As they wheeled me into surgery, I thought to myself “If this is the end it has been pretty amazing.” This is a photo my brother Daniel took of me just after they wheeled me out of the recovery room and back into my little cubby hole where Amy and Daniel were hanging out. While I don’t remember any of this, probably due to being under the influence of Versed (a truly amazing drug) at least I had the right attitude in response to Daniel saying “take that kidney stone!”
I had an 8mm kidney stone removed using Laser Stone Surgery using Flexible Pyeloscopy on Friday 11/16. While not a major surgery, I still went under general anesthesia for two hours for the first time as an adult. Amy describes this as “they take you to death’s door, open it a crack, let you peer in for a while, and then pull you back and close it.” I probably didn’t need her to tell me that description prior to the surgery.
On Sunday 11/18 I went to Cabo San Lucas for a two week vacation which included my 47th birthday. I don’t remember much of the first week – I was stoned on Vicodin and in a happy, warm, cuddly, very constipated, fields of golden retriever puppy haze. I stopped taking Vicodin on Thursday 11/22 but it still took a few more days to start feeling normal. I dropped off the grid entirely for the week of 11/8 but resurfaced to do some email and writing the week of 11/25. By 12/1 (my 47th birthday) I felt about 90% and was very relieved to have the surgery, and the prior three months behind me.
This period started off on 9/5 in Kobarid, Solvenia with a bike accident. I broke a tooth, got some stitches, and badly bruised my ribs. It was entirely my fault and my partner Ryan McIntyre, who I crashed into, saved me from much more severe damage. I then proceeded to spend the next three weeks on the road, totaling a month away from home. That was mistake #1, as I underestimated how tired I’d get from it. Mistake #2 was underestimating the damage from the bike accident. I ended up running the Detroit Marathon on 10/21 and did fine, but I was completely wiped out physically by the end of October. I continued to spend a lot of time in October and November on the road and found myself exhausted and depressed by the end of it. And then our dog Kenai died.
Oh – and Amy and I wrote the bulk of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur during this time period (it’s done – we submitted the final page proofs over the weekend.) I recognize the irony of completely burning myself out during the writing of this book – fortunately we talk about this challenge plenty in the book and we communicated extraordinarily well as a couple during this time frame about what was going on. Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.
I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.
I’m back in Boulder and very refreshed. I’m also determined to learn from this experience. Amy and I spent a lot of time last week talking about changing the tempo on some things, including adding in some new daily habits like yoga that prioritize higher than other things. And I’ve accepted that part of my travel pacing has to include being home over the weekends to so I can recharge my extrovert.
Thanks everyone who gave me well-wishes and support the past few weeks. It means a lot to me. I leave you with the sunrise from Cabo that I saw each morning during the past two weeks.
I was going to write something about a new book I’ve just published but I woke up this morning and that felt trivial so I’m going to save it for next week. Instead, I’m going to talk about my day yesterday.
My long time friend (dating back to the mid-1990’s) Andy Sack has testicular cancer. Before I get into things, he’s in the middle of chemo, has a 95%+ cure rate, is open and public about what he’s going through, and has an incredibly positive attitude.
I’ve tried to call or write Andy every day since his diagnosis. I’ve probably done it 80% of the time (I know I’ve missed a few days.) Every day at 5pm my iPhone gives me a reminder to “call Andy Sack.” Most of the time I get his voice mail and leave a message, other times we talk for a few minutes. While I was off the grid last week in Hawaii I sent him a postcard every day. Either way, I get a chance to tell him that I’m thinking of him and give him some additional energy from out in the universe, wherever I am. But this was the first time I’ve been able to get to Seattle to spend time with him.
I took the early flight from Denver to Seattle and we met up at the Kinect Accelerator where the program has just started. We found a room to just sit and talk for about 45 minutes. After a hug and a heart felt welcome, we started talking about how things were going. Our first 15 minutes were filled with lots of tears and emotion as I gave Andy a gift from a few of his friends including me and Amy and we connected physically for the first time since he was diagnosed.
