Giving in to the Monkey in His Head: Mike Smerklo

Giving in to the Monkey in His Head: Mike Smerklo

My guest for Episode #47 of “the My Favorite Mistake” podcast is Mike Smerklo. He is an entrepreneur, an investor, he’s the co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures. He was one of the first employees at Loudcloud, recruited there by  Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz.

in 2003, he purchased ServiceSource, a 30-person technology services startup in San Francisco. As CEO over the next 12 years, he grew the business into a successful 3,000-person publicly traded company with close to $300M in revenue. 

Mike now shares his lessons in his book Mr. Monkey and Me: A Real Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs.

In today's episode, Mike shares some favorite mistakes about giving into “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” and how he made the mistake of trying to be a blend of two very different leaders who were both role models to him. We also talk about why he wrote the book and the “SHAPE” formula — Self Awareness, Help, Authenticity, Persistence, and Expectations.

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"[Mr. Monkey and Me"] is about self doubt, fear, uncertainty, and self doubt. And so I said my favorite mistake, because it drove me quite a bit, was probably giving into that..."

 "In particular situations I didn't trust my gut because of 'imposter syndrome' or it felt that, gosh, I'm just not good enough. I don't know what I'm doing. And rather than go in an authentic voice, I went a different direction. I think that was something early in my career..."

"My favorite mistake was not being authentic. And then finally coming to realize just where it was costing me in the business and me and my leadership."

"[Mr. Monkey] is a negative voice inside my head. I think everyone has it. I think it shows up in different ways and has different repercussions."

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contain Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):

Episode 47, Mike Smerklo, founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures, author of the book, Mr. Monkey and Me.

Mike Smerklo (9s):

The book is about self doubt, fear, uncertainty, and self doubt. And so I said my favorite mistake because it drove me quite a bit, was probably giving into that…

Mark Graban (21s):

I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistake, For show notes, links, and a chance to enter, to win a signed copy of the book. Mr. Monkey and Me go to, please subscribe, rate, and review.

Mark Graban (1m 3s):

And now on with the show, I'm really happy to be joined today by Mike Smerklo. He is an entrepreneur. He's an investor, he's the co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures based in Austin, Texas, I'm going back a bit. He was one of the first employees at LoudCloud. He was recruited there by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, and then 2003, he purchased a company called Service Source, a technology services startup with just 30 people. And as CEO there over the next 12 years, he grew the business into a successful 3000 person publicly traded company with close to $300 million in revenue.

Mark Graban (1m 44s):

And so more recently, and we'll talk about this today. Mike is author of the book, Mr. Monkey and Me: A Real Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs. So Mike, thank you so much for being here.

Mike Smerklo (1m 56s):

Thanks, Mark. Great to be here.

Mark Graban (1m 58s):

I have to say, you know, the title and we'll get back to the book Mr. Monkey and Me… At first I thought it was a children's book, but then the subtitle kind of, kind of steers you in the right direction then, right?

Mike Smerklo (2m 8s):

Yeah. It's funny. We had a lot of fun with the title and it, and the monkey, Mr. Monkey is the real star of the book. So we'll get into that, but yeah, it was fun. Yeah.

Mark Graban (2m 18s):

So look forward to getting back to that, but you know, first off as, as we do here on the show, and I know you've got a lot to, to dip into in terms of your experiences, Mike, but what would you say is your favorite mistake?

Mike Smerklo (2m 33s):

Well, my favorite mistake is, and I'm not just here to talk about the book, but I, the whole book is about self doubt, fear, uncertainty, and self doubt. And so I said my favorite mistake because it drove me quite a bit, was probably giving into that. And at times, and multiple times in my career letting that voice and I could give you, like, we go on for three hours about all the mistakes I made, but in particular situations where I didn't trust my gut because I was either imposter syndrome or it felt that, gosh, I'm just not good enough. I don't know what I'm doing. And rather go into authentic voice, I went a different direction. I think that was something early in my career. I really worked hard on and then ended up culminating in this book that I've written.

Mark Graban (3m 12s):

Yeah. So, I mean, other guests have brought up, you know, this is a common dynamic. It seems even amongst, you know, well-educated high performing people. I mean, is there a specific example that comes to mind?

