Monthly Archives: June 2008

What Keeps You Up At Night?

Last Monday (June 16th) I had my first big investor meeting. I had spoken with many people along the way and secured a few verbal commitments, but this one was more formal. I had the opportunity to stand in front of 15 well established and successful Washington, DC based entrepreneurs and convince them their next investment should be with a company that has yet to make its first sale. This was for the big money, the amount that would really get Atayne off the ground.

Overall, things went pretty well. Being an unwavering optimist, I walked into the event hoping to hit a home run and walk away with $350,000 in signed checks. Those expectations are not realistic when you are asking people to hand over such substantial sums of money. However, there is no doubt I hit a triple. I have a man in scoring position, and now I just have to step back up to the plate and knock him in.

But I want to get beyond the outcome of the event. The point of this post is to talk about one simple question that one of the attendees asked me, “What keeps you up at night?” My first thought, “What doesn’t?” I could have named a long string of things, but I spared the room of my stories that lead to sleep deprived, coffee fueled days. I mentioned a couple things, and we moved on to other topics.

I should have known that the question was foreshadowing what was to become of my evening. Mentally and physically exhausted, I laid my head on my pillow at about 11:45pm that night. And it was like I turned on a switch, a switch that instantly filled my head with a wide array of thoughts. I lay there replaying the entire evening in my head: I could have done this, I should have said that. We all know hindsight is 20/20, but knowing does not prevent one from thinking how things could have played differently.

For 5 hours I lay there. When my alarm clock went off at 4:45am to start another day, I did not want to get up. I wanted to make up for the 4 hours of sleep I had gotten the last two nights combined. But I didn’t stay in bed. I made the very hard first step of the day. And after a quick run, a shower, and few cups of coffee, I was once again energized and filled with passion for the 16+ hour work day that awaited me.

Why do I tell this story? It is not to say that a run, shower, and coffee give me my energy (although they all sure do help). I tell this story because as I was taking step 1, then 2, then 3, I thought to myself, “Does it really matter what keeps me up at night?” The answer to me was simple, “No.” Staying up at night is easy. I do it once or twice a week and ultimately the reason is always different. What is really hard: taking the first step of the day after being up all night. Getting out of bed and putting every ounce of energy and passion into building a dream. That is the hard part.

So in my mind I should not have been asked, “What keeps you up at night?” but rather “What gets you up in the morning?” Because getting up in the morning is the true test.

I hope that you are now asking what gets me up in the morning. Here are just a few things:

  • An advisor who forgoes paid work to fly across the country on a red eye, sleep on a basement floor, and then fly back across the country at 6am in order to support me at the investor dinner.
  • Friends who make room in their basement for another “son”, adding to the 4 sons they already have. And a college buddy who has recently volunteered to support me financially until the dream takes off, so that I can move out of the basement.
  • A girlfriend who has spent countless hours reviewing and editing multiple versions of business plans, executive summaries, website copy, and blog entries.
  • A family that understands why I had to miss the first family vacation that we have planned in over 20 years.
  • The people I tell the Atayne story to and then they pledge to be the first customer.
  • The strangers and soon to be friends who read and comment on my blog.

These can all be simplified to one thing, PEOPLE. The people who believe in Atayne. The people who believe there is a better way to do things. The people who believe that if you do good by people and the planet, profits will follow. Every day that I struggle to take the first step out of bed in the morning, it becomes easy when I think of all those people that believe in me. And I refuse to let them down.

Over the next couple weeks I need to close on a substantial amount of financing to bring Atayne to the market on schedule. I have to convince people with the money that I don’t have, to put it in my pocket. Now more than ever is the time to show these potential investors how many people believe in Atayne. So, just as I have asked investors to show their faith in me through direct investments, I’m asking you to voice your support by posting a simple response to this entry – “I BELIEVE AND I WILL BUY.“ To add even more impact, include your city and state and forward to friends you think will believe.

And always remember:
“Dreams are like the paints of a great artist. Your dreams are your paints, the world is your canvas. Believing is the brush that converts your dreams into a masterpiece of reality.”
-Unknown

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Give Someone 5

One of the things I love most about running is that for about an hour each day I can step away and exist in my own little world. And it is so simple. I throw on my shoes and headphones and head out the door. No one can bother me or interfere with my time. I can lock out everything and deal with only the thoughts I choose to keep in my head.

While this is an important release for me, and most people need “their time” each day, I think it is important to not fully block yourself out from the rest of the world. In the words of Mike Marriner, “Expand your scope of what the world holds. Rent that independent documentary you usually wouldn’t rent. Talk to that person in the coffee shop you normally wouldn’t talk to. It’s so important to keep your eyes open. How can you find what you’re passionate about when you only see 10 percent of what’s out there?”

If you have read any of my other posts you might be thinking, “Where the hell is he going with this?” Well, I am thinking the same thing as I write. But I guess I am starting here because of something that happened to me a couple weeks ago on a run, the time of the day when I fully close myself off from the world.

It was a pretty typical Thursday evening run, 6 miles. Not a whole lot was different from the 6 miles I did the day before, except that I happened to be in New York and was running through the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. For those of you not familiar with Williamsburg, many residents describe it as “an exclusive area of artists and hipsters.”

When I started the run, I just knew it was not going to be a good one. My legs felt flat and with every step I took my stomach told me to duck into the next pizza place to grab a slice. I continued to struggle through the first 4 miles and then something happened. About 100 feet ahead I noticed a mother and her young daughter walking toward me. The girl, about 4 years old was bopping along, and when we got about 50 feet away she put out her hand. I wondered what she was doing, and then it hit me. She was waiting to give me 5!

