Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur“ we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Judson Kauffman.
Judson Kauffman cofounded Terradepth with his long-time friend and business partner, Joe Wolfel. Prior to founding Terradepth, Judson was surface warfare qualified intelligence analyst, a search and rescue swimmer, and a Navy SEAL. He has co-founded three other companies and serves on several boards. He has an undergraduate degree in business from Belmont University and an MBA from the McCombs School of Business.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Judson Kauffman: The idea came from a combination of a love for the ocean and observations of the advancements in space exploration. It didn’t make sense that there wasn’t someone building a “Space-X for the ocean”, given the modern state of robotics, AI, and autonomy. There was a memorable moment when we said to ourselves “we should map the entire ocean”.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Judson Kauffman: As a kid, I never knew what I wanted to do. Even as I was getting ready to leave the Navy at 28 years old, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. However, I have always wanted, more than anything else, freedom and autonomy. Running your own business can provide that if you’re disciplined enough to do the work that has to be done. To succeed as an entrepreneur you need self-belief, a vision, a plan, and self-discipline. All of these attributes must be developed.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Judson Kauffman: There are hundreds of people who have influenced or helped in some small way and I can’t begin to list them. I see inspiration every day: in children who are immersed at the moment and filled with joy, in parents working multiple jobs to support their families, in unreasonably successful people like Jeff Bezos, Oprah, or Joe Rogan, and in people who are close to me and give me love and support.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Judson Kauffman: Terradepth is already in an extremely niche group. A company setting out to build a virtual ocean isn’t something you see every day — in fact nobody’s doing it and that’s why we took on the challenge. Given what we do, our company stands out on its own. We certainly weren’t the first people to identify the immense potential of the ocean as an economy, but we believe that we are the first people to have found a way to harness it on a scale. It would be absurdly expensive to use manned boats and submarines to explore, observe, and characterize the entire ocean. Our idea is to build an accurate, comprehensive, and immersive virtual ocean. We’ll do that by sending relatively inexpensive autonomous robots all around the planet to collect the data, and maintain a persistent presence so we can see how the ocean is changing over time, every day.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Self-mastery — I have not mastered myself, but the constant process of trying to get there teaches you a lot about yourself. Where you’re strong, where you’re weak, how you work, etc. This helps you build much stronger plans and teams.
Vulnerability — this is a product of the self-mastery process, and it is important because you’ll need help to build something great, and the best way to get good help is to find people who trust you. The best way to build trust is to be open, honest, and vulnerable.
Love — First, love of self, because you will fail to meet many of your own expectations and if you can’t silence your inner critic that says “you don’t have what it takes”, you’ll have an impossible journey ahead. You have to forgive yourself. Second, love of others, because they’ll also let you down but if you can forgive them then you’ll never be able to grow your team. More importantly, by giving others some love — or call it positive energy if that word scares you — it will come back to you in immensity.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Judson Kauffman: Put yourself last. This is the worst guidance I ever received. I followed this for a very long time and I nearly drove myself over the edge. We all need to put ourselves first because if our own cup is empty, we’ll have nothing to pour out for others. I enjoy being my best self around others, and I can’t do that if I haven’t invested some time every day in self-care.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Judson Kauffman: Experiencing nature regularly. There’s this crazy stigma that entrepreneurs are expected to be on screens for 60+ hours a week, resulting in both mediocre solutions and high stress. Spending time in nature gives us fewer choices, improves our attention span, and helps us work more efficiently and creatively. I find my energy is at my fullest when I take the time to experience nature. When my energy is high and I can focus, I can easily fit a normal American workday into 4 hours of rich output. If you want to chemically experience the benefits of nature, the minimum time required is 45 minutes a day. Also, don’t let yourself or your teammates work too hard. We recently had to force a vacation week because everyone was driving themselves too hard.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Judson Kauffman: Be honest, be vulnerable, be open. Don’t feel the need to appear to be more competent, more knowledgeable, or more anything than you really are. Despite what many people say they believe, humans admire authenticity above anything else.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Judson Kauffman: Too many people are so afraid of being themselves that we have come to a point where originality is extremely rare, and this is what the business world needs more than anything else. That’s where true innovation comes from.