Mike Smerklo (3m 25s):

Yeah, I talk about this book, but I think early on and I'll talk about early on is an entrepreneur. My favorite mistake was I had, I had two role models and I'll give you various example, a guy named Greg Reyes. Who's a very successful tech entrepreneur had run a company and he was kind of the alpha male. He was what I thought was a CEO. Did you know, literally George Clooney, but George Clooney meets football linebacker. And I, he was a mentor to mine and I always thought, that's what you do. You're assured your competence. You always are doing. Then I go to work for a guy named Ben Horowitz now, legendary new tech world for injuries and Horowitz and all the great work he's done. And Ben was a polar opposite and Ben was very, soft-spoken not assertive.

Mike Smerklo (4m 6s):

Didn't get caught up in the title of being a CEO, what was incredibly effective from a different way. And so I think my favorite mistake or my biggest mistake early on was I tried to be a blend of the two of them and I pulled it off for some period of time, but eventually it became exhausted. I, I, you know, who am I, should I act like Greg, should I act like Ben, do you know who, who, what role model should I pull upon? And then finally the exhaustion culminated in me turning to my team and saying, I don't know, just do it was about a specific employee. And I just said, I don't know what to do here. And it felt like I had just said the dumbest thing in the world. I literally, it was so uncomfortable for me to admit, I didn't know what to do at this time in my entrepreneurship. And I watched the entire team five or six executives turned to me with a look of what did he just say?

Mike Smerklo (4m 51s):

And then it turned into the most collaborative discussion and we made some really important things about our culture, but that's probably, I would say if I had one example of my favorite mistake, not my dumbest mistake, my favorite mistake was not being authentic. And then finally coming to realize just where it was, where it was costing me in the business and me and my leadership.

Mark Graban (5m 8s):

Yeah. Yeah. Well, and yeah, so you're right. Yeah. Favorite mistake is different than a dumbest and you know, a lot of times mistakes just happen or, you know, it's, it's not necessarily our biggest mistake, but yeah. I mean, I think, you know, asking for help, there, there are two schools on this, right. There's kind of traditional, maybe a leadership model that would view asking for help or it bending, you don't know something as being a sign of weakness. I I'm in the camp that views it as a sign of strength that you're willing to ask. Can I was wondering if you can kind of elaborate a little bit more on this idea of asking for help as a leader.

Mike Smerklo (5m 43s):

Yeah. It's insane. Next to us, we've done a lot of work. We've, you know, five years in invest in 50 different companies had some great successes and we've been looking at what is it about entrepreneurs and we've all been entrepreneurs. So what makes a great entrepreneur, all things being equal. And I characterize it Mark, in a combination of one, self-awareness understanding what you're good at, what you're not. And then that willingness to ask for help. I was just on a call before earlier today with an Altima one on our portfolio. And she was pinging me with a bunch of like, should I, should I, should I, and I'm not there to give her the answers, but I'm there to be a sounding board. So I think that, that, and I didn't another mistake I made much to this leadership thing is I didn't realize that vulnerability and seeking help and showing that vulnerability can be massively powerful for employees for those you're trying to bring into the company, even for your investors, if it's done the right way.

Mike Smerklo (6m 34s):

So yeah, I think it's, I think it's actually one of the most, if not the most important aspects of entrepreneurship. Yeah.

Mark Graban (6m 39s):

Can you talk a little bit more about when you say doing it the right way, because there's probably a middle ground where you don't want to seem like you're somehow a complete mess that might be discouraging or scare people, but showing some amount of vulnerability or talk more about when, when you say doing it, right?

Mike Smerklo (6m 57s):

Yeah. I think you're right. I mean the, the wrong way to do it is come in actually seem like a mess. I have no idea what I'm doing, or I think the second wrong way to do it is talking to our mentor and investor board member and whatever they say going do. So I think that's the wrong way to do it. I think there's a right way to ask for help. And that is one to look at the source is the person you're seeking help from, do they have relevancy and skill and recency? So they have, they done what you're trying to do recently. And they know what you're trying to achieve. Second, you ask them a specific question. I wrote a blog about this, which is if someone says, Hey, can I grab 15 minutes of your time? My answer is probably no, but if you say, can I ask, can I get 15 minutes of your time to talk about hiring a sales leader for North America, much different ways to ask for help.

