Tag Archives: mistakes

The Ultimate Life Lesson…

Lips blue and hands shaking beyond human control, Carl Brashear struggled to find the next step up the side of the metal ladder to the wooden pier.  As he made it to the top of the landing, he staggered to a wooden bench to sit down.  His legs were no longer strong enough to hold him beneath the weight of a 200 pound brass diving suit.  No one had survived this long.  No one yet.

For the past 9 hours, he had searched the floor of the ocean for the couplings, brackets, and screws he needed to complete his task.  Against supernatural odds and direct opposition from the world around him, he had found deep within himself the power to continue.  Years later when asked why he fought so hard, he simple stated: “I ain’t going to let nobody steal my dream”

In 2000, Cuba Gooding Jr. starred in the telling of Carl’s story.  It ranks right up there with Rudy as one of the most inspirational movies of all time, Men of Honor

Which got me thinking about a personal quality that is often overlooked by those who want to be high performers — honor….

Honor can be a confusing concept.  I think of it less as a “knight and fair maiden fairytale” and more of the quite resolve that guides what we do.  It’s our own code of conduct.  The rules we set for ourself and how we do business…

Changing the world demands a code.  Without it you get lost in the noise of the critics and lose out to the temptations to chose shortcuts and the easy way out.

Here’s the harsh reality of our lives:

Most of us will quit too early…  Give up too soon!

We let our critics wear us down to the point that we convince ourselves that changing the world is no longer important.  We get tired of the friction of being different and acting different and decide that maybe the cause isn’t that important.  We start taking failure too personally and start living petty lives derailing others.

We let others steal our dreams and our souls.

And here’s another harsh reality:

It’s our fault we lost our way… We let this happen.

We gave in to the pressure.  We stopped fighting when things for too tough.  We traded acceptance for belief.

And now we need to change it.  We can recharge our honor system; invest back into our code.

So let’s do that….

(It starts with patience…)

Soren Kierkegaard, a danish philosopher said it best: “Patience is necessary… you cannot reap immediately where you have sown.”

You can’t build your honor system overnight.  You can’t.  There is something about living by a code that requires you getting a thorough beating.  An untested code is nothing.  You have to be tested (and many times over).

But the good things about honor is that you alone are the master of your destiny.  You control your responses to those around you — the critics, the fans, the rest of the world.

SO:

  1. Be honorable to you You are all you have in the world and as soon as you lose your sense of “you”, it all stops making sense pretty quickly.  Don’t lie to yourself.  If you put in 40% effort and failed then admit it and put in more effort next time.  If you try to convince yourself that 40% was really 100%, then you just trimmed your peak performance in a huge way.  The effects get worse and worse and eventually you will find yourself sweating just to contribute 10% of your old self.  Decide to be unapologetically honest with yourself and you will find that even when you screw up, you perform at consistently higher levels than you did in the past.
  2. Be honorable to your dream It’s hard to stand up when you keep getting pushed back down.  But the dream (your dream) is the most powerful force you know.  People live and people die.  Bad things happen and good luck too.  You can’t always control your immediate circumstances.  But you can always control your attitude.  That’s important.  Bad things can turn right around into amazingly good things almost overnight.  It’s hard but you have to remember your dream.  You can’t lose that part of you when it looks like the world is fighting against you
  3. Be honorable to your core values Don’t do bad things to other people.  I don’t know how to say it any other way.  It’s amazing how karma comes around at the worst possible time to take it’s “pound of flesh”.  If you make it a habit to take advantage of other people, you can expect that you will get your ass kicked eventually.  Let’s hope it’s not at the time when you are taking down the biggest sale of your life.  Earn karma points by giving help to others without asking for anything.  Just do it to be a delight.  When you do take an uppercut, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people wanting to help.
  4. Be honorable to your peers Admit when you make a mistake and apologize.  Nothing tests your code like having to admit that you were a idiot.  It happens.  What doesn’t happen a lot of the time is us letting go of our egos.  And that sucks.  You can’t be better — operate consistently as a high-performer, when you don’t take responsibility for your actions (even unintended outcomes)…  Own up.  Move on.  Don’t hold out on apologizing because you think your peers haven’t noticed that you screwed up.  Guess what?  Now, they not only think you’re an idiot but an as$%hole at the same time.
  5. Be honorable to your critics It’s OK to go down after you take an upper cut.  Let’s face it — you weren’t expecting it in the first place.  Right?  You thought everyone wanted to play nice and instead you find yourself flat on your back trying to clear your head so you can get back in the fight.  Take your time standing up (take the full 10 seconds), but when you get back up, don’t throw low blows.  Critics operate under one basic premise — trying to convince the rest of the world that everything you do is motivated by the “mania of an ax murderer” (or something close to that).  Nothing you do will be right.  So just know that and move on.  Don’t let it affect your code.  And whatever you do, don’t really do something legitimately spiteful on purpose.  That just feeds the addiction your critics already have.

