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Open Letter to Myself as Thinkspace Turns 9!

Nine years ago today on May 1, 2008, I started Thinkspace. As I reflect back on my nine-year journey of running thinkspace, there are things that I wish I knew then that I know now. So I’m about to step back and look at some of the mistakes made it feels a little bit painful and embarrassing kind of like watching a recording of yourself on video. It’s uncomfortable, but, in a healthy way. I wrote this open letter to myself from the perspective of Old Me sharing with Young Me what to look out for, and thought I would share it with you too.

Dear Peter,

  • Young me: Bad advice has ramifications to you, your family, and your team. Find mentors, advisors, fellow entrepreneurs who have successfully done what you’re trying to do and get right sized advice. – Old me
  • Young me: There are six human needs. 1) Certainty 2) Uncertainty 3) Significance 4) Love and Connection 5) Growth 6) Contribution. Meet four of your customer needs at a high level and your customers will be addicted. – Old me
  • Young me: I wish I would have known how important it is to have alignment on the following levels: 1) personal 2) family 3) employees 4) customers. It would have saved me from a lot of pain. – Old me
  • Young me: When you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. – Old me
  • Young me: If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business. If you treat people at the end like you did in the beginning, there never would be an end. – Old me
  • Young me: Say what you actually believe and you will attract those that believe what you believe. – Old me
  • Young me: The social era will reward those organizations that realize they don’t create value all by themselves. – Old me
  • Young me: Customers are not loyal to cheap commodities, they crave the remarkable, the unique, and human. – Old me
  • Young me: Extend more grace and service to people. When someone is struggling, extend them more support and love, when you think you’ve given enough, dig down and give them more. – Old me
  • Young me: There is no weakness in forgiveness. – Old me
  • Young me: Always maintain a beginners mindset. There’s a lot to learn out there. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. – Old me
  • Young me: Read these books before you start your company: 1) The Startup Owners Manual by Steve Blank. 2) Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder. 3) Lean Startup by Eric Ries. 4) Linchpin by Seth Godin. 5) Drive by Daniel Pink. 6) Who by Geoff Smart. 7) The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. 8) Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits! by Greg Crabtree. 9) The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna – Old me

Love,
Old me

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Grit and Resilience: Do You Have What it Takes?

grit-resilience-400-katie-walvatne-granite-mountainMy whole life, I’ve recognized that I’m not the smartest person in the room. There are always people that are smarter than me. I’ve had to work twice as hard as the other person in order to get the same results. When I was really young, I watched how a tennis player, Michael Chang, show tremendous grit and battled back through one of the most grueling matches against the number one player in the world. From that moment, my mind was made up that no matter what the challenge, I would find a way to out last it and if I’m going down, I’m going down swinging.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for especially long-term goals.” – Angela Duckworth

Between 2008 and 2011, I survived one of the most difficult and stressful times of my life. With a young family of three toddlers I put everything on the line. All-in, as defined by all my personal financial resources, all my emotional energy, heart and soul, everything at risk to start up my company and survive a startup company in a recession. On top of all that, I had a period of 770 consecutive days where the bank called my loan and asked me to repay a million dollars. For me, that’s not something I can find in between the sofa cushions. It was through massive struggle that I was able to solve that issue and actually not go bankrupt.

“Big smarts with medium grit tend to loose out to medium smarts with big grit.” – Martin Tobias

After surviving that, I knew that I wanted to increase my margins. Margin is the space between your load and your limits. I wanted to push the edge out further. I don’t want to ever feel like I’m about to fall off the edge. One thing I did to reduce my stress was start running, I ran a couple half marathons which helped me train to manage my stress and keep me from physically tipping over.

Push the Edge Further Out

Life hits hard. In a period of one year, three people I knew between the ages of 25 and 40 passed away from cancer. Life can hit you so hard and it will keep you down if you let it. I vividly remember the feeling as I walked step-by-step with Shonda, a friend and employee, as she battled through nine months of fighting cancer. After a few months of reflecting, I decided to run a marathon, which would help me push the edge out further so that I might have a fighting chance to get through what random things life throws my direction. I believe that most things in life you can figure out if you have enough time. Staying upright on your feet is part of the battle and that’s done by being physically strong so that your mind can figure out how to break through!

Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure

Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. – Merriam-Webster

Maybe I’ve seen too many Rocky Balboa movies and the picture of resilience is when Ivan Drago says to Rocky “I must break you” and they go on to exchange body blow after body blow. Resilience seems to be confused with grit, that the longer you can out last someone the more resilient you are. It’s like you have to be able to pick yourself off the turf for one more play. What if that’s not what resilience is at all?

