Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:00:05] Welcome to episode 59 of The Sell My Business Podcast.
Michael de la Maza is an agile coach by day and an angel investor by night. He has invested in 30 startups directly and another 50 through syndicates and funds. Michael invested in unicorns, Boom, Rappi, and Relativity Space at the seed stage. He is in the process of launching an angel group in Boston.
In the angel community, Michael is famous for beating former YC President Sam Altman for $100K in a five-year bet on startup valuations, making him an authority on startup valuations from zero stage to exit. Michael holds a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence from MIT.
Michael welcome to the Sell My Business Podcast. It's terrific to have you here with us. We started our conversation when we first met about a favorite topic of mine that you don't hear too much out there. And that's all about cockroach startups. I know I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself because you focus on investing in cockroach startups, but you do a whole lot more than that.
So, why don't we start from the story behind the story? Michael, why don't you share with our audience who you are, what you're doing, and how you got to what you're doing.
Michael de la Maza: [00:01:26] Thanks Jeffrey great to be here. So, I started as an entrepreneur when I was in my mid-twenties. Starting a couple of companies. This was in the 1990s and I got to enjoy a little bit of the dot com boom. And then on March 2000, when the NASDAQ dropped 25%. Going into that week I had a thriving business and also a thriving startup.
And then over the course of the next 18 months, I lost about 95% of my net worth. And I lost part of that net worth from making a mistake that you actually talk about, which is one of the thriving businesses had essentially one client, one very large client. And when the NASDAQ blew up, that client blew up.
We actually were doing a good job, but the rest of that client's business went down the drain. And so then they just started withdrawing and withdrawing from everything. And so that affected us as well. And so based on that experience and on many other experiences I've informed my approach to startup investing, which I started doing in 2011.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:02:35] Wow. So, what a story, having a thriving business, but having that classic mistake that all of us as business owners make of having the one client and then the whole dot-bomb era coming in. And you learned a very hard lesson. So, after that, what happened?
Michael de la Maza: [00:02:51] So, after that, what happened to me is that I spent a lot of time drifting. Immediately over the course of the 18 months or so of the dot-com crash, I played a lot of poker and a lot of chess, which was fun and interesting. But also, quite educational. So, one of the things to learn from Coker is that there is a lot of randoms.
There's a lot of luck. And as a result, surviving is incredibly important because there are opportunities. But if a person is not in the game, they don't get to play them. And so staying in the game is critical and that's where the idea of cockroach entrepreneurs came into being. And this is actually something that we see right now.
So, for example, prior to COVID, I invested in a startup that was doing food delivery. So, they were sending food to your home. And that didn't work very well. And so they pivoted to being a video game and then they pivoted to doing video conferencing. And this was about a year before COVID. And even in this third pivot, things were going okay, but they weren't great.
They weren't great because they were having some technology problems. They couldn't get the software to work, but then of course COVID happened. And then first-tier VCs started calling them because video conferencing became one of the most important things in the world. So, if this company had quit after the food delivery service fails, they wouldn't have been around to see the upside.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:04:27] And it's interesting. They were pivoting before the world really knew what that word meant, but hear they were doing that. For just a moment for our listeners who aren't familiar with this term that we're using, cockroach startups, cockroach entrepreneur, but what is that?
What is a cockroach startup for the benefit of our listeners who are saying what are you talking about? I think a cockroach is some kind of insect. What's that doing in business here?
Michael de la Maza: [00:04:49] Yeah, fantastic. So, a cockroach is an animal that can survive, and what a cockroach startup is a startup that can survive anything. It can survive their biggest client leaving. They can survive the economic crash. They can survive all sorts of things. And they just keep on ticking, maybe in a much-reduced form.
And one of the things that happen to my startups is that they become small businesses instead of startups. And so, they become a five-person firm and they're just happy being a five-person firm when they're shot at being a unicorn, a billion-dollar company doesn't go through, but that's a lot better than just going bust.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:05:25] And Michael, what's interesting many of what people call the unicorns, the super successful, very high-valued companies. A lot of them started as cockroach startups. People don't realize that they don't understand that.
