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Transcript #29: How to Survive the Start-up Rollercoaster as an Entrepreneur, Founder, and CEO with Terry Lee


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allowed podcast transcript header with caneel joyce

Episode #29: How to Survive the Start-up Rollercoaster as an Entrepreneur, Founder, and CEO with Terry Lee

Caneel Joyce:

They say that the startup game is a roller coaster, and for many, it is the most difficult, frightening, stressful roller coasters in the world. I call it bootcamp for the soul. What’s really tricky about being a founder, an executive, a leader in a fast growing company is that we can feel very, very alone in our struggles, and we often even will hide them intentionally in an effort to appear like everything is going great.

 

High achievers, often we’re conscious of how we are coming off, we’re conscious of the impact we have on others, and so, in essence, we can begin to isolate ourselves. So it’s such a gift when somebody is willing to open up their own story and share what it was really, really like for them. If you’re feeling alone in your role in the world as a leader, you can find healing in connecting with the stories of others. In today’s episode you’re going to get to do just that.

 

We have on the show today a remarkable guest named Terry Lee. He’s a founder, he’s a former founder, he’s a former CEO, he’s a former COO, he’s a rockstar soccer player, and he is a normal guy, just like you. You are allowed to feel alone and you are allowed to seek connection. You’re allowed to understand that the struggle that you are in, which is uniquely yours, is also not unusual to experience. You’re allowed to grow through this game of startup no matter how dark the dark days get. Thank you for being here again today, and if this is your first show you’re really in for a treat. We’ve got on the show an incredible guest, and I’ll tell you more about him in a moment.

 

One of the things I want to mention is that he is a former client of mine and we’re so honored that he’s taking the time to be here with you today. If you have ever experienced working with an executive coach, then you have some understanding of the power of having a person who is there to be your champion and your challenger. This is something that Terry can attest to himself, and I’ll let him do that in his own words in a little bit.

 

But what I wanted to invite you into is that you can enroll in Forward Fearless, which is my online live group coaching program. This is a fraction of the cost of what top level executive coaching typically would be, and you’re going to get to get connected with a small and mighty group of leaders from around the world, all of whom are also committed to their own personal growth, development, self-understanding, self-discovery.

 

What all of them have in common, and I know that’s why you’re here, is that you are ready to create a big change in your life in some way. Whether it’s the way that you are showing up and owning your power, owning and understanding your own unique zone of genius, or if you’re trying to do a major life revision, career revision, or company revision.

 

This is a place where you can be seen, and heard, and learn a lot, and be challenged and grow. So I really would love to see your registration come in today. So please go to Caneel.com/forwardfearless.

 

Terry Lee is co-founder of Mezcal Rosaluna, a mezcal brand that is launching in summer 2020. Previously Terry was COO of MeUndies, an underwear and lounge wear brand based in Los Angeles, where he helped the company grow to $50 million in just three years. They are actually really awesome underwear, I really highly recommend you pick some up. You can get matching ones for you and your honey, like I have.

 

He also helped to secure Stephen Curry as the brand face of a consumer marketplace called CoachUp, and prior to this he worked at Johnson & Johnson in marketing and sales, and played NCAA D-I men soccer and graduated from the University of Notre Dame. Terry is a longtime client of mine. We met years ago, worked together for a couple of years and he has become a really dear friend of mine. I’m so excited to have him on the show today, where he’s going to be sharing with you a very personal telling of his journey as a leader, and some of the lessons that he learned along the way, some of which would not have come without a certain degree of heartbreak, and pain, and struggle.

 

So if you are a leader who’s never been through the entrepreneurial journey before, if you’re an aspiring COO or entrepreneur founder, or if you are actually in the midst of the most challenging parts of the startup rollercoaster, I think there’s going to be a lot of really valuable information and insight from this deeply compassionate man who is here to share his wisdom today. So welcome to the show, Terry Lee. Terry, thank you so much for being on today.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, thanks Caneel so much for having me. Thanks for those words, and I’m really excited to kind of chat with you.

Caneel Joyce:

Oh man, I always look forward to it so much. I remember the first time that we met was back when you were at MeUndies, COOing, and I came in, I met you, I met the others on your team, and we stayed in touch for a while. I didn’t end up coaching you when you were there, but remember how many times roughly we got together before you decided to become my client?

Terry Lee:

Yeah, it was a couple of … It was more than a couple times, and I just, I mean, thank you again for your patience and for sticking with me. It’s a testament to your persistence and patience, and I’m so glad that we were able to kind of continue that relationship after we initially met, so thank you.