Mike Smerklo (7m 43s):

And then once you get there, whatever the person says, you respect their time. And I think you simply say a phrase I love, which is thank you very much. I'll take that under consideration. So you've gone through the right source. You've asked a very specific question and you take that input, not as doctrine, I must do this, but as shaping out your, your viewpoint, and that's a real superpower that took me way too long to learn

Mark Graban (8m 7s):

Took you too long to learn, but now you're helping others by well, foreign by sharing the story. And then between the book and the coaching that you do through, through your firm.

Mike Smerklo (8m 18s):

Yes. Passing that along. Yeah. That's I mean, that's the whole, that's the gift of what I I'm so fortunate. I got to have a really great experience as being an entrepreneur work with great entrepreneurs and now inspired every day by just how hard and amazing amazingly courageous entrepreneurs. And then you just trying to help where you can yeah.

Mark Graban (8m 38s):

Was one other thing I wanted to maybe follow up on it. I think it's interesting. I'm gonna paraphrase it back, but this idea of finding your own voice as a leader, like what's your authentic self, what's your leadership style? You talked about these two opposites and are you a, at all of the movie? This is spinal tap.

Mike Smerklo (8m 58s):

Oh yeah. He'd love it. Yeah. Yeah. I haven't. Right. Yeah.

Mark Graban (9m 1s):

Well, and, and there's another scene there where gosh, who was at Derek smalls, the bass player is talking about the, the two guitar essays was like, well, one of them is like a fire and one's like ice and I'm kind of like lukewarm water. I'm blowing the quote. But I think that was the idea. How do you blend those styles without ending up? I'm sure you were trying to be more than lukewarm water.

Mike Smerklo (9m 28s):

I love that movie by the way. Just remind me, I got to watch it again. There's so many great quotes. The movie itself is, you know, but there's so many great quotes, you know, I do think, and I talk about this book. I think it's pure mental. I think, you know, self-awareness is the key, what am I good at? What I'm, what I'm not good at? What do I like to do? What do I not like to do? So having that framework, getting some coaching around it. And I think once you have that, then you have more of a courage. And so what I tried to do, and I think I did it effectively at some point was I was going to be, I was going to be a blend, but I wasn't going to be a whimsical blend, meaning I'm a aggressive optimistic person. And then can I balance that and not let that be my only voice. So can I also have the ability to be self-aware respectful and understanding other people's needs?

Mike Smerklo (10m 9s):

That's where I landed for better, for worse. Yeah. I wish I would have meditated back when I was a CEO, probably everyone who worked for me wish I would have meditated, but I just think there's something about mindfulness and understanding what you're good at that really allows the authentic, authentic voice to come out. And there's so many great books out there. So I didn't try and tackle it all in the book. I just said, it's one aspect that I think is important. Yeah. So meditation is something you picked up more recently. I do. I bet. Since I, since I retired actually, which is more than ironic, but I started at about six years ago and it's become a daily practice. I've tried various forms of it. To me. It starts, my idea in the morning starts my day off, gets me balanced perspective. And then it reminds me to breathe throughout the day, which is also a good way for me to stay somewhat sane.

Mike Smerklo (10m 53s):


Mark Graban (10m 53s):

Yeah. Those moments of, of taking a breath. Then when we talk about self-awareness that points to concepts around emotional intelligence indeed. And, and, and, and yeah. Being able to take a breath drive and think back to, you know, the late Stephen Covey who talked about the idea of I'm paraphrasing again, but separating stimulus and response.

Mike Smerklo (11m 16s):

Exactly. Exactly. Choosing your response to, to choosing your response to a situation and not being, I always have a, I think it was maybe a cubby quote, but don't be, don't be a thermostat. Right. So, or a thermometer. Right. You know, don't move up and down again. I'll principle that's super easy to do. And then someone cuts you off on the freeway and you're immediately tasked with whether or not you can stay in that sound. But yeah, that's that to me and from leadership entrepreneurship, or hopefully just being a good human, it's really hard to do. Yeah.

