October, 2011


29
Oct 11

Quiet Fall Morning

Last week in New York I got to attend a fun dinner party — about 16 folks, very diverse in terms of work, politics, interests, etc — all incredibly accomplished in their own fields. One of the things we talked about is this: “If you could be anywhere, where would it be?” Lots of answers — in the Alps. on a boat, on the beach, etc. When it came around to me, though, I gave a pretty boring answer: honestly, I mostly like being at home with my family, with time to spend with them.

This morning is perfect that way. A little autumn briskness in the air, beautiful clear day, and nothing much to do except pad around the house, take care of things that need taking care of, and be together. It’s great to be busy (and we are busy, starting around lunchtime), but sort of magic to start the day with family and no real commitments. And nice especially because it was Kathy & my 11th wedding anniversary yesterday. (And incredibly, we’ve known each other more than 26 years now. Doesn’t seem like there was ever a time when we didn’t.)

So we’ve got music on shuffle and on comes Simon & Garfunkel — a little old school, but still amazing. “Kathy’s Song” came on — one of my favorite songs of all time. And reminded me a lot of my favorite blog post that I’ve ever written. ­čÖé

Anyway, for me Halloween always marks a transition into the part of the year that’s a headlong rush through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year — love the season, but it’s a bit of a sprint from here.

Nice to get ready for it with a quiet morning together.


9
Oct 11

Steve Jobs

Like many of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about Steve Jobs the last few days — thinking about the man and his legacy. I’ve been having some trouble even understanding the way I feel, let alone being able to put it into words. Lots of folks have asked me what I think, and have been surprised that I haven’t tweeted or blogged about it yet. So here’s a first shot.

I’m finding my feelings to be pretty complex, which I guess isn’t too surprising given who he was. But for a man I’ve never met, I’m a little surprised about how much of my thinking he’s affected, and how many competing feelings I’ve got.

But some of them are pretty simple.

As a designer, I think it’s impossible to feel anything but pure, unadulterated joy that Steve existed at all. And I really mean that: thank god for him, he changed so much. He wasn’t the first to care about design in technology, and he won’t be the last, but he moved things so much.

He made beautiful software and hardware like nobody had ever seen before. Crucially, he built tools that helped — or completely enabled, really — creatives make their own beautiful work that enriched the world. He completely and utterly validated the view that design could be immensely valuable economically, not just culturally.

Mostly he made it acceptable — desirable! — to believe in and practice great, human-centered design in our work and lives. What a gift.

As a people manager and leader, I really struggled with how to think about him. The stories of how brutal he could be on the people around him — employees, competitors, and everyone else — are legion, and they’re not apocryphal. He could be deeply dehumanizing and belittling to the people around him. Like a lot of people of great vision, which he surely was, he did it all in the name of greatness, of perfection — but I have enough close friends who have been in the line of Jobs’ fire to know how personally destructive it could be, and as a manager I have a hard time with it.

On the other hand, he was an unbelievable leader and motivator.

It turns out that I worked at Apple ATG (Advanced Technology Group) in 1994/5 when I was a grad student at Stanford, and then again for all of 1997, when I moved back here from Trilogy.

I remember being at a talk he gave shortly after returning in 1997 as Interim CEO. A bunch of us employees (I was at ATG at the time) were in Town Hall in Building 4 at Infinite Loop to hear him, and he was fired up. Talked a lot about how Apple was going to completely turn things around and become great.

It was a tough time at Apple — we were trading below book value on the market — our enterprise value was actually less than our cash on hand. And the rumors were everywhere that we were going to be acquired by Sun. Someone in the audience asked him about Michael Dell’s suggestion in the press a few days previous that Apple should just shut down and return the cash to shareholders, and as I recall, Steve’s response was: “Fuck Michael Dell.” Good god, what a message from a CEO! He followed it up by admitting that the stock price was terrible (it was under $10, I think — pretty sure it was under $2 split-adjusted), and that what they were going to do was reissue everyone’s options on the low price, but with a new 3 year vest. He said, explicitly: “If you want to make Apple great again, let’s get going. If not, get the hell out.” I think it’s not an overstatement to say that just about everyone in the room loved him at that point, would have followed him off a cliff if that’s where he led.

He was also a gifted, gifted operator. One of the struggles we were going through when he came back was that Apple was about the leakiest organization in history — it had gotten so bad that people were cavalier about it. In the face of all those leaks, I remember the first all company e-mail that Steve sent around after becoming Interim CEO again — he talked in it about how Apple would release a few things in the coming week, and a desire to tighten up communications so that employees would know more about what was going on — and how that required more respect for confidentiality. That mail was sent on a Thursday; I remember all of us getting to work on Monday morning and reading mail from Fred Anderson, our then-CFO, who said basically: “Steve sent mail last week, he told you not to leak, we were tracking everyone’s mail, and 4 people sent the details to outsiders. They’ve all been terminated and are no longer with the company.”

