Mark Suster: How to Motivate Yourself and Stay Focused
BY Mark Suster
When it's time to push through tough decisions, like to sell your company or not to sell, you need to keep motivated and on point.
"Look, if you had, one shot Or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted In one moment Would you capture it, or just let it slip?" [Eminem, "Lose Yourself"]
I've often said that to run a start-up you almost have to abstract yourself from the daily stresses and grind just to exist. You almost have to have an out-of-body experience as though it's not really your life but it's just a game you're playing in order to not be buried by the burdens of your decisions.
If you raise money the game continues. If you don't you may have to lay off staff in eight weeks. How can you process that?
Even more difficult. You have an offer to sell your company. Should you? You might net $1 million and that would change your life. But everybody is telling you not to sell and instead to "go for it" and you don't know whom to listen to.
One. Million. Dollars.
I know it's not what it used to be, but news flash--it's still a million dollars!
How can you wake up every day and process that decision. Five million? Ten?
Upside scenarios. Downside scenarios. Raise a big VC round--yeah! Now I just have a three times higher exit price if I want to sell one day. Ah, well. At least I have more resources.
How do you process your company's biggest decisions? How do you live with uncertainty and stay focused?
I'm a visual person, as many people are, and I need to be able to see things visually to process them.
I've talked before about how I use visualization to drive my creativity.
I also believe in visualizing results as a means of achieving them. I know it's sounds crazy and new-age-y, but it's not as crazy as you think. I think you'd acknowledge that athletes use visualization techniques for focus and motivation and we don't find that crazy at all.
My secret is that I use music and running.
When I first got my offer to sell to Salesforce, everybody around me told me not to sell. They told me that we had a chance to build the next great Internet company. After all, we were building DropBox before DropBox existed and we had really good early traffic. In hindsight, we know the market was there (whether or not we would have captured it is a different story).
VCs even offered me to cash out seven figures personally not to sell. But I had been down this road in 2000, and I saw how punishing markets could be when you didn't sell and had an offer.
Once I accepted my fate I had to stay extremely focused. I had foregone my VC term sheets to accept an offer, yet I knew it wasn't a 100 percent probability to close--it never is. I was also deeply paranoid that a bad recession was coming (this was early 2007). I know that sounds like Monday-morning quarterbacking, but you can ask anybody around me--especially my wife.
Paranoid. Yet focused.
"He won't give up that Easy, no He won't have it, he knows his whole back's to these ropes It don't matter, he's dope He knows that but he's broke He's so stagnant, he knows He better go capture this moment and hope it don't pass him" [Eminem, "Lose Yourself"]
Back then, I ran daily. What a luxury. I lived in Palo Alto and had a 6-mile loop I would do in the mornings to get me motivated. I know, it would have been more apropos if it were an 8-mile loop, but it wasn't.
I blasted the music. He won't give up that easily. His whole back's to these ropes. He's broke. Capture this moment--don't let it pass.
I would self-talk. This is your moment. Stay focused. Get stuff done. Get through your disclosure schedules. Make sure the acquisition is still on target. Talk to your teammates and make sure they're still good with the exit. Make sure they're still planning to move to San Francisco. Work through issues and problems.
Maybe this is actually going to happen. Maybe it isn't?
Corp Dev is wrapping my knuckles because I had planned to speak at the Under the Radar Conference. They say I can't go. They don't want me around other buyers. But what if they pull out? Then I'm stuck and didn't foster relationships?
This sucks. They can't tell me where I can go and where I can't!
Just a game. Who cares.
If this doesn't happen, it wasn't meant to be. Don't worry about the financial security--it's not yours anyways. If you get it, you get it. If not, plan B. Don't visualize money in your bank account. Don't mentally spend it. Don't assume your life is heading that way or you'll never get through setbacks.
What is Plan B? Not sure. But we've built a great product--we'll find a way. Yahoo was interested. SAP was interested. VCs were interested. Plan B, fine. Later. Right now, Plan A!
"You better lose yourself in the music, the moment You own it, you better never let it go You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo
This world is mine for the taking Make me king, as we move toward a new world order A normal life is boring, but superstardom's close to postmortem
I was playing in the beginning, the mood all changed" [Eminem, "Lose Yourself"]
It was a stressful period that ended well. There wasn't a day that went by that I wasn't obsessively looking at my to-do list, calling people to move the process forward, checking the news for any signs of market problems. Then I would sleep and do the same thing the next day.
I felt hugely pumped up and motivated by the music. By the lyrics. But the reminder that "this was my shot" and failure wasn't an option.
Did it control my outcome?
Probably not. But if I would have had a setback in the M&A deal, I felt emotionally ready to spring to action and solve any problem. Having a healthy mind is as important as having a healthy body, and we pay very little attention to the former.
I think more people should.
Find ways to motivate yourself. Find ways to not see this situation as actually affecting YOU, even though it obviously does. Deal in today's problems, not in tomorrow's possible ones.
Know your options. But don't sweat every single one and don't visualize the downside scenarios. That's emotionally unproductive and you can deal with those stresses if you get the bad news.
Music motivates me when I need it. I find lyrics that resonate, then I grab the message in my own world and context. It helps me focus.
I don't know what motivates you and allows you to tune out all of life's distractions in your moments of need, but you need to find it the way athletes do before a big game.
I know some readers right now will have no clue what I'm even talking about. I suspect that's just because you've never had to be a start-up CEO and deal with the incredible insecurities, uncertainties, and stresses. Surreal, it definitely is. But, as Eminem raps:
"Success is my only motherf----n' option, failure's not."
MARK SUSTER is a two-time entrepreneur who has gone to "the dark side" of venture capital. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a general partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com. He focuses on early-stage technology companies. You can find him on Twitter @msuster.