But the value of being a cockroach startup is you survive. You live another day to fight another battle. So, as an investor, it would seem that your thesis is if I can find an invest in early-stage companies that are cockroach startups, I have a better chance of getting a return on investment on my capital.
Is that what your thinking is behind the cockroach startup focus?
Michael de la Maza: [00:06:03] Yeah, that's absolutely right. And this is something that many investors have said, which is focus on the downside and the upside will take care of itself. We live in a very big world that's expanding very rapidly. And so, there are large markets everywhere. If you're in the game, if you're sitting at the poker table, you will get pocket Aces at some point in time.
And then if you have the ability to cash in on that, you will do well. It's the situations where it's 18 months of work and then it's closing it down, but are a lot harder for me as an investor. And frankly, they're not pleasant emotional experiences. I want the entrepreneurs that I invest in to actually be entrepreneurs.
Not people who are taking a vacation from a standard nine to five corporate job. And so I expect the ability to sit there and work on very hard things for an extended period of time. And as you say, some of the most successful companies in the world today, actually started with a very long flat period at the start.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:07:12] And so Michael, for our listeners, it would be terrific. If you can share with us what the specific characteristics are for you as an investor when you're looking to find a cockroach startup. So, in other words, you're looking at two companies. What boxes are you checking off to say, yes, these are the cockroach characteristics that I'm looking for in this company that will have me invest in them as a cockroach startup?
Michael de la Maza: [00:07:35] Largely about what I would call the founder's beginning, what kind of person is the founder? And so, I look for certain personality characteristics, and these are characteristics that are not all that well known or well understood. There are many things that everyone looks for. Like an honest person. No one likes to work with someone who's dishonest. But I don't include that simply because it's obvious.
So, the three things that I look for that I think are a little bit different are, first of all, non-conformity. Secondly, resilience. And thirdly ambition. And all three of these are visible in these cockroach entrepreneurs’ extraordinary, extreme ways. So, let's just talk about nonconformity.
So, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs all dropped out of college. And so they said, the standard path is not for me. That's really an extraordinary thing. At the age of 20, they said, I'm going to ignore what everyone around me is telling me because I have this deep, fundamental belief that I'm right.
So, when I say nonconformity, I'm not talking about having vanilla ice cream when everyone else is having chocolate ice cream. I'm talking about a personality characteristic that's absolutely extreme. And it's typically visible at a very young age in these cockroach entrepreneurs.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:09:03] Michael on a nonconformity side it makes a lot of sense. And for our listeners, just because you drop out of school, doesn’t mean that you're a nonconformist. But talk about resilience. And that really ties into a personal belief that I had in my company. Before my exit in Embanet, I always liked to say that our resourcefulness trumps resources. That we had to have that resilience because we didn't have the money and I would even take it so far as to say Michael, and maybe you'll agree or not.
We'll hear it momentarily. Had I had the access to capital in the early days of my company. I do not believe we would have been as successful as we were later on because we had to struggle to find that way and do things differently than everyone else. So, I would love to hear your take on resilience and what that means to you.
Michael de la Maza: [00:09:49] So, part of resilience is emotional resilience. So, crazy things are always happening in startups. People are leaving the company. Strategic partners that have promised funding leave. Large customers do strange things. And some of that is because there's just this huge power imbalance.
The small company is often not able to have any leverage in engagement or in a relationship. And so, these strange things are happening all of the time. And it's really important for the founders not to get down on themselves. As one extreme example, I invested in a startup which had two founders.
They both had 50, 50, and one of them wanted to bring on advisors. The other one did not. And so, the one that wanted to bring on advisors decided to pay the advisors out of their own share. And so, they wound up with 49.5% of the company. And so just as the company was about to be super successful and go on this hockey stick of growth, the 50% flounder fired the 49.5% founder using that 0.5% to get the edge.
