Failing Your Way to Success with Bill Powell

From achieving his goal of becoming trilingual by age 30 to working with founders of early-stage companies, Bill Powell has dedicated his work to redefining relationships with ourselves and others to create a world of more meaningful, authentic connection. He uses a people-first approach to take startups to the next level, inspire greatness, and propel humanity forward. 

In an inspiring conversation on values alignment, Bill reminds us to be present, set our intentions and follow them with action, focus on the experience rather than the outcome, and fail early and often to reach success sooner. Listen now and learn how to start failing your way to success.

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human









Alex Cullimore: Hello, Cristina. 

Cristina Amigoni: Hello. 

Alex Cullimore: We just finished up with Bill Powell, which was a great conversation. He's just a really interesting guy. I mean, you've known him for many more decades. But I’ve loved every conversation we've gotten to have with Bill.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, super fascinating. Just the background, the conviction, the intentions. He's one of those people that at, whatever, three, four, five years old, decides that he's going to be trilingual. And, well, he becomes trilingual. That's just how it is. And that's how he approaches life. 

Alex Cullimore: He’s one of those people. I don't think you could have a conversation with Bill and not learn something. You couldn't walk away and not have some new curiosity sparked. But that was definitely what I felt walking out of this. He's got great ways of just simplifying how he approached his life. And it's such a great approach. I hope everybody gets the same feelings. Because that was really fun. 

Cristina Amigoni: It definitely was. Yeah, I had a huge inferiority complex around him when we were in grad school together. 

Alex Cullimore: He just found that out now listening to this. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. The whole time, I was like, "I’ll never live up to what he can do." 

Alex Cullimore: I think we're doing well.

Cristina Amigoni: I think we're doing well. Yes. Yes. A very rich conversation about being present and just living authentically. All sorts of great topics in it. So, enjoy. 

Alex Cullimore: Especially around starting a company and being present, and just a great overlap between those and what that means. And what happens down the road? And how to try and figure that out at a time. Super interesting.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. People flow values. Shockingly enough, values are what make or break startups and companies. I had no idea. 75 episodes. Never mentioned that.

Alex Cullimore: I think we mentioned it every single time. 

Cristina Amigoni: It's nice to know an investment person who actually confirms that, who actually sees failures of companies and successes of companies, and it's all about the people. Shockingly enough. Exactly. And it's all about the values. Maybe we're not all that useless. 

 Alex Cullimore: We're not crazy after all. 

Cristina Amigoni: I know. Maybe we're not crazy. Always nice – 

Alex Cullimore: Hope you enjoy this conversation. This is a very fun conversation with Bill Powell from Black Lab Sports.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. Enjoy. 

Alex Cullimore: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives. 

Cristina Amigoni: Whether that's with our families, co-workers, or even ourselves. 

Alex Cullimore: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

Cristina Amigoni: This is Cristina Amigoni. 

Alex Cullimore: And this is Alex Cullimore. Let’s dive in.

Cristina Amigoni: Let’s dive in. 

Authenticity means freedom.”

“Authenticity means going with your gut.”

“Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.”

“Being authentic means that you have the integrity to yourself.”

“It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.”

“Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.”

“It's transparency, relatability. No frills. No makeup. Just being.”


Alex Cullimore: Welcome to Uncover the Human. We are joined this week by our guest, Bill Powell. Welcome to the podcast, Bill. 

Bill Powell: Hey, great to be here. 

Cristina Amigoni: Hey, nice to have you.

Alex Cullimore: Bill, let us know a little bit about yourself. We've gotten to talk to you a couple of times, but not everybody has gotten the chance. What's up?

Bill Powell: Well, what's up? I’m just some guy with a telephone. No. I'm just like everyone else, trying to make it with a quantum computer in their pocket, I guess. 

Cristina Amigoni: Getting radiation through your ear. Yeah.

Bill Powell: That's right. Answer with Bluetooth and hands-free. But grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Proud Missouri native. And headed off to college to Canyon College in Ohio and realized quickly that I needed to learn another foreign language quickly. In fact, that connection with other people was important to me, communication relations. And how could I live my whole life only knowing one language? 

I’d grown up in a pseudo-bilingual home with German grandparents when I was a baby and they spoke to me in German from the age of six. And so, I set off on this mission to be trilingual by the age of 30. And I hit it along the way. I ended up getting a job at Deutsche Bank on Wall Street because I spoke French and German. And then went on to a series of startups. Did my master's in Paris. A series of fintech and tech startups in Scandinavia, in Stockholm, Sweden. And then we're going to take a sabbatical, my wife and me. She's Swedish. And we're like, "Oh, let's go to Denver. Our family's there. Let's take a year or two off." 

19 years later we're still in Denver. It doesn't really feel like a sabbatical anymore.

