Posts from life lessons

Two Weeks In Paris

The Gotham Gal and I just spent the last two weeks in Paris. We have been going to Paris together for around forty years and have had a place there for the last decade. It is a place we can go to get away from it all for a few weeks, connect with each other, and enjoy ourselves in a city we love.

I’ve thought a lot about why Paris works so well for us to dial it down a bit and focus more on each other for a while. The time zone is a big part of it. The US doesn’t wake up and start working until early afternoon in Paris so our mornings and lunchtime are all our own. We sleep way later than we sleep anywhere else and stay up later too. The coffee shops I like don’t open until 9am or later so that’s an added incentive to stay in bed a bit longer.

We do find time to work when we are in Paris, but it is generally from mid/late afternoon until dinner time. So the time we work goes down considerably but not to zero and the time together goes up a lot.

Add to that our love of walking through cities and neighborhoods. We do a ton of that in NYC and will walk to and from dinner most of the time in NYC. But walking in Paris is next-level walking. The avenues are wider, the buildings are lower, the light is better, and the architecture fills the streets with beauty. We walk between 10,000 and 20,000 steps every day we are in Paris except for full rainouts, of which we had one on this trip.

And then there is the culture. The museums, the galleries, the nightlife, the restaurants, the stores. You can get all of that in NYC or London or a number of other great cities in the world, but Paris does it so well.

Our stays in Paris are basically less work, more sleep, more culture, more walking, and more fun together. It’s a formula we found many years ago and has never failed us over the years.

On this trip, there were some new things and observations that I thought I’d mention.

1/ Pedal assist bikes and bike lanes: I’ve been doing Velib bikes in Paris since they launched in 2007/2008. I wrote about them back then. But over the last few years, Paris has really upped its bike game. They have cut down lanes for cars and replaced them with bike lanes. They have allowed competitors to Velib in the market and now I have three bike apps on my phone, Velib, Dott, and Lime. The Gotham Gal and I were able to find pedal-assist e-bikes whenever we wanted them with no trouble. Our favorite was Lime which was the most available and their new Gen4 bikes are really good. On Thursday, when we wanted to go to the Paris Photo Show in the 7th, there was a strike on the Metro and so we biked forty minutes, mostly along the River Seine, to the show. It was fabulous. NYC should allow competitors to come into the market and compete with Citibike. When it comes to pedal-assist e-bikes, I think the more options the better. And the way Paris manages the parking spots for the Lime and Dott bikes works pretty well and suggests that the kiosk model that Citibike and Velib use may not be ideal.

2/ English spoken everywhere: Well maybe not everywhere. But over the last decade, since we got our first place in Paris, the number of people we encounter whose English is worse than our French has basically gone to zero. I don’t feel great about my poor french, which gets better over the course of two weeks but is not conversational in the least. But I do feel great about being able to communicate with whomever we need to while we are in Paris.

3/ More and more American ex-pats are living in Paris. Or maybe it’s that we know more American ex-pats living in Paris. Some of them came a decade ago. More came in the wake of the changing political dynamic in the US in the last five years. And the Pandemic brought even more. I did think a few times, “maybe we should join them” but we are not ready to give up the lives we have built in the US over the last forty years. But I do understand why so many US citizens are making Paris their home. It’s a very livable city. And with the dollar so strong, an American income goes a long way in Paris these days. And socialism, which is a scary word to many in the US, seems to work quite well in France. There is a safety net. There are fewer homeless on the streets and there is a sense that people in need are better taken care of in Paris. I don’t know that to be true, but that’s the feeling I get walking around the city for a few weeks.

4/ Property values and rents are more stable: Having bought a couple of apartments in Paris over the last decade, we have come to understand that the real estate markets work a bit differently in France. If an apartment is offered at a price, and you meet that price, the apartment comes off the market for a month while you decide if you absolutely want to buy it. There are no bidding wars as a result. There may be other factors at work as well, but we got the sense that the real estate markets, both purchasing and renting, are moderated in Paris in a way that is absolutely not the case in NYC. We own a lot of property in NYC and have benefitted from increases in the value of our real estate but we feel like those gains came at a great cost, which is that NYC, particularly Manhattan, has become so expensive to own and rent that many stores cannot make it anymore. It’s hard to find a shopping street in Manhattan that doesn’t have multiple vacant stores. We saw very little of that in Paris. And many restaurants we love have remained in the same spaces for over a decade. Again, we don’t know the details of how and why this is, but it is noticeably different and it seems like the model is working in Paris. The streets are alive and vibrant in a way that NYC streets are not right now.

