Ed Warren considers himself an EQ guy versus an IQ guy. Not that he isn’t smart, but because he’s relied more on the former for his successes. “Things that drive success are rarely the person who has the raw IQ power to solve your problem the fastest,” he explained, “but the person who has sufficient IQ horse power and is factoring in the many other really important factors which often go overlooked, like team dynamics, the implications of a decision, your ability to hire more members, putting yourself in the mindset of your customer. It’s more EQ than IQ.”
Emotional Quotient or Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has helped Warren navigate through the uncertainty and sometimes overwhelming process of being an entrepreneur, from connecting with customers to building a top-notch team to handling stress. In September 2016 he co-founded Zippity Cars, a Boston-area mobile automotive service that comes to your place to perform work onsite. With customers often wary of exactly what they’re paying for when it comes to car maintenance, EQ can go a long way toward empathizing with them and connecting. This has been absolutely critical for his startup success.
“Understanding peoples motivations, what makes them tick, trying to understand the customer’s pain points, and understanding what causes their frustration are important,” Warren said. “For example, if the customer thinks car maintenance is a hassle, what exactly about it is a hassle? Is it getting to the garage? Are you worried you’re not getting a fair deal? Is the work actually getting done? Is it feeling a little insecure because you’re not an expert on the car? You want to feel empowered to make a decision but you recognize you’re not an expert.” His and his team’s job is to engender trust, but he knows getting that buy-in can be nuanced.
There’s plenty of uncertainty, so figuring it all out and coming up with actionable items can be confusing, messy, and overwhelming, says Warren. Then you have to get people excited around the vision. That goes for any startup. “All of those challenges are far more EQ then IQ,” he said. “If you’re trying to solve nuclear-powered vehicles, you need to get that algorithm perfect so you have to have the highest IQ you can get. But if you’re trying to solve problems in a more holistic way, then I think EQ is really the most important thing.”
The EQ Debate: Nature Versus Nurture
With Warren so attuned to EQ, we asked him about the nature versus nurture debate. That is, can you improve your EQ or are you born with what you get? “I think it’s a combination of both, which is a copout answer,” he chuckled. He then described his own path to developing EQ, which was a result of finding himself somewhat at odds with the mores and politics of his surrounding environment. Finding himself viewing situations from an outside perspective challenged him to think from both sides, and he believes this gives him an advantage. “That exercise was pretty palpable in helping me think through issues from another mindset or different perspective,” he concluded.
Disciplined Process Counters Uncertainty
After college, Warren entered the U.S. Air Force, and would go on to manage the nuclear weapons system at a Cheyenne, Wyoming-area base. Naturally, we were curious how a regimented military experience might have prepared him for overcoming the sometimes fluid challenges you face as an entrepreneur. Without missing a beat, Warren said it helped him to approach the chaos of entrepreneurship in a structured way. “I was an ambitious young kid but forgetful, easily distracted, and there was no place for that in the military,” he explained. “There is no excuse that you forgot to bring something; there is no excuse that your uniform wasn’t perfect; or no excuse for you not having memorized the appropriate material. ROTC really kicked my butt in college.” He came out of that experience with higher expectations for himself, and then the Air Force “set a high bar for professionalism.”
As Warren explained, “I went into the nuclear missile group, and that as a career field is defined exclusively by process. You cannot launch a nuclear weapon accidentally, you cannot miss a piece of classified inventory when you’re doing crew changeover. It is extreme attention to detail, relentless attention to process. What I’ve found personally is I appreciated the challenge, and it was good for me professionally. But what I realized was I needed more flexibility in my professional life. I needed a little more leeway to be able to implement big ideas, to find ways to improve processes.” It all informed his more holistic approach. “I think there is a really important balance of being able to deal with uncertainty and confusion and still have a clear path forward,” he said. Because there is so much uncertainty, he warns against accepting the extreme conclusion that you might as well walk into it with no preparation. He espouses taking an approach that brings both a disciplined process and high flexibility, including an ability to think on your feet and adjust.
Finding the Right Co-founder Can Be Tough
Even though Warren’s two co-founders dropped out of the business – entrepreneurship wasn’t the right fit for them at the time – he still believes co-founding is the best route. “I would 100% recommend having a co-founder rather than trying to do it solo. Just the energy of starting a company, hitting your milestones, appeasing investors, dealing with uncertainty, is all an enormous burden so having folks in the foxhole with you who aren’t leaving or are incentivized to stay, share the vision, that will be the difference between getting discouraged and giving up and continuing on.”