Friends come and go and circumstance change every few seconds but you have to live with yourself longer than anyone.  Be cool with yourself.  Live with honor.  Sell without limits…

My roots in understanding the concept of honor came from my dad, who just turned 61 on Monday.  Everyone who knows him knows what I am talking about.  He set a high standard…

I remember one snow day where all of us kids had the day off because the schools were closed.  Pebbled ice covered the road about 2 inches with another 6-7 inches of powder snow on top of that.  I expected my dad to be home with us as most of the federal offices were on leave because of the weather.  Instead, he took 5 hours to make the drive into the office at the NSA.  I don’t really know what needed to get done that day, but my dad make the trek because it was important to him.  It’s the small things that define our code.  It’s the things that we are remembered for in years to come.

Read the Road Signs

Wrong Way Sign

Watch for the $ales$ signs!

Life being me is an adventure!

Case in point: My casual 5 mile run this afternoon that turned into a half-marathon

I put the boys down for a nap and mapped out on Google a quick 5 mile circuit around my house that would enable me to burn some steam and think about the upcoming $ale$ challenges of the week ahead.   Somehow it all went wrong.

I started running at a good pace with a bottle of water and an iPod full of motivation, and I made the first few major turns successfully.  I usually drive that part of the route so I had a senses of where I was going.  Somewhere in the last 2/3 of the “pavement pounding”, I lost my way — in a pretty major way.

My 5.3 Mile Planned Route
My 5.3 Mile Planned Route

I had my eyes on the road and completely ran past the road sign that would have put me on the path to the finish line (my house).  Instead I ran unknowingly past the sign and ended up in the next town — LITERALLY!

Here’s the kicker: Even though I kind of thought I was lost, I kept running thinking that “everything would end up OK in the end” that I would find the road I was looking for.  I didn’t find my road, of course, because I had ignored it the first time around.   I had left it miles behind me.  Frankly, I wasn’t even close.   I was in a different town.  Let me repeat — A DIFFERENT TOWN…

I went left, and then I went right FOR MILES, and then I retraced my steps back to a gas station to look at a map.  When the store owners told me that they did not speak English, I went next door to a Papa John’s where some sharp delivery dudes told me that my street was back a few miles (Thanks, dudes).

Sure enough.  I ran back, found my street, continued my loop home and hit the finish line (the shower) about 45 minutes later.

The 12.1 Mile Unplanned Route
The 12.1 Mile Unplanned Route

My experience is lot like many of the entrepreneurs and sales executives I get to speak with on a daily basis.  They fail to read the road signs and end up at the finish line blistered, sore, and limping.  Sometimes they give up and don’t even make it home — the race is an utter failure.

Like in running, sales is about reading the road signs!  I was speaking last week at Enterprise Launch about the fact that for a start-up there is NOTHING ever more important that generating revenue.   We talked for several hours about some great ways to land sales — even for owners who consider themselves not to be sales guys.  Generating MA$$IVE amounts of revenue can be done successfully and the process is A LOT easier when you are watching the signs — your customer , their needs, and “WHY” they are motivated to buy your widget.

I am sure you have been in a sales pitch where the dude just droned on and on and on and on, and you wanted to find a plastic fork to shove in your eyeball so it would all be over.  That might even have been you at some time giving the presentation.  I can remember some presentations I gave that were absolutely “amateur hour”.  It happens and it’s absolutely painful to see (even more painful to BE).