At first I was a little unsure of what to do. Should I take a quick left and avoid the whole thing? Should I just pretend I didn’t see her? It amazes me that I had those thoughts, because the answer was simple – stick my hand out and give her 5. And when I did, everything changed. My tired legs and hungry stomach suddenly become unnoticeable. All of a sudden I felt great. That little girl, who I will probably never see again, gave me a spark. She changed my whole perspective. I closed out the final two miles feeling great. And it was all because some little girl gave me 5.

So why did I feel the need to share this story? I think it is because everyday we all encounter times when we can turn someone’s day around if we just keep our eyes open and heads up. Whether that person is a friend, family member, acquaintance, or stranger, we often forget how simple gestures can have a huge impact on someone.

  • Mom and dad can give 5 minutes to play catch or dolls with your kids
  • Acquaintances can give 5 simple words “How is your day going?”
  • Strangers can give 5 or a smile to someone passing by

This being said, I am probably one of the worst culprits. With launching Atayne comes a lot of challenges and high levels of stress. It is very easy to get tunnel vision with a focus solely on the company. I often find myself walking down the street unaware of my surroundings. For all I know I could have walked by 100, metaphorical or literal, high 5s. I addressed this briefly in my Waiting for My Real Life to Begin post. Part of the joy of entrepreneurship is enjoying the journey along the way.

This does not just apply to entrepreneurs. Just remember, “Life is a journey, not a destination” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Enjoy the journey one step and one high five at a time. I’d love to hear your high 5 stories – as giver or receiver.

Will Run 4 Trash

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead

Memorial Day weekend I went out for a great trail run with a college buddy, Mike. We did about 14 miles of running and another 2 miles of hiking through the Difficult Run Trail and Great Falls Park. Everything about the run was near perfect. I was with my best friend and away from the hustle of Washington DC. The weather was in the high 60s to low 70s, and there was plenty of shade to keep us cool. We got off track a couple times (some might call it lost), but that only added to the adventure. Had we been wearing Atayne apparel it would have been absolutely perfect (sorry, that will be the only bit of shameless self promotion in this post).

Besides reminding me that I need to get off the pavement and spend more time on the trails, the run once again opened my eyes to an issue that is often easy to overlook – trash.

As we were walking back to my car at the end of our run, Mike shouted from behind me, “What are you doing?!?” Not understanding what he was talking about I turned around and noticed him pointing at a discarded empty beer can. He continued, “What? Are you going to walk right by it?”

For any of you who know me this may come as a surprise. I am often accused (with good reason) of getting a tad preachy about environmental issues and have been called an organic food snob (something I am proud of). But here I was getting called out. I turned around, picked up the can, and put it in a small pocket of the CamelBak I was wearing.

The rest of the walk to the car, Mike and I continued to pick up glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans. In a short distance, we had picked up 6 cans, 4 plastic bottles, and 1 glass bottle. Unfortunately, these 11 items are a fraction of what we had to leave behind because we could not carry them all.

I think we can all agree that littering is not a good thing. It has the “amazing” ability to turn beautiful landscapes into cluttered messes. However, some of the biggest consequences of littering are ones that we don’t even see. Consider a few things.

Recycling is a very easy way to save energy. Take the 6 aluminum cans we picked up and recycled. By recycling those cans we saved the amount of energy it takes to run a TV set for 24 hours. That is also the energy equivalent of 3 gallons of gasoline. In the US alone, we throw away almost 60 billion aluminum cans per year. So we are essentially wasting the energy equivalent of 30 billion gallons of gas: this is the amount of fuel that 60 million cars use in one year.

Now think about the plastic. I am not even going to address the energy savings. I think I already got my point across above (remember – plastic comes from petroleum). What do you think would happen to the plastic bottles if we had not picked them up? Yes, someone else might have, but more likely rain would have washed them into Difficult Run, a small stream in northern Virginia. They would have flowed into the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and then the Atlantic Ocean. Then what? Out of sight, out of mind. Right?

The plastic would have broken up into smaller pieces during its journey. Some unsuspecting bird may then have mistaken it for food. Take a look at the stomach contents of just one albatross that made this mistake (Image taken from Shifting Baselines). Or it may have gotten caught up in ocean currents and made its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of trash in the Pacific Ocean with a size estimate that varies from the size of Texas to double that of the continental United States.

This is scary and somewhat depressing stuff, but I hope at this point you don’t feel hopeless. Yes, this could be a big challenge. But with every challenge comes the opportunity for greatness, the opportunity to change the game. Let’s think about the “game” of running. Every day millions of people in the US go out for a run, and those millions of people probably pass by hundreds of millions of pieces of trash. What if a few of them picked up just one piece of trash at the end of their run? We could make a pretty big impact.

I am not in anyway going to claim that I am the first person to come up with this idea. Eco-Runner, Samuel Huber and many others were doing it before me. But I am going to claim that I may be the first to calculate the potential environmental impact.

According to Simmons Market Research Bureau there are 13.2 million people who run every chance they get and an additional 13.1 million who run occasionally. So there are over 26 million runners in the US and millions more across the globe. What if 10% or 2.6 million runners picked up a piece of trash just once a week at the end of their run and then recycled it? That would be over 135 million pieces of trash each year. If all the pieces of trash were aluminum cans and those cans were recycled, we would save the energy equivalent of 67.5 million gallons of gas or the equivalent of removing 135,000 cars from the road.

So next time you run by a piece of trash and think that picking it up (and taking it where it can be recycled) will not have an impact, think of the other 26 million runners who might be picking up a piece of trash as well. Together we can change the world.