Cristina Amigoni: Quite the sabbatical.

Bill Powell: That's quite the sabbatical. Sometimes it kind of feels like still. But had a chance, over the years, to just really work with some amazing people and learn from them. A lot of master builder and builder types and other thinker doers and perform due diligence on private equity venture capital, renewable energy type investments. And then start to expand those investments across my own portfolio and those of others over time. 

And so, now I’m a partner at Black Lab X up in Boulder. Local known as Black Lab Sports where we're really trying to hyper enable and inspire greatness and others around us in order to help propel humanity forward. And so, it feels like some really meaningful work to me around human potential and in areas like vitality and longevity, and consciousness. We can dig into that later on. That can be a lot of things. And community and the environment. Because we want to make sure it's broad enough. I’m a liberal arts guy. significantly broad enough.

And then, really, with a people-first approach. A lot of people who invest, talk about deal flow. We don't talk about that. We talk about people’s flow and people's values. That's who I am in a nutshell and what I'm up to these days.

Cristina Amigoni: Just a little bit. Just a tiny little nutshell. I love the people flow piece. I wish all businesses thought that way, instead of deal flow. 

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. That's especially an interesting angle for investment. That tends to be like you're saying, a lot of deal flow, a lot of structure around what's the ROI on this. What led you into some of the more people-first flow? And what does that mean like day to day? 

Bill Powell: I think it kind of started back when I was taking value-based leadership classes at the University of Denver. And I was in my early 30s, and I thought people's values are set already by that time. Why are they giving us this coursework? I did all this political philosophy and stuff. And lo and behold, down the road, when you start to see why early-stage companies, the space I’ve been in for about 20 years, why do they fail? It's usually because of people. Where's the breakdown? Is it the lack of complementary skill sets? Sometimes. But most of the time it has to do with the difference in people's root definitions of right and wrong, values. The things that our parents taught us. What's good? What's bad? 

And I started to get clued in a decade and a half later after having studied this and being like, "Why are we really –" Oh my gosh! That's really why a lot of companies don't work. Why do people break down? Because suddenly they get traction. And something called avarice or greed kind of enters, "Oh! We can make money. Wait a minute. I should have more. You should have less. Wait a minute. We should renegotiate that." 

Was it Maya Angelou who said people show you their true colors? You better believe it.

Cristina Amigoni: The first time. 

Bill Powell: Right? That's where I started to key in over the years. I saw this kind of process. They're really good companies. And other companies fail. Why? And many times, because of the people. Not because of the skill sets necessarily. But the values. 

People having like a people-first approach or thinking about the flow of people. It's kind of like when you were a kid and your parents said, "Hey, be careful. You are who you run around with." It's funny how this just keeps coming back. 

And so, the people-first can mean people with amazing domain expertise in something. But also, with amazing value systems that are also different maybe than mine, but highly complementary to what mine is. And we look for that across groups of people. And that's really powerful when you can kind of capture that type of lightning in a jar. 

Cristina Amigoni: What do you see breaks down? Is it that they find out that their values are different? That their true values come out later? A combination of both? That there's an assumption of values? And then when the money comes in and it's time for greed, something else shifts?

Bill Powell: Wow! That's a lot.

Cristina Amigoni: All of the above?

Bill Powell: As you asked the question, I’m thinking of like chapters of the book. Anyway, Cristina, it could be a long podcast. 

Cristina Amigoni: We don't like talking about values. 

Bill Powell: Not at all. 

Alex Cullimore: All the time. 

 Bill Powell: Oh my gosh. People are unique individuals. You can always try to group people into categories and think, "Okay, whatever." Everybody's unique. They have to be their own authentic self whoever they are. It can be highly situational, too, right? There can be exogenous – In certain situations, it can be truly exogenous factors that just push things out of a degree of comfort in terms of zones, right? Like, three, four standard deviation type events that occur exogenously in the economy. It's tough for a lot of people to get through those. Together, you start to really test your metal. 

And then there's the other side where it's a good times type of economy and things start to take off and somebody's like, "Wow! I can get more than you. Whoa! All right." In some cases, of course, this is very natural because somebody's actually earned more, they put in more. Someone else is more committed to this. Typically, in those situations, it doesn't lead to like anything like a negative breakdown in relationships. In fact, it can be very positive and liberating. 

But there's the other side of this where it breaks down where – And those companies, actually, that can reconcile those differences. They probably have better value systems or are closer to one another, right? They understand the fit of self and problem and themselves within a group of people because they're thinking, "You know what? This is something more than just one of us. Yes, that's fine. I can make this change." It's when people – A degree of ego kind of steps in where I can't be replaced or I could make more money if you're not here, that type of thing. That's where it kind of breaks down sometimes. 