So the lesson I leave you with is this: WATCH THE SIGNS!

That means that when a customer tries to lie to you lead you with “time tested” buyer intelligence like:

  • Your prices are really high…. OR
  • I need this all delivered tomorrow morning or else the deal is off…. OR
  • Your competitor told me that they could this better…. OR
  • I really need to see all this in writing so I can think about it…

(or a million other excuses)

When that happens (and it will if you are in business for more than 15 minutes) that you stop looking at your road (your sales pitch) and you follow the signs to get the buyer’s real motivation.  Need help doing this?  I have 5 magic words to help you “read the signs”…

Try this regardless of what the customer is telling you.

  1. Hear what the customer is saying…  (No need to listen too hard as most of what is being said is completely predictable)
  2. Pause…  (1001, 1002, 1003)
  3. Ask your customer the following: What makes you say that?
  4. Listen as the customer points you down the right road…

You can do this.  It works!  And it’s heck of a lot better then the blisters you’ll get from running down a million side roads hoping it will “end up OK in the end”….

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Create A Legacy of Trying

This could also be subtitled something like: NOT “Putting out” Only Works When You are Looking for a Girlfriend (and then sometimes “not-so-much”)… or  The “E” for Effort stands for “Everytime”

And so I give you some musings on “trying” and (2) videos you need to watch…

If you run a search on The DEW View for the idea of effort, you get like 50 or 60 posts on everything from investigating the best of open source technology to how to run a presentation so that people stay awake to how to get back up when you get your ass kicked (all good topics, I hear…).  The reason I am writing another post on the idea of trying is that a lot of entrepreneurs I speak with get the idea of trying all wrong.  They think “trying” is something to do after planning or building or everything else…  TRYING is what you DO while you DO all those OTHER things!

Try Harder Smarter like AVIS

Start-ups have one really differentiating quality — the art of trying harder.  Sure market timing, customer sensitivity, price incentives, management insight, cash flow, and a thousand other micro-factors impact your chance of success.  Sometimes, these factors have a HUGE impact on your success.  But the great equalizer is the effort the entrepreneur (YOU) puts into their own success.

Trying harder, better yet, “trying harder smarter” is the ONLY guarantee that you have.

You can’t change the economic outlook to get better financial terms.  You can’t change international geo-political trade regulations to grow new markets.  You can’t force people to care about you are doing…

YOU CAN ALWAYS TRY HARDER SMARTER!

If you haven’t read The Dip by Seth Godin, you need to go buy it from Amazon.com for the entire $5 that it costs.

Seth Godin Talks about Losers!

I read this some time back and recently did a re-read of all 96 pages.  It’s a 45 minutes pithy read on WHEN you need to quit.  Seth did a brilliant job of talking about this concept called the DIP, where most entreprenuers give up (or “stop trying” in DEW-speak).

I like that Seth puts some science behind the experience that I have been through several times in my life.   I certainly have been in the DIP several times in my career and it’s BRUTAL…. until you power out the bottom of the curve and get  superstar results.  Life is miserable at the bottom until you “figure out if you have enough guts to keep pushing”.

When critics complained to Abraham Lincoln that his leading general was a drunk, Lincoln made the witty response:

“Tell me what brand of whiskey Grant drinks.  I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”

That summed up Lincoln’s analysis of what he wanted from his leadership — not DRUNKENNESS but FIGHT!  (By the way, the story of Grant as a warrior is inspiring by itself.  He had no friends and no real experience like General Robert E. Lee and yet his courage to FIGHT on was a deciding factor in his success.  He didn’t quit…)

Have you ever noticed that quitting is something that we perfect as we get older?

We try to say sophisticated things like “market research indicates that current demand ratios point to slower growth patterns” or “I need to think about this some more.  I don’t want to make the wrong decision”.  What we really need to say is  something along the lines of  “I am really scared right now.  I think I have a great idea and I passionate about it, but I could lose everything if I’m wrong.”  Now we’ll getting somewhere.  Now we have the personal integrity that is foundation for deep-rooted, passionate enterprise.

