Troy Carter of Lady Gaga and Atom Factory Kept Learning and Unlearning

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I like spending the weekends thinking, learning and relaxing. The weeks are such a grind and intensive with deal making and doing business. Today, I was having some reflections on the NPR podcast, How I Build This: Lady Gaga & Atom Factory: Troy Carter. I embedded it above and you can find the transcript here.

Troy Carter managed hip-hop and pop superstars as well as built a venture fund. He is remarkably honest, humble and sober. I respect him as a businessman and how he kept integrating what he learned and unlearned. He kept parlaying his skills and exploring avenues to create opportunities from hip-hop to pop music to social media to investing in startups. Even with his heartaches and successes, as many an entrepreneur goes through, he self-actualized, as he shared,

And just to be honest with you, the thing was I just said I want to wake up every day and do cool [expletive]. That was the mantra for me personally.

I can relate. We have to keep true to our inner compass and find fresh, relevant ways that we fit, apply our value and create opportunities in this fast-changing world.

In sharing this podcast, my friend Joseph over at InDev Capital and I were having some takes on Troy Carter’s podcast. I like what he said based on his work with emerging market real estate and the inherent skill and push it takes in his business,

Most everyone goes through “The Dip” and that is where the learnings are.

Well stated, for sure. Entrepreneurs understand this too well. They do pay the price for everyone else. Those learnings become cash flow, empires and job creation.

If you get a chance, listen to the podcast while driving or hanging out. Share some of your insights in the comments below. I would enjoy hearing your take. Enjoy and keep growing.

Give Them What They Want

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If you spend most of your time trying to convince people of what they need, you may be in for a highly expensive and wasteful lesson from the marketplace. I get it. When you have an idea that you love, you think others should love it as well. But, we have to take heed of what William Faulkner said, “you must kill all your darlings.”

Your darlings may be the idea of special native plants in your ingredients or how you believe people should socialize. In your mind, this may be the most beautiful, reality-changing screenplay to yet become a part of our everyday lives. But going broke pursuing it is not smart business.

Giving people what they want takes observing, listening and detachment. You observe how people react to your offering and integrate the feedback to refine it further.

You listen when they tell you they like something or dislike something. You read the Google Reviews or Yelp. The painful ones have insight.

You detach from your own idea of what is good for everyone, and simply serve people where they are at.

Even if you are right, you may be creating psychic pain by insisting on something people don’t want or are not ready for.

I think people forget there are another 300M+ people in this country. We get in our own heads wanting to be special or stand out. That’s not likely with that many people and with the ridiculous amount of options. And guess what? We are all connected. A hit quickly gains a ripple effect.

There may be a few people brilliant enough to get people to understand something they did not know they needed and now want. But that stardom, though highly celebrated, is what movies are made of, not necessarily what entrepreneurship and business rewards.

It’s a jungle out there. One of your best senses to develop is paying close attention to what people’s emotions, feelings and expressions are saying about what they want and like. Your job is to give it to them in the easiest or most exquisite way.

Valuable Skills in the Automation Economy

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I have shared about the need to unlearn and reinvent continually because of market forces all around you and the pace of change. Once you see something that was once hard become convenient, commoditized and automated, you have to unlearn and relearn.

I think that the Harvard Business Review has it right with the kind of jobs that will thrive in the midst of automation:

“the only way to create value in a more differentiated and rapidly changing product world will be to redefine work at a fundamental level to focus on distinctly human capabilities like curiosity, imagination, creativity, and emotional and social intelligence.”

Being human stands out. Think about how you react to a simple email that is mass vs. personal. You can tell the difference, regardless of how crafted the mass email was designed. Spamming gets blocked. Personal and authentic creates engagement.

Thus, as HBR references, the creators, composers and coaches will make use of automation, routine tasks and efficiencies to create value.

Creators make highly customized products and services based on tastes and interests of people. They have to anticipate and connect the dots. Depth and personalized products are what they are dialing into.

Composers design experiences from the resources that are available. Themes, tours, and parties, for example, will be designed and guided for participants. It’s an imaginative type of area which can transform otherwise mundane offerings into visceral experiences.

Coaches help people achieve more with knowledge, insight and encouragement within chosen domains. They bring clarity, focus and a path for getting dreams and results.

It’s a practical and focused framework for thinking about where you might move towards. These are valuable professions making use of what is already available, abundant and efficient around you in systems, resources and products.

We already know how to make things in mass, sell it to millions and create sameness. That’s not much of a game. It’s a bygone era of value when we learned to be industrial and industrious. And the price keeps dropping towards the bottom.

Think about your industry or background and ask, “How do I create more value by connecting deeply with meaning for my clients and others?”

It’s a bit of repackaging to start moving in this direction, but more importantly, it’s getting in tune with the times where efficiency is becoming a given.

