Lone Wolves

A common misconception is that you must have a team to be successful. There is a limit to your own capacity, but it is possible to build rewarding endeavors all by yourself. Solving complex problems may require co-founders and a larger team, but your passionate dedication is all you need to get started.

Lasting energy is required to forge this path, but without the need to answer to anyone, you can stay nimble and be more efficient by eliminating internal delays. To avoid burnout, you must stay mindful of your personal bandwidth. Self-awareness will help you avoid market disconnects, The Headline Trap, and relationship problems as well.

To coordinate new initiatives into your career portfolio, consider how the project connects to your current work. Clear overlaps can be good, but can also cause unwanted tension. A project less related to your existing work actually makes everything easier to shuffle. Even when projects affect different industries, it’s still you making things happen. The option to build into what motivates you in different ways will energize your work on all fronts. Action on one project will provide fresh momentum for others. Learn when to say yes and no, then wisely activate your time on each front.

As a lone wolf, it’s easy to go hard toward your own dream, but know when you need help. The freedom of working alone is within reach, but execution still requires collaboration. The world is full of friends, community allies, and contractors eager to help. Outside assistance may slow you down, but it won’t dilute equity, and it may be the key to a new reality.

Extra Shot

Need someone to bounce ideas off of? Let’s have coffee.

If you venture out alone, prepare for intoxicating highs and crushing loneliness. The consuming nature of building by yourself will incite grit, but don’t let it blind you. It’s easy to build too far into the wrong direction without a team. This is why community and customer discovery are even more important for lone wolves.

Co-Founders

The freedom to build as a lone wolf is exhilarating, but collaboration is how to go beyond your own limitations.

It takes more time to collaborate with others, but finding a co-founder can be life changing. Generosity, transparency, and candidness will bring the right people on board faster. Even if it’s one other person who wants to build in an aligned direction, co-founders pave a smoother path toward success.

Good people eager to collaborate can fall in your lap, but finding co-founders usually requires a concerted effort. If you hunt for the right co-founder in the beginning, it will take more time to make early progress. The trade-off is more creative and cultural alignment when things come together. This makes it easier to evolve ideas when a team finds its groove early on.

If you’ve been building as a lone wolf too long, you may have a harder time working with a co-founder. This is because it’s difficult for others to jump on a bus you’ve been driving the whole time. It’s still possible, but a thoughtful willingness to adapt is required. If you’re merging energy with another lone wolf, take your time. Moving a bit slower will uncover the why behind what was built before the partnership. As trust grows within the team, everyone will have more freedom to make the impact they want.

No matter how you decide to join forces with co-founders, choose wisely. It’s easy to work with someone like you, but don’t clone yourself. As a fun analogy, we also don’t put linebackers at wide receiver, right? Identify what you’re good at and know where you fall short. This allows you to pinpoint people who have complementary skill sets. It will also keep you focused on finding those who can push you further. With indelible honesty, who might be fun to build with?

Extra Shot

Perhaps you are looking for a co-founder? Show up to where the people you may want to work with are congregating. For instance, I met two of my co-founders at 1 Million Cups. We were working on different things, but over time, our shared interests led to a business idea we decided to pursue together.

Like anything new, as a team forms, early excitement will provide a surge of enthusiasm. This will soon fade and at some point, the story of this venture will end. It’s easier to plan ahead than it is to react to problems after they arise. Talk openly about roles and how everyone wants to be involved to avoid future tension. Discussing everyone’s immediate and future commitments reduces the stress of unknowns. With professional transparency a team can also work with more sustained stability. This leads to less drama and more consistent success.

As you solidify complementary co-founders, the goal is to have everyone equally enthusiastic. Think deeply about what a fair equity and role distribution means now and how it can also support future growth. No matter how cap tables look, co-founders expand capabilities and add valuable accountability. Working with others to achieve a shared goal is also more fun than working alone. Collaborate with remarkable co-founders and you’ll enjoy the ride together.

Extra Shot

Want more? Check out the Team chapter in You Don’t Need This Book!

Weekend Sprint

We just wrapped up Startup Weekend Iowa.

This was an online event, so our organizing team compressed what is normally a 54-hour, localized, in-person hackathon… into just 26 hours of people talking, typing, working and connecting together without the barrier of location.

Thanks to our own Wizard of Oz, virtual interactions were seamless and I was set free to creatively facilitate this high stress, no risk experience. It was energizing to have 25 participants and 15 mentors connecting to build two companies that pitched head-to-head for esteemed judges on demo day. This was a statewide event for Iowa, but the international element was in full effect as we also had new friends teleporting in from Canada and India to participate. While most of the event was hosted in a private platform that we called “the venue”, here’s a YouTube link to “the stage” where our keynote kickoffs and demo day were live streamed.

These weekly reflections, which I’ve been calling Roasted Reflections, are purposely timeless, but I share this brief event recap because it reminds me how easy it is to build when only a few people decide to work together. Yes, in-person gatherings create more random, serendipitous interactions, but I continue to marvel at how new interactions can be so efficiently ignited through these online interactions.

