Posts from life lessons

The Personal Blog

There’s a bit of a renaissance of real personal blogging here in NYC. Two of the original NYC bloggers have, after years of writing professionally and editing others, returned to their own blogs.

It started with Lockhart Steele, the founder of Curbed, Racked, and Eater, who started that media business on his personal blog.

Then the next day, Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor/blogger at Gawker, dusted off her blog and started writing on it again.

It feels so good to link to both of them.

There was a comment on Elizabeth’s kickoff post that suggested she go to Medium. She replied:

I already write for (and on) Medium. My most recent piece is here. But I don’t think it’s quite the same thing as maintaining a personal blog, where you control all of the visual elements and maintain a custom URL.

I wanted to reply to that comment, but could not for the life of me, log into WordPress to leave it. So I’ll blog about it instead.

There is something about the personal blog, yourname.com, where you control everything and get to do whatever the hell pleases you. There is something about linking to one of those blogs and then saying something. It’s like having a conversation in public with each other. This is how blogging was in the early days. And this is how blogging is today, if you want it to be.

When I started blogging here at AVC, I would write about everything and anything. Then, slowly but surely, it became all about tech and startups and VC. It is still pretty much that way, but I feel like I’m heading back a bit to the personal blog where I can talk about anything that I care about.

Today, that thing is the fact that the Gotham Gal and I are taking our youngest child, Josh, to college. As my friend Bob told me over email last week about sending his son off:

I am surprisingly emotional at least to me ……….. Sending Josh off as your last must be something.

Yeah, it is something. I’ll miss him a lot.

Opting Out For The Kids

Our daughter Emily is working on a senior thesis this coming year. She’s studying the choices women make to balance their careers and families. This is a subject Emily has some personal experience with having watched The Gotham Gal quit her job when our son Josh was born and make a number of other career sacrifices so she could care for our young family.

Emily wants to capture real stories from real women and has built a website she calls Opting Out For The Kids where women can share their stories with her and the world.

It’s a pretty basic website. Anyone can read the stories and upvote them. But you need to log in with Facebook if you want to post a story. Once you log in, you will see a link that says POST and that’s how you write a post to tell your story.

Emily alpha launched this website at the start of the summer but it had some quirks and she recently fixed them and is now re-launching it.

If you are a woman who has an “opting out for the kids” story to tell, please go here, login with Facebook, and tell it.  And if you have followers on Twitter or Facebook who might be women with these kinds of stories, please post a link to Opting Out For The Kids so that other women can find this website and tell their stories.

And, as I mentioned, anyone can read and upvote these stories and I would encourage everyone to do that.

Emily will appreciate it and so will I. And I will ask Emily if I can post the results of her research here next spring when it’s completed.

Do You Unplug

I’m working on unplugging during my six weeks off. I’m doing a decent job but I am not totally unplugged and it is possible that I won’t totally unplug.

I saw this chart in the WSJ (via Twitter) this morning:

unlug

So almost half of us don’t ever unplug.

Do you, and if so, how often?

An Extended Vacation

Starting tomorrow and for the next six weeks, the Gotham Gal and I will be on an extended vacation.

Every year I take the last two weeks of the summer at the beach with my family to celebrate my birthday and take advantage of the last days of the summer. I will be doing that starting tomorrow.

Then in late August, we drop our youngest child, Josh, off at college. That moment will mark the end of a very important part of our lives, the active in-person parenting phase, and the start of another phase where it will be mostly the two of us living together without our children at home.

Neither of us wanted to just drop Josh off at college and go back to work like nothing changed. We want to acknowledge this new phase and kick it off with an event of some kind. So we are going to spend most of September traveling together, just the two of  us, in southern Europe. We will be back in late September, with a new living situation, and hopefully refreshed and energized for this new phase of our lives.

We will refrain from working on this extended vacation unless something very important comes up. I will turn on an out of office responder at some point in the next 24 hours and when you email me you will get a reply saying that I’m away until the end of September and, unless its urgent, please contact me then.

