N.B.: this post might be in the “too much information” category for some of you. If so, just click on to the next thing.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, but haven’t been able to get it done. Partly because it’s been such a busy year, but partly too because I’m not really sure what to say.
Nonetheless, I think it’s important to write, so here goes.
Kathy & I are expecting our second child in June — we’re so, so excited about it. We had our first child nearly 7 years ago — and he’s the sun and the moon for both of us — he’s everything, really. Despite the fact that Kathy & I have known each other since high school in 1985 (no joke!) and have been married since 2000, we waited relatively late to start our family, having SPL when we were each 35. Lots of reasons for that, but I think ultimately we wanted to be “just us” as a married couple for a while, get that sorta figured out a little bit.
It didn’t happen right away for us — it took a couple of years of trying for it to happen. At some level, that was the first really clear indication in our lives that there are some things that you just can’t schedule, you can’t control, don’t always happen the way you draw them up.
Nonetheless, we waited a couple of years to start thinking about our second child — and it was a considerably harder path than the first time around. We went through several surgeries, IUI cycles, and several cycles of IVF. We never really figured out exactly what the problems were, just factors that might have made things less likely.
We started at Stanford, and after a bunch of research and talking with friends we could find, we ended up going to a clinic in Denver. We went through a bunch of invasive & emotional & tiring procedures in Denver that required Kathy to be away from SPL & me for a week or two at a time. My mom came out several times to help — not sure what we would have done without her.
And then, in the cycle that we had decided would be our last time, everything worked. That was about 7 months ago now, and our second child appears to be healthy & heading towards coming into the world in June. We’ll both be 41, and SPL will be nearly 7. So we’re excited, and a little terrified, too (but in mostly a good way).
But here’s why I wanted to write this: as we went on our own path, we would often tentatively mention a word or a phrase related to IVF and when we saw the person we were with nod or respond, then we would discuss a little more actively. We’re so grateful for our friends along the way who had gone before us — they were all incredibly supportive and helpful.
I figure there must be many, many more people going through this than we know. Especially here in California I think people are waiting longer and longer to have kids — so you’d expect more problems along the way.
But there’s a reluctance, or embarrassment, or something that keeps people from talking about it much. I hope that that goes away over time as it becomes more common and better understood.
That’s why I wanted to write this, ultimately — not because I have a ton to add to the conversation — I have some modest insight from our own experience, but mostly it’s been a very personal journey for Kathy & me. But I hope by writing that more people will start to feel that it’s okay to talk about, to write about.
Like so many other areas, sunshine and knowledge are hugely powerful. We’ve been lucky to have so many friends in this along the way, and I hope others going through it do also.
Looking forward to June. :-)
At TED, I’ve found there are overall themes of each conference that speakers keep coming to again & again — often not the official theme, but a reflection of where the mood of the community is. And then I’ve found that wherever I am personally, I get coherence in different ways. For me this year, and for many of the folks I’ve talked with, the theme is intentionality: how to figure out and live a life that you want to live, instead of taking the one that comes to you.
As a friend said last night, it feels like there were maybe a half dozen talks about just this thing. From Sherry Turkle’s worry about how devices are making us alone, together; to Jen Pahlka’s excellent thoughts on becoming better and more involved citizens; to David Kelly’s thoughts on creative confidence and how to nurture it; and to Bryan Stevenson’s unbelievable talk about how he’s made a difference, and the people in his life who have helped him “keep his eyes on the prize.”
I’m coming to view intentionality, depth of thought and connection, and the power to focus as the central developmental challenges of our society today. We’re going through an incredibly rapid transformation into an always connected, real-time, perma-entertained, ever stimulated world — and it’s becoming clear to me that, somewhat ironically, it’s the people who can take advantage of all of that, while also ultimately staying within themselves, will be the ones who make the most profound and positive changes in our world.
So that applies to all of us, and implies much about how to think about living our lives, interacting with each other, and teaching our children.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months — or really probably the last year or so — about how to be more intentional in my life — i think this week has catalyzed some of my thinking, so I’ll plan to write about a bunch of different aspects of it as I work through my own re-intentioning of my life.
Tips for Entrepreneurs from a First Year VC
[Cross posting this (with better image!) from PandoDaily where I published this as a guest post.]
A close friend of mine likes to joke about how entrepreneurs & operators who become venture capitalists are “trading in their blue light sabers for red ones” – it’s a funny analogy…naturally, comparing investors to Sith Lords seems to fit pretty well some days.
But the benefit of switching from one side to the other is that perspective can sometimes be illuminated. After nearly 20 years of operating at places like Mozilla, Reactivity, Trilogy & Apple, I still tend to think like an entrepreneur myself, so some of the assumptions of life inside a VC are maybe a little more obvious to me than folks who have been around longer.
So here are some observations about my first year of VC life, and then some of the ways that being on the “inside” has changed the way I think that entrepreneurs should think about approaching investors – things I wish I had understood myself when I was pitching.
A Year of Observations about VC Life
Life as a VC is a sea of meetings. Really, it is a lot of meetings. Most of them are single meetings, with no follow-ups. Most don’t result in an investment in a company at all. In 2011 I had first meetings with just over 350 companies, plus another 100 more as parts of business plan judging and demo days. Those meetings resulted in just four investments for me (Tumblr, Dropbox, Clearslide and Citrus Lane) plus a handful of seed investments.
