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. 🙂

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.


28
Sep 11

Announcing Greylock’s Investment in ClearSlide

We’re very happy to be new investors in ClearSlide, a company that builds tools for sales & marketing professionals to communicate — it’s radically simpler than the cumbersome conference tools we use today, and blends synchronous and asynchronous tools to make it easier than ever for sales people to close business. They’ve been flying under the radar since starting a couple of years ago — except with their amazing & rapidly growing customer list, full of raving fans who say they can’t live without it now. This morning they’ve launched more publicly with a new site and an announcement of new funding led by us and Aydin Senkut from Felicis, who led their initial funding.

What’s special about their products today is how simple they are to operate: you can get on the phone and do a product demo or share slides in under a minute. It’s trivially easy to send information around to customers and be able to understand what they viewed themselves or forwarded along. And it closes the loop by allowing easy sharing of all materials and insight with your coworkers.

And it all works in a web browser, with just a URL. No special installs, no plug-ins needed. I’m not talking about just modern browsers, either: any browser, even including IE6. (I’ll wait for your gasps of amazement to die down on that one. Also, it’s the last time I’ll ever mention IE6 on my blog. :-))

They’ve really thought hard about how to build great tools for sales and marketing people, and it shows.

It was a very quick decision for us — at Greylock, we talk a lot about “our kind of founders” — and Al and Jim are definitely that. Here’s what I mean.

We’ve known Al for some time — he was the founding CTO of Evite — it’s a little hard to remember, at this distance, what a revelation that product was, but it changed everything — it let us interact with each other and collaborate in ways that had just been way too painful previously. And it’s influenced too many startups to count since then.

Well, he and Jim came in to give a presentation to us about they’d done, they jumped right into how their customers love it, how sales are rocketing up, what’s next — and slowly it dawned on me that they were using their own service to present! So I opened up my laptop to type in the URL & access code and bam!, I could see their slides — took maybe 3 seconds. I got sort of excited so pulled out my iPhone, then my iPad — everything just worked. And to Al & Jim’s credit, none of my futzing around with various electronics fazed them one bit. They just kept moving, unsurprised that there were no glitches in what they’d built.

And that’s part of what we mean when we say “our kind of founders” — they’re strong product and operating founders, who after changing the world once with Evite, just put their heads down and did the hard work of building something from scratch these past two years. No hype, no fanfare, just customers that love their products and working with them.

So we’re very excited to get involved in the next phase of their growth, and couldn’t be happier to be leading their funding round. Take a look.


26
Sep 11

Announcing our Investment in Tumblr

I’m super excited to announce Greylock’s investment in Tumblr.

We knew Tumblr was big when we started talking with David and John over the summer — over the last year or so, it’s practically exploded onto the scene — it seems like every piece of interesting content and expression you see today has been posted on someone’s Tumblr. The numbers back that up — last month the 30 million blogs on Tumblr generated 13 billion page views.

As we got to know the team there more, it became a more and more obvious decision for us to get involved. We love entrepreneurs who are product visionaries, who have a strong point of view and who want to build great products that affect hundreds of millions of users. David is clearly one of those — a founder with deep character and a desire to build a meaningful, enduring set of products and a company that users love.

What we didn’t know when we started, but learned as we went is that in addition to the ubiquity of Tumblr today, the engagement of users and posters and rebloggers is absolutely off the charts. Good content gets surfaced and spread incredibly rapidly — more quickly than any other network I’ve ever encountered. Lots of reasons for this incredible engagement — the team at Tumblr has done a wonderful job of figuring out some fundamental and novel avenues for self-expression. I’ve found so many interesting posts and perspectives on Tumblr that I never would have found without it — and it’s clear that that’s been the experience for millions of other users.

At Greylock, we’re always looking for the breakout companies — because we’ve each been involved in building and growing some of the companies with the broadest reach in history (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pandora, Mozilla, and more), we have a huge respect for founders and teams that have gotten to real scale like Tumblr has.

So Greylock and I are thrilled to be involved with Tumblr now, and we’re excited to help the company take the next steps forward into becoming an even more powerful platform for self-expression and discovery.

And you can find my own Tumblr at lilly.tumblr.com. 🙂