Yup. I’ve got it. Zoom Fatigue.
But before I talk about that, thank you to everyone who emailed me about Brooks the Wonder Dog. He has a Canine Meningioma which we will treat with radiation therapy at CSU. He’s coming home from the doctor this morning (they kept him overnight for two nights for observation) and it sounds like he’s doing ok. So, thanks for all the kind emails, thoughts, and suggestions.
It’s been 58 days since March 11th, the day that I officially started sheltering in place. I’ve been doing around 40 hours of Zoom calls (with a few Google Meets and Webexes tossed in for good measure) between Monday and Friday each week.
A few days ago I thought I was just tired. I was super grumpy about a few things on Monday night. I felt better Tuesday morning but yesterday evening after my last call (at 5:30) I got up to go for a run but was just too tired to do it. So I went and watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad with Amy and then went to bed around 8:30.
I feel better this morning, but have little enthusiasm for the wall of Zoom calls that I have today.
On top of that, I’m feeling annoyed by the level of opportunism in the world around the Covid crisis. There seems to be an outbreak of it in Utah, as evidenced by a Utah-based startup says it has exclusive business rights to the use of smartphones and other electronic devices for tracing people who have come into contact with a person with Covid-19 and $67 million of State of Utah contracts for technology around the Covid crisis. As someone who personally has been shipping out a lot of money and time to help, it feels like private companies could be a little more generous about how they contract with State governments right now around the crisis, especially for things (like software) that have a marginal cost of almost zero.
Back to Zoom fatigue. I’m generally a good video conferencer. I rarely multitask, try to stay fully engaged, and have an excellent and comfortable setup. But the daily wall of video conferences has finally gotten to me. The zero latency transition (finish conference, start next conference, finish conference, start next conference, finish conference, start next conference, …) has eliminated any “catch my breath” time. Catching up on email and Slack is a huge batch process early in the day or at the end of the day (or both).
In the last week, I’ve found myself trying to scan email and Slack during video conferences when I’m not engaged. I know I’m not hearing much when I do that, which makes being on the video conference pointless.
I accept the reality that even though I’m 58 days into a wall of videoconferences, I’ve got a long stretch of this in front of me. So, it’s time to build more space into the day so that when I’m on a video conference, I’m on, and I don’t devolve into endless eight+ hour stretches of sitting on a couch wearing myself out.
Digital sabbath starts in about 12 hours. I’m ready.
I knew that Dominos was paving America’s roads, but I didn’t realize they were branding them.
Farhad Manjoo has a good article in the NYT titled How Tech Companies Conquered America’s Cities. A key trope in sci-fi is that corporations will take over, well, everything. And, now that corporations are considered people (at least partially), why shouldn’t they take over?
Would it be weird if I sold sponsorship rights to my first name? “Dominos Feld” anyone? Or maybe “Amazon Feld.”
As usual, Neal Stephenson and Wiliam Gibson were (and continue to be) prescient about our future. I’m considering taking all the labels off of everything I own. And, if you are interested in sponsoring my first name, I’m open to offers and suggestions.
One of the things humans are bad at is remembering the past and incorporating the lessons they learned from difficult experiences. I’m sure there’s a philosophical word for this, but I’ve now heard the phrase “this time it is different” so many times that it doesn’t register with me as a valid input.
I woke up this morning to Howard Lindzon’s post R.I.P Good Times (Said Sequoia in October, 2008) and Nobody Knows Anything pointing to David Frankel’s tweet:
— David Frankel (@dafrankel) May 15, 2018
All of this ultimately led to me reviewing Sequoia’s classic slide deck from 2008.
I remember reading it in 2008. We were about a year into our first Foundry Group fund, which we raised in 2007. That now feels like a very long time ago.
I encourage everyone to review the deck. It would be awesome if an economist (Ian Hathaway, are you out there?) made a new deck with an update to 4 through 38 that extended the time frame (and analysis) to 2018.
The phrase “dedupe your processes” was created at a board meeting I was at last week. If you know our portfolio, you probably can figure out which board meeting it was based on the use of the word dedupe.
It was part of a conversation where the goal of “Simplify Simplify Simplify”, which had been turned into “Simplify
Simplify Simplify“, was finally listed as “Simplify”.
It sounds so obvious. But it’s so fucking hard.
If you disagree, do a quick reality check. Focus first on “within your company” when you answer the following questions.
Within your company, do you use more than one of:
- Google Drive, Dropbox, Box
- Skype, Hangouts, Bluejeans
- Asana, Trello, Basecamp
- Slack, iMessage, SMS
- Word, Google Docs
Those are the easy ones. Let’s keep going. Make a list of every SaaS-based license you have. If you don’t know what this list is, ask your VP Finance. If you outsource your accounting, hire a VP Finance. Now, consider how many different overlapping things you are using.