That’s a massive “bias-to-no” for any profession – 99% or so. It’s a tough negative bias, and every investor I know is affected by it in some way. But that one percent is like a lightning strike: those meetings can form the basis for some of the most interesting and meaningful work you’ll ever do.
High fidelity communication is impossible. Because so many meetings are one-offs like I described, it’s very hard to communicate effectively. As an operator, you get good at being direct with the people you work with – or you fail.
In the context of a startup, relationships are developed over a period of months or years, so that candor can be better understood and more nuanced, resulting in communications that are efficient and effective, without hurt feelings from misunderstandings.
Venture meetings aren’t like that. They’re incredibly overloaded: you’re trying to have a really good communication about who you are, what you’ve built, and how you want to grow. And you’re trying to do it in what is very often an extremely emotionally significant context of someone putting everything at risk to change the world. All with no existing relationship context to fall back on.
As an investor, I feel that a situation like that deserves my fullest possible attention, and my best questions about and suggestions for the business. But since we’ve never interacted before, there’s the danger of seeming too harsh in cases like that – we don’t have the shared context, vocabulary and trust frameworks in place that you do in longer term relationships. I think that’s why so many investors are often vague or non-responsive in their interactions afterwards – something I’ve tried very hard to avoid, although with imperfect success so far.
Timing is everything, and everyone is multi-tasking. This applies to both the startup and the investor I’ve found – because each has their own set of work going, and any number of competing projects and priorities. The right thing coming by at the wrong time can be as challenging as an investment that just isn’t a natural fit. Life as a VC has different patterns and rhythms than life for operators – the nature of VC work is that you’ve got multiple companies and entrepreneurs you’re working with all the time, plus a constant stream of new folks to meet, and often in wildly different domains.
This means constant context switching, and there are times when excellent entrepreneurs and startups come through when it’s just hard or impossible to take focus from existing or in process investments. That creates a severe asymmetry: as an entrepreneur, you’re thinking about one thing (broadly defined as your startup), deeply,all the time, while investors that you’re talking with are trying to juggle many at once.
Venture firms and partners are idiosyncratic and highly personal.When I raised money for my own startup, I didn’t know much about how to think about approaching VCs. I knew folks at various firms, and mostly went to talk with those who I knew and then went through their process over the subsequent several weeks. I figured that VCs were all mostly similar to each other.
I’ll say candidly that in my case, I was extremely lucky when that “strategy” worked – my investors were Mitch Kapor and Peter Fenton when they were both at Accel Partners – they were incredibly great for us, and I’ve had fantastically productive relationships with both for more than a decade now. But at some level it was really just dumb luck. I could easily have found a firm and partners who wouldn’t have worked.
Every firm has different culture: some are collaborative, others more solo practices; a small few (including Greylock) consist of former or current entrepreneurs, other firms consist of people who have been investors most of their careers; some are progressive, some are conservative. And even in partnerships, everyone there is different. Different in interests, skills, capabilities, stage in life, and temperament, at the very least.
But here’s the thing: meeting with an amazing entrepreneur can change your whole year.
That’s why you do it. To find people to change the world with. I’ve been very lucky this year to work with some incredible entrepreneurs and teams, not just limited to the companies we were able to invest in. And that’s what we’re all looking for: not just the opportunity to make great investments, but the chance to work with people who are setting out to make the world the way they want it. There’s no more optimistic and hopeful endeavor, and it’s 100% addictive.
Suggestions on Interacting with VCs
Given that context on what it’s like to be on the inside of a VC firm, here are some things I wish I had understood when I pitched myself.
- Be human; be yourself. Be prepared and have a pitch, but be willing to go off script. Talk about the parts of what you’re doing that are the most exciting to you! And in general, it’s probably best not to just jump into a PowerPoint deck. Take a few minutes to introduce yourself, and hear a bit from who you’re seeing. Don’t get too informal, of course – you’re still in a business context – but try to interact in as authentic a working style as you can.
- Seek out investors who lean forward, who engage, who ask you tough questions. Tough questions aren’t always fun, but they’re ultimately what makes your company better.
- You should ask questions, too, particularly to understand how the investor thinks about businesses like yours. I personally love getting questions and like a spirited debate. Helps us get to know each other.
- Be resilient. A “no” from a few partners or firms doesn’t mean you won’t get funded. As mentioned above, a lot of times it’s context.
- Be persistent. A “no” on this round doesn’t mean that an investor won’t be better, or more able to work on your company in the next round.
- Remember that relationships are progressions. Don’t read too much into any particular interaction. Some investors ask a bunch of questions in first meetings. Some listen more and engage more as the process goes on. Everyone is different. When in doubt about what they’re thinking, ask!
- Above all, don’t think of fundraising as a transaction to get finished and move onto the next thing. It is important to get the funding you need, but you’ll live with your investor for the life of your startup (and really beyond, relationship-wise). Think about it like the balancing act when you’re trying both to attract and evaluate an all-star member of your team.
Your mileage may vary, of course. But hopefully this bit of context will make the difference for you between just a pitch meeting and the start of a world-changing new relationship.
John Lilly is a partner at Greylock Partners. Prior to Greylock, John was CEO of Mozilla, makers of Firefox. In addition to leading Greylock’s investments in Tumblr, Dropbox, Clearslide and Citrus Lane, he’s also on the boards of directors of Mozilla and Code for America. Greylock is an investor in PandoDaily.
