#008 – If you’re like most other entrepreneurs, then the way you think about success is completely backward.
In this episode, I sit down with Robert Von Goeben, a former Silicon Valley venture capitalist turned entrepreneur. He started Green Toys, which recently was acquired by a private equity company.
Robert has experienced a lot of life. As he says, he has a lot of miles under his wheels.
Early in his career, Robert had a warped idea of what ‘success’ meant. Now, Robert shares his wisdom on how you, as an entrepreneur (and as a person), can think about success in a healthier way.
This transcript was done by a machine. We apologize for any errors.
Joey Randazzo: (00:00)
Just a heads up. This episode has some swearing.
Joey Randazzo: (00:08)
Let me ask you a question and really take the time to think about it. When you think of the word success, what do you think of? Take a second to think about it. My guess is you’ve got success backward. What is success for fun? I went to Reddit, a great place to go and I found a post called how do you define success? And I’ll share with some people wrote about how they define success. When adult you is happier than high school. That’s what one person says and other person says, being able to support a dog in myself, but, but now let’s get some more serious ones. Some people said things like, to me, success equals accomplishments, the ability to live a life to the fullest and do as much as you can in the time you have here. Another person says success is when someone is happy, truly happy, not just thinking they are happy in the short term with their own life. So what is success? Is it being able to take care of your dog? Is it being happy? And in this episode of overcoming the mind, I sit down with a Robert Von Gavan, a former Silicon Valley venture capitalist, founder of green toys, a company that had a very successful and lucrative exit and the current investor in Portland, Oregon. And today we talk about how entrepreneurs often think about success and failure completely backwards.
Joey Randazzo: (01:49)
Hello and welcome to overcoming the mind. My name is Joey Randazzo
Joey Randazzo: (02:13)
I’d like to thank one of our sponsors, American that dream U American GMU helps the military members in their families that transition back to civilian life and find their dream job or start a business. Everything they do is 100% free to military members in their families. To learn more, go to American dream U, the letter U. Dot org as always, you can listen to the full unedited version of this episode with email@example.com backslash success and failure are talked about a lot. We often think about it as a binary thing
Rob Von Goeben: (02:59)
and this idea of failure versus success and this idea of being binary. I’m a failure, I’m a success.
Joey Randazzo: (03:05)
Robert started a company called green toys and ecofriendly toy company a couple of years ago. He hit the pinnacle of success as an entrepreneur. He sold the company for millions and millions of dollars the day that that wire transfer hit his account with a ton of cash. Here’s how he felt as the quintessential success story of an entrepreneur.
Rob Von Goeben: (03:30)
I do remember the day the wire transfer hit my account and we had a party among the venture capital firm and all of us. We had this thing at Buckeye in, in mill Valley, California. We had a big, had backdoor patio. We, everybody in the company, we were drinking champagne. I looked in my, in my eye, the head of the private equity company came over and said, look at your bank account, and I got the email and it said, can Greg, you know, Oh, the transfer had gone through and I remember going home crying of joy of just relief and stress, but also uncertainty on what the, the next, the next part of my life. I remember it was one of the few times I stopped at a bar on the way home by myself and had a beer. You know, I come from an alcoholic family and drinking alone is really kind of a, uh, a telltale sign of something’s wrong here, right? So I just stopped at a bar and had a beer by myself and on the way, I was just crying and it was just like, it was relief. It was happiness, but it was fear and it was, it was just so much on me at one time. And then I’ll actually have all this money and all these kinds of things. It all just pounded on me at one time.
Joey Randazzo: (04:44)
Why did Robert, again, probably deemed as the quintessential success story in the entrepreneurial world feel this way? To me it’s all about how we frame success versus failure. As entrepreneurs, it comes down to comparisons. Most people’s definition of success is dependent on other people’s situations. When you stop to think about it, that’s completely backward. And I’m extremely guilty of comparing myself to other people, especially other entrepreneurs. You know, after a year of being in business, they’ve got 20 million in revenue. I’m nothing close to that. He drives a Tesla. She’s only 24 and she has already exited her company. So how does Robert, after 30 years of being an entrepreneur, how does he think about success? He shares a story to explain.
Rob Von Goeben: (05:37)
I have to give credit to a particular firm that I did business with wood. We wanted to sell our company. We did business with a firm called Meridian capital out of Seattle. They’re an investment bank. They raise money for companies and they, they do sell side consulting. So, and they asked the question of, you know, w what do you, what’s your goal? And we said, well we want to hit index million dollars in sales. They said, no, no, no, no, no. What’s your goal? What do you want to do with the company? I’m like, well, I want it to be like the glue global leader. They’re like, stop giving me the market. What do you want? And I said, I’m ready for some peace. And serenity.
