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After a year of zero travel for business, I’ve started to venture out into the world again. I just got back from my third business trip this summer – this time to Seattle for the past three days.
After 20+ years of traveling 67%+ of the time for work, I was sick of it. So I’m wandering back in with a little trepidation.
I’ve decided to take a very different approach. Historically on a three day trip to Seattle, I’d have 10 meetings a day, starting early in the morning and going until after dinner. I’d pop from place to place, taxi-ing (now Uber-ing) around town. I’d check my email in cars between meetings, and I’d be a sweaty, smelly mess by the end of the day. I’d meet with every company we are investors in (Moz, Cheezburger, BigDoor, Rover, Techstars, and Impinj), meet with a bunch of entrepreneurs for companies we might be interested in, hang out with a few of my long time Seattle friends, visit at least one or two Seattle VCs, and do a public event or two. And then I’d stay up until 1am trying to grind through my email.
This time I planted myself at Moz on Monday and Tuesday and then Cheezburger on Wednesday. While I had plenty of meetings at Moz, they were all about Moz. I spent Monday with each of the four product teams, going really deep on the existing products. I spent time with people on the leadership team, including significant time with Sarah Bird (CEO) and Rand Fishkin (Founder). I had a dinner with Sarah Monday night followed by a hangout at Rand’s house with Rand, Geraldine, Sarah, her husband Eric, and the tireless Jackson-child. We had a board meeting on Tuesday along with a bunch of 1:1 meetings. Tuesday night I had an awesome meal on the roof of Terra Plata with the Moz leadership team. And just for fun on Tuesday morning I went for a run on the waterfront with my long time friend TA Mccann, who if you know our origin story includes a run at the first Defrag (where he kicked my ass, just like he did Tuesday morning.)
I slept in on Wednesday, did some email in my hotel room, made a few phone calls, and had a late breakfast with Andy Sack at Purple. I then had lunch with Ben Huh (how’s that – breakfast and then lunch, with nothing in between – what more could you want out of life) followed by a great board meeting at Cheezburger.
As I napped on the flight home last night, I felt very different returning home. I love Moz and Cheezburger – and the people I get to work with there. Each company has had different challenges over the past two years (like every company I’ve ever worked with), but both feel like they are in a great place to me right now. When I was walking to lunch with Ben, he asked me a question about how I was feeling in general and I said that at this point I believe that I’m only working with entrepreneurs who I love, adore, have respect for, and am friends with. That’s a big part of it for me. I know this doesn’t always, and won’t always happen, but as I’ve gotten older I realize it’s an important part of my value system and selection criteria for who I work with.
While I’m not going to turn the travel spigot back on in a radical way, being very deliberate about how and why I’m traveling is part of my new trip planning mantra. We’ll see how it works on the next ones, which are to Austin, LA, and New York.
I was at the annual meeting for one of our LPs yesterday. Promptly at 10am the took away the breakfast buffet. I was getting a new cup of tea at the time and watched them haul off trenchers of food that would easily feed 50 people. I had the same experience the previous two days at the SERGE event as several of the meals were buffet style and at the end of the meal there was still food for a group that was equal to or larger than us left.
Tuesday night dinner at SERGE was a sit down meal in a ballroom. The food was “ok” but not awesome and when I looked around there was a lot left uneaten, especially the dessert which was about as many calories as the main course. It was a pretty simple four course meal – soup, salad, main, and giant dessert. I found out after that the cost for each person was $300. Now – I’ve had my share of $300 meals – the one we had that night was a $50 meal at best.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed this if I hadn’t had three things connect – the giant waste of food on Monday and Tuesday (which I mentally noted on Tuesday at lunch), the trenchers full of food being hauled away Wednesday morning, and the $300 / person ticket for the mediocre meal at a top end hotel on Tuesday night.
It feels a lot like getting charged $15 / day for Internet service when you stay at a $400 / night hotel. The hotel is just jacking you on price because they can. But it feels worse when it’s a perishable good, like food, that is going to just get tossed in the trash.
I have no clue what to do about it but figured it was worth a rant. Maybe some of you have constructive suggestions.
I travel constantly – at least 50% of the time and sometimes as much as 75% of the time. My partners at Foundry Group all travel a lot – think 100,000 miles per year for each of this.. We committed to this when we started Foundry Group as our strategy was to invest across the United States while being based in Boulder. We knew that we were signing up for a lot of travel.
