Posts from life lessons


Since we came back from Los Angeles six weeks ago, I have been going harder than any time that I can remember. I’ve had many days when I start with a breakfast at 7am and end with a dinner that wraps at 11pm. Two weeks ago, I gave speeches at three evening events. Last week, I had dinner functions four nights in a row. My workout routine is in shambles and I am not getting enough sleep. I am posting less thoughtful stuff here at AVC. I am three weeks behind on email. Even the CEOs of our portfolio companies are not getting replies from me. That never happens and cannot happen. This weekend I got the notice from my body that I need to slow down. It always happens to me when I’m going too hard. I feel like I’ve got the flu even when I don’t.

Some of this is because I put off a number of things when we were in LA and I’ve been trying to make them up now that I’m back in NYC. I’ve been doing a lot more meetings at USV, I’ve been doing a lot more fundraising for CS4All. I’ve been catching up with business relationships that I didn’t see when I was in LA.

Some of this is because I’ve taken on a bunch of new projects without closing down any. I’ve done this a number of times in my career and it always bites me. I should say no to new things unless and until I can wrap up old things. But I have a bias to say yes and I sometimes break this rule. And then I pay the price.

Finding balance is hard for me. I have tried blocking out slots in my schedule. And then I override them and use these slots to book last minute meetings that come up. I have tried working from home on fridays. And then I allow myself to get scheduled back to back to back on calls and videoconferences. I have tried to not work on weekends. But then the stuff I couldn’t get to during the week finds itself on my to do list on the weekends. I have tried to not do work stuff at night. And then I get talked into doing it.

I am committing myself to getting things back in balance. I am going to get back on my workout routine. I am going to cancel a bunch of evening events. I am going to cut down or cut out public speaking. I am going to sleep longer and better. And I am going to start going to the beach where I always find and keep down time.

I tell you all of this because writing it down publicly will help me commit to it. And because you may get a no from me when you ask to meet me or get me on a call. And because you might see less of me out and about, talking, speaking, being.

My friend (and AVC community member) Kirk calls dieting “lockdown”. I am going on lockdown on work/life balance and I’m going to find more life and a bit less work. I need to.

The Maternal Instinct

It’s Mothers Day, a time to celebrate motherhood and moms. I woke up thinking about the maternal instinct and it’s effect on business.

I was talking to a friend last night about the challenges of working on troubled or failed investments. We were debating whether it is even worth the time to try and save a troubled investment versus moving on and focusing on a new one. This is the endless debate in venture capital. It can be applied to managing people as well. Should you work to develop a talented employee who is struggling or just move on and find someone new for the role?

As we were debating the point on whether to fight for a troubled investment or just move on, the Gotham Gal walked by. And I turned to my friend and said “she never gives up on any of her investments and she has 10x the number that I do.” I’ve cautioned her many times that she can’t fix every company, every CEO, every business plan. But she just keeps trying. It’s why I love her so much.

There is something about the maternal instinct. It’s a powerful thing. It is about protecting and caring for someone or something. It is innate in women and they do bring it with them into the world of business. This is one of many reasons why gender diversity in a team is important. Men and women bring different perspectives and instincts to a situation. Debating it out and finding common ground can be quite valuable.

Surely there is a limit to the maternal instinct in business. You can’t make every hire work. You can’t make every project work. You can’t make every investment work. That’s what I frequently tell the Gotham Gal. But that doesn’t stop her from trying. And I understand why.

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there. You care for us and we love you for it.

The Meltdown

I was watching The Masters golf tournament on Sunday when Jordan Speith melted down on the 12th hole, hitting not one but two balls into Rae’s Creek. It was hard to watch. It was gut wrenching.

Jordan is the most talented young golfer that has come along since Rory McIlroy emerged five years ago. And Rory had a similar meltdown in the 2011 Masters.

My friend Bob sent me an email yesterday and said “No matter how bad you might feel today, I guarantee Jordan Spieth feels worse.”

To which I replied “you have to fuck up to get better.”

