Amy and I have coffee for about 30 minutes every morning. It’s been one of the wonderful positive side effects of the Covid crisis.
Some days we land on a topic. Other days we don’t. Today, after a few minutes, the question “What is your worldview?” popped up, and we bashed that around for a little while.
The last year has had an enormous impact on my personal worldview. My underlying value system and beliefs haven’t changed, but I’ve reconsidered, rethought, adjusted, and modified many external perspectives. But that’s the easy stuff.
Amy said something this morning that caused me to jump out of my skin with delight.
“You have always been the weird kid in the corner with a big book.”
At the moment she said this, we were discussing how we understood others and how others understood or misunderstood us.
My internal perspective is unchanged, but in the last year, it has surfaced much more clearly. About four years ago, Jerry Colonna and I had a conversation described in his book Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up where I said, “I’m no longer striving.”
I didn’t completely understand what I meant by this back then, but it was the beginning of me bending the arc on my internal worldview. Jerry linked it to equanimity, which has deep roots in Buddhist thought in addition to its traditional definition.
In Buddhism, equanimity (Pali: upekkhā; Sanskrit: upekṣā) is one of the four sublime attitudes and is considered: Neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love.
I’ve anchored on the phrase the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience which speaks to me and feels reflective of my current internal worldview.
A few minutes ago, Amy sent me this to ponder as we head into the weekend after an intense week.
Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transferring you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but “steal” some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.
– Albert Camus
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Nietzsche lately. I expect I’ll be adding some Camus to my diet.
After 89 years on this planet, Len Fassler passed away on Friday.
Len was my Yoda. As a paternal figure, he was a close second to my father. I loved him deeply. And I will miss him every day.
We were introduced in the spring of 1993 by Jim Galvin, CEO of Allcom, which had just been acquired by Len’s company Sage Alerting Systems. Feld Technologies worked with Allcom whenever we needed a network installed for a client. At the time, the state-of-the-art was a wired 10BaseT ethernet network, so Allcom did the wiring, and we did everything else. After Jim’s company was acquired, Len asked him who else he should talk to in the Boston area. Jim introduced us, and that led to lunch near our office in downtown Boston.
Soon after, Len called me and asked if I’d be interested in selling Feld Technologies to Sage Alerting. It took a while for me and my partner Dave Jilk to decide to do it, but we closed the sale in November 1993.
Len and I ended up working together on many things over the past 27 years. I still have the Brooks Brothers striped shirt that Len and his partner Jerry Poch gave me when we signed the documents for Feld Technologies to be bought by Sage Alerting Systems (which changed its name to Sage Technologies and then changed it to AmeriData). When I started making angel investments in 1994, Len invested alongside me in many companies, including NetGenesis, Harmonix, and Oblong. We then co-founded Sage Networks (which changed its name to Interliant) with Raj Bhargava (NetGenesis co-founder) and Steve Maggs (whose company was also acquired by AmeriData.) At Mobius, we invested in Vytek, another company Len co-founded. As an angel, I personally invested in CoreBTS, the company Len co-founded after Vytek was acquired.
There’s an enormous amount of my business history packed in that paragraph. Rather than go through a bunch of things we did together, I want to list some memories that will stay with me until the end of my life.
Len loved to smoke a cigar. I’d never smoked, but for several years, while we were co-chairs of Interliant together, we had a tradition of going for a long walk at the end of the day when we were together. We both smoked a cigar during this walk and talked about whatever had happened during the day and anything unresolved. Len’s cigars were omnipresent – I still remember his Lexus’s smell, which was pleasant because the cigars smelled like Len.
Going for a walk was a foundation of our relationship. Whenever we were in the same office, I knew we had something to figure out if Len came by my desk and said, “Brad, let’s go for a walk.” When we weren’t together, the phone call was the equivalent of a metaphorical walk. He had a remarkable talent for bringing up issues directly yet clearly, and working through them quickly.
Everything I learned about buying a company, selling a company, or doing a deal came from Len. If you’ve ever worked with me in any deal capacity, I’m channeling Len. I learned how to be a board member from Len. I learned how to complete a negotiation, walk away from the table, be empathetic, and be available. He also taught me how to move on when something didn’t work out or go my way.
