Back From Vacation

Amy and I just took a two-week vacation. We were mostly off the grid, to the extent we could be given several things we were working on together. We hid from the world, caught our breath, and regrouped.

I often get asked what my rhythm is on a vacation like this. It’s simple – I have no rhythm or schedule. My days are organized around waking up when I feel like it and going to bed when I’m tired. When I look at my Fitbit sleep data, I got at least nine hours of sleep every day. My resting heart rate was 62 at the beginning of the month (down from 69 when I declared a travel moratorium) and is 57 today.

I do have a few things I do each day. I meditate first thing for 20 minutes. Amy and I three meals together. I exercise, which on this trip included ramping up my running nicely. I take an afternoon nap. And I try to read at least once book a day.

We have a few friends living near where we are hiding so we have had some fun dinners together. We went and saw the movie Logan in the middle of the day and walked around a shopping mall for a few hours. We thought about going to a sporting event but never managed to pull it off. And we’ve watched zero TV.

Usually, we take a week off the grid each quarter. This time I felt like I needed more, so we took two weeks. I’m glad I did.

The Magic of Dealing With Your Demons

Jessi Hempel from Backchannel just wrote an amazing profile piece on my close friend Jerry Colonna. It’s titled This Man Makes Founders CryMedium estimates that it’s an 18 minute read and I assert that it’s worth every minute.

Jerry Contemplating Something

I’ve known and worked with Jerry since 1996. I now get to call him my neighbor as he moved from New York to Boulder a few years ago. If you want a taste of our relationship, I’ve written a lot about him over the years. Following are a few recent ones.

There are a few people other than Amy and my family who I love. For example, I love my partners. I love Len Fassler, who remains to this day my most influential mentor. And I love Jerry.

There are many choice quotes in the article, but to give you a taste, here are a few.

  • “Jerry?” he responds. “That guy saved my life.” – Bart Lorang, FullContact CEO
  • “There was this moment where you admitted to each other that you were working with him. It’s not an official thing, but there is this almost secret society of people who’ve been coached by Jerry.” – Chad Dickerson, Etsy CEO
  • “Campbell had a testosterone-infused Silicon Valley kind of model. Jerry’s model is more Buddhism and less football.” – Fred Wilson, USV partner
  • “There are a lot of people you can go to who will teach you to be a better manager. Jerry understands the psychology of leadership.” – Alexander Ljung, Soundcloud CEO 
  • “Until we make the unconscious conscious, we will be dictated by it and call it fate.” – Jerry quoting Jung
  • “The Reboot team possesses an otherworldly talent for coaxing authenticity and truth out of people. They can even coax truths out of people who, like myself, have been lying to themselves for years.” – Jacob Chapman Gelt VC partner
  • “Life sucks and it’s okay. Life is great, and it’s okay. Life goes up and it’s okay; life goes down and it’s okay. If we can instill a sense of resilience in people, we mitigate suffering.” – Jerry

Go read the entire article on Jerry. And, if you want more, go listen to the Reboot podcast.

Immigration Fundraiser: For Here or To Go

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about a feature film Amy and I were helping fund called For Here or To Go. The movie is about a set of Indian software developers in the US on H1-B visas. The main character wanted to start a company, or join a startup, but couldn’t make either happen in the context of the current H1-B visa constraints.

It felt relevant when we helped fund it. It seems even more relevant today. It’s an excellent movie and my punch line from the blog post a year ago was:

“Now, this wasn’t a dry movie. While I don’t know Indian culture very well, Rishi created a rich set of characters, interwoven storylines, and a powerful content – including the challenge of romantic relationships while having an uncertain future around one’s immigration status – that drew me in to the movie.”

For Here or To Go is now finished and will be out at the end of March. Amy and I committed to match up to $25,000 of a $55,000 fundraising campaign to help get wider distribution for move. If this is something you are willing to participate in, go to the Crowdrise page and give whatever amount you are willing, knowing that Amy and I are matching you dollar for dollar.

Don’t Play Hurt

I heard a great line from a CEO recently: “I don’t want to play hurt.”

I loved that line.

In my world, some companies beat their Q416 numbers. Others made their Q416 numbers. Some missed their Q416 numbers. That’s life. Any VC who says otherwise (e.g. “All my companies are killing it”) is either full of shit or doesn’t have very many investments. It’s especially true by Q4 when a budget was finalized in Q1 since Q4 is by far the hardest quarter to forecast / predict.

We are now 67% of the way through Q117.  Plans for 2017 are either locked or getting finalized. These plans get reset based on the 2016 data, especially trends and progress (or lack thereof) from the second half of 2016. A year ago seems a very, very long time ago.

Let’s assume you missed Q416. I don’t care what the reason was for the miss. Your entire team is bringing that thinking into the budget process. “We need more resources to grow faster.” Or “There’s no way we can grow that fast.” Or “We made some expectations about what was going to have in Q4 around Christmas that didn’t come true.”

At a high level, these are rational reactions. But they don’t really help in thinking about 2017 or the budget process because they don’t get to the root cause. Using the Five Whys or some other process is key. Figure out what happened as your starting point. If you’ve already built and approved your plan without doing this, go ahead and stress test your plan by doing this now. Use the root cause analysis to lower your costs and increase your revenue so that you beat your plan. Ask yourself why what happened, happened. Keep asking why to the answers until you feel like you’ve gotten to the root cause.

Let’s assume 2016 resulted in some layoffs in the second half of the year. You were on a growth trajectory that wasn’t working, or you had invested in some products you decided to shut down. Or in 2015 you had raised a bunch of money, hired a lot of people, and assumed it was all going to just work out according to the spreadsheet model you used to build headcount and revenue expectations based on the headcount. And then it didn’t.

It’s now 2017. You’ve made real cuts and now have a core team that is sized correctly for your current business. The process sucked, but it’s more than a quarter behind you. The dust has settled and people are heads down working. You had a more sanguine budget process this year, with solid revenue growth but much lower head count growth.

Don’t play hurt. Get back on the metaphorical field. As CEO, put the Q4 miss or the Q3 layoffs behind you. Pick your head up and realize that you have a real business, but you hit a giant air pocket last year. That is normal – it happens all the time on the way to building a great business. Any CEO who denies that (as in “Yup – everything was awesome all the time – there were never any issues in our success”) as as full of shit as the VC who says something like “Every one of my companies is doing great.”

I encourage those VCs (and entrepreneurs) to read my post Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day and reflect on their actual reality.

The struggle can be extremely painful, especially in the moment. But, if you are a great CEO (or manager), keep focusing on what you need to do to fix the immediate problem while continuing to play your long term game. And, most importantly, don’t deny reality in any way whatsoever.

And … Don’t play hurt.

Film: American Muslim Storytellers

Over the weekend, our Monthly Match for the National Immigration Law Center raised over $47,000,. For everyone who contributed, thank you!

In the emails I got, one stood out. It pointed me at an Indiegogo campaign for a documentary done by American Muslim Storytellers. The timing of the email was particularly good as I had just read a Washington Post Story about American Muslims raising money to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery

I went and took a look at the Indiegogo page and was delighted by the first video.

And educated by the second video.

Amy and I decided to contribute to the campaign to put together the documentary for American Muslim Storytellers at the Executive Producer level. If the videos inspire you as they did me, please help out at whatever level you feel comfortable with.