Friday, January 10, 2014

Run Outside

I like to run outside.  The fresh air, the music playing in my headphones and the fact that I can lose myself in thought and creativity to the point that I nearly forget I am running.

Running outside my entire life I have developed a bit of an opinion about running inside.  That it sucks.  No offense yet to anyone who runs inside.  I get that for some of you it is easier on your knees, etc., etc., etc.  But for me it simply sucks.

I had to run inside earlier this week when it was 11 degrees outside.  How do you do it?  Seriously, I had to spend my entire time trying to not run off the damn thing.  I could not get the elevation figured out so it was like I was running at the coast the whole time.  Even when I increased the elevation it was nothing like climbing a real hill.

After three miles and about busting my ass at least that many times I ended my “run”. 
I did not think much about running inside again until the temperature went up and I was able to run outside a couple days later.  During my run I realized it was not so much that I was running on a treadmill inside the other day that drove me nuts.  It was the fact that I came to a harsh realization.  Life can easily become like running inside.  You are getting on a machine and running getting nowhere.  Isn’t that the same way you feel when you go to work some days?  You are basically walking into a machine and spinning wheels or helping spin some huge wheel with others.  You get places, you have earnings calls but the movement is almost invisible.

When you are outside you are exposed.  You smell the fresh air as well as the exhaust of a passing car.  You feel the pavement change to concrete change to grass.  You feel the air hit you as your run either with or against the wind.  One of my favorite aspects of running outside is the external stimuli you get that takes your mind into areas you would never go sitting at a desk or looking through some window running inside.

When you are outside your mind reacts.  I have come up with some great ideas while running.  My wife can attest to whenever I come in from a run at home I usually go directly to the notebook and start writing in order to get my ideas down right alongside the sweat and heavy breathing.
For me to present a clearer picture I would like to enlist the help of my friend Jackson Pollock:

OK, well they are not really Mr. Pollock’s work but his inspiration was there!  The pictures are actually the work of the work of the Milam family.  As you can see, the “Milam” on the top is a bit drab.  For what I can see, it is two little dots.  One kind of looks like a sperm.  And the “Milam” on the bottom.  Well that is a little more exciting is it not?  I felt that for some of you visual Jacks, that the “Milam” representations of Treadmill and Running Outside might make my point clearer. 

Outside (no pun) of simply running you can continue to draw parallels between other inner and outer focus points.  Are you an introvert or any extravert?  Are you risk averse or do you take more risks?  Are you comfortable with status quo or are you always trying to shake things up?  Are you more interested in showing off your bod and socializing or are you more of a metaphysical kinda person?

I do hope I have not offended too many indoor runners.  If I have, then come tell me how much you disagree with me while I am running outside!

