I’ve spoken openly about how I don’t care about the idea of legacy. When pressed, I’ve struggled to describe the reason why I don’t care.
My long-time friend and first business partner Dave Jilk sent me the following Percy Bysshe Shelley poem to help me understand my perspective better.
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Look up at the sky and ponder how far the sands actually stretch. Infinity is far away.
Matt Bencke passed away yesterday. We put the above photo and note up on the Foundry Group site yesterday but I was still processing it and wasn’t ready to blog about it until this morning. His partner and co-founder at Might AI – Daryn Nakhuda – wrote some beautiful words about Matt at In our hearts, always.
You may remember Matt from his incredible article in Wired Magazine titled The Day I Found Out My Life Was Hanging From A Thread. I added on to this in It Can All Change In A Day.
Matt found out about his cancer on July 28th. The day before he, and everyone else in his world, thought he was in the peak of health. My post was on August 24th. It’s October 20th. I’m struggling to process this time frame.
I measure the closeness of my friendships with a few specific markers. The one that shifts things into another level of intimacy is to spend a few days together with me and Amy. Matt and I had been planning to have him and his wife Amy (who I only know from a distance) come out to Aspen in September and spend a long weekend with us. That obviously didn’t happen and will be a hole that I always have in my life.
Matt – you were awesome and will always be in our hearts and memories.
Amy and I just spent a week of vacation off the grid in Aspen. I ran, read, and hung out. I had a fantasy about writing, but didn’t get to it. We watched Narcos Season 3, ate at a bunch of Aspen’s restaurants, and had an Amy pre-birthday dinner with our friends Dave and Maureen. And we napped – a lot.
I hadn’t had a vacation since mid-April, which is unusual for me as Amy and I try to take a week off the grid every quarter. On day three, which was a Monday, I settled into a total chill zone which lasted all week. I did my long run on Friday (instead of Saturday) and cruised from Aspen to Basalt. I then slept most of the day on Saturday when I wasn’t reading or eating. Yup – I’m marathon ready.
While I’m not quite finished with Reincarnation Blues, I did knock down six other books this week.
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening: Intense, powerful, horrifying, and inspiring all at the same time. Manal Al-Sharif is incredible. I hope I get to meet her someday – I’ll thank her for being brave enough to do what she does and to tell her story while doing it.
The Impossible Fortress: My inner 14-year-old loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. The Commodore 64 code was a bonus.
Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups – Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000: I met Jason Calacanis in the mid-1990s when he was peddling his Silicon Alley Reporter magazine. We’ve been friends ever since and I give him a big hug whenever our paths cross. He’s his normal outspoken and bombastic self in this book, which has lots of gems buried in it. I smiled a lot when I read it. And how about that subtitle …
The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War: This book was a grind, but it had a lot of good stuff in it. It’s only 784 pages so it took more than a day to read it. If you are trying to understand what is going on in the current American economy, and why the future will not look like the past, this is a good place to start.
Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America: As part of my effort to get rolling again on my #GiveFirst book, I thought reading this might be a useful kick in the pants. It wasn’t.
My next vacation is in mid-November. The tank once again has plenty of fuel to get me to that point.
His autoresponder (typos and all) is one for the books, and like great poetry, worth reading over and over.
My cancer (ccRCC, metastic) has gotten the upper hand and I’ll be
putting all my resources into managing it.
In my stread, please keep these very important messages in place:
* be good to each other
* enjoy evert day
* wanting is suffering
* The journey is still the destination, now more than every
* the trend of purpose is coming like a tidal wave, get out a heard of
it. enjoy the ride. die fulfilled.
* Reframe your thinking of “what your career can do for you,” into
“what can your career do for others,” and wonderful, meaningful work
Jeff Clavier introduced me to Ted in 2006 and we both invested in Ted’s company Dogster. We crossed paths periodically, usually online.
My last email to Ted was a few months ago, where I wrote “Sending you some love this morning” followed by
He responded quickly with:
Every day is hard these days.
Nonetheless, I’m very happy to be alive and keep fighting through.
At some level, it’s all pretty simple.
Enjoy Every Day.
Ted – thank you for the gift of you.
On July 28th, my partner Jason told me that Matt Bencke, the co-founder and CEO of Mighty AI, had suddenly gotten a serious cancer diagnosis. While Jason was on Matt’s board, I had spent plenty of time with him and, as one would expect, was shocked.
I immediately sent Matt a note that said:
I will keep confidential, but I wanted to send you love and good karma. You are a special person. I’ll be thinking good thoughts and sending you positive energy multiple times a day.
