Never Give Up - My Mom

Last Father's Day I wrote a post about my dad. This Mother's Day, I'm writing about my mom. This blog is a way for me to share lessons I've learned during my career but these posts are lessons I was able to learn from my parents that helped shape my career and, more importantly, who I am as a person. 

My mom was fun. She was always active and looking to do fun activities with us as kids. Building snow castles after a winter storm, cleaning out the stream in the backyard to build a bridge for a bike trail, setting up a place for me to practice basketball, or setting up a makeshift batting cage with nets hanging from tree branches. My mom was very hands on, roll up the sleeves and get it done. She viewed herself as an athlete and anyone I met that grew up with her would instantly tell stories about my mom's athleticism. She was sarcastic and caring at the same time. A great listener who was always the one people came to when they needed to talk.

When I was in college she was introduced into our town's athletic hall of fame.

When my daughter was born, my wife gave me the above news article titled "Sheeley's stand gained recognition for female athletes". This article now hangs above our daughter's crib. The article is a photocopy and I can't seem to find the original version online but it talks about how my mom changed how my hometown of Tewksbury, MA viewed girls sports. It talks about how my mom ran track & field but for her to run, she had to run next to the boys "unofficially" because girls didn't have an option to run. 

"It was difficult back then, that's for sure," said Sheeley. "I remember it being difficult to get practice time in the gym because the boys always had it. The boys sports were simply more important back then, but I didn't care, I just joined in with them."

Back then, girls sports didn't get covered in the school's yearbook. My mom tried to get the yearbook staff to come to the girls games, but they would never show up. My mom could have just given up and just let it go. But that wasn't who my mom was. My mom didn't give up. 

Instead, the following year, my mom became the editor of the yearbook and just published the girls sports section herself. "For the first time in the school's history, there was a record of the girl sports and who played then." 1967 became the 1st time girls sports had any record of occurring in Tewksbury, MA. 

My mom instilled this fight in me. I have countless stories that mirror this one. You don't like something, change it. You don't give up and you don't wait for someone else to do it for you. You just make it happen. 

Flash forward to early 2004. I'm 25 and living with my mom. My father passed away a few years before. My mom is now dying of Cancer after battling it for over a year and everything has turned for the worst. I remember quietly asking if she was giving up, a reasonable ask given everything she had gone through that year while battling this horrible disease. My mom, with almost no strength left, lifted herself up, gripped her teeth, gathered herself with extreme focus, looked at me and said "I'm NOT giving up!" Those were the last words she said to me. 


What I'm excited for...

I'm a progressive optimist when it comes to the future of our society.  There are so many innovations and trends happening at once in our lifetime that I spontaneously decided to list the trends I'm most excited about.

I figured I'd blog in a bit more detail about each one.

Consumerization of Healthcare

Our healthcare system is broken and it isn't scaling.  Costs are going up, and the quality of care is not the same for everyone.  Quality and availabilities are based on where you live, your social and economic levels, and a whole lot of luck. The current system doesn't allow those people to play an active roll in healthcare and the most valuable healthcare resources are hidden behind old world hierarchies, bureaucracy, and antiquated business models. Putting healthcare into the hands of the individual isn't the answer to everything and for everyone, but it will free up the rest of the system to scale and become more widely available to those who need it.  Nobody cares more about a person's health than the person themselves and their family/friends. Technology is allowing us to know more and to act more on our own. We are soon going to be able to access the core resources of the healthcare system instantly and without the bloated overhead and hoops we have to jump over today. There is a long ways to go here before consumers have more control of their own healthcare but we are headed in the right direction.

Conversational UX

I recently tweeted "It isn't 'chat' versus 'app'. It is chat enabling capabilities that apps don't offer."

I am reading a lot of people compare chat-based apps to apps that use buttons, forms, and menus. I once looked at conversational UX the same way but I am starting to see that there are many use cases where buttons, forms, and menus don't work. Conversational UX will allow for personalization and customizations that aren't possible with app or web based experiences without becoming too complex.  I also calling this "conversational UX" and not "chat" because "chat" is only the first step in this experience becoming truly conversational. Amazon Echo, for example, is conversational but it isn't chat based. These experiences better mimic the way to naturally communicate with each other. Not all computer interactions will work best this way, but many more will benefit greatly from this.