“The selection is tough, right?” he said of finding a co-founder. “Businesses get started because people latch onto an idea at an incredibly early stage, and those people might have the perfect complementary skill sets, or they might be people who just share a vision. Those are two very different things.” Once the company is humming along and you’ve lost that initial co-founder dynamic, or original enthusiasm, that’s when you could hit a crossroads. “So there’s that really tough and critical moment at that early stage where you kind of look the other person in the eye and say do you want to go for this?” But Warren makes it clear there’s more to it than that simple question. “I think entrepreneurs need to force themselves to be intentional about it, and ask the opposite question of each other out loud, Why on earth are you the person I should do this with?
“There’s so much momentum in the beginning and you want to see it come to fruition, so it’s hard to stop and say, What are the implications going to be of our relationship? Are we aligned with this vision? What are our motivations going into this? What will the skill sets be? What will the roles be? There should probably be a clear and definitive leader of the group from the beginning. That’s something that should be planned early, so everyone is comfortable with it and so there can be a clear vision that’s implemented well. The sooner and more thoroughly the entrepreneur can do that, the more heartache they can save themselves because these issues only become more complicated, not less.”
Don’t Go Through the Hiring Process for Process Sake
Subsequently, in building a team, he knew he needed people with not only complimentary skill sets but comfortable with the many uncertainties that come with a startup. “I did go through an interview process with multiple people,” Warren recalled of filling a particular role. “I have learned in this process that you need to have sufficient process, but if you come into the hiring process with a clear sense of what you need, and you find someone who hits that on every level, delaying the process purposefully like going out and looking for alternatives is not a good use of time in the startup world. The key is knowing what you’re looking for.” So, when he came across someone who clearly fit the bill, Warren moved fast to bring them on board.
Entrepreneurship Is an Infinite Challenge
Now almost two years into the startup and a solid team in place, Warren still finds the job daunting. “As a CEO of a company you’re responsible for the vision that you are espousing can actually come to fruition, for your employees, your customers, your investors. That is an entirely new level of responsibility even for me. I was responsible for the maintenance and security of enough nuclear weapons that would cover [an area] the size of Rhode Island, so I’m used to having a lot of responsibility. The differences are that for one (the Air Force) you are simply executing the plan with a lot of help, whereas for the other (Zippity), there are no limits, no guardrails. You could work all day and all night every single day and you would still have more to do because it is an infinite challenge. The ability to see a problem that is that big and feel the weight of it, and still be able to say, I’m happy with the progress and I’m turning it off and I’m going to bed, is incredibly challenging. It’s something I’m still working through, the ability to turn it off. I found some methods for it, but it’s definitely a learning and growth process for me.”
One of those methods is building an off the grid cabin in Northern New Hampshire. “That is a really nice way of breaking the cycle, and having to focus on something else,” Warren explained. “When you make yourself focused on something else, it’s the first chance to actually clear your head in a really satisfying way.” Enter the cabin. But even it was a process.
In 2017 he found himself trying to solve a really challenging project at the cabin: the installation of plumbing and electrical systems that relied on wind turbines and solar panels. “I would get stressed about it. The cabin serves a function right now in my life, which is to balance out the stresses of entrepreneurship. So I made a rule for myself for the rest of the fall and the winter: I was going to do only incredibly simple tasks that I knew I could solve and I could see the results of. So I did interior siding, drywall, just worked on very boring, very straightforward projects. It let me focus on nailing, cutting, mudding, sanding, and that was exactly what I needed. It was actually almost a meditative type process and just something that was controllable and simple, to lower stress levels and see the results of my labor immediately. I highly recommend something at that level. If you’re solving super challenging problems, trying to tackle additional very challenging problems is probably not the right tactic at that moment.”
Perspective Can Get You Out of a Rut
With the CEO job come headaches of course. “There’s absolutely a lot,” Warren noted. “A dissatisfied customer, an unhappy investor, these are things that I deal with on a daily basis. Some of them can be really bad, ones that I stay up late thinking about. The thing that is going to make me feel the worst and make me stay up late at night is when I have failed someone else, when I took on the responsibility, trying to do the right thing, but ultimately did the wrong thing. It could be a hiring decision. It could be telling someone you’re not going to be renewing their contract, and then realizing maybe that was the wrong decision. These are highly personal decisions with a lot of implications for the people you work with.
“I can recover from a lot – unhappy clients, and investors who choose not to invest money – but there are really powerful relationships that you build and you try to maintain those by doing right by each person. When you’re running a million miles an hour as a CEO, you make mistakes, you don’t spend sufficient time to do certain things correctly, you have to make your decisions faster than you would like to, and things get broken and people get upset. You do your absolute damnedest to not do that, but occasionally it happens. Those are the moments that are really hard for me. When you are someone who tries to do the right thing and fail to do that, it weighs on you pretty hard.”
