Learn From Leaders With Rich Robinson
Founding Partner at Whip Wham
Rich Robinson is the Founding Partner of Whip Wham which helps startups build, scale-ups grow and organizations innovate. A sought after keynote speaker, he teaches at China’s top universities: Peking University’s Guanghua Int’l MBA program where he teaches Entrepreneurship in China and at Tsinghua University’s BI-Tsinghua joint program where he teaches ‘pracademics’ to senior execs and Alibaba University where he teaches The Spirit of Entrepreneurship.
Previously Rich was a senior exec at 3 consecutive companies from private entities through to their listings, then went on to start 5 companies: 3 exited to publicly listed companies and 2 landed squarely in the ‘L’ column 😉. He has also been in “the war room” with dozens of other organizations as an investor, board member, advisor or mentor (HAX, Chinaccelerator & 500). His entrepreneurial journey in China has been profiled in the New York Times and China Daily.
Richard was most recently Co-founder and President of venture backed Yolu which he co-founded with the co-founder of NYSE-listed renren. He was also Co-founder and Chairman of venture-backed Kooky Panda; co-founder of Shouji Mobile acquired by Tencent (HKSE:0.700HK); co-founder and CEO of Dada Asia which was acquired by Milan-listed Dada; VP of Int’l for Linktone (NASDAQ:LTON); founder and CEO of MIG which was acquired by Glu Mobile (NASDAQ:GLUU); and a founding executive as VP of Marketing and Sales for renren.com (1.0) which raised $37 mln, listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2000 and was then acquired in 2001.
Richard received an MBA from the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in The Netherlands in 1996, studied at Cambridge University in the UK in 1988 and holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1989.
Five Questions With Rich
Q1: Something you’ve changed your mind about in your career
I have never ever changed my mind about anything in my career. Ever. The past is the past. You simply cannot go back, as much as I’d sometimes like to do just that.
Can I change my answer please? 😉
So yeah, I’ve changed my mind about a bunch of things since breakfast but most recently about retirement. It’s a false construct. 65 is a random number. Retiring early is just an empty idol.
I personally never want to retire. I want to stay engaged and involved in entrepreneurship and innovation and the whole beautiful catastrophe of creating new things for as long as I’m able.
Q2: What is the meaning of life and work for you?
Laughing and learning!
Ray Dalio writes about meaningful work and meaningful relationships in his book Principles and I agree and have internalized that as Learning and Laughing (shout out to Craig Vachon – The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley).
I love reading and juggle three books at a time between one audio, one epub on my phone app and another on a Kindle and then commit at least 30 mins/day across one or all three to get through a book a week, on average. But that’s not even the kind of learning I’m talking about.
I’m talking about how my toddler daughter learned to walk not too long ago – wiping out, skinning knees, slamming into the coffee table. Full contact learning. Awkward, goofy, painful learning.
Learning for me means becoming comfortable with discomfort and actively seeking things where I feel and even look foolish, basically leaning into difficult new journeys.
I’ve taught classes on topics that I’d never taught before. Taken on projects where the learning curve was so steep it gave me altitude sickness (well, I felt nauseous anyway 😉). Spoken in front of crowds of thousands on new topics that scared the shit out of me. Moved into new industries and actively sought out to be the dumbest, least informed person in the room (it’s easy to do! 😉)
And Laughing is simple: the entire point of life is relationships. Like I mean, all of it.
Everything we do and seek, whatever it is (money, power, status, impact, etc, etc) is really only useful in terms of how it creates and fosters better relationships.
And if you’re not laughing with the people you’re mainly relating to, then you’re simply spending too much time with the wrong peeps. Laughing is a fun and funny forcing function.
Q3: Key learnings about leadership you got from the career
I try to embrace and practice service leadership which was coined by Robert Greenleaf back in the 70’s in his seminal essay. It’s come back into fashion along with bell bottom pants, pet rocks and huge sideburns (at least one of those things is true).
Some are drawn to entrepreneurship since they think: “I don’t have a boss! I’m at the top of the pyramid!”
Those are both true.
As an entrepreneur, you do not have A boss. You have a bazillion bosses: Investors, customers, employees, partners, etc.
You’re also at the top of the pyramid but that pyramid is inverted so that you’re carrying the full weight of the pyramid on your back.
I say, embrace that. Serve all those people will full intention. Carry that weight on your back and be grateful for it.
Service Leadership is something that Starbucks and Southwest Airlines have embraced with much success and a foundation of Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.
Greenleaf’s original essay has gotten better with age.
Q4: One piece of advice for entrepreneurs in your industry
Do it to manage your mental health and your mindset. That’s the most important battle while you’re building your company – the war raging between your ear holes.
I practice TM (Transcendental Meditation) – a mantra-based meditation that requires 20 mins upon awakening and 20 mins in the afternoon. It gives me improved Clarity. More Focus. Improved Mood regulation.
Ray Dalio who runs one of the biggest hedge funds on the planet swears by it as a key to his success. I started in earnest 7 years ago because I thought if Ray can carve out the two twenty minute seshes each day, then what’s my excuse?
The biggest tool in your arsenal to wage war against founder FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt)?
Much of the time startups die from self-inflicted wounds rather than murder by competitors or the market. There are million ways to take your startup out of the game on your own and one of the more common ones is through founder conflict that creates irreparable damage – oftentimes at 2am when everyone is exhausted, edgy and emotional and say things they can’t take back.
Q: Guess what can help to defuse that?
A: Sufficient sleep?
Q: Yeah, that. But not just that. What else?
A: General apathy?
Q: Uhm, suuuure, I guess not caring about anything at all can help to reduce conflict but is not a good look as a founder in general. Please try again (if you care).
Q: ding, Ding, DING! Winnah, winnah, chicken dinnah!
Other times I see founders become too stuck in their heads and as a result just get stuck in general. Frozen into inaction through analysis paralysis.
What do you think is a good tool to provide clarity so that an entrepreneur can decide and act?
Hint: It begins with ‘M’ and rhymes with ‘editation’.
Q5: Other insights/learnings you would like to share with entrepreneurs?
Almost nothing is in your control.
As an entrepreneur, you don’t really control your staff (you can try to motivate, incentivize and inspire, but not control). You don’t control your customers (you can try to persuade and influence). You don’t control your competitors (so don’t spend too much looking at them). Certainly, you can’t control the markets. Or the regulatory environment. And you definitely can’t control pandemics.
Thanks, Rich, that sounds horribly depressing, so what’s the point of even trying?
Sure, so much less is in your control than you think but there are two things that are one thousand percent in your control.
So, while you can’t control outcomes (you win some, you lose some), you can control output.
And lots of startup success is random since it’s largely about timing and confluences of forces totally out of your control but you can control how you react to those events.
It’s actually liberating to understand that nothing is really in your control except your effort and your attitude.
You fully control your action and your reaction. But really nothing else. So optimize for that and adjust your mindset so that you have the best attitude to enable you to give the best effort.
This mindset has allowed me to (1) really look at how I can optimize for having the best effort and the best attitude (sleep, diet, exercise, meditation, journaling, time with good people, constantly seeking growth) and (2) end the day by going to sleep like a baby, since, if you know that you were truly better today than you were yesterday and the day before in terms of action and reaction, then go to La La Land and then rinse and repeat again the next day.