Thanks to everyone for the thoughts on my 41st birthday yesterday! I really (& sincerely) enjoyed seeing the stream of notifications on my phone throughout the day — each one a small note, but reminding me of times we’ve worked & played together, all around the world, and in may different contexts.
As an event, 41 is not exactly a major milestone. But it was a very nice weekend & birthday, and caps off a pretty significant 41st year on the planet for me. It’s a funny sort of age — not really old or young at this point.
Last year a lot happened — we moved to Palo Alto, SPL started kindergarten, I started at Greylock (and as an investor, a very new discipline compared to the operating that I’ve done over the last 15 or 20 years), and a bunch of other stuff, big and small.
As I turn 41, I feel both old and young — somewhere in between, I suppose. But I’m looking forward to my 2nd year of investing at Greylock with partners I really, really enjoy and learn from every day. I’m looking forward to continuing to see SPL grow and develop every day, week, month. I’m looking forward to Kathy & my 12th year of marriage (and 27th year of being friends!) I’m looking forward to getting involved with more amazing entrepreneurs and companies of all stripes (commercial, non-profit, civic, and more). And to my extended family continuing to be amazing.
And then a huge thing, as Kathy & I are looking forward to the arrival of our 2nd child, which we’re expecting in June. It’s such a funny thing — new babies arrive in our world every second of every day — but each one that arrives in your own life is just such a massive thing that it’s a little hard to even get your head around.
Having a January birthday always feels great to me — it resets and renews above & beyond the end of the holidays and the New Year. And I find that I’m as excited about my 42nd trip around the sun as I’ve ever been. So much to do this year.
Thanks again to everyone!
Some followup thoughts on my SOPA post
The best thing about writing for me is that it helps me figure out what I really think about things. And one of the very best things about doing it on the web is that others can collaborate, disagree, tweak, suggest, and generally help think through things even better. So after a couple of days of Friday’s SOPA post rolling around in my head, I think I have a tighter point of view now that I wanted to write down. (There were some great tweets, mails, comments & posts in reaction to what I wrote. Super thoughtful & useful.
Here are a few specific starting points, then I’ll get to my main point, which is that we (a technologically-oriented US, at least) are not well set up for the future in terms of how we evolve tech policy. Not a new thought, but I think the SOPA situation may be putting us in a worse spot.
But first 3 starting points and a personal observation:
1. SOPA+PIPA are awful bills. No way around it. They over-reach, they circumscribe civil liberties, and they mostly will not work. They shouldn’t pass, and we should do whatever we can to keep that from happening. They’re the latest in a long line of legislation that looks like this: reducing freedoms in a misguided attempt to protect us from a different big bad. They’re so numerous in US history they hardly need listing here.
2. Existing industries are always oriented towards self-preservation. No exception here. But there’s a funny thing that happens: the most progressive companies of today who become successful and dominant will become reactionary in the future, oriented themselves towards self-preservation. Same as it ever was. And you can see it even in the current situation — the companies who are most outspoken are the modern Internet companies: LinkedIn, Mozilla, Zynga, Google, etc etc. Mostly on the sidelines are the most progressive technology companies of the past decades, even including Apple. So this is not, fundamentally, a techie v content type of issue at all, but more of a progressive v conservative technology issue.
3. We do have existing laws and norms. A number of folks argued that content owners just need to accept that pirated goods are a viable alternative and need to learn how to compete with them. I’m wholly unpersuaded by that point of view. Or, rather, I believe we do have existing laws that govern how we behave. It’s pretty clear (to me at least) that content businesses will need to evolve, and many interesting ones already have. But that’s something for a lawful market to decide, not for anyone to thrust onto content owners & creators.
And then a personal observation: I was actually a little nervous writing about SOPA last week because of the tone of the conversation to date. I felt like it might actually provoke harsh negative reaction and somehow brand me as “SOPA-friendly” or against the web. That’s a weird thing for me to feel, as I think my web & open culture bona fides are pretty well established at this point between my work with Mozilla, PCF, Code for America, and now Tumblr, etc etc. That by itself tells me that there’s something wrong about how things are going.
Okay, so given all that as a context, here’s my main point: no matter what outcome we get to with respect to SOPA+PIPA, we’re in a bad spot going forward.
I think much of the legitimate frustration on the Silicon Valley side of the fence is that there seems to be no way to have a meaningful conversation about this stuff in ways that we know to be productive. It’s happening at this point with some guy who doesn’t seem to understand technology having his staff & a bunch of lobbyists prepare a non-sensical bill and then try to jam it through Congress, without any real effort to understand what might actually work. (And, worse, it’s being done in a way that seems deliberately designed to misinform.) So it’s a bunch of backroom, captured discussion that has massive impact on how we live our lives — and it’s all completely opaque (at best).
The real thing that I’m worrying more and more about is not SOPA per se, although that’s a very large problem itself. The real problem that I see is that our government just isn’t set up to make meaningful technology policy decisions going forward. I think Larry Lessig would argue that that’s now true about all facets of modern life, but I think that with technology it’s significantly worse. We have massive interconnectedness of systems built on an extremely rapidly changing foundation of technology. But more than that, technology is now transforming our private and public lives so quickly that we can hardly make sense of any of it at a personal level, let alone a public policy level. And there seems to be no way for legislation to keep pace unless we change the discussion there from specific technologies instead to principles of how we want to build and evolve our society.
And I just don’t see how that kind of conversation can happen right now.