From 1996 to 2001, I spent a lot of time with Len in New York, where Interliant was headquartered. I stayed in an apartment near Lincoln Center that I shared with the CEO of another company Len was on the board of, or at Len’s house in Harrison, NY. I felt safe in that house, loved by Len and his wife, Bunny, tucked in and comfortable in the upstairs bedroom, and part of their family at the breakfast table in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure I could find my way without Google Maps from the Interliant office in Purchase to Len’s house as well as from Dewey Ballantine’s office in NYC to Len’s house. That house was full of love.
The photo above is from the day before Fitbit went public in June 2015. I had breakfast with Len at the Gramercy Park Hotel, where I was staying. I told him I had the morning off and asked him what he wanted to do. He said he’d never been in Gramercy Park since it was a private park, so we got the key to the park from the concierge and walked around it and talked for an hour. We then wandered around the Baruch College buildings talking some more. We ended that morning with a big hug like we started and ended all of our days together.
I remember clearly a phone call on 12/1/2000 where Len called me from NYC. He told me that Cable & Wireless wasn’t moving forward with the acquisition of Interliant – the deal was all but done. Rather than approving the deal, the C&W board decided to stop all M&A activity given they just found out they would have their first quarterly loss in many years. That night, Len joined about 50 friends at the Greenbriar Inn in Boulder for my surprise 35th birthday party, which Amy had arranged. He had a remarkable ability to take every setback in stride.
I remember his signature. I saw it for the first time on the back of a manila envelope where he jotted down the terms we had just agreed to for Sage Alerting Systems to acquire Feld Technologies. Under the terms, he signed his name. I remember signing document after document with him at Interliant and remember sitting at the Interliant office in Purchase after the IPO roadshow, waiting for the SEC to clear our filing so we could price. We were waiting for one document, after which we’d sign one more thing, and the bankers would price the offering, and we’d go public the next morning. When the fax machine printed ten pages (instead of two) that were additional comments on our SEC filing (that same one that Merrill Lynch had said three weeks earlier “we are good to go on the roadshow – the SEC always clears this on time”), we knew we weren’t pricing that night. Our order book collapsed two days later. We went public two months later, but there was a lot of Scotch drunk the night we got that fax from the SEC. I didn’t get to see Len’s signature next to mine that night.
I loved the way Len put his arm around me. I loved the hug he always gave me. I loved his relationship with his son David, who also became a good friend. I loved how we said “I love you” when we said goodbye in person or on the phone.
Len changed my life. He gave me my second favorite quote, “They Can’t Kill You And They Can’t Eat You” (my dad gave me my first favorite quote, “If You Aren’t Standing On The Edge You Are Taking Up Too Much Space“)
My parents were good friends with Len. Every time I was together with all of them, I was exceedingly happy.
My long publishing relationship with Wiley began with a breakfast meeting that Len arranged with Matthew Kissner, who was a Wiley board member.
If you’ve ever heard me say, “Would you buy it for a dollar?” I learned that from Len. His influence on me formed the basis of my business philosophy, now called #GiveFirst. He was one of the first lawyer-turned-entrepreneurs I worked with, which helped me appreciate the importance of law in business and the importance of business judgment in the law.
The ultimate brilliance of Len was his ability to build deep emotional and enduring relationships. The number of people he influenced and who loved him is extraordinary.
The last time Len and I talked live was in October when he called me to say goodbye. Since then, his daughter Ellen has been my conduit to him, via emails that I’d been sending a few times each week. Ellen read them to Len and then sent me back a note with his response. Ellen, thank you.
On Friday morning, when I heard that Len passed, I immediately reached out to Frank Alfano, Jenny Lawton, Bruce Klein, Steve Maggs, Jerry Poch, Raj Bhargava, and Jerry Lebow. Some of them I talk to regularly. Others, like Bruce, I haven’t talked to in a while. But when Bruce and I got on the phone to talk about Len, it was like we were together the day before, working on something at Dewey Ballantine’s office, with Len at the other end of a long conference room table working on something else at the same time.
Len – I love you. I will miss you and think about you every day. Thank you for the sensational gift you gave me of your friendship. When it’s safe to travel to New York again, know that Frank, Bruce, Jenny, and I will be having dinner at Cellini’s together with a place set for you.
For the past nine months, Amy and I have started our morning together. I get up, pee, weigh myself, brush my teeth, meditate for 20 to 30 minutes, and then we have “morning coffee” together.
Morning coffee lasts for two cups of coffee (one regular, one decaf). This ends up being between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on what we are talking about. After spending the vast majority of our 30 years together on the road until a few years ago, this has been an incredible joy for me. Regardless of the previous day, it gives me a clear way to Simply Being Again, each morning with my beloved.