Just to be more general about it, but kind of tie that off a little, too. Each case is unique, right? There's a really good book out there by a guy named Noam Wasserman called The Founder's Dilemma.

Cristina Amigoni: Oh, yeah. We read that. 

Bill Powell: Yeah, it's all those vignettes, right? And there's a lot more to it than just some soft things I mentioned there already in my opinion. 

Alex Cullimore: Can you talk about doing due diligence and finding these things out? Are there indicators you've come to look for or where it might be a mismatch later? I mean, if it comes in externally, sometimes I imagine that's hard to see before it happens.

Bill Powell: Yeah, it is really hard to see. It depends. It's like The Economist says, "On the one hand, but on the other." When you think about it, it's a very unsatisfying answer. But truly, tend to see people who over time have become specialists in a certain area of the corporate finance curve or the business curve, right? From the very first like pre-seed. Like we're in the garage moment. Too like we raised 100k. We raised some seed money and we got to a series A or whatever the metrics are. Maybe there are certain people who are really good at that part of the journey. They're looking to repeat that with success, right? And they're really good through like series B or something. 

And then there are other people who are used to getting on midway through a series A and then kind of flow through a high degree of growth of a company. And so, I kind of think about people in that continuum as well with regards to starting up, whether it's like a traditional venture startup or if it's just a business. And you can kind of see in people's background the difference between real background and recommendation versus the aspirational side. And I think as long as there's clarity between those two things, what's aspirational, then you can kind of true that out and suss it out a little bit more. 

Cristina Amigoni: Very interesting. You did mention people are unique, the self that they bring to the table. And we've talked before about bringing your best self, being present. How do you find that in a startup environment where the journey does change? And also, there may be some of that, "Oh, I’m supposed to be this person at this stage. Or I’m supposed to be this person to maintain my status as a founder and not get kicked out." 

Bill Powell: I think that's also a degree of societal pressure that's kind of misplaced at times, particularly during the extreme good times when you have like the market, we've just been through in terms of how startup. That's been very bullish, right? With lesser diligence controls, right? I think people have been a little looser, a little faster, and more founder-friendly. And I think about that in terms of status, right? Achieved versus ascribed. Let's go back to our cross-cultural values. 

What I’m hearing you ask is where the transom is between ascribed versus achieved. I think when you show up with your most authentic self, your true self, and where you're willing to look at your greatest competitor, yourself, in the mirror each day, there's a degree of ascription versus achieved, and you try to find that with people. Does it really matter to them? 

I find that the people who are really busy, like getting a lot of – What's the expression? Get shit done, right? They're the ones that really get things done. You have a lot less of that. Because the achievements there and so were the failures, by the way, right? 

People are more afraid of failing than maybe the early-stage kind of young corporate culture. It might not really be for them, because you have to have a degree of risk appetite. And you have to be okay with being wrong all the time. It's kind of like learning a foreign language. It's an opportunity to be wrong 99% of the time until you start to become slightly more correct. You have to grow. You have to make a lot of mistakes in order to find the success out of that.

 Alex Cullimore: I distinctly remember making up a couple of Spanish words in the middle of an oral exam one time and realizing it as it happened. Definitely, if they can relate to the foreign language portion. 

I love that you mentioned failure, too, because that's just – I mean, it's inherent. Eventually, you're going to have mistaken. There are going to be things that go well, that don’t go well. What would you have to say as far as any comfort maybe you could give or just general thoughts on failure? For people who are starting out, maybe they're worried they have had a failure before, but they want to go try again, want to have an investment. How do those conversations go if you have people who want investments that maybe the previous venture didn't work out? Or how does that factor in? 

Bill Powell: I think that's something I like to call experience, right? What is the very perhaps overused Wayne Gretzky quote? Don't make 100 shots you never take, right? And it's so true. If somebody's iterating or collaborating, you want to look at how they've been iterating and collaborating and how thoughtful they've been about why things broke down. But failure – By the way, I’ve never met an investor who hasn't hung on too long. I sure have. Oh my gosh! The number of failures, they're everywhere. It's the stuff that's in your book of lessons learned, right? It's like, hopefully, through all that iteration, you can get down a path were like, "Oh, gosh. Okay, this time actually might be different. And why?" 

And there's a tendency to shy away from something like that. But I think that when I meet people who have just iterated and iterated and iterated and finally made it, start to make a breakthrough, it's pretty amazing. I’d encourage people to – If they're going to fail, fail as quickly as possible, so they can get to the successful part. 

I think the other side of that is, are lots of founders and founding teams and companies, they think that people who make investments don't fail. Oh, yeah. All the time. And so, it's like my kids ask me what I do. I’m like, "I spent a lot of time failing." They're like, "No, dad. Come on." Oh, yeah. Welcome to life. 