It’s hard work.  No one said being successful would be easy.  But you CAN do it.  You CAN be the WINNER you want to be.  If you are in a DIP right now, here are a few things you can do to stay sane and motivated:

  1. Recognize that you are in a DIP.  There is no use denying the obvious…
  2. Refocus your attention on the basics (customers and cash flow)…
  3. Rationalize what “seems” or “seemed” to be working into a process that you can examine at a later date…
  4. Repeat to yourself and anyone who will listen your core values driving what you are doing…

There is no silver bullet that makes your pain go away or your fear of failure disappear.  You are your own best medicine.

Let me leave you with this quote from a reader and commenter of The DEW View, Lydia Sugarman: “I do it because I can, I can because I want to, I want to because you said I couldn’t…”  If you really understand that quote then you are on your way to creating your own legacy of trying!

Keep Trying!

Try today!

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Catching Up On My Sleep…

…while you finish your demo! (Admit it. You’ve walked away from many a WebEx session from hell)

That’s why I am a stickler about demos…

They should be fun, engaging, and leave the other party gasping for breath — NOT snoring and disinterested. We could also substitute the word MEMORABLE here…

A lot about demos comes by way of strategy, tactics, and good old-fashioned PREPARATION (i.e. practice…).

I see way too many Chief Sales Officers “wing it”… without a clear sense that the tired presentation they are giving truly sucks. On the other hand, you have the big boss who is brilliant (engineering, math, or science dudes) and can’t get out of his/her own way for the deal guys to wrap up the action…

A great demo is like a stand-up act. There is a smooth opening where you try to get the “crowd” to like you, the quick dazzle that keeps everyone interested for the long haul, and the act itself (where every word and phrasing is pre-planned)…

I have written before about Jason Calacanis and his no-bullsh*t approach to the topic of COMMITMENT within building a successful startup company… Last week I read another right-on-point article by Jason talking about how to demo…

(BTW, Pedro and company are in the second round of interview of TechCrunch 50 — the event Jason references in his discussion below…)

——–

Read what a successful “demo-er” should be doing below:

“For the past 10 days I’ve sat through 200 company demos for the TechCrunch50 conference. These demos are mostly done over the phone for 10 minutes using the phone and web conferencing software like WebEx or Adobe’s wonderful new “Connect” service.

After doing 2,500 minutes of demos (40 hours) this year and many more last year for the conference, I’ve learned a lot about what makes for a great demo and what makes for a horrible demo. Since demoing your idea is a key to your success as an entrepreneur, I thought I would share everything I know in a few simple bullet points.

These tips are applicable to presenting in front of an investor, a partner as well as a demo style conference. Of course, every situation is different so consider these loose guidelines.

1. Show your product within the first 60 seconds
——————————————-
Most folks start their presentations with information like the size of the market they are tackling (tens of billions, we only need 1%!), their inflated corporate bios, the philosophical approach they’re
taking, and boring Powerpoint graphics explaining some convoluted workflow of their product.

The longer it takes for you to show your product, the worse your product is. Folks who have a kick-ass product don’t spend five or ten minutes “setting the stage” or “giving the background.” Folks with killer products CAN’T WAIT to show you their product. Their demos start with their homepage and quickly jump into the users experience. If a picture tells a thousand stories, then a product demo tells a million.

Show your product immediately, and if you don’t have a product to show don’t take the meeting.

2. The best products take less than five minutes to demo
——————————————-
The greatest tech products over the past 10 years would take no more than five minutes each to demo. For example:

a) Larry and Sergey could demo Google search in less than five minutes. Here’s a box, type something in and you get a huge reward.

b) Steve Jobs could demo the iPod in less than five minutes. Plug it in, put in your CDs and it syncs your music. Turn it on and use the wheel to select what songs you want to listen to.

c) Chris DeWolfe could demo MySpace in less than five minutes. Sign up, fill out your profile, and add your friends. For bonus points add some widgets to your page.