Hell Yeah! or No Works

I read Derek Sivers’ mantra years ago, “Either ‘Hell Yeah!’ or ‘no.” It’s a fantastic way to live and do business. Most things don’t work out. And a lot of time, money and relational equity can be wasted when taking on what appears to be good projects or endeavors, but they are not necessarily the best things for you.

I say, “No,” all the time to projects that have more downside than upside, invitations that feel more dutiful than fun and opportunities that I can tell have a low probability of working out.

Hell Yeah! has a fantastic filter on all the temptations and shiny allures.

It’s a boundary that helps you go big on what really matters. And we need all our energy, focus and attention on things that matter. It’s hard enough trying to make things work when everything is working against you. Why add the drag of mediocre commitments that will likely die on the vine?

Great motto to live into and see if you can get more out of the good stuff and keep all the compromises at bay.

Pay the Price

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Crumpled One Dollar Bills On The Dial Plate.

“The good things in life cost what they cost. The unnecessary things are not worth it at any price. The key is being aware of the difference.” ~ Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic

This is a fantastic reminder in today’s Daily Stoic reading. We all pay for things and what we spend on becomes part of who we are.

Frivolous trinkets can be entertaining. A quick promise for success can feel like we are doing business. Expedience without consideration for others can feel efficient.

However, paying the real price, what things are worth, is good long-term practice to moving the needle towards goals that matter to you.

I like paying the right price for the right things. Having the wrong things in my life – activities, stuff, relationships, ventures, projects – these can completely drain me of energy, joy and free time.

Finding the right things to invest in and putting all I have into them has a much better payoff when it comes to long-term success and happiness.

Take inventory. What are you paying for that is not worth it?

What should you pay for but have not committed?

Be Productive With Others To Get What You Want

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It can feel harsh to accept the common maxims you hear:

There is no free lunch.

Noone owes you anything.

Value for value.

However, if you observe these statements happening in reality with human nature, it can be extremely empowering for you personally. You are not spending all your time trying to change the world or insisting on something that is elusive at best.

Instead, you can be productive towards your goals and participating in an exchange. Appealing to someone’s self-interest is the first place to start. And that takes insight, empathy and caring. You have to figure out what another person truly values and deliver it in exchange for what you want.

It’s a much more fruitful use of your time and energy than insisting that people do what you want.

You might start the process with, “What do I want?”

Then you have to ask, “What do my customers or friends want?”

Lastly, get clear on, “How do we make a trade so they get what they want and I get what I want?”

Trade, don’t insist.

Leveling Up

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Nothing lasts forever. And today, that’s especially true. It can be unsettling to always be on the move when the temptation is to rest on your laurels.

Noone cares about you more than you. And it’s important to take complete ownership of your own personal growth, development and opportunities. You have to continually be leveling up.

When you look at nature, stasis is not natural. It is highly unnatural. A house left alone will be overgrown by forests, vines and plants. Living and dying is part of the cycle of life.

We want things to be the same and maintain some level of security, sanity and comfort. But, I would say that real security is trusting in yourself. That happens when you do hard things are choose to level up continually.

What are some ways to do this?

  • Pursue and make friends that make you better. In the same vein, shed those that hold you back.
  • Try your hand at a new upswing industry related to what you are doing. Perhaps maintain what you are doing while pushing yourself in what is new.
  • Make yourself do hard things. See if you can overcome the fear and get more comfortable with exposing yourself to new endeavors and audiences.
  • Remove your dependencies and habits that don’t make sense any more. Free yourself up. See what space you create.
  • Forgive and move on. See what space you create.
  • Take action on something you keep talking about and not doing.

You are giving yourself a promotion when you choose to level up your standards, choices and commitments. We are not here forever and you don’t want to get caught without a seat when the music stops in what you are doing.

Yes, things you did used to work. But if that is what you are continually banking on and secretly hoping will continue, well, that story tends to have the same predictable tragic outcome. Better to get a fitting mindset for the times and keep leveling up.

It Used to Work and Now It Doesn’t

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If you haven’t read business biographies like Derek Sivers of CD Baby or Elon Musk of PayPal fame, it’s well worth the time. There’s a bit of nostalgia as I think back to the 90’s and early 2000’s and what life was like just a short time ago. We didn’t have a world of iPhones, apps, Wi-fi, video streaming, or social networks. The ecosystems were being built into what we see today.

Going back in time and hearing the backstories of entrepreneurial success messes with my mind as I get to take advantage of all these wonderful tools without any thought to how I move in and out of workflow, systems, entertainment and transportation. Life is so much easier in a connected world.

And over the years, I remember so many types of projects and work that used to have demand and people paid a lot of money for. Websites were hard and expensive to build and now they’re easy and cheap. Payment systems were custom and expensive also, but now they’re integrated features.