Caneel Joyce:

You are welcome. Thank you for kind of your persistence, because it is so unlike me to see a prospect, a prospective client more than once, ever, especially if I’m getting in the car to do so, that’s very rare. I would usually just one meeting, okay, either you’re in or you’re out, I’m moving on. But with you, you kept finding great ways to invite me back, and meet you for coffee, and whatever. I remember even telling you at the time, I’m like, “I literally don’t know why I keep showing up. I don’t know.” But I trusted it’s for the right reason, and then years later you finally became my client. I was so excited to work with you.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, same. I think it was the perfect timing, even though it probably took a lot longer than both you and I expected, and I’m just really grateful for all the things that I’ve learned in the time that we spent together, but then even moving forward, after those sessions I think a lot of the lessons and things that we talked about keep popping up and I’m learning them on deeper levels, which is cool.

Caneel Joyce:

So wonderful. Terry, for a while you were on a streak of sending me every single morning, early in the morning, you would send me some inspirational message.

Terry Lee:

Yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

So I would get up and of course you always beat me to waking up because I am not a morning person like you are, but I would be met with this great affirmation to start my day or a great reminder, great message. I wanted to read to you just a couple of my favorites, and these are throwbacks. Let’s see.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, that’s a couple years ago.

Caneel Joyce:

I’ll read one of my favorites, and you sent this to me in 2018. You said, “I was reading about harvest, the harvest, and I learned two things. One, it’s the most labor intensive activity of the growing season, and two, the completion of the harvest marks the end of the growing season, and it feels like that’s the stage I’m in.”

Terry Lee:

I remember sending that text.

Caneel Joyce:

I love that.

Terry Lee:

That’s cool. Thank you for sharing.

Caneel Joyce:

Can’t wait for your harvest festival. Thank you. Well, I’d love really for you to share today about the journey that you’ve been on. I’ve certainly been inspired watching you grow over these past few years, and the depth with which you’ve really taken on your personal growth work, and your real extreme commitment to being open, and learning, and growing. I think you’re an excellent role model for what is possible there.

Caneel Joyce:

So you and I chatted a bit before the show, and I’m hoping you’d just be welcome to be as revealing as you possibly are willing to be, and lead through example here. So I’d love to just hear about your journey.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, for sure. Well, why don’t I just give, if it’s okay, maybe just like a high level overview and then whatever area that we find is interesting we can kind of dive into further, if that works.

Caneel Joyce:

Perfect.

Terry Lee:

Cool. So maybe a good place to start is, even slightly before I graduated from college and started my career, I had grown up playing soccer my whole life, and the reason why I think this is relevant is because soccer was an all consuming hobby for me. I don’t even think it was a hobby, it was like it was my life. So I played it as much as I could, I would practice all year round, play on multiple teams, and there was just this one singular goal that I had, which was to play in college at the Division I level. Fortunately I was able to walk on to the team at the University of Notre Dame and that was an incredible kind of experience.

 

But so often in life, at least from what I found, is that you achieve a goal and then there’s always more that you want. So as soon as I joined the team it was this mentality of okay, I need to start, I need to score goals, I need to make a positive impact for my teammates and for what we’re building together in this program. I unfortunately didn’t reach those goals that I had envisioned, and what was really humbling was because I had such a clear vision of what that would look like. I would literally visualize me scoring goals, or me having this active significant role on the team, and it just never came to fruition.

 

So that was really kind of humbling in a sense. The reason why I bring this up is because it’s almost reflective of how I feel the last few years have gone. So fast forward after I graduate from school I spend a few years working at Johnson & Johnson, and then I had the opportunity to move out to LA and join this company called MeUndies, which is an underwear e-commerce brand, and was fortunate enough to join in a yeah, like in a COO role. We grew to $50 million in three years, it was a lot of fun, a lot of growth in a short amount of time.

 

I think if I’m being honest with you, during that after those three years, I just had a real … I wouldn’t even call it confidence. I think there was a lot of arrogance that was kind of beneath it, just in terms of my own ability and how much I had made an impact. So it was a lot of kind of focus on me and my capabilities. So coming out of that I was like, “Look, I’m ready to kind of start my own journey and start my own company.” And so I started a beauty company called Panacea.

 

I started it with a couple other partners, and unfortunately, kind of similar to the soccer story, it didn’t pan out the way that I had envisioned, and I think it was this reminder of results aren’t everything, and really just brought to kind of my attention areas that I needed to kind of grow in to move forward in my life. So maybe we’ll just kind of pause there, but I don’t know, I just … That’s kind of been the journey over the last few years.