The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again. – Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan

Upon reading the article “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure”. I found a few quotes in there that talked about:

“If you spend too much time in the performance zone, you need more time in the recovery zone.”

“That if you want to build resilience, you start by strategically stopping. Give yourself the resources to be tough by creating internal and external recovery periods.”

When early on in my entrepreneurial journey, I read entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t. So that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t. Parts of this are very true for me and other parts I’m still figuring out! I’m also still looking at the word resilience and trying to see how much of that I have.

If you’re looking for answers to know whether or not you have Grit and Resilience, register for our event at Seattle Startup Week. Space is limited as we deep dive into this topic:

Grit and Resilience: Do you have what it takes?
Date: November 17 @ 1PM
Location: Google Seattle

Before you attend the event you can also take Martin Tobias’ Grit Test to see where you land on the Grit Scale.

Speakers:
Martin Tobias, Serial Entrepreneur, Investor, Founder, MGT Investments
Anne-Marie Faiola, Founder and CEO, Bramble Berry
Matt Williams, CEO of Pro.com
Peter Chee, Founder and CEO, thinkspace

Other sources:
If you’re looking for some good talks on Grit, watch Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk. Angela also did a talk at Google called “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” which I found to be even better as it relates tech companies and the startup mindset.

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The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship: What No One Is Talking About

dark-side-entrepreneurship-posterThere are a lot of positives of being an entrepreneur, but, we’re going to get raw and talk about the dark side of entrepreneurship.

Over the last couple years there’s been more transparency on the topic of what the “Darkness of Entrepreneurship” really is. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz.com, describes what it can really look like in a epic blog post that he wrote: “A Long, Ugly Year of Depression That’s Finally Fading”.

As an entrepreneur you will face a lot of painful things like fear of missing payroll, not spending time with people you care about as you work 80 hours a week, the highs and lows within the same work day that make you look bi-polar, the stress eating or bad eating habits, and struggle raising money from investors. During Seattle Startup Week our event on The Dark Side starts here and goes beyond that.

The dark side is what’s on the other side of when your trajectory is going great, you’re hitting your revenue goals, and your company is being recognized as one of PSBJ’s Fastest Growing Companies for a couple years in a row as the company is growing at 90% year over year. But as you try to execute and fail to continue the growth you feel like you’re making bad decision after bad decision. You lose key employees and you question your ability to lead. Your key investor, points a finger at you and says to you, you made all these hiring decisions. You have no choice but to own it. It hits you that you’re no longer enjoying any of the work that you used to enjoy. You ask yourself questions like did I just make one of the biggest mistakes of my life and spend years investing all financial and emotional resources into something that is failing? These are the things that cause you to lose sleep, gives you shortness of breath, as you cry yourself to sleep. Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about?

This event is going to talk about some of these challenges and some of the things that entrepreneurs have done to cope, survive, and find clarity in these kinds of times.

Register here: The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship: What No One is Talking About.
Date: November 16 at 12PM

Speakers:
Martin Tobias, Founder and Investor, MGT Investments
Jesse Proudman, Distinguished Engineer and CTO, IBM Blue Box
Jen Mueller, Founder, Talk Sporty to Me / Seahawks Reporter
Michelle Hollomon, Coach and Counselor, MA, LMHC, CPC

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The Intersection of Sports and Startups: Seattle Startup Week

Talk Sporty to MeSeattle Startup Week kicks off November 14th with an event focused on “The Intersection of Sports and Startups“. We have Jen Mueller, founder of Talk Sporty to Me and Seahawks Sideline Reporter moderating the event. Jen is also the author of the book “Talk Sporty to Me: Thinking Outside The Box Scores”. Here’s a little bit about the book:

Any book that starts with a paragraph about the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl against Denver is going to be a great book! The parts that I liked most about this book were quotes from various people in Seattle like Coach Pete Carroll and his philosophy to “Always compete”. I also really enjoyed the conversation that Jen had with John Nordstrom when he talked about three things 1) “Everyone is included” 2) “No one wants to take credit for any of the success” 3) “Pete (Carroll) understands the importance of the last three feet”. The last three feet, refers to the distance between you and the customer. In my mind it also refers to the last yard in a startup where you need to make sure the customer experience is great or it could also be the final yard that propels you forward in your startup.

Sports is a great way to get a conversation going and build rapport with people. This book is useful for anyone starting out in the business world or branching out into a new industry that wants to understand how sports can be one of the ways to create a connection with someone.

Space is limited at the Seattle Startup Week event, please be sure to register for “The Intersection of Sports and Startups“.