Well. If it wasn’t clear before that the Amelio/Spindler/Sculley days of Apple were over, it was crystal clear then, and good riddance.

As a leader of people, you have to respect how much he (and more importantly, his teams) accomplished. But I struggle with some of the ways that he led, and how they affected good people.

Still.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the outpouring of sentiment about people who want to be like Steve. There’s a sort of beatification going on that I think misses the point. He was never a nostalgic man at all, and I can’t help but feel like he would think this posthumous attention was, in a lot of ways, a waste — seems like he’d have wanted people to get back to inventing.

On Twitter yesterday Naval nailed it, as he often does: “I never met my greatest mentor. I wanted so much to be like him. But, his message was the opposite. Be yourself, with passionate intensity.”

That’s it, I think — that’s the biggest message from Jobs’ life. Don’t try to be like Steve. Don’t try to be like anyone.

Be yourself and work as hard as you can to bring wonderful things into the world. Figure out how you want to contribute and do that, in your own way, on your own terms, as hard as you can, as much as you can, as long as you can.

His most lasting message, I hope, won’t be about technology or management or media or communications or even design. The work he did in those areas certainly matters and will continue to — impossible to ignore it.

Still, I think it’s not the main thing, the essential thing.

I hope the message that people really take, really internalize is that being yourself, as hard as you can, is the way to have important and lasting impact on our world. That might be in the context of technology. It might be in the context of technology, or the arts, or sports, or government, or social justice — or even in the context of your family and close friends.

It almost doesn’t matter. The thing that matters most is to figure out what’s important to you, what’s core to you, and do that. Be that. And do it as well as you possibly can, every single day.


1
Oct 11

Buried (but no excuses)

As an entrepreneur, I always hated fund raising — I hated not being in control of situations, I hated being at the mercy of markets and other peoples’ schedules. It’s a hard thing to take, and a very vulnerable feeling, especially when you’re used to running your own company and being mostly in control (more or less). I always was particularly frustrated when VCs would go dark for a week or two, not responding to something or not delivering on something I thought we had agreed on. So since becoming a VC myself, I’ve been trying really hard to be responsive and transparent.

Well, these past couple of weeks, I became that guy I’ve been frustrated with so often in the past. I dropped a couple of things I was supposed to do with entrepreneurs and they were very frustrated themselves with me — justifiably so. I think I’m mostly caught up on the things that I owe folks, but know that this is an area that I need to — and want to — pay attention to so I can minimize it in the future.

For whatever it’s worth, I now understand why investors can sometimes become non-responsive for a while. [It’s worth noting I’m not talking about the type of non-responsive that some people use instead of saying “no” to entrepreneurs — that type of behavior is a real problem, and not something that I personally think is ever really okay. I’m talking about disappearing for a few days when you’ve got a next step to plan, and then coming back later to follow up.]

This time around, with me, what happened is this: a couple of investments closed, a couple of investments got announced, a couple of companies I’m involved with went through financing conversations, and a couple of boards I’m on went through particularly meaningful discussions and decisions about the future. On top of which we had a bunch of things going on in our family life.

VC life is paced a little differently than operating, in my experience. It’s a lot of meetings with a wide diversity of entities. Entrepreneurs, recruits, recruiters, other investors, PR folks, etc etc. And just like operators, you try to do as much as you possibly can each week. Because of the external-focused nature of so much of VC work, that means a lot of meetings, and your schedule can get sort of jammed up. Which means you also end up scheduling a fair amount of meetings several weeks or more in advance — which means that you try hard not to move them, since people have been so patient with you in setting them up in the first place.

So you’ve got this normal base meeting load, which can get a little packed — and then you’ve got between 4 and 10 or more organizations who depend on you from time to time for significant involvement and decisions at the board level.

So you build your schedule so that when 1 or 2 of those organizations needs attention in a week, you can accommodate on top of that base meeting load. But when 4 or 5 or 6 company biorhythms line up so that you’re critical path on all of them at once, things get a little hairy. And when you add the other commitments of being a parent, child, spouse and friend, the communication load can just overwhelm you.

Which is what happened to me these past 2 weeks. I think I’m mostly on the road to being caught up now, but am bummed I caused a few folks (especially entrepreneurs) to become frustrated with me. As an investor & partner I need to get better about it, and think I’m learning and adjusting to things pretty quickly now.

One piece of advice I would offer though: if you feel like someone’s gone dark — me or another investor — just drop them a note asking what’s up. Generally that’s all the prodding I need to (at least) let you know more clearly what’s going on.