In a vox with my partner Seth recently, he said something that stuck with me.
“Relationships are 100/100, not 50/50.”
He was referring to a business dynamic between two people, but it applies to any relationship and any number of people.
It’s a simple idea, but a great one. When I consider my relationship with Amy, it’s 100/100. Sure, we have plenty of conflicts, but we are both 100% all in on the relationship.
When I consider my relationship with my partners, it’s 100/100. We refer to our relationship as one of business love. We communicate with brutal honesty delivered kindly. We argue, disagree, and get frustrated with each other. But we own our actions – good and bad. And we learn and evolve together.
We are best friends. Our relationship is 100/100.
When I talk about my relationships with a CEO in a company that I’m an investor in, I describe it as one where I only ever want to make one decision, which is whether or not I support her. As long as I do, I work for her. If I don’t, it’s my job to do something about it, which does not necessarily mean “fire her,” but instead try to get back to a place where I support here. Again, I’m all in on the relationship, and I expect it to be 100/100.
Thanks Seth for the concept. I hope never again to say “relationships are 50/50.”
On Tuesday, Jerry Colonna and I had a fireside chat hosted by the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network titled Making Mental Health a Priority. We did it at DU in partnership with Project X-ITE and had a powerful afternoon.
Last night I had dinner with a CEO I like a lot where we talked about some of the things he was struggling with. I used a concept with him that I’d been mulling about and tried out publicly at the event with Jerry.
I call it the responsibility glitch.
It’s a glitch I’ve had, and have struggled with, since I was a teenager. It’s also a glitch I see in many founders and CEOs.
I started my first company when I was 19 years old. By that point I felt immense responsibility for what I did. I was at MIT working hard on school. I had spent the previous two years – part time during the school year and full time in the summer – writing software for a company called PetCom. One of the products I wrote for them (PCEconomics) was very popular in the oil and gas industry and sold a lot of copies. I got a 5% royalty on every copy sold so I was getting monthly royalty checks ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 (I think the largest one I got was just over $12,000.) I had a long distance relationship with my high school girlfriend who became my first wife. I was the treasurer of my fraternity. While I had an adequate amount of fun in college, I was very serious. And responsible.
As I drifted into my 20s, as my first business grew, I felt responsible for many things around it. I got married and felt responsible for the relationship, my wife, and her actions. I was in a Ph.D. program and felt responsible for the work I was doing there.
At some point, the glitch appeared. It was likely stimulated by a variety of things, including too much overall feeling of responsibility and no perspective on how to manage or modulate it. I had clinical OCD (although I didn’t know it at the time) and had a need to try to control everything in my environment, although my attempts to do this were often hugely irrational and often entertaining to others. For example, I came up with the notion that if every cigarette butt that I passed on the sidewalks in Massachusetts wasn’t parallel to the street then my mother would die. While I clearly had plenty of spare cycles in my brain to ponder stuff like this, the image of me wandering down the sidewalk straightening cigarettes with my sneakers still causes me to cringe even 30 years later.
Then my circuits overloaded. I got kicked out of the Ph.D. program. My wife had an affair and we ended up getting divorced. My business was fine, but the stress from it, and everything else around me was overwhelming. I suddenly started feeling responsible for things I had no business feeling responsible for. I worried about my ex-Ph.D. colleagues, how they were doing, and wondered what I could do to help them avoid my fate. I was empathetic to my ex-wife when she called to ask for help when she was having problems with her boyfriend. I felt responsible for every client we had and whatever flaws were in our software and every moment.
I felt too responsible.
This eventually overwhelmed me and was part of what trigged my first depressive episode which lasted two years. Fortunately I was in therapy so I had a good solid two years to explore the feeling of being deeply depressed and all the elements around it. While there was no joy in that, it was profoundly important to my character and who I am today.
One of the things I learned about myself during this journey was that by being too responsible, I caused a number of unintended negative side effects. Some of these were easy to identify. For example, I learned that I undermined the people working for me since I allowed them to be less responsible, since I’d overcompensate for them. I realized that I was spending a lot of energy trying to control exogenous forces that I had no influence on. As I understood and resolved my OCD, I figured out that I was exhausting part of myself by continually processing a bunch of irrelevant linkages between things that either didn’t need to be controlled, or that I had no ability to impact.
Over the last 25 years, I’ve seen many other founders and CEOs be in the trap of feeling too much responsibility. Their instantiation of this occurs in different ways. There are often elements that are powerful for short moments of time, especially in a crisis. But when the behavior persists, crazy shit starts to happen. Often, feeling too much responsibility is a destructive force to the people around the founder / CEO, the company, the founder / CEO’s family, or the founder / CEO herself.
When I’m sitting with a CEO who feels anxious or self-identifies as depressed, even when she can’t really articulate why or what it means, I often look for the feeling of being overly responsible. It’s common and comes out quickly. When I dig in, I often find the person feels responsible for everyone and everything around her except for herself. She comes last in the list and rarely even gets to herself.