2-Sided Marketplaces

2-sided marketplaces are at the core for allowing the world to become more efficient. In economics, the theory of comparative advantage explains why 2-sided marketplaces are so important. More enjoyable/higher quality lives are lived when we work together as a society. This sounds great in theory, but in reality there are many challenges that prevent this from actually happening.  Each successful 2-sided marketplace helps society through these challenges.

Autonomous Vehicles

We aren't there yet, but there are many signs are showing that we are close to having driverless cars on the roads everywhere. I think this is a total game changer for transportation and logistics. Transportation becomes cheaper, safer, and more widely available to many people. When driverless cars, trucks, planes, boats, etc become autonomous, physical goods and services become available to more people (think food, medical supplies, treatments, etc.). Driverless cars are only the 1st step to what will come from autonomous vehicles. Most of the way we drive and the way roads and vehicles are built today are due to human limitations.  That will all soon change.

360 Video

I don't have any videos of myself growing up. Video cameras where not heavily available 30 years ago. Photos where not in high definition and have since faded on the film their were printed on. I have always wondered what my kids would someday think about the videos and photos we take of them on a daily basis.  The constant videos and photos my wife and I are taking with our phones will seem antiquated compared to whatever technology they are capturing experiences with in 30 years.  I think 360 video is the next step here. I've recently orders my first 360 video camera to start recording with right away.  The quality will be poor at first and I'll probably use my phone's camera and the 360 cam at the same time, but this will be the 1st step into truly capturing memories as we experience them as they happen.

Virtual Reality

This goes hand in hand with 360 Video (as a means to experience 360 Video) but there is much more to virtual reality than viewing 360 video.  Everyone loves to hate Powerpoint slides but right now that is one of the best ways to convey an idea to a group of people.  I think virtual reality is finally a way to better express ideas and to allow people to experience thoughts that we could never do before. We think about ideas in the same way we experience the world but we communicate in very limited way. A photo is worth a 1000 words, a video is worth 1000 photos, and VR is going to be worth a 1000 videos. I think VR is the next way to experience and interact with ideas and stories that we all want to share.

Space Exploration

I follow Nasa's Instagram account and everyday there is something I am blown away with.  The insights and understanding of space is incredible.  There is talk of populating Mars and even sending ships out to the next closes star system, Alpha Centauri. It isn't just talk either.  The international space station is currently testing an inflatable room to test how it can handle radiation if it were to become a remote living space. They are testing the ability to grow food in space and even how humans can handle long term space travel.

Innovation In World Food Supply

The population is growing and our food supply is not going to meet the needs. In many cases, our food supply has never met the needs of the world. There is a lot of criticism that companies like Soylent get from people who are either not aware of the problem or don't truly understand how Soylent differs from liquid weight-loss supplements like Nutrisystem. Being a liquid meal isn't the innovation here. Producing healthy food from renewable resources such as algae that conserve enormous quantities of natural resources are the needed future for our world food supply.  Refrigeration isn't needed and shelf life's are long allowing for the distribution and storage of food at extremely low costs and wide availability.

Human Rights/Equality

As we are better able to share our experiences, so will we be able to better understand the lives of others.  I believe human rights issues and in-equality are rooted in our lack of understanding each other.  You can't fix a problem if you don't know it exists, and many people don't know in-equality exists because they have only experienced the side of the equation that has benefited or isn't effected at all.  It is very hard to understand the experiences of others. We all have our unique struggles and challenges to overcome and to truly understand everyones and anyones else's struggles and challenges is nearly impossible.  Unfortunately, without understanding each other more, people will take sides, they will unknowingly make decisions and actions that harm others, they will then become angry with complaints about their actions, and they will vilify those who oppose them. Wars and human rights violations are the outcome to all of this.  We need to better understand each other and technology is helping us doing just that. It is exciting to think that we are getting close to a world were we can better share our experiences and learn from each other.

Government/Leadership Transparency

There is a clear shift in this world to people having more power that governments. Individuals can quickly share an injustice with the world. Technologies, like those I just mentioned, help individuals share those experiences. Coverups and conspiracies will be harder to keep from the public. Whistleblowers are finding safe heavens, and are better able to tell their stories to the world before they are vilified, tried, and silenced.  Electoral processes are starting to feel outdated and elected officials are being more scrutinized than ever before. Political boundaries are disappearing and the ability to convince a nation's people that another nation's people are evil is becoming harder and harder to do.  Leaders who hide their wealth and their ability to exploit their own country are being exposed. Some are scared by all of this, but I think it is the reason why there are far fewer wars and battles occurring now than every before in recorded history.