And that's just baffling and extraordinary and not a very kind thing to do. But when I spoke to the 49.5% founder, he was not very concerned about it. He was unhappy, but he had not been emotionally destroyed. So, that's the sort of resilience that I look forward to.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:11:17] Wow, what a story, and choose your partners carefully is certainly one takeaway from that. And so, I'm wondering, Michael, as you work with these cockroach startups and they begin to get success, they have that hockey stick growth curve that we all want to see as business owners or as investors. What do you think would take a lot of companies off the path of being a cockroach startup that they're no longer exhibiting those traits?
Michael de la Maza: [00:11:44] The founders that I invest in typically have a lot of options and so they can go work for a large prestigious company. And fundamentally, if they don't really believe in the startup, if they aren't really entrepreneurs, if they're not allergic to working for someone else. And that's just an easy way out they take the view that I'll try this out.
I'll spend some investor capital and if it doesn't work, then I'll just go and work for a large company again. And so that's one thing that actually happens. Which is that the founder is not really a founder in the sense that I look forward to, a cockroach founder, but it's someone who's trying things on for size.
And so, I think that's very important for the initial founding team to really get down to brass tax. What happens if we can't make payroll for a month? What happens if we have to slash salaries in order to stay alive? What are we willing to do in exchange for the startup to survive?
And so that's a question that is useful to assess the resilience of the startup.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:12:50] Now speaking of resilience. And one question that a lot of founders and business owners will ask me is what would bring my company down from stardom, from success? And the answer really surprises them because I say within success is the seeds of your future destruction. And it's what do you mean?
How can my success bring me down? And what I've seen time and time again is even if you look to the Titans of business who just ruled the day and ruled the markets with success, there was an opportunity in a negative way to become lazy. That you lose that hunger, you lose that drive. And so, for our business owners that are out there, Michael, who beat the odds, they are successful, they have a booming business today.
They're probably not as agile as they were when they started up. And perhaps they even were a cockroach startup, but that's no longer the case. So, what can a business owner do to get back to some of the basics of being a cockroach startup, regardless of whether you have a thousand dollars of revenue, a million dollars of revenue, or a hundred million dollars of revenue, what does that look like for you?
Michael de la Maza: [00:13:58] So, that speaks to the ambition question. I once had an entrepreneur ask me, when does this get easy? And the answer is it gets easy when you stop reaching. When you stop striving when you stop trying to grow. If you're always trying to grow, it's always going to be hard. It's only when you say I'm done and I'm going to get into cruising altitude that it gets easy.
And so that's one simple way to examine if you are at a state where you're content with the growth of your company, and you're okay with the same revenue, the same results for year after year, that's perfectly fine. But that's something to watch out for. And to understand that you're now taking less risk, you're less focused on growth.
You're less focused on launching new products or getting into new market segments. And the question is what is your ambition? And if your ambition is to continue growing then it's always going to be the case that there's some very important part of the business because you've never done it before.
You're launching a new product and you're bringing on a new person. And so that's something simple to think about.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:15:07] And what's interesting, Michael is you could take your hard-earned money and you could invest that in any company at all. But you're choosing what some would say would be the most risky. Number one it's a startup and all bets are off when it's a startup. But then number two, you're looking for these non-conformists who maybe have some resilience and they're ambitious, otherwise known as a cockroach startup, and some would say, Michael, have you lost your marbles? Why would you look for that kind of company? And so you obviously have a thesis it's been working for you. What comes out of that Michael of why your view of the world is that's not as risky as it may appear and actually it gives me a competitive edge as an investor in a business.
Michael de la Maza: [00:15:51] So, one simple thing is that I believe that the industrial age is ending and the digital age is just starting. And so roughly the approach of new technology and new businesses is going to be very successful. And I want exposure to that. And so just as a simple example of that, 10 years ago in the US stock market companies like General Electric and ExxonMobil and Walmart were once the biggest in terms of market cap.
And there are no longer the biggest amongst market cap. Now the big five companies are all tech companies, Apple, Amazon, Google, et cetera. And so that's happening now. Where industrial age companies are declining and digital age companies are going up. And the best place to find that and to invest in that is in the startup space.
