Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Relax, Make a decision and stick with it

Although I have addressed what it takes for an discovering ideas for startup company in “Big Idea Opportunities.” I still had questions about my personal opportunities for learning and growth. I have some pretty good ideas and they could actually make some money. However, I’m not sure that doing something on my own right off the bat would be the best idea. I’m a college student with more year of school left. Sure I don’t have much to lose right now… but I have so much I could learn right now! My opportunity costs are huge. Almost everyone is willing to give a college student a shot! The difficulty becomes which opportunity do I pursue.

It was in the attitude I went and spoke with Gavin Christensen. He is a brilliant contributor to the Utah Valley startup ecosystem. Most recently he has helped build startups through his venture fund Kickstart. I wanted to meet with Gavin because he is young, motivated and surely full of insight as to making decisions when confronted with many opportunities. I was not disappointed.

We had a nice chat about what makes opportunities and people valuable. Opportunities are about growth. Each choice made personally or as a company is made to progress the entity in a certain direction. For me, opportunities are about gaining experience and skills that can be leveraged in my career. I don’t believe I am unique in the amount of weight and anxiety I feel when I consider how my choices each day further define my career opportunities, restricting my future freedom. Gavin empathized with my concerns.

With every opportunity that I told him about Gavin responded nearly the same way. “That sounds like a great opportunity.” My list of opportunities and his supportive responses were a very small portion of our conversation but I believe hidden there was one of the most powerful messages that he communicated that day, you can’t go wrong! There are so many different ways I can go, and they are all great! This realization changed the focus from how I could possibly choose the best opportunity to just choosing.

A coach from my high school football team would always teach that indecision is the worst decision. In football indecision effectively takes you out of the play, giving the other team one less person to worry about. A wrong decision would at least provide learning. In the world, when we remain uncommitted we can’t create positive change. Opportunities for good fly by and we keep ourselves and the world in a dull state of inactivity. 

Gavin taught me well that it’s important to relax, make a decision and stick with it.

Big Idea Opportunities

As an aspiring entrepreneur there are so many variables to think about and evaluate. Which skills do I focus on and acquire? Which jobs will help me develop my skills? How can I convince others to help me with my dreams? However, the question I want to focus on for this post is "How do I create, or otherwise obtain, opportunities for success?"

I recently met with Austin Allgaier of Bookoo Ventures, a Chicago based venture development company. The result was a clearer understanding of the entrepreneurs psyche in regards to opportunities and future planning. Although he was not anticipating an entrepreneurial career, Adam couldn’t help but solve problems. He built his first startup in college when the father of his friend expressed frustration with the cost of construction management software solution. Austin recognized that he could develop the solution cheaper and when to work. Despite his success with the resulting company, Sinkluge, he had always planned to work for a larger entity. After graduation he went to work for Exxon Mobil. However, his creativity and innovation continued as he and his brother, Adam, talked about solving another pain they have always felt, a way to sell used items online to locals, like an online garage sale. Four years into his management career he cut loose from Exxon to invest himself full time into, what was then their hobby, quickly evolved into more than just a lifestyle business for Austin and Adam. They also use a sister company, Rolera, to do consumer product research, development and invest in other startup opportunities.

At least for Austin, success didn’t come from knowing exactly where he would end up. Instead he knew what kind of life he wanted and took the next steps to make it happen. To get a feel for their attitude toward the future, I asked what they plan to do next with Bookoo and Rolera. I was a bit surprised by Austin’s response. He said, “It’s hard to make plans around things that you can’t control. We are hesitant to lay down plans that are too concrete… We take the next step and see where that leads us.” I find that attitude common among great entrepreneurs, they simply focus on the next step.

This seems to contradict what is so commonly taught in entrepreneurship, success is the result of planning and preparation. In nearly every episode of Shark Tank, every startup case study and in conversations with successful entrepreneurs, it is insisted, or otherwise implied, that solid goals, plans and projections are necessary to create the companies strategy for moving forward. However relevant, these approaches are for a company that has successfully identified and defined their opportunity. Austin has reduced success into a foundational principle, successful products and services solve problems! I’m sure that the Allgaier’s use their financial models and goals to help direct there companies but it’s clear that their opportunities have developed from a clear understanding of customer needs. Nathan Furr’s book, Nail it then Scale it, further defines the requisite attitude and approach to make critical customer observations. Furr insists that a problem worth solving, or an opportunity, “is usually not something that customers will just up and tell you; it comes from deep observation of customer pain and the outcomes customers are trying to achieve.” When we successfully observe, connect and empathize with our customer base then we can identify great opportunity. 

