Author: mbmccall

The Three Drivers of Contentment & Motivation at Work

What motivates us to perform and drives contentment at work? Most entrepreneurs struggle with this question. You want success, want to have drive and yet rely too heavily on fear-based or external motivators which often leave a negative residue. The research shows that the most effective motivators are intrinsic and positive.

A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.
~ Pat Riley, six-time NBA championship coach (Lakers/Heat)

This post comes from the first part of a lunch & learn session I recently did at one of my former portfolio companies, Graphiq.

What truly motivates us? Three words: Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, reviewed the sea of research around motivation at work. While factors like money, prestige, punishment or fear can drive us, these pale in comparison to MAP. This video does a great job expanding on this work (worth the 10 min watch):

Mastery: the urge to improve, to have a sense of forward progress. In my Flow framework, this is at the heart of “thriving in the entrepreneurial journey”…defining the core elements of your identity (and focus) and then applying the habits and discipline to master the key skills critical to them. For example, in a work context, this could be “becoming the best salesperson possible” and developing the skills around prospecting, objection handling, relationship management and negotiations. On a personal level, it can be self-mastery and developing a greater sense of equanimity & patience in your daily interactions, better self-care practices (sleep, working out) and becoming less reactive to ups and downs of daily life. As you get better at something, the more rewarding it becomes.

Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives. As we master our core responsibilities, everyone in the organization or those around us feel more confident in giving us more freedom: when we work, how we work, what we work on, who we work with. Said another way, we experience less micro-management and enjoy more degrees of freedom.

Purpose: The service to something larger than ourselves. When we do something for our own gain, it can motivate us but it is short-lived and often requires another hit (like an addict). Service can be defined in a host of different ways ranging from providing superior care to customers to mentoring junior reports to helping those less fortunate to being a role model for others. The key is that it is not focused on your own gain.

So, to reiterate…three words: Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose.

Contentment
That said, none of us want to win the battle and lose the war.  Too often, we drive ourselves hard only to feel empty or drained at the end. Contentment comes from when we progress towards something better/greater versus escaping from our fears and inadequacies. Let me repeat this as IT IS CORE…focus on motivation around progressing Towards something versus the anxietal default approach of motivation through Escaping our Fears & inadequacies (e.g. the inner voice that says “look asshole, if you don’t do this right, you’ll be a failure or you’ll get fired or you’ll be embarrassed or…).

In Which Wolf Do You Feed?, I discussed the importance of Intrinsic versus Extrinsic motivations.  In his book, Pink argues that effective human motivation is largely intrinsic around mastery, autonomy and purpose. He argues against old models of motivation driven by rewards and fear of punishment, dominated by extrinsic factors such as money.

My challenge: see how you can integrate more positive, intrinsic motivators into your daily work. Define your core role at the firm, laying out the key responsibilities and outputs for this and then commit to building the skills and obtaining the knowledge to be your highest version of this (vs just getting by). Focus on the input(s) versus the output. Start with just one area or skill and go from there. Additionally, write down 2-3 ways in which your work is in service to others. Put these out where you can see them. Focus your motivation on this versus simply gaining recognition or earning more money/bonus.

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

Question: If you lose your fear, do you lose your drive?  It’s a question many entrepreneurs ask themselves.  They seem to have bought into the idea that you can either be content or you can be driven, but those two states cannot coexist. But that idea is flawed.

In reality, we are the stories we tell ourselves, becoming the characters (hero or villain, creator or victim, etc) that we believe and repeat. Once set, these identities and these stories rule our lives. For the same conditions or situation, they determine whether we are thriving or surviving, growing or just getting by, content or disatisfied.  And yet, we often make this selection sub-consciously.

One of the leading experts on peak performance, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, coined the term “Flow” in his seminal research on top performers. We sometimes call it being “in the zone,” performing at the top of our game and enjoying a sense of mastery and ease rather than enduring the “fear and angst” that can accompany performance.

Mihaly defines Flow as:

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.“

How do we get into it and why do we fall out of it? It’s all about what’s driving you.  Is your motivation internal/intrinsic or external/extrinsic motivation? This is the heart of my blog and my framework below.

At a high level summary, the key to enjoying sustainable success rests on Arete.  This is the Greek concept around striving to become the “highest version” of ourselves as defined by us (intrinsic) and not as defined by others (extrinsic). This is motivation driven by moving towards something aspirational versus moving away from fear.

