Posts from life lessons

Reading On Paper

I’m staring at a pile of paper on my desk that is my stack of things I found on the Internet that I want to read.

It’s a bit ironic to write this on a blog, but if I come across something on my computer or phone that is longer than a page or two, I print it out and read it on paper.

I have found that when I read on a computer screen or phone, I tend to skim. That’s fine for a short email or a short blog post (as this will be).

But it is not great for an eight page blog post, a white paper on a new crypto project, or a memo from one of my colleagues or portfolio companies.

When I read on paper, I often will use a pen to underline or mark-up the document. I find that leads to better comprehension and retention of the concepts.

I’ve noticed that our children, all of whom are in the mid to late 20s, also read books in paper form and mark them up when reading them. So while reading on paper may be a generational thing, I believe it is also a valuable technique for all ages and all generations.

#life lessons

Two Screens

Last December, my friend Brad Feld stopped by to see me in Los Angeles and I proudly showed him my home office with a separate Zoom Room. He looked at me with a quizzical look on his face and said “why don’t you have two screens on the wall?” I asked why and he explained that Zoom allows you to have the gallery on one screen and the person or material presenting on the other. So I added a second screen and was blown away by the better experience in video meetings.

When we left Los Angeles at the beginning of May and returned to NY, I added a second screen to my home office setup here. I honestly can’t imagine a video heavy work day without the second screen.

We have offered our USV employees to pay for upgrading their home work setups. New chairs, new desks, second screen, etc. Many have taken us up on that and I am glad they have. Working from home can be a challenge, but it is way better if you have the right setup.

I would encourage all companies to invest in their employee’s work from home setups and I would especially recommend getting a second screen.

#life lessons

Growth

One of the great joys of the work I do is I get to watch the leaders of our portfolio companies grow over time.

I’ve had a number of moments over the last few months where I got off a call or a meeting and thought to myself “wow, she’s a new person.”

Growing as a leader takes time, mistakes, failure, feedback, and a lot of work. You don’t magically show up as the CEO and you are good to go. It’s not like that at all. The authority to make the final call doesn’t mean that you are good at it and that people will line up behind your decisions.

It is a process and like all processes, it requires time and patience. But for those who are committed to personal growth, there is a path.

Two syndromes I see quite frequently are “deer in the headlights” and “I’ve got this.” They are both tell tale signs of a leader who isn’t there yet.

Deer in the headlights is pretty obvious to everyone. The leader just doesn’t seem steady and solid. You can see it in their eyes. I like to provide a leader with deer in the headlights syndrome a lot of support, advice, and constructive feedback. I have seen people go from deers in a headlight to strong decisive leaders in less than a year. It helps to have a gauntlet or two to have to run through. The greater the challenges the deer in the headlight faces, the more quickly they can emerge as a strong leader.

“I’ve got this” is more problematic. The leader acts like they know what they are doing, but they don’t. And everyone around them knows it except them. I like to provide a leader with “I’ve got this” syndrome with a lot of tough love but that is usually not enough. The answer to “I’ve got this” is usually failure of some sort, often a very significant one. The key is to be there for the failing leader in that moment and help them get through the failure and come out of it with self awareness and a desire to address the issues that have gotten in the way.

These are just two of the immature leader syndromes, but they are two very common ones I have seen.

I believe that most people have the capacity to be leaders if they want that for themselves. I also believe that leadership is a skill that you never stop learning. And I believe that it requires self awareness, courage, and deep empathy.

Sitting at a table and watching a skilled leader work is quite a sight to see. And watching someone grow into that person is one of the great joys of my work.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

Timing, Luck, and Surviving

This moment we have been living through over the last two months has put pressure on many companies to figure out how to keep the lights on and stay in business. It has also been a second wind for some companies that have been struggling to survive in difficult sectors like delivery, food, and e-commerce.

At the intersection of those two things lies a truth that I have seen over the years. If you stick around long enough, you can often catch a lucky break. But that lucky break can’t come for you if you didn’t figure out how to stick around long enough.

Survival instincts are something that I have learned to appreciate in founders. There are other things that are important too, possibly more important, like the ability to get the right product to market, the ability to sell, recruit and raise, and the ability to inspire and lead. Those are all necessary for success.

But the survival instinct is related to luck, which is an underrated factor in success. You can’t be lucky unless you are at the right place at the right time. And you have to survive for that to happen.

#life lessons

Event Driven Growth

I realize that most businesses are suffering greatly in this pandemic. Many have been shut completely.

But there are some that are experiencing the opposite situation. They have a growth spurt as a result of this moment. Businesses in food delivery, e-commerce, online education, telehealth, remote work, and cloud infrastructure are examples of such situations.

I’ve seen event driven growth spurts over the years. A plane lands in the Hudson and everyone heads to Twitter to see it. A competitor is shut down and everyone shows up on your door. Crypto gets hot and everyone wants in on the action. That sort of thing.

And I’ve been talking to leaders who are experiencing this and wondering how to model out what happens when and if things return to normal.

Each situation is different but a framework I like is to take your pre-event baseline, your event driven peak, and assume you will give up half of the delta when things return to normal and that will be your new baseline.

That won’t be right of course. It’s a model. You can revise as real data comes in.