I think you get the idea: the better the product the LESS time it takes to demo. If your product demo takes more than five minutes to demo, it probably sucks. All the tiny little features that matter to you are of course important–God is in the details–however, when presenting your company, you don’t have to show them. Larry and Sergey wouldn’t open up the advanced search tab and the list of operators you can use in Google during a demo.

Steve Jobs does take the demo details to a fairly detailed level, but you and I are not Steve Jobs. There is only one Steve Jobs and there is only one Apple. You’re never going to build something as cool as Steve, and as such there is no need for you to talk about your product for five or ten minutes.

3. Leave people wanting more.
——————————————-
If you take my advice in point two, then folks should be either blown away or intrigued by your core product. If they are not somewhere in that spectrum, you need to rebuild your core product.

When I pitched Mahalo to investors, I had five sheets of paper with different search results on each. I put them on a table and said which one is the best. Obviously I knew my result was the best, and that simple demonstration lead to MASSIVE discussion: how was the page built? how long did it take to build? what would it cost to make that page? how often do you need to update it? how can you scale that business? how many pages can you create before it breaks even?

It’s best for folks to discover the merits of your product for themselves, and it’s up to you to make such a compelling core product that they are intrigued enough to explore it.

4. Talk about what you’ve done, not what you’re going to do.
——————————————-
Weak startups and their leaders seem to immediately start talk about “what’s next,” as opposed to focusing on the core product. Anyone can say we’re going to add: a mobile version, collaborative filtering, an advertising network, visualizations, a marketplace, a browser plugin, a browser and a social network to their product. In fact, given the amount of open source and off the shelf software out there, combined with the large number of developers in the world, anyone can bolt these things on to their service in a week or three.

Who cares what you’re going to bolt on to your startup? What really matters is the core functionality of your startup.

Steve Jobs has become at once the world’s greatest salesman and product developer because he only announces Apple’s achievements. He doesn’t waste time on what Apple’s going to do: he talks about the here and now. Microsoft’s old strategy was to talk about products that were coming and that put them in the horrible position of having to backpedal when they changed their mind about a product.

5. Understand your competitive landscape–current and historical.
——————————————-
This year I’ve had three companies show me group SMS messaging products, and most of them did not know what UPOC.com was (Gordon Gould’s group SMS messaging service that was five years ahead of its time). I’ve had three or four companies over the past two years of TechCrunch50 conferences pitch me on Third Voice–the controversial “web annotation” service from Web 1.0. [Side note: I loved the concept of Third Voice so much I considered starting a company like it and even bought the domain name annotated.com.]

When I pitched the idea for Weblogs, Inc. to Mark Cuban, Yossi Vardi and Jeff Bezos, I understood all the niche email marketing and newsletter companies from the early and mid-nineties cold. I researched why they worked and why they failed, and I knew which ones were sold and bought and by whom. When I pitched Mahalo to Sequoia Capital, I knew the history of human-powered search and directories from DMOZ to Yahoo Directory to LookSmart.

If you don’t know the competitive landscape, and the shoulder’s you’re standing on, folks are not going to be comfortable giving you their money, time or attention.

6. Short answers are best.
——————————————-
When taking questions about your product answer questions shortly. This is a very challenging thing for many people–including myself–to do. If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought out your startup’s issues a thousand different ways. When I sit at the poker table I play a game where I think out every possible scenario for not only my hands, but the hands of my opponents (this is fairly standard among advanced poker players from what I understand).

Say I have Ace King and I raised out of position and the button called my raise pre-flop. Then they re-raised me on the flop, which had an Ace. What does that tell me? They could have an ace, they could have two aces and have slow played me, they could have a medium pocket pair and they want to see if I have an ace, maybe they are on a flush or straight draw or maybe they suck at poker. Who the hell knows?!?! You can go insane trying to figure all these things out–that’s why poker becomes very addictive.