I was curious about the experience he was having and he was very open about chemo, how it impacted him, and what the process was. We talked some about the dynamic of a loved one being sick or hurt since Amy’s had a broken arm for the past few weeks. While the broken arm isn’t in the same category as cancer, it has changed the way I’ve thought about caregiving as it’s the first time I’ve had to be – in Amy’s words “her man servant” – in our relationship. Amy called during this time and when the Imperial March (Amy’s personal ringtone) started playing on my iPhone Andy laughed a good belly laugh. I put Amy on speaker, the three of us had a nice talk, and then we wrapped up and had a TechStars related meeting.
We went to lunch with David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars. We talked about work, but we also talked about life. Andy was total present – he was having a good day physically and emotionally – and it was great to be around. After lunch David got in an Uber and headed to the airport to go back to Boulder; Andy and I walked around the corner to his office and BigDoor’s office (he’s on the board of BigDoor with me, their office is on the first floor, his is on the second.) I said hello to the BigDoor folks, hung out for a while and caught up on email while Andy had a meeting upstairs, and then he drove me to my hotel and we said goodbye for the day.
I had a few more meetings and then ended back up at the Kinect Accelerator for the Mentor Mixer. The program started on Monday and this was the first meeting of all the mentors. I gave a talk about how to be an effective mentor during the introduction to the program and afterward noticed Andy in the back of the room. This was a nice surprise as I didn’t expect to see him again on this trip. We hung out at the mixer a little and then took off to go have another meal together – this time alone. We talked about a few experiences in the distant past and I vividly remembered a dinner in Brookline in the 1990’s with Andy, Alexa (his wife), and Amy. I couldn’t remember the restaurant, but I had the visualization of the entire experience in my head and shared it with him (he remembered it also). We talked more about a wide range of things – some business, some personal – and just enjoyed being together.
I got more than my fair share of his time yesterday. And it was awesome. As I was laying bed at 11pm drifting off to sleep I thought of him some more, some of the ups and downs we’d had together, and how much I treasured him as a friend.
We’ve been through lots of things together. One of the first things he said to me when he saw me was “your support of me through this period eliminated any fears I had lingering about our relationship in the context of any money that I’ve lost for you.” I’ve invested in a number of things that Andy has done dating back to his first company (Abuzz, which was a success and acquired by the NY Times for about a 4.5x of my investment.) But we’ve also had lots of things not work (Bodyshop.com – 0.5x, Judy’s Book – 0.25x.) However, I never, ever have worried about it – my willingness to keep trying and working with great people trumps the specific returns of any individual transaction. And more importantly, my personal friendship and loyalty is built on trust and a long term arc of honesty, not transactional results. While we’ve both screwed up plenty of things along the way and had our share of disagreements, we always resolve them and move forward. I’ve told Andy this several times in the past, but when you face mortality you have a chance to really understand (and express) this.
I wore my Fuck Cancer shirt all day. Several people gave me positive comments on it and one stood out. Near the end of the day, a woman who I didn’t know said “great shirt.” She looked at me with acknowledgement and a real spark of connection occurred. I realized, at that moment, that cancer is a disease that defines many people at a profoundly deep level, especially when they survive it.
On Saturday I’m running a 50 mile race in Sacramento. I’ve been thinking about this all week as I try to get my mind into it. It’s been hard to get real focus on it because I’ve had a busy week and I know that Friday will be my transition day. But as I sit here, the 50 mile run doesn’t seem that hard. Sure – it’ll be a physical and emotional challenge, but it’s not surgery, a 64 day chemo regimen, and the emotional challenge of “beating cancer.”
Life is short. And uncertain. Live it every moment. Andy – thanks for being you and letting me be part of your life.
My dad is one of my best friends. His birthday is on Saint Patrick’s Day and it has been a bright green celebration for as long as I can remember. He turned 74 today and we had dinner tonight at Oak at Fourteenth with Amy, my mom Cecelia, my sister-in-law Laura, my brother Daniel, and their daughter Sabrina. We had a wonderful evening and it reminded me once again of the importance and delight of family.
I’ve learned many things from my dad during the 46 years I’ve been on this planet. Following are a few pivotal ones that have shaped my life.
