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I woke up to an email today from Aaron Schwartz, founder of Modify. I don’t know Aaron other than our email exchanges but he thanked me for Venture Deals which he said has been very helpful to him. His note went on to say:
A close friend of mine, and one of my best friend’s co-founders just passed away after a 15-month battle with non-smoker’s lung cancer. I thought the below article was incredibly revealing about how meaningful a partner and leader can be for a start-up. If you think it would be useful to other entrepreneurs, I hope you’ll take a moment and share it.
I went on to read Farewell Hansoo, We’ll Miss You, a beautiful tribute by Bhavin Parikh, the CEO and co-founder of Magoosh. At the end, I had tears in my eyes. Hansoo is 35 and just died of cancer, which was discovered a year ago. I have several friends fighting cancer right now and had one die last year and this story really touched me – of the intimacy of the relationship between co-founders, the beauty of spirit of Hansoo, and how rapidly loved ones and partners can be taken from us.
I just made a donation to the The Hansoo Lee Fellowship to support entrepreneurs. The fellowship will provide a stipend and mentorship to help Berkeley-Haas MBA students pursue their venture full-time for their summer internship, as Hansoo did. MBA students will receive a summer stipend of $5 – $10K, Mentorship from Haas alums focused on entrepreneurship, and office space.
On Sunday I’ll be running the Detroit Marathon with a bunch of friends including my partner Jason Mendelson who is running his first marathon. Becky Cooper, our CFO, and Jill Spruiell (Jason’s EA) are also running their first marathon, as is Andrew Tschesnok, the CEO of Organic Motion.
As this is my second marathon in my Random Act of Kindness series, Amy and I are again raising $10,000 for someone on GiveForward. We’ll be matching $5,000 of contributions from this community with a gift from us of $5,000. Our recipient this time in Max Simmons who we refer to as Jedi Max. We don’t know Jedi Max – we just know he’s fighting cancer and is awesome.
Here’s Jedi Max’s story:
Max is a fun-loving, spirited seven year old who has been diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforming or GBM, a type of brain cancer. It is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. The doctors have already removed most of the tumor, though he still has a long road ahead. He will be receiving chemo and radiation. Max’s treatments are an hour’s drive each direction and he will be receiving them for six weeks, five days a week. His parents, Jay and Scott, are concerned about not meeting the non-medical expenses such as gas, food, and other things that may come up. With how things stand now, Jay may not be able to return to work. Max loves everything Legos and Star Wars. He is doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and wears his heart on his sleeve and his heart is as big as Texas. He is a true Jedi Warrior!
Let’s end Friday on a high note. The recipient of our first Random Act of Kindness in support of my marathons is now cancer free! If you go out this weekend, do a random act of kindness. Buy the meal for a young couple in the same restaurant you are in. Tip 50% instead of whatever you normally tip. Do something unexpected for someone you don’t know.
When you support a family member in need, you’re doing the right thing. The community you are part of is counting on you, and fulfilling your obligation to them is part of being a member of that community.
What happens, though, when you help someone you don’t know? What happens when one community deliberately seeks out someone who needs a leg up and attention and support and reaches out – with no possibility of reciprocity? That feeling is extraordinary, and as I run the 29 marathons I’ve got left to go to make my 50 marathons by age 50 goal, I have been thinking harder about fundraising as part of this experience.
After my close friend Andy Sack was diagnosed with testicular cancer, the impact of a medical emergency really hit home for me. Andy’s fully recovered after surgery and a 62 day chemo regimen – the experience caused me to think a lot about what families go through when a loved one is ill.
During this time, I met Ethan Austin, the co-founder of GiveForward at Lindzonpalooza. I was blown away by what they are doing and decided to team up with them to do 29 random acts of kindness over the next few years.
For each of my upcoming marathons, I’m going to run in support of one of the GiveForward campaigns. Amy and I will kick off the fundraising with a commitment of at least $145,000 ($5,000 per marathon) and encourage our extended community to contribute whatever they can. We may increase this amount in the future ($5,000 will always be our minimum) depending on the total level of contribution (more contributors = bigger contribution from us.) I’m also going to do some random things for the people who contribute on a marathon by marathon basis – look for me to have some fun with this rewarding my community for helping with a random act of kindness.
The people we will support will not be people we know. Rather, they will be people who inspire us and who we want to shine a random act of kindness on. Our fundraising efforts will be a complete surprise to these families, and our hope is that we can create a little unexpected joy for the people we support.
The first random act of kindness is Justin Salcedo from Devine, TX who has testicular cancer. I’ll be running the Missoula Marathon on July 8, 2012 in Missoula, Montana for him. His family friend set up a GiveForward page for him and wrote the following description:
Justin Salcedo is from a small town south of San Antonio, TX. We live in Devine, TX. He is a good athlete, a good son, and a good friend to everyone. Always has a smile on his face. He just recently found out he had testicular cancer. His mother is the one who told me the story of how he found out about his cancer. I have known him for about 17 years. My sister-in-law baby sat him when he was little. My son and Justin were in pre-K together, they were in little league baseball, our local youth basketball league, Middle school athletics and 2 years highschool athletics. So for this news it was a shock to me and I am not his immediate family. It feels like dream…..
