No one reaches a level of success without having the spirit of being adventurous. As with all great endeavors, becoming a businessperson/entrepreneur means signing up for the roller coaster ride. Bill Nussey is one to not shy away from adventures, and it shows in his amazing career journey. Bill is a Partner at Engage and Tech Square Ventures, author of Freeing Energy, and podcast host. He has spent most of his career as a tech CEO, helping lead several startups to successful exits, including an IPO. In 2016, he left the tech industry to join the climate revolution. In this episode, he joins Adam Markel to share with us the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. He taps into the value of being adventurous, overcoming the imposter syndrome, and embracing the suck. Keeping himself mentally healthy amidst the tough road ahead, Bill then shares how he deals with stress. Plus, Bill gives us a sneak peek into his book, Freeing Energy, where he writes for entrepreneurs and innovators who want to have cleaner, cheaper, and more electricity systems. Tune in to this conversation and learn more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and extend your success forward to change the world!
- 06:08 – The Spirit Of Adventurousness In Business
- 07:21 – The Raw Humanity That Creates Bond
- 12:26 – When The Imposter Syndrome Shows Up
- 17:52 – Embracing The Suck
- 32:05 – Is Pain Required Or Optional?
- 36:27 – The Genesis Of Freeing Energy
- 41:45 – How Bill Creates His Own Renewable Energy
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The Spirit Of Adventurousness: Signing Up For The Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster With Bill Nussey
You’re going to love this episode because I have Bill Nussey. Bill has spent most of his career as a tech CEO helping lead several startups to successful exits including an IPO. His companies have created billions of dollars in shareholder value. In 2016, he left the tech industry to join the climate revolution. It started with a TED Talk, which grew into a number-one podcast on renewable energy, and a book called Freeing Energy. It was the number one new release in energy on Amazon. Stay tuned for this episode. You’re going to love it.
Bill, you have a very impressive bio, for sure. My question to you right out of the gate is, what’s one thing that’s not a part of that bio and your standard fair introduction? What’s one thing that you would love for people to know about you?
Early on in my life when I thought maybe I would do well professionally, a mentor sat me down and my wife. He said, “I know both of you. Every dime you make should not go towards buying anything or any place. It should go towards going places and doing things.” That was one of the best pieces of advice. We’ve always been modest in the things we own. We’re very fortunate, but we have spent our marginal money on ongoing places. Our kids who are young adults have traveled all over the world with us and had multiple adventures. That has been the most fun and most bridge-building or bond-building experience I could have had as a member of this family.
You have two kids, right?
We do. Two adult kids.
That’s some sage advice right there. For folks that know a little bit of my background, I married my college sweetheart many years ago. One of the things we said when we first got together as in we were both aware that we were in love is, at a certain point, Randi, my wife, looked at me and said, “Let’s never get boring.” This was out of character for her. It wasn’t the kind of thing she would say. It’s not a line out of her book or playbook, but she said that. I paid attention and thought, “Let’s never get boring.” I love it. I feel like it’s in line with the advice that your mentor gave you to invest in experiences. What was the word you used earlier to describe it?
To me, it’s always been adventures. It’s the bonds between our family, but how do we live our life so that we have adventures? We go to new places and think about new things occasionally. We all climb, the four of us. None of us are athletes remotely, and we all climbed to the top of the mountain next to Machu Picchu. For the four of us, this was terrifying and exhausting. What a great experience to have done it with our family. There were other people there going right up to mountain goats and climbing right up of it. We’re looking at them. For us, it was quite a climb. Those kinds of things you never forget.
We went through a period for budgetary reasons. With four kids, it is like, “Oh my God. It’s a lot of food. It’s a lot of clothing even with the hand-me-downs. It’s a lot of tuition. You and I have something in common because your youngest is about to graduate. You’re going to be, theoretically speaking, an empty nester, right?
Yes. He moved out years ago, but he comes home from Christmas breaks and summers. Theoretically, he’ll be on the launchpad in May 2023 towards a career living somewhere that isn’t our house. I say to myself, “It wouldn’t be all too bad if you end up living with us,” but then again, he’s got to get out on his own. We love having him around. We’re very lucky that we all get along.
This is maybe more for the parents out there or that who want to be parents. If you’re not a parent at the moment and you don’t have any clue or a desire to be a parent, bear with us. Don’t fast-forward yet. I promise we’re going to get past this. Tell me about how adventurous your kids are. I’ll give this to the people that are maybe a little impatient. I want to tie this to business and entrepreneurship. I want to tie this to the things that are relevant to most of our lives. Are your kids the adventurous type or kind because you’ve taken them on these wild experiences from early on?
They’ve had to face their fears, and we’ve pushed them within reason and safety. We have pushed them to do things to get jobs before their other friends had jobs. We pushed them to travel, hike places, and try things. We put them on dirt bikes when they were probably too young to do dirt bikes. We taught them to build computers from scratch before they were too young to build computers from scratch. It was the whole range of things. We got them out of their comfort zone over and over again and it’s affected their outlook on life. Hopefully, they’ll end up becoming happy adults, which is all you could possibly hope for.
Here’s the tie-in. As a tech founder, a startup founder, and someone who spent a lot of years in tech, how important is it do you think this spirit of adventurousness is to that arena that you’ve spent pretty much your whole career in?
It’s everything. It isn’t a nice-to-have. I‘ve been in the startup world my whole life. If you’re not signing up for an adventure, the slogs, the fears, the heart-wrenching, soul-crushing moments, and the glorious ecstasies of success and winning, or you don’t want to get on that roller coaster, it’s not for everybody. For people that do want to do that, that want to leave a trail behind them, and that want to have an experience with friends that are going to last their lifetimes, then to start is the way to go.
