Posts from life lessons

Introducing The New CEO

When a CEO has been removed for failed leadership, it is best to have a new CEO waiting in the wings to take over. I have been in the middle of this transition many times and have often been the person announcing the change to the company and introducing the new CEO. I have seen this done well and I have seen this done poorly.

That first all-hands meeting is a critical moment for the new CEO. He/she needs to connect with the team, tell them who they are, what they care about, and, most importantly, where they are going to lead the Company.

Most of the time the team is shaken up, things are not going well, they are nervous. There may have been layoffs. There may be more layoffs. Calm, confident, assured leadership is what is needed. But it is also critical to show empathy for the team and humanity in the leader. A warm smile and a sense of humor can help a lot.

When explaining where they will take the Company, less is more. Companies cannot do that many things at the same time. Failed leadership often results in doing too many things. So a shortlist of things that the Company will do and a longer list of things that it will not do anymore is a great start for a new leader. If there will be more layoffs, it is best to say that right upfront. You must start off by being honest with the team. Anything else will doom you to failure.

Getting off on the right foot is so important. If you do it well, the team will rally around you. If you do it poorly, you are done before you even started.

The United States is getting a new leader today. I plan to watch his introduction to the country. I wish him well. Good luck President Biden.

#life lessons

Mentors

Look at any successful person; Angela Merkel, LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos, and you will see someone who has benefitted tremendously from one or more mentors in their life. Nobody gets somewhere on their own. Everyone has help.

I was reminded of this when I read this touching remembrance that my friend Brad Feld wrote about his mentor Len Fassler yesterday. I first met Brad a few years after Len bought Brad’s first company and a few years before Brad and Len went through hell with Interliant. You could see how much Brad was learning from Len, how much he loved Len, and how much Len loved him back. As mentor/mentee relationships go, this was one for the ages.

I had two mentors early in my career; Milton Pappas and Bliss McCrum. They hired me as an associate at their venture capital firm, Euclid Partners, when I was 25 years old and between years at Wharton where I was getting an MBA. I worked for them for ten years and learned pretty much everything I know about venture capital from them. Bliss passed away a few years ago. Milton is still with us thankfully.

Of course, I learned so much about business from them. But the thing about great mentors is that they don’t stop with business. When I told Milton that Joanne and I were getting married, he dropped what he was working on in that moment, called across the street to his high touch travel agent, and we walked over there and he got us going on a first-class honeymoon. That was such a strong move and we learned a lot about traveling in style from that trip.

Bliss taught me how to chart stocks (technical analysis). We had no use for charting in the VC business, but that didn’t matter to Bliss. He liked to do it and taught me to do it with him. I don’t use that skill, but whenever I see a technical stock chart, I think of Bliss.

The thing about mentors is you can’t really ask someone to mentor you. It kind of happens organically. Someone takes you under their wing. They see something in you and want to bring it out, develop it. That’s how the best mentor/mentee relationships happen. And they are so great.

I remember the feeling when Milton would ask me to join him for lunch at the University Club. We would walk over there, order lunch, and talk about VC, business, life, and more for a couple hours. I always found a way to say yes when Milton invited me to lunch.

So if you are early in your career, look for opportunities to connect with someone a few decades ahead of you to help you figure stuff out. It helps so much. I am so grateful for what Milton and Bliss taught me early in my career.

#life lessons

Current Events and Math

Watching the election returns last night made me think about all of the math we are learning in the last year.

Now that our elections include different kinds of votes that have different demographics associated with them (mail-in votes, early votes, same-day votes), the absolute numbers move all around as the votes are being counted and reported.

The networks are doing a pretty good job of trying to explain all of this math to us while it is happening and it is a real teaching/learning moment.

The same is true of the Covid pandemic. We are living in the midst of a disease that can expand exponentially. And we can see how lockdowns and other things (vaccines?) can change the viral coefficient of the spread. That is another teaching/learning moment.

There is nothing like using real-world examples and experiences to explain things that are not easy to understand. If I was teaching math right now, I would be using these events to teach complicated math concepts to my students.