I see how to defeat SOPA, more or less. But it’s more lobbying, more rhetoric, more Capitol Hill influence. And I think that all of that stuff ultimately corrupts industries that use it. I know this is not a new objection, and I’m sure that there have been people in every industry forever who have made this point.
So I think most of what I wanted to write on Friday is this: I desperately hope we can (1) defeat SOPA and more importantly (2) figure out a way to have useful technology policy discussions that can inform both our legistatures and law enforcement agencies. This isn’t the last law that will be technically poor and will impinge on civil liberties. There will be more, and they’ll come up more and more frequently as increasing portions of our society get disoriented by and disrupted by new technology.
We shouldn’t rely on symmetric (and corrupting) lobbying efforts to make things better; we’ll just get more of the same crummy situation we’ve got.
What I think we really need to figure out is how to help our leadership in government act and think in a more agile way, informed by more of our citizenry. More like the web, in a lot of ways. (Ed Lee’s announcement of an SF partnership with Code for America is a start.)
Maybe impossible, a pipe dream. But that’s the target I think we should be setting for ourselves, not just defeating a crappy, misinformed bill.
What’s bothering me about the SOPA “discussion”
There are 3 things that have really been bothering me about how the SOPA/PIPA discussion has been going so far.
- it’s not a discussion at all — it’s people calling each other names.
- it’s highly likely to have a result that is unhelpful at best, and insanely destructive at worst
- we’re building a completely worthless/bad roadmap for how to deal with technology policy going forward, and it’s going to get worse
Let me be very clear: SOPA is a terrible law that should not be enacted under any circumstances. It’s broken technically and misguided from a policy point of view. It not only won’t accomplish what advocates want it to accomplish, but it also will create backbreaking burdens and barriers to entry for some of our most promising technology companies and cultural movements of the coming decade.
But also: content creators & owners have a legitimate beef with how their content can be appropriated and distributed so easily by rogue actors.
Here’s the conversation we should be having: content & technology should be very aligned. Hollywood and Silicon Valley (broadly speaking — I’m talking metaphorically here) both want the same things ultimately: easier and bigger ways to share and enjoy awesome content from all sources, in a way that’s economic for everyone involved.
What we should be talking about is how to get better alignment, how to build systems and content that is better for, you know, actual human beings to use and enjoy.
But that isn’t the conversation that’s happening (and I use the term “conversation” here very loosely, since it has characteristics more like a bunch of schoolyard name calling). The conversation that’s happening is going more like this:
- content: “you people are stealing our stuff. you’re thieves”
- techies: “we’re not stealing it. we’re just building great apps for users.”
- content: “you’re ignoring the problem and helping the thieves. you’re effectively pirates, so we’re going to shut everyone down.”
- techies: “you’re acting like jackbooted fascists, embracing censorship and your’e going to end everything that’s good about culture today.”
- content: “we’re trying to protect our content — you guys are pretending like there’s no problem, then getting rich off platforms that pillage our content.”
- techies: “you don’t understand how the Internet works — how do you even live life in the 21st century? dinosaurs.”
So that’s awesome. Then you throw Congress into the mix and hilarity ensues. Because if you’re looking for folks who really do not act like they want to understand the Internet, Capitol Hill is a pretty good place to start. And then this is all devolving into a fight of pirates versus creators. Of protectors-of-democracy versus fascists. Or whatever.
What we need to be talking about is where the actual infringement problem is happening (I’ve heard from folks that the vast majority of the problem is on the order of a few dozen syndicates overseas). And how we need to be thinking about copyright law — in an age where copies are the natural order of things, as opposed to previously, when it was harder to make copies. And what sorts of law enforcement resources we need to bring to bear to shut down the activity of these real malicious actors overseas. (At root, I’m persuaded that the current issues are really law enforcement issues - we need to figure out how to enforce the laws that are already on the books to protect IP, not create new ones.)
Acting like there’s no problem isn’t the answer — there is a legitimate IP issue here. But pressuring a behind-the-times and contributions-captive legislative body to enact overly intrusive and abusable laws is even worse, both economically and civically.
What’s extremely discouraging to me right now is that I don’t really see how we can have a nuanced, technically-informed, respectful discussion/debate/conversation/working relationship. I’m not convinced that Congress is at all the right body to be taking up these issues, and am 100% convinced that they don’t currently have the technical wherewithal to make informed decisions, in any event.
So what we’re left with is one group pushing their captive legislators for new, over-reaching laws and calling technologists names. And a group reacting to that by calling names back.
I think the best that we can hope for in this scenario is that the current bill will grind to a halt and nothing will change. But I think that can’t be where we aim for the future.
Because technology policy issues are going to come up again and again and again as time goes on. (Next up, undoubtedly, is another round of privacy legislation, and I would predict the name calling will be even more intense and even less productive.)
We’re mediating more of our lives than ever through new technologies that we barely understand as technologists, let alone consumers or civic leaders. We need to figure out ways to have meaningful discussions, to try out policies that may or may not work at first and iterate quickly on them, like we do with products themselves.
I don’t have any answers here, but wanted to write down what’s been bugging me, as I think we all need to think more about what we want our lives to look like in the future.
Being Ned Flanders: On Mustaches
Wearing a mustache is a tough gig. Also hilarious, although I think people may not always totally get the joke…
A few years back, some of the Mozilla folks started doing NSID (no shaving in December) — it was a funny thing to do, especially for all hands meetings where you’d see a bunch of guys who had never really let their facial hair grow out — and the results were definitely not always pretty. Lots of scraggly beards, a few who were essentially indistinguishable from werewolves (“there, there wolf!”), and just generally lots of randomness. Was a fun thing to do, especially as more and more of us did it.