Age 10: I told my dad I didn’t want to be a doctor like him. I didn’t like how hospitals smelled, I was bored when we did rounds together (I just wanted to sit in the corner and read), and I didn’t like being around sick people. He told me that I could do anything I wanted to do.
Age 12: I hated learning Hebrew and thought being Bar Mitzvah’ed was stupid. My dad didn’t fight me on how I felt, but he told me tradition was important and this was a seminal jewish tradition. I procrastinated as long as I could and then crammed over the last few weeks. He sat with me, coached me through it, and was patient with me when I continued to fight the process. My Bar Mitzvah was a powerful learning experience, and, while I eventually became an atheist, am glad that I participated in the key jewish tradition.
Age 17: After two months at MIT, I was ready to quit. All of my friends had gone to UT Austin, including my girlfriend, and I was homesick and lonely. As we wandered around Concord, MA on a beautiful October day, he told me to give it a year and if I still didn’t like it, I could go somewhere else. But he told me I’d be short changing myself if I didn’t give it a year. By spring time I had fully embraced MIT and never looked back.
Age 21: Dave Jilk (another Saint Patrick’s baby) and I started Feld Technologies. My dad was our third partner, sat on our board, and contributed continuously as a mentor to us as we figured out how to create and build a company. He personally guaranteed a $20,000 line of credit with his bank which was our beginning working capital (which we stupidly used up immediately, although that made us realize we had to be profitable and cash flow positive from the beginning because there was no more money to tap.) Almost every year Dave, my dad, and I would go away somewhere for an annual meeting. I remember these weekends fondly as they shaped the path of our business. My favorite line from this period that I remember from him was “if you aren’t on the edge you are taking up too much space.”
Age 24: My father resisted the easy temptation to say “I told you so” when I got divorced. When I dropped out of a PhD program, he told me he supported any decision I made. When I was feeling sorry for myself, he’d remind me cheerfully that “everyone pees in the shower.” His unambiguous support of me, at a period of darkness in my life, was priceless.
Age 29: When Amy and I decided to move to Boulder, the first words out of my dad’s mouth were “that’s a great idea.”
There are many more like this, but this should give you the sense for it. In addition to being one of my best friends, he’s been an incredible mentor, business partner, and supporter. I love his sense of humor, his joie de vivre, and his endless curiosity. He always lights up any room he’s in, is always learning, and keeps on trying new things.
Dad – happy birthday. You are awesome. Green suits you.
Today is my 46th birthday. I’m hanging out with a bunch of friends and family, enjoying their company, and reflecting on the past year. 45 was a good, but intense year. Lots of ups, a few downs, and much learned. Following are some of the things I’m chewing on as I start being 46.
Mortality: I’ve had a lot of reminders of mortality lately. In the past year, several close friends’ parents have died and a few other friends have gotten very ill. When I think about being 46, I accept that even in the best case scenario I’m probably half way done with my time on this planet. I’m happy with my physical self – I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since I was in my early 20’s – but I’ve finally decided to really focus on dropping the 20 pounds I want to get rid of. Rather than being 210, I’d like to spend the rest of my life around 190.
Optimism: I’m an optimistic person – always have been. I’ve noticed an incredible amount of negativity around the system in the past year. Historically I’ve tuned out most of it because I ignore all non-tech news, but I’ve really noticed it in the tech news the past year. Clearly a switch flipped and the journalist / bloggers decided the best way to get attention – or at least links – was to be negative. Balanced is fine (not all is good), but the preponderance of negative trending toward nasty and hostile, especially without any facts or substance behind it, is a drag. I haven’t decided what to do about this yet, but I think I’ll likely just keep tuning it out the best I can.
Learning: I had another awesome year on this front. Between the companies and entrepreneurs I get to work with, TechStars, the books I’ve written, my running, and all the random stuff that I talk about and explore with Amy, I’ve learned more than I could have hoped for. I especially loved the experience of living in a new city for a month (Paris) – just living – not trying to be a tourist, or alter my normal work rhythm, but live in a totally different place for 30 days. Amy and I are going to do this in New York from mid-April to mid-May in 2012 as part of our “live for a month in a different city every year” experience.