Team First Startup

Last night on twitter, I asked the question "What if you built a team first ( 5+ people in each role) and then an idea->solved problem->product->market opportunity?"

I asked this question after some long thoughts I've had about all the startups I've been involved in or watched closely from the outside.

Startups change, they shift focus, they move fast, iterate, evolve. The only thing I've ever seen make a company successful is how the team works together as these changes happen. I then look back at teams that worked, and then suddenly didn't work. I thought about companies I've watch completely fall apart early in the process or teams that didn't want to shift and thus became stale and failed to innovate. Teams that wanted to shift but key investors or board members didn't keep up with the changes in the market and thus stopped supporting the team. Teams traditionally come together because everyone believes in the vision of the company or they all love the product the founders created. Having everyone passionate about the problem being solved is critical but what happens when things change or evolve?

What happens when the market shifts, can the team shift? Note: the team includes all stakeholders, founders, employees, customers, suppliers, board members, advisors, and investors. Keeping everyone together as things change is probably the biggest reason I've seen companies fail.  What if the reason the team got together in the first place is the reason for this failure?  What if instead of coming together because they love the product/the initial idea, the team came together because they like solving problems together. This way, when the market changes, the team can better adapt.  Why? Because it wasn't the original idea or product that got everyone together in the first place. It was that the team loved working with each other.  In fact, it is these necessary changes that are the bond that hold the company together and keeps them all focused on the challenges ahead.

This is just a thought, but I think there is something here. A few caveats to this idea that I tried to add into the 140 character tweet last night.  Each team member needs to be really good at the skills needed to start a company in that field.  Which means the team will be bounded by their given field. For mobile consumer tech, you'd need a kick as designer/ux, an amazing mobile developer (or two for each platform), a back-end developer, a marketing person, a business development person, lawyer, accountant, maybe an investor, maybe a supplier (if a 2 sided marketplace). Each person will need to be the best in their skill set. All coming together because they like working with each other and want to solve hard problems with a long term/big picture outlook to building the company.

Maybe you can go further with this idea and start building a community of users who help shape which pain points need to be solved.  Everyone coming together before there is a product, before you start solving a problem, before there is even an idea on which problem you want to solve.

Just thinking out loud here.


Lessons Learned...

I originally posted this on our company blog but want to keep it around here. I tend to look back at my own old blog posts to keep lessons learned and in-the-moment thoughts fresh. I also like to compare how I've changed my mind on thoughts I've written in the past. 
I don't like having a startup or an experience end up being a lesson learned but this is clearly one of them.  It is the 1st time I've taken outside money and had to return funds to investors without a gain in their investment. Some of them are upset, some are understanding, and others are asking me what "we" are doing next. I wonder if there is a 20-60-20 rule for these things. The latter 20 are joining my tribe while the former 20 will try to make future effort of mine harder. It comes with the territory. This isn't easy, but it is the only thing I will ever do professionally. Anyways, here is the lesson from Chef Nightly...
--From the Chef Nightly Blog--
Today we have closed our doors. This is a sad day for us at Chef Nightly. There are plenty of reasons we could use to explain why, but in the end it comes down to a simple fact: In any marketplace, you either tap into a unique supply (in our case it was existing restaurant food) and do it years before a market really heats up, or you need to raise large amounts of capital, ignore unit economics, and hope for the best.  The food delivery space became a hot space in the very early phases of Chef Nightly and raising lots of money and hoping for the best, just doesn’t add up for us.  
When we look at the food market, or any marketplace, it takes a truly innovative product to break through. We focused on creating more transparency into the existing supply of restaurant food and simplifying the ordering process for users. That just wasn’t enough in a crowded marketplace. We now realize that it takes a much more innovative approach once a market heats up.  Many people have asked us to open our own kitchens and start making our own food, or for us to charge a subscription to lower the overall price for the most active users.  These strategies may open-up arbitrage opportunities in the short term but without a truly unique food product, even these strategies will require large amounts of capital to scale.  We are seeing others attempt this strategy. We hope them the best, but we are not convinced this is enough for us.
For direct to consumer food tech, we look at companies like Soylent and other plant-based innovations that are creating a truly innovative source of food. Check out Bill Gates’s notes on the future of food to learn more.  These companies are creating unique sources on their supply side. Tapping into a unique but existing resources that are underutilized and providing people access in a way they have never been able to before. They aren’t mainstream companies yet, but eventually this will become the hot market for food. The early players will likely be the winners. Eventually they will face competition from new entrants who raise lots of capital and ignore unit economics in the short-term. One or two of those may become successful, but that is all part of the cycle.   
We tried to gain a foothold to create an innovative company, but the foothold wasn’t enough.  Our users have always been amazing, the restaurant partners we have in Boston and in NYC are amazing at what they do, and we are forever grateful to the investors who have supported us through this entire journey. Individually, each one of us at Chef Nightly is set on creating a world changing company. This is the best group of people I’ve ever worked with.  
We create. It is what we love to do. …stay tuned. :)


