I Am Thankful
November 24, 2011
Sometimes I wish we didn’t need a big production of a Holiday to remind us to take stock of what we are thankful for. Wouldn’t it be great to have a daily ritual of quickly reminding ourselves the many things in our lives with which we are blessed? Then again, I guess it would be great to work out every day, to meditate every day, to weigh 25 pounds less, to return every email, not to lose my iPhone, wallet or keys, to always be mindful. So I don’t, and am not likely ever to, remind myself daily of the things for which I am thankful. But I’m gonna do it today. Because I have some big ones.
The last year has been one of big change for me. Change can be liberating, exciting and exhilirating. It can also be scary, uncertain and overwhelming. I have made not one but two big life changes this past year: a divorce and leaving the partnership I’ve been part of for 12 years to start my own new thing. And I’ve experienced all of these feelings and more in the process. What I am most thankful for are the people who have been in my life along the way.
First is my kids. I am truly blessed with four wonderful, beautiful little (and not so little) human beings who call me Dad. I am so very proud of each of them. They’ve had some changes thrown at them, and each of them has found their way. They are healthy, happy 10, 12, 14 and 15 year olds. And for that, and for them, I am so very thankful.
Second is my friends and family. I’ve put them through their paces this year. On both the personal and professional front, I needed an extraordinary amount of stuff — advice, feedback, support, encouragement, calming down, psyching up. you name it. And I had a group of friends and family members who were always there to provide it. I received much more than I gave back, but I knew it was OK, because I needed to. For the friends and family who were always there for me, I am deepful thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
November 4, 2011
I’m thrilled to announce that my new firm, resolute.vc, is incorporated, open for business, and has a live website — the name is the url. Please come learn about us! Much, much more to come…
Small Pieces Loosely Joined
October 27, 2011
Wow, even more true 10 years later:
What the Web has done to documents it is doing to just about every institution it touches. The Web isn’t primarily about replacing atoms with bits so that we can, for example, shop on line or make our supply chains more efficient. The Web isn’t even simply empowering groups, such as consumers, that have traditionally had the short end of the stick. Rather, the Web is changing our understanding of what puts things together in the first place. We live in a world that works well if the pieces are stable and have predictable effects on one another. We think of complex institutions and organizations as being like well-oiled machines that work reliably and almost serenely so long as their subordinate pieces perform their designated tasks. Then we go on the Web, and the pieces are so loosely joined that frequently the links don’t work; all too often we get the message (to put it palindromically) “404! Page gap! 404!” But, that’s ok because the Web gets its value not from the smoothness of its overall operation but from its abundance of small nuggets that point to more small nuggets. And, most important, the Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new ways. We are the true “small pieces” of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.
From the Preface to Small Pieces Loosely Joined, David Weinberger, 2002.
Tough Love from Karen: Etiquette Matters Too
October 25, 2011
Those of you who have worked with me over the last few years probably know my assistant, Karen Saunders, pretty well. She is the greatest. Best. Assistant. Ever. Simply putting up with me is enough for a medal of honor. But it’s much more. The following lecture she gave me yesterday will give you a little flavor:
“So I read your post on Culture the other day. It was OK. But you know what? Etiquette is part of your culture too. Last week you missed two calls and didn’t tell them and didn’t tell me. That kind of sh*t pisses people off, y’know? You’re bad with this stuff sometimes. You wanna have a good culture, you can’t do that anymore. Ever. Got it?”
“Yes. You are right. 100% right. I will try harder. I really will.”
“No. You’re not going to ‘try.’ You’re just going to stop doing that. Period. Yeah, things come up and you’ll have to reschedule things, but you’ve got to let them know, and the earlier the better. Got it?”
“Yes. Got it. Never again.”
I left, tail between my legs. But you know what? I am not going to forget that conversation. Sometimes tough love is the best thing you can give someone — and the blunter the better.
And Karen’s message is a great one for me and for lots and lots of people in our business. We all are super busy, over schedule ourselves, have things changed on us multiple times per day, and generally are multi-tasking ADD types who actually prefer things this way. But, given all this, there should be some rules of engagement. Manners do matter. And they matter whether the person on the other end is critically important to us or not important at all. The whole point is treating others with respect. All the time. As a basic rule for how to conduct ourselves.
I am pretty cruddy at this sometimes. The last thing in the world I mean is to be disrespectful, I just get wrapped up in my own little whirlwind of stuff. But what Karen’s tough talk reminded me is this: whatever the reason, and whatever the intent, there is a way to handle the inevitable calendar challenges we face in a way that is respectful to others, and anything short of this is disrespectful. And it is never OK to be disrespectful.