Cristina Amigoni: It's a good lesson for them to hear. 

Bill Powell: It is. I heard it last year. Who cares about chemistry? You never ever use that. I'm like, "Well, actually, let me tell –" You'd be surprised why that's important from high school all the way into your professional career because you never know when you have to pick something up and learn it quickly. 

I’m a strong believer in being a lifelong learner. You can never stop learning. I mean, every day is incredibly humbling being around a lot of people I’m fortunate enough to work with. Because part of our theme is that science is sexy. You combine that with the people flow. You can imagine some of these conversations. And as a non-technical person in some ways, other than finance, I’m just like, "Wow! I’ve got a lot of reading to do tonight," right? Just to hang on. 

Alex Cullimore: That's a great way of describing it. And personally, I’ve had a lot of mixed results and trying to impart that upon people who are of school age, because school is so – This is what you're learning right now. And there's easy success or failure. And it's all based on what you know in the test. And it is very much like failure is not rewarded. Even though it is what we think of as the learning time of our lives. Learning is not also necessarily rewarded if it's all towards tests. And it's just interesting to see that play out. And then we swing everybody into the business world where it's like, "No, you're going to go fail a lot. That's going to be what it's going to feel like." It seems like a disingenuous way to prepare people for how life is. 

Bill Powell: Oh my gosh. I think about that so many times as well. That's why grading really matters, particularly at a university level. It should be as honest and true and as objective as possible, although it's ultimately all decisions are subjective in life, right? But it takes a lot to realize that when you get your professional career, "Oh my gosh. As long as I’m more than 50% on something, I’m in the plus column," right? I totally agree. Nobody tells you. You have to learn that. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yep. It's a really good point, this whole you're going to work, and you go into a culture. And especially, lately, it's all about feeling forward. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to take risks. And the pre-work timeline is when you fail, you don't pass. And if you don't pass, you're left behind, and you can't go to college and all these things. You're never taught that failure is the way to go or that it's okay. 

And even in business, a lot of times, it's lip service. The minute you do make a mistake, then you're publicly shamed, or there are consequences. So, you tell me to fail and risk. But then when I do, I’m punished? Not exactly motivating. 

Alex Cullimore: Don't fear failure. But I’ll give you something to fear.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. 

Bill Powell: Understanding that we have this tendency – We can talk about how a company or a situation like that can be more than the people in it, which it is, right? Because as we like to say, it's the square of the nodes thinking, Metcalfe's Law. Four versus one. That's pretty amazing, right? I mean, the power of four versus the power of one in terms of like founders or whoever's starting it. 

And I think that when I think about that failure, it's probably one of the most difficult things in life to handle. But when people fail, it doesn't mean that they failed as humans. Oh my God! They went out they gave it their best shot. And, okay, what's the next move, right? How do you win that down? It's about how you support each other through that, I think. 

Yeah, I don't disagree. This whole public forum can be incredibly harsh on people. But what I find behind at least our approach and the way we like to approach things, it's much more about the compassionate side. I mean, it's hard. Doing stuff that trying to address some of the biggest problems that you think are facing humanity and then feel comfortable enough to let your freak flag fly and be your ultimate outlier self, the outcast. And then to have it not work out. That's conviction, right? And you have to – As someone who works with founders, I mean, I feel like all I can do is try to support them even more once that's happened. You have to. 

I mean, plenty of times in my career, I’ve been the outcast, I’ve been the outlier. Like someone says, "No. That's not –" What I learned over time is, "Oh, maybe I’m starting to get to the right track," right? People think this is really unconventional. And you have to nurture and support those people. And that's why an ecosystem of people who have good value, is really important. You don't want to fail with a bunch of people who are going to just kick you to the curb once it's, "Oh, didn't work out." Whatever.

Cristina Amigoni: So true. What does it take to live in your values? 

Bill Powell: It takes somebody like me who's – I’m usually trying to multitask when I shouldn't. And it takes a lot of focus and intention. It takes a lot of practice. I can't say that I’m really great at it. We all struggle with it from time to time. But I think trying to be as present as possible. And that can almost sound cliche nowadays. But truly, like, you're here. This is what's happening right now. The past and the future. The future, we know nothing about it because we're treating it as if we're in the present. 

You can kind of either look up and be part of that that helps you be your most authentic self and bring your pure values. I think that's about the only way I know how to do that. I know that it's easy to run into issues with value misalignment when people aren't present when they're distracted. And then later on they say, "Oh, I didn't mean for that to happen," right? Or "I’m just as guilty as anybody else of that." 

And so, being here on this conversation we're having today, you have to focus, and you have to be there. Otherwise, you can't bring your truest values, your pure values, your good values, at least not for me. And that starts with intent and how I kind of set up my day. and I look about it and think, "Okay, how am I going to be the best possible version of myself for those people at that time?" And probably more importantly, how am I going to be the best possible version of myself for myself? 

