Fear and competition

1

Otherwise known as ‘don’t be scared.’ At least, don’t be scared of the competition. Better to enter the battle ground and lose than not to play at all.

So there was this Huffington Post article making the rounds a few weeks back. Read it, but what it says is that the things we excel in are the things where we are willing to put up with the pain. I can slog through legal contracts and technical briefings and cloak & dagger intrigue (ok I guess that’s actually quite stimulating!). I can, most days, put up with the main of a metcon or a heavy lifting session.

That stuff is easy; work and sport. Although there’s some pain I do shy away from. Drudgery, nagging, and even, often, the embarrassment of trying over and over and over again to learn a skill before you finally obtain a level of competency. I have room to improve. Don’t we all?

As much as it might sometimes seem otherwise to outsiders, as far as I’m concerned I almost always play it safe. Once in a while I stick my neck out, for real. I guess I’m still alive. But holy cow it’s not a nice feeling as you watch the world zipping by and wonder how long you can take it before you whip your head back inside your turtle shell!

But that question on how much pain you are willing to take is an interesting one, no? Some people shy away from controversy or leadership or conflict. Me? I tend to stay away from areas where I’m really bad (so I stay away from new areas unless I’m forced into them my circumstance), or where I’m vulnerable. Kind of like the bully who uses fear to control and hide his own fear. I’ve been known, certainly, to show bravado when I’m actually kind of petrified.

Another week down with what is starting to feel like the ‘normal’ pattern of Tuesday-Thursday in Joburg. Monday was a crazy day between conference calls, an offsite WAPA meeting with Neotel (a big fixed-line operator), and then, as happens, trying to figure out how to play the politics when you find out one of your competitors is slightly smarter than you thought they were. But not smart enough, or fast enough. That’s fine, we’ll lose enough deals like that but this one we won’t.

Monday night 88mph event & networking, and a Tuesday morning that started with physio torture and continued with a sales team meeting (I love my sales team), then a dev team meeting to fill in my tech department on a few items, then a dash to the airport. I am SO SPOILED by flying between Cape Town and Lanseria and I know it. But hey if you’re going to commute I guess it’s like the equivalent of the Oakland-John Wayne airport commute.

Another shot from the 88mph event. Beautiful!

Another shot from the 88mph event. Beautiful!

My team is actually amazing; how much they accomplish when I’m not even around kind of blows my mind. Actually sometimes I think they accomplish more when I’m not there to ask about it every day! Management by objective.

Things are a bit crazy with work at the moment. There is so much inbound stuff it’s actually incredible, and we haven’t even yet announced any of our new partnerships or products, publicly. It’s coming soon and one of the things that I realised this week is that it’s been fun while it lasted, but the flying beneath the radar is soon going to end, and I’m actually not sure what will happen when it does.

Much of this trip was a couple of meetings with our product development team, talking with an agency through what we’re doing, and more business development. Digital sales, a big systems integrator house that’s all of a sudden looking like a really solid partner (they just need me to learn Afrikaans!), and, of course, my friends at Cisco. OK, my one and only friend at Cisco. Now Cisco itself may be a mission to work with as he well knows, but this guy? He’s one of the best strategists I know in the country, to be honest. Maybe I just think that because he thinks like I do, but, he also understands what’s involved in pulling together the ecosystem.

At least this week I wasn’t up until 2am on any day, so I was able to go to the gym both mornings. It may have been my last time in that gym, because they are moving premises shortly. So many memories; and some of them quite intense. That’s one thing about CrossFit; it can get a bit emotional especially if there’s more going on than just the workout. One of the reasons I train there, probably THE reason other than the location, is the guys who run the gym. I almost feel like part of the family, which is kind of entirely appropriate and entirely inappropriate at the same time. Yeah, it’s with a lot of mixed emotions that I train different places and even THAT is strange. Why can’t training just be training? But it never is, is it?

Practicing new skills

Practicing new skills

On the flip side, although I did make it to gym, it wasn’t in the best of conditions either day. Both nights I was up until very very late. Dinners two nights in a row with two of my absolute favourites; one of whom I’ve known for just over a year and one of whom I only met maybe 6 or 8 weeks ago. It is actually quite strange because the two of them are very very similar, it freaks me out to no small degree that they now know each other because I am afraid of the combined result. Kidding; I think the two of them could become quite close friends if they are not too similar to get along.

It’s a mix that I find very interesting: intelligence, wit, sarcasm, honesty, irreverence, crazy; yes, but also at the core I think they’re both gentle creatures. Although they’d both, I think, love and hate me for saying that! I can talk to the both of them for hours on end, about a variety of different subjects. At the end of the day this is actually all that matters.

People come and go from your life, and the ones I keep in touch with are the ones where the commonalities transcend what might be shared interests at a time. The people who you can just sit and talk with for hours, and have a whole year’s catch up between 6pm and 2am; and the others who you can see all the time and still not find each other boring.

Also, Joburg has cool roses. I like roses.

Also, Joburg has cool roses. I like roses.

I learned a few things this trip, about the market and about myself:

  • I seem to be correct as to who the players are, and who the players are not. It’s so interesting what you can find out by making a statement and listening to the response.
  • I also seem to be correct that no one is looking at the product space with quite the same degree of sophistication
  • I forgot about an angle of possible competition but now that I’ve been reminded I can position against it
  • I really don’t like Aruba (no news there)
  • I actually quite enjoy competition
  • I also have a chip on my shoulder, and I quite like it there, perverse as that is!

