QuotaDeck is a relatively young startup (we are part of Techstars' Boulder Class of 2014), but this is not my first rodeo as an entrepreneur. In a previous iteration, I spent five years managing the ups and downs that come along with being an entrepreneur introducing a new product or service to the technology market. It's ironic that valuable lessons come often during these stressful times, but if you don't catalog the bumpy journey you don't learn and grow the most as a leader. When you regularly, religiously, log the details of your journey on paper, or on a laptop, something powerfully magic happens: data.
That's the main reason I keep a daily journal. I use snippets from it when I speak, inspire my team, or share insights learned. Someday, I'll share this journal with my wife and kids, and hopefully grandkids. For now the lessons learned by chronicling daily successes and failures translate into ready-made opportunities for our startup team to grow and change, to better serve our investors, and to the new users being introduced to our groundbreaking B2B sales platform.
Keeping a journal is not a new, or novel concept for the general public, but it is new when applied to the founder's startup world. Last year, Meebo co-Founder Elaine Wherry created a surprise media splash when she revealed the contents of her 100 Mistakes Diary, which she credits for helping guide the Meebo team through its 2012 acquisition by Google. Where I pivot from Wherry is in chronicling successes alongside failures, as there is just as much to learn from winning as there is from losing.
A CEO/startup founder journal also helps organize the massive amounts of mental clutter and stress that develops over the course of just one day, especially going through the rigors of an accelerator like Techstars.
"[My startup journal] serves as extension of my brain at a time when my mental faculties are loaded with stress and stimulation," Josh Kalven, founder of Newsbound, said to the Columbia Journalism Review. "It reminds me of the obstacles I've already cleared and gives me incentive to keep pushing forward. And it helps me regain the big picture when it gets obscured by all the day-to-day details."
Kalven nailed it on the head, but I think we can go a bit deeper. Here are my top-5 reasons for keeping a daily CEO/startup founder journal:
1. Whatever you measure, you can improve.CEOs should always look for ways to be better at just about everything. I have yet to meet one who wasn't ultra-competitive. Yet many fail to measure their own performance on a regular basis. Without metrics, you can't track the data to improve your performance based on the results. Make journaling a habit, like working out, set reasonable goals and then work hard to attain those goals. Only 50 words a day? Great, you're 50 words ahead already.
2. Learn from your past, as history often repeats itself.Maybe it's just human but a common startup trait is to make the same mistake twice, more often three times. Another instant benefit from the journal--when you write down the mistakes you've made today, they don't tend to happen again tomorrow. The same goes for doing well. When you write down what and how you succeeded in a certain situation, there's every chance you're going to repeat it. Even if you don't read your journal, the simple act of writing it down crystallizes the lessons in your brain.
3. Everyone wants to know the nitty-gritty stuff that most people forget about after they succeed). What are the real details behind the success story?I say give them what they want! Record the points, the pivots, the menus and agendas. You can decide how much or little to share later, journaling the journey gives you a time-machine view back at the granular information/scenario/wins/losses to augment your frazzled memory. Otherwise, true learnings are lost.
4. Reflect, meditate, ponder. Slowing your thoughts to reflect on the day/event is a proven and practiced skill with tremendous health and mental benefits. In fact, an article in Medical News Today claims that research conducted on meditation "has found reduced blood pressure and insulin resistance (useful for preventing diabetes), slowing of biological aging, and even a 48 percent reduction in the rates of heart attack, stroke and death." Journaling can be a form of stress-reducing daily meditation, as you focus on the act of thoughtful writing..
5. Memories are not just for you.I get mad at myself for not doing a better job of journaling in the past. I can only remember highlights of the five-year journey bootstrapping my last startup. I think about it a lot when Hutch, my 4-year-old, asks how I got my business started. He's just starting to read and when he is ready to find out more about what his daddy does, I'll check my journal for the details or let him it. I want my kids and family to know about my life, the lessons I've learned, the trials and challenges I've faced, and how I've dealt with them.
The joy of writing, on a keyboard or paper, is a lost art to those who can benefit the most. Acronyms like TL;DR are a real thing. Yet, what this non-reading/writing crowd is missing out on is the data. And these are typically data-driven people saying, "TL;DR!" The biggest buzzword in tech in 2014 is data. Yet, much of the data we are capturing in the online world is the same data one could capture from a Moleskin notebook, or DayOne app. Start journaling to create and capture your own data now and you'll soon have oodles of data about yourself as a startup founder for current future ventures.