If you play tennis almost every day for five weeks you get a lot better.
In addition to turning 50, I had an incredible mental, emotional, and physical reset. Two years ago, Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I decided that we would each take a month off the grid each year. We’d do this asynchronously so only one person would be on sabbatical at a time. We’ve now had two cycles of this.
It serves two powerful purposes. For the person who goes off the grid for a month, it gives them a complete reset. I just spent every day with Amy since November 1. We had long stretches of time together doing vacation things rather than daily life things. We had lots of friends come visit this year. We played a ton of tennis. I read a bunch of books. We went to bed early and slept late. We watched every episode of Archer and Star Wars 1 – 5 (Return of the Jedi will get watched this week.) I feel 10 zillion times better than I did on October 31.
The second, more subtle purpose, is that by going off the grid, I handed over all of my work to Seth, Jason, and Ryan. One of our core values is that we all work on everything together. There’s nothing quite like stepping away for a month and letting your partners cover everything for you, or having one of them step away for a month and you cover his stuff. If this happened once every decade, that would be one thing, but by having this happen every year I believe we are creating another, even deeper level of trust and connectedness between us.
When I wrote my post #GiveFirst on 10/25, I planned to check out from blogging through the end of the year and just work on my next book (#GiveFirst). But, as my sabbatical came to an end, I was missing the rhythm of almost daily blogging. So, I decided to start blogging again when I feel like it, rather than wait until January 1, 2016 to start again.
Yesterday was my first day officially back. It was a busy day, but I managed to get outside and play 90 minutes of tennis. As I re-enter my normal world, I’m glad to be back, but I had an amazing time away.
I turned 52 on Friday. Last year, when I turned 51, I wrote a post titled @bfeld v51.0 where I talked about several things that I wanted to change in v51 of me. This year, I enhanced my annual tradition of birthday reflection by reviewing my previous year’s blog post, writing a letter to my 52-year-old self, going for a 52-minute run, and then condensing the letter to myself into a public blog post (the letter was much longer.) I planned to do this on Friday and the day was set up nicely for it, but work got in the way. So I did this on Saturday instead.
Let’s begin by reviewing my v51 plans.
No Booze: I had a no alcohol goal for v51. Late in 2016 and early in 2017 I had several nights where I drank alcohol, but I think all but one was a special event. By the end of springtime, I wasn’t drinking at all and I’m now in a very comfortable no drinking mode. I feel like it’s one that I can continue for the rest of my life and, while it feels like a good aspiration, I’m going to only set it for v52, rather than saying “I’ll never drink again.”
Mission Sub-200: Weight loss was a big topic for v51 of me. I wanted to be under 200 pounds after weighing in at 218 on my birthday. I weighed 201.9 yesterday and 202.3 today so I’m close enough to that goal to call it completed. While my ideal weight is 190, Amy negatively reacted to me setting my goal to be 190 and suggested 195 instead, which feels much more achievable to get to and maintain.
Religious Digital Sabbath: Digital Sabbath has been hit or miss for me. While I have almost no organized work activities on the weekend, and when I do I put them on Sunday afternoon, I’m still on my computer on Saturdays. I’ve tried to isolate “on my computer” from “checking email”, but even that constraint is awkward. But, there is a difference between “spending a bunch of time catching up on email” and “just checking/responding to the stuff that came in overnight or throughout the day.” I’m going to drop the goal of Religious Digital Sabbath from my v52 completely, but be very conscious of trying to minimize work and email on Saturday while using my computer for writing and the normal life tasks that the computer pops up for (like logging my runs, or scheduling dinner.)