Moderator:
Jen Mueller, Founder of Talk Sporty to Me and Sideline Reporter for the Seahawks

Speaker Panel:
Chuck Frizelle, CEO of Coros
Jesse Smith, Manager of Analytics for the Seattle Mariners
Josh Decker, CEO of Tagboard
Steve Schwartz, Founder of ProInfluence

The Ugly Truth Behind Delegation

FullSizeRender (2)I’m stepping into a new executive role at work, and read the classic book by Peter Drucker – The Effective Executive.  In it, he argues against delegation saying that it makes little sense.

“‘Delegation’ as the term is customarily used, is a misunderstanding – is indeed misdirection.  But getting rid of anything that can be done by somebody else so that one does not have to delegate but can really get to one’s own work – that is a major improvement in effectiveness.” 

Here we discover the ugly truth behind delegation.  Often leaders spend time delegating their work to others, or feel pressured to be a better delegator.  But, should their work really be someone else’s work?

In regards to delegation, leaders should ask the question: “What things on my plate could actually be done by someone else just as well, if not better?”

Delegation isn’t just to get others to do your work.  It’s looking at the work you’re currently doing, knowing that you are bound by limits of time, and knowing that there are certain key tasks to focus on.  Delegating what others can do or do better than you helps you to target your focus by equipping the right people to do the right work (including yourself).

DO:

  • Delegate work that can be done by someone else just as well, if not better
  • Equip and train people with precision and detail
  • Communicate the “why” of the task at hand and how it contributes to the organization

DON’T:

  • Delegate work that only you can do
  • Delegate work that you’ll need to micromanage
  • Communicate criticism of how the task is being accomplished in public

 How do you handle delegation in your role?

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Our Next New Location!

We’re hunting for our next new thinkspace location and we need your help. Rather than take the “build it, they will come” approach, we believe that we need to ask the Seattle area startup community where would you like to see a new thinkspace location? It’s super important for us to know what you think!

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If you could work from anywhere, where would you go?

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If you could work from anywhere, where would you go?

Stay at home? Go outside? Coworking? Work and travel? Coffee shop or restaurant? The library? 

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Whether you decide to stay at home in your pjs or get outside for a meeting, it can definitely be nice to get out of the office to get some work done. Last week, Peter and I spent the afternoon at 5 Stones Coffee Co and got more done on our project in three hours than we did the entire week before! It can be really hard to focus with the many interruptions that happen throughout the day: phone calls, emails, kids and other things that just come up. Sometimes, all it takes is a new location and a fresh perspective to crush your goal!

Kate_mythinkspaceAs a team, we’ve been taking a few hours each week to work from somewhere new and see how it affects our productivity and happiness at work. Follow us on instagram for more great photos @thinkspace.seattle and share your own! #mythinkspace

IMG_1335I know, I sure am! With this 88 degree weather, it is impossible for me to stay inside so I am extra thankful that I got to spend yesterday afternoon out at the park. You may be wondering, “how do you get work done in the park?” Luckily, I had plenty of work that could be done offline, but I was also able to set up my phone as a hotspot and be totally connected to email and my colleagues. Different jobs, will of course, have different limitations but try going somewhere new. I think the results will surprise you.  Now, we want to know where you get your best work done;

where is your “think space”?

Personally, I love traveling, so any time I get the opportunity to work on the go, I take it! Check out #mythinkspace favorite from last year here and share your own!

Xx Allie

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Success Unshared Is Failure

Iconic Conference 2016“Success unshared is failure” was one of the ending statements given by Robert Herjavec,  CEO of the Herjavec Group and an investor on Shark Tank, as the Iconic Conference was coming to a close yesterday. After a day filled with raw and genuine lessons given by some of the most remarkable entrepreneurs, I couldn’t stop thinking that it might as well have been the leading thought of the event.

Bring Your Vision To Work Day

Nonetheless, Iconic Conference’s catchphrase “innovate, inspire, ignite” was setting the tone just as well. As was promised in the opening remarks, all of us are ready to go back to work tomorrow morning and deliver the newly-found value (or attempt to, at the very least. As Kevin O’Leary said today, “What matters most is the skill to execute. There’s nothing worse than vision all day long.”) Regardless of the stage that your company might be at, or whether you are a founder or an employee – even regardless of the industry you’re in – your perspective was bound to change within the eight “iconic” hours.

What did I found out? Now, for me, this part is always tricky. I can go around and try to find the quotes that I think would be the most interesting to me if I was a leader of a company. I don’t. I’m not a founder, a C-level executive, I do not manage people.

Robert Herjavec: “You’re never prepared enough for a role that has a chance of greatness.”