On the point of competition, there are two companies in the market that are, at the moment, the interesting challengers. Now I don’t really know the guys running the Wi-Fi at these companies; one I have met and the other two I know just by reputation. But I know enough to respect, certainly, and actually almost like these guys. They are smart. OK sure, so one of them got the definition of carrier Wi-Fi wrong in a press release but at least the press release was grammatically correct, unlike those of some of our other competitors.

Both my friends had releases in this past week. Still flying under the radar I had to content myself with a WAPA release I helped write. I’m actually quite proud of the final output because it actually tees up a couple of balls that can be hit in the coming weeks and months. I also got to quote myself saying something semi-controversial, which is always fun. Poster girl for the Wi-Fi and go-getter movements, or defender of consumer privacy, or just plain old I will take you down because I can and it would be fun competitor?

From the office park where we plan world domination

From the office park where we plan world domination

Honestly, there’s no fun in beating an unworthy enemy. I am glad we have competition that’s worthy of the term. I look forward to kicking both of their little butts in ways they don’t see coming; and I actually also kind of look forward to seeing what they do to knock us off our stride.

I know how crazy this may sound at this point but I don’t think such a statement will sound so crazy six months from now. Time will tell.

But fear! I love having competition because it makes me want to be better, and it gives everyone something to focus our energies about. One of my guys found a magazine article quoting one of our competitors and he said: “Look! He’s saying all the same things we’re talking about.” Yep. What I loved about that? He didn’t say the things I talk about, he said the things we talk about.

Fear can be a motivator, but mostly it just kind of gets in the way. Why NOT call a prospect who you’re afraid might have gone with a competitor? What do you really have to lose? There are some things to be legitimately afraid of; don’t get me wrong. I was listing some and then I realised it was a stupid exercise because there’s always another thing to be afraid of, and in all honesty, what’s the worst that could happen? The worst things that’s ever happened to me in my life I have survived. Sometimes I wasn’t sure the way out, and sometimes I certainly hurt other people.

But maybe this is also part of the growth I’ve had being a CEO. It is not just about doing the right thing for your stakeholders, it’s about being able to sleep at night knowing that it is the right thing. I used to be so much more of a people pleaser, and now I honestly do not have time. I have been forced to be much more explicit with what I want, what I don’t want, and what I can and cannot have happen.

You can’t actually predict the future, nor should you get too attached to any particular outcome. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself but it’s much easier said than done!

By the time the plane landed in Cape Town on Thursday night I was pretty much done. Physically exhausted, mentally drained (as per normal I guess after a week in the City of Gold). I was so tired but I had a few things that really needed to be done before bed; the worst was drafting yet another press release when I could barely string together a coherent sentence. What should have taken 20 minutes took over an hour but I just knew I couldn’t wake up in the morning to do it.

The skies are amazing this time of year

The skies are amazing this time of year

Willpower is a funny thing. When you’re tired and burned out, you seem to lose it. All of it. Prefrontal cortex has had enough.

Maybe I speak only for myself. But yeah, I couldn’t even make a decision about what to eat on Tuesday night and so I made my companion decide, and that was the beginning but certainly not the end of that! Wednesday wasn’t much better in that I ordered literally the first thing I saw on the menu that didn’t have gluten in it. By Thursday I probably would have been eating chocolate cake if you’d put it in front of me.

Yeah. And that’s about all I have to say about that.

Other than that it’s about time to start knuckling down. This whole not sleeping and not eating well vibe is actually not working for me very well at all.

I also started saying something this week that I had previously only told a few close friends. Funny how when you first feel something you aren’t sure and don’t talk about it, then the more people you tell, the more real it seems, and by the end, you’ve said it so many times that you’re committed. Not yet ready to tell everyone, but soon.

Patience, grasshopper. Something I struggle with, clearly.

  • “You’ve got your sh*t together.” – Dan
  • “We should have an aitako drinking party!” “That’s a good idea!” “I think it may be the worst idea I’ve ever had.” – Ellie & Megan (happily, the boys were ignoring us)
  • “He’s quite innocent to my eyes.” “Oh, no, he’s quite terrifying too.” – Johann & Tristan
  • “That’s what they do. That’s the designer sound. That’s the designer in agony sound.” – Johann
  • “It’s been a f*cking amazing year. Since last year Africacom?” – Rob (truth)
  • “I think the worst thing has got to be indifference.” – Rob
  • “Do you want the ‘on the record’ story or the ‘off the record’ story?” “Are you kidding me? I work in telecoms! Most of the things I know, I don’t officially know!” – obviously not going to say
  • “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?” “Well, exactly.” – Ellie & Mark
  • “I’m overly excited. Overly.” “No. I think you’re appropriately excited.” – Dave & Ellie
  • “You can’t give them everything at once because it’ll blow their mind.” – Steven
  • “The NSA is crap because I haven’t been arrested yet.” – Anonymous
  • “I can understand wanting to kill someone for pleasure.” “It was ok until he said ‘for pleasure.’” – my friends
  • “You seem to have a lot of sworn enemies.” – Johann
  • “But you must really want to do that.” “Yeah, but I can’t.” – Johann & Ellie (nuclear option always fun to talk about, less fun actually to do!)
  • “How did you get his phone number?” “Google.” – Ellie & Johann (don’t get on the wrong side of this one!)
  • “No. You wouldn’t get in trouble.” – Pedro
  • “You’re right; I don’t want to hug you when you’re sweaty. Just kidding.” – Rick
  • “The smart ones eventually figure that out.” – Kian
  • “There’s no glue.” “Yeah. We’re building the glue.” – Kian & Ellie
  • “A pretty long list …” “Hehehe. Yeah.” – just two sales people
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