The GiveForward campaign is called Kicking Cancer. Our goal is to raise at least $10,000 by May 31st to help out Justin and his family. Let’s do this for Justin and show the world how the power of a community can deliver random acts of kindness.
PS – if you can’t afford to donate, I urge you to share Justin’s GiveForward page on your Facebook wall or give Justin a “virtual hug” by leaving words of encouragement on his page. Neither of these things will cost you a dime but they might mean the world to Justin.
I was going to write something about a new book I’ve just published but I woke up this morning and that felt trivial so I’m going to save it for next week. Instead, I’m going to talk about my day yesterday.
My long time friend (dating back to the mid-1990′s) Andy Sack has testicular cancer. Before I get into things, he’s in the middle of chemo, has a 95%+ cure rate, is open and public about what he’s going through, and has an incredibly positive attitude.
I’ve tried to call or write Andy every day since his diagnosis. I’ve probably done it 80% of the time (I know I’ve missed a few days.) Every day at 5pm my iPhone gives me a reminder to “call Andy Sack.” Most of the time I get his voice mail and leave a message, other times we talk for a few minutes. While I was off the grid last week in Hawaii I sent him a postcard every day. Either way, I get a chance to tell him that I’m thinking of him and give him some additional energy from out in the universe, wherever I am. But this was the first time I’ve been able to get to Seattle to spend time with him.
I took the early flight from Denver to Seattle and we met up at the Kinect Accelerator where the program has just started. We found a room to just sit and talk for about 45 minutes. After a hug and a heart felt welcome, we started talking about how things were going. Our first 15 minutes were filled with lots of tears and emotion as I gave Andy a gift from a few of his friends including me and Amy and we connected physically for the first time since he was diagnosed.
I was curious about the experience he was having and he was very open about chemo, how it impacted him, and what the process was. We talked some about the dynamic of a loved one being sick or hurt since Amy’s had a broken arm for the past few weeks. While the broken arm isn’t in the same category as cancer, it has changed the way I’ve thought about caregiving as it’s the first time I’ve had to be – in Amy’s words “her man servant” – in our relationship. Amy called during this time and when the Imperial March (Amy’s personal ringtone) started playing on my iPhone Andy laughed a good belly laugh. I put Amy on speaker, the three of us had a nice talk, and then we wrapped up and had a TechStars related meeting.
We went to lunch with David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars. We talked about work, but we also talked about life. Andy was total present – he was having a good day physically and emotionally – and it was great to be around. After lunch David got in an Uber and headed to the airport to go back to Boulder; Andy and I walked around the corner to his office and BigDoor’s office (he’s on the board of BigDoor with me, their office is on the first floor, his is on the second.) I said hello to the BigDoor folks, hung out for a while and caught up on email while Andy had a meeting upstairs, and then he drove me to my hotel and we said goodbye for the day.
I had a few more meetings and then ended back up at the Kinect Accelerator for the Mentor Mixer. The program started on Monday and this was the first meeting of all the mentors. I gave a talk about how to be an effective mentor during the introduction to the program and afterward noticed Andy in the back of the room. This was a nice surprise as I didn’t expect to see him again on this trip. We hung out at the mixer a little and then took off to go have another meal together – this time alone. We talked about a few experiences in the distant past and I vividly remembered a dinner in Brookline in the 1990′s with Andy, Alexa (his wife), and Amy. I couldn’t remember the restaurant, but I had the visualization of the entire experience in my head and shared it with him (he remembered it also). We talked more about a wide range of things – some business, some personal – and just enjoyed being together.
I got more than my fair share of his time yesterday. And it was awesome. As I was laying bed at 11pm drifting off to sleep I thought of him some more, some of the ups and downs we’d had together, and how much I treasured him as a friend.
We’ve been through lots of things together. One of the first things he said to me when he saw me was “your support of me through this period eliminated any fears I had lingering about our relationship in the context of any money that I’ve lost for you.” I’ve invested in a number of things that Andy has done dating back to his first company (Abuzz, which was a success and acquired by the NY Times for about a 4.5x of my investment.) But we’ve also had lots of things not work (Bodyshop.com – 0.5x, Judy’s Book – 0.25x.) However, I never, ever have worried about it – my willingness to keep trying and working with great people trumps the specific returns of any individual transaction. And more importantly, my personal friendship and loyalty is built on trust and a long term arc of honesty, not transactional results. While we’ve both screwed up plenty of things along the way and had our share of disagreements, we always resolve them and move forward. I’ve told Andy this several times in the past, but when you face mortality you have a chance to really understand (and express) this.
I wore my Fuck Cancer shirt all day. Several people gave me positive comments on it and one stood out. Near the end of the day, a woman who I didn’t know said “great shirt.” She looked at me with acknowledgement and a real spark of connection occurred. I realized, at that moment, that cancer is a disease that defines many people at a profoundly deep level, especially when they survive it.
On Saturday I’m running a 50 mile race in Sacramento. I’ve been thinking about this all week as I try to get my mind into it. It’s been hard to get real focus on it because I’ve had a busy week and I know that Friday will be my transition day. But as I sit here, the 50 mile run doesn’t seem that hard. Sure – it’ll be a physical and emotional challenge, but it’s not surgery, a 64 day chemo regimen, and the emotional challenge of “beating cancer.”
Life is short. And uncertain. Live it every moment. Andy – thanks for being you and letting me be part of your life.