Caneel Joyce:

I was laughing a little bit at the beginning of you telling this story as you described being on the soccer team. By the way, this seems to be really a common thread amongst the executives, at least I’ve met, is some really big commitment to a sport early in their life. So Notre Dame is obviously a fantastic school, fantastic sports school. I have to imagine that was a really big deal, but then you get there and then the goal post keeps moving, and the bar gets higher. I’m laughing because what is your Enneagram type?

Terry Lee:

Type three.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, and so this is kind of, there are themes here that were present in a lot of the work that we did together in your coaching work about kind of on the darkest days maybe it’s never enough. I’m never doing enough, there’s always more, more and more I got to do. In your words, you called it striving.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, for sure. Striving definitely comes to mind, and it’s this mentality of if I do good, I get good, and results will come my way. It’s great and it feels great, it feels great for both my ego and for myself when that kind of formula works, but when I feel like I’m doing good and not getting the results that I “deserve” or have earned, that’s where you start to get really shaken up.

Caneel Joyce:

What’s it like then?

Terry Lee:

Well, I think it just really challenges this kind of very deeply ingrained kind of formula or way of living that I’ve adhered to. When it doesn’t go according to plan, you kind of just ask yourself, well maybe it’s me, maybe I’m not doing it the right way, and there’s just a lot of insecurity that I think arises. Look, I’m not going to begin to say it’s right or wrong, but I think one thing that I’ve learned is that I’ve tried to shift my focus and mentality from striving, and the way I define striving is trying to do things that are outside of my control, or control things that are outside of my control.

 

I’ve tried to shift more to a mentality of striding, and striding for me is just going at the pace that I’ve been graced for. It’s letting things come to me. It’s very much about pull momentum, where I’m getting pulled into what I’ve been called to do, what my life is supposed to kind of embody and look like versus me trying to knock down every door, do it all on my own effort in my own timing.

Caneel Joyce:

What’s the difference in how that feels to do striding versus striving?

Terry Lee:

I think I’m still learning it, to be honest. So I definitely haven’t mastered it by any means, but I do think that there is a distinct difference on many levels. Striving, and it’s hard to recognize until you’re out of the striving mentality, but it’s a lot of hard work. The analogy I would have is imagine pushing up a boulder uphill and every little bit or inch that you move that boulder up, it’s dependent on your effort.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

Terry Lee:

The line that I keep thinking of if life isn’t dependent on me. Life isn’t dependent on my ability. So then that I think encapsulates what striding means, which is yes there is work, there is commitment, there are these things that I have to show up and do, but it just comes more naturally. It’s like almost I’m along for the ride versus the ride being dependent on me.

Caneel Joyce:

That’s a really big change. Really big change. Is there some moment in your life or something you were confronted with even that … How do you really take stock and be willing to experiment with this totally different way of being, and letting go of the idea that we can control things outside of our control can be really scary when that’s been our MO. So what, I don’t know if it was scary for you, but I’d love to just hear about the turning point and how you even came to this realizations.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, for sure. I don’t think it was this one aha moment, and then flip of a switch, it’s done. I think it’s been, there’s definitely been a few poignant moments, but it’s been a process and it’s been a journey, because the way I think about it is that I’ve been operating in this mindset, this striving mindset if we want to oversimplify, for most of my life. So to think that I can kind of undo or unlearn that at a moment’s notice I think is a little bit unrealistic.

 

So I think that’s also given me a lot of kind of grace and freedom and kind of patience with myself of just saying that I don’t need to have it all figured out today, and it’s just more about making small improvements and just … Sorry, that’s kind of the achiever in me. It’s not even about improvements, I think it’s just more about recognizing the difference, and not trying to beat myself up for one way or the other. Just be like hey, this I feel like I’m striving in this moment. What would striding look like?

 

Back to your original question in terms of what’s that moment consisted of, there’s one in particular that stands out, and it actually happened almost two years ago. I mentioned before that I started Panacea with two other partners. One of them was my brother and the other was a good friend of mine, and unfortunately I think to put it simply we just weren’t the, it wasn’t the right team to build this company together. I think there was a variety of reasons and it was no one’s fault it particular. It just was the timing and how it all came together. So I made this decision. In my mind I thought I was falling on the proverbial sword and kind of going down with the ship, because the business wasn’t doing well.

 

I knew in my heart of hearts that it was a matter of time before we had to shut down the company. So in my mind I was like, “Hey, I’m going to let you guys go so you can pursue other things while I try to figure this out, and it doesn’t get figured out then I’ll be the one to kind of take the blame.” Anyways, that happens. I made the decision to kind of let them go and it really kind of blew up in my face for many reasons. It led to a fallout in terms of friendship, in terms of my brother.

