Not long ago, I was inspired by an article I read to bring my son to a Triangle Startup Weekend. That article was written by Joe Procopio. Procopio had brought his daughters to a Startup Weekend to inspire and educate them about entrepreneurship. I shared Procopio’s feeling that teaching his children about entrepreneurship at an early age is important. And because he shared his experience on his blog, I was inspired to also take action.
Today, Procopio released on Amazon a collection of similar inspirational, educational and entertaining blog posts in his newest book, “It’s All Nonsense, Volume 2.”
The book is his attempt to scale the writing, advising and mentorship he provides to local entrepreneurs.
If you live in the Triangle, are remotely involved in the technology or startup scene here or have read this news site before, then you know or know of Procopio. But for the uninitiated, here’s what you need to know about him.
Procopio is a serial entrepreneur—he’s been founding or working in startups for the last 20 years. He now works at Automated Insights as Chief Product Officer, where he was the first management hire and recently helped the team with its multi-million dollar sale to Vista Equity Partners.
He’s a writer. He founded this publication in 2010 and sold it to American Underground (owned by Capital Broadcasting Company in 2013. He’s contributed to publications like WRAL Techwire, The News & Observer and The Chicago Tribune.
He’s also a mentor, advisor, parent and band member.
And soon, he hopes to teach kids ages 5-22 how to build their own startups through, “Teaching Startup.”
To find out what inspired him to write the book series, I sat down with Procopio for a Q&A.
What is the “It’s All Nonsense” book series?
It’s a compilation of posts from my blog, but only the ones that deal with entrepreneurial concepts. The goal is to explain the soft entrepreneurial skills needed in all walks of life in an anecdotal way. But it’s not just for entrepreneurs. It’s for anyone who wants to further their career, pursue their life’s passion, write a book, raise their kids, etc.
The book came about so I could help as many people as possible. I get emails all the time asking for advice or help, or to meet for coffee, lunch or a beer. But I can only answer so many emails, or drink so many coffees, or have so many beers. It wasn’t scalable.
The book is my way of scaling my advice, and putting it in people’s pocket.
Who should read them and why?
Anyone who feels like they’re not in the place they want to be with what they want to do with their life. One of the things I’ve taken away from startups is I wake up every day satisfied and happy with what I’m doing. But I realized that’s not just because I work in startups. For some people, their satisfaction comes from being an entrepreneur. For some that might be working at IBM, being a teacher or working at a hospital. But in all of these professions, the same “nonsense” gets in the way of our work giving us satisfaction. Most of the things that are holding you back are “nonsense”—hence the title of the book. When you figure that out, and how to change it—it opens the door for life’s pursuit and happiness in whatever you want to do.
You dislike the term self-help or business/career advice as descriptors for this series. So how do you categorize or describe these books?
That’s a good question. I think those descriptors are valid, but I don’t want the books to be limited by them. Self-help often gets into 12 step programs or seven habits…the same kind of thing I was fighting in startups. There’s no one path. Everyone’s path to success is different.
Plenty of people have written about how to get investment, how to make good pitch decks, etc. But very few people have written about the sort of soft skills I touch on—leadership, risk tolerance, risk mitigation, planning, networking, decision making, even product/market fit.
The same things w/ business books, a lot of them are awful. I don’t want to be categorized with them, but a lot of what these books are is career advice. But it can be applied to anyone, even if it is coming from an entrepreneur.
How do your books differ from other business advice books?
They’re anecdotal. The best way I’ve found to teach is to tell stories…with a point in that story. It’s a fine line because I don’t want the books to be about me. But it’s just like I say when I talk about mentoring. The main job of a mentor is to say, here’s how I did that. These books are a compilation of the challenges I’ve faced as an entrepreneur and some anecdotal advice on how I dealt with them or what lessons I’ve learned.
I pull from my own experience. Being neck deep with ExitEvent for 5 years now, as well as starting my own companies, going along with Automated Insights, etc. I’m pulling out of that track record and telling those stories in an entertaining way so that they’re fun, interesting and a good quick read.
And I’m really covering those soft skills that aren’t talked about much.
I also use my kids a lot (in my writing and vetting my ideas) because if I can take these concepts and explain them to an eight-year-old, I can get them across to anybody.
What should readers expect from the books?
Mostly I want people to enjoy reading them…. And feel like they learned something with each story, enough so they go back and read them again at some point in the future.
And I want to make them laugh. This world, especially startup and career needs more levity and to be taken less seriously.
Again it’s all nonsense at the end of the day.
How many books will be included in this series?
As many as until it stops being fun or helpful.
I honestly don’t know if e-books are the best delivery mechanism. It makes sense to me because it’s something I would use, but I think these first few volumes will bear that (whether e-books are the best delivery mechanism or not) out.