I have been playing the game of golf since I was 12. I took it up on my own. Neither of my parents are golfers. I don’t really know why golf was something I wanted to do at the age of 12. And I regularly curse the day I took it up. But I will say this about the game – it is a microcosm of life. You cannot master it. You can be brilliant one minute and god awful the next. That’s how the arguably best player in the game puts two balls into Rae’s Creek on two consecutive swings. Golf requires a mental toughness to be great. I see it in my friends who are way better than me. They have the ability to hit a horrible shot and completely forget it and just focus on the next shot as if nothing happened. I cannot do that as hard as I try. That’s why they are single handicappers and I am not.

Going back to Jordan and Rory, I think it is great that they had these meltdowns so early in their professional careers. These meltdowns teach you something important. It teaches you that you are not infallible and that you can fail spectacularly and get up the next day and continue to be the best player in the game. That leads to the mental toughness that is required to play the game of golf at the highest level.

And because golf is a microcosm of life, you can extrapolate this to everything that matters, your marriage, your family, your career, your reputation, etc. We are humans. We fuck up. And when we do, we have to get up the next day and keep plugging away at the game of life. And the sooner we figure that out, the better off we all are.

Write It Down

I woke up at 3am last night and tossed and turned for an hour. That has been a thing for me since my work life started getting interesting (and stressful) in my early 30s.

After about an hour of tossing and turning, I walked into my home office and wrote down the four things that I was tossing and turning over.

Then I went back to bed and quickly went back to sleep and slept for another two hours.

It’s an obvious move. Trying to keep things front and center in my head is just a recipe for being awake. Putting them down on paper allows me to let them go and get back to sleep.

If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about work and not able to go back to sleep, I highly recommend the writing it down trick. It works well for me and I suspect it may work well for you too.

Carl Rahn Griffith

AVC regular David Semeria reached out to me and my friend Jerry yesterday asking if we had heard the news about Carl. We had not. He told us that he had seen the news on Facebook that Carl had passed away. We all wondered if it was true so David verified it with a co-worker of Carl’s.

Anyone who has been hanging around here at AVC for long enough knew Carl. As David said, “He was a lovely chap, much too gentle for this world.”

Carl and I originally bonded over our fondness for the Arctic Monkeys who were from his hometown of Sheffield England. In the summer of 2008, when our family was in the UK, I traveled up to Sheffield and attended a Sheffield Wednesday match with Carl and his lovely wife Helen. They also treated me to a nice lunch at their local pub. It was the kind of friendship one could only have made on the Internet and maintained over the Internet.

Carl was a kind and decent man who loved to write. It was our writing here at AVC that brought us together and kept us connected. I will miss him and I am sure that others here at AVC will too.

My condolences to Helen and his family. He always signed his emails to me “Carl and Helen.” That was the kind of guy he was.


Our daughter took a Meyers Briggs personality test the other day and asked us what our personality types were. I searched this blog and found a post on that topic and told her that I’m an INTP.

Last night while we were waiting for a dinner to start we went and looked at what the Internet says about our personality types. This is what it says about INTP:

people with the INTP personality type tend to share thoughts that are not fully developed, using others as a sounding board for ideas and theories in a debate against themselves

Well that sounds like me and it is what I do here at AVC.

So thank you for being a sounding board for me. I really appreciate it.

I know that I haven’t been serving up much new stuff this past week. It’s a combination of being busy (I got on back to back calls at 6am yesterday and realized mid afternoon pacific time that I had not yet posted) and working on a lot of things I can’t talk about, and being a bit empty in terms of new ideas right now.

That will change. It always does. But I’m a big believer in showing up every day and keeping the conversation going. I guess that’s what an INTP does.

The Power Of Civil And Intelligent Debate To Make Us All Better

One of the things I cherish about the AVC community is the civil and intelligent debate that goes on here. It has made me crystalize my thinking in ways that would not have happened without it. I was reminded of that when I read Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments on Antonin Scalia, in particular this part:

We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.

Debate and dissent are critical. If you can’t cite the opposing point of view on an issue, you may not have thought it through as well as you should.