 

He and I were best friends up until that point, and obviously it caused a lot of kind of conflict within our family. So I had made this decision and saw the repercussions of that decision, and it was kind of one of those rock bottom moments where I was like, a lot of the things that I held dear to my life in terms of friendships, my brother, family, I saw them kind of exploding in front of me and I was like, “Oh man, this is a big wake up call.”

 

So I realized that amongst many things I had to let go of the way in which I was kind of living my life and the way that I was interacting with people, and kind of building relationships, and just have to kind of, struggling to kind of find the words, but I had to just really, I think for a lack of a better way to say, I think I just had to let go and just kind of almost start over in a way. I don’t know, it’s hard to kind of describe, but that was the feeling that I had.

Caneel Joyce:

You had to let go of your own brother and a friend. Yeah, and impact, so now it’s kind of it sounds like it’s almost like if I were to rebuild myself, something like that. What would that look like? So that level of discomfort opened up the possibility for a change.

Terry Lee:

Yes, and I think it was one of those things just to build on what you said, it was one of those things where it had to, it’s almost like I had to be shaken up so much, almost to the core, to recognize and be aware of these things that I needed to kind of address personally. So as much as I at the time thought it was like oh well, it’s my brother or it’s this business partner, or my friend, they’re not the right partners for me, and trying to rationalize it.

 

What I was covering up was a lot of the insecurities and things that I needed to work on with myself. So as soon as I started to kind of recognize that and honor that, and admit to that, I think that started the process of hey, these are areas that you’ve identified that you need to work on and just want to kind of take a different approach moving forward, I guess is probably the simplest way to put it.

Caneel Joyce:

Mm-hmm. It sounds like a crisis moment, which I think is when a lot of us find, I know for myself this has been true, in those crisis moments that’s the time where I have so little to lose at that point because there’s hardly anything left it feels like, that I’m able to let things go that I never thought I’d be able to let go before, or do things that seemed terrifying before and now I’m willing to do them. Even something as simple as I will begin to say no to people who expect something of me. That was a big thing that I had to learn, that was hard, but it became very easy once confronted with the discomfort of not doing it was greater than the discomfort of continuing to do it.

Terry Lee:

Yes, wow, that resonates for sure.

Caneel Joyce:

I heard you say a word, and I’d love to trace back and hear what this word means to you. I heard you say grace and give yourself grace, which sounds like it is what you’ve done in my understanding of that word, but I’d love to hear how you understand that word and what relevance you think that has for leaders today.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, for sure. It’s a word that I think in growing up more or less I heard it in the church, and my family is Christian in terms of our background, and it was kind of one of those words, like you’re in church or the song Amazing Grace comes to mind. You just kind of hear it in kind of moments, but it wasn’t a word that I fully, I don’t even think I fully understand it. I think there’s many levels, but I don’t think I started to really understand what grace looked like, at least for myself, until the past couple years. I think the best way I would define grace is just being kind to yourself.

 

I think that there is this mentality, at least from my own personal experience, and I imagine it is somewhat systemic with other leaders, or type A people, people who are really achievers, or people who are really kind of ambitious with different aspects of their life where you’re your own worst critic, you always want more. We talked about this mentality where you achieve something and then instead of celebrating it you’re automatically setting your eyes on the next thing.

 

The sports analogy that I would use is that you see an athlete or you see a team, or you even see a coach who wins a Super Bowl, or who wins the national championship, which in sports is the pinnacle, there’s no higher moment than that, but then they’re interviewed in the post game interview and the coach or the star athlete goes, “Hey, this is great, but I can’t wait till next year to win another championship.” And there’s nothing wrong with that mentality, but I think that is just how many of us are wired to operate and to approach our life.

 

So I think when I think about this concept of grace it’s not necessarily setting lower less ambitious goals. It’s not putting in any less work, but it’s just giving yourself kindness and just being understanding of yourself in the same way that I would be for other people. I just saw that there was this misalignment where, or inconsistency, where I would be very understanding and very kind to other people but when it came to myself I would beat myself up, even on little things.

 

Like hey, you’re supposed to get up at 5:00 in the morning, today you “slept in” and it ends up being 6:00 AM and you’re beating yourself up or I’m beating up myself for that, right? So it shows up in little ways but naturally the little things are the big things in our life. So that’s just been an evolution for me and I think one that I’ll continue on, which is just giving myself grace, and giving myself kindness, and the patience and the rope to make mistakes, and be human, and kind of all these things.

