"If The Train Is Delayed, Find Another Way Home"

I worked for a man named Bliss McCrum (and his partner Milton Pappas) in my mid 20s. They taught me the venture capital business. They were in their 50s, around my age, at that time.

Bliss one time gave me this business travel advice. He said, if the train is delayed or stops at a station and can’t move, get off the train and find another way home. His experience told him that once delays start happening, they tend to get worse, and you are better served by ditching plan A and finding a plan B.

I have used that advice many times over the years, and while it is not perfect, it has been on point more often than off point.

Today I had a 6:30am flight to SFO from LAX. When I picked up my phone as I was leaving the house for the airport, I saw a text from Alaska Airlines that my flight had been cancelled and they were booking me on the next flight.

Bliss popped into my head and I thought, “I’m going to get to LAX and get on the 7am flight that I usually take.” I had wanted to get to SF super early today so I booked the first flight out of LAX to SFO instead of my usual 7am flight.

Once I got to LAX, I was able to get onto the 7am flight, and then headed to the gate where my new flight was leaving from. That required getting on a bus and heading to a new terminal. This is what the guts of LAX look like at 6am.

Once I got to my gate, I learned that my 7am flight was delayed into SFO by 90 minutes, thus pushing my arrival back two hours from when I wanted to be there.

Again Bliss entered my head and I thought “what about San Jose?”. So I went to the board and saw that there was a 7:30am flight getting into San Jose at 8:50. I went to the service desk and asked if there were any delays getting into San Jose this morning and was told there were not.

So I swapped my SFO ticket for a SJC ticket and got basically the same seat on a similar plane.

I’m in the air to SJC right now and hope to land in about 30 mins\utes and then get in a car and be taken the hour+ that it will take to get to into San Francisco. But at least I can call into the start of my meeting instead of missing the first couple hours completely.

I have to thank Bliss for the inspiration to scramble today instead of just taking what the airlines were giving me and being chill about it. I think it worked out well and I’m going to be able to participate in the entirety of my meeting today. Thanks Bliss.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. andyswan

    Reads headline. Expects subway rant. Hopes for startup metaphor.Reads travel blog.Appreciates Bliss.

    1. Adam Rotello

      Reads headline.Expects rant on Ethereum Constantinople delay.Reads blog.Appreciates life advice.

    2. Cynthia Savage

      Hahaha. I was hoping for a cryptocurrency or start up metaphor too!

  2. BillMcNeely

    Improvise, adapt or overcome Gunny Highway

  3. karen_e

    The Bliss McCrum posts are always good. Not only are they usually about life lessons that have stood the test of time, but we get to see that great name.

    1. kidmercury

      the challenge i have with any bliss mccrum post is wondering if he is a real person with that actual name or if fred is just polishing his literary craft. half expecting fred to break out his next character, a french entrepreneur he backed named Cheery LeSmiles, who uses cheese and wine as allegories for startup funding.

      1. LE

        I think I’ve posted this link before. He was both Princeton and Wharton actually.https://paw.princeton.edu/m…Yes it sounds like a spam worthy name actually. But back when Bliss operated a different time.I probably pointed out before that Fred was helped a bit by his military connection (Fred’s father). Also Wharton but I think the military connection actually exceeds that in this case. Noting that in any type of selling it’s always a benefit to find some connection with the other party that is making a decision.

  4. awaldstein

    You can (and should be dogged) about goals and outcomes, but be completely open and flexible about how to accomplish them.My version of a similar truth from a different person which as well works most of the time for me.

  5. LE

    He said, if the train is delayed or stops at a station and can’t move, get off the train and find another way home. His experience told him that once delays start happening, they tend to get worse, and you are better served by ditching plan A and finding a plan B.I have been doing this since the beginning of time myself.An example is in the early 90’s. My ex wife and I had just left some mountain in Lake Tahoe and there was an avalanche that blocked the road to where we were staying.I immediately headed in the other direction (I think it was toward Truckee) so I could get a hotel room ‘just in case’. We got to the hotel, got a room, and took a nap. Later we found out the road was open. Somehow amazingly I got the hotel to give us our money back for the room (don’t remember how but i did that; they resold it to another traveler that needed it).My thought was not to stay there like a schmuck (what everyone else was doing) waiting for the road to open but to get my ass out of dodge and insure a happy outcome. And that is what happened.I follow this pattern frequently. You pay more to insure success and importantly less aggravation.With your story: A similar way of thinking relates to driving. If you are running late you don’t take the shortcut you don’t know you take the long way that you do know.