When I think through all of our investment decisions at USV, it is the ones that we breezed through and got to an answer quickly where we made the biggest mistakes. Some of our best investment decisions started out with a strong dissenter or two, often me. I remember my indignation at the idea that we would invest in a search engine (duckduckgo). But others convinced me that I was wrong and that has turned out incredibly well for us.

Maybe the most important part of the title to this post is the word civil. Without civility (and respect), it is hard to have intelligent debate. Respecting those with opposing views, working to understand them, and listening closely to them is the key. Even if they don’t change your mind, they can reshape how you discuss and present your views. And that can make all the difference in the world.

Time Zone Management

I spent last week in Utah on Mountain Time and I found myself booking meetings in Europe, NYC, and the Bay Area regularly. I am certain that some of those meetings and resulting calendar entries are going to be wrong, wreaking havoc on me and multiple executive assistants. For some reason the cognitive load of managing multiple time zones in my head is really hard for me. I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the EST and PST thing and can do that in my head without much work. But once I get into three or four time zones at the same time, I can’t keep it all in memory.

I’m curious if there are any tricks, apps, or approaches out there for this sort of thing. I use google calendar on web and iPhone and I’m not moving away from that to solve this issue. So if the solution is to move to a new calendaring app, I don’t think I can go there right now.

But a companion app to google calendar that makes scheduling multiple time zone events would be awesome for me. Does such a thing exist?

And yes, I do have an executive assistant. She is awesome. But sometimes I need to schedule things in real time, or it is personal business which I don’t offload, or it’s something with friends which I also do myself. So while I don’t do a ton of my calendar and scheduling work, I do enough of it, usually on the go on my phone, to make this a problem worth solving. And maybe some of you struggle with this too and are looking for a solution.

So with that, any ideas or suggestions?

The Direct Connection

It is an amazing thing. I can sit here in my home office and type into my computer and then hit publish and directly connect to millions of people around the world. People have told me stories of seeing AVC in a browser in China, Africa, and many other far flung places. And the people reading my words respond back to me with words of their own.

The technology that allows this is powerful but this direct connection happens because of something more. It happens because of the words I type and the frequency with which I type them. I know this and it is what compels me to type into my computer every day.

This direct connection is a blessing. It has changed the way I think. It has made me appreciate different cultures, different ways of thinking, and opposing points of view. It has opened my mind.

So in a time when the world seems headed in the opposite direction, I am reminded of the power of this direct connection, which is increasingly available to everyone on this planet. It makes me hopeful that the phase we are in is a temporary bump in a road which ultimately leads to a more peaceful and connected world. And I am thankful for that.

Track and Measure

If you listed the habits of successful people, tracking and measuring would be near the top of that list. I see it with people, companies, and teams that I work with. I see it in my own behavior.

When the Gotham Gal started making angel investments with our personal capital nearly a decade ago, I put together a spreadsheet to track all of them. That spreadsheet is now almost 100 rows long. If she wants to know how it is going, I can give her the numbers ten different ways. And we do that from time to time. A portfolio review of sorts.

When our best portfolio companies start building a new product or feature they scope out how much investment they are going to make in this new product or feature and they build a base case for what the results of this investment will be. They instrument the product or feature to make sure they can track the results they expect to get. And they track the actual investment vs budgeted investment and they measure the actual results vs the expected results. Not only do they know how they did versus expectations, they also know whether they got a positive return on the investment or not. This informs how they approach the next investment.

I see people doing this with their health, their education, their finances, and, most commonly, their work.

Technology helps immensely with this desire to track and measure things. From google sheets, to Fitbit, to Duolingo, to Foursquare, I find myself tracking and measuring more and more of my life every day, and its easier and easier to do so.

But technology alone will not get you there. You have to want to do this. Some of that is learned and some of that is innate. But it can be taught. I’ve tried to pass my track and measure habits on to our kids. And it makes me happy when I see them doing it.

If you want to get sharper and better at something, track it and measure it. It will help you do that.