New businesses that are being launched into this space where industrial age companies dominate and the industrial age companies just can't survive. They're dinosaurs. They're too slow. They're not imagining enough. They're not close enough to the customer. And so that's an exposure that I want to help.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:17:00] I'm thinking again of our business owners. And what's interesting when you're looking at a cockroach startup, because it's a startup you don't have a management team. And so, it might be one or two people, or maybe just a very few numbers of employees that are there, but you're really putting your money where your mouth is and betting the bank on the founder or the founders, depending on the company. And so that sends a really strong message loud and clear that the brains behind the operation, the talent that's really where your future success is going to be. So, let's parlay that now to a successful business owner who is open enough to admit two things.
Number one, I'm going to come to Deep Wealth because I want to learn how to prepare to have a liquidity event, whether that's two years from now or five years from now, or wherever that may be. I'm smart enough to know that I don't know what I don't know. And preparation is the key. But I'm also open enough and smart enough to realize that I don't have that edge that I used to.
We're successful now. Maybe I have 20 employees. Maybe I have 200 employees, but we're just not as agile and aggressive as we used to be. So, Michael, for those business owners that want to go back to either being a cockroach startup or become a cockroach startup, regardless of their size, what would be two or three strategies that you would advise that they can follow?
Michael de la Maza: [00:18:14] So, one of them is fairly well known. It's called the three horizons strategy. Where horizon number one is your cash cow business. Horizon number two is a new business that's breakeven and horizon three crazy ideas that might turn into big businesses. And the typical suggestion is to put 80% of your effort against Horizon one, maintaining your current cash cow business.
15% against horizon two break-even businesses. And then 5% against Horizon three, which are crazy ideas that could become new businesses. And so, as a CEO, as an owner, thinking about splitting up your time in that way is useful. And so, you're not completely consumed by keeping the current business running.
The other thing that does is as the entrepreneur, you will probably focus more on horizon two and horizon three, which means that you need to automate horizon one. It needs to operate without you there, which is actually a phenomenal thing to do if you want to sell your business. So, you can actually have your cake and eat it too.
You need to do that anyways to sell your business. Plus, if you're then the CEO of a new startup inside of your company that keeps you in a place where you're now a cockroach startup and you get to do that sort of zero to one or zero to 20 employees again.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:19:39] And for all those listeners out there, Michael knows a thing or two, when it comes to automation, this is one smart guy. And you heard it in the introduction with graduating from MIT and focusing on artificial intelligence. He could tell us all a thing or two of how to do that, but what's interesting, Michael is you talk about a point that we really hammer home at Deep Wealth and in the Deep Wealth Experience.
And whether it's through automation like you're talking about, or whether you have a strong management team that can run the day in day out of the business. If the business doesn't run without you, our thesis is you don't have much of a company at least for a liquidity event, as well as for surviving, because if something happens to you, that's going to be the end of the business.
And it's only when you have that strong management team, it's only when the business runs without you, that you can then do Michael, what you're talking about of horizon number two of that break, even, and horizon number three of that crazy maybe hit it out of the park kind of idea. Not likely to happen, but if it does, wow, you have a market disruption.
So, all you business owners out there ask yourself as one simple question. Does your business run without you? And if the answer is no go back. Don't pass, go. Don't get out of jail. Put that management team in place and ensure that the business runs without you so that you can do the three-horizon strategy that Michael talks about.
Now, Michael, one of the things that you do when you're not involved with cockroach startups, you're also helping large companies, large corporations. What does that look like? And how are you applying the cockroach startup strategies into a large corporation?
Michael de la Maza: [00:21:14] So, the key idea is that companies lose their agility as they get bigger and bigger. Things that used to take a day now. A month and things that used to take a month now take a year. So, a simple example of that is strategic planning. So, in a large company, strategic planning is typically done over the course of a year and it takes three months and it results in a 250-page PowerPoint.