Focus On My 2%: Overall I feel like I did a good job focusing on my 2%. It took a while to completely shrug off the 2016 election, but by mid-year, I was engaging where I could make a difference, rather than wallowing in the daily noise and nonsense. I made some mistakes in terms of thinking about what my 2% was, such as wading into Boulder politics around the November 2017 city council election. While I thought I could have an impact on the election, I didn’t, but more importantly, I hated almost every moment of what I was doing around this. I realized I wasn’t defining my 2% precisely enough. So, I’m going to re-evaluate my 2% some with a combination of asking myself “should I be doing this?” and “do I want to be doing this?” before including something in the 2%. My default posture is going to be “no” instead of “yes” so I need to convince myself, rather than default into doing things.
Reset Social Media: I completely and successfully reset my social media interactions. While I still broadcast, I don’t consume anything. While I’ll periodically open up Twitter or Facebook, I always feel unhappy (or even “dirty”) after I do this, so there is almost no desire on my part to do it. I took both apps off my phone early in the year and, while I put them back on and deleted them a few more times, they are currently deleted and I don’t have an urge to put them back on. I’m still broadcasting regularly through my blog, Medium, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but I’m not responding to the comments and responses I get, except for occasional ones on my blog or more personal interactions via email. I like my position as a content generator and am relaxed in my lack of interest in engaging in discussions through these mediums.
More Maker Mode Expansion: Maker mode expansion and my writing in v51 on books was a failure. I had a few stretches where I wrote, but they weren’t sustained, and I didn’t really make any progress on either GiveFirst or Startup Communities 2. Instead of calling this maker mode expansion in v52, I’m simply going to write these two books this year. It feels comfortable to type that, as I want to write each of these books and can project that my emotional satisfaction around both the process and the completed product will be high.
Travel Mode Expansion: My travel changes in v51 were mixed. 2017 started off disastrously, with five consecutive weeks of travel. At the end of the fifth week, I acknowledged to myself that I was on the edge of falling into a depressive episode, so I abruptly stopped traveling, canceled a bunch of stuff, and shifted back into self-care mode. I experimented with a few other travel approaches and settled on shorter and more focused travel. I’ll travel in v52 for work, but I’ll always ask myself “why” before each trip commitment.
Reflecting on v51 as a setup to v52, I had several big functional goals that required a shift in behavior. However, I don’t feel like I had an overarching theme. I’m not sure a theme helps me, so for v52, I’m going to use nouns to describe what I’m focused on.
Vegetarian: Food has become increasingly challenging for me. While my diet has changed as I’ve lost weight, I’m struggling with more food sensitivities. I’ve been a pescatarian since I was 19, but these days I’m not enjoying fish at all, including sushi. Overall, I’m struggling a lot with food and would like to be free of what feels like regular allergic reactions to things. A vegan diet might get me there, but it feels too extreme, especially in the context of me and Amy eating together. So, v52 will be vegetarian, trending toward vegan.
Introvert: My default social posture will be more time to myself, with Amy, or with small groups (up to six people, but a preference of four people). When I do something with a bigger group, I’ll consciously engage, but know that I want to limit the length of time and the frequency of larger events.
Runner: Food, weight, and fitness are all part of my identity as a runner. I leveled up a lot in v51 and will level up more in v52, both on the physical and emotional dimension. My goal of 195 pounds continues in the right direction, which a vegetarian diet and no alcohol (which was successfully implemented in v51) will help with. I’m committing to a daily meditation of at least 20 minutes for v52, along with a nightly goal of at least eight hours of sleep. My running rhythm of at least one marathon this year will continue, but I’ll incorporate swimming and strength training into the mix.
Writer: I’m going to write GiveFirst and Startup Communities 2 in v52. To be a good writer, I believe you have to read a lot. I’ve read 72 books so far in 2017 (a goal of 100). I’m going to keep the goal of 100 books for 2018.
Coach / Mentor: My work role has shifted over the years from “doer” to coach/mentor. While there is inevitable doer activity in my work, I’m identifying more as coach/mentor. I’m going to explore this more in v52 as I think forward to future versions of me. I don’t plan any abrupt shift or specific different sets of behavior, but rather a broad and continual reflection on my role in my work.