The point is all that inner thinking is chaos when you try to explain it to another person. It’s pure madness after 60 seconds of talking. The best thing to do is answer the question with the most concise answer. For example, when asked “what happens if Google enters your market?” answer quickly and with confidence:

a) Google has entered many markets, but they are only #1 in search and search advertising. They trail in social networking to MySpace and Facebook, in classifieds to Craigslist, in news to Yahoo and AOL, in email to Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, and in instant messaging to Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo.

b) We’re not sure if Google will enter our market, but hopefully we’ll have developed our product enough that it will be a real sustainable business by that time.

c) We think Google might enter our market at some point, and if they do they and their competitors will certainly consider buying us–creating a bidding war for our entrenched position.

d) Google is a very big company right now with a very big cash machine that they have to focus on and protect–they will never do our business with our level of focus. We will out execute them on all fronts.

These are all amazing answers (I did, after all, come up with them), and you can say them in around a minute. However, if you cram all four of these sentences together you’ve spoken for five minutes.

7. PowerPoint bullet slides are death
——————————————-
Do not make slide after slide explaining your business in bullet points, because it’s really, really boring. Powerpoint/Keynote slides that are not boring include charts, product shots, feature set tables and the like. Things that explain big concepts with ease and grace are great, but bullet points of obvious facts show that:

a) you don’t have the ability to create a compelling story with data

b) you don’t think that much of the person being presented the information

I’m not a huge fan of “funny slides” or lots of graphics for graphics sake. You’re not pitching your company to get laughs–unless you’re on stage–you’re doing it to raise capital, close a partnership or get on stage at a conference. Keep it focused and to the point.

8. How to use this new device called the phone.
——————————————-
When presenting over the phone use a handset and a land-line… only!

It’s amazing to me that any person doing a business call would conduct it on their mobile phone. Mobile phones sound horrible 95% of the time, and they frequently cut out. If you are presenting your company take it seriously and get yourself to a landline. You have limited time and don’t want folks to miss a single word.

Speakerphones are horrible, and putting the person receiving the demo on speaker phone during a demo is just disrespectful. You can hear all the rustling, side conversations and horrible echos when you’re on speaker phone. When doing a demo pick up the handset and speak. If you go to a Q&A session then use speaker phone. That’s why it exists.

Only use a headset if it is very, very high-fidelity and you have the microphone right up to your mouth. Also, don’t eat, drink or breath heavy into the microphone or you run the risk of sounding like an animal. I use an amazing Plantronics headset, and I like me some Green Matcha tea, but I hit the mute key when I sip!

I know it sounds crazy to have a discussion about how to use the phone, but the majority of these young people actually think it’s acceptable to have two or three drop offs in a call–it’s not. Grow up and get a land line.

9. How to handle questions you don’t know the answer to
——————————————-
After you do your concise presentation you’re hopefully going to get a lot of questions. Here are some important tips to consider when you don’t know the answer cold:

a) take a moment to think about the question. You can even say “Hmmm… that’s a good question. Let me think about that for a second.” Folks appreciate a little consideration when someone takes a question.

b) if you don’t have an answer be honest and say you don’t. There are many ways to say this including: “I’m not really sure, I’m going to have to think about that for a bit and get back to you,” or “I’m not sure to be honest. What do you think?”

c) feel free to think out loud and brainstorm with the person. You can do this by saying “I’ve never really considered that. Perhaps you can expand the question a little and we can explore it right now.”

d) if you’re not sure of the answer you can always say you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it. “I’m not sure how we would deal with a sudden spike in the cost of bandwidth, we would have to collect more information and answer that question down the road. It is a manageable risk factor I suppose. ”

The worst thing to do when you don’t have an answer is b.s. the person. No one has an answer for everything, except a b.s. artists. So, feel free to say you don’t know–folks find it refreshingly humble and honest.

10. Always confirm the time of your meeting/call, and always be 15
minutes early.

——————————————-
People are really busy and meetings get mixed up. Every meeting or phone call I do is confirmed twice: once by email, and once on the day before the meeting. Reconfirming meetings makes you look like a true player and it costs you nothing. You do this by sending a simple email saying “Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at your offices at 123 Main Street at 3pm. If anything changes you can reach me on my mobile at 310-555-1212.”