This was actually my first Startup Weekend experience! In the past, I convinced myself that my career portfolio was too full to build yet another new company. The infrequency of a local event and the anticipated time required were also factors in my past decisions, but now I realize, this combination of considerations led to a misguided assumption.

Extra Shot

You hear this tweetable thought often, but smart people change their minds all the time.

Startup Weekend can be a place where participants come together to build a business idea into reality, but it can also be a wonderful chance to catch up with friends, learn a new trick, mentor people exploring their own entrepreneurial spirit and/or simply observe some magic in action.

As one of the organizers and lead facilitators, I enjoyed a front row seat that allowed me to commentate the weekend while helping two teams build ideas into reality.

The energy of this weekend sprint was remarkable, but I noticed something as we all sat back and virtually celebrated demo day over a few brews during afties. It felt like the last day of summer camp. Everyone had been working alongside each other and while closing things down felt bittersweet, you could tell everyone appreciated the opportunity. This group had done something they were proud of and there seemed to be an unspoken premonition that Startup Weekend was not the last time these starters, makers, doers, and dreamers would come together to collaborate.

Extra Shot

Building alone is easy. Find friends to make it fun.

Career Nirvana

Career nirvana is achieved when your community, work, and personal life are in harmony. This state of mind comes from happiness, health, and wealth emanating from the freedom to do whatever you’re best at with people you care about.

There is little holding you back from achieving such splendor. Start by doing remarkable work you enjoy. This creativity earns attention and delivers intellectual, human, financial, network, cultural, physical, and institutional capital. As we learn from The Startup Community Way, the Seven Capitals keep you building by using what you have, to attract what you want.

Let passion fuel persistence, then fuse your career portfolio into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As you connect into community, be generous by accelerating others and use the trust that creates to do it more often. When this becomes routine, your generosity will leave a legacy. For innovators looking to change the world, such a legacy grants enduring satisfaction and furthers the sense of euphoria.

As a fulfilling career is composed, it’s easier to find work-life balance. Remember, we work to live. We don’t live to work. Nobody looks back wishing they had spent more time in the office. Use the freedom you create to embrace those you love while doing more things that make you happy.

Extra Shot

“The peace and satisfaction of building what you truly care about is one of life’s greatest gifts.”  –You Don’t Need This Book

This may sound idealistic, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. This approach to work requires creativity, immeasurable time, immense ambition, and advanced efficiency. As discussed in the Side Hustles chapter of YDNTB, an acute awareness of your personal bandwidth is essential to optimizing when and how resources are utilized. It can also be tempting to spend too much time on things that are fun but may not have real potential. Be humble enough to recognize what you have and what it will take to evolve your idea(s) into reality. Managing multiple “hobbies that pay” takes serious effort, but the reward is extraordinary work you love talking about and an inner peace that provides transformative happiness.

If you achieve career nirvana, be thankful, but recognize that things will always change. What you have today may not be the same tomorrow. Keep building to enjoy the moment, then make it last with generosity that recycles a sense of abundance for others along the way.

Extra Shot

Cheers to everyone who made last week’s book launch a huge success! Signed softcovers were shipped nationwide and more orders continue to pour in. As you dig into YDNTB, I’d love to see photos, hear what resonates and explore fresh ways to accelerate your work.

2 Hours

Greg Horowitt is a social architect and pracademic. He is an accomplished entrepreneur, investor and global advisor. I always knew of Greg because he co-authored The Rainforest with Victor Hwang. After years of learning from Victor, I decided it was time to connect with the other half of this intellectual equation. I reached out to Greg and he was generous enough to setup a time to chat. We had no agenda, but ended up talking together for two hours!

This extended discussion allowed me to enjoy fun anecdotes about a bestseller so many entrepreneurial ecosystem builders have on their bookshelf. I learned about Greg’s innovation design role at UC San Diego and his upcoming book about the religion of innovation too. We riffed on entrepreneurship, venture capital, innovation ecosystems, complex adaptive systems, how humans think, economic development, the speed of trust and how storytelling brings everything together. Here is a Twitter thread with our photo and a few more memorable moments, but having Greg Horowitt lob knowledge grenades my way was such a treat.

Extra Shot

Meaningful discussions can form faster without an agenda.

This enlightening interaction has me reflecting on how a hint of initiative unlocked another cool connection. Also, how that extra hour gave Greg and I time to discuss a variety of topics with space for this thoughtful exploration to go deeper. Look at your bookshelf or social media feed. All of us have giants we’d love to meet. Do you seek out learning sessions with people you admire? How might a significant conversation evolve if you give it an extra hour to develop?

We’re all busy, sure, but a peculiar conversation is rarely a waste of time. Perhaps it’s only done occasionally, but more cerebral conversations allow us to go beyond protecting our knowledge with fancy jargon. Perpetual learning with a coexisting effort to accelerate others will release innovative energy that sparks creativity and reveals a path to deconstructed understanding.