Am I Insane?

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Hi I’m Yuval Brisker and this is a jolt of Yuvalocity. This is hopefully the first in many podcasts that I’ll be doing talking about entrepreneurship, creativity, business strategy, personal experiences that I have had along the way and generally trying to convey a little bit of the experience of being a third time CEO, which is what I am doing right now.

I am going to try to structure these podcast around a topic that I think is relevant as I reflect on my years as a founder, as an entrepreneur as somebody who has spent time thinking about business and teamwork and collaboration and how that all comes together to create success.

At least this is my story and so this first episode of a jolt of Yuvalacity, really reflects on why I came back after a huge success with one technology venture and didn’t even take a pause and started another very ambitious start up and I have been thinking about this episode and I thought about what people always ask me when they ask me why I didn’t take a breather and immediately started a new company and the question is… Am I insane?

And the answer is YES I am insane. Now why is that the case? Because having done one FAILING startup with one partner and crashed right into the .com collapse of the early 2000’s and spent two years without working and eating away my savings until I had none. I went right into starting another company with another partner. And we had an incredible run of ten years of building something from scratch to getting it sold to Oracle and having Oracle come in and buy it in a great moment in the company’s evolution, and so humungous success – I will talk a little bit more about that as I go into more detail – but I ended up working for Oracle for 2 years and the day after I got released from that one pretty much on Friday, on Monday after that, I started a new company! So, am I insane?

The answer is yes because of having seen what it takes to build something and then have it fail and then build something and have it succeed, I learned that it includes a lot of pain and a lot of strife and a lot of what seems like insurmountable barriers and boundaries. So, once you have really created an incredible success, why would you go test yourself again with the same kind of challenges and knowing that there is always that opportunity to succeed but there is always the chance of failure.

Why would you go back and do that again and that is the big question of the day. I think it really feeds into the whole question of entrepreneurship and why people do these crazy things like start a start-up. And so, for me I just want to reflect on a number of aspects of that so that you can all come to your own conclusions of whether I am indeed insane or not.

When I think about the process for me, first thing it has always been about the desire to express, to have my own little stage in which I can basically stand on my own box and stand in my “High Five” corner and be able to do what I want to do. And that has been something that I learned that gradually in my first job, that one day it kind of hit me that I didn’t like to taking orders and actually I wasn’t even good at taking orders and I didn’t execute well on orders. And in fact, beyond that I would say that I was against the idea that so much so that I started becoming a political problem for the place I worked.

One has to reflect on whether this is going to actually work for one; and I think that is lesson # 1. You have to see whether despite the fact that you might be enamored by the sort of myth of the entrepreneur, is entrepreneurship truly for you and it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But, one very important one is that you have to be very, very determined to have a voice and to follow your voice and to follow your intuition and your mind, of course. But when I think about that element that to me, is the need for independence and the desire to be expressive and to not take orders and of course the ambition to succeed, those 3 things creativity, the desire for independence and desire for control and also the desire of course, the hunger for success, I think those things are the elements… the ingredients of entrepreneurship, that I would really reflect back on that.

And what was clear was that after I sold TOA Technology, my previous venture to Oracle, it was like, I felt like I was the father of the bride or you built something, you’ve grown something… like building a house and you sell it and somebody else moves into it. Or giving away your child to another man and having them walk off and have their own life and not be part of your life anymore. There is both some sense of satisfaction and at the same time some sense of loss of really feeling that you have to let go, you almost have to mourn, like when I child leaves the house you become an empty nester. Or you build a house, lived in it with your family and one day you have to sell it. Somebody else is going to live in it. That is kind of the idea.

So that mourning is like a certain sense of satisfaction and a certain sense of mourning and that is what I would call the after- shock of success. Because that is something you don’t really expect and then it suddenly hits you and you think…”hmmm that is interesting. I thought I was just going to be happy.” Well you are not always just happy ever, we are humans and I think that many complex emotions are involved.

But when I started thinking about what it is that I want to do I realized that one thing I don’t want to do with my success is retire.

Because we live in completely different time when the concept of retirement even became part of peoples’ expectations in life; post-depression when there was a flourishing of social activity and social welfare and structures in our society, retirement became a thing but it became a thing because most people were in factories, in mindless jobs and ones that really meant working very hard physically sometimes seven days a week. So, I think that era, or that transition of sweat shops to factories and now to the very highly professional knowledge economy, my sense the concept of retirement is in the creative knowledge the service economy that is not a factory economy is pretty much dead. People are living longer and healthier on the whole, so where previously, when retirement became a thing and became something people expected, it was a time when they really needed it. And were also dying younger, so retiring at 60 or 65 meant that you had 5-10 years on average and you felt like you needed to actually take it. Because you wanted something for yourself, not just for the man.

And I think that we are in a completely different place because knowledge workers are workers of the mind and they already have something their ancestors didn’t have which means the ability to actually work with the mind. And the mind is a terrible thing to waste as we know and especially as you grow older you have to flex it. I think that when you are young it is a given your mind is growing and changing and absorbing, but as you grow older you have to actually be consciously aware of exercising your mind in order to have it stay young just like the body stays younger a lot longer.