 Sounds selfish, and egotistical. But I know from experience, that if I don't try to do that first, I can't do the other things. Friends, family all these people, right? Emotionally and energy-bankrupt by the end.

Cristina Amigoni: It's the oxygen mask. Put yours reversed on.

Bill Powell: Absolutely. Absolutely. How do you guys do it? 

Cristina Amigoni: Very similarly. Meaning, intentionally. Embracing the failures. Not giving up, deflating, blaming, and self-blaming when I don't do that. A lot of self-awareness. A lot of self-compassion. And just those moments of pause to reflect back when the best moments are not met. And to reflect on the ones the best moments are worth well. What did I do to set myself up to show up as my best health at that moment? Having a podcast where we talk about this stuff helps a lot. 

Bill Powell: Very helpful. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. I’m big person integrity is a big value. If I say something and it's out there in public and then I don't do it, I definitely have a lot of internal disturbance that I don't want to deal with. 

Alex Cullimore: A joke to say that Cristina and I have at least 20 times probably a year at this point texted each other to be like, "Yeah, okay we do need to do the thing right here that we have talked about dozens of times.” Now's the challenge. Now we rise to it. And it sneaks up on you sometimes, because there's reason and there's feeling not to. You want to like to protect yourself. Or you want to be right. Or you want to not have been wrong. Or whatever. Whatever's coming up. You want to do that.

And there's been many times we have to remind ourselves, "Right, this is why we talk about these things. This is why we want to share this." It, honestly, personally has helped me tremendously that we have these many conversations because it's the repetition and the understanding. 

I loved your answer, Bill, for like being present. That is a great way of doing it. Personally, I had to back my way into that one. I started a lot more with like – Cristina and I, we were talking about this before we started recording. But she was talking about you process emotions. You figure out where that is in your body, right? There's a lot of that backing in and being like, "Okay, wait. How am I feeling right now?" And then starting to get in touch with, "Oh, okay. I can recognize this feeling from a previous moment of self-reflection." And that's where you slowly – By inspecting and reflecting on the past and what was the present then, it's a lot easier to be present now. And then you can get a little bit more ahead of, "Oh, I’m starting to feel the drift. I’m starting to feel the pull where maybe I’m not lined up. This doesn't feel right." And it might take a little bit to go investigate and get that back on track. But I think being present is a great answer for that. I hadn't really thought of it in those words before. But that's the goal. Set that intention at the time.

Bill Powell: right? It's not always simple. Not so obvious. But what's the definition, really? I mean, are we talking about three dimensions? Or whatever? I mean, seriously, what is? The intention is everything, at least for me. And then it's quickly followed by the action of being present and focusing. 

And when I can have those serendipitous moments, it can lead to a real state of flow. In some of the conversations I have, I just feel very fortunate to be with the other people in that. I had a diligence call for an interesting company with some interesting human potential tech out of Denmark. And the guy I was speaking to was doing due diligence from Vancouver. And it was like it's the highlight of my day, right? 

I mean, this is obviously really cool, too, right? It's going to be a big highlight, too. But up until that point, I was like, "Wow! I showed up," and we went through the conversation. It was honest. It was revealing. Where we thought of the shortcomings, but also the positive things and the people involved. And you can't fake these things, right? I guess you could, but I don't know why you would.

Cristina Amigoni: I think a lot of people try to fake them. 

Bill Powell: You do? 

Cristina Amigoni: I'm going to say I do. 

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. The build tends to come due. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. 

Alex Cullimore: Push it off for a bit, but it'll come for you. 

Bill Powell: I don't really have a lot of time for that. I know from personal experience that this can be really fleeting. Life is fragile. And truly, the world, it doesn't owe you anything. If you give first and you start to help people, and that's your original intent, and that helps you be present, it's amazing the degree of people flow. Now we're talking about a different type of flow, right? We're not just talking about coming through. But like the flow, the collective consciousness. The consciousness of yourself and others around you and being present in that moment. It's pretty special. But it takes an awful lot of work. 

We talk a lot about innovation and collaboration and getting people together who are domain experts like off the charts and whatever it is they're doing if it's rockets, or nutrition, or whatever, food tech, whatever it is. Being able to step back and help facilitate those people enter that state of flow together and try to tackle some of these larger problems facing humanity. I think we're faced with them constantly. We all know what they are, right? Climate change, food, conflict, operating systems, if we want to go that far. And how can we work together to propel humanity forward in a positive direction? 

We talk about values, intent, purpose, and being present, that's a privilege to be able to be a part of that and work with one another. And if you're faking something, then it's pretty hard to stick around. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. 

