and everything in between.  I get a constant stream of rejection and when it’s not making me depressed, I savor it as much as the success.  Getting told no tells me that I’m pushing for more than I deserve and its a good yardstick for measuring just how far I’m pushing the envelope.

I want to be clear though that rejection and failure aren’t the same thing.  In his last blog post, Andy Ellwood talks about the benefits of failing spectacularly as a way of overcoming one’s fear of failure in general and becoming a better entrepreneur.  Not purposely failing, but doing something you half expect to fail with the confidence and purpose of something who thinks they will succeed.  Rejection is a very similar concept but where rejection is generally a private occurrence, failure tends to be an embarrassing public event.  Instead of publicly realizing you are wrong, rejection are a series of small failures that test your personal resolve to continue and teaches you what works and what doesn’t.  If a big named entrepreneur or other VIP doesn’t respond to my emails its not a failure, its a learning opportunity.  What did I do differently with those that did respond? It also indicates that I’m pushing the boundaries of what I’m able to accomplish.  Chris Dixon summed it up really well in a recent blog post when he said “if you aren’t rejected on a daily basis you aren’t trying hard enough.”

The rejection comes in many forms.  First there is the blatant rejection, the emails that read “I’m not interested” or some other polite variety of this statement.  These slide right off my back, since the vast majority of these responses come from smaller potential customers, never from potential mentors.   There is also the not so blatant “my schedule is really busy for the next few weeks, how about you follow-up with me then” which tells me they are clearly not interested, but luckily for them I’m a persistent little guy and I mark the date on my calendar for a follow-up.  Then there are the ones that never respond.  The worst though, are the ones that respond to setup a meeting but then either continually push it back or don’t show up.

For all the rejection, there is a ton of success.  To me, networking is both a quality game and a quantity game.  Remind anyone of dating?  You never know where a relationship will lead, so I try to maximize my volume of meetings with the best people possible. The more rejection I receive, the more fantastic connections I’ve likely made.  In other words it all goes back to Edison and his amazing lightbulb. Over one thousand failed experiments, each in its own way revealed a little more of the puzzle that, when finally complete, changed the world.  As Edison said, genius is indeed “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”

Rejection is my yardstick of success

Does the CO tech explosion resemble the GoldRush?

This weekend I saw a sign from the Goldrush era in Colorado. The language extolling the virtues of buying land for “profitable exploration” instantly resembled the sales copy I’ve come to recognize on websites.  I wondered if we [tech startups] were living the modern day version. I set out to research and determine what, if any, were the similarities and differences between 1859 and 2009.

Gold Rush Mining
Prospecting for Gold

Let’s start with some facts. The Colorado Gold Rush was set-off in 1859 by the discovery of gold in what is today Denver’s Confluence Park. The news, coming out roughly 10 years after the California Gold Rush, set off a stampede of prospective miners from across the plains. The towns of Boulder, Golden and Denver sprung up to serve the booming mining operations across the front range. In total, 21 million ounces of gold were mined from Colorado between 1859 and 1861, more than the combined total of both the California and Alaska rushes earlier in the century. In addition to making individual prospectors rich, it provided lucrative jobs for those who didn’t want to risk it on their own and lead to the development of significant infrastructure investments. This included rail links, highways, farming operations and a booming tourism business.

In the common conscience, including mine, a Goldrush is an irrational search for a quick fortune. Not a laudable endeavor. The result, however, is that a single 2 year period in Colorado transformed a largely uninhabited part of the country into a well connected economic hub and set it up for a century of rapid population growth.  Us Boulderites love our town, and it wouldn’t exist as it is if it weren’t for the Gold Rush.

The reasons people have moved to Colorado to start technology companies are very different. The most frequent reason people give for moving here is lifestyle. Starting a business is hard work, but is also fun and engages people’s passions.  The startup community consists of passionate people living their life to the fullest.  The type of startups moving to Boulder during what I want to call the Startup Explosion are not the Gold Rush people blindly seeking wealth.  They are smart, confident, adventurous and looking for a community where they belong and that can help them accumulate wealth and a reputation.  These are people who can have, and largely already have had, top-notch jobs elsewhere.

Clearly the human factors aren’t the same as the Gold Rush.  The outcomes, however, are exactly the same.  The influx of new companies has led to a large service and infrastructure expansion.  200 years ago it was the creation of railroads, highways and cities. Today its VC firms, incubators, law resources and potentially Google Fiber *cross my fingers*.

So does the tech explosion resemble the GoldRush?  Kinda.  It has the same influx of resources and expansion of infrastructure, but it lacks the irrational underpinnings of the Gold Diggers.  While people left their homes for fortune during the Gold Rush, more than 150 years later people are moving for the startup infrastructure, mentors and lifestyle.

Does the CO tech explosion resemble the GoldRush?