So, for me, it was the this never retirement spirit that I had deeply ingrained and I also came from the family with people that didn’t want to retire they were forced into retirement. That is another reason why I wanted to be my own boss, because I never wanted anybody to force me into retirement or to tell me that I was fired, for example. But the reality is that I saw my father struggle with retirement. He didn’t want to retire. He wanted to work until the day he died, but he couldn’t because he was in a structure, a government structure, a university structure that basically had mandatory retirement. He fought for it and he got an extension of five years but he hated the idea of retirement. He was forced into it so that I felt that I was going to find a life in which I am not forced into.

So, this notion of never retiring is really key to understanding the mind of an entrepreneur as well. I mean I think that if you combine all these things together, the bottom line is the essential urgency about life, then you realize why people do this kind of thing and why we go back to it is because interestingly it is addicting and secondly it is so exhilarating.

So, for me the excitement of creating something from nothing is always been fascinating to me about art and the idea of creation. The idea that you could have an idea and then turning it into something real that it becomes its own thing, it has its own life, its own realty, its different than having children in my mind, if I have to say, in a way it’s bigger having children is a biological activity and anyone can do it but everyone doesn’t have to do it but anyone can do it unless obviously limited in some way biologically but the concept is…”bees do it” you know the famous song “Let’s Fall in Love” but they all do it but what they don’t do is the creation of the mind.

Man is the only person who is able to actually create a child with the mind. The child could be the creation, if you are Picasso then a great Picasso painting,. If you are John Lennon it’s a song. If you are an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, it’s a building. If you are a technology entrepreneur it is a software company or something like that.

So, I think that the notion of creating something from nothing is engrained in you very deeply that the idea, that the mind can convert something not just the body than it becomes a real thing in real life and you see it has its own existence like for example products you have created or a company that has a product so its multiple levels of creation. To me that is a huge significant component of what makes me insane and not insane as well. I am not a, despite what some people might think, some people I know may think that I am a control freak, which I am kind of, but I am also a collaborator I don’t think alone as well. I like to have people with me and in front of me and with me and throwing things at me even though it sometimes is a struggle. But I couldn’t do it alone.

So, for me, building a winning team is another element of why I am addicted to building companies and a products because it is inherently not a sole activity. I am not going off to my studio to paint my masterpiece, which is a sole activity or I am going to write my book. Building companies and building products IS by definition a team activity and thus one has to assemble the right team and then go through the process of building productive relationships, creative relationships and sometimes challenging relationships but real relationships. Not fake. That will allow you to altogether elevate beyond your wildest dreams and I just don’t think that this done alone and I have never thought of it as being an alone activity and we don’t want it to be an alone activity. I don’t think any success is done alone. It’s about building, but of course it’s a little bit of desire to build it in your own image, kind of God like.

But it is true because it’s all about creation. When you think about the meta creation, of course, the creation of the earth. But none the less, it’s all about building so it’s just multiple stacking up. First it is about the desire not to retire, never wanting to rest and wanting to continuously exercise the mind then it’s about the creation and the excitement of the creation from the mind and then it’s about creating a team and taking it to the next level and working together collaboratively.

I felt really strongly that it was something interesting for me to do again. And to see if I could do even better the next time of course there is always the risk that you won’t do better or you won’t succeed. But that is a necessary component too. If you are not willing to take that risk then you have no chance of success.

Then all those other things they lose value like the desire not to retire, create something from nothing or to build a team. You have to be willing to take the risk of risks. Meaning that without any doubt that it is going to be challenging and there is no such thing as a straight line up there is always a path of up and down and challenges. We always say that if it was easy everybody would be doing it. And it is not easy so not everybody is doing it, but a lot of people who are thinking of doing it, they should know that when they get in it is basically a tough slog. That despite the glory of being a CEO or the power of being a CEO or even the ultimate success or successes along the way, it is always challenging. It is always keeping you up at night, it’s always about feeling like “it’s not enough” …”you gotta do more.” If you don’t have that stay with your day job.

And then for me the last song of this insanity. The last verse from the song of insanity is starting a company for the third time is really also the joy of partnership. I am a huge proponent and advocate of partnership and partnerships. I will dedicate a separate episode to that but I just want to say that it’s all about that moment of creation with another person and the spark of it happening then, that makes it even more interesting a way there are other aspects which is about collaboration and getting to know the mind of somebody and figuring out what is the joint mind and how does that work? Ultimately is learning to collaborate really, in the deepest sense of the word. In a way its existential – no doubt – because you have to put everything on the line you can’t not put everything on the line.

So, it is always nice to do it with somebody else who is also putting everything on the line because you have something, somebody who us willing to sharing the risk with you and has to work as hard as you and understands what you are going through like nobody else in the world. I think that the undertaking of building a company is so humungous and especially when you have the ambition to build an ambitious company which I do and always have it was always about the world the ambition to build something massive and global and if you have that ambition it is highly recommended to have somebody along your side to also have that ambition and can be supportive of each other.

So those are really he things that I am thinking of about, when I think about my insanity and somehow it doesn’t sound so insane when I talk about it like this but at the end of the day you do have to be crazy a little bit crazy, as the song goes. Thank you, Seal. That you are willing to do what you are doing against all odds and running up against sometimes running 150 mph seeing the wall coming right at you or the cliff and still knowing that you can somehow you can leap high enough above the wall and sprout wings and fly off the cliff that you have to have that deep belief and if you do than you can be insane like me.

Thanks for joining me today on A Jolt of Yuvalocity and see you next time.