I am not a teacher but my dad was. I will end with a story about him that I got via email last week. His passing has generated a lot of this sort of thing and my family and I appreciate it very much.

I recall the first day of class in Vector Mechanics.  The bell rang to signal the beginning  of class and the section marcher called us to attention.  MAJ Wilson did not appear through the door on cue.  All heads looked toward  the door.  Suddenly an arrow (with a suction cup) shot through the door and hit the board at the other end of the room.  As it vibrated against the wall MAJ Wilson entered the room with bow in hand and announced,  “That gentlemen was a vector.” 

Apparently that toy arrow was from my brother and my toy chest. My dad took it work to use something real to explain something a bit hard to understand. And it worked.

So as we all go through our days explaining things to our kids and colleagues, it is good to remember to leverage real world examples we all know and understand. They really work.

#life lessons

What Is Going To Happen In 2021

Hi Everyone. Happy 2021.

Today, as is my custom on the first day of the new year, I am going to take a stab at what the year ahead will bring. I find it useful to think about what we are in for. It helps me invest and advise the companies we are invested in. Like our investing, I will get some of these right and some wrong. But having a point of view is very helpful when operating in a world that is full of uncertainty.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. The Covid Pandemic will end in the developed world in 2021. I think we will see the end of the Covid Pandemic in the US sometime in the second quarter. I believe the US will work out the challenges we are having getting out of the gate and will be vaccinating at least 40mm people a month in the US in the first quarter. When you add that to the 90mm people in the US that the CDC believes have already been infected, we will have well over 200mm people in the US who have some protection from the virus by the end of March. By the end of the second quarter in the US, anyone who wants to be vaccinated will have been able to do so. All of this will be aided by at least two additional approved vaccines in the US in January and new and improved protocols, like emphasizing the first dose over the second one.

The second half of 2021 will be marked by two conflicting trends. First, we will see people returning in droves to offices, restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms, stadiums, concerts, parties, travel, theaters, and anywhere that they can be social with others, ideally many others. I personally cannot wait to do all of that when it is safe to do so.

But ironically, this mass socializing trend will not materially and/or permanently change many behaviors we adopted in the Covid Pandemic. I believe that we will continue to want to work from home, exercise from home, shop from home, watch first run movies from home, order in, livestream, and all of the other new behaviors we learned to enjoy and perfect in the last year.

Where all of this shakes out will be the big reveal of 2021 and will impact many tech companies and many tech stocks. As I wrote yesterday, I think the trends that were accelerated in 2020 will not reverse in 2021, although the slope of the adoption curves will likely flatten a fair bit.

While we are out mass socializing, we will also be picking up the pieces of our world that was shattered by the pandemic. In the US, we have racial equity issues that are longstanding, real and demanding to be addressed. We also have an economy that is in tatters. And we have sectors of our economy like retail, commercial real estate, carbon based energy, and more that will never be the same. The restructuring of our economy and government and corporate balance sheets and income statements that have been blown wide open will take a decade or more to work out.

Sitting above all of this is an atmosphere that is getting warmer by the day. As I wrote in last year’s looking forward post:

The looming climate crisis will be to this century what the two world wars were to the previous one. It will require countries and institutions to re-allocate capital from other endeavors to fight against a warming planet.

https://avc.com/2020/01/what-will-happen-in-the-2020s/

At USV, we have begun that reallocation of capital and we will be investing heavily in companies and technologies that can help the world address this existential threat. I believe that many of our colleagues in the venture capital world will do the same because not only does the world need this investment, it will generate fantastic returns too. Climate will be to this decade what cloud was to the last one.

The twin terrors of the Covid Pandemic and the Climate Crisis will drive the great US migration of the 21st century and we are already experiencing it. We will see it accelerate in 2021. If, because of what we learned in the Covid Pandemic, a good job no longer requires someone to live in a low lying flood-prone city like Miami or NYC or a city that is burning like SF or LA, we will see many people in the US choose to leave those places and adopt new homes that are less impacted by the climate crisis. We call this “adapting to the climate crisis” at USV, and this will be a huge investable trend for many years to come.

