I’m turning 45 next week and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. For some reason this seems like a more significant birthday to me than 30 or 40 was. I know some of my thoughts are a result of a few colleagues dying recently (in their 50’s and 60’s), me completely wearing myself out this fall, and spending about half the year struggling with a back injury, but I think something deeper is going on.
At my core, I’m profoundly happy with my existence on this planet. I’m married to an amazing person who I’ve been involved with for 20 years. My direct family is healthy and very functional. I have three superb partners who I get to work with on deeply satisfying activities. I’ve structured my life so that I get to spend most of my time on really interesting things. I get to work with fascinating entrepreneurs on long term projects that I care about almost as much as they do. Finally, I live in what I think is the best town in the world (Boulder) and spend plenty of time in several great cities in the US (New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.)
When Amy and I talk about turning 45 the phrase “mid-life” comes up. Both of us want to live a long time but are realistic that living until 90 based on our family histories is a long shot, the singularity notwithstanding. So I think we’ve accepted that this is the pivot point where we can start viewing our lives as “at least half way finished.”
Reflecting back on the last 45 years, I’m really pleased with how I’ve lived my life. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t have any regrets. Of course, I’d be dead, so that’s kind of an odd phrase. I believe when it’s over, it’s over, but my inner editor refuses to change the sentence.
In some way, that liberates me to think about the next 45 years with a freshness that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I love my work and my daily life so I don’t feel like I’m in need of any fundamental changes. But there are plenty of tweaks, especially when I look back at the last year of injury, illness, and fatigue. For example, I got an email from a blog reader a few days ago in response to my Death and Dying post with the following key paragraph:
“So, what do I do differently now that I’m zooming towards 50? While the work load peak-to-average (crest factor) will always be high in our businesses, I now try for a healthy mix of work, exercise, eating right and relationship building on a 2-7 day window instead of the 30-90 day window. The “week off the grid” model seemed to work in my 20’s and 30’s, but the swings from low and high (energy, mental acuity, happiness, etc.) would be unsustainable today.”
My engine has always run hot – I work and play hard until I run out of gas, and then I crash for a while. I’ve solved this for the past decade by taking a quarterly week of the grid to recharge and spend focused time with Amy, but I’m starting to feel like the 90 day tempo isn’t working as it’s too much physically and emotionally. The idea that I should shift to a weekly or some better defined monthly rhythm is appealing.
There are plenty of other things, both physical and mental, that I’ve struggled to change such as trying to lose 25 pounds for several years, learning a new programming language like Python, trying to stop using the telephone except for family, partners, and CEOs, and trying to back off of being completely scheduled from Monday to Friday.
Fortunately, next week is one of my quarterly weeks off the grid (although I have several things going on that will keep me a little engaged) so I’ll have plenty of time to ponder this. But, for any of you out there that have read this far and are willing, I’m interested in the suggestions, ideas, and tweaks you might have for me as I turn 45.
Today Howard Lindzon takes on Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC in his Do More Faster interview series. Jeff has been an awesome TechStars mentor since the very first Boulder program in 2007, has made a number of investments in TechStars companies, and has co-invested with me and my partners at Foundry Group in several companies, including SendGrid, Gnip, and Next Big Sound.
Jeff has been Doing More Faster since I met him – he’s one of the most prolific investors in consumer Internet companies and his firm SoftTech VC was the original “micro-VC firm.” He also has thought hard about how to Do More Faster by “decoupling value provided from time spent”, something that is key for anyone who is as an active investor as Jeff is.
Future Shock by Alvin Toffler was published 40 years ago. I must have read it around the time I turned 10. As a kid my parents fed me a steady diet of books that were more than I was ready for at the time, but I gobbled them down anyway. I vaguely recall Future Shock being one of them.
A month ago I decided to read it again. Ironically, it’s not available on the Kindle so I had to buy (and lug around) a paperback copy of it. The one I have appears to be on it’s 62nd printing according to the title page (that’s a lot of books.) I read it over the course of a few days – it’s long as has some sections that require slower reading to make sure you get the nuance.
I love to read “old science fiction” – stuff written in the 1950’s – 1980’s about the time frame from 2010 – 2040. It hadn’t occurred to me that “old futurism” would be equally interesting, satisfying, and enlightening. Future Shock did not disappoint me – it was stunningly interesting, even 40 years later.