Discriminating Wisdom: This is a great Buddhist notion that Amy pointed me at. I want to be selective about anything new that I take on and I want the overall number of things I’m working on to decrease. If I view this as an input/output model, where inputs are new things I take on and outputs are things that I finish/get closure on, I want there to be more outputs than inputs in v52 so that I end v52 with fewer overall commitments.
I learned a lot about myself in v51. Time for another trip around the sun.
Google Boulder recently did a phenomenal thing. They recently gave a gift of over $2 million to CU Boulder, which included free office space for NCWIT for the next six years (valued at $1.3 million.) As of a few weeks ago, NCWIT now has a great long-term home in an older Google office on 26th Street in Boulder off of the CU Campus.
The head of Google Boulder (I think his official title in Googlespeak is “Engineering Site Director”) is Scott Green. I’ve known Scott since shortly after I moved to Boulder in 1995. He was an early employee at Email Publishing (which became MessageMedia), my very first Boulder-based angel investment. After MessageMedia, he spent some time working at Return Path (where I’ve been an investors since 2000) early in its life before moving to @Last (which we were not investors in, but were fans of since some of our friends, including Brian Makare (the co-founder of Email Publishing) and Mark Solon (then of Highway 12, now at Techstars) were investors.) While Scott and I don’t spend a lot of time together, we’ve both been part of the evolution of the Boulder startup community going back to the late 1990s.
In 2006, Google bought @Last (makers of SketchUp). That was the beginning of Google’s presence in Boulder, which is now around 1,000 people on a new, very nice, and well-integrated campus in the middle of town. Scott and the Google team have always been great corporate citizens of the startup community, offering up their larger event space on a regular basis, participating in, and sponsoring, many of the local startup events over the years, and generally just being a constructive and healthy part of the mix. Google’s continued expanded presence in Boulder is a positive reflection on the overall startup community and their new campus is a really nice addition to our little city in the mountains.
NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) has long been a hidden gem of Boulder. I got involved shortly after it was founded in 2004 and became the board chair in 2005 (which I served as until I resigned all my non-profit board positions at the end of last year.) I’m still deeply involved and it is a major initiative of the Anchor Point Foundation (the foundation that Amy and I run.)
Physical office space at CU Boulder has always been a struggle for NCWIT. When the organization was small, it fit nicely in a corner of the CU Roser ATLAS Center on the second floor. Amy and I were appreciative of this and sponsored the bathrooms on this floor of ATLAS. As NCWIT grew, they crammed into a small space, then overflowed it, expanded a little, but then lost it in a mysterious space shuffle that I’ve never really understood. Eventually, NCWIT moved over to some old space in the engineering building, but the space was poorly configured, had no cell signal, and wasn’t secure.
At the beginning of 2017, Lucy Sanders (NCWIT CEO) and I started looking for other space in Boulder. We tried to get different space on CU’s campus but were unsuccessful. We had a few near misses with commercial space, but either the economics didn’t work out or the space wasn’t right. Last summer, Google Boulder engaged as their new campus was opening up. A few weeks ago, NCWIT moved into their new, long-term home.
I’m incredibly appreciative for what Google Boulder has done here for NCWIT. It makes me extremely happy to see a #GiveFirst approach from Google in our startup community, along with the extensive support for NCWIT. It’s always nice to be part of an organization that is on the receiving end of this kind of generosity, especially one as deserving as NCWIT.
Scott, Google, and the rest of your team at Google Boulder – THANK YOU!
I read Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy a few weeks ago. It’s a must read for every human on this planet.
Some of you know that I’m a huge fan of Adam Grant. His book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success is a key inspiration for the #GiveFirst moment, my own personal philosophy, and my upcoming book #GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business which should be out in 2018.
I’m also a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg. I don’t know Sheryl well, but we hung out a few times 15 years ago and both Amy and I thought she was awesome. It’s been awesome to watch what she’s achieved – first at Google, and now at Facebook.