Last year, I did NSID until about Christmas, then went to Goatee Week for a bit, and finally on a lark, did Mustache Day, when I actually went out in public with a mustache. Here’s what I looked like:
Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: that’s a pretty righteous mustache! Not going to win any fashion contests, but not too shabby.
Or, perhaps, maybe you’re thinking what we were: surprisingly, I discovered that I look a little like Ned Flanders.
Unexpected. And obviously super unsettling. Although not as unsettling as this pic, where I seem to look like Mario’s brother Luigi:
And an obvious signal that I should never, ever wear a mustache again. But I’m not really one to pay attention to signals, so in the spirit of blowing right through the stop sign, this year I decided to do it again. The theme of our New Year’s Eve party happened to be Comic Con, so it really just played right into my hands, and I went as Ned Flanders.
First, it’s really hard to keep a straight face when you’ve got a mustache and are trying to talk with someone. Partly because you can’t actually believe it yourself, and partly because every 90 seconds or so they furrow their eyebrows, squint at you, then frown/grimace/laugh out loud. Pretty tough to take it seriously.
Second, Ned Flanders turns out to be a little too subtle of a costume, strangely. Maybe I wasn’t yellow enough. Maybe it was because I had 8 fingers instead of 10. And, you know, maybe it’s because the Simpsons was cool about 15 years ago. (It was cool then, right?) Anyway, all the people I’m close to thought it was either right on the nose or hysterical. People who I’d recently met said all night long, and I’m not joking, “I didn’t know you had a mustache!” People at the party who didn’t know me assumed, I think, I was some sort of interloper with a weird vibe.
But pretty strange reactions all around. I really had a good time doing it — I’m not usually a costume guy, so was fun to be someone else, even a nerd-diddly-erd, for a while.
So I think we’ll retire “the Flanders” for a while. Good times. :-)
Boomerang, by Michael Lewis
As I wrote up yesterday, my new Jawbone Up bracelet died on me. I was bummed, but customer service did a great job, and got me a replacement in about a day.
But I was surprised about the feeling I had yesterday, which is the first day I hadn’t worn the Up in about 3 weeks: I felt like I was wasting data, since I didn’t have the bracelet on to collect it. Let me say that again: I felt kind of weird, because I was going to all this trouble (you know, by walking around, sleeping, etc) and none of the data I was generating was getting logged. I was just blasting it into the ether.
This is not totally how I expected to feel. So naturally I tweeted about it, and Chris Hogg, founder of 100plus, replied in a surprising way:
And when you think about it, of course this is correct, but my first reaction was: “This is kind of messed up — we need to get credit for living now?” Obviously not a perfect state of being for humans.
But I thought about it some more on my drive in this morning, and it seems to me that a couple of different things are happening. On “getting credit,” we’re talking about taking an intrinsic motivation (living well) and replacing it with an extrinsic motivation (someone giving you credit or status). Now, that happens all the time — it’s a lot of what happens in schools, weight loss programs, sports, etc. But I think it’s not the most durable kind of behavior change mechanism.
And, honestly, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what was happening with me. Because while I like to think that everyone cares about everything about me, it’s really tough to imagine that anyone reading this (except for maybe my mom - hi mom!) gives a damn about how much I walked yesterday. And it’s even tougher to imagine that I would care much about what you thought about how much I walked.
So for me in this particular case, I think it was my OCD nature kicking in. I didn’t really like imagining the graph (of whatever data it is that I may, some day in the future, create a graph from) having a void spot in it. I want things to be smooth lines, no drop outs. I think that can be a motivator for folks, too — completeness of the data report, but I think it’ll motivate a far smaller set of folks.
I think where you get to in the end is that there is something very important about tracking data, because it changes your relationship to the activities you’re measuring pretty fundamentally. (some ways good, others not good.)
And that collecting data about how you live, in particular, will always have holes in it — for lots of reasons.
Anyhow, was an interesting set of thoughts — some important things going on here.
Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!, by Douglas Coupland
A biography of Marshall McLuhan, one of the smartest media thinkers ever, written by Douglas Coupland, one of my very favorite authors, was going to be pretty much a no brainer for me to pick up and read and enjoy. And I really did, although I think this book probably is only for a particular type of nerd. (Pretty sure you know who you are.)
As you’d expect from Coupland & the subject, the style of the book is sort of meta. Bits & pieces about McLuhan, mixed up with other bits and pieces. I didn’t love the style, but I did find a bunch of the book thoughtful & provocative. And it really is amazing how clearly McLuhan could see the future — I think he & Neil Postman figured out decades ago things we’re only just now figuring out together as we all converge online.
Here’s what Coupland had to say to start the book:
Life becomes that strange experience in which you’re zooming along a freeway and suddenly realize that you haven’t paid any attention to driving for the last fifteen minutes, yet you’re still alive and didn’t crash. The voice inside your head has become a different voice. It used to be “you.” Now your voice is that of a perpetual nomad drifting along a melting landscape, living day to day, expecting everything and nothing. And this is why Marshall McLuhan is important, more so now than ever, because he saw this coming a long way off, and he saw the reasons for it. Those reasons were so new and so offbeat and came from such a wide array of sources that the man was ridiculed as a fraud or a clown or a hoax. But now that we’ve damaged time and our inner voices, we have to look at McLuhan and see what else he was saying, and maybe we’ll find out what’s coming next, because the one thing we can all agree on is that the future has never happened so quickly to so many people in such an extreme way, and we really need a voice to guide us. Marshall identified the illness and worked toward finding ways of dealing with it.
