startup

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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All great relationships have a story.

I first met Todd Humphrey on the phone.  His was the name that just kept popping up, the name that wouldn’t go away.  I did the phoner and it was an upside surprise, so I suggested we meet at some point in the (distant) future.  The following Monday I walked into my office and I did a double take.  Eva warned me seconds in advance, that “Todd is your first meeting of the day.”  What the…?

We hit it off and Todd joined my exec team at Kobo by week’s end, running business development, and was in Las Vegas with me the week after for some deal making.

That was four years ago.

In that time, he’s visited 20 countries on 6 continents, nearly a million miles for Kobo and was key to our success.  He got deals on the table.  He got deals done.   He got on the cover of dozens of national newspapers you will never read.  Once he had the MD of a prospective partner in headlock (not entirely unexpected if you recognize the former semipro hockey player once had 350 penalty minutes in a season.)  Then there was that time when he ordered a round of tequila shots for the President of a large telco and his team to kick things off.  Or the time we were on a road show, and Todd made sure he lowered the seats the VC’s would sit in, before they entered the room, so we towered over them (a hilarious move btw).

“What could possibly go wrong?” was a line that became part of our culture.  If you want to win, you have to be prepared to take risks and Todd is not shy.

I could go on and on with amazing, and some unbelievable stories (Woody Harrelson snowball fight…Wonder Woman on a bus…) but I’ll save those for the book.  As a leader, more than anything Todd has heart.  He understands culture and the importance of the moment – capturing it, working it, shaping it, using it to build and grow a company.   Time and time again, Todd gave everything he had to his team, to win.  And he always had their back.   That kind of leadership is rare.

For all these reasons and more, I am thrilled that Todd has joined as co-founder at the Everlong Project where we plan on building another great company.   As we are just rounding out Month 2, doubling our space, growing the team, and working toward launch – it’s great timing.

30 years ago this past week, Gretzky won his first Stanley Cup.  As a little boy, I was forever changed by witnessing a young team knock off the reigning Stanley Cup champs.  That team had Wayne, age 24, but they never would’ve won without Messier.   Messier had skills, he had grit, but more importantly he had heart.

Therein lies a lesson.

Welcome Todd!

– MS, from Monaco

If Everything Is Under Control

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“If everything is under control, you’re not going fast enough” – Mario Andretti

One of my favourite quotes, that I think about all the time. I live it. I feel it in my dreams…last night I dreamt about 2 years in the future, seeing my family for the first time in 2 years – whoaaaa! Scary, but an indication of where we are in The Everlong Project. An indication, of the quickening.

I first met Sebastien Vettel at the Paddock Club at F1 Montreal, about 6 years ago. He was a practice driver for BMW – Sauber at the time. Of course, today he is the 4-time championship driver for Red Bull Racing. Back then we talked about the importance of managing speed on the track. Sounds simple. Not when you think about all of the factors a driver is managing – car performance, crew, conditions, rubber, fuel, time, competition, weather…It’s complicated. If you don’t believe me, take your car on the track and prepare to take a turn at speed. If that doesn’t freak you out a little, imagine doing the same with your adrenaline pumping and 20 other cars on the track. Imagine doing that in the rain. Imagine doing it faster. Imagine doing that hundreds of times, over an hour, and winning. Imagine doing that, starting from the back.

That’s a startup.

Too slow. Competitors blow past you.
Too fast. You burn out or blow apart.

Either way, game over. Managing your speed is critical and it’s a fine balance. Hire 20 more people, double your office space, launch….or, pull back, re-examine, get the experience ‘right?’. These are the decisions we live or die by.

Every moment counts, in that fine balance between going fast enough and going out of control.  I’ll see Seb in Monaco later this month. Until then, I’ll focus on the track in front of us at Everlong — MS

Month One

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I’ve always felt that making startups is a lot like making movies.

You get (or write) a story you want to tell, a producer, a director, actors, a crew, you go into production, post/editing, distribution/sales, marketing and you either have a hit or not.  Most are not.  If you have a hit, you want to go do it again with the same people.  If you don’t, you still want to do it again.  I met Bob Ezrin this week (producer of The Wall, Alice Cooper, etc…) and he agreed, “that’s called production.”  Wicked.

