Posts from life lessons

Mass Transit In LA

This is the sixth winter we have spent in Los Angeles. One of the things I have had the hardest time getting used to about life in LA is all of the driving.

But starting last year, I found myself using the LA Metro system a bunch. The catalyst was going to Lakers and Clippers games at the Staples Center. I just could not stomach sitting for up to 90 minutes in traffic to attend a basketball game. Instead I would hop on the Expo line in Santa Monica and arrive at the Staples Center 35-40mins later. On the way home, I would grab a ride with a friend or Uber or some combination of both as traffic heading west at 10pm is almost non-existent.

But then I suggested to The Gotham Gal that we Metro it downtown for dinner and Uber it home. We did that once or twice.

This winter, I have already taken the Metro half a dozen times and I am writing this post on the Metro as I’m taking it to Pasadena from Santa Monica today.

The Metro is not as convenient as the NYC Subway. There are fewer lines, six in total, and I still need to drive to get to it from our house.

But being able to read, work, text with my children, and whatever else I might want to do instead of driving, is fantastic and makes LA a bit more like NYC for me. Which is a good thing in my book.

#life lessons

Turning It Off Vs Dialing It Down

Today is one of those days when everyone gets back to work after a time off. This holiday break was a particularly long one given that Christmas and New Years came in the middle of the week. So many of us are getting back to work after a particularly long break.

I am a huge believer in down time. I think everyone needs a break to step away from work and rest a bit. I also believe that time away from work clears the head and reveals things that are not always clear in the thick of things.

But I have struggled over the years between the choice of turning everything off vs dialing things down.

It is hard to get real rest and a clear head that comes with new insights if you don’t turn everything off and really disengage.

But coming back from time off when you truly disengaged is harder. There are more emails to answer, more people waiting at your door for answers, and so on and so forth.

I tend to dial it down when I take time off. I try to stay on top of important emails, memos, decks, presentations, scheduling efforts, and the like. I can usually keep that to an hour a day in the morning and another hour at the end of the day.

That makes days like today, when everyone gets back to business, a bit easier for me.

It does come at a cost as I don’t truly disengage, but I have found it to work better for me over the years. That said, I appreciate it when colleagues and others take the opposite approach and really disengage. There is real value to that approach too.

#life lessons

Annual Year End Predictions

As I prepare to write my annual year end posts (what happened and what will happen), I have been reading similar posts by others.

This part one of two posts by Alex Danco is good. I am waiting for the second one to drop now.

The “what happened” post is easier to write but still very helpful to me. It helps me close the door on the year and understand it at a macro level.

The “what will happen” post is harder to write, I get it wrong more than right, and it is embarrassing to look back and see how off I was.

So it is tempting to stop doing it. But I think that would be a mistake.

It is useful to me to try and look into the crystal ball and see the future. It pushes me to get out of my comfort zone and imagine new and different things.

So I keep doing it, largely for myself, and I publish it to keep me honest. Your mileage may vary with it and so take it with a big grain of salt.

I am glad that others engage in this practice as well. It helps me engage in my practice. It is one of the many benefits of people powered publishing.

#life lessons

Smart Home Standards

Yesterday, Apple, Google, and Amazon annonuced that they are teaming up with Zigbee and creating a working group called Project Connected Home Over IP. The Verge has a good post on what is going on here and why. And in that post they show this great xkcd comic:

I am hopeful that something good and useful will come of this new partnership between Zigbee and the largest tech companies in the world.

Over the last two weeks, the Gotham Gal and I have been moving into a new home we built and we have had moments of joy (like when we easily programmed our cars to open and close the garage doors) and pain (when we could not use a Nest thermostat in our office because “that HVAC unit doesn’t talk to Nest”).

When I sit back and compare this move-in experience to one we had twenty years ago, when smart home technologies were new and we were early adopters, I can see how far we have come. You can make a new home “smart” so much less expensively and easily now.

But we are still very far from where things should be and will be.

I am hopeful that some new open industry standards can and will help.

There is nothing wrong with going from 14 standards to 15 standards if the 15th standard is actually useful. And it may well be that the other 14 are too.

#life lessons

Having Kids

Paul Graham wrote a blog post this week about having kids. I read it with interest because I have long noticed that having kids has had a profound and positive effect on Paul. So I was interested in what he had to say on the topic. I am not going to summarize what he said, you can read it here, but suffice it to say that he has found it to be an very positive experience.

The Gotham Gal and I had children fairly early in our marriage and we had three children before I started Flatiron Partners in 1996. That was mostly driven by Joanne as she pushed for having kids early and I went along with that plan.

When founders and other executives ask the Gotham Gal when is the right time to have kids, she always says “now” and explains that there will never be a good time to have kids so you might as well get on with it.

In my experience, that is good advice for a lot of reasons. Having young children is demanding and the younger you are, the easier it is to manage all of those demands.

I also believe that having children teaches you things you can’t learn any other way and that those lessons are incredibly valuable in other parts of your life, including your work life.

In my line of work, I have to work with hard charging willful entrepreneurs who won’t take orders from anyone (nor should they). Having children and learning how to work with them when we are not on the same page has helped me a lot with entrepreneurs.