I do plan to have something new up here at AVC every day during this period. That may be reblogging the Gotham Gal who plans to blog our trip in Europe, it may be reblogging some old posts that should get the light shined on them again (like I did earlier this week), it may be more videos (like saturdays), or it may be new posts if I am inspired to write something new and original. It will probably be a mix of all of that.

I’m super excited to be taking this time off. It was eleven years ago that Brad and I started USV and twenty four years ago that the Gotham Gal and I started our family. Both have been incredible and successful efforts, but they have required a lot of work. It’s time to take a break and smell the roses, together. And that is what we intend to do.

Get Lucky

I’ve always thought of myself as a lucky person. I’ve had a tremendous amount of good fortune in my life; a happy marriage, great kids, a fantastic job, several great partnerships, and lots of financial success.

So it was with interest that I read this post about some research a psychologist named Richard Wiseman did on lucky and unlucky people. Wiseman concludes that luck (and unluck) is a function of state of mind (positive vs negative), being open minded, and trusting your gut.

Here’s the money quote from the post:

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

I have heard similar things over the years and these findings certainly resonate with me. I can’t stress enough the importance of the last point – “a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” If you always look on the bright side of life, to quote Monty Python, you will have much greater success.

And, of course, it turns out you can learn to be lucky. Wiseman ran a “luck school” and less than a month he turned unlucky people into lucky people. So if you aren’t feeling it, get lucky. You can do it.

Checking Your Work

I don’t recall who drove it into me when I was young, but I have always been obsessive about checking my work. Whenever I do a math problem, I take my answer and do a reverse check to make sure the answer makes sense. I do this even when adding a tip to a bill at the end of a dinner. It drives the Gotham Gal crazy to see me take so much time to do a simple math problem. It’s not even a conscious thing for me. It’s just how my mind works.

I tell all of you this because it relates to writing. I was talking to an educator that I respect greatly last night and I asked her what is the most effective technique for teaching kids to write. I expected her to say one on one editing sessions with a mentor, coach, or teacher was the most effective way to teach writing. But she told me that forcing kids to rewrite their work, solo, was the most effective technique to improve their writing.

When I write a blog post, I tend to write it as the idea forms in my brain. I write the whole thing out. And then I rewrite it. I go over every line and make sure the spelling and grammar are correct, I look at the phrasing. I consider the flow. I read it start to finish at least three or four times. I think about the whole and then each part. And I’ll cut out paragraphs, move things, rewrite parts, and mess with it for almost as long as it took me to write it in the first place. And I’ll do that even after I’ve posted it. I actually get some extra benefit from editing while the post is live. I am not sure why that is, but often times the best edits come to me after the post is live.

And so it turns out, if my educator friend is right and I would imagine she is, that this kind of obsessive self editing is the best way to become a better writer. I don’t consider myself a great writer by any means, but I have improved immensely over the years I’ve been blogging. Some of that, for certain, comes from writing every day. According to WordPress, I have written over 6,500 posts here at AVC. That’s a lot of writing. But you don’t learn as much from the process of putting words on paper (or online). You learn most from the process of perfecting the piece.

Based on the countless hours I have worked with my kids over the years, getting students to spend time on a project after they feel like they have finished it is really hard. They get annoyed. “It’s done, it’s right, why are you making me do this?” is a common refrain. But if you want your kids or students to learn and improve, you have to force them to do that. Like someone did for me when I was young. It’s a gift that pays dividends for me every day.

Twenty Seven Years Ago

On June 20, 1987, the Gotham Gal and I got married. A lot has transpired since then. We raised three kids who are now young adults, we built a wonderful life in NYC, and we made a fortune, lost it all, and made it back. It’s been a fantastic ride and I could not have picked a better partner to take it with me.

Last tuesday night, I was hanging out with my friends Jordy and Paul on Jordy’s balcony looking out at the Hudson River. I told them a story about the Gotham Gal and me. When we got out of college in 1983, I had no idea what I wanted to do or what to do. Joanne was completely different. She wanted to move to NYC, work at Macy’s and become a store manager. She knew what she wanted in life and how to get it.