And it's not very effective because the market is changing a lot faster. Now in a 10-person company, you would never do that. You would never spend so much time without actually going to talk to a customer or developing a product or getting evidence that what you are doing makes sense. And so the idea is to bring that mindset into those practices, to the large companies so that they can regain that agility and continue competing in this space.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:22:09] You're talking about these large bloated companies that have just maybe gotten off the beaten path and just forgot what it is that they should be doing. Will you change up the strategies, change up how they're doing things? What does that look like?
Michael de la Maza: [00:22:23] So, one is to push autonomy and decision-making to the edge. So, in a typical large corporation, someone at the team level wants to do something. They go talk to a manager who talks to our director who talks to a VP, who then goes back down the chain. What decisions can actually be made by the team without going up the chain of management?
And can we increase that for the sake of agility? So, speed really matters in business. And it's very valuable to have the people who are actually doing the work, the people who are at the team level, making many decisions without having to go up the chain of command. So, decision-making time is very valuable.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:23:05] You're saying you're really preaching to the choir here at Deep Wealth and for our listeners, I really want you to pay attention. Michael is talking about very large, but successful companies that have lost their way. And part of them losing their way is they don't have a chain of command that is agile and quick.
And so, you as a business owner, and you're looking to have some kind of liquidity event, you've put your management team in place, but the company DNA, Michael, to your point earlier, really stems from the founder, from the business owner. And so, for the business owner out there, are you following Michael's advice?
Do you have a situation where people have the autonomy to act quickly to act on their own to make the decisions? The good news is if you do that, it not only benefits your bottom line, which increases your enterprise value. But your future buyer will actually see that in the works and understands that yes when the business owner is no longer in the picture, there's still a company to talk about.
And Michael, that's just a huge strategy that you're helping the bigger companies get back to basics on. Would there be another one or two strategies that come to mind in terms of what we should all be thinking about big or small company-wise?
Michael de la Maza: [00:24:15] Another idea is to have evidence-based improvement activities. And so very often I'll go into a large company and they'll have some concern or some complaint. Our software is too buggy. We don't talk to customers enough. Our product cycles are too long, but all it will be is a complaint. They won't actually have data.
So, just an extraordinary number of companies are essentially going into meetings. And one person says, I'm unhappy about this. Another person says I'm unhappy about this. And then some sort of decision is made out of this extremely informal level of thinking. And so, one of the things I encourage large companies to do and encourage small companies to do as well is to get data that back up your opinions.
And once you have the data, then you can make an informed decision. And so a simple example of this is product development cycles. So, someone is unhappy with their product development cycle. How long does a product cycle take today? Is it three months? Is it three weeks? Is it six months? And you're not just anecdotes, but stuff that you can actually put in a spreadsheet and graph out.
And then the second thing that does is that when you actually create an improvement, you can measure the improvement. And so, it's not luck. It's not someone's opinion. It's actual data that's being used to drive these executive decisions.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:25:45] That's fascinating. I love what you're saying. Make decisions on data, not who you happen to speak to last that whispers in your ear something that sends you on this rabbit hole. That really leads to nowhere. And so, here's a question for you. As I look back at what you're doing, it's really interesting because it's operating at the two extremes.
So, on the one hand, it's the cockroach startups. They're lean. They're mean. They're aggressive, they're agile. They're very small and they're scrapping it out to live another day. And then, on the other hand, you have these very bloated but successful companies that are large and they've lost their way. And so, when you look at both those scenarios, there's always two sides to every coin, and where there's a downside, there's an upside where there's an upside, there is a downside.
So, if you can take those two scenarios and you can pull out the best from both, what advice would you be giving our business owners who. Can follow these strategies of how to stay out of trouble, not be too small, not be too large, but continue to grow their EBITDA. Be successful and live another successful day.
Michael de la Maza: [00:26:54] Yes. So, there's this thing that is go big or go home. And I liked the first half of that. I don't like the go-home part. I like go big or stay in business. Go big or be successful. And so, one thing I always liked to hear is a plan B. And so for example, I had an investment in a startup that was trying to revolutionize small business accounting in South America, and they didn't get there, but where they did get was to 20 employees and a 1.5 million in revenue business.
