It’s 2018. I’m still an incredibly heavy email user. It’s the primary tool in my workflow and has been since the early 1990s. I’ve tried a lot of different things over the years, but always come back to email.
I’ve been a Gmail user for almost a decade. While I’ve tried client-side apps, Gmail in Chrome has been the only thing that has stuck for me. I’ve also tried many of the iOS email apps and always end up back at Gmail for iOS.
An increasing number of people in my world have been using Superhuman so I decided to give it a try. I was skeptical that it would capture my attention beyond a day. Two weeks later it is, in fact, superhuman. I’m using the Chrome app and the iOS app as my primary email clients.
The other tools I have in my email workflow are SaneBox, Todoist, Notebene (which recently replaced Captio), and FullContact. As a result of Superhuman, I eliminated TextExpander from the mix. The one limitation of Superhuman that causes me a little pain is lack of direct integration with FullContact, which would make managing my address book better.
I didn’t realize how sluggish Gmail on Chrome is, even on a 225Mbps connection (which is what my office is clocking in at this morning.) And, at home, where I often see 3Mbps at high peak usage times, it’s a dream. But, that’s a tiny part of the speed. The big change is that I keep my hands on the keyboard 100% of the time. While I’ve been a heavy Gmail keyboard user, it turns out that you need the mouse for a bunch of Gmail things. Superhuman has turned them all into either keyboard commands, a slightly different workflow, or a “snippet” that lets you create your own compound shortcuts.
I never thought I’d recommend a web-based email client that costs $29 / month, but Superhuman is worth every penny of it. I wish I was an investor, but I guess I’ll live with being a Superhuman user.
I was really tired this weekend (from the week) and didn’t feel like doing anything other than laying on the couch near Amy and reading. She was also tired, as she spent the week in Wellesley at a board meeting and a bunch of other Wellesley related stuff, so even though the Boulder weather was magnificent, we stayed home other than a quick trip to Boulder to get our eyes checked and have sushi with some friends. Oh, and took really long naps both afternoons.
By Sunday night I was tired of reading (but Amy wasn’t) so I went downstairs and watched Finding Traction, the documentary about Nikki Kimball’s monstrous performance on the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont. While I’m limited to running marathons, I find inspiration from watching ultras …
The book list started with me finishing a book I’d started earlier in the week. I read mostly on the Kindle this weekend, but John Doerr’s book came in the mail in physical form so I read it that way.
Mastering the Market Cycle: Getting the Odds on Your Side: Howard Marks (Oaktree) is a brilliant investor (and great writer) so I read everything by him I can get my hands on (and there’s a lot of it going back to 1990.) Not surprisingly, I learned a few key things from this book and it reinforced a bunch of others I already knew.
Power to the Startup People: How To Grow Your Startup Career When You’re Not The Founder: There is an infinite number of books now aimed at startup founders and entrepreneurs, but very few aimed at startup employees. Sarah Brown is a Boulder friend (now living in SF) and this is a really good book. There are lots of Boulder stories and people in it, but Sarah does a great job of covering a lot of ground that is generally useful to anyone considering working in, or already working in a startup. It’s the second “startup employee” book that I think is really good, following Jeff Bussgang’s Entering StartUpLand: An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Job (which is referenced a few times in Sarah’s book.)
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person: In my effort to read more memoirs by women, I enjoyed Shonda Rimes book. I can’t remember who referred it to me, but it was good and added a dimension to my memoir reading that had a lot more X and no Y in it. Amy and I regularly watched both Grey’s Anatomy (at least the first four seasons) and Scandal (again – maybe four seasons) so Shonda Rimes has entertained us a lot. With this book, she helped widen my perspective on a number of things I hadn’t thought much about.
From Like to Love: Inspiring Emotional Commitment from Employees and Customers: Keith Alper is a long-time friend – we were both on the YEO board in the mid-1990s, spent a lot of time with the Kauffman Foundation when Jana Matthews was there, and have continued to connect on numerous things over the years. This book embodies everything I’d expect from Keith, is a good read and had some fun new suggestions in it. Definitely worth reading if you are a CEO and you like the word “love” in a business context. And, if the word “love” in a business context scares you, then this book is also for you.
Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth: John Doerr is well-known as a long-time advocate of OKRs. Today, I hear the word OKR in a lot of contexts where I’m 100% certain the company is implementing them incorrectly. If you are using OKRs, please read this book. And, if you are thinking about OKRs, please read this book.
Ready for Monday? I’m going to start things off with a short run.
I got an email this morning from a close friend who asked how I reconcile a particular issue around the concept of #GiveFirst. Following is the setup from the email I got.