I ran a company many years ago and took it public. We got to, at largest, about 3,000 people. I was CEO. There are about fifteen of us several years later that remained great friends. Every single year, we get back together. Normally, that would be your high school friends or your college friends, but it’s the executive team of this company that we built. We remained great friends to this day. It was the incredible adventure of that particular company that bonded us for life.
The bond is the word you said earlier with regard to your family. We’re back to that word bond again, which is important. What is it, do you think, about being on an adventure in business in particular that creates that bond? Is it something that can be replaced? It’s a two-part question here, and this is the harder part. Can it be replicated somehow without the painful moments of uncertainty?
Going on a journey with another group of people, your family, or colleagues with one that’s got highs and lows is defining it because it forces you to be human. If you have polished veneer, which we all have, most startups I’m familiar with will tear it down. You get to see the actual person that’s there, and sometimes, that’s not the person you want it to be seen as. Sometimes, it’s different than what you thought of your colleague before the adventure.
That raw humanity is what causes people to bond, in my opinion. When we were near the middle of that mountain I was telling you about, one of my family members, which is not me but could have easily been me, lost it and said, “This is too hard. I don’t want to do it. This is terrifying. We could die.” There were no safety nets. It was a sheer 1,000-foot drop a foot away from where we were standing. We sat there talking about it.
Eventually, my family member was very upset. We sat there until they weren’t upset anymore and continued on our way up. Getting to the top was even more amazing because we had to stop in the middle and be authentic with each other. I don’t like the word authentic because it is an inauthentic term. It’s the rawness of who you are.
Don’t you think it’s transparent? I’ve been calling so much BS on that word, authentic, but it has been used a lot.
It’s used in the context of how you’re supposed to present yourself, which automatically means it’s not authentic.
It’s a level of transparency that there’s some interesting stuff. I was reading an article about some politics. This is freaking funny as heck to me. I’m reading an article about this young woman who is 22 years old. She came on board with the Raphael Warnock campaign some months ago. He had a good following already. Some of his social were pretty powerful, but he had no presence on TikTok. She comes in and starts doing some things and sprinkling TikTok dust or whatever.
He grows to 250,000 followers on TikTok, but mostly because she was sharing these moments of transparency, which she calls cringe-worthy. Embrace the cringe is her thing at 22. She was featured in a very major publication zone. Her star is rising. When we’re looking at what authenticity means or transparency even, in this world, there is a lot of cringe everywhere. Can you embrace that?
This book I had come out called Change Proof, the original title was the word embrace. It was to be a follow-up from a book I’d written a few years ago called Pivot. This was more of how we embrace the pivots in life and embrace the changes in our lives. It is along those lines of embracing the cringe because the changes in our lives are often super messy or ugly in there. We’re also scared. I can imagine being on that mountain and somebody’s having an OSM. My buddy likes to call that the Oh Shit Moment. That’s what’s happening. When you’re having that moment, wherever that moment is happening, and it doesn’t have to be in a mountain, you’re an ugly mess. It’s a beautiful ugly mess, right?
Exactly. It is when you’re feeling this fear and this uncertainty and the people around you, whether it is your colleagues or your family, rally around you and say, “We’ll get through this. Fail or succeed, we’re going to do it together.” That shows the commitment people have to each other. That’s what forms the bonds in my experience. It is like, “If I’m willing to help you here, I’m going to help you for the rest of your life in other ways.”
That raw humanity, that transparency, you are shed of the version of yourself you’d want to tell TikTok about and replaced with who you are. A lot of people suffer from, and I know I do, Imposter syndrome. In the world of social media, we are getting ever-skilled at presenting who we would like the world to see us as and further from who we are. It sounds a little deep to me, but I do think that’s reality.In the world of social media, we are getting ever-skilled at presenting who we would like the world to see us as and getting further from who we are. Click To Tweet
When you’re in a situation that forces you to get beyond that veneer and there are people around you that are still there for you, that’s what makes those relationships so powerful and special. That’s what I’ve loved about being an entrepreneur my entire life. It is that every company that I’ve built and run with a team, every single one, it’s the greatest adventure. It is the friendships and the bond. Occasionally, there are burned relationships and people you never talk to again. The vast majority, at least in my experience, have been people who even if they don’t end up working out for the company, in many cases, end up being lifelong friends because you’ve been through the trenches together.
Would you be willing to share where the Imposter syndrome has shown up for you?
Sure. Famous podcasters are reaching out to me and saying, “Would you like to be on our podcast?” It’s like you. I’m like, “Especially talking about my life, what could I possibly share with anybody that they would find interesting and relevant?” I’m still quite in doubt that anything I say will be of value to anyone that reads this, but I trust your judgment and am sufficiently flattered to be invited that I’m willing to give it a shot.
Anytime you’re pitching a startup or pitching yourself particularly, you’re like, “What if people find out all these faults I have and all these mistakes I’ve made? What if they find out about it?” That’s a fine line we walk in business. One of my great moments in life was with an ex-Israelian Military top-level person. There was a night before my resignation from this large public company I was mentioning earlier. It wasn’t announced, but I was with him. I told him and confided in him, “When we announce that I’m leaving, I’m going to go to a startup, but I feel like my career is going to be over.”
It was not too long ago, I won this massive award as the most innovative consultant in the world or something like that. I said, “I’m struggling with this.” He said, “I’ve been called a savior of a country and I’ve been called a criminal by the same group of people from the country I’m from. The one thing I’ve learned is that I’m not nearly as good as everyone says and I’m not nearly as bad as they say.” Maybe that doesn’t resonate with everybody, but it hit me at that time that I am not the things that people say about me. I’m not nearly as good and I’m certainly not as bad. In the end, I’m me.