Like old science fiction, Toffler got some things exactly right and others completely wrong. Two of the broad themes that were right on target were the “super industrial society” (his phrase for the information age) and what I started calling “mass disposability” as a proxy for the notion of the consumeration of everything. I was completely fascinated by both of these (which comprised about a third of the book), especially with his prediction that, as humans, we wouldn’t know how to deal with the changes that were coming and they’d create meaningful societal disruptions.
There’s plenty of hippy dippy early 1970’s in here (separation of birth mothers from parents, communes as next generation societies, and temporary marriages) that appeared for a little while before vanishing. But much of the societal shifts Toffler predicts either materialized in some form or evolved into something more sustainable.
The last section of the book is titled “Strategies for Survival.” When I read it, I tried to imagine being 45 years old in 1970 and projecting out to 2010. For some reason, I got a little freaked out by this as I began imagining how different today’s world is for someone who is 85 today. Then, I lined this notion up next to the world of a 5 year old today (for example, my niece) and tried to imagine what her world would be like in 80 years. I couldn’t.
If you are looking for something chewy to read over the holidays that will make you think, this is for you.
If you go to Feld Thoughts, TechStars, or David Cohen’s web site, you’ll notice a little red tab on the right side of the browser that says “Marginize”. If you want a chance to win a copy of Do More Faster, click it!
Marginize is one of the TechStars Boston 2010 companies. Since their soft launch at the end of the TechStars program a few months ago, their users of the Marginize browser add-on have used it on over 150,000 sites. They’ve just launched their new publisher widget and are on a number of sites, including Boston.com and Xconomy. Marginize enables an additional social interaction layer on existing web sites, including things like checkins, shares, comments and badges.
For example, see who has earned the Do More Faster badge by visiting one of Feld Thoughts, TechStars, or David Cohen’s web site. Our friends at Marginize will choose three random winners from the full group of Do More Faster badge holders on Wednesday night, so you time to check in is short. All you need to do to earn the badge is take a Marginize action on one of the three sites (write, reply, like, or check in.) Since you use your Twitter, Facebook, or Buzz credentials to sign in, the Marginize folks will message the winners directly to coordinate getting them a book.
If you don’t win, you can still buy the book. I’m quite confident Wiley will print as many as y’all want and – well – the Kindle version of Do More Faster doesn’t actually require printing.
Suddenly, browsers are interesting again. Well – in my little corner of the world they’ve been interesting for a while, but suddenly when I look at the dock on my Mac I notice Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Rockmelt. And yes – I use / play around with each of them regularly.
Recently, Wired declared that the Web is dead. Nice cover bait, but whatever. It’s not dead – like everything on the Web, it’s continuing to evolve at a dramatic pace. My friends organizing Add-On-Con 2010 tossed up a nice call to action recently titled Embracing Change Add-On-Con 2010. The short message – there is more opportunity than ever for browser add-ons, but the add-on community needs to rapidly evolve along with the Web especially given the appification of everything.
If you are a leader at a company that makes browser add-ons, this is your conference. It’s on 12/8 and 12/9 in Mountain View and should have a good crowd from all the major browser companies along with a bunch of your peers.
Today’s interview on Do More Faster is Greg Gottesman, a managing director at Madrona Venture Group in Seattle. Greg was instrumental in bring TechStars to Seattle and has been a great friend and co-investor over the years. Among other things, Greg teaches at University of Washington and recently built a class around Do More Faster.
Greg’s chapter is on the characteristics that define an innovative startup culture. He’s also part of a firm that just celebrated its 15th anniversary with a fun roast reflecting on their successes, failures, and missed deals.
I heard a brilliant thing recently concerning making mistakes in a relationship. The person I heard it from described it as “the 5 to 1 rule.”
“When you screw up, recognize that you need to do five good things for every one bad thing. So, when I do something that makes my wife mad at me – or which she considers “wrong”, I consciously focus on making sure that I do the next five things right.”
I think this simple rule can be applied to all relationships, not just the one with your spouse or significant other. As humans, we make plenty of mistakes and have plenty of failures. We also do plenty of things that annoy, distress, and anger people around us. Sometimes we realize it; sometimes we don’t.
Assume that you’ve done something, in the context of a relationship, that you’d consider to be a mistake and that you realize it, either because someone pointed it out to you or you figured it out yourself. If you consciously focus on doing “the right thing” the next five times you interact with that person, you’ll likely neutralize the impact of the mistake.
