I got a note from someone who recently saw my Techstars mental health video. He said that could relate to how I describe depression as the “absence of joy.” He went on to write me a long, thoughtful, and brave note about his experience with depression.
One thing stood out to me was a statement near the end:
“I can’t convince myself to “speak to someone” because it feels wrong if I am paying them. It doesn’t feel whole.“
I responded with a long note that follows:
When I was in my mid-20s, I had my first major depressive episode (it lasted over two years – very deep clinical depression.) I was functional at work, but that was it. Zero anything else …
I resisted therapy for about a year. I was ashamed of many things, including how I felt. I didn’t think someone would be able to help me. Early on, my dad, who is a retired endocrinologist, said to me, “Just shake it off” which was profoundly unhelpful, but just reinforced my shame.
Finally, my PhD advisor said something like, “Brad, there is no downside to trying therapy. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But if it does, it’ll make a big difference. It did for me. Give it a one year commitment. Here’s the name and phone number of my long-term therapist.”
It still took me a while to call. I did, and committed to a year.
It changed my life. I ended therapy in my late 20s, but started again (with a new therapist) at 47 when I had another major depressive episode.
The way I think about it is that I “go to planet Brad for 50 minutes a week.” (I now go every other week). My therapist gets to hang out with me on planet Brad. Sometimes he guides me into a new part of the planet that I haven’t yet explored. Sometimes we get out shovels and dig holes in the ground to look for buried treasure. Sometimes we sit on a rock together and just stare into the distance. And lots of other things that you would do with a guide on a planet as you explore around.
About a year ago, I had a massive depression for a short time (less than a week) that in hindsight was induced by ambien. I rarely take ambien, but was on a multi-week international trip, had a bad cold, and was having trouble sleeping. About 10 days into the trip I feel off an emotion cliff into one of the deepest holes I’d ever experienced. Fortunately, I was safe and with my wife Amy, and after about three days realized it might be the ambien after randomly surfing around on the web looking at depression+travel and other stuff like that. 48 hours I was fine.
Three days of complete absence of joy was awful. But I knew I could call my therapist in an emergency if I needed to. I was a few days away from going home and had a session right after I got home, so just knowing he was there helped a lot.
Therapy isn’t “the only answer”, but – like my PhD suggested many years ago, there’s no downside to trying.
Amy and I, through our Anchor Point Foundation, underwrote a new video series on PBS 12 called From Moment to Movement.
From the trailer:
Tensions around race relations have been simmering for centuries in the U.S. Now they’re now at a boiling point. Meanwhile, President Trump’s administration is treating Black Lives Matters protestors like domestic terrorists. Millions of Americans, especially Black Americans, continue to rally to make their voices heard. From Moment to Movement” aims to give a platform to African American voices and dismantle systemic racism.
The host, Tamara Banks, reached out to me shortly after George Floyd was murdered. She showed me a few of the pilot episodes, including an interview with Brandon Carter and an interview with Amy E. Brown. After watching them, I thought they were great and important and agreed to underwrite the whole series.
Two a week will be dropping on the PBS 12 website for the next few weeks. They are currently in production to be broadcast on TV as well.
Tamara – thank you for doing this and putting it out there.
Saturday is reading, running, resting, and playing with Amy day. Digital sabbath.
I was tired from the week and slept for ten hours. I also took a 90-minute nap in the afternoon. I had a good, albeit short (4 loops) run in the morning. I ran ten loops this morning, so getting back in the groove after a week of not feeling great.
My book was John Lewis’ Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change. Amy suggested that I read Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, which is in our infinite pile of books (and near the top). Instead, I decided I wanted to read this one first because several other people had suggested it to me after John Lewis died.
It was powerful. While there are elements of memoir in it, Lewis paints a clear vision of the future based on his lifetime of work on civil rights. He regularly tied his vision back to his childhood, his early work alongside Dr. King, and his leadership of organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
While I knew of the principles of nonviolence in the Civil Rights movement, I didn’t understand them. I knew the history of the Freedom Riders. Still, I didn’t understand the magnitude of the physical abuse and violence they encountered while operating with the principles of nonviolent protest.