Reloading, Runways and Tatoos

In the world of entrepreneurship you have lots of stories about successful entrepreneurs starting with an idea, growing it and making millions.  These stories make it sound so appealing.  These stories make you want to quit your crappy job tomorrow and start something new.  The reality is the path less taken is tough with few making it out of the woods on the other side with a profitable business, let alone millions of dollars.
I am one of those stories of who got stuck in the deep dark woods of Entrepreneurville not once, but twice.  The good thing about the woods is you always end up finding your way out at some point.  My most recent exit from the woods took place on a beautiful September day in 2009 when I called some good friends at a great company and I started reloading.
 My second startup, BigLeap GPS, was a location based company focused on finding lost seniors and children by use of a very small GPS device or phone.  After a letter of intent was presented to me and I stopped fundraising I felt I had made it successfully to the other side of the woods, or at least I could see the light.  Well then came the Great Recession and everything changed when the letter of intent disappeared and overnight I had no runway left.  So I did what many of us have done, I started extending my runway by consulting and finding short term gigs to help me continue down the path.  When everything started falling apart around me, this was when I knew it was time to end the ride.  Hence the phone call to my good friends and a great company where I remained for almost 4 years.
Over those nearly 4 years accounts were paid, mortgages were caught up and overall happiness returned to the Milam household.  When you pour everything you have into what you believe it takes some time to build back up, pay off your debts and start looking for what is next.
Looking back I have come to realize my first two ventures were not failures in any sense of the word.  They sustained my family for more than 4 years, I learned more about all aspects of business then I could have ever learned by doing anything else, and each day that I lived that life I became closer and closer to making it.  Both businesses that I started are still in existence.  They are still doing what I set out to do.  But I personally ran out of runway both times but I did make it further down the runway each time.  Sounds like I like the pain.  Like some folks who like tattoos not for their beauty but for the pain and just keep going back to the needle.  I am convinced I am going to keep going back to the needle until my body is covered (I really only have two tattoos that is).
It feels good to sit here and write this especially after everything I have been through.  I am glad my drive to create took a break for a little while so I could get back on solid financial footing.  All creative juices tend to freeze up when you are in a machine.  Once out of the machine it is hard to turn back on.  I used to not even try to be creative.  I would write, create, and think of all the possibilities in my life and business all the time.  When you unplug and are removed from that creative culture you have to try super hard to be creative.  I compare it to trying to boil water on the sidewalk to get the creative juices moving again.  So I have plugged back in and surrounded myself with those friends who are experts at sidewalk cooking.  Don’t eat the eggs however, kinda crunchy.
I was initially embarrassed to re-enter the loving network of my entrepreneurial friends.  It was hard for me to swallow big and reach back out.  I had disappeared for about 4 years inside a big company with little outlets for a tattoo loving entrepreneur.  What I found, by the way, was the exact same community that I had left.  The same friends remained who would do anything for me if I needed them.  Some of those friends were with me in the woods, some are still in there.  I have faith that they will make it.  I have faith we all will make it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Death of an Entrepreneur - Part 2

I must admit writing the first post about the Death of an Entrepreneur was therapeutic. It was good to get off my chest those things that I wanted to share. I wanted to get out in the open those things that every technology entrepreneur should consider before doing whatever they are planning on doing.

Problem is, most entrepreneurs must die. There is no way of saving them. They will read my post and then do what I did. They will say "this time it is different", "I will do that later after I get to this stage"... blah blah blah.. and then death.

No matter what you read, or who tells you anything about how to be successful or even how NOT to fail.. guess what, you are going to do what you are going to do and it will happen. Kinda like riding a motorcycle. It is not a matter of if you will wreck it is a matter of when and how bad.

My hope is when you fall you skin your knee. I hope you can bandage it up and keep going. But also understand sometimes you will hit a tree with no helmet going 450 miles an hour while texting and picking your nose.... what I will not understand is if you forget about that tree you hit.

The next time you set out down the road going 450 miles an hour with no helmet my hope is you will at least not text or pick your nose. Chances are you will get further down the road past the site of your last disaster.

I have learned so much from my start up experiences but what I learned and the way I learned them is going to be completely different from the way you learn, however one very basic concept is universal..

Please, please, please remember your mistakes. Remember the skid marks and your blood and skin on the highway in the places you fell.

Entrepreneurs never die. They get beat up, bruised, smashed, crushed, eaten, smacked and ripped from limb to limb but they live. Some how they keep breathing and dreaming and planning... do not let that ever die!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Death of an Entrepreneur

Here we are coming to the end of a hard, dirty, bullet ridden road. Blood has spilled and the last breath of air enters our lungs. Guess what? This is not the end of the story.

An entrepreneur never dies. They just some how continue to rise from the dead. I know this first hand because I died yet here I am. I am taking yet another breath of air and blood is some how getting to my brain, at least enough to write this post.

What I would like to do is describe the things that lead up to my death so you can avoid following in my path.