Mark Graban (11m 44s):

So we'll ask a question in thinking back to your time as CEO of service source, and then now I'm with next coast ventures when you're, you're looking, I'm sure you have a lot of really smart high IQ people coming across your radar. How, how do you try to gauge and look at both IQ and EQ IQ when it comes to either hiring someone as an employee or evaluating someone as an entrepreneur?

Mike Smerklo (12m 11s):

Yeah. It's one of the question, Mark. I don't know if I have a specific form of other than to say that is the, to me that is the, that is the secret, right? When you're hiring folks to work with you as a leader and when we're evaluating entrepreneurs, it is that we're probably looking for that element more than anything else. So, so to give you an example of next coast, it's really simple. We're, Austin-based, we're looking things outside the coast, but it's how big is the market? Is there a disruptive solution, but then 99% of our debate comes down to the entrepreneur. Is she going to have that balance you described, is she emotional, intelligent, has the raw intelligence understand the business and the challenges we use a term called glass eater.

Mike Smerklo (12m 52s):

It's a very unattractive, but this'll term. We, we came up with it because we said, you know, imagine if you walked in and so you gotta be a glass eater. If I gave you a handful of glass, you said, Oh gosh, that's what I have to do. Obviously you don't want one of our entrepreneurs to eat glass. We try and provide ketchup and mustard along the way, but it really speaks to the mindset that says, I'm going to do everything I can within legal and ethical boundaries to make this thing successful. And if you don't understand what that, that's what it takes. You're probably going to stumble pretty early on.

Mark Graban (13m 22s):

Yes, it's, it's a matter of persistence or, you know, this is goofy, non word that people use sticktuitiveness right to fight through, like eat that, that, that proverbial glass is not a pleasant to eat, but there are a lot of times as I'm a founder or an early employee in a startup where the times are not going to be all fun and games and beer on five o'clock Friday. And you've got to fight through the tough challenges. I guess you, you try to gauge someone's stomach for that.

Mike Smerklo (13m 55s):

Absolutely. And I think we were talking earlier, before we start about shark tank. I love shark tank. That's what my kids think I do by the way they think I sit there in a nice couch next to Mark Cuban and a vote thumbs up, thumbs down, absolutely opposite. But I think some of the things is why I wrote this book was I started to see, there was almost this fantasy Island being created around entrepreneurship, and it's not helped by all the talk about unicorns and high valuations as a record this, you know, at the end of 2020, really, I think the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs, if you don't go in and understand that, yeah, there's going to be some fun beer Fridays, and that's going to be great, but there's going to be a lot more nights weighing, waking up at three in the morning, going, what the blank are we going to do? You're going to get turned down.

Mike Smerklo (14m 36s):

Customers are going to leave the, is going to quit, et cetera, et cetera. If you don't understand that going in, I think it's a really dangerous thing that the media has done around, you know, fantasizing or fetishizing entrepreneurship. Cause it's, it's hard.

Mark Graban (14m 50s):

Well, and so then I'm sure part of why you wrote the book and I love asking authors, you know, Y Y you know, it's such a big undertaking. Why, why do this? And there was a blog post of yours. I'm going to throw your own question back at you as you framed it. Why did you write this damn book?

Mike Smerklo (15m 8s):

Sorry, I'm laughing. I, the same way, same reason I became an entrepreneur because I was ignorant. If I had known how hard it was going to be, I wouldn't have done it, but you know, that's the truth. But then I think the real point is it speaks a little bit less just getting at, but I found this void. I found on one end, these super lightweight blogs. Here's the five things that, you know, Jeff Bezos does before 6:00 AM. Well, Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, he's running a massive company. And for 99.9, nine, nine, nine, nine, 9% of authors out there, whatever he does before 5:00 AM, isn't gonna help you. I'm sorry. If he gets up and does a cold plunge and eats a, you know, whatever. And then the other version is a very practical, specific, here's how to write a business plan.