It was the beginning of a real process for me. It was in my early 40s when I started to realize that I was going to lean into who I was and accept some of the things I was never going to be good at that were idolized by other people. I was never going to be the charismatic, go-charge-the-hill kind of person. I’m more of what we call a Spock brain than a Kirk brain, if anyone is old enough to remember that reference. I owned it. I’ve been a much happier person and maybe more successful. I don’t know.
That could have not been more on point for me at this moment. It was our son’s birthday, his 24th birthday in 2023. We went out and played golf and came home. As dinner was being prepared, we decided to go sit in the tub and continue to catch up. We’d been fortunate to spend a whole day playing golf together. We did some of that.
Our conversation went deeper than what would typically go on in between shots and stuff. We were sharing some stories, both he and I, from our high school days. I was sharing some things he didn’t know about me that I was concerned about back then. It was things I worried about, were bothering me, and I didn’t like about myself, to be on point. He was sharing some of those same things with me that I didn’t know that he was worrying and obsessing about back then. I couldn’t believe it. I’m like, “You worried about that? You were upset about that and wanted to change that?”
I shared one about how I wasn’t going to be 6’ tall. My dad’s 6’2”. He was a basketball player. For some good period of my early life, I was upset that I wasn’t going to be 6’ tall and that I wasn’t going to get to do some of that. It was somehow that number of even what my physical height was would somehow equate to a certain level of acceptance, love, approval, or worthiness. It was bizarre. I look back then and it’s laughable, but it was hardly laughable at that time.
I had said to Max, “It’s about objective truth, don’t you think?” If I look back at that time in my life and think about the stories I was telling myself or even the things other people might have said to me that I accepted as the objective truth, either 1 of those 2 scenarios was both false. My story about myself as well as the story that others might have been telling about me was objectively false, but I didn’t know that then. I’m not sure I could have known that then, but I look back on it and it’s obvious.
It’s like he looks back on his thing. I was saying to him, “Is that objectively true?” He is only 24. It’s not that far from the point where those things were concerning to him, and at some level, still a little concerning. This Imposter syndrome is one of those terms where we go, “I get it. I know what that is.” It’s so prevalent, especially in people regardless of how successful they are on either spectrum. There is a question for you that I wrote down that I want to ask you. Do you think more people talk themselves into things or out of things relative to that whole Imposter syndrome?
Many more people talk themselves out of it. There are 1,000 reasons to say no and usually very few if any logical and objective reasons to say yes. When I asked my wife to marry me, the logic or the spreadsheet didn’t have an answer, so I knew I had to do it. Thankfully, she said yes. The most consequential decisions are rarely objectively clearer answers depending on whether you have a taste for adventure or taking the leap, so to speak.
It’s one of the reasons a lot of people wake up 10 years later and says, “I didn’t do a lot in the last 10 years.” It was because they kept finding reasons to say no to whatever crazy crap came up in their lives. There is a saying. I forget who said it, but it is something like, “Never has anyone at their deathbed said, ‘I wish I’d traveled less.’” It’s an adventure.
It is things we don’t do or the things that if you look back, you go, “What is the worst-case scenario? Are you a music guy or a music fan?
Not much, no.
This is completely irrelevant to you. With that said, you have been involved in the tech space, but have you heard of a guy named Bruce Springsteen? Does that ring a bell?
That is a name I’ve heard. I have seen him in concert.
Everybody has, regardless of whether they were into music or not. I’m watching Howard Stern interviewing Bruce Springsteen. It’s on HBO Max. He’s on Sirius or XM. Those two have merged. I don’t listen typically, but I watched this. It’s Bruce Springsteen. This guy is prolific and has won every award and all that kind of stuff. He’s talking about this level of discomfort in what he does in his craft. I was thinking to myself, “To what extent is that being okay in the space of the unknown? Embracing the suck is the term that Navy SEALs use. How much do you have to embrace the suck as someone who’s involved not just in the tech space but in any area of the startup arena?
I have a son-in-law who’s got a tech company that’s doing quite well. They’re on a pretty good trajectory. Ultimately, they would love to IPO and all that kind of stuff. To what extent do you have to have a belly? If it’s not that cast iron stomach, what is it? When Bruce Springsteen talked about it, there was a level of his willingness to set up this equation for himself. Let’s say it was for his very first record deal with Capitol. His feeling was, “I will still be the same person regardless of the outcome. If this thing was to fail, if I was to crash and burn, or if I never get a record deal ever in my life, I know who I am. I’m pretty okay with who I am.” That was his mindset.
I’d love to get a sense from you as to what is the mindset of a person that can take something from nothing. It means you create something out of thin air and go through nearly dying 400 or 500 times to the place where you have that moment where you ring the bell on some exchange and even the moment when you exit. I know it’s a broad question, but I want to understand the gut head of any of the connections that you can make for us in connection with that.
A question I’ve been asked a few times in my career is, “You’ve had some success. What have you done differently? How have you embraced all the opportunities and challenges?” The answer I usually give, which is funny but true is, “I’m too stupid to give up.” There are three kinds of people that can survive the journey of an entrepreneur. The first is somebody who is so successful that when there are bad things happening, they deflect right off.
The second kind is the kind that’s so courageous and visionary that whenever they see they are running into a ditch or hitting a wall, they persevere through fear. They understand the bigger picture and then move forward. The third kind, genuinely, and most entrepreneurs are, is that you can take a punch. You can deal with a level of discomfort that’s excruciating for everybody, but you are able to push through it where others might say, “It’s not worth the trouble. I’m going to get off this crazy pain train as soon as I can because this is harder than I expected it to be.”
