Posts from life lessons

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.

Parenting

About a month ago, our oldest child Jessica inquired as to the whereabouts of the family videos we took of our kids when they were younger. We looked around a bit and finally found them. We hadn't seen them in years. The Gotham Gal took all the tapes over to the local photo store and got them put onto a set of DVDs, one for us and one each for the three kids. Jessica took the extra step of uploading all of them to Dropbox and inviting all of us to the folder.

So we've been watching these videos a bunch in the past month. We've also had the pleasure of having all of our kids home since late May so it has been "family time" at home. It's a rare thing these days and it won't last so we are making the most of it.

When I watch the videos, particularly the ones where we took Jessica home from the hospital, I marvel at how young we were. We had no idea what we were doing. 

Fast forward to June 2013, twenty-two years later, and we've learned a lot about parenting. One of our kids is out of college, one is in college, and one is entering his senior year in high school. I feel older, but wiser. And our kids have themselves to thank for that. They have taught us how to be parents.

Parenting is one of life's great pleasures. It has made me a better person in many ways. I am more patient, accepting, and understanding than I was before kids entered our life.

So on Father's Day, I am thankful for the experience of being a parent and parenting. It's an incredible gift and I feel fortunate to have received it.

Finishing

Today, our eldest child graduates from college.

Last night, as we were leaving a house party with all of her friends and their parents and family members, Jess said "thanks for sending me to college dad". I replied "thanks for graduating Jess". Everyone got a chuckle. But I was dead serious.

Dropping out of college is all the rage today in startup land (even dropping out of high school). And when it comes to our business, we really do not care if someone went to or graduated from college. We have funded many college dropouts and will continue to.

But there is also something to finishing something you started.

Yesterday afternoon, all thirtyish art students who had completed a year long senior thesis project did a group show at the Zlikha Gallery at Wesleyan. These young adults had each worked all year long on their projects and the works are impressive. The Gotham Gal negotiated a sale with one of the young artists. The first the young woman had ever made. But the most impressive thing to me was the sense of accomplishment these young artists felt. They all started with a big idea, then had to struggle with the work, the doubts, the mistakes, and in the end they all delivered big time. More than the diploma and the cap and gown they will wear today, that year long struggle and delivery is what they will take into the world as they leave college today. They finished something hard.

Finishing is about discipline, committment, getting up and getting at it. I am a big fan of finishing. And I am so proud that Jessica has finished college today. Congrats Jess.