Mike Smerklo (15m 48s):

Here's how to go drive a PowerPoint deck to raise capital. Those are very helpful and practical, but again, they don't get to the thing in the middle. And I found that one hand, whenever I read those blog posts around what Jeff basis does morning, like it was like eating Doritos when I'm really hungry. When I'm down, I'm still hungry. I feel disgusted. I get all over my hands. Like, what am I done? And so I tried to take it an approach, and I've been doing this, my blog to say, what was the advice I wish I had gotten? What did I learn from working with guys like Mark and Ben, my own experience, and now next ghost, how can I bring some of that together and really help with the mental side? Because the other thing I'd say is I think getting started is hard keeping after it's hard, but then being successful can be just as hard.

Mike Smerklo (16m 33s):

And we've been, you know, unfortunately this year in 2020, we've seen some really bad examples of people kind of losing their noodle at the high end of it when they've achieved success. And I think it all comes back to mental tenacity and mental toughness. Yeah.

Mark Graban (16m 46s):

And so the monkey or, or, or Mr. Monkey in, in the book description, it talks about what it represents. So I, to me, it makes me think of the proverbial monkey on your back, but what, what, tell, tell us more about Mr. Monkey and what that means.

Mike Smerklo (17m 4s):

Yeah, it is a joke is like the star of the book, because what I found early on in my career and the other side note is I'm the first person in my family ever to go to college. I did not grow up in a, I talked about it earlier in the book. I don't grow up with a shiny role models of what success looked like. I just knew I wanted to get out of Toledo, Ohio, no offense to Toledoans out there, but I wanted to get out. I didn't know how, and I found the more I pulled away. And I think a lot of your listeners and a lot of entrepreneurs, anyone who's tried to bring change their life can feel this. It's like when you start to pull away from your old experience, voices externally, but also in my head would say, Oh, you're not good enough. Or what are you doing? You're, you're not ready for this. And that voice kind of plagued me through different parts of my career. And I finally started to set, I got to do something about this.

Mike Smerklo (17m 46s):

I made him a monkey, so it can be whatever you want. But for me, it's big, hairy male monkey. You got a jumps up in front of me, like before this podcast at all, you're going to stumble. You're going to say something stupid. It's a negative voice inside my head. I think everyone has it. I think it shows up in different ways and has different repercussions. But what I try to do is want admit, it's there highlight that everyone has it and then provide very specific tools and a formula to try and address it.

Mark Graban (18m 13s):

Yeah. And I was born in Ohio quick detour from the conversation born in Dayton, but my dad was the first to go to college and he wanted to get out of Youngstown, Ohio, no offense to you. I'm very similar town, pretty similar towns, but another commonality in a way in our background for the listeners, you know, Mike went to the Kellogg school of management at Northwestern University, which is where I attended undergrad. And I don't know if you, did you pick up at all being a fan of Northwestern sports, the football team at all?

Mike Smerklo (18m 49s):

I, you know, it is hard Mark. I grew up in that area where I had rooted for Michigan my entire life. So I've had a, I've been a Michigan fan. And when I was at Northwestern, it was like the first year that Northwestern beat him in like a hundred years or something. So yeah. But no, I'm, I'm more of a Michigan fan, but more of a big 10 big 10 fan broadly speaking.

Mark Graban (19m 6s):

Yeah. And people don't realize Toledo's closer to Ann Arbor than it is to Columbus and Michigan and Ohio almost went to war over. Toledo

Mike Smerklo (19m 15s):

Traded it though. It used to be part of the mission and they traded Toledo for the upper peninsula. And that was a heck of a day.

Mark Graban (19m 21s):

Yeah. But I'm going to show there's a podcast out there about that whole story. But the reason I brought up Northwestern football, so Northwestern got back to the Rose Bowl, 1996, new year's day, and then they got to balls and then, but they kept losing, like the only bowl game they had ever won was the first Rose Bowl back in 1949, they had lost, I think maybe so the good news was they were going to bowl games. The bad news is they had lost eight or nine or 10 in a row. And so th th their coach, Pat Fitzgerald talked about this monkey on their back. And when they find that, like they had a stuffed monkey that they kept on the sideline when they went to ball games. And they finally, I don't know if they named them Mr. Monkey, but when they finally won the, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, they kinda, they kind of celebrated with, with, with their monkeys.