I certainly don’t think I’m any more courageous than anybody, but my experiences growing up and the way I’m wired randomly is that I don’t have the same problem climbing through barbed wire as others do. Plus, once I’m vested in something, I’m committed to it. Particularly, if I’m working with a team, I’m incredibly motivated to get through whatever the downside is. I do know some people who’ve been so successful at everything they do, but I am not one of those. Any success has been a long and hard journey to get there. They are stuff that a lot of people would’ve chosen not to push all the way through. For a variety of reasons, some of them are out of weakness, but didn’t give up.
The most defining story was back in 2011 if I remember correctly. Back before there were any large companies anywhere in the world that had been hacked or compromised, my startup got hacked. We were the second company in the world we knew of to ever get hacked. Google had been hacked by a foreign country and everyone was up in arms about that had never happened. It happens three times a week, but back then, it never happened.
We called the FBI and they accidentally leaked it. My whole world came tumbling apart. I had thousands of customers that were big brands. There was a potential that customer data might have been stolen. We were still assessing it. They all wanted to fire us, and the company was over. It was easily the most difficult part of my professional career.
One of my executives up and quit because he thought we were going to spend the rest of our time in jail. There was no precedent. At this time, your credit card company calls you and says, “Your retailer was hacked. Here’s what you need to do. Change your password,” or whatever. Back then, no one had any idea whether or not executives would go to jail. The FBI was not being particularly helpful in a lot of ways. In some ways, they were.
That was a crucible for me. Everybody from the board to the employees to the customers was looking at me as if I had the magic answers. What I decided to do was the next right thing. I had no idea how we would get through it. Odds were that we would fail. We would go under in a pile of lawsuits. All we could do was the next right thing. What is the next right thing? I was like, “Let’s tell our customers.” They were like, “If we tell our customers, it’s going to be this and this.” I said, “It’s the right thing to do,” and so we did that. They were like, “How do we get this fixed? I was like, “Let’s hire the smartest people in the world.” They were like, “We don’t have the money to do it.” I was like, “We’ll hire them anyway to help us fix it.” We did all that.
The punchline was that we came out of it not just surviving it, but we came out of it incredibly strong. That gave my leadership team and my board one of those near-death moments you hear about when someone almost gets in a car crash and they rethink their whole life. They caused us to stop and think, “Rather than thinking about how to get to next year, what if we think incredibly broadly about what we could be because we almost died?”
We almost died, so we reinvented ourselves. The company took off, and we ended up selling it for hundreds of millions of dollars to IBM. It was a great exit for everybody. Had that bad thing not happened and had we not had the perseverance as a management team to push through it, I don’t think that great outcome would’ve happened. Everyone was a winner for it except for the hackers. They were later caught by the FBI about six years later and made quite a court case. At that point, they’d hacked a lot more people than us, so we were a small mention in the list of companies that they had done damage to. We were the first to catch it. We had an excellent team. We caught it when no one else was looking for that kind of thing.
Do the next right thing.
That’s all you can do.
Yet, how hard is that with no plan to get through it because it is a completely unknown territory?
Almost everyone agrees you’re going to die. The 90% consensus is you’re not going to survive. Your career is over and people’s resumes are on the street. Your competitors are pouncing. They’re like, “You shouldn’t work with this company because they got hacked.” It was some of the most unsavory behavior I’ve ever seen in my life. I called the CEO of one of my competitors. I said, “If they’re coming after our industry, here’s what you need to do. Here’s what we learned. Here’s how they’re going to do it.” A week later, his salespeople were out pitching to our customers because we had been hacked. It was bad, but we pushed through it. All of us did.
Every one of us was a far better business person and we created a ton of value for our investors and for IBM, but walking that line for those 2 or 3 months was excruciating. A lot of people would’ve said, “Let’s wind it down.” We only had one tiny lawsuit. Almost every one of the customers we had at the time, which were thousands, almost every one of them stayed with us. It was an amazing lesson to do the right thing.
It is a story of resilience or a resilient journey.
I wish I didn’t have so many of those, but I’ve got a couple. That may be the answer to your question. How do you get through it? How do you do it?
Your brand is, in so many ways, about resilience. What you are saying to the powers that be or the universe is, “Let me have more fodder for this conversation.”
I know I would’ve preferred to have far fewer soul-crushing experiences in my career. It’s that one particularly, but I had a couple.
You answered the question before I asked it. Do you think it’s hardest to deal with yourself or with those others that you were referring to?
I had never thought about it that way. Being hard to deal with myself doesn’t compute with me. I doubted myself. Maybe that’s what you’re asking. If I doubted myself, could I get through it? In every case where I’ve faced a crushing situation, there was no one else stupid enough to come in and take the job. Everyone is running for the hills, so getting somebody in would’ve been nearly impossible. The only person that would’ve come in would be a wrecking ball or a control-alt-delete person who shuts it down and starts it over again. That was never an option because of all the commitments that we had made to our stakeholders. We had to see it through and die trying if we needed to.
That’s so interesting, the die-trying thing. I start a lot of my keynotes among other things that I do, like this show and the authorship stuff. I love to do the keynote work. I always start with the same story. It doesn’t matter what my topic happens to be. I start with a story from my days as a lifeguard at the beach at nineteen years old. One of those particular stories does not have a happy ending and won’t ever have a happy ending.
