Posts from life lessons

Video Of The Week: Angela Duckworth – Grit

A few years ago, we invited Angela Duckworth to speak to our portfolio company CEOs at our annual get together. It was a terrific talk that absolutely impacted the way these CEOs thought about hiring and managing their teams. Angela’s theory of “Grit” as a predictor of success in education, careers, and life is powerful. If you have not read her book on the topic, you should. You can get it here.

Practice

When I started writing this blog in 2003, I was not a strong writer. Sixteen years later, I am a better writer. Doing something every day is the best way to improve at something.

I’ve been doing yoga for roughly the same number of years as I’ve been writing this blog. But I am not as religious about yoga as I am about writing.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been doing the exact same yoga practice (the Mysore style) three mornings a week and today I noticed that I was able to do some things I could not do before.

I have a long way to go before I can do yoga the way that most of the people in the yoga studio with me can do it, but the mere fact that I am noticeably improving gives me great satisfaction.

Practice means doing something again and again in an effort to improve. But it also means a way of doing something (a law practice). The two are really the same thing. A lawyer who has been practicing law for thirty years is likely a better lawyer than someone who is right out of law school.

It is easy to watch a basketball player like Steph Curry hit three pointer after three pointer and think “that is raw talent” and surely that is true. But it is also true that he has probably practiced those shots for endless hours in the gym perfecting the shot and stroke.

I think everyone can improve at things they are not good at and become competent, even excellent, at them. I am not going to win a Pulitzer Prize, but I can write well and have become a strong communicator by practicing it routinely. Practice really works.

Graduation Season

If you are feeling a little low on energy and want a pick me up, go to a high school graduation. You could simply crash any graduation, you don’t need to know anyone graduating. They are such feel good events.

I went to the AFSE graduation yesterday.

This is the fourth class that has graduated from AFSE and I think I have been able to attend every graduation. It really is such a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I like the procession music, I like the faces on the students as they walk in. It is a mix of apprehension, pride, and excitement.

I like the speeches by the students. I like the speeches by the teachers and school leaders.

I like the handing out of the diplomas.

I like the joyous hugs from proud family members after the ceremony is over.

There really is nothing quite like the sense of opportunity, promise, and achievement that pervades high school graduations. If you have an opportunity to attend one this week, I strongly recommend it.

32 Ans

Thirty-two years ago, the Gotham Gal and I got married.

We had been together for five years at that time.

We have now been together for thirty-seven years.

A relationship that has lasted almost four decades is a special thing.

There is a comfort, a deep friendship, a mind melding, that develops.

At least three or four times this week, one of us uttered something that the other was thinking but just had not said yet.

We are celebrating the day in Paris, one of our favorite places, and pretty much doing nothing, but of course doing everything. Together.

Public Speaking

I don’t do as much public speaking as I used to. Fortunately my colleagues at USV have picked up the slack and we are still out there telling the world what we believe in and why. I think that is critical to building the brand of an investment business.

Because it is Blockchain Week in NYC, I have done a number of public speaking events this week and have two more today. I also did something up at Columbia University last week for a friend and do a fair number of public appearances for the K12 CS Education work I do.

All of that has had me on a stage a lot in the last week and reminded me that there is an art to public speaking. I have also witnessed a lot of people doing it poorly this past week.

I have three main rules that I try to live by:

1/ Be brief. It is possible to make a point in less than a minute. But many take five or ten minutes to do it. In a world where people take their phones out the minute they are bored, you simply can’t take a long time to make a point.

2/ Be bold. Stake out positions that will stimulate debate and get people talking. I am not suggesting that you should take a position you don’t believe in. But I do think it is important to go out on a limb from time to time.

3/ Have fun. Show your personality. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy it. The audience will pick up on that and it will make it more fun for everyone.

I have also taken to doing a lot of interviewing lately. When I get asked to make an appearance, I often ask if I can do the interview instead of being interviewed. I usually turn those into public conversations and that is a lot of fun and, I think, works for the audience too.

I am interviewing Olaf Carlson-Wee, the founder of the Polychain token fund, today at The Token Summit. I plan to have fun and will work to keep it snappy and provocative.

Repost: The Maternal Instinct

I wrote this three years ago, on Mothers Day, and I remembered it this morning. So I am reposting it. Happy Mothers Day to all of the mothers out there.


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.

Life In A Constant Stream Of Emails And Meetings

My colleague Nick wrote a post today about his productivity system. Nick’s system is way more elaborate than mine, but everyone has to find their own way of getting things done.