It’s even more remarkable to read the clarity with which she has processed the sudden loss of her beloved husband Dave Goldberg. I met Dave a few times in the last 1990s when he was running LAUNCH Media (we were investors via SOFTBANK) but didn’t stay in touch after Yahoo! acquired LAUNCH. However, many of my Bay Area friends were close to Dave and viewed him reverently.
Amy and I have lost several close friends in the past three months to cancer and suicide. Another friend was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We are getting older and death is becoming a more visible part of our life experience.
Exploring how to process mortality is hard. I talked to a friend on my way home last night who is struggling with this. While these conversations are hard, I learn a little with each one.
Recently, I’ve been referring friends to Atul Gawande’s amazing book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End which is the best book I’ve read so far this year. I also send them to Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Air, which was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I know “best” is a weak qualifier, so just know that they are both in the same league as Norman Cousins’ classic Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration which had a profound impact on me in my mid-20s.
I just added Sheryl and Adam’s book to this league. Life and death are complicated. If you, like me, are constantly exploring it and trying to understand it, and yourself, better, I encourage you to read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Sheryl and Adam – thank you for writing it.
I saw an article about George Raveling recently in the Daily Stoic newsletter. Raveling – known as Coach Rav to many, has a pretty remarkable history. And an even better life philosophy that fits very nicely with #GiveFirst.
On his website, he has a page titled 23 Life Choices That Are In Your Control. It’s delightful and follows.
1. Be YOU, not them.
2. Do more, expect less.
3. Be positive, not negative.
4. Be the solution, not the problem.
5. Be a starter, not a stopper.
6. Question more, believe less.
7. Be a somebody, never a nobody.
8. Love more, hate less.
9. Give more, take less.
10. See more, look less.
11. Save more, spend less.
12. Listen more, talk less.
13. Walk more, sit less.
14. Read more, watch less.
15. Build more, destroy less.
16. Praise more, criticize less.
17. Clean more, dirty less.
18. Live more, do not just exist.
19. Be the answer, not the question.
20. Be a lover, not a hater.
21. Be a painkiller, not a pain giver.
22. Think more, react less.
23. Be more uncommon, less common.
If you just skimmed the list, I encourage you to go back and read it again. To slow down and really savor it, read each line out loud and then ponder what you are doing to make that choice on a daily basis.
It’s been a while since I wrote a post deconstructing the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. The last one I wrote was number 12 of 18: Know What You Don’t Know. Say I Don’t Know When You Don’t Know. Since I’m now working on the first draft of my next book #GiveFirst (or maybe it’ll be called Give First, or GiveFirst – I haven’t decided yet) it’s time to get my shit together and write the last six posts.
Throughout Techstars, we tell the founders that “it’s your company.” The implication of this is that they make the decisions about what to do. Everything they hear from mentors is just data.
A lot of mentors are successful CEOs. As CEOs, they are used to being in control. However, in the context of being a mentor, they don’t control anything. The best they can do is be a guide.
Interestingly, the best investors understand this. One of the lines my partners at Foundry Group use regular is that we only want to make one decision about a company – whether or not we support the CEO. If we support the CEO, we work for her. If we don’t support the CEO, we need to do something about this, which doesn’t necessarily mean fire the CEO.
In the context of being a mentor, you still get to make one decision, but it’s a different one. You get to decide whether or not you want to keep being a mentor. Assuming you do, your job is to support the founders, no matter what.
Ponder the following situation. The company has three founders. While one of them is CEO, it’s not clear that the right founder is the CEO. In addition, two of the founders (the CEO/founder and one other founder) are struggling with the third founder.
It would be easy to size up the situation and tell the founders what to do. But that’s not your job as a mentor. Instead, your job is to guide them to an understanding of the situation. The best mentors will invest time in each founder, keeping an open mind about what the fundamental problems are. You’ll surface the issues, guiding the founders to understand that there are real issues, what they are, help them talk about them, and help them work through them to a resolution or a better situation.