Children have taught me to be patient, to care, and be present (something that has been a challenge for me over the years). Those are things that are extremely valuable in all walks of life.

But certainly the best thing of all about having kids is the children themselves. I have a lot of relationships in my life, but the relationships I have with my wife and children are the very best ones. Just getting a text from one of my kids is often the highlight of my day.

So if you are struggling with the question of when to have kids, I side with the Gotham Gal on this. Do it now. It will be the greatest thing you do and it will change your life. Like it did for Paul.

#life lessons

Practicing Patience

We went to the Knicks Celtics game last night.

For three and a half quarters the Knicks and Celtics played a tight game and the game was tied at 95 with six minutes left when Coach Fizdale called a time out.

The Knicks came out of that time out befuddled and turned the ball over on three straight possessions which ultimately led to 12-0 run by the Celtics and the game was over.

As we walked out of MSG, I was depressed. More losing.

But my son Josh had a different take. Dennis Smith Jr is finally coming out of his early-season slump. Kevin Knox had a good game after taking a beating in the press recently.

Losing is hard. The Knicks are 4-16 so far this season. There is not much joy in the Garden right now.

But I appreciate Josh’s optimism. By the time we had gotten to dinner, some of it had rubbed off on me.

Patience is hard. Being a Knick fan is great practice.

#life lessons#Sports

Grinding

It is tempting to search for the one magic move that will make everything better. A new VP of Sales. A new database layer in your tech stack. A new brand for your company. Moving everything to the cloud. More capital in the business.

But it is rarely one thing that a business needs to succeed. It is often a little bit of everything.

Back in the early days of Twitter, we could not keep the website and API up. We would hire advisors and they would recommend something new and we would try it and we would still go down. It was terribly frustrating and threatened the business.

During this period of instability, Twitter purchased a search engine called Summize. Summize was a small team of engineers, most of whom had come out of AOL.

After we cut the deal to acquire Summize, I asked Jack Dorsey, who was running Twitter at the time, how we planned to integrate the Summize team. He looked at me and said “we are not going to integrate them, they are going to integrate us.” And Jack made Greg Pass, Summize’s engineering leader, Twitter’s engineering leader.

It was interesting to watch Greg and the Summize team tackle the “fail whale.” Instead of searching for a magic solution, they instrumented the entire system and just started rebuilding every part that was about to break.

It was a slow and steady approach. It took time. But within six months (or thereabouts), we had a much more stable system. And after about a year of this approach, we had mostly said goodbye to the fail whale.

Grinding isn’t very satisfying. It is hard to stand up in front of everyone and say “we are going to fix things around here bit by bit with a lot of hard work.” Big flashy moves are an easier sell most of the time. But they don’t work nearly as well and are prone to complete and abject failure.

If given a choice between a flashy operator or a grinder, I will take a grinder every time. It is a much higher percentage bet. It requires faith and patience and the results are sometimes hard to see. But if you look at the results from grinding it out over a long enough time frame, you can see the power of that approach.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

Thankfully, ....

there is this thing called the Internet which allows anyone like me to connect a server to it and host content like this blog post.

Thankfully there is open source software like WordPress that allows me to do all of this without using a proprietary service.

Thankfully there is a range of operating systems (some open source) that we can choose from and a range of browsers (many open source) that we can choose from to access this content.

It is this permissionless environment, designed fifty years ago, and developed over the next thirty years, that has done so much for society.

Of course, there are many things about this permissionless environment that are problematic and we are faced now with the need to address them intelligently without undoing all that is good about it.

I am thankful that my lifetime has roughly lined up against this incredible invention and development and that I have been able to play a small role in it and that I can also play a small role in addressing the challenges we now face.

I am also very thankful for my family, friends, colleagues, supporters, and readers.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

#life lessons

Bearing Witness

Normally when we travel, The Gotham Gal posts about the things we do. She is a way better travel blogger than I am.

But today we did something that I want to talk a bit about.

We visited the Auschwitz concentration camps in southern Poland.

This is the first time I have visited one of these camps.

I have been to the various Holocaust memorials and have seen the photographs and heard and read the stories.

But being there in person is something else.

Staring into the rubble of a gas chamber (one of four at Birkenau) where hundreds of thousands were murdered because of their ethnicity and faith takes your breath away and fills your heart with dread.

It is not a pleasurable experience in the least.

But it is a very moving one.

One of the things I have come to understand about life is that bearing witness is something we must all do. We cannot avoid the pain of humanity. We must stare it in the face and feel it.

We did that today and I am glad we did.

#Blogging On The Road#life lessons

Heading East

The Gotham Gal and I are heading to Europe for a couple of weeks of vacation.

I will not be working the next two weeks but do plan to blog about whatever is on my mind.

The Gotham Gal, as is her custom, will blog about the various fun things we are going to do on this trip.

I am looking forward to some down time, some good books, and seeing the sights and sounds of different places.

I am a big believer in vacations. We all work hard, get ground down, and taking some time with friends and family to unwind, clear the head, and refresh is always a wonderful thing. I am excited to do that myself.

#life lessons