When you are tiny, it’s fun to experiment around with different things. When you get a little bigger, say 20 people, it’s natural to have multiple systems introduced as you try to optimize things, hire new people who are used to what they used at their previous company, or just get frustrated with what matters and distract yourself with something that doesn’t matter.
As you interact with more people outside of your company, you’ll add systems (and processes) to try to accommodate them. If you want to see an extreme example of this, just take a look at my computer and the number of apps and logins I have.
You will reach a point in your company’s life – typically around 50 people – where you realize you are wasting 20% of your collective time on overlapping systems, inefficient processes, redoing work because someone decided to build a database in Excel that doesn’t link to anything, or scrambling to pull together information that should be immediately available to everyone.
This is the point at which you should dedupe your processes. If you have a good CFO, she’s the one to lead the charge. CEOs should never do this as almost all CEOs I know are part of the problem either by holding on tightly to old processes or randomly trying new things all the time with the elusive goal of continuous improvement.
“Simplify Simplify Simplify”, then “Simplify
Simplify Simplify“, and finally “Simplify”.
Before you have an allergic reaction to the title of the post and respond with “you are stupid”, bear with me for a second as I set up the problem.
I’ve been a heavy Slack user for at least six months (probably closer to nine). We started using it internally at Foundry Group and then I joined a number of Slack instances of companies that we are investors in. For at least three months, I joined a number of relevant channels for each organization and tried to participate. I use Slack on the Mac primary so I used the left side bar to have multiple teams active, tuned my notifications so they weren’t overwhelming, and engaged as best as I could. I tried to post on Slack when I had an issue with the company – usually around a product – that needed to be communicated to a group instead of one person. And, for a few of the CEOs, we used Slack as our primary DM channel.
I hit the Slack wall about a month ago and stopped regularly engaging with the organizations other than Foundry Group. There is a long list of functional issues with how Slack handles things across orgs that makes using it this way a burden that suddenly felt worse to me than email. I could go through them and I expect Slack will eventually address some of them since I can’t imagine that I’m the only person in the world struggling to try to deal with Slack across 15 organizations, but the thing that really perplexed me was a new phenomenon that I noticed a month or so ago.
I’m increasingly being invited to other Slack groups of curated people.
This hit me in the face over the weekend when I was invited to a new Slack group by someone well-known. It’s a fascinating group of randomly connected people who ramped up a handful of channels over the weekend. I stayed on top of it until Monday morning and then was swept away in my normal week.
I just went and checked it again. There are over 60 members, but there were less than 30 new Slack messages since the last time I checked. Most were in one channel. As I skimmed it, I thought to myself that this would have been just as effective, or possibly more effective, as a typical group email list. And, since I do most of my group email lists in Google Groups, they are easily searchable and archivable, so the archive/search argument goes away away immediately.
As the amount of time I have to spend engaging with Slack increases, it suddenly feels more ponderous. And, when I started thinking about it in the context of the very active Foundry Group CEO list, it felt much less effective to switch this to a real time channel, as very few of the interactions necessitate real time.
So – I’m trying to get my mind around the value of Slack instead of an email list for large, cross-organization communication. Other than “it’s a new thing”, what are the foundational benefits of it. If you are someone engaged in a large, cross-organizational Slack group, now is the time to weigh in and give me a clue.
I got a random email from Brett Hagler last Thursday asking me to help his startup New Story.
I looked at his web site and quickly told him it wasn’t something we’d be into exploring as an investment. He wrote back immediately, telling me that he wasn’t looking for investment, but had created a non-profit that used crowdfunding to finance and build life-changing houses around the world.
Our mission is to create life-changing stories that transform communities. We’re focused on funding 100 homes in 100 days in Leveque, Haiti.
I looked at the website with a different angle – one of a donor. Amy and I are huge supporter of sites like GiveForward, DonorsChoose and CrowdRise. When I took a second look from that perspective, I got excited about helping Brett out.
I just contributed $1,000 to Fenise and family.
I get asked often by readers of Feld Thoughts how they can do something for me. Let’s band together and build Fenise and family a house. We are only $5,000 away from changing the life of a family in Haiti.
Let’s start out by saying that I’m a big fan of both Uber and Lyft. I’m indirectly an investor in both companies as I’m an investor in three VC funds that are investors Uber and one VC fund that is an investor in Lyft. I have no idea how much actual equity I have in either company, but based on current valuations the dollar value of my indirect ownership is non-trivial. And Foundry Group came close to investing in Zimride (the predecessor to Lyft) but we ended up withdrawing from what we thought was an inappropriately high priced round, which, in hindsight, was clearly a miss on our part.
Regardless of my support and enthusiasm for these two companies, I’m bummed at the mud they are slinging at each other. I get that this is an intensely competitive market. I get that the stakes are huge. I get that all the reporting I’m reading is second hand and might be fiction. But the ad hominem attacks are escalating rapidly and the behavior they are surfacing isn’t pretty.