1) Your family is #1, #2, and #3. If what you are doing is putting their well being or roof over their head in jeopardy, do not do it. You must be ready well beyond any doubt before you risk the financial pressure and struggles of being an entrepreneur. If I ever strike out again, I will have more money than myself or my family knows what to do with.. with that being said...#4

4) Have so much money in your back pocket that you can not sit down. You better freaking have a mint saved up. Either that or an extremely low requirement for money each month. I had no business starting my last venture. I had no business starting my first venture for that matter because then I had no money and no experience. At least this last time I had one of those two things. One extremely important factor is money. You have to live, eat, and have shelter. You need money for that. Either have a source of revenue prior to starting your venture or have it saved up. Your run way will end if you don't way way too soon. The key and secret to success is runway. You must allow yourself the time you and your business requires to grow and develop into what it was meant to become. A short runway equates to the stress of having to grow fast or die. This pressure is not good or healthy for anyone.

5) Get someone with some sense of finances on your core team. If that person can not dedicate the time or resources to you find someone else. This person needs to watch your money like a hawk and own your ever changing business plan and financial docs. If you are going to require outside funding at some point this (#5) is an absolute requirement for success. I do not care if you have a CPA from Harvard (if that is even possible) you have to build a business and the last thing you need to do is worry about accounting or financial documents until you need them to present to an investor. I had found an ace with sales and accounting skills to help me start BigLeapGPS but his runway was shorter than mine. Looking back, I knew I had to replace him with someone to help in those aspects I was not strong and I didn't. Shame on me!

6) Yes, for the most part, means Hell no screw off. DO NOT listen to the vast majority of people because they are full of shit and are not willing to back anything they say with anything but more shit. I wasted 98.99% of my time on dung spewers. Imagine if I had just stuck to the few that were actually for real in their intentions to work with me and allow us to grow our businesses together. Problem is it is tough to weed out the crap because they are the ones that always sound so good. Keep in mind that 1 out of every 25-30 discussions you have will turn into anything worth your time. People for the most part want to tell you what you want to hear with no intention of ever doing what they say they will do or what you think they will do.

There are more points to address but this is all I can muster tonight.

I have mulled over this post for I know 4-5 months. My intention is not to send future or potential entrepreneurs for the hills. All I want to do is make clear what I learned through dying you can change and adapt to while you still have blood left in your body.

I wanted to make sure I hit home as best I could that it may be exotic thought to start a business and make it successful but the absolute truth is we hear much more about successes then we do of the failures. The successes are those who find their non-shit blower(s) before the runway ends and who have time to still grow their business before an even better funded, more experienced start up doing the same thing eats their lunch. The process is a challenge. It was one of the greatest challenges of my life.

I do want to end this post with something positive... If an entrepreneur dies, they come back stronger.

So worst case, at least you have that to look forward to... Good luck and don't die!!! Get it right the first time....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hello, I am Joe. I am a bootstrapper.

I wrote this blog as if I were walking into a treatment facility. I am committing myself for the reason of being a bootstrapper. I walk in and everyone says, "Hey Joe, what are you in for?" And I say, Hello I am Joe. I am a bootstrapper. Well what does that really mean? Let's talk about the meaning of "bootstrap" first: "to help oneself, often through improvised means." Every time I read that definition I have to laugh a little to myself because it is so prefect, particularly the bit about improvised means. If you are bootstrapping a business, you are living improvisation firsthand. The only way for a business to not be considered bootstrapped is for it to bring in enough revenue to cover its costs and the costs of the (now very simple) lives of its owners/entrepreneurs.

Although I am a bootstrapper, I have had help along the way. I have received some funds from friends and family to get my business to 2009. In January 2009, I hoped to bring in additional funding from other sources, but the economy's nose dive had other plans for us. That other plan was continued improvisation. But here we are in July, and we are still doing it! We are not just surviving; we are driving! We are going out and developing other markets; we are getting more players involved; we are not stopping. You stop, you die. We believe way too much in what we are doing at this point to die. We believe in our hearts, souls, and minds that our product will make a difference, be successful, and (in our case) save lives. You don't bootstrap if you don't believe. We believe!

So what does it look like? Bootstrapping means no vacations to the beach when everyone else on Facebook is going and snapping pictures. Bootstrapping is living well under whatever means you were used to. So instead of a dinner at Lattitude you have dinner at home, $1 rentals from your local supermarket vs. going to the movies. Bootstrapping is really just living more simple lives then you were probably used to living. And I ask you, is that so bad? Imagine applying the rules of bootstrapping to a family that currently has a good income. Imagine for a second if you acted as if you were improvised by saving vs. spending. WOW! I know I would be in a different place if I followed my own advice today.