So I followed her to NYC. She pushed me to get a job in NYC. I did. She then pushed me to go to business school. I did. She pushed me to get a job over the summer in VC (because I told her I thought it was interesting). I did. She pushed me to ask the partners to hire me out of business school. I did. She pushed me to ask for a raise. I did. Eventually she pushed me to ask to be made a partner. I did. And finally she pushed me to leave and start my own firm. I did.

Flatiron, the firm I started along with Jerry Colonna, was the end of me finding my way with gentle (and not so gentle) pushes from the Gotham Gal. At the age of 35, I was the co-founder of a VC firm, the commercial Internet had arrived, and I was on my way.

There is a saying that behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman who helped make them so. I am not sure that is true in every situation. But it certainly was true in mine.

Be Nice Or Leave

We have a sign like this in our beach house. We got it in New Orleans many years ago.

be nice or leave

I thought of that sign when I was on the phone yesterday. I was talking to a person involved in a deal I’m working on right now. He said “you guys are being awfully nice here.”

For much of the rest of the day, I was thinking “are we being too nice?”

I don’t want to talk about this specific deal. Too much information. But I do want to talk about being nice in business. The conventional wisdom is nice and business don’t go hand in hand.

We learned from The Godfather that “it’s not personal, it’s business.” We know that some of the most successful entrepreneurs in tech have been difficult individuals who did what they had to do to get ahead.

We know that a lot of investors, VCs included, will do what is required to make a buck.

So its conventional wisdom that being nice is a bad idea in business.

I have found otherwise. I have found that reputation is the magnet that brings opportunities to you time and time again. I have found that being nice builds your reputation. I have found that leaving money on the table, and being generous, pays dividends.

I am not saying you should be overly generous or nice to a fault. There’s a limit to everything. But I do think that thinking about others, and trying to make things right for everyone (which is impossible and will drive you crazy) is an approach that pays off in business.

It’s not the fastest way to make a buck. It takes time. But it is way more sustainable than screwing people over.

Passing It Down

Yesterday was a great day. I taught Jessica how to solder. And I taught Josh how to drive a stick shift. I enjoyed doing both very much.

Jessica is preparing for an art exhibition and wanted to make some light boxes she saw on the Internet. We went to the hardware store in town and bought a soldering iron and some electrical solder. It has been at least 20 years since I had soldered anything, but it came back to me like riding a bike. I soldered the first electrical connection. Then she soldered the second. It was a success. I gave her the soldering iron and solder to keep as a present. I hope she solders a lot in the coming years.

Josh has been driving for several years and got his drivers license a few months ago. He’s been driving our car and his sister’s car a bit. But he could not drive our 10 year old Jeep that we keep at our beach house. So yesterday afternoon, I took him out and showed him how to use the clutch and manually shift. He got it on the first try although we did stall out a few times as we drove around our block. The next step will be driving into town with either me or the Gotham Gal. I really enjoy driving a stick and that Jeep is my favorite car to drive out east. I am excited that Josh can experience the joy of driving a stick shift.

One of the many joys of parenting is passing down the things you know how to do to your kids. We do that from the minute they come out of the womb and for many years after. Our kids are all adults now, but the passing it down thing keeps going on. And that’s a really good thing for us and them.

Feature Friday: Google Form To Google Spreadsheet For RSVPs

Gary Chou taught me a trick a year or so ago that I have now used a bunch of times with fantastic results. Email out an invitation with a link to an RSVP form in Google Form and get an automatic spreadsheet of results in Google Spreadsheet.

Here's how you do it:

1) Create a Google Form. I like three text fields; name, email address, and if you are bringing someone

2) After you have completed the form, grab the link by clicking the send button which generates this box

Google send form box

3) Then compose an email with a link to that RSVP form and ask everyone who is coming to fill out the form. That will take them all of twenty seconds to complete.

4) In the upper left of your completed form, you will see this menu

Google form menu

Click on the "Responses" link and you will be taken to a Google Spreadsheet that will fill up with RSVPs as your email goes out and folks complete the form.

That's it. You have a list of people who are coming. You can use it to send emails with updates, you can use it to check people off at the door, etc, etc.

It works great. Give it a try next time you are doing an event that has a big list and requires RSVPs.