When I read and reflect on this history, I’m embarrassed, horrified, and furious with elements of White America.
Reading the book by John Lewis inspired me on multiple levels. I know that, in addition to reading Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, I’m going to add some Gandhi to my reading list. If anyone has a suggestion for a great Gandhi book, toss it in the comments.
John Lewis was an American hero. And, his posthumous OpEd in the NY Times, Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation, which starts:
Though I am gone, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.
ends with something I wish everyone in the United States would read, ponder, and take action on.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.
The week after George Floyd was murdered, I decided to read a book a week by a Black author. I went online and found a bunch of lists that had popped up. I bought about 25 books, all in physical form, and piled them up on my reading table near my couch.
On Saturdays, my primary activities of the day are reading, running, napping, and being with Amy. Two weeks ago, I read Ibram X. Kendi’s book How To Be An Antiracist. Last weekend I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me. Tomorrow, I’m going to read John Lewis’ Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change. And then, for the rest of August, I will read books written by Black Women.
The books by Kendi and Coates were both spectacular. I learned a lot from each, and they caused me to reflect on a lot of things while challenging a bunch of assumptions I had (many of which I’ve now modified or eliminated, although I’m sure I’ll need reinforcement to have the premises disappear from my brain.)
I read Lewis’ March Trilogy in comic book / YA form about a year ago. It was great. But, sitting with and reading his autobiography seems like a powerful thing to do this weekend.
Last night, I read COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One by Debora MacKenzie. She wrote it in two months as the pandemic started, and did a great job. It goes well beyond just Covid, exploring past pandemics, things we could have done, didn’t, and why we are in the situation we are in now. As with my new book The Startup Community Way, she builds her framework on complex systems, explains them clearly, and applies the structure to the Covid crisis.
Finally, if you are a podcast person, I have two personal ones that I really enjoyed doing. The first is from the Techstars GiveFirst podcast and is with Len Fassler, titled Brad Feld and the mentor who changed his life.
The other is with Harry Stebbings on his 20 Minute VC podcast and is around mental health. I’m a guest, along with Jerry Colonna and Tracy Lawrence. 20VC: Brad Feld, Jerry Colonna, and Tracy Lawrence on Depression and Mental Health, Why You Cannot Tie Happiness to Milestones & Why Fear, Anxiety and Guilt are Useless Emotions.
The podcast with Len gave me chills when I listened to it, and Harry’s was excellent other than the missing Oxford comma in the title.
Founded by James Oliver, the ParentPreneur Foundation empowers Black people to be the best parents and entrepreneurs possible providing them money, tools, resources, and social capital.
I’ve known James for several years. After George Floyd was murdered, James was one of my Black friends who I called up and asked, “What are two things you are involved in that I can support with time, money, and influence?”
We talked about a couple of things, but when he started speaking about his dream to start a non-profit to help Black entrepreneurs who were also parents, I knew what I’d be supporting.
James is the perfect person to undertake this endeavor because he is acutely aware of the pain of parents who are entrepreneurs. James participated in the gener8tor accelerator and founded his startup, WeMontage.com when his now seven-year-old twins were born prematurely and weighed only two pounds each. During that difficult time, he was living 1,000 miles from family and friends, so he didn’t have much support.
Amy and I don’t have kids, so I listen to my friends who are entrepreneurs with kids about their experiences. Rather than assume their challenges are the same as mine, I recognize I have it easier in many ways, and enjoyed and learned from James’ book The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get.
In our conversation about this new foundation, James told me that being a parent and an entrepreneur is hard, but being a Black ParentPreneur is even harder.