  6. LE

    One other thing that is obvious is the glee you feel for pulling this off. (Like me with the landslide hotel room story). You appear very excited and pumped that you were able to do this. Almost more up than if it never happened in the first place. Right? You love the challenge and the solution you came up with. And the fact that you halted the aggravation that you might have had.There is a business lesson for this that any startup can follow as well. Often you come out ahead in the customer’s mind if you mess up an order but then do a slam dunk in fixing it. You actually come out better than if you never made a mistake in the first place.I noticed this in my prior business where the staff was always (by nature of the business) screwing up. ‘Wheel … of … fuckups’. Instead of customers getting angry and dropping us the opposite happened. They liked us even more. Why? Because we fixed the error and showed them how we stood behind what we did. And we were responsive and did it quickly. That made us more valuable not less valuable. (Amazon does this, right?)I actually have that situation now with a HVAC vendor that I am dealing with. They made a mistake but the rep has been all over it and apologetic and even interacting with a tenant directly communicating the status. To me that’s great and it makes them more valuable not less valuable in my mind. I learned this early on first hand.

  7. curtissumpter

    Is this life advice too?

    1. fredwilson

      Note the category I used

      1. curtissumpter

        Nice. That’s what I thought. Great analogy. I’ll definitely put it into use.Thanks. Really.

  8. Jeff J

    I joined a startup in NYC after a couple of less than Blissful years as a faculty practice physician. My first role was in product but over time I bacame the SME that would accompany sales/accounts on the road.On one such trip I learned the exact same lesson, after a prospect meeting weather over DC/Philly created an slow down into the NYC airports for regional jets. The 50ish year old sales veteran I was with said “come on, we are grabbing that flight to Dallas.”. I asked him why we’d fly in the wrong direction and he smiled and said “do you want to get home tonight?”.Sure enough we grabbed a flight to Dallas, had a nice meal in DFW and got a flight into LGA that had me in bed just after Midnight.I learned to always keep my eye out for other ways home.Great story Fred

  9. Richard

    Tough, but this is not quite an escape from a Russian Gulag. Hard to imagine that a generation ago there were 10’s millions of people trying to figure a way out of socialism. We are very lucky, very lucky. Let’s hop our luck doesn’t run out with the likes of AOC et al.

  10. Salt Shaker

    No way Bliss McCrum was a VC. I’m not buying. With a name like that he had to be a cattle rancher. The Marlboro man comes to mind.

    1. fredwilson

      He was from west Virginia. Retired to Montana. Passed away last year. He had a lot of rancher in him

      1. JLM

        .How does one become a millionaire rancher?Start with ten million.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. Richard

          Or own the oil and gas rights of the land.

    2. Gayatri Sarkar

      Here’s the real deal – https://paw.princeton.edu/m…Bliss was a VC and a Princeton Wharton alum, died last year, June 6, 2018, after years of coping with Parkinson’s disease.Wish I had a mentor like this. But I think Fred knowingly or unknowingly mentoring budding VCs like us through his blog.

  11. TanyaMonteiro

    Thanks Bliss!! Great reminder for any aspect of life. Please post this at least once ever six months, excellent advise.

  12. Ronnie Rendel

    You work hard and love what you do that’s a blessing.

  13. Tom Labus

    I was commuting to NYC by bus because PATH was down and out. We stopped to pick up passengers from another bus that had died out in the Meadowlands. Original bus with other bus passengers died as we entered to Lincoln Tunnel. I seriously considered going home (a few drinks first) and hide out with that kind of run of luck!

  14. Dorian Benkoil

    I, too, expected a metaphor — not just for startups but for business in general, or even life. Then, again, we take the metaphor and apply it even if you didn’t state it.

  15. Joe Marchese

    Having spent several lifetimes commuting on the LIRR via Penn, I lived by the rule that ‘if you can get out, get out’. With lots of improv once you’re moving, you can (almost) always get to where you need to be in reasonable shape.

    1. JamesHRH

      That if you can get out, get out rule applies in more spots than the LIRR.

  16. Sigurdur Gudbrandsson

    That’s a really great read, however in a no-border world (internet) that we live in today, I have a slightly different view.You called in on the meeting – couldn’t you do that from SF airport with a decent headset?