Techcrunch summarized this pretty well yesterday, after multiple articles from a variety of places including the NY Times and WSJ. The headline sets the tone: Uber Strikes Back, Claiming Lyft Drivers And Employees Canceled Nearly 13,000 Rides. The NYT article is Accusations Fly Between Uber and Lyft and the WSJ article is Uber and Lyft Rivalry Turns Nasty in War of Words.
I have no idea what, if any of what is being said is true. The tactic being asserted that is most disturbing is this one:
Accused Lyft behavior: “Lyft employees, drivers and one of its founders ordered 12,900 trips on Uber’s app and then canceled them with the goal of slowing down drivers who would otherwise be picking up actual, paying passengers.”
Accused Uber behavior: “177 Uber employees have requested and quickly canceled more than 5,000 rides from Lyft drivers over the past 10 months, Lyft said, in an effort to frustrate Lyft’s customers and drivers.”
As a customer, this sucks. If I was a driver for either service, this sucks. I think this ultimately backfires against each company equally.
Guys – both of you are trying to disrupt a massive market dominated by incumbents and government regulation. I’m sure these incumbents are now laughing their asses off at y’all are acting like petulant children, as they wait patiently for you to chew up capital, value, partners, customers, while generating additional scrutiny from the government forces in the incumbents’ pockets trying to slow you down.
I get that you believe price is a weapon – how you use it for you and your investors to decide. But by messing with each other’s service, especially in a way that negatively impacts your two key constituents, consumers and drivers, you are opening yourself up to a ridiculous amount of scrutiny and quickly playing a no-win, zero-sum game. There is no need at all for this given the massive size of the market opportunity before you.
One, or both of you, should rise above the fray. Keep on competing aggressively. But recognize that you are radically disrupting a market desperately in need of disruption and doing it beautifully. Don’t shit all over it, and yourself in the process.
I’m bouncing around between a bunch of stuff and have a two board meeting day so I thought I’d just toss up a few interesting things I read this morning along with my thoughts.
Don’t let the regulatory past be the prologue for Uber: Phil Weiser, the Dean of CU Law and head of Silicon Flatirons has an excellent OpEd in the Denver Post about Uber in Colorado and the regulatory activity around it. I’ve been vocal with our state government to not behave in “incumbent protection mode” by over regulating Uber, Lyft, and other innovative new companies. It continues to be painful to watch our state government – which is so enthusiasm about innovation and entrepreneurship – keep stepping on their toes, and occasionally in shit, as they try to balance the incumbent / innovator dynamic. I’m glad Phil said what he said so clearly – it needed to be said.
Venture funding goes ballistic: VCJ: Some people are starting to call the top of the current cycle, at least in the context of flows of LP funds into VC firms. We had our LP Annual Meeting yesterday and I had a vibrant conversation with a few of our LPs about this topic at lunch. My view on the world continues to be simple – have a strategy and a set of deeply held beliefs. Evolve your strategy thoughtful and carefully, but never change your deeply held beliefts.
Understanding the Drivers of Success: Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, reminds us that a rising tide raises all boats. He speaks from his own experience about some of the cycles he’s been through with Return Path over the past 12 years and how that masks potentials issues. Greg Sands from Costanoa, who’s been on the Return Path journey with me, Matt, and Fred Wilson from the beginning, weighed in with an email on the past that finished with a great punchline: “Finally, when the slow down comes, figuring out how to separate market dynamics from team team and know whether you have the mgmt team you need for the next part of the journey is *really* hard.”
How Cheezburger Recovered From Their Hiring Blunder: Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger, has an outstanding and very open article about some very hard decisions he had to make a year ago, how and why he made them, and how he and Cheezburger have recovered from some bad choices. I love working with Ben and especially enjoy how honest and internally consistent his brain is with what happened.
Heartbleed: What Is The Correct Response? I was going to write a post yesterday on Heartbleed but didn’t get to it. Fred Wilson wrote a great one this morning including searching for the correct response for him personally. There’s lots in the comment thread – go weigh in if you have thoughts or suggestions.
I’ve had continual performance problems with Feld Thoughts over the past few years.
Yesterday, we moved the site to Lagrange Systems in an effort to meaningfully improve things.
How’s it doing? And, more importantly, what’s your favorite high performance, high availability WordPress configuration?
Maybe everyone knows this, but it took me a while to realize that almost all of my performance issues with Google Apps were related to my DNS configuration. Once I switched all my machines and routers to Google Public DNS all of my performance problems went away.
It’s remarkable. Simply hard code DNS to 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168. Problem solved.
My office, condo, and house in Keystone are all on Comcast. For the last month I’ve been struggling in each of them. There are days that Gmail feels almost unusable – five to ten second waits between messages. Web performance was “good enough” so I assumed it was a Gmail problem.
Nope – it was a Comcast DNS problem.
In hindsight, this is kind of obvious. But wow, what a difference it made.