I didn’t know what else to do. Later that day, I got a note from Greg Gottesman, a close friend of ours who helped start Mighty AI – with a summary of what was going on.
1. He has a large clot in his right ventricle that needs removed. That is very likely to be open heart surgery. We are being transferred to Swedish Cherry Hill to start that process; surgery is likely tonight but TBD.
2. Initial pathology report does confirm what we knew was the most probable but worst diagnosis – pancreatic tail adenocarcinoma. We know it is Stage 4 because of the metastases to other organs. It is terminal and incurable, but how long he will have will depend on more information and how soon he can recover from open heart surgery and start chemo. MDs right now say could be over a year. We simply don’t know.
A day later, Matt sent me a short note in response that said:
7/28 was a Friday and Amy and I didn’t have anything planned. The evening was a quiet, reflective one. I still remember being empty of words whenever I thought about this. Matt is 45 and in incredible physical shape, so the reminder that this can happen to anyone hung quietly in the air.
On 7/30, I got the following email from Matt.
No need for confidentiality
Your prayers and thoughts mean the world, thank you. This is still surreal. Of course I’m hoping for the best and I’m a stubborn Pittsburgh-born fighter…but the prognosis is clear.
This may sound weird but maybe I can turn this into a silver lining for others. When I’m feeling coherent i could do a webcast or some such
Matt has written an incredible essay that was published in Wired today titled The Day I Found Out My Life Was Hanging by a Thread. It’s extraordinary. In addition to reflecting the awesomeness of Matt, it goes through the intense few days of discovery, his emotional journey personally and with his family, while weaving in the backdrop of how a CEO, management team, company, and board deal with something like this unfolding in real time.
You know you are in for a powerful story when the lead in is:
“It started while I was on a Hawaiian vacation in May. I thought I’d just tweaked my back lifting a poolside lounge chair. Back home, my back pain became severe, and I started noticing nerve pain in my legs. For eight days I could barely crawl around the house. My wife and two daughters nicknamed me “the worm.” At 45, I’m in pretty good shape—avid cyclist, runner, weightlifter, yoga enthusiast with a resting pulse in the 50s.”
I read the draft of this when Matt first wrote it. Wired changed very little, which is a tribute to them for letting Matt speak in his authentic, unedited, and raw voice. For example, when describing the moment of the initial diagnosis:
“He went on to explain that I had many tumors in my liver, pancreas, and chest. In addition, he explained that I had quite a few blood clots, including in my heart and lungs. “What is ‘many’ tumors?” I asked. He looked defeated, saying they stopped counting after 10. I thought he might cry, and then he started in with some nonsense about how maybe it was all just bad tests, or maybe I had a rare water-borne pest infection. Amy began crying, hard. I went into silent shock and just tried to get this guy to shut up and leave.”
But that was just the start. Lots more transpired over the next day in the hospital. And then …
“On Friday the docs woke me with an urgent problem: They had found a blood clot the size of a Ping-Pong ball in my heart’s right ventricle. If it broke loose, I would die instantly, whether I was in an ER or my basement. To make matters worse, they showed me an image of the clot, and it was precariously wiggling on an already-loose attachment. Each time my heart beat, the ticking time bomb swayed precariously. The clot was too big to suck out with a vacuum, too risky to slice and remove bit-by-bit, and too large to remove from the side by breaking open a few ribs. Nope, removing it was urgent and would require cracking my sternum. Today.”
Time sped up.
“Events were happening at a dizzying pace. Clearly I needed to start making some calls—to resign my role as Mighty AI CEO, to connect with my mom and other immediate family members, to alert more of my closest friends. It was around 9:10 Friday morning. Mighty AI’s weekly operations meeting would be getting started at 10:15, so I had a lot of calls to make.”
I hope I’ve inspired you to go read the whole thing at The Day I Found Out My Life Was Hanging by a Thread. I just went and read it again and it’s one of the best in the moment essays I’ve ever read. GeekWire has a nice add-on piece titled Mighty AI co-founder Matt Bencke diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, vows to ‘beat the odds’ as he hands over CEO reins.
Matt ended his essay with this:
“We are all so fragile. Each day is precious. And the most important parts of our lives are the relationships we invest in. I certainly feel that way, as my friends and family—“Matt’s Army”—have Amy and me awash in love that feels like a mighty waterfall.”
Treasure every moment. Love your fellow human. As Matt says so clearly. “The most important parts of our lives are the relationships we invest in.”
If you know Matt or are part of my extended gang and want to help, Matt’s Army has stepped up to Wage Hope at PurpleStride, the walk to end pancreatic cancer. Join us and donate something. And hug someone today.