We returned home yesterday having spent a wonderful two weeks together, reconnecting in lots of ways, and with new memories and new adventures under our belt.

I highly recommend that couples find a time and place that they can go unwind and reconnect. For us it is Paris. But it can be almost anywhere that allows you to cut back on work, spend more time with your loved one, and refresh and recharge. It has been working great for us for many years and the longer we do it, the better it gets.

#Blogging On The Road#life lessons

Getting Together In Person

After skipping a year last year, USV held its annual team party last night.

It has felt great getting back to getting together with friends, family, and co-workers this holiday season. It has meant a lot of rapid testing for me, all negative thankfully, including one this morning.

We also had every single team member in the USV office yesterday, which was a first since we fully re-opened in March of this year.

And for our weekly team meeting yesterday, we had everyone around the conference room table. Nobody on Zoom. I can’t remember the last time that was the case.

I’ve been doing in-person board dinners and in-person board meetings a lot lately as well.

While Zoom has certainly transformed the way we work and I don’t expect that we will ever go back to everything in-person, the last few months of getting back together in groups has reminded me how important the human connection is to life, love, and work.

I met with a founder yesterday and he told me that his executive team gets together in person once a quarter. I encouraged him to get the exec team together in person at least once a month, if not more frequently. It is hard to be a tight team, that gives and takes, debates and commits, and moves fast in sync without the in-person connection.

We have a great team at USV and we did great working remotely during the pandemic, but being back in the office since March, working together, and celebrating together, has made things so much better. I am very appreciative of that.

#life lessons

Partnerships

Like many did, we spent much of this weekend watching Peter Jackson’s wonderful documentary of the Beatles making Let It Be, titled Get Back.

I enjoyed so much of the film, particularly the music, but the big thing I took away is the power of real partnerships. While this was the Beatles last recording session, what you see in the film are four partners working together creatively and wonderfully. I wasn’t really expecting that and I found it so enjoyable to watch.

I have worked in partnerships for most of my adult life, since I was in my mid 20s. I have spent 35 years in three partnerships, all of them “equal partnerships”, the kind where everyone brings their own ideas, they are worked on together, and there is mutual respect and admiration.

Partnerships are not easy. Everyone has to dial back their ego a bit and let others have their say on things. But what you get when you do that is an environment where everyone gets better than they would be on their own. And you can see that in the Beatles work. All of the four Beatles went on to have solo careers, but none of them produced a sustained level of work that the four of them were able to make together.

Watching Paul, John, George, and Ringo work together for a month to make an incredible record was a reminder that when we sacrifice a little bit of our self and commit to a team dynamic, wonderful things can and do result.

#life lessons#VC & Technology

Giving Thanks

Like most holidays we celebrate, the essence of the Thanksgiving holiday hides underneath our celebration of it.

Ask anyone about Thanksgiving, and you will hear about turkey, stuffing, a big meal, family, and maybe football.

I’m fine with all of that, particularly the stuffing and family parts.

But the thing that I like most about Thanksgiving is the idea that this is a time of year to give thanks.

The story I heard is that the first Thanksgiving was done to give thanks to the bounty of the harvest. That makes sense to me given the time of year in late fall.

But regardless of why this tradition started, I am a big fan of a day set aside to be thankful.

And I am very thankful this year. Here are some reasons:

1/ We are starting to learn to live with Covid. Between vaccinations, testing, therapeutics, behavior modifications, and more, we are starting to understand the risks and the protections that allow us to live with a virus run amok. The Gotham Gal and I traveled to Paris and back earlier this month and we were able to enjoy a city we love while the virus was still very much a thing in both NYC and Paris. I am starting to attend more and more board meetings in person. The USV office has been open since March and our team enjoys being able to work together face to face. I get to go to MSG, the greatest arena in the world, and watch NBA basketball with twenty thousand other people a few times a week. While the pandemic may not be over, the panic and isolation are easing. And I am thankful for that.