You won’t try to solve the problems. That’s not your job as a mentor. But you will be a guide. At some point, it will be appropriate, as a guide, to say what you would do if you found yourself in a similar situation. But, as a great guide, you won’t force this outcome, nor will you be judgmental if the founders go down a different path.
Remember – you get to make one decision – whether or not you want to keep being a mentor.
David Cohen and I just released Episode 4 of our Give First podcast.
We interviewed Mary Grove on the origins of Google for Startups & Startup Weekend among other things. Mary has been a long time friend and supporter of Techstars and is currently a partner at Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, the co-founder of Silicon North Stars, and on the Advisory Board for the Techstars Foundation.
David and I are starting to get better at the podcast thing. It’s a new medium for both of us so we are learning and iterating quickly on what makes a good podcast interview. Any feedback – good and bad – is welcome.
As my writing progress on my two books – Startup Communities 2 and #GiveFirst – continue to equal zero and the pile of unread stuff reaches higher into the sky than the stack of turtles going all the way down, I’ve decided to try a new process thing.
I’m going have a reading and writing week starting today and going through 9/17. Any excess time I have next week will be for reading the turtle pile and working on the new books. The activities are self-reinforcing – I write better when I’m reading a lot, I can only write productively for a few hours a day, and reading refreshes me a lot for future writing.
Amy’s birthday is next week (yes – it now lasts a week instead of a day) so I’m taking the week off. We are together for every possible minute, other than when I’m running and in the bathroom, so it’s a particularly great week to try this experiment since Amy also loves to read and write.
Once the US Open is finished on Sunday, we’ll have no reason to watch TV. The books and a blank screen beckon. This will either work or not. Either way, I’ll learn something.
Sean Wise, my co-author for my next book, Startup Opportunities, is a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. When we first started writing this book in late 2013, we knew that we were going to do both a United States tour and a Canadian book tour. We flipped a coin to see which one we’d do first and Canada won.
The book is comes out in March (pre-order right now to give me some love) and we’re celebrating that with a Central and Eastern Canadian book tour. Sean and I will also be putting the topics in our book directly to work. At each book tour event, a few idea stage companies will be pitching us for an investment prize out of the fund Sean’s involved with, Ryerson Futures.
Canada has always been good to me and I have some fun memories of both work and play from our neighbor in the north. If you’re in the area, join me at one of the tour stops listed below.
Each of the organizations is an integral part of their startup community. They help out with community engagement, mentorship, and/or capital. In addition to investing a lot of time, energy, and money in their startup communities, they have done a huge amount of work organizing this book tour – thank you, as we couldn’t do this without you.
A number of the most entrepreneurially-minded companies in Canada act as our national sponsors for the Startup Opportunities book tour.
Our Naming Sponsor QuickBooks is dedicated to getting new, high-growth businesses off the ground.
BDC Capital is our National Pitch Tour Sponsor and will be joining Sean and I on the judges’ panel at all the events.
Silicon Valley Bank is a close partner to me and my partners at Foundry Group here in the US and I’m excited to work with them in Canada as well.
Startup Canada has embraced the #GiveFirst mindset which has made Boulder a awesome startup community.
Canadian Business is the center of business and entrepreneurial news and information in Canada.
Wiley Canada, who works with Sean Wise his other books, publishes quality business and instructional content.
For more details about the book tour and all the sponsors, you can take a look at document that the FG Press team put together.
If you’re curious about this pitch competition, you can find more information here, and be sure to reach out to the city partners as they are the ones selecting the companies to pitch their events.
On August 13th, I’m giving a talk as part of the Aspen Entrepreneur Showcase. I’m doing an AMA moderated by Chris Klug on:
- Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Rural Communities
- Angel & Venture Capital Investing
- The GiveFirst Ethos and its Impact on Startups
- Forming Great Boards of Directors
- Techstars Accelerator Going International
- Mental Health and Depression
- Philanthropic Giving
- Trends for 2019
And, since it’s an AMA, that means people who show up can ask me whatever they want.