Matt – we love you and are rooting for you.
I’ve had an emotionally challenging morning so far. I woke up too early and was deeply agitated. I tried to get rolling, couldn’t, and went back to bed. But I wasn’t able to fall asleep and my brain kept cycling on all the political chaos and societal hatred that is going on. I’ve tried to compartmentalize it but it broke through again the last couple of days after Charlottesville.
I got up and realized the Internet was down. I decided to just go running. Two minutes in, Brooks came up lame and I walked him back home. I started again with Cooper but my left knee was a little twingey so I decided to bail and take a few rest days. The Internet was still down.
Amy and I then spent time at breakfast talking about how to reconcile the intolerable. I felt a little better and was helped by Fred Wilson’s post If You Lie Down With Dogs, You Come Up With Fleas and Mark Suster’s post Finding My Tribe — The Upside of the Downcast Year.
I’m off to grind through a massive backlog of email today. I leave you with a beautiful video of the eclipse from 2015.
On May 24th, I wrote a post titled Shifting To Maker Mode For The Summer. I had full intentions of making this shift around Memorial Day and sustaining it until Labor Day.
I have completely failed at this. While I’m managed to stay off social media and read a lot more than watch TV, I massively underestimated the amount of transactional activity I’d have this summer. On Monday mornings, when I’d look at my schedule for the week, I’d see a wall of blue through Friday, starting early in the morning and going until dinner time. My goal was to have nothing scheduled until 1 pm with an upper bound at 5 pm, but this ended up being an epic fail. And, as a bonus, I’ve had a dinner almost every night between Monday and Thursday so far this summer (that’s not a good thing.) I’ve had a few days that weren’t completely full, but they’ve ended up being catch-up days.
The next few of weeks are more of the same. So, I’ve accepted that Maker Mode is not happening this summer.
I’ve got two books in process: Give First and Startup Communities 2. I wrote 15,000 words on Give First in March but haven’t opened my Scrivener file since. I have a co-author (Ian Hathaway) work is hard at work on the first draft of Startup Communities 2, so at least he’s making progress, but I haven’t even started holding up my part of that particular bargain.
I’m am running and have committed to do the Run Crazy Horse marathon in South Dakota in October. The running has been great for my body and even better for my mental health, so that’s good.
I feel deep equanimity around this. In the past, I’d be frustrated with myself for not getting in gear. But in hindsight, it’s clear that maker mode wasn’t realistic given the other work commitments I have along with all of the episodic stuff that regularly comes up in my work life. Snoopy continues to be my guide on this particular journey.
Happy Anniversary Amy.
We’ve been together for 27 years and we’ve been married for 24 of them.
It amazes me that you put up with me.
I look forward to spending as many years together as we get on this planet. And, if we are lucky, some technology will get created before we vanish that allows us to spend infinity together, although I’m not sure I’d wish me on you for infinity.
My parents have been married for 54 years today. That’s 19,710 days. Mom / Dad – happy anniversary!
Your relationship is an inspiration to me. You have set an incredible example of a full and equal partnership that I know has deeply influenced my approach to my marriage with Amy. I also know that it has inspired many others.
Thank you. Congratulations. And Dad, it’s pretty cool to see a photo of you with hair.
An hour into dinner last night with Alex Rigopulos, he picked up his phone, tapped away at it for a few seconds, and slid it across the table to me. I then read the following:
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.
I was so preposterously serious in those days, such a humorless little prig.
Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me.
So throw away your baggage and go forward.
There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet,
trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair.
That’s why you must walk so lightly.
Lightly my darling,
on tiptoes and no luggage,
not even a sponge bag,
– Island, Aldous Huxley
Alex and I have been close friends for over 20 years. I was an early angel investor in Harmonix in the mid-1990s, enjoyed the Viacom acquisition of Harmonix in 2007, watched Alex and his co-founder Eran acquire Harmonix back from Viacom in 2010, and then I invested again in the company in 2013 with my partners at Foundry Group. Throughout, we’ve had an emotionally intimate relationship that I treasure, even though we aren’t often in the same physical location.
Our conversation last night was 1% Harmonix and 99% life. I prefer this as I have plenty of time to talk about work with Alex and the team at Harmonix, but precious little time to sit quietly, with a very long-time friend, and talk about life.
The Huxley quote surfaced as we were talking about attachment, detachment, and non-attachment. Walking lightly and non-attachment are similar, so we spiraled deep into that for a while, enjoying a harmonious intertwining conversation about these concepts against the backdrop of our current life.
As I walked home from dinner for the third night in a row in the rain in Kendall Square, I barely felt my feet touching the ground.