You can measure the whole exercise in months.  Kobo was 24 to sale, 12 before that as we were incubated.  50 months until i stepped down.  DocSpace was 24 to sale, etc.  Every month counts.  Momentum matters.

Month One at Everlong has been an absolutely amazing time.

There are few things like the experience of diving into something entirely uncertain, attempting to envision the future, and giving birth to a new concept, that with will, you make real.  When you build a company like we did at Kobo, there’s always a point when things slow down and become a little less creative.  Pretty natural, especially after an acquisition.  All of a sudden its been 4+ years and you are spending 90% of your week not creating anything new.  BAM.  Then it’s over.  30 days later and the world is different.

We’ve got some great momentum now at Everlong.

In fact, its amazing how much you can drive in a month when you are revv’ed up, and you’ve had a few wins under your belt to build on.  Office space, infrastructure (google apps, aws, slack, wordpress, 15five, asana, social…etc), legal, tax, branding/pr agencies, ideation, business planning, product planning, research, over 100 meetings with potential recruits, partners, investors etc, and the all important launch plan.  We’ve made incredible progress.

I thought i would share some of the (typical) things people have said to me in month one, so you get a glimpse of my last 30 days.  If you are an entrepreneur, you know what i am talking about so you can skip to the bottom.  

“So…what are you doing in there.  Tell me, what is it?”

Seriously dude?  You want me to tell you in our first month, when beyond setting our vision, mission, and objectives….the whole thing changes everyday?  Seriously dude?  You want me to tell you my newest little secret?  Dude, seriously.  You think I want to be judged by you in my most precious, moment of inception?  No thanks.  I am working on revolutionizing earth with the internet of things with spaceships and aliens and Godzilla.  ….that’s right.  

“So… is there a process you use to manufacture that A-HA! moment?”

Uhhhhhhhh, what the f—?

“Can we meet for a coffee/lunch/etc?”

As much as I like people, and i like coffee, and i like talking….I am in the crucible right now.  This time is incredibly valuable.  Outside of my dear friends and family (who I will always try to make time for), this is often more about people wanting to know what you’re doing, which translates to time away from your month one.  And every second counts so I am very careful with this kind of time.  You get it.

“So…who’s onboard?”

This is a way for people to again judge you by who’s on your team, and see if there’s a place for them.  Totally understandable.   My answer: people who can compete, and win.  

“This space is so much more complicated.  You don’t know anything about it”

No….kidding…Thank you for the advice.   I knew zip about publishing/media before Kobo.  Or telecom before Critical Path.  Or storage before DocSpace.  New, I welcome.  Complicated, I can handle.  I’ll take a few smart guys, a rocket scientist or two….over a bunch of people that live in the current bureaucracy.  Maybe naiive, but that’s me.  I think it is often best to have a fresh set of eyes, and brains unencumbered by the “system”

“This space needs people like you and your team”

Very nice to hear (thanks to my Mom, and other people that care about us).

“You know, past success is not an indicator of future success” 

Is that really true?  Let’s not get into a random walk/brownian motion discussion.  I think you’re just being mean.  Of course we know that.

“That’s never going to work”

Ahh…thank you.  The translation inside my brain: “this is an awesome opportunity that no one has figured out yet, or wanted to take the risk in disrupting.  Double awesome.  Lets go!”

“You’re going to get killed”

One of my faves….as in “Sony is going to kill you [kobo]”…I say, Bring it.

“How can i invest?”

Now you’re talking.  But we don’t really need outside money in month one.   Still flattering and appreciated.  Thank you.

“You’re not seriously calling the company that, are you?”

What…? You don’t like Everlong?  One person i met asked me why i didn’t choose an .xxx suffix?  That was hilarious 🙂  Truth be told, the name almost always changes.  Kobo was Shortcovers.  DocSpace was Intrasect.  Zip2 was Global Link Information…  So choosing the initial name might as well be a song you love.  Hence, Everlong.

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So…there’s a glimpse of Month One.  Building new companies is what I love.  The world needs more people doing it, I think.  People will build you up, and try to hack you down all the same.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  You just keep moving toward the target.  Month two is upon us.   More are joining.   We already need more space.  I look forward to telling you about who’s joining the project over the next month, because ultimately I believe the team is the most important determining factor to your success — MS