IDENTITY is at the heart of all of this. If we define our core Identity in empowering ways, we set ourselves up for Flow. If we define ourselves in ego-centric, inflexible ways, we set ourselves up for terrible suffering. Identity has a host of components ranging from core values, narratives, identity statements, behaviors, life segments, etc. We have a core identity and then layers that we use to define ourselves i.e. Mother, wife, boss, coach, athlete, daughter, friend. 

EXPECTATIONS flow from the Identities we choose. These are often subconscious but dictate our lives. When reality shows up differently from our expectations, we begin to feel anxious and suffer. Being conscious around the Identities we chose and understanding the Expectations that arise from this is half the game.

There is a Cherokee story of a chief talking to his grandson. He describes that he has Two Wolves battling inside of him. One is full of ego, greed, anger and pride. The Other is full of truth, hope, empathy and service. When the boy asks “which wolf wins?”, the chief responds “The one that you feed.”

In selecting our identities and in embracing specific narratives about our lives, we feed one of the wolves. Do you work for personal glory or in service to something greater? How critical is external validation to your happiness? Is your inner voice on fire or can you find windows of inner calm?

For example, belieiving that life is a zero sum game and defining yourself as a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t fail can set you up for misery. Things won’t go your way on a daily basis. Setbacks confirm the harshness of your reality and this identity will light up your ego and your fear. Anxiety sets in. “This shouldn’t or can’t be happening.”  “What will people think?”  You might project negative scenarios causing the voice of your inner critic to get louder.  Why? Because you defined yourself and your Identity in a way that plays to ego, requires external validation and has limited flexibility.

However, if you view experience as driving growth, then challenges/setbacks become a means to grow and improve. If you identify as “a resilient & creative entrepreneur who uses persistence in confronting challenges “, your expectations and your interpretations change. In a perfect world, you would welcome these challenges to sharpen your craft and skills. Your value isn’t reflected in what others think of you but rather how you grow and improve your mastery. This is a simplistic example but it shows you the importance of answering: Which wolf do you feed?

 

Challenge: What is your current Identity and Narrative and how can you define what a “Higher Version” looks like to incorporate more intrinsic motivation and Flow?

VC Confidential Is Now Something Ventured

Something Ventured is pretty fully operational! Back in 2005 when I was on the FeedBurner board (Twitter 1.0), I started VC Confidential with two goals: 1) to help entrepreneurs see behind the VC curtain on how we thought/made decisions and 2) to see how the FeedBurner RSS service worked in practice. Dick Costolo (CEO), Brad Feld and Fred Wilson (fellow investors) were great mentors and helped build my base. Over the years, however, I have felt a different calling with my blogging. So much so that I stopped for 2 years while I worked things through.

There are a lot of great blogs out there now around the tactical and practical elements of entrepreneurship and venture. However, what I have seen lacking is a deeper focus on the Entrepreneurial Journey from a more holistic perspective. This became the focus of Something Ventured (.net). Too many people (both entrepreneurs and everyday people) win the battle and loose the war. They survive the day, the month, the start-up, the next financing versus thriving and finding purpose/energy in the Journey. Jerry Colonna has built out Reboot.io around this (highly recommend it for all entrepreneurs). The Life Coach industry is booming for a reason. Why just “survive” when you can “thrive”?  Why hit the finish line burned out when you can have sustainable success?  When does “just getting by for the next three years” end? If I “lose my fear, do I lose my drive”? (No, BTW, just lose less sleep). These are the core questions I’m focused on.

So, there will be a broad array of tactical and practical (how to draft a value proposition, how to layout fundraising narrative, how to build culture, etc) but there will also be a lot on determining North stars & values, embracing radical self-inquiry, setting goals and establishing disciplines/habits to stay in alignment with these. Building skills not just for business for living the “good life”.

So, all of my old post (450+) still sit over at VC Confidential but all future posts will be here on Something Ventured. Tell your friends and share. Thanks!