  17. JamesHRH

    Milt Pappas & Bliss McCrum. What a pair of handles.NY Giants starting guards in 1958?Boston Bruins top D pair in 1947?Operators of Chicago’s best steakhouse form 1919-1954?Too good.

  18. DaveGoulden

    Having lived in the Bay Area most of my life, another piece of travel advice is to avoid the fog plagued SFO whenever possible. From LA especially, Oakland and San Jose are both great options.

  19. Pointsandfigures

    Planes Trains and Automobiles comes to mind.

  20. Peter J. Mills

    Action always feels better than doing nothing. But the scenario can work out like this: miss the bus, so run to the train station. Oops, the train has been delayed by trackwork. Tear back to bus stop to find you’ve missed the second bus.This can be the bane of business. Waiting is sometimes more productive. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it benign neglect.

  21. sigmaalgebra

    How to announce a time and, then, get there on time, no problems with unexpected delays!!! (1) Pick the destination, (2) Get there by whatever means can use, possibly encountering blizzards, earthquakes, hurricanes, parades, strikes, shutdowns, engine fires, crowds, riots, overbooking, diarrhea, lost luggage, Wifi failures, lost/dead batteries, etc. (3) Now that have arrived, THEN announce when you will be there. Or, in an athletic contest analogy, when the starting gun goes off, already be within 1′ of the finish line.To generalize, for, say, software, write it and then give a good time estimate for how long it would take to write it again.To generalize further, usually for giving good time estimates for some work, task, or project, must have done the same or very similar work successfully frequently and recently in the past.At times I’ve done a lot better than that, but maybe I was lucky!(1) FedEx was in deep trouble: The BoD was afraid that with more growth they would not be able to solve the problem of scheduling the fleet. Funding was delayed. There were some meetings that came up with nothing. I volunteered just to do it. I got access to a new computer, designed, typed in, and debugged the software, while teaching two courses in computer science at Georgetown U., and eight weeks from the start, with my manager screaming about how late I was, an SVP and I used my software and developed a good schedule for the full planned fleet. Two guys representing investor and BoD Member General Dynamics went over the schedule and announced “It’s a little tight in a few places, but it’s flyable”. Founder F, Smith said the work solved the most important problem facing the company.(2) The Navy wanted an evaluation of the survivablility of the US SSBN (missile firing submarines) under a special, controversial scenario of global nuclear war limited to sea with results in two weeks. I found a continuous time Markov process subordinated to a Poisson process, right, with a closed form solution as a matrix exponential, but one too large to evaluate, so used some Monte Carlo, ran off 500 sample paths, averaged, found confidence intervals, passed a review by an expert in stochastic processes, and was done in the two weeks.(3) Some guys had an opportunity to sell some resource allocation to some banks, a sudden opportunity due to some banking rule changes. They had formulated their problem as a 0-1 integer linear program with 600,000 variables and 40,000 constraints. They had tried simulated annealing, ran for days, and quit when tired but with no indication of how good their results were.On the next weekend, I looked at their formulation, did some nonlinear duality derivations, and guessed I’d have something in two weeks. At the end of the first week, I wrote them that I was on schedule. At the end of the second week my derivations and software found a feasible solution with some bounding that showed that my solution had cost within 0.025% of optimality.I have some more examples.These examples had one important feature in common: The tools I was using from others were well designed, relatively simple, and well enough documented. So, I got to spend the time on the work that was uniquely mine.More generally, for good project time estimates, try to reduce dependency on outside tools, contributions, etc. Or for a project, follow the KISS principle — keep it simple, stupid.

  22. Lawrence Brass

    If you’ve done part of that on a skate, it would have been classic Casey Niestat. :)Good advice.Don’t stop. Keep moving.

  23. PhilipSugar

    I’ll give life advice. This is why you control your own travel. This is why you get to the airport not sit in your room in front of people is ten times better. You also talk to the pilots and are nice to the gate attendants. I could sit down and tell stories for a year.

    1. LE

      I think I remember one you told about a gate attendant who screwed a guy by routing a nasty traveler through a certain city and then gave you advice on what she was doing for you.I think one of the things that is always missed (by the younger crowd) is how much you can learn from regular everyday people vs. notable people. Who everyone has the tendency to over listen to and respect (even with things they know zero about).

  24. Gayatri Sarkar

    I was contemplating yesterday about a decision and was wondering the course of action. This came as a right advice at the right time. Thanks!

  25. jason wright

    “If The Train Is Delayed, Find Another Way Home” – that’s a long name for an app.