2/ Technology continues to make our lives better. While the narrative has grown that tech and tech companies are bad for society, our everyday lives suggest that the opposite is true. I facetime with my mom when I used to call her on the phone. Seeing her smile warms my heart every time. I can drive to the east end of long island and back in a car that has been entirely powered by the sun. An artist can make a beautiful image and sell it in such a way that they get compensated every time that image trades hands. A founder in Egypt can (and did) raise millions of dollars for their company on one zoom with a team of investors in NYC. I can go on and on, but you get the idea. Technology continues to improve our lives and I can play a role in that. I am incredibly thankful for that.

3/ Aging gracefully is a wonderful thing. We have watched our children become wonderful adults. We have watched the things we have created have an impact on others. We have found time to give back. We have found time to write. We have found time to have great fun with great friends. Time spent on planet earth is such a gift and I’ve now spent 60 years here. I am so thankful for that.

That felt good to write. Giving thanks is awesome. I encourage everyone to take some time to do it. That’s what today is all about.

#life lessons

Diversification

I am a fan of and a practioner of investing in risky assets. I believe you must take significant risk to earn significant returns.

But I also am a huge fan of diversification when holding a lot of risky assets. It has been easier for USV to get into new sectors, like crypto and climate for example, knowing that we also have large positions in other parts of the early stage tech sector.

When crypto went crazy in 2017 and then blew up, it was mostly a blip in our portfolio values. The same was true in the second quarter of this year when crypto had a big pullback.

This is not an argument against crypto only funds. USV has invested in a number of them and so have the Gotham Gal and I. But I would not be comfortable with a portfolio that was only crypto funds. I like to have a mix of assets, ideally uncorrelated, in our portfolio.

An asset class that I really like as a hedge against early stage tech sector risk is real estate. The Gotham Gal and I own a lot of income producing real estate and it feels very uncorrelated to early stage tech.

But there are many ways to get diversification. If you don’t want to think about your investments, something I cannot bring myself to do, then a stock index fund or a portfolio of stock index funds, and some fixed income funds can get you the diversification you need. But the level of risk taking in that strategy is a lot lower.

But regardless of how you get there, it is very important that you not have all of your eggs in one basket. That basket can drop and then you have a mess.

#life lessons

Sixty Years

Today is my sixtieth birthday and I plan to goof off with friends and family all day and night in celebration. If I don’t respond to an email, text, or tweet, well that’s because I’m celebrating.

I’ve been told that turning 60 is a big one and to expect to feel a lot. I will make sure to do that but as many know, it is not my nature to do that. So I will have to work at it.

I have cut back on blogging a lot in the last year. Four posts a week on AVC is now a lot. Many weeks there are only three. I’m hoping that the quality has gone up as the quantity has come down. At least that is the goal.

I’ve caught a second (or maybe third or fourth) wind with my work in the last year. It is a combination of covid, climate, and crypto. The world is changing and there is so much energy being released from these changes that draws me back. At sixty, it is a different kind of work; less hustle and more conviction. I like that.

As the Gotham Gal and I enter our fifth decade together, I am struck by how much we have become one. We often say the same thing to each other at the same moment. A mind meld.

As I told my partner Albert this morning on text, I am a very fortunate person. Life has given me many blessings. I try to give them back as much as I can and AVC is an important part of how I do that.

With that, I am off to have fun with friends and family for the rest of the day.

#life lessons

Leaving Well

I have watched countless companies and leadership teams manage transitions over the years and I have come to believe that companies and leaders should do everything they can to promote “leaving well.”

What I mean by “leaving well” is a smooth transition of a leader out of a role/company. This typically means that a departing leader gives a company a heads up that they are planning to transition out, that news is shared broadly internally, allowing for a transparent process to find a new leader. A similar process is used to transition a leader out when a new one is needed.

For this to work, companies need to do their part to facilitate this process. This means reacting well to the news that an executive would like to move on. It can also include a financial incentive to stick around during a transition. A culture that embraces leaving well puts everyone in a better place during transitions.

There are certainly times when leaving well is not possible. If an executive is terminated for reasons that require an immediate departure, there is no way to execute a smooth transition.