“I was thinking of you yesterday. I recently met with someone in town who was looking to connect. I took the meeting because, well, I always take such meetings. I’m just wired that way and you never know what good things can come from such random meetings.
So I love doing them. But yesterday the person I met with showed up with an agenda and, at the top of his list was “GiveFirst to <my organization> and <me>.” He had an agenda…he had an ask of me…but he wanted to “give first” by asking me how he could help me.
I think he misunderstands the mindset. And I think he’s not the only one. By opening up with that, he put me in a position of having to do something–respond to his inquiry–I didn’t really have any need to do.
Moreover, he inadvertently put me in debt to him from the beginning. “Before we begin, let me ask you, ‘How can I help you?’ ” While I don’t really have a lot of asks it still felt yucky, insincere, and manipulative.”
This is a chronic problem with understanding how to implement #GiveFirst. While well-intentioned, it shifts the burden of responsibility from the #GiveFirster to the Receiver. Ponder that for a second.
Here’s an example from my personal life. Amy and I do a lot of things for each other, all the time. But, imagine a situation where she’s overwhelmed, or tired, or in distress from something. If I show up at that moment and say, “How can I help,” I’m adding another thing for her to do to the mix. She is now responsible for figuring out what I can do to help her. If she knew this, she probably would have already asked me. Instead of helping, I’m merely adding another log to whatever fire is already burning.
Instead of asking someone how you can #GiveFirst to them or their company, you should take the opposite approach. Do your research before you meet. Understand what their (or their organizations goals) are. In a lot of cases, you can often figure out a short-term need that they have. Then, when you meet, have a prepared mind for the conversation and listen to where it goes. In real-time, ofter to do something that fits with what you are hearing, or what you expect the goals or short-term needs are.
This doesn’t have to be an explicit part of the conversation (e.g. “I’m going to #GiveFirst to you by doing the following.”) Instead; it needs to be completely non-transaction – you are not doing something to earn anything, including brownie points. You are, instead, operating in a #GiveFirst framework, where you are willing to put energy into something without expecting anything in return. Ideally, you’ll just go #GiveFirst and do some stuff that is helpful to the other party. Not once, but as part of establishing and developing a deeper relationship that comes from a non-transaction perspective.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of mechanizing the #GiveFirst philosophy. It’s explicitly called #GiveFirst and not #TellMeWhatICanDoToHelpYou to stimulate you – the giver – to do the work to figure out what is helpful.
Every year or two I refresh the formatting on this website along with a few others that I help manage and generate content for. I work with a great firm called Valet that I really like and everything is hosted on Pantheon, so the process works smoothly for me.
In addition to the refresh on Feld Thoughts, I also just refreshed Venture Deals (which used to be Ask the VC) and Startup Revolution. Amy and I also recently put up a website for the Anchor Point Foundation (our foundation). And, Seth and Micah did a big refresh on the Foundry Group website.
As part of this, each of them now has a separate subscribe by email option in addition to an RSS feed. If you want to skip searching for it and just subscribe, click on the following links as you desire.
I’m still cleaning up a lot of little stuff now that it’s all live (e.g. I know the favicon for Venture Deals shouldn’t be my face), so if you see something that is either broken, wrong, or that you don’t like, toss it in the comments or email me. And, of course, general feedback on things that could be better are very welcome.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History was awesome. Given that Sears filed for Chapter 11 today, I’ll start with some perspective from 1976.
America is remarkably dynamic. Humans constantly create narratives about things and how they work. Suddenly, popular books are appearing, such as Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, that challenge the relevance of our narratives.
There is so much to reflect on when reading a book like Fantasyland or Sapiens. Pondering the meaning of life is an endless human pastime.
It’s particularly interesting in the context of the growth and development of a country, which in and of itself is a temporary construct, just like everything else.
I’ve always loved reading fantasy. And, after reading Fantasyland, I realize I’ve been living in it also.
As the weekend approaches, I sense the need in the universe for some people to find a new TV show to binge watch.
If you fit in this category and haven’t yet watched The Expanse, give it a try. If you are a BSG fan and haven’t seen it yet, start tonight. If you like sci-fi, drama, space opera, global political intrigue, underdogs, detective noir, the risk of mass extinction, and believable human history a few hundred years in the future, this one is for you.
There’s a ton of setup, so you need to hang in there for the first five or so episodes. As the friend who referred me to it stated, it’s “Boring boring PROTOMOLECULE…” You get there quickly enough.
There are three seasons, and Amazon just picked up the fourth, so there is a lot to catch up on along with a future. And, after reflecting on it compared to our current geopolitical situation, it’s easy to assert that “nothing ever changes.”