“Black people don’t have the same resources as many of our White ParentPreneur counterparts. Many of us are first-generation college graduates, and we don’t have a relative we can call to give us money to hold us over until we can get enough traction with our business. Further, we generally don’t have the social capital to execute our good ideas or even imagine what is possible.”
Hence, the ParentPreneur Foundation, which James started a month ago. The inaugural cohort was recently announced and had ten Black ParentPreneurs who each received $1,000. The foundation also provides access to resources to improve beneficiary businesses and parenting lifestyles.
I’m excited about supporting James in the work he’s doing to help address issues of economic inequality in the Black entrepreneur community while helping strengthen families.
Please consider making a tax-deductible donation or connect with James to offer resources for the foundation’s beneficiaries.
And if you’re a Black ParentPreneur, join the foundation’s online private community.
My new book with Ian Hathaway, The Startup Community Way, is officially out. When I saw the Kindle download first thing this morning, I felt a moment of unbridled joy.
Writing a book is extremely hard. I’ve now written seven of them, all about startups and entrepreneurship. My next one, which I’ve been working on for a year with Dave Jilk (my first business partner), combined entrepreneurship and philosophy. Well, Dave’s been working on it a lot more than I have – I’ve been the slacker in this particular effort. But now that The Startup Community Way is out, and the 2nd Edition of Startup Communities is also out, I’m hopeful that my writing energy will shift to the book I’m working on with Dave.
Some of the inspiration for The Startup Community Way came from Eric Ries. I met Eric in 2007 or so and he’s another example, like Tim Ferriss, of a “good friend and colleague” from a distance. We’ve only physically been in the same space a few times, but I’ve learned an enormous amount from Eric, feel emotionally close to him, and have a deep respect for the work he does.
When Ian and I were struggling with the title for this book, batting around silly things like The Next Generation, my eyes landed on Eric’s book The Startup Way on one of my infinite piles of books. This was his sequel to The Lean Startup, which created the phrase “lean startup” and the lean startup movement.
This was analogous to what happened with Startup Communities. Prior to the first edition, released in 2012, the phrase “startup communities” didn’t exist. The book kicked off a new concept, which is now pervasive throughout the world.
I asked Ian what he thought of The Startup Community Way as a title, partly as an homage to Eric. Ian’s first response was “I like it, but will Eric go for it.” I sent Eric a note and he quickly responded that not only was he supportive of it, he loved it.
At the beginning of 2020, I sent Eric a copy of the draft and asked him if he’d write the Foreword. Again, he quickly responded that he would and cranked out a draft of a foreword that, other than a little editing, we included. He did an outstanding job of connecting the lean startup and startup communities to complex systems. And, he was incredibly generous with his thoughts out linkages and impact between our work.
In 2020, startup communities, which once appeared on the landscape of business (as well as the literal landscape) like so many rare animals, are long past the point of being uncommon or even unusual. As you’ll read in the many compelling stories of progress that follow, they’re coming together everywhere now, both in this country and around the globe, filled with energy and potential and the desire to look ahead to the kind of future we all want for our society. This is a critically important development. Quite simply: We need entrepreneurs and their ideas to keep our society moving forward, not just economically but equitably. The nurturing of startups, which is amplified by magnitudes when they share in a community of organizations and people, is the best way to make sure we achieve that goal.
That startup communities exist in such abundance is thanks, in large part, to Brad Feld. Every startup is unique, unpredictable, and unstable, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be managed for success, provided it’s the right kind of management. The same is true of every startup community. That’s the subject of Brad’s book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. It lays out clear practices and principles for managing the bottom-up (versus top-down) structure of startup communities, which, because they’re built on networks of trust rather than layers of control, can’t be maintained in the same way that public goods and economic development were in the past. Rather than a rigid, hierarchical set of rules and processes, they thrive on a responsive, flexible method of working that uses validated learning to make decisions with minimal error. Like entrepreneurs, startup community builders can’t rely on hunches or assumptions; they need to get out there, gather data, and see what’s happening for themselves. Only then can they bring together diverse, engaged organizations that draw on each other’s energy and experience and are led by committed, long-term–oriented entrepreneurs. By detailing a system that was hiding in plain sight, like so many methods used by entrepreneurs, Brad made it available to anyone worldwide who wants to bring innovation and growth to their city or town.