Mark Graban (20m 10s):

So it's, it's kinda, you know, I don't know if at some point, you know, yeah. That you've got to get that negative talk if we can't win one or thinking about what that means in terms of somebody who's going out and making pitches.

Mike Smerklo (20m 25s):

Exactly. And I think that the other thing I've found, that's a great story. I didn't know about Northwestern, especially my ties there, but I think the thing is it doesn't go away. The voice may change over time, early on in my career, early on. I thought, gosh, if I could get into a school like Northwestern and graduate, and then get a job on wall street, I could work the market. Jason, I make some money. I mean, each of these milestones, I assume that monkey would just stop at one point. And what I found is the sneaky son of a gun kept changing his tone and his messages to me. And that was, that's actually why I wrote the book because I thought, gosh, I've done all this stuff. And I still can't get the son of a gun to shut up. So some way to, to try and help with that process.

Mark Graban (21m 6s):

Yeah. Wow. Mr. Monkey. Yeah. But no, but thank you for sharing that. Cause that's, that's a interesting perspective. You've had success in so many different dimensions and it sounds like the book was a different challenge and here's the irony. Mr. Monkey was probably sowing doubt about the book you were writing about Mr. Monkey.

Mike Smerklo (21m 23s):

Yeah. I mean, spoil it, by the way, all the proceeds of the book go to charity. I always forget to mention that it goes to a scholarship. I set up for diverse and underrepresented students, incident entrepreneurship. So anyone who's listening and wants to buy the book, know that it's going to a worthwhile cause. But yeah, the ending of the book, I'm not stealing. It's a pretty quick read, but I talk about how the monkey was still there kind of going, Oh, you're going to finish this thing. No, one's going to read this thing, you know? So it's fine.

Mark Graban (21m 47s):

Yeah. Well, thanks. That's, that's great to know what's going, proceeds are going to a good cause. One of the things I wanted to ask you about the book, there's a shape formula or a model and a you and other, some of my other guests have good acronyms. I don't have that skill. So for, for the listeners, what is the shape formula and what does that mean to you?

Mike Smerklo (22m 7s):

Yeah. W what it does is in lay it out in the book, just as here's five attributes that I think are really important for mental toughness. And most of them I didn't master, but I saw someone else do. And there it's the shape form of the S's for self-awareness H is for help. A is for authenticity. P is for persistence and E is for expectations. And I try, and one cell with that means share some stories around it. And each chapter there's very specific tactical things you can do to try and accumulate or achieve or bring into this, your life. Some of these attributes.

Mark Graban (22m 39s):

Yeah. It seems like there's a lot of connections to the themes we talk about here on the podcast, I guess, for one self-awareness of realizing you've made a mistake. I think we all know people who've maybe stumbled through different situations and maybe are unaware that there's a mistake. And then authenticity, I guess, comes back to that style of leadership of authenticity means being willing to admit mistakes that some like, and then persistence, you'll probably need a lot of persistence after you've made mistakes or you think you've made a mistake.

Mike Smerklo (23m 13s):

Yeah. And then, and persistence is, so the authenticity, I think gives you persistence. And it's not exactly Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but it tends to flow that way, in my opinion, because if you get the first three, right, then you have a persistent mindset and then E expectations, understanding that. And as I say, there's a beginning, middle, and end every entrepreneurial journey. What your expectations should be at the beginning are going to change over time and being able to consistently think I like it. It's like a rollercoaster ride. It's going to go up and down. It's going to be all adventure turns. If you expect it to be different, you're going to be disappointed. And if you expect those turns to never to stop, they just keep getting bigger.

Mike Smerklo (23m 55s):

It's, that's, that's the final part of it. And it never really ends. Yeah.

Mark Graban (24m 0s):

And I guess, you know, the cycles of mistakes that we make, I flub up a little bit in the introduction that happens there, there are probably some common mistakes that startups that are seeking venture funding make. So maybe some, one other topic for you. Is there a mistake that's common enough that you would consider it to be not a biggest mistake, but a favorite mistake. And that it's something that startups can learn from because they've made the mistake themselves where they can learn from others.