Amazing. But here’s the really odd bit:
And one must remember that Marshall arrived at these conclusions not by hanging around, say, NASA or IBM, but rather by studying arcane sixteenth-century Reformation pamphleteers, the writings of James Joyce, and Renaissance perspective drawings. He was a master of pattern recognition, the man who bangs a drum so large that it’s only beaten once every hundred years.
And any book like this would be incomplete without a little Canuckiana, so here’s a quote from McLuhan: “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” Interestingly, I think that while that would be considered pejorative to most in the US, I don’t think that’s how he meant it.
One very strange fact that floored me: McLuhan’s brain was supplied with blood through not one but two arteries at the base of his skull. In case you’re not up to date on your human physiology, that’s not normal. Sometimes happens in cats. Very rarely in humans. But you have to think that it had a real effect on how he thought and lived (and probably how he died ultimately, since he had many small strokes and blackouts throughout his lifetime).
And one last thought to leave you with by McLuhan himself: “Our ‘Age of Anxiety’ is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools— with yesterday’s concepts.”
I think we live in a complex, rapidly evolving, unfamiliar time now — so much — technology, mainly — feels like it’s changing so quickly that it’s hard to integrate all the changes in our lives, let alone to really understand them and their impact. It’s comforting to know that at least a few people felt the same way nearly 50 years ago.
Why I’m Anti-Social on Instagram
I really love using Instagram — use it every week to take, process & share photos, use it a lot with my wife to share what we’re up to, etc.
But as I was using it tonight, I realized that I’m using it in a decidedly anti-social way — which is a really stark contrast to how I live practically every other part of my online life — in general I live pretty much in the open on my blog, Tumblr, Twitter, etc etc.
So I thought it would be worth a quick explanation.
One of my working theories about mobile apps is that to get any real adoption, the app has to be on your home screen (and mostly not in a folder). People use apps on 2nd & 3rd screens, but not that many, I think — I think usage of apps on the home screen probably completely dominates usage of all other apps. But there are only 20 slots on the home screen, and a bunch of those are already populated by things like your e-mail, SMS, phone, calendar, Safari, etc. So there’s a working set of maybe 4 or 5 slots for completely novel apps (for me the most important are Tweetbot, Facebook, Tumblr, Read It Later, Things & Kindle). For all other apps, they’ve got to replace an app (and its functionality) that already has a spot.
Instagram, for me, replaced the camera app a long time ago, initially because of filters, but over time because it let me share pictures with my family and friends really easily.
But over the summer, I realized a pretty serious problem: my follower count was rising, and I was taking more and more pictures with Instagram — the problem was that the photos were of my family vacation, so were both pretty personal in nature, and were also like a big advertisement that our house back in the Bay Area was unattended.
I still wanted the sharing & filters & streams, though, so ended up making my stream closed, instead of open. I uninvited everyone I didn’t know and started building up the access list from scratch. Now I’ve got a relatively small, private set of followers, and it works well enough.
But it sort of turns the model inside out a little bit, since Instagram is really built for sharing. Instead, I’m using it more like a private repository, then sharing out pictures to other networks like Facebook, Tumblr & Twitter when I want to share them broadly. But back to my apps-on-home-screen theory, the only way that Instagram can replace my Camera app is if I do it this way, making most of my photos private and only sharing a few.
The main problems are sort of obvious: (1) I share a bunch of things with fewer people than would actually like to share with, (2) it’s hard for me to completely replace the built-in Camera app right now, and (3) it actually just feels pretty unfriendly when I do share something on Twitter, people click through to see the shared photo and aren’t allowed to follow my stream automatically. (There’s a follow on problem in that I never look at the news feed on my account in the mobile app at all — and so I had hundreds of follower requests right now that have gone ignored for months.)
What I’d really like is the ability to, at minimum, have a private stream and a public stream — I think that would let Instagram completely replace the Camera app for me.
Anyway, that’s why it’s closed for me, and why I may not have turned on access for you — it’s a combo of how the system works and my own neglect of the access list for a while.
The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel, by Dan Sinker
This book may not be for everyone. But if you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It’s more or less the whole Twitter transcript of @MayorEmanuel, the fake chronicle of Rahm Emanuel on his quest to become the mayor of Chicago.
If you like sustained, over the top profanity and imaginary vignettes about Axelrod in a bear costume tailgating with Rahm Emanuel dressed as a bottle of Jack Daniels at Bears’ games, but only in 140 character chunks (with some mild annotation), this one is for you. :-)
But I thought it was pretty damned funny — Kathy thought I was losing my mind:
“@MayorEmanuel: My giant bottle of Jack costume is too tall to fit on the L. Fuck. If you see a huge bottle of whiskey walking down Milwaukee, that’s me.”
“@MayorEmanuel: I’m in my giant Jack bottle knocking people down Urlacher-style and yelling “YOU JUST GOT JACK’D.” Then we do a fucking shot.”
And if you’re not into that kind of thing, then yeah, maybe not for you.