So I am here to announce Culture Rule#1 for Resolute.vc: Zero Tolerance for Disrespect. And if any of you catch me violating it, call me out on it.
Tough love works.
October 19, 2011
After years of pontificating about startups (both here and in board meetings), now that I am starting my own little venture it’s time for me to start eating my own dogfood. Which, I have to say, is pretty cool. I’m thinking in a whole new way about the enterprise of building a business.
For some as yet unidentified reason one of the things I am thinking about is culture. Don’t ask me why a one person organization needs to bother with culture, but I can’t help myself, I am thinking alot about it. I think what got me on to this toot was a blog post by WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg talking about culture and the story behind Automattic’s corporate creed. It’s a pretty cool thing — they make every new employee sign on to it:
I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.
What’s especially cool is that Automattic really does live by this creed (or at least seems to).
So even though Resolute is only me right now, I’m still thinking about culture. And I think culture can describe not just how an organization’s internal constituents relate to one another, but also how it relates to the broader community around it, whether it be customers, partners, advisors, etc. Which applies as much to a sole proprietor as to a large firm, if not more so. So, I’ve been reflecting on what “culture” I want to establish with entrepreneurs, with my advisors and Entrepreneur’s Roundtable, with other seed investors, with big bad VCs, with service providers, et cetera. I don’t have it fully fleshed out, but what I do know is that my culture will be a reflection of ME — my personality, my values, my style. Which it has to, to be authentic. A founder who sets a culture that isn’t authentic is kidding him- or herself.
But as I’m pondering all this, I also am acutely aware that the real challenge is not so much establishing a culture at the founding of an enterprise, but rather figuring out how to remain true to that culture as the enterprise grows. Yeah, it’s a great idea for founders to fill a whiteboard with “values” and “guiding principles.” But let’s be honest — that is all a bunch of crap unless those founders can look back 10 years later and know that their company still embodies those values and principles. I know just how hard, and how rare, it is to pull this off. But I’ve also seen firms succeed at this.
Much as I hate to admit it, the success that stands out for me here is my brother and his firm, T3 Advisors. He started T3 10 years ago. Yup, 2001. Things were ugly. 9/11. The bubble bursting. Our father losing his battle against cancer. It was not a happy time. But he had a vision for what he wanted to build, and a passion to do it. So he chucked the safety and security of a partnership and the regular paycheck to launch his own firm. And, over the ensuing 10 years, we have often kibitzed about the building of a firm, the building of a culture. Examples of firms that worked hard on culture, and other examples of firms that only paid it lip service. And I’ve watched him build T3, very deliberately and very consistently paying attention to what it would take to sustain as a much larger firm the culture that made it so fun and inspiring as a 3 person partnership. Unlike most, he’s pulled this off in spades. But it hasn’t been the result of luck, serendipity, or good intentions. He’s maintained culture “the old fashioned way.”
Tonight, I gave my brother a call during my painful crawl home through the Mass Pike rush hour. (We check in with each other most days). I told him about the great afternoon I spent catching up with some old buds I hadn’t seen in years. And he told me, all pumped up, that he spent several hours canoodling with one of his cofounders about “the next phase” for T3. “So,” I asked, “what’s the next phase of T3 all about?” To which he burst out, full of excitement, “culture. 2012 is gonna be all about company culture for T3!” “That’s great,” I said, “good for you.” Not wanting to throw a wet blanket on his enthusiasm, what I didn’t point out was that, in the ten years I’ve watched him building T3, this was exactly the 10th time I heard him proclaim the next year the “year of culture building.” Which, I realized, is exactly why he has been successful at building a thriving, successful enterprise that is every bit as true to it’s founding values today as it was the day he and his cofounders left the big firm and stood in front if that whiteboard.
Culture matters. It really does. But it takes work. Don’t kid yourself into believing that just talking about culture makes it a reality. You gotta walk the walk.
What’s On My Mind
October 7, 2011
Weekly recap of the things I found myself thinking about this week.
Of course the sadness that still reverberates over Steve Jobs’ death. Reflecting on the irony that, just a few days before, my 9 year old asked me: “Dad, what are the times when something so important happened that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing?” News of Jobs’ death certainly is now one of them. On the Acela right around New Haven, sipping Diet Pepsi and working on a power point.
What it means to create an honest to goodness community — generally, and specifically regarding entrepreneurs. Up until Jobs’ death, this was by far the dominant theme of my week. It came up so, so many times. In part because this is an important driver for me in my new venture. But also just randomly. John Lilly’s great quote about identifying people you want to associate with and treating them really well. Paul Graham’s post on YC’s “Valley within the Valley.” I’ll be thinking (and writing I am sure) a lot more about this as I move toward launching my new new thing. If you have any thoughts about the ingredients that make communities really work please let me know!