The interview ended up being two episodes and, while listening to it in the car, I felt like it was one of the better recent interviews that I’ve done. Hadley and I talked for about an hour and then he edited the discussion down into two ten minute podcasts, so he pulled out the good stuff and left all the garbage on the cutting room floor.
Episode 1 includes advice I’d give to a much younger me and discusses why I think it is important to build long-term fund strategies with conviction and consistency.
Episode 2 covers what makes an excellent board member, the biggest reasons startups fail, and the three machines that must work together in order for a company to scale.
This summer I read the page proof version of Scott Belsky’s new book The Messy Middle. It is excellent and is now out and available. I bought 100 copies and am sending them out to every CEO in our portfolio. If you are a CEO of a fast-growing company, I strongly recommend it.
The letter I sent out to the CEOs in our portfolio (with the book) follows:
Since you are a member of the Foundry Group Book of the Almost Every Month Club (bet you didn’t know that was part of the deal when we invested), enclosed is a copy of The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.
It’s outstanding. Many of you are either in the messy middle or aspire to be (whether you realize it or not.) And, if you don’t aspire to be in the messy middle, but hope to one day be a large company, you may as well deal with the reality that you’ll enjoy time in the messy middle.
Scott was the founder of Behance, a company funded by USV and a bunch of seed/angel investors, that was acquired by Adobe. Scott then served a tour of duty at Adobe, left to spend some time at Benchmark, but then went back to Adobe and is now Adobe’s Chief Product Officer. He’s also had a great track record of angel investments, so he’s been around a bunch of different blocks multiple times.
Rather than read from start to finish, take a look at the Table of Contents while holding a pen and circle the sub-chapters that are interesting to you. There are a lot of them, they are short, and almost all are highly relevant. But, start with the ones that call out to you as a way to get into the book more deeply.
And, if you find something particularly relevant to you, mention it, with an example (if you are brave enough to name names) and put it up on the CEO list.
Scott – thanks for putting so much energy into this book.
Complexify is such a delicious, underused word. I’ve been using it a lot lately, hopefully with great effect on people who are on the receiving end.
CEOs and founders struggle with this all the time (as do I). They are executing on a strategy and a plan. A new idea or opportunity comes up. It’s interesting and/or exciting. Energy gets spent against it. Momentum appears. While some people on the team raise issues, suddenly the idea/opportunity starts taking on a life of its own. Things get more complex.
Eventually, there’s a reset. The core of what is going on is good – there’s just a bunch of complicated crap happening that is distracting everyone and undermining the goodness in the business. So, the CEO and the leadership team go on a mission to simplify things. This takes a while, usually involves killing some projects, and often results in some people leaving the company. These aren’t big restructuring exercises but rather focused simplification exercises. The end result is often a much stronger business, with more focus, faster growth, and better economics, especially EBITDA.
This happens regularly in the best companies that are scaling. In my view, it’s a key part of the job of a CEO who is working “on the company” a majority of her time, rather than simply working “in the company.” It’s particularly powerful when a company starts to see its growth rate decline (it’s still growing, but at a slower pace than before) or a company is spending too much money relative to its growth rate.
Six months (or twelve months) later the simplification effort is complete. The company is performing much better. EBITDA has dramatically improved (or the negative EBITDA has gotten a lot smaller.) Growth is happening in an economically justified way. The product is improving faster. Customers are happier. Everyone around the team is enthusiastic.
And then a new idea or opportunity appears. Energy starts being spent against it. Momentum appears. You get where this is going.
I call this complexifying, a word I rarely see in the entrepreneurship literature. Maybe it’ll start creeping in now. All I know is that I’m using it a lot these days.
I’m participating in an event at CU Boulder (sponsored by Silicon Flatirons) on 10/18/18 called Community, Creativity, and #GiveFirst.
#GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business in The Era of Entrepreneurship is the name of an upcoming book of mine. It’s also the mantra of Techstars.
In addition to a few of the usual cast of characters (me, Brad Bernthal, Jason Mendelson, Nicole Glaros) and some CU folks, a number of interesting people are joining us including Sam Zell, Stephanie Copeland, AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian, Brian Broughman, Sonali Shah, and Krista Marks.
The first panel is titled #GiveFirst and is a moderated chat between me and Sam Zell. I promise it won’t be dull.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, already view #GiveFirst (which I first talked about in my book Startup Communities in the section “Give Before You Get”) as part of your life, or just want to engage in a stimulating SIlicon Flatirons sponsored afternoon, come join us.