It is also the case that an executive could get an offer that requires an immediate start date that they feel that they have to accept. This is exactly the kind of thing a tradition and culture of leaving well is designed to prevent. Generally speaking, it is preferable to run a process to find your next role versus accepting an offer that comes in unsolicited. If a company has a culture of leaving well, executives will feel that they have the option of running a process versus accepting an offer that comes at them.

It is best to set this culture up at the very beginning. Precedent is powerful. If people see that others have been treated well on the way out, they will be more comfortable being open and honest. If people see the opposite, then they will be more mercenary in their actions.

Cultures that allow for open honest transitions are better places to work and easier companies to manage. Nobody likes a fire drill. Sometimes you have no choice, but if your company has them all of the time, it is a tough place to be.

#life lessons#management

The Walk Away Move

The Gotham Gal and I are watching Succession after being told by so many friends and family members that we had to see it. We are in season two and last night we watched an episode where Logan Roy tries to acquire a family-owned media business. The selling family, led by the mother, tells him they will do the deal if he names his daughter Shiv as his successor. Logan explains that is not how he does things and that he will name his successor on his time and terms. The mother explains it is a requirement of the deal. And so Logan leaves the meeting without closing the deal.

On his arrival back in NYC Logan hears that the selling family has “caved” and will do the deal without a named successor.

The walk-away move is a bold one and does not always lead to winning on your terms. It can cause you to lose the deal.

But I am a fan of the walk-away move because it shows the other party that you are not going to move on your offer anymore and forces a hard decision instead of endless negotiating, which I personally don’t like.

I am often counseled to keep talking and relax. But I find walking away to be very effective if done at the right time and after being very reasonable until then. It is a very powerful way to send a message.

#life lessons

Grit, Resilience and Determination

I am returning to a topic that I have talked a lot about on this blog.

A number of years ago at our annual CEO Summit, we had Angela Duckworth speak to our portfolio about Grit, the topic of her excellent book on the subject. In Angela’s research, she determined that the single greatest determinant of success was not talent. It was grit.

I was reminded of that last night as I watched Derrick Rose lead the New York Knicks to a must-win in game two of their series against the Atlanta Hawks. The Knicks were a mess for the first half of the game and Derrick Rose singlehandedly kept them in the game.

Derrick Rose was the first pick in the 2008 draft and by 2011 he became the youngest NBA player to win the Most Valuable Player award, something he accomplished at age 23. A year later he tore his ACL and he has struggled with injuries ever since.

In the middle of this season, the Knicks acquired Derrick Rose from the Detroit Pistons and soon thereafter he came down with Covid and missed several weeks.

But after Derrick Rose came back from Covid in the last seventeen games of the season, the Knicks won thirteen of those games and landed in fourth place in the East.

And last night, he was the heart and soul of the Knicks. He kept them in the game until his teammates woke up, and he led the team in scoring in a must-win.

Derrick Rose will never be the player he was at 23 when he could beat anyone off the dribble and score at will. He could have called it quits many times in the last nine years since he won his MVP. But he hasn’t quit, he’s worked his way back and he is leading an NBA team in the playoffs. It is really something to behold.

Not everything goes the way we are expecting it to go. We get dealt bad hands and have to play them. That is way things are in life. There are people out there, like Derrick Rose, who show that you can make the best of a tough situation, keep going, and win anyway. That’s grit.

#life lessons

Winning at Fifty

I was rooting for Phil Mickelson all weekend to win the PGA at age 50. I’ve watched Phil for thirty years and I’ve seen all of the highs and lows and there have been many. He plays the game of golf with a level of creativity that can often lead to problems. He is a risk-taker which isn’t always the best way to approach a golf course.

But this weekend at the PGA, he was simply better than anyone else. He hit the ball as far as players thirty years younger than he is. And he showed off his incredible short game.

We have now seen this a few times, where athletes who are “past their prime” continue to be better than anyone else, at least for a game or a long weekend.

Some of this is due to the better conditioning that today’s athletes are in. Some of it is that they are older and wiser and have been there before and understand how to handle the moment. And some of it is that they are the best of their generation and that level of talent goes a long way.

I think us “old timers” can take some lessons from Phil and other athletes who are outperforming well beyond their prime. We can stay in the game to start. We can figure out what our version of learning how to hit the ball as far as the youngsters is. And we can take comfort in the fact that we have been in this moment before and know how to take a breath, calm down, and make the right decision. And win again!

#life lessons