How to make more users participants. It is common wisdom that for your typical social service, 3% of users are creators, 7% or participants, and 90% are just users. Publishing platforms of all types — Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, etc. — are trying to figure out how to move those numbers toward participation and creation. Saw some interesting attempts this week to do that. Expect we’ll see a lot more.
And on a more reflective note, I’ve thought a fair bit about how to make good business decisions in emotion laden contexts. Those of you who know me well know I can have strong feelings. Usually it is manifested in being really passionate about something. A company I am working with, a project (like Dogpatch Labs) I am working on, a person I am excited by. But sometimes I can have a strong reaction when I feel someone I am dealing with is not behaving well. Letting your reaction be fueled by emotion is rarely the right thing to do from a business perspective. Much better to get a night’s sleep and revisit the next day with a cooler head.
And finally, creating the vision for my very own venture. By so far the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. Happy.
Have a great weekend!
My Steve Jobs Encounter
October 6, 2011
Steve Jobs did not like government lawyers much.
Which, unfortunately, is exactly what I was when we met back in 1997. (That part is a long story I won’t bore you with here). But I spent a couple hours with him back then. And he scared the hell out of me. During that period of my career I was used to spending time with very powerful and important people, like Senators and Supreme Court Justices and Attorneys General. In retrospect, what I realize is that those people were powerful because of what they were, not because of who they were. Jobs, on the other hand was powerful. Period. In all senses of the word. Apple then was not nearly what it would become, obviously. But that I was in the presence of an extraordinarily compelling man was never in question.
i recall vividly the agonizing dilemma I faced. I was scheduled only to have a brief meeting with Jobs, and then to meet with Jerry Yang. At the time, it was Yang not Jobs who was on the cover of magazines. And as my meeting with Jobs went past its scheduled time by fifteen minutes, then 30, then 60, I was getting later and later for my Yang meeting. I was horrified that I was going to be later for none other than THE CEO OF YAHOO! But horrified as i was, there was no way, no friggin way, i was going to dare interrupt Jobs. Which of course I didn’t. And i made the right call. That was my one and only brush with a truly great man (and Yang was as forgiving as could be).
The world lost one of the few, very few, truly great ones yesterday. And it is very hard not to feel very sad about that. But his legacy is clear.
Words to Live and Work By
October 4, 2011
In his post explaining his decision to join CrunchFund, MG Siegler includes a great quote from Greylock’s John Lilly:
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, back when I was 23 and newly out of school, is this: look around and figure out who you want to be on your team. Figure out the people around you that you want to work with for the rest of your life. Figure out the people who are smart & awesome, who share your values, who get things done — and maybe most important, who you like to be with and who you want to help win. And treat them right, always. Look for ways to help, to work together, to learn. Because in 20 years you’ll all be in amazing places doing amazing things.
Well put, John, and so friggin true. This will be an important theme for my new venture…
L’shana tova — Changes for the New Year
September 29, 2011
This year has been one of pretty big changes for me on both the personal and professional front, which makes particularly apt the following New Years’ wishes forwarded to me by my brother Bob, and which I would like to forward to my readers and followers:
“The Hebrew word for year, ‘shanah,’ is based on the same root as ‘to change.’ The Jewish tradition recognizes that each new year affords us the opportunity to change. Thus, when we say to our friends and family, ‘l’shanah tova,’ which we usually translate as ‘May you have a good year’ what we are also saying, quite literally, is ‘May the changes you make in the coming year be for the good.’
What a wonderful and uplifting message. May each of us celebrate this year not only as a good year, but also as a year that we change, as individuals and as a community, for the better.”
Best Job Title Ever: “Founder, Customer Support”
September 22, 2011
I’ve been playing around with some lightweight CRM offerings and last night signed up for Worketc. And today I got an email from Dan, who introduced himself as “as your go-to guy while you’re getting started with WORKetc.”
Turns out, Dan is the founder of WORKetc. Dan goes on:
“I bet you are now wondering what the founder is doing on customer support? The reason is pretty simple. For a lot of software providers, customer support is an afterthought and usually outsourced to an offshore call centre. We have a different philosophy here. I genuinely love interacting with customers and spend at least an hour every morning reading every single interaction between our customers and our support team.And, as he describes, he loves interacting with customers and hearing what they want and need.”
He signs off with this: “Dan, Founder, Customer Support.” I love that.