There are so many things that used to work as a business model and now they don’t. And it is always so tempting to sit on a pipeline of demand when things are flowing. What you may miss is that you are enjoying the cash flow from an innovation that has yet to be commoditized. Someone will eventually build a platform and make what is difficult easy. It happens too often that it should be part of the conscience forefront of your business planning.

Expect that disruption will come.

Expect prices will come down and efficiency and automation will prevail.

Expect competition to push on your position.

Expect things will end.

Expect that you will have to reinvent yourself.

You see a lot of entrepreneurs that hit that one success. They built credibility and started leveraging other people’s money with their credentials. However, seeing repeat successes is less common.

A lot of the play is about getting lucky or having an instinct for timing. That’s part of the requirement for good entrepreneurship.

When we look at history, it’s important to heed that lesson we see repeatedly; know you are within a phase. What you are offering is valuable but will decline in value as the world gets more efficient. Know where you are in the lifecycle and think about what you will do when what you enjoyed profitably doesn’t work as well as it used to anymore.

Obsolescence can be painful if you haven’t planned for it.

 

Focus on the Deal First, Then the Details

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I have done many types of deals over the years. I have sold services, created venture opportunities for myself and clients, partnered, started businesses, launched new products and have helped people along the way who needed a little more vision or strategy. I can see deals that others can’t see and can see the myriad of steps and obstacles along the way to make the deal happen. It’s been fun, and I look at the world as a giant playground of opportunities.

It does take great intentionality and vision to make deals happen. Putting deals together is unnatural. Human nature enjoys the status quo too much and rarely chooses to rise above the noise to create more for themselves. Why change anything, even if it is better, when what you are accustomed to has an illusion of safety from its perceived comfort and familiarity? Everything in life and reality is working against you.

That’s why deal making has to center around the ideas first. Focusing on the possibilities and opportunities. Help someone to see what you see. Do they align? Do they trust you and your conviction?

The details are second. Yes, there’s likely a ton of work, cost and failure once you get a deal done. And it’s good to sketch out some of those back-of-napkin style to enhance the communication and experience around the deal. But obsessing about details that may or may not happen can kill a deal. Quickly. To a lesser degree, bringing in the details can overwhelm customers or partners. You are setting up the other party to extend the buying cycle or to simply say no.

I like to focus on the deal first. The ideas, upside opportunity, and possibilities are what catalyze deals. It’s why I insist on “Deals first, then details.” Otherwise, you end up killing deals that don’t get to see the light of day.

Much of this is because the ramp up and overhead are so low today to be able to test an idea. You don’t often have to go and buy brick and mortar real estate or hire a bunch of people first. You can see if your idea has viability with experimentation. You can test the demand or even the business relationship to see if it will even work. That’s the creative part of deal making. Take out the risk and find the essence of whether the idea has legs by prototyping.

Most people are sitting around waiting for something to happen. A few people are out there making things happen. Focus on deal making. Details come second.

Fooled by Heroics

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We do not tend to give compliments or recognition for, “Look what I prevented from happening.” It’s simply not how our brains work.

Yes, we have heard the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” However, who do you observe living this out consistently?

When crises happens, it’s an opportunity for heroes to shine. This is where heroes can extinguish the threat, problem or failure and get things on track again. It’s a time when such big spirits can shine.

But what if your business or life requires continuous heroics? Is that a good thing? Do you keep applauding when your problems finally get solved? Or do you have a downer?

I am not quite sure why people have neuroses. Some people really love drama. Others get off on the adrenaline of all hands on deck. Many in sales believe month’s end has to be extremely high energy.

Maybe life is too boring without drama. We like entertainment and movies because we can escape into some fantasy of plots, villains, world catastrophes, natural disasters and so many other problems that get solved in a couple hours. Maybe we all secretly want to be divas and actors saving the day.

We like the score to be close. It’s why we tune in at the last minute shot or crunch time in the bottom of the 9th. The pressure and the glory of winning is right there clear as can be.

Perhaps, our businesses become a platform to act out our repressed heroic desires. Who knows. I see it everyday, and I know people like heroics.

But, I’m not impressed. It’s easy to get fooled by heroics. And, don’t get me wrong, we can’t account for every scenario that can happen. However, if there’s a pattern happening, isn’t it worth subduing?

If you keep having missed deadlines for customers, do you simply ratchet up the effort? How is that building a business or culture?

Problem solving can be done far ahead of time, especially with repeatable events. You can ask simple questions:

How many times have I seen this issue play out?

What is the root cause of the problem?

Can I solve it? Do I know someone who can solve it?

Can I test my assumption in reality? What happens?

Heroics are simply not sustainable. It can do a lot for the ego and solicit attaboy’s, but it’s simply a cost at the expense of growth, scaling, and resource allocation. If you spend so much energy in crisis mode, how can you get to the good stuff such as imagining double the business or exploring exotic places or enjoying relationships fully?

Don’t get fooled by heroics. They feel great, but good businesses and people are on to better things.