A Tale of Two Business Partners
For a while now, I’ve searched for business partners. Back around 2012-2014, I failed at founding multiple startups. Among the many pitfalls I fell in, I attribute some of this failure to not knowing who would make a good partner. I came to understand my failure at choosing partners had much to do with values. Looking back, I understand that I didn’t really know my own values and I certainly didn’t know how to know if the people around me shared them.
Over the last decade, I have had two business partners emerge, one real, Kyle Wild and the other in abstracto, Naval Ravikant.
The Real, Kyle Wild
While looking for junior engineer work (circa 2013), Justin Johnson introduced me to Kyle. Kyle was at the time CEO of Keen.io, he sized me up and said “You will one day make a stellar sales engineer, happy hunting”, to which I thought internally “but I’m an application developer”. I had a low opinion of the role of sales engineering and I surely wanted to stay in the application engineering realm, all on my path to become a hot funded technical founder.
Fast forward to 2019, living in Oakland, casually reading facebook I see that Kyle (who I barely knew) lives down the street, “Hey Kyle, want to grab coffee?”, Kyle: “Sure”. We meet at Burlap Coffee and rhyme and riff for an hour or so. Turns out we are both in a uniquely similar place, somewhat burned out by our recent experiences with startups, looking to stay involved in early stage entrepreneurship but on terms more acceptable to us.
I had just founded Startuplandia.io and I told Kyle about it, he was like, so you want to make seed level products, collect equity and not burn yourself out? I think a light bulb went off in his head. Fast forward to September of 2021, I’m writing this post on a plane flying to Cleveland to talk about a possible JV between Startuplandia, Root System (now Kyle’s business) and a Cleveland based somewhat-tech company. Kyle has brought quite a few projects to Startuplandia and is without question my most active and relevant professional partner. Ironically, I occasionally play the role of Sales Engineer and yes, I’m pretty stellar at it, and yes, Kyle had a great read on that.
I attribute much of Kyle and my fit to 2 things, 1. a very well shared set of values around ethics, curiosity, tools, destination and 2. a very complementary personal skill set, at one end of the spectrum, I’m very process oriented, great at managing small networks of creatives, close to the details, a “real field commander”. On the other end of the spectrum, Kyle thinks like a staff admiral. He pays attention to the very large picture and usually has a great read on whatever comes next. In the middle we meet, aligned on values, collaborating on process & seeking similar outcomes, never trying to be the same person.
In Abstracto, Naval Ravikant
Yeah, I’m stating for the record that Naval Ravikant is my abstract (imaginary) business partner, though I entitle him to no share of my profits.
crowd: “John, you write some weird stuff by saying this”
john: “yeah, I’m weird, get in line”
So, I recently finished Navalmanack and I can’t say how profoundly Naval and I overlap on things I hold dear. This natural overlap reminded me of my relationship with Kyle and thus inspired this post.
Naval: The Meaning of Life
- Whatever you make of it
- The opposite of entropy
“Nothing”, we all start with this definition, even understanding the question marks an important personal growth step.
“What you make of it”, welcome to my definition of adulting, when you begin to proactively define meaning for many of life’s highly subjective things.
“The Opposite of Entropy”, DNA is probably the meaning of life, and DNA is basically an algorithm for organizing matter.
Yeah, think about it, the meaning of life, without a clear understanding of the meaning of life, how do you know living or time or anything has value. BTW, Naval’s meanings ARE NOT NEW to me, I’ve thought about these deeply, like Kyle, reading Naval’s point of view felt like looking in the mirror a bit
Naval: “Avoid the use of the word Should”
He thinks that because everything is here and now “should” doesn’t matter. Thinking in terms of should places people into a future (or not current reality) focused mindset. I would actually improve his rationale by stating that using the word “should” gives the speaker a free pass to ignore the locus of accountability for their values… “You should get your hair curled” (because I think hair curling looks the best), ok, then say “I think hair curling will make you look your best” Very different statements, the first statement is just blah blah, the second statement is leadership, persuasion and value accountability all in one.
Naval: “Read, read, read, read complex, simple, stupid, smart things but read, exercise that muscle, avoid things written purely to make money.”
I grew up in Scottsdale, AZ (120 degree heat) and started reading voraciously as a kid (think cool libraries). It has served me well and I think that evaluated based on time invested, reading is the single best way to internalize interesting, life spanning thought. I think of it as a way to ingest the intellectual dna of other people, without spending a lifetime on it.
Naval: “You will never become wealthy renting out your time. You must develop various types of leverage, financial, human etc …. All value comes from the compound interest of time”
Yeah, socio-technologically speaking, we are entering the second half of the chess board (insert link), the size of work, labor, problems to be solved will and has vastly outstripped the individual labor of a single person, believing that the success of your future has a linear correlation to time inputs, will well, leave you exhausted and compressed like schist by the forces of economics.
This topic hit like a ton of bricks, I am the coyote taking the anvil in the forehead. I have allowed myself to rent out too much of my time. I haven’t fully found the system that pays me compound dividends on my own time. I do however have systems and plans currently improving this aspect of my life.
Business partners help us grow, they challenge us and they bring us opportunities. In the case of my real partner, Kyle Wild, I couldn’t ask for more. He challenges my thinking, he presents me with things I never thought of, he brings choice projects to Startuplandia and he is a great human to spend time with. In exchange for his help, I bring my top skills to bear on the projects we work on. Naval, I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me, but his thinking also challenges me, he presents me with things I never thought of and he helps me think about how to go out and get more of what I love in life. I support Naval’s mission by encouraging people to 1. understand the exponential opportunities the internet has brought to humanity and 2. pursue independent entrepreneurship so that they may live ahead of the internet’s creatively destructive curve.
John D Founder, CTO