The travel itself sucks much of the time, but I’m come to terms with it and just thinking of myself as baggage when I get to the airport. I’m baggage until I leave the airport that is my destination. I’m good at sleeping on planes so I often get to experience time travel – where I go to sleep before takeoff and wake up at landing.
However, the process of making travel reservations absolutely sucks. My amazing assistant Kelly takes care of it and uses plenty of different tools available to her, including a travel agent. But the online tools, travel agent, endless email coordination, and calendar madness sucks. And then it gets worse as I constantly change my mind, have new things move a trip around, or travel changes occur in the middle of a complex trip. Add in trying to coordinate my wife Amy’s travel to overlap with mine when we go, or end up in, places together and you have a giant, soul crushing, time suck for Kelly.
There must be a better way. I don’t care if it costs more – I’d probably be willing to pay another $10,000 / year to make this 10x easier for Kelly. I don’t know how much of her time she’s spending on it at this point, but I know it’s probably the worst and least satisfying part of her job. Plus, I want her to get all that time back so she can work on other stuff!
Any suggestions out there? Software, services, or better approaches welcome.
At some point in the future, the machines will take over. At that time the machines can create Feldborgs if they so desire; until then there is only one of me.
After a day like today it’s hard to accept that I can’t go to every city on the planet and talk about Startup Communities. Today I was in LA – starting at LaunchPad LA, followed by a meeting with Ivee (so, so cool), then an interview with Jason Calacanis for This Week In Startups, and finishing up with a fantastic evening at Cross Campus, first with about 20 VCs who are the core of the LA VC community and then 300 or so entrepreneurs talking about Startup Communities until late in the night. It was an awesome day and my last travel day of the year.
On Monday, Kelly and I had a chance to go through my 2013 calendar and lock down commitments around Foundry Group and the companies I’m involved in, Startup Communities, and most importantly my beloved, Amy. While I am flattered by the plethora of interest in Startup Revolution, I don’t have the ability to do something physically in many of the cities (or countries for that matter) that I have been requested to visit in 2013. I’m tempted to revisit this after a great day like today, but I’ve made a commitment to myself and to Amy that I’m going to approach travel differently in 2013, and part of that is locking down where I’m going to be in advance of the start of the year.
However, just because I can’t be everywhere physically doesn’t mean I can’t participate remotely via Skype, Google Hangout or some other form of video conferencing technology. I’ve been gradually increasing this form of participation and have had great success with it. If for some reason I can’t make it to see you, but you think a remote session would be useful, just ask.
In the meantime, keep an eye on Startup Revolution where I will be posting book tour cities and dates for 2013 shortly. And – LA Startup Community – thanks for today. Y’all are awesome.
Put this in the “every business traveller thinks this on a regular basis” rant category. Sure – I’m whining, but I imagine I’ll feel better after I get done. I doubt it has any impact on the universe, but hopefully it’ll be a story that rings true to some of you out there who travel as much as I do. And to my friends at Starwood and AT&T, you made my day yesterday, which was already intense, a lot harder than it needed to be.
I just woke up, made some coffee, turned on my computer, and noticed that my hotel bill was shoved under my door. Last night before I went to bed I tweeted “Dear AT&T and Westin Hotel Wifi: I give up. Good night.” I rarely look at my hotel bills but this time I was curious so I grabbed it. $323.10 for the room, $32.32 for State and County Tax, $9.95 for Internet Service, and $180.76 for 10 telephone calls.
Remember that I said I rarely look at my hotel bill. I travel constantly and I’m what I’d describe as a high end utilitarian traveler. When I travel alone I’m not terribly picky about the hotels I stay at, generally prefer modern to classic, just want a dark, clean room that I can make cold at night, and want to be left alone. I try to be super polite to the hotel staff while simultaneously very low maintenance.
I used to be annoyed that I’d pay $500 or more for a room and get hit with a $14.95 bill for Internet access. I stopped being annoyed by that a while ago and just view it as part of the cost of the room. I don’t watch television so my time in the room is spent working on my computer, talking on my cell phone (or my computer via Skype or Google Chat), sleeping, or being in the bathroom. That’s it. Oh – and I appreciate the free coffee service in the room since I get up at 5am and there’s rarely a coffee option anywhere until 5:30am.