The craziest thing of all is that bootstrappers bootstrap by choice. Most of us left paying jobs with normal hours to pursue our dreams, and most of us brought others along for the ride. Our passion propels us out of our comfort and into improv-land. It's an odd place to be; the air seems thinner, like it's hard to get a full, deep breath. It's a steep climb, but we know in our hearts that when we unfasten our bootstaps at the summit, the view will be phenomenal.

Are you a bootstrapper? Please share your story and pictures with us...

I have included a picture of my running shoes which are also my grass cutting shoes and pretty much everything else shoes, for the simply reason that they are my boots, they represent the number of miles I need to get out of every single investment I make.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Business Case for Connecting

I believe it is going to take a mixture of unique methods to kick start our economy. I am not an economist and do not know how to better spend money none of us have. What I do know is the power of making connections to help our community and yourself down the road. This act may very well be one of the strongest things we can do to boost our economy.

For example, you know someone who makes socks and you know someone who distributes socks well invite them both to lunch or send out an introduction e-mail. There may be nothing there or it could turn into the type relationship that transforms both their businesses. It is not up for you to decide. It is up for them and what can come from them getting together. I bet right now if you think about it there are at least two or three sets of people either in your industry or not that you have thought of to connect together. Do it. Get these people together.

I recently called a lunch meeting with two of the premier wireless leaders in the Upstate. The result of that meeting was two gentlemen who have been in the same industry and in the same geography for more than 10 years coming together on a business idea that could end up being huge for both companies. Prior to this meeting they had never met face to face but when the introduction lunch was called, there was no hesitation.

I did not get anything directly out of the lunch introduction. But I might down the road. I believe that for every good thing you do you are rewarded by 100 virgins, no really, I believe everything comes back around in multiples of three. For every good thing you do, you get it back x3. Plus it just feels good to do something positive in business when everything else around us is so negative.

Please, take a few moments right now to introduce at least two people together who you have been thinking needed to meet. Use Swampfox use Linkedin, you whatever you have, heck... maybe an e-mail or phone call.

Please share your successes in this post of when either someone connected you with someone that had a fundamental change in your business or a connection you made between two individuals or companies that resulted in something very positive.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fear vs. Belief

While I was out running the other night I realized something seismic: belief conquers fear. More specifically, I had conquered my fear of entrepreneurship through belief. While there are many important steps to building a successful start-up business, none is more important than this: the day you realize that your belief in your idea, product, or service is bigger than your fears and anxiety about the business and its future. The day you realize that is a good day.

Leading up to this moment I remember feeling and even saying to some of you that I felt like you could punch me, stab me, shoot me with whatever you had, and everything would bounce off. This feeling was me overcoming fear and believing more and more in what I was doing and the direction we were heading.

In this path I have traveled for nearly 2 years, there have been the highest highs and the lowest lows. And by lows, I mean stress so intense it resulted in temporary loss of vision in one eye. That's scary. And that's it, really - the lowest lows were fueled by fear. The highest highs were fueled by my belief being validated that things were going to be alright.

I am not going to sit here and tell you I am not going to have more lows. I know I will, and I know they could happen any day. But I also know when they do happen, I will pull through and get on top again.

Belief is easier when you start getting external validation. One such validation of our business and overall business model is the fact that we are slowly growing while other much larger competitors are failing. Much larger, better funded, "better lead" companies are fizzling out of gas, and we are just sitting there watching them fall from the sky like bugs hitting the zapper. Why?

It is not because we have a better product or a better portal or a better idea. It is our model. Our approach to getting business done. Talk about validation of belief! Hiding behind patents seems to be worthless. We have patents, but your only true defense in this global market is execution. No start up has funding to protect its patents against a bigger player, and the time wasted in the courts is time wasted focused on your market.

When you have no money things are tough, but when you have no belief, things are impossible.