Joining the board of Code for America
I’m super, super excited to announce that I’ve joined the board of directors of Code for America, an organization started by Jen Pahlka two years ago aimed at getting some of the smartest and most motivated techies & designers among us working on solving some of the core problems facing our communities. It’s a non-profit organization full of awesomely smart and talented and motivated folks who actually make things that can create lasting change in our cities and states and country and world. (Sound like anything else I’ve been involved in? :-)).
It’s a humbling organization to join, because they’ve already made such amazing progress. They’ve got an amazing group of CfA Fellows working with city governments this year — projects in Boston and Philadelphia and Seattle; and one with the federal government as well. They’ve picked even more cities to work with next year in an expansion of the program. They’ve started the Civic Commons as a way to help governments share and take advantage of code that already exists.
More importantly, they’re showing how to build an organization that’s both civically-oriented and sustainable over the long term. In my view, CfA is helping a new generation of entrepreneurs and builders to figure out how to create products and organizations that can change our relationship with our cities and towns — not every startup has to be about maximizing financial returns.
So I’m really excited to join the organization — because of what it’s done in such a short time, because of what it represents today, and because of the promise it holds in unlocking so, so much positive and needed change in how we relate to our governments and our selves in the future.
My Introduction for Reid Hoffman
Last night, Aneel Bhusri, Jeff Weiner and I got to introduce Reid Hoffman for an award called the Innovation Catalyst Award here in Silicon Valley. We each spent about 10 minutes talking about our experiences with Reid over the years — always a fun thing to talk about, since he’s such an interesting, smart & good-hearted person. Was interesting, too, that even thought the 3 of us hadn’t coordinated at all in preparing our talks, they all came back to the same themes of his humanity, intelligence, and great desire to help good people be better. Reid is just a very consistent guy — he brings it every day.
Best line of the night was Aneel’s: “Reid is kind of like the Kevin Bacon of Silicon Valley.” Good stuff.
Here are the remarks that I prepared:
It’s a funny task for me to introduce Reid to all of you since he’s so well known. In fact, I’d wager that not only does everyone here know all about Reid already, but you’ve already had a lunch or a coffee with him at some point.
I was thinking maybe it’d be easier if I just grabbed the 2 of you in the room that haven’t already met him or worked with him and give you the background one-on-one. :-)
His public accomplishments over the last decade are extremely well chronicled — I don’t think I need to mention the fact that he changed the world at PayPal. Or started LinkedIn, changing the way we all do work in fundamental ways. Or that he was an early angel in Flickr, Zynga, Facebook and virtually every other massively successful company that’s come out of Silicon Valley over the last 10 years.
But most of that stuff is well known by everyone here, so instead tonight I’m going to focus on the human scale, and some of the ways that Reid has powerfully and meaningfully changed my life and the lives of so many people around him — I think that might work better to give everyone a sense of how he thinks, and why it’s so important.
The thread that will tie all of this together is that 2 questions dominate the way that Reid thinks and interacts.
The first one is this: “How can I change the world?” But really, every good entrepreneur asks that question all the time. Reid is unusually good at answering this particular question in a variety of different ways, but if that was the only thing he focused on, he’d be a great entrepreneur, but something less than he’s actually become.
The second question that I’ve heard Reid ask over and over and over is very simple: “How can I help?”
I’ve heard him ask it in board meetings, in pitch meetings, at the airport, over drinks — everywhere you can imagine. And in my mind, it’s the pervasiveness of that simple question — “How can I help?” — that sets Reid apart, and I’ll expand a little on that now.
My own working relationship with Reid started off innocently enough while he was still at PayPal. I got an e-mail from an old friend Sean White who I literally hadn’t heard from in 10 years. The mail went something like this: “Reid, John: I think you guys might like each other; hope you can connect; I think it’ll be worth your time.” It’s maybe a measure of my cluelessness at the time, or of just how incredible a decade Reid has had since, but I didn’t know who he was, and he seemed only semi-relevant — a finance guy! from PayPal! but I trusted my friend Sean, so gave it a try.
Sean was right, of course; Reid and I hit it off immediately, starting with a breakfast at Hobee’s that would begin a strong pattern for us. He was at PayPal, I was at my own startup Reactivity then; we just got together and, predictably enough, started talking about who we knew in common. We spent a lot of time in those pre-LinkedIn days — like we still do, really, asking questions of each other like “Have you met X? What do you think?” Or “do you know about company Y? Important?” And: “Who else do you think I should get to know?” That’s Reid, always, always, always building networks, always trying to put people together, see if they might fit.
Over time we started working on various projects together, including Mozilla, and we’d each have lists of things to talk about going into each breakfast. The really remarkable thing about these interactions is that no matter how long we talked, no matter how much of our lists we would work through, we invariably left the meal with longer lists than we entered with — with more things to talk about, covering more shared areas of interst. And really it’s gone on like that since — another Reid characteristic for you: he’s always looking for more ways to help.
The other thing that was obvious about Reid at that point is that he always had a plan, and he pretty much did what he said he was going to do. He was really clear when the PayPal acquisition happened that he would be on to his next thing, whatever it was, soon. I figured he would take a bit of time off, catch his breath. I didn’t know Reid well enough then, obviously — he quickly moved on, figured out that helping other people build work networks was what he wanted his attention to be on. So he got started.
The conversation around LinkedIn was funny — obviously LinkedIn was the ideal startup for someone who thinks in terms of people networks like Reid does — in a lot of ways it’s the exact manifestation of his brain.