Mike Smerklo (24m 32s):

Yeah. It's a great question. I think the one, I would say the most, so we all, w we love passion, enthusiasm entrepreneurs. I think the biggest mistake I see that startup founders seeking venture funding do over and over again is coming in and being ignorant of competition. And that, that sounds kind of basic, but let's talk about your podcast. If I said, you know, Mark, you've got a very unique podcast. I've not seen anyone else, any other content like yours, so you could assert you have no competition, but then I might bring up Joe Rogan or Tim Ferris. Right. Right. So what I find over and over again is you want to describe, describe your solution, describe or tell why it's different, but don't ignore direct competition or substitutes.

Mike Smerklo (25m 16s):

And I see it over and over again. I love to put that out there in the world, because I think your success in raising capital, the more you can acknowledge that show why you're different and how you're going to attack the competition. And it might just be a substitute is a big mistake. I see. And I think it's pretty easy one to fix. Yeah.

Mark Graban (25m 32s):

Substitute would be any other podcasts that's in someone's app of like, what do I tap on? You know, what do I tap on next? Or which one do I subscribe to next year? Right there, there is there. Yeah. Everyone has started a podcast

Mike Smerklo (25m 48s):

These days. Yeah. And I mean, I do, I do really think you've got a great, a great topic and it is highly unique, but if asked about competition to simply say, here's my content. So yeah. It's, it's, it's pretty common mistake. And again, really one easy to fix. Yeah.

Mark Graban (26m 2s):

Competing for time is a challenging thing. So I do appreciate for anyone who is hearing this, they've chosen to spend some time with us. So, so that's great. But yeah, you can think of a software company and they might say, well, our software company, our software is unique, but the buyer has a lot of choices of what they're going to allocate budget to. So yeah. Nobody's without competitors.

Mike Smerklo (26m 28s):

Yeah. Yeah. And I actually, then also that tends to tie back to what we talked about earlier around ETQ IQ. Do you understand how all the complexities that are involved with, with starting a business?

Mark Graban (26m 41s):

Well, I think there's going to be a lot. I'm going to check out Mr. Monkey. And in may, our guest has been Mike Smerklo, entrepreneur, managing director of Next Coast Ventures. Again, the full title of the book, Mr. Monkey and Me: A Real Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs that, that frames it well, right. If you're chewing glass, you're surviving that, not enjoying that. Right. Yeah. But, but thank you. And where can people find more? I know you've got a website where can people find you online? Like,

Mike Smerklo (27m 13s):

Yeah, thanks Mark. It's my name? My last name is Smerklo. S M E R K L O not the easiest last name, but under my blog, There's a bunch of tools and resources for entrepreneurs. There is a free chapter of the book, so you can check it out. You can order the book there. And it's also got a pretty fun quiz for entrepreneurial readiness that we created just to give you some idea of the flavor of what it takes. So that's what it is. And all my social handles are all Mike Smerklo, so thank you.

Mark Graban (27m 41s):

Well, good. I hope everyone will check that out. And for those who are new to the podcast, we made reference to Shark Tank going all the way back to episode one, Kevin Harrington. One of the original shark tanks was one of the guests there in that episode. But today, Mike Smerklo, really appreciate it really enjoy. I gave him the chance to pick your brain a little bit and to learn about the book. And thanks. Thanks for sharing your perspectives on favorite mistakes.

Mike Smerklo (28m 5s):

Thanks, Mark is great. Great to be here. Thank you for

Mark Graban (28m 7s):

Having me. Appreciate it. Thanks again to our guest Mike Smerklo. And thank you for listening for show notes. You can go to Don't forget to go there and enter to win a copy, a signed copy of Mike's book, Mr. Monkey and Me. And you can find all of the contests where you can enter to win books from previous guests, go to Thanks for subscribing if you've already done. So please rate and review us if you have the chance on your favorite app of choice. And I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they've started being more open and honest about mistakes and their work.

Mark Graban (28m 54s):

And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement in better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me at And again, our website is

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's upcoming book is The Mistakes That Make Us. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.