I believe that governments will respond to all of these economic challenges by continuing to print fiat money without restraint and by taxing and regulating innovative new companies to protect old and dying companies. This will lead investors to continue to allocate capital to new forms of money (crypto) and new ways of creating and financing innovation (decentralized projects and organizations). We are already seeing that happen in the finance sector, with breakout projects in decentralized finance in 2020 like Compound, Yearn, and Uniswap (a USV funded project). We will see this approach accelerate in 2021 and expand into areas beyond the financial sector. The idea of financing and executing innovation inside of a global decentralized autonomous organization is such a powerful idea and one whose time has come.

As I go back and re-read this post, I am struck by how obvious and unprovocative all of these predictions are. Either that means that I am not getting far out enough on the curve to see things before everyone else does, or it means that the trends that will define 2021 have been building for years and are finally coming of age. Maybe it is a bit of both.

In any case, 2021 will be a year of returning to normal, but it will be a new normal and not like one we have experienced before. Adapting to change is my mantra for 2021. Happy New Year everyone.

#climate crisis#crypto#Current Affairs#economics#entrepreneurship#life lessons#VC & Technology

Christmas Presents

I remember when I was a kid and my parents would put presents under a tree and for weeks we would wait excitedly for the moment when we would get to open them. It was a great tradition that ended when we grew up, moved out, and started families of our own.

Our family did the Christmas present thing for a while when our kids were young, but the tradition stopped when we started doing big family trips over the year-end holidays when our kids got old enough to do two-week trips halfway around the world. Those trips were some of the greatest moments for our family and were Christmas presents in and of themselves.

We have done a secret santa program here and there over the last decade but for the most part, we don’t exchange Christmas presents anymore. Everyone seems pretty fine with that. I certainly don’t need another sweater.

This year has been the strangest of my lifetime. And yet here we are on Christmas Day and I am counting the presents I have received in the last week. An outpouring of caring from thousands of you who reached out to me in the last few days. A TCO from the NYC DOB on our passive house apartment building we have been making for almost five years. Enough rapid Covid tests to allow our immediate family to safely get together today and celebrate Christmas. And a Zoom with my mom and all of her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids this afternoon.

The best presents are not the ones you can wrap in gift paper and put under a tree. The best presents are the intangible things that make us who we are. And I’ve got a lot of them “under our tree” this year.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

#life lessons

We Will Miss You Arnold

I learned yesterday of the passing of Arnold Waldstein. Arnold was as regular a reader of this blog as there ever was or ever will be. His warmth is what I will remember most. He cared about people.

Arnold was a born and bred NYer who went to Silicon Valley and built a career in marketing. He was an early employee at a number of well-known tech companies. Sometime in the 2000s, he relocated back to NYC and found his way to this blog where he became a regular commenter on tech, NYC, and pretty much everything else.

I met Arnold a few times and found him to be a lovely human being, everything he was online and more.

Online relationships, like the one I (and many AVC readers) had with Arnold, are very real relationships. Though I did not know Arnold well in person, I knew him well. And I will miss him a lot.

#life lessons

Some Thoughts On The Pandemic

When I go back and read my Jan 1st post on what would happen in the 2020s, I am reminded how hard it is to predict the future. The Covid Pandemic changed everything in 2020 and likely for years to come. And yet it was not one of my predictions, even though Covid was already spreading in China at the time I wrote it.

We are nine months into the pandemic in the US and there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have two vaccines that have reported fantastic results and will soon be approved for emergency use by the FDA. I have heard people who know about such things say that those approvals could come as soon as the end of November. They cannot come soon enough in my view. We have two safe and efficacious vaccines and we should get busy vaccinating people, starting with those in the greatest harms way (health care workers, first responders, essential workers) and then on to the rest of us. I would take either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine right now if it was offered to me. Vaccines are the way out of the pandemic and we have known that since it started. What is amazing is how quickly safe and effective vaccines have been developed and tested by our pharma/biotech industry. Science to the rescue.

We are also in the third wave of virus cases in the US (and around the world) and it appears that the virus is everywhere these days. Our family has locked things down pretty significantly in the last week and we are hunkering down for a rough patch. We figure that we did it in March and April. We can do it again this winter.