I was a little skeptical at the time — I told him, well, this might be good for “B listers with B list networks.” Obviously, folks with A list networks like mine wouldn’t want to participate. Reid gleefully reminds me of that interaction at the most inopportune times. They seem to be doing well enough so far. :-)
But he was off to the races with LinkedIn, and around the same time I was trying to figure out what to do myself, having left my own startup a few months previously. And like he’s helped so many others figure out their path, he was extrordinarily helpful with figuring out mine. In 2005 I had sort of stumbled onto an unusual organization — a non-profit, and open source project — called Mozilla — it was just15 or so employees, but they had just released Firefox a few months before, and it held great promise — it was really starting to catch on. Reid & I both saw the promise right away, but as I thought about joining it, I was on the fence.
Typically, he thought we should discuss it more with someone he knew — in this case Joi Ito, now Director of MIT’s Media Lab. He said “Joi’s going to be in town for about 90 minutes, so we need to meet him at SFO.” I made fun of him a lot for having airport meetings — now of course, the joke is on me, since I schedule them, too.
So we met at SFO and had a conversation that, again, was typical of Reid & Joi, and went something like this: “do you think Mozilla is a place from which we can change the world a bunch for the better?” “Seems like it.” “Well, seems like we should all lean in then!” That’s another very Reid phrase: “lean in” — it means we should figure out how to do something meaningful.
Reid likes to think about Archimedian levers — how to change the world the most with the most efficiency — and when he finds good spots to put the lever, he’s generally all in.
So from that meeting, we each leaned in — Joi would eventually join the Foundation’s board of directors, Reid would join the Corporation’s board of directors, and I joined in an operating capacity.
So for me, and for Mozilla, Reid’s orientation around finding ways to change the world, and to help others do the same, whether as entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs or any other way — well, his point of view changed everything for us.
And then I got to know Reid over the next several years as a board member, which is another great privilege, although a bit of a quirky one. Reid has a tendency to be extra outfitted in terms of his information technology. He’ll typically carry around 2 laptops and somewhere between 3 and 5 smart phones. So when he would come for a board meeting, lots of times he would bring out various of his devices and work away — enough so that you might start to think he wasn’t paying attention. But he is. Invariably during our board meetings, we’d be cruising along, Reid would be typing something or other then he’d pause, look up, and say something like “Really? That doesn’t make sense to me. Wouldn’t it really be more like this other way?” He had a funny way of completely changing the flow of the meeting, of causing us to re-focus on the most strategic items again and again — as usual with Reid, it was him searching for the best leverage possible.
The funniest things were always when you talked about recruiting in a board meeting, though — every time I got back to my desk after discussing an open position at Mozilla, I’d have between 10 and 20 LinkedIn profiles waiting in my e-mail, suggestions from Reid on who to talk with next. His output is amazing that way. Even when dealing with a million other competing priorities, he’s as productive as anyone I’ve ever met.
I talk about these very personal experiences because they’re the ones that I know the best, but, really, you could ask just about any current entrepreneur in Silicon Valley how Reid’s helped — he’s always got suggestions, connections, questions, tweaks to your thinking.
Everyone’s got a “Reid story”, everyone knows his aphorism “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product you’ve released too late!” (Although now that I’m an investor myself, I probably could stand hearing that from a few less startups who actually did release too early!)
Here are a few insights from folks who know Reid well:
Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org (where Reid’s a board member), said this: “In a world where engineers have been the biggest winners over the last ten years, how did a philosopher become top shelf? It’s kind of an awesome winning forumla: the guy loves people. It’s not a mush, emotional thing. He’s actually extraordinarily logical — and to him, figuring out how people can become better is like solving a puzzle.”
Or DJ Patil, Greylock’s Data Scientist in Residence, who previously built the LinkedIn data team tells the story about how he went to introduce himself to Reid in a parking lot at UC Santa Cruz, whereupon Reid responded “Yes, I know who you are, we need to have lunch.” Their first lunch after that was 3 hours long.
And my own most recent example — I saw a pretty early, pretty raw startup this summer for a first meeting, which went well enough. I gave them some candid feedback and made some suggestions on how they might improve their product, at the end of which they said, “Okay, got it. But what do you think Reid Hoffman would think of our pitch?” Hilarious. :-)
Overall though, here’s the thing: I haven’t met a single person in more than 20 years in Silicon Valley who’s more generous with their contacts or time, who’s more willing to listen and learn and brainstorm, or who genuinely wants everyone he meets to become as good an entrepreneur (in their work and in their own lives) as they can possibly be.
His fingerprints are all over today’s business and technology landscape, and increasingly our social landscape.
He’s got some of the flashiest credentials of anyone in the industry, but it’s hard for me to think of a more honest, self-effacing person to meet with.
He’s busier than anyone I’ve ever met, but he will always make time to meet with young entrepreneurs.
He’s smarter and more knowledgable about how the consumer Internet works than just about anyone, but leaves every meeting thinking about what he’s learned that’s new, where his old models don’t fit.
And the guy barely has time to read a book, let alone write one, but that’s exactly what he’s done this year. The focus? Helping everyone become an entrepreneur in their own life, naturally.
So in a lot of ways he’s a bundle of competing priorities and tensions.
But in the ways that matter, he’s a pretty simple guy, always asking “How can we change the world?” and “How can we help?”
As Nancy Lublin puts it, “He’s the best example I know of good guys finishing first,” and so I’m very humbled to be introducing my partner and my friend Reid Hoffman tonight.