I may combine them, I may lengthen them, it just depends on the feedback I get. They’re iterative. Volume one was the alpha, this (Volume two) is the beta. I’ll take what I learned from this one and apply it to the next one.
There are huge steps from Volume one to Volume two, and there will be even bigger steps made in Volume three.
And eventually “Teaching Startup” will get folded into this. I’m going to rewrite and repurpose this content for kids to teach these concepts. I’m just still trying to figure how to scale that even more.
Why are you writing these books and why now?
I think the concepts in the books are important and nobody is really doing it and if they are they’re not doing it well.
So my entrepreneurial sense says someone should step in there and bleed honesty and truth.
It’s the same reason I started ExitEvent. Entrepreneurs weren’t networking, and when they were it was really small event. They had trouble finding each other. And they needed a resource to learn about each other and learn tips from other entrepreneurs. That’s how it started and it just blew up.
This (the It’s All Nonsense Volumes) is more education, but with less news and less about networking.
Where does your inspiration for writing typically come from?
I have to. I always have. It’s funny, when I first started ExitEvent I was writing every day from about 5:30-6:30 AM. I’m able to do about 2500 words a day that way. Now I’m writing once a week or every two weeks.
I just had all this extra stuff I needed to say, and just as an exercise—just to get it out—I started writing more again. This exercise, writing my thoughts and ideas down, is where a lot of my best ideas come from anyway. Since I was writing, I thought I might as well put it on my blog. Then someone advised me to start putting my blog posts into book form. We’ll see if it plays out. But no matter what, I’ll keep writing.
How do you manage your writing, work, planning for teaching, music & family?
Just constant time management. And I have a very understanding wife. And waking up early, that’s a huge thing. I’ve got about an hour before the kids need me. And I’m usually the last one awake in our house.
There are limits though. You have to prioritize. For me, family comes first, then work, then extracurricular stuff (like my writing), then other stuff. My band is way down there on the list, but it’s OK because it’s way down there on the list for those other guys too. It’s just for fun. But you have to have those other things in your life or you’ll go crazy.
When I’m doing something like ExitEvent or the blog, I find my work gets better, my time with my family gets better, and it all gets better. As long as I don’t overdo it.
How did Automated Insight’s acquisition impact your work/life/writing balance?
I had less time initially. Pre-acquisition, while it was underway, and directly after it, all I did was Automated Insights 16 hours a day. But I saw it coming and cleared my life out.
Once I got that time back—about 4 extra hours a day—it gave me that time to do stuff like this. Some weeks I don’t have the time, so some weeks I can’t write. But that’s the great thing about this. I’m not on anyone’s schedule, I can write what I want when I want even in the middle of the night. It doesn’t pay, but that’s not the point.
Who do you go to for advice? (virtually and/or in person)
A lot of people. At any given time, I’ve got one or two actual mentors I’m meeting with asking for advice regularly or calling or shooting email to.
And then the people like my wife, my best friend, my dad—those people around me are always a good influence.
I also learn from the people I’m mentoring. I told one of them yesterday that I’m aware they’re doing more for me than I am for them. And people in general.
I’ll have a meeting on my calendar for a person coming to me for help, and feel like I don’t have much time to spare. But then you do it and when you’re done I always without fail pick up something. The more I help, the more I get help.
Online, there’s not really anyone I get a little out of a lot. Some authors do (inspire me), but not anyone I check in on every couple days to get advice or motivation.
One of the reasons I’m doing this, I wish there A. had been somebody like this when I was starting out and B. wish there was someone doing this now.
What’s the favorite piece you’ve written?
“Wanna win? Learn to hate losing.” Because it was personal, which I don’t do a lot. That one was pretty much all me. It had a really good point—to not drop off the cliff unless you’ve done a little mitigation and preparation first, and how we don’t always do that. I got a lot of good feedback that was also personal. People told me a lot of personal stories, it was really moving.
I also got a hug. It’s the first article I’ve gotten a hug off of.
My personal favorite pieces you do include bits about your kids, how do they feel about you writing about them?
They like it, when they know about it which isn’t always.
Parents make great entrepreneurs, there’s so many lessons you learn from them, if you can explain it to an 8 year old, you can teach that concept, and learn it live it. I’m hoping people who don’t have kids get as much as those that do.
Teaching Startup- I don’t have that as defined as I want right now, but have people interested in getting involved. Like all of my startups and ideas, I first thought of it a couple years ago and booked the domain name. It’s only been in the last week or two that I realized it should be a part of this (book series), but I don’t know how yet.
Right now I have the content and the drive, I just have to figure out the process.