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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 stopped travelling mid-May (I arrived home in Boulder from San Francisco on 5/17). I’ve decided not to travel at all for the rest of 2013, except for three personal trips (my parents 50th anniversary, Amy’s birthday, and my birthday.) After travelling 50% – 75% of the time for the last 20 years, I needed a break.
It has been awesomely mindblowingly great to not travel.
I’ve had three other periods of extended no-travel in the last 20 years. I stopped travelling for three months after 9/11. Two summers ago Amy and I spent 60 days together in Europe (half in France / half in Tuscany) just living (no travel). Last summer we spent 90 days at our house in Keystone. It’s clear I had a taste of this, but nothing like where I am right now.
Even though it has only been seven weeks, when I look forward to the rest of 2013 I feel huge amounts of open space and time in front of me. I know this has helped me come out of the depression, which I just wrote about in an article in Inc. Magazine, that I struggled with for the first part of this year.
But it’s more profound than that. In a few short months, I’ve changed my work pattern a lot. I feel so much more rested and alert. When I’m doing something, I’m in the moment. The companies I’m an investor in are all over the place, but I feel like they are actually getting more of my attention because I’m not being torn in a zillion different directions.
I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to jam in the “work” around all the friction time – in airports, in taxis and cars being driven to things, before I head out to yet another dinner on the road, or late in my hotel before I go to sleep. My environment is familiar and comfortable and things just flow.
I’m mastering video conferencing – I’ve now got every configuration a human could need. I figured out three big things that solve for 99% of the strangeness of it.
- Make your video conference full screen – don’t have ANYTHING else going on your computer other than what is in the meeting.
- Use a BIG monitor – seeing heads that are normal size makes a huge difference.
- Make sure your audio and video are on channels with enough bandwidth. Shift to a conference call for audio while keeping video up if you are having performance issues.
I’ve also started using my Mezzanine video conferencing system extensively – it’s just incredible. More on that in a separate post.
I love Boulder and I’m finding myself running a lot again. It’s hard to run as much as I’d like when I’m on the road – early morning meetings, fatigue, and being in random places gets in the way. But here, I just put on my shoes and head out the door for one of my favorite trails. With or without Brooks the wonder dog.
On that note, I think I’ll go for a run right now.
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.