No Assholes: I’ve worked really hard to get to a place where I get to spend almost all of my time with people who I want to spend time with. I’ve been able to do this while figuring out how to engage with lots of new, interesting people all the time. I’m going to work even harder at this at 46 – more great people, no assholes.
Travel: My greatest personal disappointment while I was 45 is that I sucked at managing my travel – again. At several points throughout the year I was completely exhausted from the endless cross-country travel. I’m taking a totally different approach at 46 – I’ve already locked down my entire schedule for 2012. With the exceptions of emergencies, I’m not making any trips that aren’t already scheduled. There will be a lot more video conferencing in 2012 and longer stays in cities when I do travel. Who knows if that tempo will work better, but I’m going to try.
For all of you who are part of my life directly, who know me through this blog, or have a relationship with me in any way, thanks for being part of my first 45 years. I look forward to spending time with you during the next 45.
To everyone who lost someone close to them on 9/11 – I’m sending you every bit of good karma that I can today. While I was in New York that day, I was lucky and didn’t lose anyone close, but I’ll always remember 9/11 and I think about it every time I’m in New York.
I’ve always had some survivor guilt around 9/11. I had a lot of emotional trauma from it, but everything ended up fine. My survivor guilt is amplified by my own anxieties around the events that lingered for about three months. I’ve never felt these anxieties were warranted on my part, but they were there and I couldn’t deny them.
While I’ve told my story to plenty of friends, maybe by writing it down and getting it out there on this tenth anniversary I’ll both contribute to the memory of loved ones on 9/11 as well as help me (and maybe others) get some closure. There’s a part of this that feels self-indulgent since I wasn’t directly impacted, but there’s another part of me that knows I’m searching for closure on this. So, here’s the story.
I took a red eye from San Francisco to New York on Monday night 9/10. It was something that I was regularly doing at this time as I tried to manage my way through the collapse of the Internet bubble. I landed at LGA at 6am, took a car to The Benjamin hotel where I was staying for the first time (I randomized my hotels back then just to experience different ones), turned off my cell phone and went to sleep. I didn’t have a meeting until 10 so I set the alarm clock in the room for 9:00. I woke up in the normal haze of jet lag to someone on the radio shouting about something going on at the World Trade Center. At first, I thought it was some sort of drive time radio talk show joke, but as I gradually woke up I started processing that something major was happening. I turned on the TV – something I rarely do in hotels – and saw the first tower on fire and the chaos that erupted as a plane crashed in to the second tower. I don’t remember seeing the plane crash, but I do remember seeing the endless plumes of black smoke.
By the time I was mentally functional, it was about 9:10. I turned on my phone to call Amy who I knew was on the road on the way to DIA to catch a flight to New York. Her birthday is 9/14 – she was going to meet me in New York, we were going to hang out for a few days, and then go to Paris for a week of vacation together. I had trouble getting through on my cell phone but somehow managed to get her on the phone around 10:00. She was bawling hysterically – she’d pulled over to the side of the road and was frantically trying to reach me. Since my phone was off, she couldn’t, and her brain had immediately gone to the place that so many peoples did which was “my loved one is on the plane.”
While we were talking, the first tower collapsed. I remember watching it on TV and being unable to continue talking on the phone. Amy asked me what was wrong and I simply couldn’t answer. It was inconceivable to me that the World Trade Center would disappear and – having been in the building a number of times, immediately starting trying to calculate how many people must have been inside.
I finally pulled it together, told Amy to go back home, and we’d figure out what to do once things settled down. I turned on my computer, plugged in the hotel ethernet cable, and connected to the Internet. Amazingly it worked flawlessly even though by this point I couldn’t make a phone call on my cell or the hotel phone. At the time I was using both AOL and Yahoo IM – a bunch of messages popped up from people who knew I was traveling to New York checking to see if I was ok. Email flowed fast and furiously for a little while and as I surfed the net and watched TV from my hotel room in midtown, I got more and more freaked out.