Katie and Kamila at Iconic

But I do run a business. Even as an employee, I do run the business. I take a part of the company into my hands and become responsible for its sustainability at worst; growth, development, and innovation at best. At Iconic, I had a chance to take away lessons on leadership from some of the greatest minds in entrepreneurship. I found a two-fold value: for one, I scribbled down thoughts and advice that I can implement personally in my work and my approach to it. Two: I had an opportunity to look at entrepreneurship through the eyes of founders and CEOs. It might be surprising to those who have always “founded” or “executed”, but experiencing an inspiration to set the shoes of an employee aside for a moment, and look at the business through the eyes of a leader, sheds a new light at your own role in the life of the company. It’s an understatement to say that the promise of “innovate, inspire, ignite” was delivered at Iconic. But as Danae Ringelmann, co-founder of IndieGoGo said today, “Innovation is not the point. It’s the mean, not the goal. Ignite, inspire, innovate are only tools.” – now where you take them, and how you use them, is on you.

If you had a chance to attend, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the experience. Bonus question: what’s your opinion on the value of opening the doors of “C-level insights” to your employees?

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thinkspace Offers First Coworking Helipad Service Between Seattle and Redmond

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thinkspace Redmond Rooftop Helipad

We are excited to announce that we have a helipad at both of our Seattle and Redmond coworking locations! We recognize that commuting between Seattle and Redmond has been a challenge ever since the toll was put in place between Seattle and the Eastside. Depending on the time of day it can take an hour or more commuting on the 520 Bridge. With this new service, the approximate 15 mile commute can be reduced to approximately eight minutes. We wanted to be able to provide our thinkspace members with a service that allows entrepreneurs to focus on growing their startups instead of spending time stuck in traffic as they go from investor meetings with Madrona Venture Group, Voyager Capital, or Maveron.

After nearly seven and half years of running thinkspace, I have been asking entrepreneurs what is the most challenging thing about running a startup? The answer that I typically get is 1) funding and finding access to capital. 2) is hiring talent and finding a cofounder. We feel that with this service, startup founders will be able to invite VC’s to meetings and possible candidates that are looking to leave their jobs at Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft to join their startups. Attracting talent to join a startup is an incredible challenge. With a service like this, startups can now compete with the big tech companies in the Seattle area.

With recent announcements of Uber partnering with Blade to be able to helicopter rides to Coachella, we have been actively working on our own partnerships to extend the service to the Seattle area. We estimate that the service will cost approximately $62.50 one way or $125 round trip. Similar to how a vanpool works, discounts will be available for groups of four people. As Benjamin Franklin would say, “time is money”, this service definitely puts a premium on time. Please contact us if you’re interested in find out more about how to book this service.

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Popsicle Stick Time Management

I recently read the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (President of Pixar).  The book’s tagline is to overcome the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration.  Chapter by chapter, Catmull unlocks creative leadership ideas by effective (and vulnerable) story telling.  He shares his own journey in detail – through the lens of job transitions as well as different projects (like various Pixar movies).  The book reads more like a page-turning biographical novel, with the added bonus that it has golden content on leadership.  David Slocum, writer for Forbes magazine, says “it’s one of the half-dozen best books that have been written about creative business and creative leadership. Ever” (source).

One key takeaway that I had from the book was on time management.  I’m a organized+creative+visual person, so I loved this idea that was sparked by a producer on the Pixar team.  The idea was simple: popsicle sticks stuck to a wall of Velcro.  Each stick represented a person-week (which equals the amount of work one animator could accomplish in a week’s time).  The sticks, in various amounts, would get placed next to a particular project (in Pixar’s case, a character from the movie The Incredibles).  The popsicle system gave the team a visual representation of their resources.  Here’s how Catmull described it working: “A bunch of sticks would be lined up next to a particular character for easy reference.  A glance at the wall would tell you: If you use that many popsicle sticks on Elastigirl, you’ll have less time to spend on Jack-Jack.  And so on.” When a manager would approach the team and say “This needs to be done today” the team would reference the Velcro wall and explain that they would then need another “stick” or ask where they’d like to take a stick from.  Catmull called it “a great example of the positive creative impact of limits.”

pixarI was so drawn to this example of time management and resources, that I made my own popsicle stick Velcro wall (see picture).  For my own work purposes, each colored Velcro line equals a key goal in my job (e.g. project management, 1:1’s with direct reports, etc).  And the popsicle sticks equal 1 hour of work.  So by glancing at my mini-wall, I can see where my week’s resources are being placed, and if I need to adjust in any way.  An added bonus is that the color-coded key goals correspond to the different category colors represented on my Outlook calendar (yes, I’m a bit of a nerd).

What time management tools do you use?  I’ll look forward to connecting with you in the comments section.