All of which is why, now that we’ve reached the next phase of startup community development, there’s no one better than Brad to address its central issue: what happens (or doesn’t) when startup communities co-exist with other, more traditionally hierarchical institutions that, as much as they’d like to work with their innovative neighbors, can’t break free of their old rules and management styles? And how can we ensure that all of these players work together with respect for each other’s strengths, and with clarity, to maximize their positive effect on the world around us? Brad’s answer, once again, is to clearly lay out the methods and tools that can affect this change. He and his co-author, Ian Hathaway, have combined deep experience with rigorous, intensive research and analysis to create a framework for this necessary path forward.
Every entrepreneur continues to iterate on their original product, and Brad is no exception. This book, The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, isn’t just a follow up to Startup Communities; it’s a refinement of those initial ideas—as well as an expansion of them. It encompasses the increasingly common and often complex relationships and interdependencies between startup communities and legacy institutions including universities and government (both local and federal) and corporations, culture, media, place, and finance. By situating startup communities within this larger system of networks, Brad and Ian shine light not only on the interconnectedness between them, but their connections to the larger community and society as a whole. The Startup Community Way zooms out to look at the big picture even as it provides a close, highly detailed look at each of the actors, factors, and conditions that can combine to create a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. It also examines some of the mistakes that are routinely made, like trying to apply linear thinking to the distinctly dynamic, networked relationships in startup communities, and trying to control them rather than let them operate freely within thoughtful parameters. All of this is presented with the sole goal of helping to forge deeper connections between often disparate parts so that they can better work together toward a common purpose.
I feel a deep kinship with Brad, whose work echoes in many ways the development of my own thinking about entrepreneurship and its uses. I began with the methodology for building successful individual startups in The Lean Startup and moved on in The Startup Way to applying those same lessons at scale to bring entrepreneurial management to large organizations, corporations, government, and nonprofits. I share Brad’s faith that the entrepreneurial mindset is crucial not just for improving our present day-to-day lives but also for ushering our world into the future as we apply it to all kinds of organizations, systems, and goals, including those involving policy.
One revision Brad has made since the publication of Startup Communities resonates with me in particular: Where he previously called for startup communities to operate on a simple 20-year timeline, he’s changed that to a “20 years from today” timeline. The work of innovation is continuous, and thinking truly long-term is crucial in order to reap its true benefits. What I mean by long-term thinking is an ongoing, honest, and comprehensive consideration of what we want our companies to look like—and our country and our world—for upcoming generations. In order to have the future we strive for, one in which opportunity and assets are fairly distributed, thoughtful management and care for the planet and all of the people who live on it with us is central, and we need to look beyond the right now to the realization of all the promise of the work that’s already been done. This book is a perfect entry point for doing just that.
Eric Ries Author
The Lean Startup
Tim Ferriss did one of his very long-form (150 minutes) podcast with me last week. I met Tim for the first time in 2007 and we’ve been friends since, although we’ve spent relatively little time together in person. Like many of my friends, I have a very comfortable remote relationship that has a lot of emotional intimacy in it. While many humans find this difficult, I never have and enjoy it a lot.
I think this comes through nicely in the podcast. It helps that Tim is particularly amazing at the long-form podcast interview. While the setup was around my new book, The Startup Community Way, which comes out tomorrow (please pre-order – authors love pre-orders), I don’t think we talked about the book at all until around hour two!
The following are the show notes. I hope you get a chance to listen to this. And, if you have any thoughts or feedback, drop me a note!
Tim – thanks for doing this. I’m honored to be part of your podcast cannon (#448!)