— Matt

My Venture Covenant With Entrepreneurs

There is a false dogma around the VC/Entrepreneurship relationship…supported by bad behaviors on both sides. You feel a need to manage your investors & board, to not show weakness and present to us. We fail to fully listen, dictate desires or fears and financially optimize our investments. Trust and open communication are our most precious assets which we squander away as a result. In reality, we are on the journey together with a common enemy (Darwin). We must hang to together or “surely, we will all hang separately.” We need to optimize our chances for success, row together, remove unnecessary drama and minimize self-inflicted wounds (the majority cause of pre-mature death). Over the years, I’ve seen both the good and the awful with this relationship. So, here is my rough draft of a Covenant with My Entrepreneurs

MY PROMISE
MY EXPECTATION
Be committed to your personal & the company’s success Be self-aware and embrace your blind spots
Respect that this is your company but provide guardrails & accelerants Don’t self-optimize. Your employees and I depend on you
Show up rationally, empathetically and, “first, do no harm” Don’t let fear or ego dictate how you manage and lead
Be open and frank in my communication Be open and honest in your communications
Seek homework from you to knock down barriers & accelerate growth Say “no thanks” when I’m not helpful
Respect your boundaries Acknowledge when you need help or don’t know
Honor confidentiality Embrace this as a partnership, not as a necessary Evil
Encourage experimentation, quick iterations and respect failure Don’t feel obligated to carry the world on your shoulders

Multiples vs IRR

One of my most popular posts from VC Confidential…

“You Can’t Eat IRR.” — anonymous

I was at a business school today helping judge several business plans. As group after group presented, I saw each make the same mistake as the previous. When they tried to justify the investment from the perspective of the VC, they kept telling us that this was a 40% IRR deal or a 25% IRR as if we had magical IRR thresholds.

The reality is that the venture world is all about multiples and the IRR’s are the results. I don’t know what the original legacy behind this was, but from a practical perspective, it is driven mostly by the fact that we live in a boolean world. Some is also based upon the high net worth legacy of our business. Originally, because pension law did not permit the large institutional investors in, our business was funded by family offices, endowments and foundations. Multi-generational families, while they want high IRR’s, are really looking to double or triple their invested capital.

From a portfolio perspective, if we invest in 10 deals, 4 are tube shots, 2 we fight to get our money back on, 2-3 we get 2-5x on and the 10th deal drives the return (hopefully north of 10x). If we doubled our money in 1 year (100% IRR) but lost all our money on the next deal over 6 years, we aren’t happy (net gain is $0). We don’t care that we made 2x in 1 versus 3 years or lost all of our money over 6 years versus 4 years (this impacts IRR), because we earned 1x on the capital.

We often see complex financial models with discounted cash flows, hurdle rates and such. These are useless. I have never seen a set of financials in an early stage company that ever reflect what Darwin will allow to happen in reality. So, you start your modeling with unreliable numbers. Secondly, what is the beta for an early stage biotech deal, a semi-conductor start-up, etc? Can you assess the risk associated with a given management team? How about a new market space?

Perhaps we are too lazy to try and figure this out, but after decades of effort, the only method that seems to work in the venture world is to target 10x on each early stage deal (3-5x on later stage plays). They all look like the next Microsoft, but eventually, the portfolio of these settles down to the profile above. In the early stage world, if you target, say a 40% IRR, through assuming a number of 5x wins in a compressed period of time, you will likely be out of the business. Your 5x wins, while possibly generating high IRR’s, don’t return enough multiple to pay for the 4 tube shots and 2 break-even deals. Your winners need to deliver 10x.

So, next time you are trying to convince a VC about the merits of your firm, show them how they can make 10x capital on a realistic exit scenario (not how to get a 40% IRR).

The Significance Of The Karma Bracelet

I have an old, wooden beaded Karma bracelet that I wear most days on my left wrist in the place of a watch. It’s worn down a bit and is held together with three loops of silver coated elastic line. It’s dirty light brown with faded chinese symbols on it. It is definitely not the most appealing accessory.

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” — Nora Roberts

People continually ask me about it and why I wear it. I originally bought it on a lark several years during a business trip. As readers of my blog know, I believe (as many VC’s do) that Karma sits at the middle of our investment (& personal) universe. Good acts & intentions attract like. In my mind, the Venture Capital world is the single strongest proof point behind the Law of Attraction (made famous by the book & movie, The Secret). That said, at the time (around 2003), the venture world was coming out of the darkest chapter in its history. Let me give you a sense of what it was like.

I had 12 investments at the time that I had made between 1995 and 2001. Regardless of how compelling or promising the business, by 2000, everything was in free fall. I moved from board meeting to board meeting, reviewing how much each firm had missed its revenue plan and what draconian steps we would take to reduce cost (e.g. usually laying people off). As I stepped back and reviewed the bigger picture, it painted a pretty bleak scene. It looked as if I would lose all of the investments. Very quickly, my mind would linearly extend out this bleak future. Without success, my days as a VC would be short. Without a job, I’d have little to show new employers in the industry. Without strong job prospects, what would I do for a living. You can (or even have personally) imagine how this negative feedback loop feeds on itself. In fact, I see a lot of people today going down this path. Ironically, the best relief I had from this grind was to help others, to make introductions where I could, to counsel entrepreneurs or just listening to people in need. My philosophy has been that just because your world is not going as hoped, does not mean that you can’t try to help others. In fact, you usually get as much out of it as they do.