At a certain point, when we were debriefing this search and rescue that wasn’t successful, our captain or CEO at the time for the beach said to us, “No one’s ever going to go down in our water again or on our watch again. The command at this point is that you make the save or you die trying.” I take that to heart because that became a mantra.
That’s literal for you. That is a powerful angle. I hadn’t heard anything like that before except the military.
It has that flavor to it. That was a life-and-death conversation. I’ve been the CEO, too, of a company that was not as large as the one you were. When people’s livelihoods are in your hands, whether it’s 300 people, 3,000 people, or 30 people, whatever it might be, there’s a responsibility that feels like that. For a person who can pay their bills, their mortgage, their medical insurance, or any number of other things that are related to that as well as the people who invest and put their money in maybe retirement funds, 401(k), or who knows what, it is a big ripple effect.
The way that that’s always been visceral for me is it’s other people’s money which I bear more responsibility for than my own. If I’ve had some successes, part of the reason is I take great responsibility when people entrust their careers and their money with us. It’s particularly customers. These people go out of their lines. If you run a startup, any customer that bets on you is often taking a career risk to put you inside their enterprise. If you blow up on them, and this happened in the hacking thing that people that had bet on us, their heads are twisted around by their bosses like, “Why did you pick this company?”If you run a startup, any customer that bets on you is often taking a career risk to put you inside their enterprise. Click To Tweet
While we focus on all the downsides, the upside is that the winds are that much more glorious, memorable, powerful, and transformative. I was thinking. I hadn’t thought about this in many years. I don’t know about your high school, but I had a senior quote that I realized is relevant to this. I said, “I want my life to be like a rollercoaster. The fun isn’t being high or low, but I want to ride the hills.” I said that when I was seventeen.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is what that is called. That’s why when my wife, Randi, said to me, “Let’s never get boring,” I was like, “Our lives have never been anything but this beautiful rollercoaster.”
It looks great. When you get on a show, do a keynote speech, or invite me to talk to your community, it all sounds great. The point is that the reason you do this and people love to tune in is that I’m sure some people are in pain. They’re struggling. They’re trying to figure out if it’s worth it. They want to know that they’re not the only ones that have ever had to go through barbed wire to get where they’re going to go through and that there is hope. It doesn’t mean it will work out, but it’s probably survivable, other than your lifeguard story. Other than stories like that, it is the career stuff.
My friend from the military said, “You’re not as good or as bad as everybody says.” Bruce Springsteen said, “At the end of the day, you’re you.” It took me about until my mid-40s to figure that out, which were a lot of things I didn’t love about my skillset, the way I was wired, and a lot of things I did like. In my mid-40s, for a variety of reasons, the world told me to fiercely be who I was. I was a much happier person after that.
At some point, you go, “I’m stuck with myself. I’m not going to be 6’ tall. I’m stuck at 5’9 and a half. That’s it.” It may be 5’9. I probably shrunk. There’s an element of that as being good objective truth.
I like that. I work at a venture firm that’s tied to some of the largest corporations in the world and the US. We held an event at Top Golf. I’ve swung a golf club maybe seven times in my life and I’m the host. We have some of the top executives from these enormous Fortune 100 companies, so I’m quite nervous about it. I’m complaining to my wife, “I’m going to look like an idiot in front of these titans of business.” She looks at me with her wisdom of 30-plus years and says, “You suck at golf. Own it,” and I did.
I was a little embarrassed. Many people golf to say, “Where does the ball go?” To me, it’s more of the batting average, like, “How many times did I hit the ball?” I was batting about a 500 on that Top Golf and they were laughing their butts off at me, but it was all in fun. I don’t think any of them are going to invite me to their country clubs. I would’ve preferred to do something I might be better at, like chess. Chess I can hold my own. It could have been building a computer network or something that’s nerdy, but we were playing golf, and I owned it. I had fun. They’re still returning my phone calls.
I love that. I love that came out. With what you said earlier, you were spot on with the people who are tuning in to this. There are a lot of very successful people. Success is a subjective thing. What’s the objective truth? If you are reading, the objective truth is that you are blessed. There are a lot of ways to look at life and go, “This and that is what’s missing. That’s what I have anxiety about.
There are tremendous amounts of anxiety. People are exhausted. The fact that you can take a moment even to think of things in a little bit of a different light is something of a privilege. It genuinely is because there are many alternatives that are less of a blessing. We can find gratitude at any second. That sounds almost motivational. The truth is we can find gratitude at any moment and at any second, which dissolves anxiety at the moment. It dissolves anger, which we are angerholics in so many respects in this country.
It’s a powerful phrase. I agree.
I wanted to come back to that thing you said for those people wherever they are in the moment. Pain is a funny topic. Is pain required, do you think? I asked this question to a brain scientist researcher. I want to ask you. I know that’s not your area, but from the standpoint of an entrepreneur or of a CEO exactly, is pain required or is it optional? What do you think?
If you avoid pain in any pursuit in life and particularly in your career, you’ll fall short of where you want to be. I don’t know that it necessarily means that you’ll experience pain, but if you go out of your way to avoid it as we all do sometimes, then you’re almost certainly not going to end up where you want. It’s necessary. Being open to it, accepting it, and surviving it is a necessary attitude toward being successful in life and work.If you avoid pain in any pursuit in life and particularly in your career, you'll fall short of where you want to be. Click To Tweet
This is what you said earlier when you said, “Do the next right thing,” and other people were questioning the wisdom of doing that next right thing. They were looking to avoid pain or more pain.