The other big deal is the availability of rapid and accurate at-home tests. I figured out how to get cheap antigen tests from Asia for our family this summer and we have been testing ourselves regularly. They are not as accurate as PCR tests and they have not been approved by the FDA. But I figured some data that was fairly accurate was better than no data. It has helped our family stay safe and healthy and it upsets me so much that our FDA has not prioritized getting these tests into everyone’s hands.

There are also more expensive and not exactly rapid (30-60 mins) at home tests that are as accurate as PCR coming out now. This is a post about one of them. When you think you might be infected, a test like this is super helpful to have at home. And yet we have not prioritized these either.

Operation Warp Speed to get vaccines into the market quickly was a great success. But the lack of a similar coordinated strategy around mass, rapid, convenient testing was the big miss of the pandemic in the US. We should learn from that.

I believe this winter is going to be very hard. But getting through it safely will likely get us into the end game of this pandemic. So keeping things locked down, masking up out of the home, testing yourself and your loved ones, and following the rules seems like the thing to do. It is what we are going to do.

#Current Affairs#life lessons

Vote

I am not working today. USV gave everyone the day off. It is Election Day in the US. I believe it should be a national holiday so everyone can have the day off and vote. I can’t think of many things more important than participating in the selection of our government.

I saw that over 100mm people have already voted in the US. And I’ve read that another 50mm people are expected to vote today. That would mean that about 60% of eligible voters will have voted in the 2020 Presidential election. I hope the numbers are even higher.

High voter turnout is a good thing. It means we are engaging in democracy.

So I am going to be in line this morning when my polling place opens. If you live in the US, I hope that you have already voted or plan to vote today. It is important.

#life lessons

Removing The CEO

In almost thirty five years of working on boards, the hardest decisions I have had to make involve removing the CEO. It is an important decision and one that must be made from time to time. I am not a fan of removing the CEO until and unless it is abundantly clear that it must be done.

But when the CEO has failed to manage numerous important challenges, when the senior leadership team has been a revolving door, when the CEO has messed up important relationships with customers, employees, and other important stakeholders, when the organization has become toxic as a result of the CEO’s abrasive personality, then the choice is abundantly clear and must be made.

It is an even harder decision to make when you don’t have an obvious replacement, or when you are not 100% confident that the obvious replacement will be an improvement over the current CEO.

But those are not reasons to wait. You must act and replace the failed CEO with whomever is the best option in that moment and work with the new CEO to address the challenges facing the company, many a result of the failed CEO’s poor leadership.

Waiting is never the right answer. Failing to act is never the right answer. You must remove a failing CEO.

#life lessons

Extending And Improving Bluetooth On A Mac Mini

As I have written here a few times, I prefer to do video meetings from a couch (vs a desk). I find it allows me to stay present in the meeting and not get distracted by everything on my desk. I call these couch setups “Zoom Rooms” and I have been doing this long before the pandemic but this approach has been incredibly helpful to me during the pandemic.

I use a Mac Mini powering two screens and a lot of bluetooth devices; a keyboard, a trackpad, a Jabra speakerphone, gamer style headphones, and a Smart Mic. The multiple audio devices are for different situations. If the Gotham Gal and I are doing a call together, we use the Jabra speakerphone. If I am doing a meeting solo, I tend to use the Smart Mic. If I am doing a presentation, I use gamer style headphones with a great mic on them.

Here’s the issue. The bluetooth that comes standard in a Mac Mini doesn’t like multiple bluetooth devices and the range is just so so. The farther you are from the Mac Mini, the worse this situation gets.

I’ve struggled with this issue quite a bit and I think I have finally found the fix. I got a USB extension cable and this Bluetooth dongle. This approach both extends the Bluetooth into the room better and the third party Bluetooth dongle supports multiple devices better than what comes native on the Mac Mini.

It is not drop dead simple to make this fix. You have to muck around with the bluetooth settings on the Mac to make the dongle work. The best approach is to get into Terminal and type in some instructions which is absolutely not user friendly.

But it does make Bluetooth work a lot better for me. If you are having similar issues, you might want to try it too.

#life lessons