Caneel Joyce:

I love this so much. My daughter’s middle name is Grace, by the way.

Terry Lee:

Oh that’s cool. I love that.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. I love it too. So I’m hearing you say that in the past you might have made yourself a villain. So the people who have been watching this or listening to this show for a while are familiar with the drama triangle, they’re familiar with hero, and victim, and villain. If by the way you’re a listener and you haven’t yet heard about those concepts on this show, get started by going back to episode number six and number seven.

 

We also had a special episode all about the villain character, which is the one I’m hearing Terry was going through sometimes with himself, and that was episode number 13. I’m hearing you say so okay, I like to wake up at 5:00, that’s when I’m guessing you go to the gym, I know you’re a big worker outer, but I get up at 6:00 and then I beat myself up for it, and I’m a bad guy. I should, I should, I should. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I’m curious, where would you go on the drama triangle after that? Would you stay in villain for a long time? Would you hero yourself, would you go into victim, or would you shift between the three?

Terry Lee:

Yeah, I mean, I think all three of those roles really resonate, but I think the one that resonates the most is probably the hero.

Caneel Joyce:

How do you like to hero?

Terry Lee:

I think it shows up in a lot of ways, and probably ways that I’m not even aware of yet, but I think one was that we talked about a bit before is just how when I made this decision to hero and let go of my co-founders, and try to build Panacea by myself, I think that was a much of a hero example as anyone could have. It was this mentality of hey, I’ll fall on the sword, I’ll take this on myself, you guys go pursue other things, and it was just this mentality of oh, I’ll try to take on more that I’m capable of, and I think that’s very much the hero mentality, if I understand it correctly.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, I’ll fix it, I’ll save if, I’ll solve it, and maybe even a little bit I hear fall on my sword, I hear maybe there’s even a little bit of martyr, like a combination of victim and hero. I’ll make this sacrifice because I’m the one who can do it, I’m the one who can save.

Terry Lee:

Yes.

Caneel Joyce:

Totally, so familiar, so familiar. Thank you so much for sharing about some of the arc of your growth journey in recent years, and knowing you as I know now I just want to share that I’ve seen you shift at a cellular level. Your nervous system is different, and your level of calm, even your speed, the way you hold eye contact. Just the relaxation in your muscles is different, and there feels like there’s just so much more space when we talk compared to before, and you were already a very engaging spacious person, but there was more of the sense of urgency, and your level of presence is just it’s off the charts. I’m sure, and I know people see that and feel that in you, and it’s partly why you’re a great leader.

 

So I’d love to hear about kind of two of these different roles. So you held the role of COO and you’ve also now been founder CEO. Let’s first dive into the COO role. This is a role by the way many, many CEOs and founders, and I’m sure you know, for them finding the right COO is the silver bullet that’s going to save them from all people, and culture, and process problems, all the stuff that is really weighing them down and they don’t want to do it.

 

So they’re often looking for that panacea, that perfect COO. You’re one of this that’s been in high demand because you’re successful. So can you share with some of our maybe aspiring COOs or junior COOs what are some of the things you learned along the way and what advice would you give?

Terry Lee:

Yeah, for sure. I think first off thank you for those words, super kind and it means a lot, especially coming from you. When I think about the COO role I think it’s very much about finding a complementary partner to the CEO. So I think so much of it is fit. I think it’s also about having alignment and shared vision and values, and I’ll be honest, I got so lucky in terms of the two other partners that I worked with at MeUndies. It was definitely not my own doing, it was very much Bryan who was the CEO of MeUndies at the time and Jonathan, who is the founder and now the current CEO.

 

We just had a really good working dynamic that just organically worked without us having to try. I think looking back that’s something that I didn’t fully recognize just how organic and seamless it was because I tried to recreate it, and almost force it, if you will, later on at panacea. The advice I would have is just understanding that the role at its simplest level, because I think when we think about C-suite titles and even job descriptions and roles and responsibilities we can think of pages of what that looks like, but I think at its simplest level it’s about being a complementary partner to the person who is running the business. I think if we’re talking about it in terms of title, it’s the CEO.

 

I think to just build on that, I think how I’ve always approached the COO role is to understand the vision from the CEO or the founder and translate that into tangible next steps that we can take every day. So small little steps that we can take toward achieving that vision. So it’s very much an execution role, and the other thing that comes to mind, and it was a learning process, was it’s a role that requires a lot of humility because you’re going to be operating behind the scenes, may not be as front facing, it’s not about you. It wasn’t about me at MeUndies, and my posture when I was in a great head space was how do I help John help Bryan articulate the vision more clearly so that I would understand and translate that for the rest of the team.