Bill Powell: Right? It's pretty amazing. Like I said earlier, I feel like I’ve had just such an amazing opportunity to work with so many brilliant people throughout my career that I just learned from. Maybe I’m a hitchhiker. I don't know. But that's really what that's about, bringing that authentic self at least to me. Like this conversation here, right? And the conversations we've had leading up to this. 

Cristina Amigoni: When people do bring their authentic selves, and that's the stage, that's the intention from all sides, there's just something way bigger than any individual that gets created. Then the individuals learn from and grow. And you can let go of the ego in the sense of worrying about what's in it for me and just realize this is way bigger than what's in it for me. This is not about what's in it for me. What's in it for me is the experience. Not the outcome.

Bill Powell: Right. And then the outcome will happen. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, the outcome will happen. 

Bill Powell: Perhaps naively so, I’ll say, it's going to be beautiful and it's going to be just the way it was supposed to be. I have to believe that. I agree with you, Cristina. That experience, that journey. Yeah.

Alex Cullimore: That's an interesting point for values, too, because not only is it the experience. And that happens all the time. The outcome, if and when it comes along, can be like a moment in time. That might be a one-time thing. But it will be in the future regardless. And you have to experience all the pieces in between. But you also then have to honestly interrogate yourself on whether you're pushing towards that outcome. Are you living in the values there? Or are living with different values? 

I was just listening to some podcast with Ray Dalio on it and talking about they have like radical transparency. And they want to have like really good feedback because they want to get things right rather than just protect themselves. And it does kind of fall back to things like that. What if your value is to feel important to be protected, that may come at the cost of being able to deliver more for the larger picture, that more honest, more, whatever, feedback that might feel uncomfortable at the moment, that might be better serving the long goal and moving more towards the actual outcome. Then it becomes a value question. 

Bill Powell: It sounds a lot like acceleration through failure to get to the successes. Being comfortable with failure, right? To kind of come back full circle here and think about that from another angle, too. I read that as well. It's fascinating, because that has not – Again, to Cristina. Well, you brought up Cristina I think at the beginning of the podcast about we go through university and no one's teaching. Or maybe you said, Alex. Anyway, it was a while ago. I think 40 minutes ago.

Alex Cullimore: We're in this moment now. It's fine.

Bill Powell: Okay. But we're at this moment. So, let's get back down to some details. Although, it didn't matter, right? No. But seriously. It's that, okay, pass, pass. Getting an A+. Okay. Get ready to fail a lot.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. A lot of F's. 

Bill Powell: Yeah, that's right.

Alex Cullimore: Classes have grades. But life is mostly pass-fail. It’s got that 50% mark. 

Cristina Amigoni: And even when you think you're passing, somebody else can come around and tell you failed. So, here you go.

Alex Cullimore: And even when you're failing, you may build towards a pass. 

Cristina Amigoni: Usually you're passing. Yeah. 

Alex Cullimore: How you eventually – 

Bill Powell: Well, you can set a lot of those goal posts yourself, too, right? We all do that in our own way, I suppose. And then there are stages. There are different stages of growth and life. And we talk about being present. But if you're not going to get hung up on the past, you can only look forward and be here right now and be like, "Okay, I’m going to do this." Maybe that'll happen in the future. Maybe it won't. But let's be as positive about it as we can and accelerate through it. 

It's funny, this is such a deeper conversation about the kinds of things we look for in people around us. I happen to work with early-stage companies. You all work with a lot of change management and different people and organizations that are really living, growing things that are people altogether that really all matter. And we're all kind of passing through those points in time. At the end of the day, those other things, change management, venture capital, or startup, are just labels really.

 Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, it's definitely an exercise in remembering the people flow of things. Because there are some moments where it would be easier to just say like, "Well, yeah, you go back into your corner. We don't really care about you here." And it's a little bit harder when you're in change management and you have those moments where you want to say that and like, "Okay. Well, that kind of defeats the purpose of why we're here. And it's not going to get us anywhere. So, let's find a different way." Because all points of view are valid. Whatever is triggering needs to be addressed.

Bill Powell: Absolutely. 

Alex Cullimore: Especially if you think about the people flow of your own life, too. Because that's easy to lose. Sometimes we feel like we have to build in a career or build towards something specific. But we are flowing in and out of organizations and have our own values changes, life changes. If you have a family now, that's now a huge priority. You have this now. That's now the number one priority. And it could have been something that was entirely antithetical to who you were before. But now you're here. If you're not – Again, present and acknowledge that. It's easy to lose your own personal flow in that. It's easy to lose your own direction. And we're all going to do it sometimes. But it's something, again, to kind of keep in mind of just being back and present. Because you'll lose yourself just as much as you can watch other people be lost.