Joey Randazzo: (06:18)
Success is something you define. It’s not some standard that other entrepreneurs set. So take a second to really think about this. If you’re not driving, write it down. But before you do, Robert shares some words of advice.
Rob Von Goeben: (06:35)
If the answer is I want money and that is never the right answer,
Joey Randazzo: (06:40)
money is a part of entrepreneurship. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want money in that I didn’t want my business to continue to increase its revenue and for me to personally make more income. But what Robert’s saying is that if success equals money, then when is enough enough? There’s always a more money out there. If you’re chasing money, you will never be happy. And there are a lot of entrepreneurs that have acquired a lot of money that say the same thing. So take a minute and really think about what success means to you. Is it impacting a certain number of people with your business? Is it having a flexible schedule so that you can coach your son’s little league? Is it just staying in business and keeping the doors open? It really depends on your situation and your definition of success. One important thing.
Joey Randazzo: (07:35)
Success doesn’t have to be the end result in entrepreneurship. There are just so many variables that are out of your control. I think that success when defined really needs to consider the journey, not just the finish line. Because if you define success just as that external accomplishment, just as that finish line, then you’re setting yourself up for a really interesting situation. One, what happens if you don’t get to the finish line? Then according to your definition of success, you’re a failure. The second is what happens if you do get to that finish line? Then what happens after that? So if you fail to define what success means to you, then you’ll end up chasing other people’s dreams.
Rob Von Goeben: (08:25)
Yeah. Then let me give you, I don’t give you a personal example. I’ve got into venture capital. I got into it out of, you know, just, you know, happenstance. It was just luck that I got into it through that era and um, and it was the thing everybody wanted to be in Silicon Valley. You wanted to be a venture capitalist from Silicon Valley venture capitalist. So as I was doing that, I realized to everyone else, this was the ideal situation. I had these big, you know, main brand investors. I had a $35 fund. It was small and manageable. It was San Francisco. And I realized a, uh, I didn’t like it. And B, you know, I wanted to go earn my stripes before I did it. So that’s when I got out of it and went back to it. So, um, but again, this idea of success was you should want to be this, this is awesome and that’s a hard thing to stop. But I think you just gotta stop the comparisons
Joey Randazzo: (09:23)
again, take the time to think about what success means to you. With that in mind, what is failure then?
Rob Von Goeben: (09:31)
And so failure tends either, either failure is you just can’t do it. I mean, in some cases you do just fuck up. You don’t put enough effort in, you know, try hard enough any of those types of things. But a lot of times it’s just you’re doing something because you think you should and, and that’s the wrong reason to do any of them.
Joey Randazzo: (09:49)
I think Robert makes a great point. If you quote unquote fail, you first need to evaluate if what you were doing in the first place is something that you even should be doing based on your definition of success and based on your definition of success. If you fail, that’s fine. If you did what you could to make shit happen, if you really tried, if you did everything you could for your definition of success, taking into account that that part of success, remember is the journey, then I don’t, I don’t believe that you ever truly fail. I believe that you can only learn from those experiences. Again, if you, if you start with your definition of success in mind and you consider the journey part of that experience.
Joey Randazzo: (10:39)
Since speaking with Robert, I’ve really thought about what success means to me. Uh, and I’m going to share that with the audience here so that you can see how I’ve started to frame success in my mind. Again, remember, I did not do a good job of this throughout my life. A success was always a comparison. It was always looking at other people. The, you know, the other entrepreneurs that have already made it. And so in the short term success means three things. To me personally, it means being the best partner to my fiance, Emily being patient, being selfless, being empathetic, being a great listener, and really putting her first as much as I can. She’s the most important thing to me and I, success to me personally means doing everything that I can in our relationship professionally in the short term success means, uh, impacting 250 businesses or more and employing more than 25 military spouses by the end of 2021.
Joey Randazzo: (11:49)
Uh, that’s the accomplishment. Part of success for me professionally and the journey is I want to still have the flexibility to, you know, go for a hike on a Thursday morning. So the journey aspect of it is, is professionally having a work life balance that allows me to do the things that I love spiritually. Success means to continue to make meditation and mindfulness, uh, as well as cold exposure and other, other spiritual things that I do, a habit that I do at least five days per week. And so this is strictly a journey definition of success to me. I want to thank Robert for taking his time, uh, to share on this podcast. I really appreciate him doing that over the last couple months. He has become a mentor of mine and has added some tremendous value and wisdom in my life, uh, personally and in my life. Uh, from a business perspective, you can learn more about Robert by going to his website, which is Vona, gheybin.com and the O, N G O E B E n.com. Robert has also started a really cool investment fund called the starter fluid in Portland, Oregon for businesses that sell physical products, he helps turn small scale makers into full fledged consumer products companies. You can learn more about that as starter fluid.
Joey Randazzo: (13:31)
Again, thanks for listening to this episode of overcoming the mind.