Also, be early. Come on. If you’re doing a meeting with someone who might invest in your company, do a business deal with you, etc., you can show a lot of respect by being in their lobby or on hold on the conference call five to 15 minutes ahead of time. Don’t show up more than 15 minutes ahead of time or you’ll look like a stalker. If you get to your meeting 45 minutes ahead of time go to the Starbucks and buy yourself a treat for being so on top of things.” — Jason

By the way, Jason has launched and sold a handful of companies and now invests in new interesting ideas… He might have a little bit of experience in demoing ideas…

Tough Choices… (mistakes happen!)

Don’t you wish life gave you options as to the choices that you HAVE to make?  It seems like the easy choices come so EASILY that we often take for granted the fact that we are actually making a decision.

“Making tough choices is about a cognitive workflow that connects our values, determination, and current goal structure through the perspective in which we are currently living…” (DEWism)

Most of the time, we call bad choices “mistakes” — and certainly that is true some of the time!  I think mistakes can be the open door to making better choices…

Brad Feld (@bfeld) had an interesting inspiring article on his blog about making mistakes from the ex-CEO of http://www.pets.com.

Read it for yourself:

I’m out meeting with the press right now to promote SmartNow.com and I’m getting quite a reaction. Not to the business, but to me. You see, it’s been awhile since I met with them, at least eight years. Many of the people in the press are same ones I met all those years ago. Many I don’t know. No matter if they knew me before or not, they all ask the same question: “What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?” And this isn’t a normal “check-the-box” reporter question. This is a loaded question with heavy reference to my past, some would say my infamous past.

First some background, I was the CEO of Pets.com. In case you haven’t heard of it, Pets.com and its mascot, the Sock Puppet, became the symbol for the dotcom bubble and its subsequent bust. Some have even charged me personally with bringing down the U.S. economy. Pets’ short period of success was fueled by positive press about the company and myself. Pets received even more press when it failed.

As the public CEO, I failed, and it was a very public failure. In fact, I was labeled one of the biggest failures ever. How bad was it? I had people laugh in my face when I introduced myself for years after the company closed. It happened as recently as a year ago. A couple of people asked me what it felt like to be one of the best-known failures in the U.S. Most just walked away from me. One woman told me to my face that I was a loser. I could go on and on, but you get the point: I became a symbol for something greater than myself, and we aren’t talking puppet envy here.

What most people don’t know is that the very same week that Pets.com failed, my marriage of seven years failed as well. Actually, it had been failing for a long time. It became officially over that week. My husband decided to call it quits the day before I announced to the employees and the public markets that I was shutting down Pets. It was a really bad week.

Now, I would like to tell you that I was down but not out. That I just brushed myself off and got on with life. I didn’t. At first, I kept myself hyper-busy. That lasted for about three months. Then, I sank into a depression. I’m sure I was in shock for a long time. It was a very dark, confused time in my life. I kept pushing myself to get back to normal. That didn’t happen.

I never got back to myself. I became better than I was. Note that it is almost seven years since Pets.com failed. Mystics might say I am entering a new seven-year cycle. I kind of think that’s true because I believe there are universal laws and truths. I do know I have been on a journey. I have taken stock of the five big mistakes I have made in my life and fought my way through. I’m sure I’ll make some more big mistakes in the future, but hopefully I won’t make the same ones again.

If you have made your own mistakes and are not sure how to get on with your life, perhaps my reflections will help you. And if you make mistakes in the future, I hope my lessons help you in some way and that you will learn from your humanness and not slip slide into a dark place for long.

Mistake 1: I allowed others to define me. I completely defined myself as a failure, as the press did. I read every negative thing said about the company in the press and on message boards. Many were personally directed at me. Needless to say, the new people and jobs I attracted during this time of my life reinforced my negative self-image. None of these people are in my life today.

How I moved on: I got tired of and bored with living in the past. I took stock of myself and decided that I know myself better than others. I am the only one who has taken my journey. I came to recognize that most reactions to me were not personal. I knew at some intrinsic level that my active participation in letting others define my failed past would be carried into my future. I didn’t want to live my own version of the movie “Groundhog Day.” I really wanted to heal. How could I have let others’ opinions of me define and engulf me in the first place? Well, that leads me to the second mistake.