Bill Powell: I just thought chapters in the book going by like over like 20 years or something. And you're thinking about that, right? You're thinking about the interwoven fabric that our relationships in your life. And given the context and how it all comes together. 

The other day I was reading something, some article somewhere about why HR wants to know how you're feeling kind of thing. It might have been The Wall Street Journal. And people were basically saying, "Why is my boss asking me how I feel kind of thing?" Boss, that's an antiquated word. Talk about anachronistic. 

And it's interesting, we're just people. I mean, if we lose some of this hierarchy and we just think about that, we're just people. We have a home operation mode, family, friends, or whatever our off-cycle mode is away from the office. And then, however, we interact with our colleagues. But you have to be respectful of people and their lives, that these are icebergs, right? Most of the time you see the very top. We don't really have any idea what other people are going through. And to not be intentional and authentic and compassionate would be wrong. 

Cristina Amigoni: And as you said, it has to be for the self, too. The compassion and the presence, and the empathy, and the reflection, it's needed for the self. If you're not compassionate with yourself, and take those pauses, and understand what's going on, and look at your own work in life, and family, and social, and armors, and not armors, and whatever is going on, it's so much harder to do it for others.

Bill Powell: Yeah, it really is. Recently, I was in an event that was somewhat traumatic. And a colleague of mine, we're supposed to have a follow-up diligence call on something. And he said, "Hey, wait a minute, you really shouldn't be working right now." He's like, "We can do this later." "What do you mean?" It's like, "How are you feeling?" 

And I mean, by the end of it, I spent 45 minutes of this meeting with them coaching me through what I probably needed to do and saying, "Okay. Well, let's tie off 10 minutes about this other subject. And then why don't you go home?" And you know what? I did. I went home. I took two days off. And it was probably the best nudge in the direction of self-love, compassion, starting with self, so you can love others, that anybody could have given me. And guess what? It started with someone at work.

Cristina Amigoni: It can happen. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. They exist, the humans at work.

Bill Powell: Yeah. Yeah. It's that people flow. Allowing that to happen. And to have those open conversations around these things. That's just how you feel. We're in this new hybrid world. 

I find it fascinating that when I read The Popular Press or whatever. I read a lot. And that was happening. hearing people speak about what the new normal really is. Like there's, "Oh, we're going back to – We're fighting to get back to where we were before the pandemic." No, we're not. Whoever's fighting for that, I’ll tell you, they're misplaced. But I think that because that's not this exponential movement square of the nodes thinking of the push towards hyper-enabling exponential change in society, in the business place, or wherever, for yourself, right? Because it's like this languishing curve. And then suddenly it goes up. You have to wait, wait, wait, wait. 

And here we are on this amazing moment where we're at the beginning of that curve and redefining these types of relationships and balance between the mind and the body. And that's something else we look for when I think about people I want to work with and be around. We could take these other labels, investment, change, all these things, right? But let's just face it. We want other people who also understand this evolving situation that is being present in this new hybrid world. 

We're on a Zoom recording a podcast. And we're all in completely different locations. It's awesome. It's authentic. It's very real. It didn't inconvenience anybody. And afterward, I’m going to go probably make somebody dinner. I'm going to – Someone else might go work out. Somebody – We're going to feel much better about ourselves. And the time we spent together because of that will be more meaningful.

 Alex Cullimore: I love the story you had about the co-worker who asked you just how you're feeling. It's interesting. At least in my experience, and I don't mean to put too many words about your experience into this. But I’ve only had a couple of those moments where something will shine through. And then suddenly you realize this like barrier you had between this work idea and the rest of you is actually not there. And it really helps if that can be like somebody inside of work is like, "Hey, there's you out there." And you're like, "Right, that's me, too. Let's go reconnect." 

To your point, that's who you want to work with. Because nothing is generally so urgent that it has to be answered in two hours. If what you're feeling is that your brain is dead and you could really use a day, two days, an hour even, it's going to be so much better to take that time. Then that takes that understanding from a team that's willing to do that. And that's the secret way of describing it, is it's exactly why you want those people around. That's what you get. You get that freedom to then do the things you want to do and the things you want to do. You get both ends of the stick here. And it's a much nicer way of doing it. That's how I feel personally and strongly. But, yeah, there are lots of other philosophies, I’m sure, on how people want to work.

Bill Powell: It also leads to your willingness to be able to be open to failing a little and have discussions where, "Okay, that didn't fit. Throw it out. Whatever. What's the next thing? Keep going." That leads to better collaboration. You actually get more done in the long run because you addressed it rather than – What did you say, Cristina? Put on the armor? That didn't happen. I’m fine. No, I'm not. Right?