 

I think that was when I was at my best. The one other thing that I would add with the COO role is that I like to think about it as building scaffolding versus building a building, especially at an early stage company where growth and change is happening so quickly. So the reason why I like this kind of analogy of building scaffolding is that it’s very flexible and malleable, and you can adapt and change on the fly, whereas if you build the building it becomes really rigid in terms of the structure.

 

So everything from how we communicate, so I think about communication architecture, I think about the way in which we make decisions, the way in which we hire and build the team, and retain, and train people, all these things I wanted to do with a level of conviction and a consistency in terms of building purposeful culture and a team, but also not so rigid where we can’t change things as we continue to grow.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

Terry Lee:

So those are a few things that come to mind.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, there’s a key tension right between the rigidity and the structure that you really are wanting and then the flexibility and nimbleness that you need in order to change, especially when the company is growing so quickly, and you’re a new company to begin with, and still reading the tea leaves in lots of ways, yeah. What’s been one of the biggest differences that you’ve noticed between being COO and being a founder CEO?

Terry Lee:

So there was a big difference, and for me it was more about the stage of company versus the roles, although I imagine the roles are still somewhat distinct and different. For me I had joined MeUndies when we were about five or six people, so still very much at an early stage, but I would argue we had already achieved “product market fit” in terms of identifying our customer base and having a solid kind of revenue base to kind of build off of. When I started Panacea it was very much from ground zero. So building something from ground zero to product market fit I think is a totally different game than having achieved product market fit and trying to scale that.

 

So I think there’s other entrepreneurs, or even investors who’ve talked about this chasm, or excuse me, the difference between building something from zero to one and something from one to N. So my oversimplifying but I think MeUndies was in some ways more like building something from one to N, and that skillset is just different than what is needed to build something from zero to one. I think you can learn both of them, but I think it takes a lot of intention, self-awareness, humility, and just also I think it takes a lot of painful growth as well.

 

So I don’t know, I mean, those are kind of some things that come top of mind, but also it just helped me understand too where I’m better suited in terms of those types of roles, and I think going back to what we talked about earlier, this concept of striding versus striving, I want to because I’m more in this mentality of striding, if I feel like I’m striving too much, it’s an opportunity to learn and see if hey, am I playing or working in a space that feels very natural or an extension of myself?

 

And if it’s constant uphill, constant I got to grip my teeth and go through it, that’s probably a sign that I’m not operating kind of within the role or the position I was meant to play. In conclusion, I’ll kind of describe it in a sports analogy where it’s like if you have a basketball team and you have a center who is asked and is pulling himself to be like hey, I need to play on the perimeter and shoot three point shots and take the ball off the dribble, whereas they’re more meant to be a traditional center operating or playing down in the low post.

 

It just you could understand the tension that that creates between their skillset, their mentality, and the role that they’re trying to play in. So that’s kind of something that’s come top of mind recently.

Caneel Joyce:

Totally, I mean, I think of this as living in your zone of genius, where you effortlessly easily are creating value using the gifts that you were naturally given versus living in your zone of excellence, which actually sounds a lot like what you describe as striving, where you’ve worked really hard to learn how to be really excellent at something but it’s the effort feels more hard, it feels more draining at the end of the day.

 

If that’s all you did it wouldn’t be sustainable and you’d burn out. You can be great in both things but it’s the ease and flow that’s accessible to you when you’re doing the thing that you’re called to do, is it frees up so much energy, right? Yeah, when you’re figuring out where should this one employee go … I had a client the other day ask me, “What do you think about the philosophy that Facebook has that we should only focus on strengths and not on weaknesses?” And I’m like yeah, I agree with that I theory, but then I thought about this excellence thing, and that so often we are hiding. We’re not even revealing at work what our genius is. Has that ever been true for you?

Terry Lee:

So I heard this great quote from another entrepreneur name Naval Ravikant and he talks about how my zone of genius will feel like play to me but look like work to others.

Caneel Joyce:

Yes. Totally, and the zone of excellence feels like work that is really rewarding and that you’re really good at, but it’s so different. So many times I go home from work and I’m aware that there was an output of energy but also so much energy came in, and I feel … I would pay to do my job. I would literally pay. If I didn’t have access to do this job professionally, which before I didn’t, and I actually would pay to do this. I would take time off work and I would meet people at coffee shops, I totally get it. Is that where you’re at now? I hope so.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, totally. I mean, I think I’ve been there but I don’t think I understood it or appreciated it as much as I do now.