But what it suggests is that not all of your new customers will stick around. But some will. And you will have a new and higher baseline. That has been true of almost every event driven growth spurt I have seen in my career.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

In Real Life

We call it IRL “In Real Life” in the tech sector. IRL is the opposite of the virtual reality/online worlds that we have been reading about in science fiction and slowly building over the past three decades.

I have heard a number of people assert that this pandemic, when we are staying home and working, learning, and playing online, will rapidly increase our comfort with and usage of the virtual world.

I beg to differ. I think this pandemic is showing all of us how much we crave being in real life.

After five weeks of total and complete self isolation in our home, the Gotham Gal and I started inviting another couple over for a socially distant cocktail this week. They come and go via our driveway, we sit in the back yard, separated by ten feet. I serve drinks in latex gloves. We talk. After an hour or two, they depart the same way and we wash everything up in warm soapy water and then have dinner back in our self isolation.

It has made a big difference to our frame of mind.

In person social interaction is the core of being human and I think this pandemic is reminding all of us how vitally important that is.

The tech sector will continue to build virtual worlds and online experiences. We will continue to use them, some more than others. They are valuable, efficient, convenient, and entertaining. But they can not and will not replace in real life experiences. This pandemic has shown me that in spades.

#life lessons

Slowing Down

One of the silver linings to this awful pandemic is that things have slowed down a lot. Not just work. Everything really.

I find myself taking more time to do the dishes, work out, meditate, etc. There is less “racing through the day” and more time to do things right and carefully. We clean the house on Sundays and it takes the two of us almost three hours and while I can’t call it enjoyable, there is a certain satisfaction from doing it well and doing it right.

My inbox has less in it and I can spend more time talking to people; my colleagues, the leaders of the companies I work with, friends in the business, etc. I find myself being more proactive and less reactive.

It feels really good. I would happily trade this good feeling for a world in which nobody is dying and nobody has lost their job. It’s a terrible price to pay for more time.

But we are where we are and we can’t go back and change the course of history.

What I am wondering is how we keep this slower pace when the world gradually reopens. And will we? I hope so because it is showing me the cost of going so fast and the benefits of going more slowly.

#life lessons

Spring Break At Home

The Gotham Gal and I have been largely self quarantining in our home for the last two weeks and are preparing to continue doing so for a while longer.

It’s a bit depressing to be honest and I’ve been looking for ways to get the proper mental state for what could be an extended stay at home.

My friend Brad Feld wrote a blog post yesterday calling this “spring break at home.” I like that framing. It puts a positive spin on this challenging situation.

Our oldest daughter told me that a lot of great work has been done by people when they were under quarantine for the plague.

So I’ve been thinking about what I can accomplish with all of this new found time. Of course I plan to work as USV is open for business. But I also have down time which I am now going to spend at home.

We certainly could binge on all of the TV shows we’ve never watched (Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, The Wire, etc, etc) but somehow I doubt that’s where we are headed.

Our younger daughter suggested I learn French on Duolingo. That’s a possibility. She also suggested I finally learn to cook. That probably isn’t. Thankfully the Gotham Gal is a fantastic cook so I’m set there.

My point is this. It’s a shitty situation we are all in right now. But I’m going to try to make the best of my spring break at home and I hope that all of you can too.

#life lessons

Market Meltdowns

Today is a tough day in the financial markets. Who knows where we will end up at the end of the day, the week, or this month. We’ve already seen the major indexes give up around 20% of their value in a few weeks with today’s down moves at the opening.

I’ve seen this movie before. I had just started working in the venture capital business in 1987 when the stock market crashed 23% on “black monday.” There was the Internet stock meltdown in 2000 when the internet sector went down something like 80% over that bear market. And then there was the financial crisis in 2008.

I don’t know if we are in for another of those moments or something else.

But I do know that good companies can be bought at very attractive prices when markets meltdown. Back in 2008, I was blogging my purchases of Apple, Amazon, and Google during that crisis.

I went back and looked at those blog posts this morning to remind myself of what it was like back then. In this post, I mentioned buying Apple at $90, Google at $320, and Amazon at $40. Those turned out to be fantastic prices when the market bottomed and then started going up again. I eventually sold those positions which of course was a mistake. But even so, it was a great trade.

I was buying these three great companies at less than 10x projected annual cash flow. And they went on to increase their cash flow enormously over the next decade.

Capital markets sometimes put out the for sale sign and if you are patient and wait for bargains to emerge, they will do that.

We are a long way from being able to buy Google and Apple at 10x projected annual cash flow and I am not suggesting we will get to those levels.

But I do know that good companies with resilient businesses and strong balance sheets will survive these occasional crises and that they can be bought with confidence at the right time.

I also know that market meltdowns cause a lot of unwinding of risk and leverage. This is a painful process and the losses can be enormous for investors and financial institutions. That impacts all capital markets, including the private markets.

We may be in for a downturn in all markets and if you have a business that is dependent on the capital markets (ie you are losing money), then you need to be very mindful of that and make sure you are making the financial moves to preserve your cash. On the other hand, if you have a business that is not dependent on the capital markets because you are profitable and/or have a very strong balance sheet, then this environment could be an opportunity to play offense. But you really need to figure out which camp you are in and plan accordingly.

I hope that this crisis will end quickly and that things will return to normal soon. But hope is not a strategy. So we all need to be clear eyed and calmly assess our situation and develop a strategy that gives us the best chance of success.

#life lessons