By about 11am I was completely paralyzed. I didn’t really know what to do. By this point both buildings had fallen, four planes had crashed, and there was total chaos on TV as no one had any idea what was really going on. I remember looking out of the hotel window at the beautiful day outside but being afraid to leave my room. All kinds of doomsday thoughts crossed my mind, like “go get a few gallons of bottled water” but I sat, transfixed to the TV, email, and IM hoping someone would say what was happening. I felt safe in my room, but also terrified that I was in the middle of Manhattan – isolated in the middle of one of the largest cities on the planet.
Early in the afternoon I found out via email that my friend Paul Berberian, who was the CEO of Raindance (I was on the board) was in town with Nick Cuccaro, his CFO. Raindance was a public company and they were talking to investors downtown. They were safe and trying to figure out how to get home. We connected by email and decided to meet at my hotel. By this point all the flights were grounded and as I tried to figure out how to get a rental car, it quickly became clear that it would be – at best – really hard to do.
I wrote an email to Jenny Lawton, a close friend who was working with me at Interliant and lived in Greenwich. Jenny offered up her car if we wanted it. By this point it was early afternoon and the news reporting was now in a cycle of redundancy – lots of speculation but no new information. While I was still scared to leave my hotel room, I had this incredible urge to get back to Boulder.
When Paul and Nick showed up, we agreed to go to Jenny’s, get her car, and drive home. Around 5pm we made our way down Park Avenue toward Grand Central Station. There were no cars out, very few people, and an eerie hush had fallen over downtown. The picture in my mind is that it was already twilight and a chill was in the air. I was anxious but when we got to Grand Central it was empty. We figured out which train was going to Greenwich and got on without a ticket. Thirty or so minutes later we got out and jumped into Jenny’s car.
Jenny made us spaghetti for dinner – I can still remember sitting at her dining room table eating the first proper meal of the day. Jenny gave us the keys to her orange SUV (I think it was an Isuzu, but I do remember it was orange) and off we went. The roads were empty and before we knew it we were cruising through Pennsylvania.
All three of us had an overwhelming desire to get home. We each had cell phones and had touched base a few times so our families knew where we were, but none of us had a car charger for a phone so we were protecting our batteries. We stopped at a gas station to fill up on road food – I stayed in the car but to Paul to grab me some fruit stuff. A gobbled down a bag of it before I realized it was “fruit flavor sugar candy” at which point I had to rid out a hard sugar crash in the back seat of the car as Paul and Nick drove through the night.
I remember a lot of very specific things from the trip. We stopped somewhere for breakfast in Iowa at an I-80 roadside restaurant and had an awesome breakfast. There was no useful information on the radio – we just listened to the same speculation over and over again – clearly, no one had any idea what was going on. The sky was a perfect shade of blue. There were no airplanes in the sky and no contrails, which was especially startling in the context of the blue sky. Nebraska is a wide state – we ended up deciding there was an East Nebraska and a West Nebraska. Three guys in a car for 24 hours after a very anxious previous 12 hours makes for a very smelly car. Our capacity for being thankful that we were alive was endless.
As we got entered Colorado we were out of cell phone juice. Nick was obsessed with going by DIA and getting his car, so we ended up adding two hours to our trip at the end. When I finally got home it was dark, but Amy was waiting at the door. We had a very emotional moment, at which point I went and took a shower and then collapsed for a long time.
I didn’t travel again until December. It was the longest stretch of time since college that I’ve been in one place. Some was travel anxiety, some was re-evaluation of the tempo of my life, and some was just plain acceptance of the exhaustion that had been building over the past few years with the corresponding capitulation from a very emotional moment.
As I write these words, it’s incredible to me that this was 10 years ago. The sheer number of specific memories I have amazes me. The emotional feeling around the event continues to be overwhelming to me. While our capacity as humans to deal with, survive, and move on is powerful, this reminds me that there are many things we never forget.
To anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 – my heart goes out to you. I know how hard this was for me, and as you can see from my story, I was simply a visitor in the city for a brief time in which this heinous event occurred. I’m thinking of you today, and sending you my love.