It’s so difficult. You and I had connected to talk about this energy book that I wrote. Before I wrote that energy book, I was practicing my writing because I’m a very slow writer. I wanted to get them to speed, so I took all the notes I’d written from my two boys over their lifetimes and before they were born and assembled them into a book. I gave them away. A couple of friends saw it and they liked it so much that I ended up publishing it. All the stuff we’re talking about, like the story of my friend in the Military, that’s in that book. It’s called Your Mountain is Waiting. It’s wonderful to connect with you because the way that you think about life mirrors a lot of the way I do.
I’ve never had the courage to share it. I’m much more of a nerd and I’m a business model person. Those are the things that I’ll share with the world. I did write that book for them and was convinced by them and others to make it available outside of our family. There are big things, like great adventures with great friends, and doing the next right thing. These are core principles that I instilled in writing that book. It’s so helpful for people to realize in these tough situations, not the only ones there but others that have been there. Once in a while, you’ll come across someone whose point of view, your show, and others that’ll say, “This is what I need to hear right now. I’ll push through it.” That’s where great joy comes and a great sense of reward.
It sounds like you and I are both at a very good point in our lives, but it’s not always been that way. It’s such an honor to be able to discuss the highs and the lows and to meet you and know that you’ve gone through your own stories. I think about one of the things I said in that book. I look forward and say, “What are they going to put in my gravestone?” That simplifies so many of the decisions I make in life. No one’s gravestone I’ve ever seen has their net worth when they died. I can’t recall ever seeing a gravestone that had the net worth.
My wife and I have given away the bulk of our money because what the heck are we going to do with the money? We’ve given the bulk of it away. It has never had the companies. It took public. It doesn’t have that on there. It doesn’t read, “A senior vice president of a 100 Fortune.” That’s not on their gravestone. What is captured there is the people that love them and the person that they were. That exercise of looking forward has always been one of those powerful ways that I ask myself, “Is this what I want to spend my energy on?”
Life is crazy busy. You get caught up in the moment. You’re chasing your career and the next big deal. Your kid is trying to get into this school or got in trouble in that way. My wife and I are disagreeing on this thing or my neighbor said something insulting. Getting through those moments can engulf your entire life. I love those exercises where you step back and say, “Let me think for a moment about everything.”
One of the points I make to all the people I’ve worked with, and I do it myself, is if you’re in a position in your career to allow for this, and we’re going to start doing this in the venture I’ve joined, is take 1 or 2 days every quarter or twice a year. Shut up your email. Go someplace where there are no distractions, no kids, no spouse, and no cell phone calls. Go think about the big questions. The way I survived all the stress of my job was I’d write down the things that were driving me nuts. I was like, “If I don’t solve this, it’s going to be anxiety.” I’d write them all down. I knew then sometime in the next three months I would have time to go focus on the questions. Psychologically, those things didn’t add up. They became the stuff that I could solve in the future, and I did.
It’s so fascinating that questions and answers have a cause-and-effect relationship. What you’re talking about is a process to ask. Especially the questions you don’t know the answers to, those are the best questions of all. To me, I don’t know the timing of it, but I have faith, I truly do, that you can never ask a question and not receive an answer. We don’t know when that answer is going to come in.
I like that. I should have put that in my book.
Feel free on the next edition. You stick that in there. Speaking of books, you’ve got a new book out called Freeing Energy. This is a great segue into the last piece of our talk. Would you tell us a little bit about this book, Freeing Energy?
There are two parts that are interesting. To be brief about each is that when I sold my company to IBM, I was sitting there doing all the interviews with the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times as they were saying it became IBM’s marketing Cloud. I wanted to remember the moment, so I stepped out of the room and went into a conference room by myself. I was thinking for a brief moment, “I’ve got all this money now. I reached this high level of my career.”
I was overwhelmed unexpectedly with the sense that I needed to do something that mattered with it. It wasn’t because I was called to do something, but I was overwhelmed with the recognition of so many people I’ve met that didn’t have the financial comfort, didn’t have the resume in the network, and were devoting their lives to something much more important than themselves or their career. I began a quest to find something that I could do that mattered a lot more than me.
We gave away the bulk of the money. My wife had this thesis that if I had enough money not to have a job, then I would lose the fire under my ass. She said almost exactly what you said, which is that you are going to be boring if you have enough money to worry about managing your money. She said, “You got to be worried about building something.”
I went and searched to find something that mattered that I could get my business head around. I was looking for something that had three things. I was looking for something that would make the world better for my children. I was somewhat aware of climate change, pollution, and all that. Second of all, I had become aware through some travels that a billion people in the world have no electricity and no water. The third is I wanted to do something to make a ton of money.
I looked across those three and came across this idea of a small-scale electricity system or a microgrid. It is a solar plus battery, whether it’s a tiny solar battery system in a hut in Africa that you can buy for $5 or one that’s powering a whole campus or a factory. I call it a Lego brick. I call it local energy. The more I looked at it, the more despondent I got because this is such a regulated industry that I thought you couldn’t pull it off.
I almost gave up, but I kept pressing on it. I finally figured out how you could take this idea and turn it into an incredibly exciting industry. That’s what the book is about. It’s written for entrepreneurs and innovators to some degree who want to have cleaner, cheaper, and more electricity systems. I didn’t know, but the timing has turned out to be fantastic. Since I finished writing the book, the whole Texas grid went down for a week. California is shutting off its grid all over the place. Louisiana went down. New Orleans went down. We’re going to have some problems this winter, for sure, across the world. We’re watching Ukraine get its power shut off.Freeing Energy is for entrepreneurs and innovators to some degree who want to have cleaner, cheaper, and more electricity systems. Click To Tweet
This idea of resiliency is moving beyond an existential question into something that’s very real for a lot of people. Also, solar batteries have become so doggone cheap that it’s affordable for people to do this. It’s cheaper than buying electricity from the grid. This whole book was born. It had been such a journey and such an enjoyable time. I interviewed 400 people from all over the world. I climbed to the top of a wind turbine. I sat in the headquarters of the largest solar company in the world in China. I sat in mud huts in Africa. I went to European solar manufacturers. I was having a great time.