Yesterday at about 2pm I arrived at the Westin Arlington Gateway. I’ve got a set of meetings tomorrow at the National Science Foundation so I’m staying down the block. My amazing assistant Kelly had scheduled a dozen phone calls between 2pm and dinner so I figured I’d just sit in my room and grind away on calls and email. A few of my calls where Skype calls and my phone number is a Google Voice number so I’d just sit in front of my computer and work in between the calls.
When I checked in at 2pm, the room they had assigned me to wasn’t ready. The guy checking me in was super nice, asked me a bunch of questions (do you want a high floor or a low floor, near the elevator or away from the elevator) to which I answered “I don’t care – whatever room you have will be fine, and found me a room. He informed me that my Starwood preferred number was on file (whatever that means) and was very polite.
I plopped down in my room, took out my laptop, went through the “connect to the Internet” process which appeared to cost $9.95 for the day, and got to work.
After 10 minutes I knew I was screwed. The Internet performance was painfully slow. Since I had back to back calls, I didn’t have a window to call “tech support” and have them take a look so I put up with it for a little while. I figured I’d use my iPhone as a hotspot as the backup and switched over to it. That was even worse. I tried to make a phone call with my iPhone instead of Google Voice. It took three tries for it to go through and then it dropped after 60 seconds.
I was officially in RidiculousTelecommunicationStan. I struggled through the first few calls (anyone on the other end, especially the poor souls on Skype, could probably sense my frustration and theirs was probably higher) before giving up and switching to the landline in my room. Yes – a landline. I had to think for a moment whether to dial 9 first or 8 first (remember that I’m in a hotel), got it right, and simply made all the calls from that phone. Internet performance was still miserable, but by using Sparrow I managed to work “semi-offline” and the emails went through what seemed to be simulating a 2400 baud modem.
Eventually I had 15 minutes between calls so I pressed the “Service Express” button on the phone to ask for Internet tech support. The nice person took down my info and said someone would call me back. They did 15 minutes later which overlapped with my next call. I eventually called them back just as I finished up but before I left for dinner. We did all the standard troubleshooting things which indicated that the Internet was slow and after an escalation, resulted in someone “resetting a router” remotely. I went to dinner, was about 15 minutes late, but was optimistic that when I got home I’d be able to jam through another hour or so of email.
No such luck. After calling Amy on the land line and saying goodnight, I struggled through 15 minutes of email before deciding to just screw it and go to bed. I tweeted out my frustration and quickly got a response from @StarwoodBuzz that said “Sorry about that. If you can DM us your stay details in full, we can do our best to help. We’ve followed you.” Nice, but I was done for the night, closed my laptop, and will DM them this blog post and see what happens.
And then I woke up this morning, started a cup of coffee, and noticed by $180.76 bill for 10 phone calls. Total stupidity on the part of Starwood where I’m apparently a “not very preferred guest.” It’s been a long time since I resorted to using the landline in my hotel room and it didn’t even occur to me that they’d rip me off like this. I remember staying in a Marriott near an airport recently and the cost for Internet and unlimited long distance phone calls was $9.95, so I’m doubly perplexed. And I don’t see any of those little plastic signs saying “if you use this phone to make a call we are going to charge you $2 per minute” (which is what it appears they were charging based on a few of the calls.)
I can’t remember the last time I made a fuss when I checked out over a hotel bill. I’m sure I eat some extra charges her and there, but whatever. This morning, when I head downstairs, I’ll ask to have all the phone calls taken off my bill. We will see what happens.
In the mean time, I’m going to keep reminding myself that this is 2012, not 1996, where we are just discovering the expensive magic of Internet in hotel rooms. I look forward to 2024 when I no longer have a landline in my room and the Internet works flawlessly for the $9.95 I pay a day to use it. Or maybe AT&T will work in the middle of Arlington, Virginia. Or maybe pigs will fly.
Update: The manager at the Starwood Arlington left a message for me that he had reversed all of the charges. So he did the right thing and I appreciate that. An AT&T customer service person also called and assured me he would talk to the hotel and explore if there is a dead spot in the area. I’m now on Acela to NY where their Wifi doesn’t work for shit but AT&T is tethering ok today. Now, if I could only get the soccer mom two rows up to stop telling stories about her 7th grade son’s soccer team I’d maybe be in a less grumpy place.