By 2003, things had stabilized but I had little to no visibility on exits or good news from my companies. While I had lost several investments, the lionshare had pulled through. IT customers had not returned to the market in strength and it was difficult to see what trends or strategies would carry the day. I had had a long, grinding three years and was not certain how much resilience I had left nor how long this would drag on. I definitely had my days where I questioned if I should remain in venture capital. My confidence was shaken and I could point to only modest gains.

Ironically, during the day, I would counsel entrepreneurs about perseverance, resilience and hope. Jim Clark, the founder of WebMD, Netscape, Silicon Graphics and myCFO, has always said the great companies are not built, but rather willed into existence. I realized that I couldn’t believe in and preach A while doing B (running away). So, day in and day out, I ground it out.

Fast forward to 2008. I was in the midst of a string of successes that, honestly, surprised me. Many of those struggling companies from years before, had managed to conquer their challenges, scale their businesses and realize strong exits. In fact, during 2007 & 2008, these companies sold for nearly a $1B to the likes of IAC, Google and Dell.  In fact, the largest exit of all, Lefthand Networks, sold to HP for $360 million in November, 2008 as our economy was nearing the bottom of the world’s worst downturn in 70 years. Furthermore, because of these exits, I had few portfolio companies to manage through the current economic mess, leaving me with more time to look at new investment opportunities.

So, when I look at my beaded bracelet, do I think of it as a good luck charm? Maybe a little bit. However, more importantly, it symbolizes to me that, no matter how dark things get, the world is full of good people & good intentions and that tomorrow will be better than today. It reminds me that success is driven not by brilliance & insight (though they help) but rather by persistence, resilience and faith. Often, just getting up in the morning and putting your feet on the floor is the best strategy when you don’t know where you can muster the energy & confidence to go on. This is not to say that one should chase after the wrong windmills. However, if you still believe in your very fiber (during your good days) that you are on the right path, push forward.

As the Rolling Stones wrote, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

Resilience In The Storm

(Originally published 2006 in VC Confidential) Resilience is a key theme you will hear about time and time again in the entrepreneurial world. The ability to persevere and bounce back from adversity is part of the DNA of a successful entrepreneur (and VC Sith Lord). During the 1999-2002 period, nearly everyone in the venture and entrepreneurial world went through an historic resilience test. No business model seemed to work, corporations and consumers weren’t buying and Darwin was taking company after company into the grave. While I hope we never see times like these again, I do believe that we will have a downturn in the next two years. With many companies relying on advertising models to support their firms, they will learn how quickly a recession can dent this model.

I remember this period all too well. I remember seriously questioning what I was doing in the venture business where all I seemed to be doing was going to board meetings to discuss why our companies were missing budget, yet again, and how many staff could we lay off. I was working long hours, thinking that if I spent enough time at it, things had to get better…right? I lost 15 pounds from stress and lack of sleep.

During this period, I read a great article by Roger McNamee, one of the awesome investors in the business (he is currently partnered with Bono and the former CEO of EA on a media fund, Elevation Partners).  He said that in times of massive macro change, there is little you can do as an individual to change your environment. You can respond by, like Homer, lashing yourself to the mast, and screaming at the on-coming storm. Or, you can use the time to truly understand what is important in your life…family and friends. In fact, he advocated that you will have limited influence on outcomes during macro setbacks, and that these are prime times to increase the amount of time you spend with your spouse and kids.

In short, his framework seemed to be: there are things that you have limited control over and that are fleeting (success at work, social standing, etc) and there are things you have considerable control over (your friendships, your relationships with your kids and wife, etc). Which do you want to tie your image of self and your happiness to? What do you want to look back at and remember that you did?

My response was to start having weekly lunches with my son at his elementary school and taking my daughter to school in the morning. I signed up to coach baseball with them. I spent more effort trying to have dinner with my family and to keep in touch with my friends. Not only did it significantly increase my resilience, but it instilled a different set of operating principles that I still use today. So, my advice to all entrepreneurs is to figure out what is your core foundation, that which is essential to you and which you have some degree of control over. Once you have, connect with it, protect it and use it to keep the rest of your life in perspective. Unleash the mast…