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Judson Kauffman: Someone thinks “I have a good idea for a company”, then they put together a business plan, raise money, and launch a company. They skip over something called Market Validation, wish is simply a combination of thorough research and person-to-person interviews with prospective customers/stakeholders. Do 100 interviews, ask “Will this work? What do you like about this idea? What don’t you like? What’s missing?. This simple exercise will dramatically improve results and it only takes a matter of weeks.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Judson Kauffman: Things tend to become very emotional for entrepreneurs. The cliche that the company your “baby” exists for that reason. So, when it’s good, you feel high; and when it’s bad, the pit of your stomach becomes a stomping ground… You hire employees who trust in you to keep the shift afloat — and they have kids, who you have met — then you might see your bank account dwindle down to such lows that you aren’t sure if you can make payroll. I’ve become physically ill more times than I can count just because of this kind of stress.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Judson Kauffman: At the start of my entrepreneurship journey, I always tried to do it all for the company, as I thought a good leader should. But, inevitability, this wore me out and spiraled to depression.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Judson Kauffman: After I endured enough stress, I decided I needed to have introspective analysis and I spent time working on myself. By doing so I learned who I truly am and who I am not — that led to a clear definition of my role based on strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Now, I choose to work with those who fill the gaps, maximizing my potential and business.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Self-mastery – I have not mastered myself, but the constant process of trying to get there teaches you a lot about yourself. Where you’re strong, where you’re weak, how you work, etc. This helps you build much stronger plans and teams.
Vulnerability – This is a product of the self-mastery process, and it is important because you’ll need help to build something great, and the best way to get good help is to find people who trust you. The best way to build trust is to be open, honest, and vulnerable. I am not an engineer, not even remotely, so every day I have to admit ignorance on much of our product development. That’s tough for most of us to do, but it is sure better than pretending to know something you don’t, that will bite you in the ass again and again.
Love – First, love of self, because you will fail to meet many of your own expectations and if you can’t silence your inner critic that says “you don’t have what it takes”, you’ll have an impossible journey ahead. You have to forgive yourself. Second, love of others, because they’ll also let you down but if you can forgive them then you’ll never be able to grow your team. More importantly, giving others some love — or call it positive energy of that word scares you — will come back to you in immensity.
Intellectual Curiosity – I haven’t yet met someone I am truly impressed by who wasn’t an avid reader. Get after it; maybe one day someone will look at you as truly impressive.
Health – Life = energy + time. You can’t do anything about time, but you can take a lot of control over your own energy, which is controlled almost exclusively by your body’s endocrine system. Manage your endocrine system like a pilot manages the instruments in their cockpit. This system, which you control with diet, exercise, etc., regulates metabolism, growth/development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things. If I look at my “dashboard” and see that my mood gauge is reading high on the angry side (my epinephrine is spiking) I have a few things I can do to bring that level back to normal, like breathing exercises or a walk around the block. I’ve found this to be a very helpful way to look at things.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Judson Kauffman: This is just toughness. One’s ability to recover from pain. There are a few things you can do:
1. Intentionally expose yourself to stress. This can “inoculate” you to a degree. Go somewhere you don’t usually go, talk to people outside of your circle, climb a mountain, etc.
2. Stay healthy, this makes everything easier
3. Work on self-mastery!
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Judson Kauffman: Being positive all the time is a challenge — which is something I’m sure we all have in common. It is important to sit with whatever emotion our body produces in reaction to a particular stimulus. I like to feel that natural feeling for a while; once I understand it and have let it serve its purpose, then I start to apply mental fortitude to try and move on. Simply having a mindset which acknowledges that a positive attitude is always helps you get through hard times is super important.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Judson Kauffman: As Carl Buhener quoted, people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. When I was on my first combat mission in Iraq, our commander came over the radio as we began to take fire from the enemy. I do not remember what he said, but I do remember that he was very calm, very cool, and confident. That made me feel like we were going to be just fine.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!