The book that came out of it, I’d like to think of some pretty big ideas that have been fascinating. I finished it not long ago and I’m still getting more calls than when the book came out. The idea is starting to resonate. Back then, energy wasn’t political as it is now. President Bush passed a bunch of laws to make renewable energy affordable. They were re-upped by both parties and presidents. This time around, the US government is leaning into it in a way that no other world government has.
This Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t do a lot of inflation reduction, but it’s fantastic for clean energy. It’s going to create millions of US good-paying jobs. It’s going to put the US dependence on China and Saudi Arabia substantially smaller. While it is still politicized to some degree, you notice it doesn’t get the same political acrimony that some of the other things we see up in DC. I’m excited. It’s a great time to think about small clean energy. That’s what the book is. It is a manifesto on how to do that and do it well. I’ve been flattered at the attention and the recognition the ideas have gotten.
Environmental sustainability is such an important topic. You’re right.
That’s exactly why I wrote the book because everyone leans into the, “It’s an environmental thing.” It’s not. This is the whole point of the book. It doesn’t use the term climate change anywhere in the book. The entire point is this is a fantastic business. The industry was born out of environmentalism but leave that aside. You could hate the environment. You could want to shoot all the baby seals that you’re going to see, but if you want to get rich, this is the hottest industry in the history of humanity to make a lot of money.
It’s interesting. I don’t know when the two things got conflated to begin with. How is it that something that’s environmental or that you would use the word environment get the rap somehow that it’s not profitable or not-for-profit even?
Many years ago, it wasn’t. The only reason you would build a large wind farm many years ago is the government was putting pretty huge subsidies and even more subsidies than the government gets for fossil fuels. The renewable subsidies have gotten smaller. What they did in this big law they passed was to broaden a number of things. It’s not just solar and wind. It’s all kinds of energy production and energy distribution. It’s a great time to be in energy. Hopefully, the book will be interesting and inspiring to some folks who I wrote it for. The opening of the book says it’s written for the 10,000 entrepreneurs and innovators that have not yet entered the industry but who will join the industry and change the world.
My last question is going to be a play on that. For the most part, our company is committed to wellness in the workplace. That’s why we speak about resilience. Resilience is one aspect of what it means to create workplaces of well-being. I want to know how it is that you renew your energy. We’re talking about renewables and clean energy. We have to constantly be refreshing, recharging, resetting, restoring, and regenerating ourselves. I speak to renewable companies. I get called in for that conversation quite frequently, which is fun. That’s a total blast. My question to you is what’s something that you do that is a way that you create your own renewable energy? Maybe it’s a practice ritual or something like that. I want to get your philosophy on that.
Someone told me a couple of years ago brilliantly that the definition of an extrovert versus an introvert is an extrovert recharges their battery with people and an introvert recharges their battery by themselves. I am a hardcore introvert. I’ve spent my life acting like I’m not, but I am. These times I mentioned earlier when I get by myself aren’t for ideation and big thinking, but it recharges my batteries.An extrovert recharges their battery with people and an introvert recharges their battery by themselves. Click To Tweet
It takes energy to talk to people for me. If I get away from all human beings for a couple of days, that’s probably the biggest thing that I do. On those rare occasions in my life when I’m not quite as busy as I am, I love to build things with wood, metal, a hammer, a nail, and a saw. To spend a few hours in a wood shop and come out with something that didn’t exist before is a source of great reward and battery charging for me.
You said it earlier. There’s a lot you and I have in common, interestingly enough. Despite appearances, I regain my energy in solitary practice or in small settings. You put it well there. The objective truth is that I prefer to be alone. It’s not because I don’t love people or want to be around people. It’s that I know that when I am depleted or tired, I can go to a source of power for me that will restore me well beyond whatever capacity is needed.
People, through youth, inexperience, having not suffered maybe, or not having those moments of pain, don’t know themselves well enough to know how to recharge. That’s why anxiety, exhaustion, and things like the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting are terms that are used when people are suffering. It’s a great amount of suffering, which is optional.
I know that might sound a bit harsh even, but to a great degree, that’s why I asked you that question. Is it hardest to deal with yourself or to deal with others? My philosophy on this is that it’s hardest to deal with ourselves. When we learn how to deal with those challenges we’re experiencing like emotions that feel funky or that we don’t want to experience so we repress them or suppress them, we learned that from our parents. They’re like, “You should never show your anger or sadness.” That’s a problem that can be resolved by going inside. We don’t go inside best when we’re in a crowd of 10,000 people. We do that on our own.
Those are wise words. I agree.
Bill, I couldn’t have enjoyed this conversation anymore.
Thank you. I feel the same.
Thank you for giving me a great morning. I love this. I would love, as we always do, to make a request. This is to the audience here. If you enjoyed reading what Bill had to say, and I can’t imagine not, first of all, go out and get Freeing Energy. Go to FreeingEnergy.com. This is a book you should go check out. We would love to hear from you. If you’ve got a comment for us or even a question, I can get that question to Bill. It’s easy. You can get it to him, too, in his usual social channels and whatnot. You can go to AdamMarkel.com/Podcast. Leave a comment. Let us know what you thought of this conversation. Leave a review.