More importantly, you’ll develop a pattern of doing the right thing. This leads to all kinds of positive second order effects, like being generous, happy, and content with the people around you.
It’s especially powerful when you apply it to your spouse or significant other. I annoy my wife Amy on a regular basis. I show up late. I forget to do something she asked. I’m inconsiderate about something. But I try hard and over 18 years of being together the ratio of “good to bad” is much better than 5 to 1 in both directions. And it shows whenever one of the bad things happen, as each of us knows there is plenty of good coming next.
I’m super proud of my friends at Gnip. Last week they announced that they had closed another $2m investment from Foundry Group and First Round Capital and signed a deal with Twitter to become Twitter’s first authorized data reseller.
Via Gnip, you can now get three new premium Twitter feeds in real time for non-display use:
Gnip provides access to over 100 other social media feeds but has spent a lot of time in the past six months optimizing and tuning their system for Twitter-related data.
While Gnip has had its public ups and downs, including a reset of the technical approach and parts of the team about a year ago, co-founder and CEO Jud Valeski has done a magnificent job over the past two quarters of accelerating the business with real customers, adding huge depth to the technology stack, building a team that is continuing to scale nicely, and solidifying a long term relationship with Twitter that has been in the works for a while.
If you haven’t look at Gnip recently or didn’t know they exist, sign up for a free trial and take their social media API for a spin for 72 hours. Or just contact them directly if you are interested in any of the new premium Twitter feeds.
At the beginning of October, I wrote a post titled New Email Newsletter on Work-Life Balance where I decided to try a new email newsletter tool called Letter.ly to produce a paid email newsletter on work-life balance ($1.99 / month). I’ve decided to end this experiment and sent out the following letter to the email list tonight. Of course, because I didn’t tune the settings on Letter.ly it tweeted out the post, which recursively forced you to subscribe to read it. Oops. Here it is.
I’ve decided to end my experiment with Letter.ly (and – more importantly – “paid subscription content.”) I want to thank each of you for being part of this experiment.
I realize there was a cost to it (I think some of you have paid $1.99, others have paid $3.98 to date.) I tried to refund the money, but there wasn’t an easy way to do this. As a result, if I encounter any of you in the next year, I’m perfectly happy to reimburse you directly (just ask for the cash). If we don’t cross paths physically, please feel free to ask me for a favor via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or, if you really want your money back, email me your Paypal account info and I’ll Paypal you $1.99 or $3.98 (depending on how much you paid.)
Now, on to why I decided to stop this experiment. Basically, I found it incredibly unsatisfying. As an almost-daily blogger since 2005 (and often more than once a day), I thought it would be interesting to explore paid content via an email newsletter approach. It was interesting – in that I feel a combination of “strange pressure to produce” combined with “discomfort with charging for the content.”
1. Strange Pressure to Produce: After five years of blogging, writing a post has no emotional content at this point. I just write. Sometimes my posts are insightful; often they are just words. I don’t feel the need to “produce valuable stuff” – I figure people will read the posts if they want. In contrast, every few days I thought about the idea of writing something for this newsletter. Ideas would cross my mind, but they were rarely compelling to me. Yet I felt pressure to write. Periodically, the following thought would cross my mind: “If I don’t write at least $1.99 worth of stuff a month, I’m going to be letting down my readers.” And then I’d contemplate this. $1.99? Seriously? Is this how I’m valuing things all of sudden? The mere fact that I was thinking about this, especially since there was no practical way that the amount of money I’d make from this would have any impact on my life, seemed like a waste of mental and emotional cycles.
2. Discomfort With Charging for the Content: This is related to the idea that the money isn’t material to me. Over the past 60 days, I’ve seen several tweets that said some version of “Seriously Feld, you are charging for your content?” of “Feld puts up a paywall.” While I don’t object to getting paid for content, this seemed like a really strange / retro way to do it. Whenever I pondered it, I was uncomfortable; whenever someone called me out on it I felt strange.
I learned what I wanted from this experiment – I don’t want to write a paid newsletter, nor do I want to charge subscribers directly for blog-like content that I produce. With that, the experiment is over. Going forward, I’ll be posting all of my Work-Life Balance writing to my blog at www.feld.com, regardless of whether or not this impacts my book publisher’s view on the content.
As there appears to be no way to delete this newsletter, please unsubscribe. In the mean time, I’ve lowered the monthly price to $0.10 (the lowest the system will let me charge.)