Caneel Joyce:

We sometimes judge and we think well, if this doesn’t feel enough like work I’m probably not doing it right, I’m not doing enough, I’m not working hard enough.

Terry Lee:

Yes, that resonates, yeah. It’s kind of this shift toward what am I doing wrong versus kind of appreciating it and being really grateful for kind of the situation that we’re in.

Caneel Joyce:

Completely, completely. Terry, now having been through the number of roles you’ve played and companies you’ve been a part of and you’ve started, what advice would you give someone who is starting out, as they’re trying to figure out who should my partners be? Who do I want to be on that core founding team with me?

Terry Lee:

Yeah, I think it really … For me it’s simple. I think it’s about finding partners who have a shared vision and shared values, and also understanding that shared vision and values in one area of life may not translate to another. So for example, you may have a best friend or a close family member where you’re super aligned in terms of the things that you value within a friendship, within a relationship, how you communicate, et cetera, but those may not directly translate over to the business world and building a company.

 

So that’s something that has come top of mind for me, and I look at it less like oh, that person is a bad co-founder or this person is a great co-founder, and I think it’s all about fit. Another thing, another kind of variable to the equation is timing.

 

I think naturally the stage of life that we’re in, it translates to a certain risk profile. So for example if I have kids and I have a wife, a family to raise, that naturally changes my risk profile from when I’m single. So I think understanding the stage of life that we’re in, and as a result from a macro perspective the timing of things really kind of is important to consider. I mean, there’s other things as well around work ethic and just complementary skillsets, and I think there’s a litany of things that, probably a checkbox that should just kind of be observed and kind of you should be aware of, but I think at the end of the day it really comes down to shared vision and shared values.

Caneel Joyce:

I couldn’t agree more. I could not agree more. What are some of the things that you’ve seen others hire for, maybe or hiring other leaders or other executives, and prioritizing them over shared vision, shared values that you think should not be prioritized?

Terry Lee:

For a co-founder?

Caneel Joyce:

Co-founder, yeah. Sure, let’s start there.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, I think sometimes the … I guess a couple things. One is hiring or partnering with a co-founder who just on paper may look like a great fit, maybe in terms of the past success that they’ve had, the track record that they’ve built, but maybe not understanding how it may directly translate to the new business. I think another thing is sometimes we’ll get a little too focused on finding the right partner, which again, is a very important decision, but lose perspective on what we’re going to build together.

 

One thing I’ve learned more recently, and it’s going to be a staple, it’s just going to be the lens in which I evaluate future opportunities is building unfair advantages. So you may have the best co-founder in terms of fit, and shared vision, and shared values, but I think we have to be realistic that building a company, it’s a very low likelihood of success.

 

So if you can build as much unfair advantages in your favor as possible, it naturally makes that journey a little bit easier. So I think that sometimes gets lost in the mix of okay, I’m looking for all these different things in a partner, but just as importantly, how can we as a team embody some type of unfair advantages that give us a greater chance to success than any other team that may be entering this market?

Caneel Joyce:

I’d love to talk about the challenge that you just mentioned. So it’s a very low likelihood of success when you start a company, right? And for many this brings on understandably a lot of stress. Your company is in existential crisis almost all of the time, and you truly are really fortunate. Every month that you make it, every month you continue to survive, you’re winning.

 

But along the way, and for those who haven’t been a founder yet, this is good to note. Is that you will be confronted with some of the demons that you thought you would never have to face. You thought you were successful in burying them, ignoring them, maybe you’d worked through them, and I just find it to be one of the most personally confronting journeys that you can ever go on. Has this been your experience?

Terry Lee:

Yes. 100%

Caneel Joyce:

It’s the ultimate, it’s bootcamp for the soul. Don’t go into it thinking this is going to be really glamorous and it’s going to be really easy, and I’m going to start a winner and I’m going to win the game because there is only one way to win the game and it’s to make it till tomorrow. But in the meantime there are those dark nights of the soul. What advice would you have for a founder who is starting out, or maybe they’re in that, the trough of despair, and they’re stressed, they’re panicking, they’re maybe experiencing burnout, depression, anxiety. What are your tips for staying sane in the startup game?

Terry Lee:

Yeah, I think it’s a great relevant question, and one thing that I’m also trying to navigate, so I don’t want to pretend that I have the answers, but a few things that have helped me, I think number one is trying to learn from those feelings and those emotions. I think for at least in my case, there is this tendency to suppress negative emotions. By negative I mean sadness, anger, and cling to positive emotions, happiness, joy, and this is something that you and I worked on a lot.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

Terry Lee:

Is just not judging the emotion by what it is, but trying to invite it and sit with it, and learn from it. So my immediate reaction to your question about what do you do in your difficult times where you feel, and it sounds like you feel these intense emotions that are difficult to process and navigate through.