Once we can successfully identify worthy opportunities, a new challenge is introduced. How I do I evaluate my opportunities and choose ONE?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Most Desirable

Some thoughts about 1 Nephi 11:22: " is the love of God... it is the most desirable above all things." 

I want to attract a wife that is desirable! 
I want to be someone that people want to work with!
I want to be invited to things!
I want to maintain a good circle of friends!
I want to be there for people when they need help! 
I want to be a desirable person!

At the core we, human beings, long to be accepted. They want to be desired. I pretty sure that's why pride is such a big difficulty, we become insecure and so we attach physical measurements to our desirability.  But the most desirable thing is the Love of God! If you can adjust your life to obtain the Love of God what else do you need? Share His love and be directed by Him and people will be drawn to you!  Those that I have looked up to most have succeed to some extent is emanating the love of God! Contrast that with the theme of verses 35 & 36, the wisdom of the world falls! Whatever measure that the world supports for determining desirability is bound to fail. 

This has bolstered my determination to become principle driven & not reward driven. It's a 2013 goal of mine and I plan on writing more and more about it. Look for further updates :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

What this young pup learned from an old dog!

Today I flew home from school to be with my family for the Christmas holidays. There are always a number of little hiccups anytime I travel (Losing my wallet, learning you can't punch holes in your license...) but I won't bore you with those, haha... another time perhaps. My dad picked me up from the airport and we had a pleasant conversation as we drove home.

Typically when I walk in the home I'm greeted with a yippy little creature, that I guess you can call a dog, named Tess. It had been so long that I almost overlooked that momentous reunion with a treasured family member! Tess has been around a very long time... very! She's survived the, sometime painful, actions of careless children and a run in with coyotes. She's faced the stern instruction from a scary German owner/dad, marked plenty of territory and has fearlessly defended it from dogs 10x her size with her obnoxious squeak of a bark... and now she looking to fight time for all it's got.

It's perplexing to me that we can understand the mood of a dog so well. As part of our family, I have seen Tess excited, happy, upset, confused (complete with head tilt, haha), sad, irritated... It's a dead give away when she's the least bit scared or unhappy, her tail tucks down between her legs. I was surprised that my reception this time home was one of fear and sadness, complete with hidden tail! What had changed so much about me that she didn't recognize me? I did the usual high pitch, talk to a dog, voice, I gave her a good pet... she still would not cheer up. Granted, I did walk in with dad, and she usually goes into "I'm in trouble" mode around him. But, even five minutes after the fact, I greeted her again and, I still has a sense that she didn't know who I was. It wasn't until I sat down at the piano and played one of the few tunes that I play that she perked up and ran over to enjoy the sound, curled up in the corner where she would always lay. Now things are back to normal, she must now know that it's me, a friend.

Could it be her failing sight, her old age, her poor memory? or did I really change that much? I'm not sure why my longtime companion failed to recognize me more readily, but it got me thinking. Not only did I wonder about how I'll miss her when she's gone... but also how we communicate and remember. We have triggers, things that resonate with us particularly well because of experiences, interests and natural tendencies. When I lived at home there we're some things that I would always do with Tessie near by. Piano, TV, Movies, Books, Homework... for years I would have Tess even sleep on my bed! I had established a distinctive whistle that would always seem to bring her back when she would run off, and apparently one of the few songs I know on the piano drew us back together!

I can't tell you how many times I couldn't remember great experiences and stories until one key element resurrects the entire memory. Perhaps this is why we're counseled that life's more about people and serving than about where you end up. I hope that when I'm old I can sit and enjoy many treasured memories because of triggers embedded years ago. I can see Grandpa Steve sitting in the recliner, surrounded by the little grand children, shuffling through the objects, horded over years and years of life, each attached to a story or a beautiful moment ready to be relived.