We asked Warren if there’s a process he can take himself through to get out of a rut as quickly as possible and get back to being productive. “Yeah, I think I’m getting better at it,” he answered. “This is tough advice for someone who is new to entrepreneurship, but the best way to not go into a downward spiral is to have a breadth of experiences where something went wrong in the past, where you failed someone, and you fixed it and things improved, and you have a Rolodex of those experiences that you can draw on for when another one happens. As a young person you have a smaller base of experience to draw on, and so when something goes wrong it represents a larger percentage of your life experience. So I don’t have any magic bullets, but perhaps pretending you have more experience, and say to yourself, Imagine that I’m significantly older and I’ve started four startups and I made a mistake, how would I have fixed that mistake? Think through into the future and contextualize everything that happened, because if you are truly trying to do your best and have established good relationships with people, the truth of the matter is you probably didn’t do anything catastrophic, and you’re probably blowing things out of context. So try to create that sense of context even if you don’t have it.”
Fundraising Is a Second Fulltime Job
With Warren on the cusp of closing a round of funding at the time of our interview, we also wanted to know how that was impacting him emotionally and mentally. Even with a great team in place, it’s left him stretched thin. “Fundraising is a job in its own right. There’s a desire by the entrepreneur to say, Hey I’m going to build a great business and the money will just flow in at the right time. So I will focus on that, and when we need money I will go out and ask for it. Because we’ve built a really great business, it’ll work. Even if it doesn’t work, I don’t have any options because I have to build the business. That’s true. But it’s also a great reason to have co-founders because the truth of the matter is you need to approach fundraising like you’re starting a brand-new job.
“Okay I’m coming into this new job, what do I need to learn about this job? What’s the landscape? What are the internal office political dynamics? I have a goal I want to achieve and I need to start laying the groundwork to pull off that goal by creating relationships with people and asking them for advice. It’s a longitudinal effort to do that fundraise. For me personally, I did not do enough of this advice I am now giving. I focused on building the business and tried to do fundraising with 15 percent of my energy for a while. As we built the team out last fall and spring I’ve had the luxury of saying to the team, Hey I’m 90 percent gone. I’m 90 percent dedicated to fundraising and this is what I’m going to do. To make a fundraise happen, you have to get a huge pipeline of folks, like it’s a business, like you’re a salesmen. If you try to compress that, which is what I did, you just make it that much more challenging, that much less room for error.”
Assuming the first round closes without a hitch, Warren can get back to running the business, but he also pointed out, “I’m going to start laying the groundwork for that next fundraise, that next major influx of capital within 24 hours of closing the first round. That’s what’s necessary if you want to set up success, and want to lower stress in the process.”
But we wondered if on another level closing a round might actually ratchet up the stress? Is it possible that such a success can make you unhappy because you just want to get the next plateau? “Totally,” Warren acknowledged. “Entrepreneurs have to ask themselves from the beginning do they want to go the venture capital route? Because it’s not something you do halfheartedly. It’s not something you dip your toe in. If you’re going to build a company that’s going to go for venture capital, you should not start out searching for venture capital. You should start out with a business model that addresses why you want to go that route, then back out your capital needs.
“The reality is, if you want to start a company in a competitive business landscape that requires you to grow really fast because that’s the nature of the beast, and growing really fast requires an external influx of capital, then that’s most often venture capital.” In his case, VC money makes sense to capture market share quickly. Trouble can happen if going that route was not right from the start: “I think the stress will only ratchet up with each round if it was the wrong decision from the start, if it’s really not where you want to be. But if you intentionally come into the process, you need to do it, well, you’re going to have investors at each stage. Of course, there’s going to be additional stressors, it doesn’t get simpler. But the dynamic once you start down that path is pretty consistent.”
To Succeed, Source the Wisdom of People
With all the complexities around his business, we asked Warren if has a mentor or board of advisors he can bounce ideas off of, confide in? He explained that up to this point it’s been an informal board of advisors, but there will be an official board of directors formed once they close the round. As for a mentor, he said, “The personal mentorship has been critical for me. In this world of entrepreneurship you do not have a chance of success if you’re not sourcing the wisdom of people. They’re going to have conflicting opinions. One might tell you, you are completely wrong if you go down path X. And then someone else you really trust will say, you’re completely wrong if you go down path Y. And then you have to pick one of those two. You can’t make good informed decisions if you’re not always getting the input from a variety of people.” He’s gotten advice on everything from market strategy to managing employees to raising funds. And still he wishes he had more mentorship opportunities. “Mentorship is not something that’s easy to come by. You have to invest a lot of time into it. It’s a relationship you have to build. You can’t just go to someone out of the blue and expect a really thoughtful answer if you don’t put in the time.”