 

I think the first thing that I would kind of remind myself and other is just to sit with them and experience the whole journey for all that it is, because I think those, the way that I’ve heard is the startup journey is like a roller coaster, right? So like life, but the lows are very, very low, and the highs are very, very high. I think that there is this need in terms of maintaining your sanity of trying to be even keel and trying to establish a baseline in which you operate and live your life so that you don’t go through these, you don’t kind of get swung either way to emotionally, but I do think that there is this balance where you do need to kind of feel them to a certain degree.

 

I think through that feeling you actually learn a lot. I think through those learnings it helps you navigate that course of even fundamental decisions around your business of should we pivot, should we stay the course, should we hire this person, should we let that person go? And it’s amazing what I’ve uncovered and learned by just kind of sitting with my emotions.

 

The second thing I would offer up is just understanding that it’s an infinite game. This is something that I’ve learned more recently from talking with friends who are also entrepreneurs, but also I think Simon Sinek just came out with a book called The Infinite Game. The basic premise as I understand it is so much of our approach in our life is dictated by wins and losses, successes and failures.

 

Even what I mentioned before was kind of thinking about it through a finite lens of hey, with a startup the chance to success is really, really low. But I think my mentality has shifted from this finite, from playing this finite game to trying to play this infinite game. With the infinite game there’s no winning or losing. The only way that you lose is if you give up. The only goal of the game is just to stay in the game. So if by operating in that-

Caneel Joyce:

I have a question. I have a question.

Terry Lee:

Oh yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

So I had to pause you because what do you mean in this case of the infinite game, what do you mean by give up? Do you mean never shutter the business, never pivot, what do you mean?

Terry Lee:

Yeah, no, sorry. So I don’t think it means in the sense of I think there are moments where you’ll have to let go, maybe shut down a company. Giving up I don’t think so much in the literal sense, but I think more figuratively of just giving up on life. Sorry, I don’t mean it to sound like this end to life, but more so just understanding that this, the outcome, the result isn’t a reflection of how I’m doing in this game.

 

It’s a data point and it just will help me learn and course correct on how I move forward. So what I’ve tried to take from this approach or this mentality of the infinite game is that yes, I had to close down my first startup, and by all measures it was a failure, but not beating myself up and pitying myself because it was a failure, but more owning up to it, taking full responsibility, learning from it, and then just moving forward with a higher degree of confidence and conviction because of the learnings and lessons that I gain from that journey, and just understand that it’ll make me a better leader, better person, better entrepreneur moving forward.

Caneel Joyce:

So the business may have “failed” but you are not a failure.

Terry Lee:

Yes.

Caneel Joyce:

Your business closed but you are not closing up shop.

Terry Lee:

Exactly.

Caneel Joyce:

Oh, thank you so much for being here today, Terry. It was so great to see you as always.

Terry Lee:

Yeah, thanks so much, Caneel. I really appreciate it. I’ve learned so much from you, and I was telling you this the other day, but the lessons and insights that you’ve shared with me over the past couple years keep popping up and I’m learning them I feel like on deeper levels. So it’s not this one and done thing, but I think this just continual evolution and one where I think I’ll just continue to let it marinate and learn from. So I’m incredible grateful for you and all that you’re doing. So thank you so much.

Caneel Joyce:

Thank you. My pleasure, seriously. All right, thank you so much to our audience for showing up today. I trust that you got just as much out of the conversation with Terry as I did. There’s so much more to learn from this man. So we’ll definitely share a link to how to get connected with him on Instagram from our show notes at caneel.com/podcast. He’s also got some really exciting stuff in the pipe that we did not talk about today because we’re waiting for it be time to announce.

 

So I may have him on later on as a guest. If you have questions for him, further questions, please leave them in an iTunes review. If you have not yet subscribed, please give this episode your vote of confidence by subscribing to the podcast now, giving us five stars, leaving us some questions for Terry, and please, and if you’re a fellow Lakers fan, give us a shout out, let us know.

 

Thank you listeners for being here, showing up for yourself. I want to remind you that you can enroll for Forward Fearless, our online group coaching program that happens live. It’s interactive, you’ll be working directly with me and a group of other incredible leaders. So if you are excited about what you heard Terry discuss today and the growth journey that he’s been on, and you’re really aching for that yourself, this could not be a better home for you. So I really hope to see your registration come in. Do it now, do it while you have that yes, and I will see you next week.

 

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