Yeah that'll be a good day :)
...assuming the world doesn't actually end at the end of this week

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Germany Trip Blurb

My mom asked for a blurb about our trip to Germany... this is what I wrote. I thought I'd share it with you:

It was exhilarating visiting Europe again. I had heard Dad and Mom talk about there trips to Germany when Dad would go on business, I always thought it would be neat to go! What I loved most about this vacation was our family unity. I can't recall any significant tension during this trip, and that's quite the success. Memories that I will treasure came from each of the places that we visited. I definitely won't forget the huge family van/tank we drove around Europe. It continued the Branham legacy of keeping the search for parking as exciting as possible. I loved the immediate and overwhelming green hills and trees that we passed on our way out from the airport, everything was so green! I won't forget that cheese! That huge wheel of cheese that we found in Riquewihr and the piece that fed us for days! The French vineyards were way more imposing than I would have imagined. They seemed to go on forever!! They reminded me of the corn fields around the central US. I really liked the view from the top of Haut Koenigsbourgh. The eerie mist reminded me of all the Medieval movies that I've seen. German spa.... wow. Buchen was a huge highlight of the trip of course. It was really exciting to recount the infamous Buchener story and see the legacy embedded throughout the town. Being there and kissing the actual brass behind brought additional depth and connection to Dad's birthplace. I enjoyed seeing the street that Dad was raised on and imagining what it would have been like. Exploring the town and even it outskirts were a treasured time to be together (Ben!!!!). Rothenburg was extremely cool. The views from the old town where we stayed were amazing. I had the added privilege to go on a morning run in that town and I got to delve a bit more into extremities. There was a picturesque bridge and a peaceful path through the woods and then I made my way over to the new part of Rothenburg where I got the modern view of Germany (a part I think we avoided during our trip in general) and it was cool to see some residential homes and streets and how they differed from the historic towns were in. I also really enjoyed the watchman tour, walking/running around the city wall and standing at the top of tower in the city center. And that Christmas store!!! What a place! Salzburg was excellent because of all the Sound of Music stuff. At first I was skeptical of the bike tour idea but I really really enjoyed it! My favorite was biking down the road between the trees, past the "Von Trapp Mansion", with peaceful field aside and glorious mountains in the background. Fussen blew me away because of the Castles. I wasn't expecting Neuschwanstein to be as fantasy as it was explained, but it truly was! I need a man cave like his, eh? Remember when we got that troubadour to have Laura crank his instrument so her could sing her a song that included the harmonica? That was awesome! Swans are huge!! My absolute favorite part of the whole trip were the experiences in Lauterbrunnen Switzerland!!! The views were spectacular and those mountains were... beautiful!!! I knew that mountains got big but those were just ridiculous and they were accompanied by waterfalls, crazy base jumpers, sausage, amazing lakes, water bottle kick and catch, sheep with bells, glaciers and Ben!!! I just could not get enough! What a great family trip! I'm thankful for the smiles, excitement, debates, conversations and even the disagreements we share together! We are truly blessed! Thank you for such a great time!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Greater Purpose

I was taught some interesting things today. Our Elders quorum lesson was on fear... and our hometeaching visits and the Christmas devotional were about refocusing on Christ through service, love... From those things I made this connection. Sometimes I do not serve because I am afraid. I'm afraid that people will judge the talent that I'm sharing, that people will examine with scrutiny the words that I have to say, that my efforts will be insufficient, that I'm not worthy/able to meet the need... I realized that my fear basically boils down to my pride. I am so concerned about how an unfavorable outcome will affect my happiness rather that focusing on the act of reaching out. I feel that this balance is most obvious to me while singing. When I perform a solo and I am concerned about what people will think about ME and MY voice then I can hear the nervousness affect my singing. When I perform with the intent of sharing the message and put my efforts into expression the music just eases out of me and most likely sounds 10x better. I've noticed the ability to perform with excellence in anything is much easier, and more effective, when I focus on the importance of the service/action/person rather than myself. I'll never excel if my motivation is myself. Find a better reason to live!

Matthew 14:26-31

26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.  
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.  
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.  
30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.  
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Pride -> Fear, Love -> Faith 


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sound of Silence

Let me tell you about one of the most glorious things in the world. We had our Christmas concert the last couple of nights and there's a moment in it that I wish could of lasted just a bit longer. We sang a version of "The First Noel" that just melts the soul. The music itself is quite wonderful, but what just floored me was the contrast that takes place in the last chorus. To me, silence was the most powerful instrument in that performance. To see what I mean check it out (Link). To listen to the whole song go to 1:21:15 and to just catch the last chorus jump to 1:25:10. With all of the choirs combined on this song we have well over 600 voices plus and orchestra, you can imagine the amount of sound in there as we hit that climax. Just now I've been replaying that spot over and over... It doesn't really compare to being there, but it's the closest you can get now... and it's still amazing. In the concert hall that silence was incredible. In the video you can even hear how the sound echoed into silence (so cool!!!!). There are few experiences I've had that equate to the peace, stillness and majesty that lingered there for just that split second. I wish everyone could experience what I did these last few days in that concert and, specifically, in that beautiful song.