This is the responsibility glitch. If you identify with this, I encourage you to be aware of two things. First, be responsible, but try to stay on the right side of the “too much” line. This is different for everyone, but there definitely is a line where your feeling of responsibility starts to become destructive.
More importantly, be responsible for yourself first. As Jerry likes to say, go on a continuous journey of radical self-inquiry. Understand yourself. Learn about yourself. Take care of yourself. Be responsible for yourself. Only then can you be constructively responsible for others and things around you.
And now it is time to go for a run.
While FAKEGRIMLOCK and all of the humans he has let survive are hanging out at the TechStars SXSW party, I’m at home with Amy, buried in a snowstorm, reading. I haven’t read much this year – I’ve been overwhelmed with work and writing and haven’t had much energy for reading. Which is dumb, since I love to read, and it’s an important way I discover new things and think about things I’m interested in.
A copy of Clay Christensen’s new book How Will You Measure Your Life? ended up finding its way to me. It’s signed by Clay and his co-authors James Allworth and Karen Dillon so I assume someone sent it to me. I read it tonight. It was timely and excellent.
One of the chapters in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that was especially challenging for me and Amy to write was the one about children. We don’t have any, so we enlisted a bunch of friends to write sections of it. I’m proud of what they wrote and think it hits the mark, but it is an area I struggle to understand since we made a deliberate decision not to have kids. So I dug into the middle section of the book where Clay spends a lot of time talking about children in the context of measuring one’s life. I learned a lot from it that I think I can apply to my interaction with children that are not my own.
Clay very deftly uses business concepts to set the stage for a deep discussion of how to think about your life, your values, and how you operate. The one I liked the most was his discussion of the theory of good and bad capital. It’s very nicely linked to the Lean Startup methodology (without realizing it). The theory is that early in their life, companies should be patient for growth but impatient for profit. Specifically, they should search for their business model, and long term strategy, before stepping on the gas. This is good capital. Bad capital early on will be impatient for growth ahead of profit.
When companies accelerate (search for growth) too early, they often drive right over a cliff. However, once the business model and strategy is figured out, then companies should switch modes to be impatient for growth but patient for profit. Invest like crazy when you’ve got it figured out.
The section that follows is awesome. You need to read it to get it, but imagine the notion of how you invest in friendships, in your children, and in yourself. At any particular time are you focused on growth or profit? Do you have them sequenced and allocated correctly? Clay’s punch line is:
“There are two forces that will be constantly working against [your investments in relationships with family and close friends.] First, you’ll be routinely tempted to invest your resources elsewhere – in things that will provide you with a more immediate payoff. And second, your family and friends rarely shout the loudest to demand your attention… If you don’t nurture and develop these relationships, they won’t be there to support you if you find yourself traversing some of the more challenging stretches of life.”
I’ve just had one of those stretches – I spent the past three months struggling with depression after having a bike accident, wearing myself out travelling for two months, and then ending up in the hospital to have surgery to remove a kidney stone. I’d made the right investments in my relationships so it was easy to cash in on a bunch of them, and I appreciate greatly everyone who invested energy and support in me. I came out of the depression around February 14th and I appreciate more than ever the value of investing in these relationships. I now have a powerful business analogy – that of good and bad capital.
There’s a lot more in How Will You Measure Your Life? It’s a great companion to Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur and very easy to recommend to anyone who is trying to live the best life they can.
In the last month I’ve had the chance to make about 50 new friends. I’ve suddenly become very popular with investment bankers and have been on the receiving end of over 50 emails that look something like the following:
“We met once a long time ago when I was with firm X. I’m now at firm Y. We are the blah blah blah best at blah blah most successful blah blah tied into blah blah working with blah blah blah connected with blah blah blah. Congrats on all the success at Company W. We are very interested in talking to them about blah blah strategic blah blah – can you introduce us to high-profile-CEO.”
At first I felt compelled to respond as part of my “answer every email and try to at least be polite / responsive to everyone” approach to life. After a few days, I started getting annoyed when I realized I was simply viewed as a conduit to an introduction. When I saw a few similar emails to my co-investors in at least one company, I realized that there was a complete lack of sincerity in many of these emails – it was no different than a random salesman emailing me asking if I wanted to buy a random widget.
Now, I have several good friends who are investment bankers and we have a handful of trusted ibanking relationships and folks who are our go-to ibankers. These are people who have developed a long standing relationship with me and my partners, have worked with us in good times and bad, and have always been reasonable and thoughtful about their fees, especially in situations that didn’t work out.
It amazes me that 50+ people could suddenly come out of the woodwork in an effort to “build a new relationship that’s not really a relationship” thinking it would give them an opportunity, or even an advantage, in the context of a set of hot companies.
When I think about the relationships I’ve developed, whether it be with investment bankers, LPs, co-investors, or anyone else, they evolve over a period of time. They don’t require boondoggles or fancy things; they require sincerity and substantive interaction over a long period of time. Then, when there are moments of opportunity, these are the people that I go to (and hopefully who come to me.)
There suddenly seem to be an abundance of “transaction relationships” out there. Entrepreneurs beware.