I don’t know algorithmically how it works. I know that when you all give this thing a great rating, and five stars is terrific, then somehow or another, more people get to tune in. If you think more people should be tuning in and you are willing to aid us in that endeavor, we’d appreciate that great review as well.
Lastly, I would say this. If you are in this moment where things feel great or they feel not so great, that thing that you’ve decided in your head like, “This sucks,” or, “That’s great,” or whatever, that may not be the objective truth. You may not know what the objective truth is for 10 or 20 years. Do what you can. Take care of yourself. Restore your energy however it is you do that. It could be around a lot of other people or in some other solitary way but renew your energy. In that way, you get to keep showing up each day. Maybe someday, you go through the crucible by doing the next right thing and something great comes of it. Thank you, Bill. Thanks for that sage wisdom.
Adam, it’s a pleasure and an honor. Thank you for having me. It’s been a wonderful conversation. Thanks for all the work that you do.
It’s a pleasure.
I suspect you love that episode. I did, too. He is an executive’s executive, a manager’s manager, and a founder’s mentor. He has done some pretty remarkable things. To create a company that ultimately becomes an organization that survives long enough to do that, come through some of the most harrowing experiences in any business where you’re facing a cyber attack or cyber-attacks even, and not only live to tell about it, but come out the other side of that stronger, more resilient, and more able than you were beforehand despite the fact that people were ready to fold up the tent.
If that has ever been a situation you’ve dealt with that you needed to hide, duck, cover, etc., what we got from Bill was an insider’s look at what that situation involves. It was not only how he came through it or how he came through the crucible as an entrepreneur with a tech startup but ultimately came out the other end of it as an IPO or as a company that was able to thrive and not just survive. Ultimately, that enterprise was sold to IBM and the rest is history.
Bill let us, in detail through the belly of the beast, feel it. He let us experience it through his memory. We went through the eye of the needle together. He talked about what it takes to be able to move through something so disruptive as that and more. Something in every entrepreneur, whether you’ve been on the other end of a cyber attack or on the receiving end of it, ransomware, or anything like that, or you’ve not, you understand what it’s like to deal with disruption and to worry. You sometimes worry about cashflow, making payroll, being taken out by your competition, by new technology, by the government, or by the changes in rules and regulations.
There are so many things that are lurking below the surface that can take out even a mature company, let alone a company that’s in a startup phase. To hear from this seasoned operator and entrepreneur was tremendous. Some of the things that I took away that I’m going to remember were his statement to his team at the time that they were being attacked and people were in fear. Back in the day that this occurred, many executives then would’ve wondered whether they could have gone to jail or could have been brought up on charges because their organization was under attack or had been attacked and sensitive information was being compromised. This was a very harrowing period of time.
The thing that Bill shared with his team that they must do was to do the next right thing. Those were his exact words. He said, “Do the next right thing and then do the next right thing after that.” Ultimately, they were able to pivot their way through that very harrowing experience, avoiding the landmines, and not just surviving, but coming out the other end stronger. That is my own personal research on resilience. That’s what it’s led us to understand. Resilience individually and organizationally is not about bouncing back. It’s not about how you simply endure things. It’s about how you restore. It’s about how you bounce forward stronger than you were before. Clearly, that’s exactly what Bill Nussey, in his own words, was describing.
We talked about authenticity, this particular word that gets thrown around a lot, and turned it on its side. We talked about raw humanity and radical transparency. I love that part of our conversation about getting out of our comfort zones, the objective truths in life and in business certainly, and what those objective truths look like. We asked the question, what is the hardest thing to deal with? Is it you? Is the hardest thing to deal with yourself in situations where you’re being challenged or is it the outside forces, which are the forces beyond our control, the uncertainty, and the unknowns themselves?
We talked about our ability to tolerate a certain excruciating pain in the space of the unknown and how curiosity is so important in that process. We talked about being too stupid to give up, how we survive the journey of the entrepreneur, and how we come through that crucible or, in other words, adventure. We talked about signing up for an adventure and what that looks like. We talked about focusing on the question and the relationship between questions and answers.
We asked the question, do more people talk themselves out of things or talk themselves into things? Do you talk yourself out of more things or talk yourself into things? We also discussed the Imposter syndrome. Since that term gets thrown around quite a bit, we got below the surface and used some more novel language or more language that seems to be closer to the heart of the matter. Bill was vulnerable and shared some things about Imposter syndrome from his standpoint.
We talked about embracing the suck and so much more on this episode. If you have loved it and enjoyed it, read it again. Share with a friend. Leave us a comment at AdamMarkel.com/Podcast so we can find out more about what you did love, what questions you may still have, and where we might even bring Bill back for a second bit to the apple here or part two to this particular conversation. If you’ve not yet assessed your own level of resilience, it’s as simple as taking three minutes out of your day by going to RankMyResilience.com.
Get your free three-minute assessment. Find out how resilient you are mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. If you want to find out more about the Change Proof body of work, the book, as well as the digital product to support you and your teams, simply enough, go to ChangeProof.com. You can get all the information there. I want to thank you for your support of this show. Thank you for the reviews that you leave. Those five-star reviews help the algorithm to help us help more people. That’s what we’re in it for. Thank you for lending your support to that endeavor. Have a blessed and beautiful rest of your day.
- Bill Nussey
- Freeing Energy
- Change Proof
- Your Mountain is Waiting
About Bill Nussey
Bill has spent most of his career as a tech CEO, helping lead several startups to successful exits including an IPO. His companies have created billions in shareholder value. In 2016, he left the tech industry to join the climate revolution. It started with a TED talk which grew into the #1 podcast on renewable energy and most recently, a new book called Freeing Energy, which was the #1 new release in energy on Amazon.