For the last several months, I’ve heard or read the phrase “the new normal” 7,354 times. I’ve steadily grown tired of it and now I believe it is an invalid concept.
There is no new normal. We have move forward and get better.
Steve Case wrote a great OpEd recently titled There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic economy. Congress should respond accordingly.
This week, Congress will likely take up the next steps in the economic response to the covid-19 pandemic. If the package is like previous efforts, it will focus on trying to turn back the clock to February 2020: treating the economy as if it were Sleeping Beauty, merely needing to be awakened to be fully restored. This strategy is a mistake: Congress needs to stop solely backing efforts to restore the old economic reality and focus on how to develop a new one.
The Kauffman Foundation recently came out with a mission to Rebuild Better.
Comprised of more than 150 entrepreneurship advocates across the country, the Start Us Up coalition is working to elevate the voices of entrepreneurs so policymakers reverse decades of misplaced priorities that have made it far easier for big businesses to grow than for new businesses to start at all. Our goal is not just to restore the economy, but to rebuild better by ensuring all Americans — especially female, minority, immigrant, and rural entrepreneurs who have historically been marginalized by investors and lenders — can turn their ideas into businesses.
The goal should not be the new normal. The old normal didn’t work for many Americans. The old normal had incredible income inequity, racial inequity, gender inequity, and many other inequities. When I wrote that I’m Fast-Forwarding to 2025, I had this in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t articulate it.
Change is unpredictable, bumpy, impossible to predict, challenging, stressful, and non-linear. But, as humans, all of these things make us incredibly uncomfortable. Often, we want to go back to “the way things were” since that felt safe, or predictable, or even if we didn’t really like it, was at least something we understood.
Going back to the way we were, with some adjustments, is how I interpret the phrase “the new normal.” I don’t think it will work. I don’t think it’s desirable. I don’t think it’s progress.
So many of the leaders I respect like Steve Case and The Kauffman Foundation are being clear about this. They may use different words, but I feel completely aligned with their vision.
I have no interest in a new normal. I’m only interested in something much better across our society that what was the old normal.
I encourage leaders to embrace change. Embrace complexity. Embrace uncertainty. I certainly am.
We are in the midst of the most dramatic phrase transition I’ve experienced so far in my 54 years on this particular planet.
Ian Hathaway and I talk about phase transitions (also known as a phase shift) in several parts of The Startup Community Way.
Progress is uneven, slow, and surprising. Complex systems exhibit nonlinear behavior, phase transitions (large shifts that materialize quickly), and fat-tailed distributions, where extremely high-impact events are more common than a normal statistical distribution would predict. Seemingly small actions can produce massive changes that happen suddenly. There is little ability to link cause and effect, or to credibly predict the outcomes of various programs or policies.
The Covid crisis is the trigger of this phase transaction. And, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I view the Covid crisis as the collision of four complex systems – health, economic, mental health, and racial inequity. Each of these complex systems has been evolving for a long time, are never “solved”, and come in and out of focus.
The collision of all four of them simply cannot be understood from a macro perspective or addressed incrementally, and is transformative in an unpredictable way.
Easy examples of specific phase transitions include telemedicine, video conferencing, remote work, remote learning, and retail distribution. As this has been happening over the past four months, the entire US macro model around government debt was thrown out the window, resulting in a massive economic value shift (both positive and negative) across our entire economy. At the same time that unemployment is high, but the macro numbers show it “bad, but not awful”, income inequity has soared.
But this isn’t the story of the phase transition. Rather, it’s just the beginning. There are many people on our planet that are hoping things are going to “go back to normal.” The phrase “the new normal” is a hint at that, reinforcing that there is some type of “normal” to expect.
There is no normal, just like there is no spoon.
If you think it’s going to get weird, well, it’s too late. That already happened.
Since March 11th, when I realized the Covid crisis was going to generate a massive phase transition throughout society, I’ve been rethinking everything. Complexity theory teaches us that in complex systems, there is no playbook, just like there is no spoon.