When I woke up Monday morning, I didn’t expect so much of our morning coffee this week to discuss what was going on in politics in the United States. Today, one of the things we riffed on was our respective first political memories.
Mine was Richard Nixon being impeached. I was seven years old. We didn’t watch very much television in my house growing up – mostly PBS (Channel 13 in Dallas) and sports my dad liked to watch (mostly Dallas Cowboys football.) I remember a few TV shows like Happy Days and Gilligan’s Island, but Daniel and I were only allowed one hour of TV a day, and I often didn’t use mine because I preferred to read.
I never watched the news as a kid. Maybe my parents did in their bedroom, but it took an extraordinary event for us to watch TV news together. I remember the Iran Hostage Crisis, Oliver North, and one of the moon landings (I don’t remember which one.)
We had two TVs in the house – one in my parent’s bedroom and one in the room we called “the family room.” I remember sitting on the floor in my parent’s bedroom, watching Congress impeach Nixon. I only have one visual image of it, so my guess is there was only one day that we watched it. But whatever it was, it was a climactic moment that cemented itself in my memory.
Amy remembers it also. Her family didn’t have a TV growing up, so she remembers going to the Anchor River Inn, owned by Bob and Julie Clutts, and watching the TV at the bar. I bet that we were watching TV simultaneously, me in Dallas, Texas, and Amy in Anchor Point, Alaska.
We are each lifetime members of Generation X. The broad brush of Gen X being cynical and disaffected is probably true, unless you choose purpose, meaning, joy, and empathy.
Our earliest experience with politics is of the deep cracks in the foundations of the institutions our parents could believe in. At 55, I am experiencing that again. It’s been continual low-level noise my entire life, but the volume was just turned up to 11. Or maybe even 12.
About a month ago, I participated in a discussion hosted by the CU Boulder Conference on World Affairs titled Back to the Future: Lessons for our emerging challenges from science fiction and history.
The moderator was Phil Weiser (Colorado’s Attorney General). The guests were me, Blake Crouch (Colorado-based Author and Screenwriter), Patty Limerick (Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder), and Joe Neguse (U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District – the district I live in).
As with anything Phil moderates, he was well prepared, moved the conversation along nicely, and made sure everyone was engaged.
He ended with a classical question about the future. “What is your biggest hope and your biggest fear?”
I answered at 1:14:18 with my version of a Zen Koan.
My hope is that I can continue to maintain non-attachment to my hopes and fears.
My fear that I won’t be able to maintain non-attachment to my hopes and fears.
A month later this is still my answer. I encourage you to ponder it for yourself.
Simply begin again.
A year ago, I wrote in my v54.0 post that I’d decided not to have any goals for the year ahead. Instead of having goals, I wrote:
I’m embracing the moment. Every moment. Simply being in the moment. Being present with whomever I’m with or whatever I’m doing. But that’s not a goal. I know I’ll drift – regularly – just like my mind does when I meditate.
As I reflect on that last 365 days, I’m glad I had no goals. I could never have anticipated the 365 days that just occurred. Someone changed some of the fundamental code in the simulation we are in, and it sent everything off in an extremely unexpected direction.
Nothing like a small change in initial conditions.
For v55, I’m maintaining my simply begin again matra. However, when I woke up this morning, I allowed a switch to flip on the stage of life I’m in. At 55, I’ve decided I’m in the “every day is a gift from here on out” mode.
I’ve had several friends die this year. Many others have re-evaluated what they are doing, how they are doing it, or why they are doing it. I’ve been involved in several projects that have opened my eyes and mind to a different level around the inequities that exist on our planet. I spent a lot of time on things I didn’t want to spend my time on because I felt a responsibility or an obligation to people, things, or institutions.
Simply begin again.
Amy has continued to be an extraordinarily deep bedrock in my existence. We’ve had coffee together every morning since mid-March when the Covid lockdowns started. Our conversations have shifted from the past to the future, to the current moment. For the last 265 days, we’ve been together. While I could never have predicted that for v54, it was a blessing in an otherwise complex and completely unexpected year.
As I shift into “every day is a gift from here on out” mode, I’m changing how I spend my life, so it’s oriented around maximizing what I want to do rather than minimizing what I don’t want to do. That’s not a goal, but a foundational shift in my own initial condition, as of this moment.