Every now and then my mom sends me a pile of old photos of me and my brother Daniel. Here’s one.
Notice all of the cameras. I’ve got two (I’m the shaggy haired guy on the right) and Daniel has one (he’s the short shaggy haired guy on the left.) I have no idea how old I was but I’m going to guess around 11 based on my white knee socks and light blue short shorts. I’m 99% sure the cameras are a Contax (the smaller brown one) and a Pentax. Oh – and check out that cool camera strap.
My mom is a great photographer and when we were kids we hung out in the dark room a lot. I remember how cool I thought the red light was, how bizarre the chemicals smelled, and how our washing machine and dryer made perfect tables for the printing process. Developer, stop bath, and fixer – remember that?
I stopped taking pictures when I went to college, but I can’t remember why. Maybe in the next phase of life I’ll rediscover this, possibly with a Lytro camera. I can only imagine how cool it would be to combine that with Occipital.
Amy and I have been married for 18 years. On the summer solstice in 1993 we went to the top of Ester Dome in Fairbanks, Alaska and exchanged vows. Earlier that day we went to Pay ‘n Save and bought our wedding rings (I think we got six for $1.99). I wrote the word “vows” on a piece of paper twice, tore it in half, and gave one of the vows to Amy to give to me when we got to the top. We never had a formal wedding because we never wanted one, although we did visit the Boulder County Courthouse on June 21, 1996, paid our $20, assured them that we weren’t brother and sister, and made it official. But we count years from that date on top of Ester Dome in 1993.
I can’t image having a better life partner. Like all couples, we’ve had our ups and downs, although the only real downs that I remember are the ones that catalyzed me into action to change my behavior. The list of amazing things Amy has brought into my life is extraordinarily long, but the greatest is the joy that I get from spending time with her, learning from her, and just being myself around her.
The journey through life on this planet is a complicated one. Many years ago I decided that I had no idea when the lights were going to go out so I was determined to live every single moment as fully as I could. As I get older, I want to spend more and more of these moments with Amy. We’re going to be together every day for the rest of this summer – and I’m ecstatic!
Amy – you are the most awesome person I’ve known. Thanks for choosing me.
This morning, as I cranked through my 5am – 7am routine (which ends at 6am today because I have to leave the house at 630am to get to CU Boulder to give a keynote at the 2011 Boulder Economic Summit) I kept thinking to myself “deep breath.” If you do yoga you know exactly what I’m talking about – it’s part of Amy’s mantra for each of us to relax, slow down, and concentrate.
I’m in a particularly intense work phase that I expect will run through the end of June based on a few things that are going on that will happen between now and then. On top of it, I’m trying to run two marathons in May (Cincinnati, which I did already – and it sucked, and Madison, which is coming up at the end of the month.) Between all the work and travel, I’d probably already be pretty tired, but layer the running and the marathons on top of it and I’m physically exhausted.
While I contemplated punting on the second marathon, there are a few things driving me to do it, including really understanding my own recovery dynamics. I have a hypothesis about how I recover from a marathon (quickly) but I haven’t tested it. By adding a second marathon on top of everything else within 30 days, I’m suddenly learning some new stuff about rest, sleep, and weight. I’m also experiencing an interesting emotional spectrum that I haven’t experienced in a while (some good, some not good) that is clearly a function of the intersection of my physical activity and my work activity.
What popped out this morning is the need for more “deep breaths.” With my normal work / life rhythm, I get these on the weekend and then once a quarter when I go off the grid for a week. But given the daily work intensity combined with the physical fatigue, it’s become very obvious that I need something different during the week to sustain things at this level. Last night I blew off a dinner with a friend to just go home and lie on the couch with Amy all evening. That helped, although I spent almost all of it with an iPad in my lap sort of watching The Hangover, sort of catching up on email, and working on a few things that I knew I couldn’t jam into today.
Tonight, Amy and I have dinner alone. I’m going to shut off completely for a few hours and reflect on what I’m going through and learning about recovery. Fortunately I have a partner who puts up with this and lets me use myself as my own laboratory for these experiments.