Alex Cullimore: It comes down so much to how much you attach it to the person, right? If that failure – It might just be like it was an experiment. If we can all agree that we wanted to try that. And, yeah, that didn't work out. And maybe we could feel bummed about the money, the time whatever it was spent on that. But as long as you keep that separation. Instead of being like, "Oh, remember how Bill suggested that? Let's all make sure Bill feels bad for this." Then you're going to like to take this whole in a totally different direction. Now failure is not rewarded. This is no longer an experiment. This is an issue. 

Bill Powell: Oh my gosh. That's why building that sense of community, it’s taken a long time. My partner, John Paul, who you all met a while back. I mean, this guy, I mean, together with other people, to launch this amazing community where that's okay, right? Iterating through that and failing forward, it's okay. 

 And by the way, this exponential thinking, and we're thinking about moonshots or whatever, whatever the purpose is and the intention of marrying your own core purpose, together with what it is you're working on, can be really valuable. It can be really incredible. It can be an incredible experience collectively, individually as well, or as part of the collective. 

And through that, you will find that empathy. And failure is going to happen no matter what anyway, right? If you don't go out and step out and do it. Guess what? Someone else is going to try to do it. Guess what? They're also going to fail at certain things. And someone else would be suggesting that maybe that's Bob, right?

So, yeah, yeah, yeah. Would you give up that opportunity to not be present? That's what I think about when we look at a lot of different things. And how you spend your time is so finite. And you never know here today going tomorrow. It's very fragile. It can be gone in a second. Make it count. You owe it to yourself and to the people around you to make every moment count.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, yeah. Clearly, we could talk for days, weeks, or years. Maybe we will. We do have a couple of questions for you as we wrap up. One of them is what does authenticity mean to you? 

Bill Powell: Bringing your highest best self at all times even when you don't want to or you don't feel like you can, and still sticking your neck out to do that.

Cristina Amigoni: Especially when you don't want to or feel like it. That's a big one.

Alex Cullimore: A real conviction.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. 

Bill Powell: Yeah, which there's a lot of times you don't feel like it. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially as a parent. 

Alex Cullimore: It's okay to not feel like that. It's just part of it. It doesn't mean it's not authentic. It just means it feels hard.

Bill Powell: Like the two days before a presentation and you realize you haven't finished the slides and you need to – You're like, "Oh, wait. But I did that in my head the other – Oh, wait a minute. Hold on." I feel like I did that already. But you still have to, right? 

Cristina Amigoni: Yup. Always do it in the head. And somehow, it's not translating. Microsoft needs to come up with that one. 

Bill Powell: Yeah, they've got a long way to go. 

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. Plug into my head, and create the vision. Why do I have to sit down and type it? 

Bill Powell: Yeah, that's right. That's right. 

Alex Cullimore: The final question then is where can people find you? 

Bill Powell: A few different places. They can find me up in the lab in our ecosystem up in Boulder where we have kind of the intersection of art and science with in-house artists and all kinds of science-type people, as well as human performance and human potential, at Black Lab up in Boulder. That's the shameless plug. 

If people are interested in trying to really address, and then seriously address, and discuss some of the biggest issues facing humanity, you're welcome. Come on in. We're all ears. We want to hear about it. We don't care if you're in Kigali where my business partner, JP, is right now, ABL, at the African Basketball League with the NBA, or you're in Washington State somewhere. Having these conversations, the only difference is, is that situation or that place. It's just as important every place. 

And so, come one, come all. Thinkers, doers, builders, master builders, and other creators. These are our people. You're welcome to come in anytime. We'll listen to whatever you want to talk about and see how you fit in our community. 

Cristina Amigoni: It's a great place. Highly recommend it. 

Alex Cullimore: Love the place. Love the mission.

Bill Powell: Thank you so much. Well, thanks so much for having me today. This has been a while in the making. And I really appreciate both of you and your time. And this is a lot of fun today.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, it was worth the wait.

Alex Cullimore: Thank you so much, Bill. 

Bill Powell: Thanks. 


Cristina Amigoni: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast. 

Alex Cullimore: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood. 

Cristina Amigoni: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Alex Cullimore: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at podcast, or at our website,, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E A-R-E S-I-A-M-O.

Cristina Amigoni: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others, and always uncover the human.


Bill PowellProfile Photo

Bill Powell

Early Stage Investor & Advisor

Bill Powell is a Managing Director at Black Lab X in Boulder, Colorado. Black Lab is a full-spectrum venture ecosystem – research, development, innovation, commercialization, and investment platform. Black Lab's mission is to inspire, activate, and hyper-enable Thinker Doers to help propel humanity forward.

As an experienced investor and entrepreneur, Bill's areas of focus include diligence and funding of early-stage investments in human potential globally. He is also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Adjunct Faculty member at the University of Denver and an active board member to non-profit organizations.