What I found most interesting about Nick’s post is what I put in the headline of this post. Our jobs at USV are a constant stream of emails, many of them hoping to get into the constant stream of meetings we take.

Nick put it this way in his post:

at the end of the day it all boils down to a single strategy: getting things into my calendar.  The other main thing I try to solve for is simply not forgetting things.  I live in a constant stream of emails and meetings, and it’s easy to forget something important.  So a goal here is to help ensure that I don’t forget things and ultimately, that I’m focused on the most important thing most of the time.

Nick mentions my strategy of putting everything that I must do in a given day/week/month into my calendar so that it gets done. That works incredibly well for me and is really my only productivity tool.

Nick also mentions our partner Albert’s email technique which I have always wanted to implement and some day will:

 Albert has a system, which seems to work for him, which is: using a set of predefined gmail filters, clear the inbox daily.  Not the entire inbox, but a few filtered versions (family, USV team, his portfolio companies).

I very much like Albert’s approach. It requires writing the right stored queries (gmail filters) and then keeping them up to date (which is the part that gives me pause). But it makes a ton of sense to try to get to inbox zero on the most important parts of your life vs trying to get to inbox zero on everything.

No matter how you do it, you have to find a way not to drop balls, certainly the most important balls. And that is easy to do when you are in meetings from 7am to 5pm like I will be today.

So whether it is Nick’s approach, mine, Albert’s, or your own, having a system is key. I think it is less important what your system is than having one and sticking to it.

Getting Credit

Last night CBS 60 Minutes aired a piece about the gender gap in tech and left out a number of important efforts to close the gap.

My friend Rob Underwood tweeted this out about that piece:

And while I completely agree with Rob that Reshma has built something amazing at Girls Who Code, I also feel that the results she and her organization are getting are what matters the most and so I responded with this:

Later today, a friend and fantastic entrepreneur sent me a private email arguing that credit is very important and that it is how organizations gain credibility, legitimacy, and support to keep going.

Of course she is right. Credit is important.

I also got an email from the folks I work with at the NYC public school system pointing out that the NYC public school profiled in the 60 Minutes piece was the beneficiary of the CS4All effort which I have been championing for almost a decade now and that was left entirely out of the story.

All of this is unfortunate. There is a very broad coalition of organizations doing incredible work making sure that we have gender and racial equity in STEM education. And we are starting to see the results of all of the work of these groups. It would have been nice to credit a much broader group of organizations and companies.

But this happens all the time. USV has been the seed and largest investor and a highly engaged board member in companies that are referred to in the press as an “Andreessen Horowitz backed company” or a “Sequoia backed company” or a some other such characterization. When I see that I flinch a bit but tell myself that it is the company, the founders, and the results that matters and not who invested in it.

Success has a thousand mothers and some will get more credit than others. That is the unfortunate truth of success. But if we focus on the success versus the credit then I think we will all be better off.

Optimism

I was talking with my friend Jerry today and he said “everything is possible.” I told him I don’t think I am going to be able to dunk on a regulation height rim.

But I subscribe to Jerry’s mantra of optimism.

I posted Albert’s reasons to be optimistic this past weekend and if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it.

As Albert states at the start of his talk, you have to be optimistic in the venture capital business.

But I think you also have to be optimistic in life.

My favorite coffee shop near my office closed recently. But a new one opened and I’m optimistic that it will become my new favorite.

The Knicks traded our franchise player last week. But I’m hopeful that we will get some good young players with the picks and sign some great free agents with the cap space.

My knee has been bothering me and my doctor tells me he needs to do arthroscopy on it. But I’m hoping more yoga and strength exercises will be sufficient.

Of course none of what I’m hoping and expecting to happen may come to pass. I may get shit coffee going forward, more losing seasons at MSG, and a scar on my knee.

But I’m not counting on any of that. Why would I?

Routines

I am often asked for advice on productivity. People want to know how I get things done.

The truth is I am not well organized, I don’t use any productivity tools.

I work hard but I don’t work all of the time. I have a decent work life balance.

My secret, if I have one, is routine.

I try to do the same things at the same times every day or every week.

Some examples:

– I like to meditate first thing after I wake up.

– I like to handle personal financial matters on Saturday mornings (something I learned from my Dad).

– I need to blog before I leave home or I have a hard time getting that done.

– I work out before breakfast.

When I stick to my routine, I seem to be able to get a lot done.

When I get out of my routine, things fall apart quickly. It is like dominoes. One falls down and knocks down all of the others.

There are challenges with relying on routine. Lots of traveling, for example, makes it hard to stay in a routine.

But I have not found any organizing principle more powerful than routines and I try to apply them to as much of my life as I can.