Simply begin again.
I’ve personally been in a liminal space for most of 2020. Today, most of America is in a liminal space.
The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us.
I’m participating in the first annual DEIS Practicum with Rodney Sampson of Ohub today. In our opening discussion, we touched on the importance of being uncomfortable.
Liminal spaces are uncomfortable. When you sell your company, leave, and think about what to do next, it’s uncomfortable. When your company fails, and you are thinking about what to do next, it’s uncomfortable. When a parent dies, and you re-evaluate your priorities, it’s uncomfortable. When you get fired from your job and start thinking about what is next, it’s uncomfortable. When you show up as a White person in discussion with Black colleagues about racial equity and say something deeply stupid or hurtful, it’s uncomfortable. When an election happens on a Tuesday, and it’s still not resolved on a Thursday, it’s uncomfortable.
It’s uncomfortable to wait and not know. It’s uncomfortable to be in the in-between spaces. It’s uncomfortable not to know what is next.
This is the liminal space.
If you embrace it, it’s where transformation takes place. But, you have to be ok with waiting, and not knowing, and let being in the liminal space do its magic.
If you haven’t voted yet, today is the day. Please vote.
One of my mantras for v54 is “Simply Begin Again.”
As I get closer to v55 (58 days from now), I’ve been thinking about it more. During my morning meditation, I repeated it for a stretch and then did the same for about a mile on my run this morning.
Garth gets so many things correct.
I made a big shift earlier this summer after I finished up some of the work I was doing with the State of Colorado around Covid, specifically around the Innovation Response Team. A lot of that energy shifted to new work around racial equity and the release of my new book with Ian Hathaway The Startup Community Way. At the same time, my Foundry Group workload intensified as companies shifted from “survive Covid” to “grow like crazy because of tailwinds from Covid and adjustments made during Q2.”
When I reflect on where we are in October, 2020, I’m amazed. There is a spectrum that has awesome at one end and awful at the other. I’m engaged on both ends and spent relatively little time in between them. The inequities that exist on so many dimensions of our existence are extremely visible to me right now.
My gear shift around each day has been profound. I’ve adopted a set of new habits for the beginning and end of the day. I start each day with 30 minutes of meditation (I’m on a year and a half streak), then have 15+ minutes of coffee with Amy, and then go running three or four days a week. It’s a full reset every morning, which has had a profound impact on my attitude to everything that then follows.
Next, Amy and I try to have a 30 minute lunch every day. We probably miss a day a week, but right after I hit post, I’m going to go have lunch with her. We’ve never done this during the week before and I hope to do this with her every day for the rest of my life.
At the end of the day, which ranges from 5pm to 8pm, I’m done. I no longer try to get through all my email. I no longer do one last check before I go to bed. I just stop for the day.
And then I simply begin again the next day.
Larry Nelson, a very close friend, passed away on Friday.
If you don’t know Larry, he was a super positive participant in the Boulder and the Denver startup communities for many years. He and his wife Pat produced w3w3.com well before podcasts were trendy (Larry and Pat referred to it as “Internet Talk Radio.”) I always thought of Larry and Pat as the encouraging storytellers of the Boulder and the Denver startup communities.
Going back to some time in the late 1990s, Larry and Pat started showing up at every event I can remember participating in, which were a lot. I’d be doing a thing and there was Larry and Pat, with their cameras and their microphones. They took it all in, took tons of photos, and always wrote up interesting stuff about what was going on.
Larry was a master interviewer before everyone in tech started being a podcast host or a podcast guest. “This is Larry Nelson of w3w3.com” sticks in my mind. I enjoyed my interviews with Larry – he always made me laugh, made me feel loved, and brought out good stories. He was relentless and tireless in a way that made me say yes to everything he asked.
At some point, I started spending some social time with Larry and Pat. I introduced them to my parents, who became good friends with them. Everyone I knew liked them and welcomed them wherever they went. Over time, I (and many others) started calling Larry “Lord Nelson.” I can’t remember where the nickname came from, but my greeting to him went as follows.
Brad: Hey Lord Nelson, how are you today?
I never, ever got tired of that greeting.
Larry became ill recently and ended up in the hospital. I talked to him several times a week for the past few weeks, checking in on him, laughing, and hearing him respond to my greeting with “Magnificent!” even though I knew he was suffering.
Larry – I love you. I will miss you. But I will think of you often. You were a magnificent human.