Yet, in our world, we try to apply playbooks to many of the things we do. Many of the things we believe exist run off of playbooks. Take K-12 education. As our society anxiously awaits the opening of K-12 schools in the fall, educators, administrators, teachers, and governments everywhere scramble to “rewrite the playbook” for K-12 in the time of Covid.
But what if the playbook for K-12 is obsolete. Or flawed. Or unnecessary. What if it structurally reinforces undesirable things, like racism or economic inequality?
Observers of the health care system would comment that the health care system in the US has been messed up for a long time. My dad has been writing a blog on Repairing the Healthcare System for a decade. While there is plenty that he writes that I disagree with, I do agree that the healthcare system in the US is structurally broken. And, now with some hospitals in Florida being out of ICU beds, well, hold on to your masks …
We haven’t even begun talking about commercial real estate. My friends in the restaurant industry are suggesting that unless the government sends them a lot of “free money” soon, the restaurant industry as we know it will completely collapse.
Do we need more commercial real estate? Does the restaurant industry, as currently configured, really work?
Regardless of the answers, it’s impossible to predict what things will look like on the other side of this phase transition.
I recently was in an email thread where a Black founder had a powerful and clear response to the question from one of her corporate partners. The question was:
How can our (the corporate partner’s) team better support diversity in our work, particularly in our sourcing, diligence, and onboarding efforts?
The entrepreneur responded with a long explanation that was a brilliant and extremely helpful perspective for me. It follows.
I think one of my core experiences, and a truth that we all have to grapple with, is that programs like yours should be thought of like higher education in 1960, or getting into a NYC Specialized High School today.
Were there no Black students at Harvard because Black people aren’t brilliant? No.
There were no Black students at Harvard because you have to get a certain score on the SAT to get in.
People who score well on the SAT either:
- Come from amazing school districts with a plethora of funding and the ability to prepare students adequately for the test.
- Come from families that can afford expensive SAT prep.
- Come from communities that have an infrastructure that supports robust SAT prep.
Because of institutional racism in our society, Black people:
- Have school systems with a lower tax basis and insufficient resources.
- Make less than half what whites do in many cities and don’t have the resources to sign up for SAT prep.
- Have had our communities and families decimated through mass incarceration and other racist policies.
If we juxtapose that analogy with startups, your team will need to ask itself what criteria you’re using for startups.
Black entrepreneurs have to find a way/make a way/invent a way to launch businesses with two arms tied behind our backs because we don’t get the same funding as our white counterparts.
So I have raised $2.5MM and have to compete with companies who have raised $25m and $70m respectively.
And yet, I’m constantly asked, “What’s your traction?” which is similar to “What’s your SAT score?”
We know that as a society, we are starving Black businesses for capital, and yet we expect them to hit the same milestone markers as businesses that have a plethora of capital. It’s like not feeding a cow yet expecting them to produce milk. It’s literally madness and maddening.
Thinking about your sourcing of Black companies is going to be a far more complex question than “Who do we call to find the amazing Black companies?” It’s going to be “How do we change our lens so we can see the amazing Black companies?” followed by “Once we bring them into our ecosystem, how do we support their journey in meaningful ways that can help to level the playing field = e.g. get them capital or get them revenue?”
Maybe we should stop asking “What’s your SAT score?” and instead ask, “Wow. How on earth did you maintain a 3.7 GPA, and cook for your little brother and sister every night because your mom had 2 jobs, and get an A in calculus without a high-paid tutor, and work a full-time summer job at Key Food while taking a class to teach you how to code at night? That’s a lot of grit!”
Maybe we’re measuring the wrong things in our entrepreneurial society, just as we’ve measured the wrong things in our larger society. Maybe we all need to start talking about grit instead of metrics that can only be achieved with money, and then make sure all entrepreneurs get the funding required to achieve equivalent metrics.