Mistake 2: I built my image of myself on two main supporting pillars. When those collapsed, I did too. What I mean is that I had defined myself as someone who was smart and could figure things out and also someone who was entering middle age as a married woman. The “smart” definition was fostered from my childhood. I was the oldest of four children with a mother who was ill and a father who worked long hours to make ends meet. Whenever I asked my parents a question, they would say: “You are smart, what do you think?” Believing I was smart helped me survive a hard family situation and still make top honors in school. I never bought into being a “pretty” girl; I was the smart one. But felt I was not smart enough for Pets.com. I failed publicly. After more than 20 years of good to great business successes, I had crashed and burned. The second way I defined myself was as a married woman. I liked being married, belonging to a little tribe of two. That pillar crumbled. Or perhaps I pulled both pillars down subconsciously to grow. In any case, both were gone.

How I moved on: Where did this leave me? Lost. What did I do? I started looking for what would feed my soul. I tried to get back to my essence, my best self. I love drawing and painting, so I started doing this again and working with art organizations. I love being around people who solve problems creatively, create art, think differently and express themselves uniquely. I rented funny movies—no kidding. I sought out laughter. I developed relationships with very loving people who laughed. I got involved in my community. I developed a few routines with those around me. This included spending time with a 70-something-year-old woman who vibrated with life and owned the local coffee shop. And, slowly, I began to see myself as more than two key bullet points. I stopped labeling myself and saw those labels as false security. Oddly enough, I began to feel more secure.

Mistake 3: I stopped believing in myself. You can see how the first and second mistakes might lead to the third. For a long time, especially as it came to my own career, I operated out of fear. Fear of failure. And I lived in that space for too long.

How I moved on: At some point last year, I decided that if I believed in myself then I had to invest in myself. I realized that if I didn’t invest in myself I couldn’t expect others to do it, either. I respond to visual goals, so I did a vision board: I took white poster board and I pasted pictures and phrases that represented my goals. The most prominent goal was investing in myself on all levels. I showed myself climbing the proverbial ladder and once again reaching for the stars. And when I had a good business plan in hand, I invested money in my own company. This is the first time I have started a company for myself.

Mistake 4: I stopped taking care of myself. I had gained weight over the years and stopped exercising. When Pets was collapsing, I started exercising again and the pounds had started to come off, so my physical health had started to improve. What I didn’t realize is that my emotional health was deteriorating. I did not recognize my own depression. For at least two years after Pets shut down, I didn’t care if I lived or died. I never actively tried to kill myself; that would go against my Midwestern upbringing. I just didn’t care if I lived. I was also just starting to experience the first symptoms of peri-menopause, so I had to come terms with my own childlessness. I had curiously decided that if I was meant to have a child, then I would have gotten pregnant during my marriage. Not having children reinforced my indifference to life during this period. I didn’t have children to take care of, so what was the point? I was also angry. The anger came in waves.

How I moved on: I wish I would have been more proactive in my own mental health. I did not recognize my state of mind as depression. I mean, I wasn’t crying every day nor did I drive to the Golden Gate Bridge and contemplate jumping. I can honestly say the thought never entered my mind. But I was clearly depressed, and only years later did I realize how much I needed help. I should have seen a therapist and perhaps even gone on medication. I pulled out of this state because I started to see beauty again (see mistake two, which also shows the healing power of art in my life). Once I started seeing beauty, I wanted to see more of it. Once I learned to let go of the anger and fear, I wanted to thrive.

Mistake 5: Allowing my head to rule my heart. If I would have started with this item, it might have seemed too trite. But it isn’t. The head is the ego. Mine was shattered. I had to exercise my heart in order to heal.

How I moved on: To be honest, I’m not sure I have moved past this, but I am doing better. As I moved through the other mistakes and began to heal, I also began to see the world differently. I began to realize that I could be comfortable letting my heart make some decisions. And when those started showing a payoff, I allowed my heart to make even more decisions. Life is richer in the heart zone, but I’m too analytical to give up the head part. I’m just trying to find a better balance every day.

That’s all for now.

What an amazing story of redemption!