And it took them a long time to get there. They had to hire people. They had to change approaches. But they're there. And what, a million-dollar business, that's a phenomenal business to have built on your own and there's real value there. And so that's what I'm always inviting and encouraging people to do.
And so that to me is the happy medium. So, plan A is to go big, but plan B is to have this wonderful business that provides a lot of benefits and success to the people who started.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:28:03] Michael, you are preaching to the choir at Deep Wealth. We say it in a different way, but it's really saying the same thing. When you're prepared, as an example, when you master our nine-step roadmap of preparation and you prepare that preparation helps you grow your business.
Now you're thriving and you're profitable. So, own a thriving and profitable business forever, or sell it tomorrow. They're both terrific places to be, and you get to choose and choice is always a very powerful thing. So, Michael, let me ask you this. As we record this interview, we're still in the midst of this pandemic.
Many people when the pandemic first came around and thought that where we are today, it would long be behind us. And although there is light at the end of the tunnel, we're not quite there yet. So, I'm wondering, what are you seeing on the business landscape of how COVID has impacted business forever and life as we know it has changed and some lessons learned coming out of COVID. What does that look like for you?
Michael de la Maza: [00:29:00] One thing that I'm seeing here in San Francisco is that employees are going to have a lot more flexibility in the future. So, there are many companies that are never going to go back to everyone, working from an office, working nine to five. And so, there are many companies now that are going to allow employees to stay at home for two days a week, work from home two days a week.
And so that's one huge area to be aware of and to think about how that intersects with the business.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:29:35] WFH work from home. And at first blush, it seems that's terrific. I can have a smaller office. I pay less rent. Employees are going to be happier and they're not having the commute and all those other things that go along with that.
What's the downside that no one's talking about, Michael, what should I be aware of as a business owner with this new work, from home trend, that seems like it's going to stay?
Michael de la Maza: [00:29:58] What kind of employee makeup do you want to have now? So, with great autonomy and independence comes great responsibility. And so, are the people in your business, people who can structure their own day without anyone else around them, without standing meetings, doing everything over Slack? And so, I think it really changes the way that you're onboarding new employees and the way that you're recruiting new employees.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:30:27] And Michael, that's really interesting and it really gets to an underlying issue that you and I have been talking about this entire conversation, but let's put it now into the spotlight. And whether it's work from home, whether it's a pandemic, whether it's a cockroach startup, the one common theme is the culture of a business.
And so, what you've been sharing now is that the pandemic has forever changed what business culture is going to be like. And how we adapt to that, whether we do or don't will likely determine the success of the business. So, as you look to tomorrow, the next day, the weeks and months ahead, the years ahead, what are you seeing as an investor in cockroach startups or as this brilliant individual coming into large corporations and setting things right with them in terms of culture, what are some takeaway strategies as business owners that we should be A knowing about and B implementing to ensure we have a rich and vibrant culture?
Michael de la Maza: [00:31:25] So, it doesn't matter what practices or what meetings or what rules do you have. If the culture doesn't support those things, everything is going to be a lot more harder. And so, the very first thing I recommend is that everyone has to, as a leader, be the person that exemplifies the culture. And so, I always like to say that your company is a reflection of who you are.
It's an external manifestation of who you are. And so if you have a low trust culture, the very first thing to ask is how are you as a leader creating that low trust culture. And you grow yourself before pointing the finger at anyone else. And so one simple thing that I recommend is to have a good friend or a good coach who can be that person who looks at you and says you are not showing up as the leader that you think you are showing up as, and that's why your company is not successful because it should be.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:32:33] It's interesting, the intersection of business and just the personal life, because in the personal life you often hear, hey, if you want to meet a certain, somebody, be that person that you want to meet. Live it. Exemplify that, and the same thing in business. If you want to have a certain business culture it starts with you be that business leader who exemplifies all of those characteristics that you're looking for.
Now, Michael, correct me if I'm wrong. In addition to being an investor in cockroach startups, in addition to being this brilliant guy who's coming in and really helping large corporations get back to basics. I also understand that you're a coach. Is that correct?
Michael de la Maza: [00:33:10] Yes, that's right.
