Ego is about who’s right. Truth is about what’s right

MIKE MAPLES JR. is a partner at Floodgate, a venture capital firm that specializes in micro-cap investments in startups. He has been on the Forbes Midas List since 2010 and named one of Fortune magazine’s “8 Rising Stars.” Before becoming a full-time investor, Mike was involved as a founder and operating executive at back-to-back startup IPOs, including Tivoli Systems (IPO TIVS, acquired by IBM) and Motive (IPO MOTV, acquired by Alcatel-Lucent). Some of Mike’s investments include Twitter, Twitch.tv, ngmoco, Weebly, Chegg, Bazaarvoice, Spiceworks, Okta, and Demandforce.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are books that have greatly influenced your life?

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
When I was in college, I was rejected by the fraternities that I was interested in, so I ended up helping to start one. The fraternities that said no are no longer on campus, and the one I helped start turned out to be among the absolute best.

When I came back to Silicon Valley, I didn’t get a general partner offer from the venture firms I cared most about, so I ended up starting one called Floodgate. Floodgate is doing awesome, and I am thankful every day that I didn’t get what I “wanted.”

I love that Bill Campbell’s [called “the coach,” a famous mentor to tech icons like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Page] favorite song was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. There is so much wisdom in that song. Sometimes . . . not getting what you want opens the door to getting what you need.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?
“Integrity is the only path where you will never get lost.”

What are some of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

Believing in my kids.
Moving to California to be a VC [venture capitalist] when everyone said it was a stupid idea.
A dog named Stella (if you can believe it).
Learning how to slow down and take pictures with a manual focus lens.
A few startup investments that worked out.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Understanding that even though great scientists never believe they can state “this is the truth,” they still seek the truth more passionately than all others.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Life will go faster than you know. It will be tempting to live a life that impresses others. But this is the wrong path. The right path is to know that life is short, every day is a gift, and you have certain gifts.

Happiness is about understanding that the gift of life should be honored every day by offering your gifts to the world.

Don’t let yourself define what matters by the dogma of other people’s thoughts. And even more important, don’t let the thoughts of self-doubt and chattering self-criticism in your own mind slow you down. You will likely be your own worst critic. Be kind to yourself in your own mind. Let your mind show you the same kindness that you aspire to show others.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“This worked for me in my career, so do it my way.”

The best advice I have seen comes from people who don’t try to tell me the answer . . . instead they give me a new approach to thinking about the question so that I can solve it better on my own. Most “bad” recommendations I could reduce to “I have been successful, so do it my way.” The best advice is more like, “I can’t answer your question, but this might be a good way for you to think about it.”

Everyone has their own journey. People who offer great advice understand that their goal is to help someone on their unique journey. People who offer bad advice are trying to relive their old glories.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

People who are powerful but are not honest or good.
I’ve realized that accommodating such people is a waste of time. Your time is

limited, so it’s best to spend it with people who will make you feel like you made the most of your gift of today.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? What questions do you ask yourself?
I step back . . . and slow down . . . and ask the five whys. And when I am done, I also ask if I am afraid of something but too afraid to admit it.

We are drawn to the simplicity of jumping to conclusions. We are all ignorant in some way all of the time. So, I have come to learn that what we need are methods to counteract our ignorance.

The five whys is a good way of slowing down and improving decision quality. The most important thing is that it lets me get into a mental space about “what” is going right or wrong rather than “who” is right or wrong.

Let’s take an example: Say we miss the sales target for a quarter. It can often become tempting to figure out “whose” fault it was: Did Sales fail to execute? Do we have a marketing problem? Is the product not differentiated enough? If you are not very, very careful, you can contribute to an environment where people will point fingers at each other and lose their ability to truly learn from the problem.

So, instead, I find it helpful to slow down. If I am by myself, I write the five whys on paper. If I am in a group, I write the questions down one at a time on a whiteboard:

Q: Why did we miss our $1M sales target this quarter? A: We made fewer sales calls than planned.
Q: Why did we make fewer sales calls than planned? A: We had fewer leads to work this month.

Q: Why did we have fewer leads this month?
A: We sent fewer email outreaches than planned.
Q: Why did we send fewer outreach emails than planned?
A: We were short-staffed.
Q: Why were we short-staffed?
A: We didn’t plan around the fact that two people were on vacation.

In this example, it would be very tempting to answer at the “surface” level and try to figure out if it’s a “sales problem” or a “marketing problem” or a “product problem.” But before that happens, I find it is better to be focused on honoring the discovery of the truth rather than determining who is to blame.

Going very slow in this exercise is helpful, because it can cause people to turn off their “lizard brains” and fight-or-flight instincts and shift their thinking to their rational brains and problem-solving.

In general, whenever I feel things are moving too quickly, I find the right instinct is almost always to slow down and get my thoughts back in order. It ends up speeding things up because we get better decisions and more alignment of everyone on the team. If someone on the team needs to be replaced because they don’t have the right skill set, we should face that problem too, but only after we have done our best to seek the truth of the situation.

Ego is about who’s right. Truth is about what’s right.

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