What Walking My Dogs Taught Me About Running A Business

I was out walking my dogs today.

It’s a beautiful day here in Boulder — one of those days between summer and winter (most people call this fall, but here in Boulder, it’s really just a transition day) where as long as you’re in the sun, it’s summer, but if you’re in the shade, it’s winter. You end up either over dressed or under dressed several times over the course of the walk. Great colors outside and lots of new smells for the dogs to enjoy.

I have two dogs. They are both rescues.

Sydney is the oldest. She’s ten and if you know me, you’ve probably met her at some point since she comes with me almost everywhere. Her caring and calm demeanor makes new friends everywhere we go and she’s always the first being to know if I’m stressed or upset about something.

Buckley is my other incredible canine. He’s just three and is much more of a puppy in attitude and demeanor. Although he is incredibly friendly and loving, sometimes his excitement can put some people off and cause a bit of undue caution. While he’s still a work in progress, once you do get to know him, his energy is inspiring a raises the moods and attitudes of everyone around.

As we were walking today, surrounded by the incredible views, colors and feelings of Boulder, both dogs were very busy being themselves.

Sydney was nose deep into everything around her. She was hyper focused on where she was right now, what was going on right here and how it might have changed since last time. Did everything smell good? Have any of my friends been here? Was there anything she should be worried about? She spent time enjoying the sun on her head and looking around with real interest in her current place.

Buckley on the other hand, was all about where we were going. We could go there! Or there! And I want to be there now. Come on…please stop holding me back. I want to be there now. Why aren’t you moving as fast as I can?

There I stood. A human “T” with a leash in each hand and arms spread wide between the present and the future. And there it was — the dilemma all CEOs struggle with— balancing the present with the future. Which do I focus on more? Which is more important? How can I function efficiently thinking about both?

I have seen many early CEOs (myself included at certain times) who live almost entirely in one state or the other. Or have investors or employees that focus solely on one state or the other. Either obsessively consumed with the present state, or completely focused on the future. When in reality, we become most empowered when we can live balanced between both worlds. I use the term balanced loosely here, since you never really feel balanced. Regardless, it’s the CEOs job to own both.

Being able to create a compelling vision for where you are going and why it’s important is one of the three critical jobs of the CEO. If you can’t do that in a way that feels truly real and inspiring, your company won’t be focused. You won’t be able to motivate employees or investors. And you’ll never outthink the market.

The challenge is being able to create such a real and believable future while still remaining grounded in an honest understanding of the present. How does everything smell right now, right here? How is my business actually doing? Are my unit economics solid or improving? Are my current strategies scaling appropriately? Is my Executive Team functioning efficiently and growing with the business? Are our tests justifying our hypotheses or not? Am I really dealing with the key issues that need to be dealt with right now, or am I defaulting to things I’m comfortable with instead because those other things are scary, or hard, or disruptive, or upsetting?

The gap between the two — the present and the future — might be massive. But without a clear vision, you won’t ever know where you’re going, and without a solid grounding in the ‘right now,’ you won’t ever live to see the future. It might be a difficult place to be, but you know being a CEO is a lot more difficult than being a dog, right?

Founder, VentureVoodoo, Co-Founder, Massive. Partner, The Fund, Rockies. If you walk properly, you can move the earth. @dgmandell