Mostly life coaching and it includes what one is doing in the business, but also what one is doing in life. The view is that it's a whole system, a person who's not happy at home can't be happy in their business.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:33:21] And so you bring up a point that we need to hear more about in the media is if you want to be a successful business owner if you want to have a successful business, Michael to your point, are you happy as a person? Are you successful as a person on both the personal and on the business front? And so, I'm curious, Michael, with that vantage point of having the opportunity of working with all different kinds of people in different industries what are the top two or three things that our listeners could do to bring out the best in them in terms of who they are as a person?
Michael de la Maza: [00:33:50] So, one thing is to simply ask yourself the following question. Where are you afraid? Where are you not safe? And try as hard as you can to achieve safety in those places. And we're here we're talking about psychological, emotional safety. What is it that you're afraid of? What is it that you're shying away from? And identify those things become aware of those things.
So, that's one huge issue where people essentially create blocks in their own mind. So, there's this famous story about Who Moved My Cheese? And the idea is that there a person in a maze and they know where the cheese is. And then the cheese moves and they get very frustrated when they starting to yell at the maze, who moved by maze?
Why didn't they leave it as it always was so I could always do what I was doing? The key is actually that the maze is actually in our mind. We're the ones who are limiting ourselves. And we are the ones who have the blind spots. And we're the ones who are saying no to ourselves. So, that's the very first thing that I would recommend to everyone who wants to grow.
The second thing is once you grow, that means cleaning up a bunch of things. So, for example, you may discover that people who are lifelong friends should no longer be in your life. And it's so easy to just continue operating on inertia and not make those decisions. And so to end up in a situation where you're trying to straddle both worlds, instead of making a super clean cut about what it is that you truly want to be.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:35:35] Wow. Some powerful words of wisdom there. And it goes back to that saying that you really are the average of the top five people that you spend the most time with that's who you are, that's who you become or that's who you will become. So, that's really some words to the wise.
So, Michael, as we begin to wrap up the podcast, there's one question that I'd love to ask every guest.
And the question is this. I want you to think about the movie Back to the Future and that magical DeLorean car. And that DeLorean car. If you'll remember, can take you back to any point in time, Michael. So, imagine now you look out your window and there is that DeLorean car. The door is open. Michael is waiting for you to come in and you can go back to any point in your life.
Maybe it's Michael as the child or Michael as a teenager or Michael as a young adult, whatever it may be. What would you be telling your younger self in terms of life wisdom learned, do this, or don't do that?
Michael de la Maza: [00:36:34] So, the big defining events of my early life was the situation in March of 2000, where I lost 95% of my net worth over the space of a week. And I made two mistakes there. One of them was to be overconfident and somehow think that a single large customer was enough. And the second thing I did was I got out of the game.
I spent 18 months playing chess and poker. And so, if I had to do it over again, I would have done a better job of hedging and distributing my allocation of time and customers so that I wasn't so exposed to a single customer.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:37:16] There you have it for our listeners. Lessons from the trenches that Michael personally lived in, I think is terrific advice for us all in terms of taking a look at ourselves, both personally, as well as on the business side and distributing the risk, hedging, as you're saying, Michael, and just ensuring that should something happen we have ourself covered.
Michael, I'm going to put this in our show notes and for our listeners, it could be a wide variety of topics with you as an investor in a cockroach startup or a business owner who has a large company that's become broken, that you can come in and fix, or even as a personal coach.
Where can somebody find you online?
What would be the best place?
Michael de la Maza: [00:37:54] This place is on LinkedIn. I have a near-unique name. I think I'm the only Michael de la Maza in the world. So, if you just punch my name into LinkedIn, it'll come up.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:38:04] And for our listeners again, I will put that link in there for you in the show notes to make it really easy for you. Michael, as we begin to wrap up the podcast, firstly, I'd like to thank you so much for taking time out of your day to share your wisdom and your insights with our audience.
And I'm going to wish you to be healthy and safe.
Michael de la Maza: [00:38:21] Thank you so much, Jeffrey. This has been a delight.