The Growing Tribe

“I’d rather not hire this person. Lets continue working long hours for a few more months.” said a senior coworker early in my career.

It was years ago and early in my career.  I was 1 month into a new job and we were interviewing for more engineers to hire. We interviewed someone who was very strong but still had some weaknesses that would need to be overcome by the rest of the team.  We were well understaffed, working long hours, with tight deadlines, and I figured we would hire this person and relieve the workload.  I was wrong.  “I’d rather not hire this person. Lets continue working long hours for a few more months.” said a senior coworker. The team leaders agreed and we kept on interviewing.  

This was an important lesson in my career. After asking a few people about this decision, I learned that there was a bigger, longer term, reason to hire a new employee. It wasn’t about fulfilling a role or adding a resource. These employees just didn’t want to work with someone that wasn’t at the very top of their game. It was a mix of pride in the fact that only the best can work there.  It was also their internal need to want to learn from the people they work with. This was a real world lesson that "A players only hire A players" but I learned it from a different angle.  I saw that these people weren’t "hiring" at all.  They were building a tribe.

I’ve worked at a lot of places over the years and I see this tribe all over Boston.  There is a connection there.  The company was coincidentally called, ALPHATECH (acquired by BAE Systems). The tribe has lasted longer than the company has and they later became cofounders or early employees of RunKeeper, Kayak, Foodler, other early stage companies, led large teams at big companies, published books, became professors at top school, and have written research papers that won national awards.

I still work with many of them today. The best part is how the tribe slowly grows over time. The tribe is constantly adding new members but they don’t recruit. Almost the opposite. Others self select themselves to want to work with them. The tribe is a magnet for top talent. There is little to no tolerance for drama or games. Transparency is the norm and is expected. It isn’t even talked about. It just happens. When they are impressed with another person, there is an excitement. They keep in touch, they find excuses to work with each, they introduce them to others in the tribe.

For this tribe, team building isn’t done on a retreat, it is done on github, slack, and code reviews. Successes and failures form a bond. Weekends online at 2am in the morning, making huge progress on a code push while families sleep in the next room, are the tribe’s human latter.  Leaving a high paying job to jump to another tribe member’s startup is the tribe’s trust fall.

I’ve never talked about it with anyone until this post. This “tribe” might all just be in my head, and I might be the only one who sees it as a tribe. But I don’t think so. They are my tribe.


Focus on the important things. - My dad

I have always thought of my dad as the typical dad. Worked the same corporate job as a nuclear engineer for 30 years. Mowed the lawn on weekends. Watched the news on sundays. Read the paper in the morning.
He was very quiet. Didn't say much but you always knew where he stood with you and what his opinions were. Politically he was a Reagan Republican in the 80s but in today's standards would be seen as a social liberal.
My dad was based on ethics. Right is right, wrong is wrong. Financial outcomes aren't the goals of your career. Making a difference is.
I don't know what he would think of my career as an entrepreneur. My resume probably looks like a job hopper. Not someone a fortune 500 company would expect to climb the ranks for 20 years. But maybe he would have understood that times have changed. Or seen that in this economy, you can spend 15 years with different companies until you find the right thing to spend a career on.
He died in 2000 when I just turned 21. And since then I have never met anyone like him. What I thought was the "typical dad" turned out to be one of a kind.
I find myself turning into him more and more everyday. With kids myself now, I hear the things my 3 year old son says to me. "You click when you chew" he says and I am suddenly taken back to being a kid and hearing my dad making a clicking sound as he chews. I think i said the same thing to him. There are countless other examples.
On this father's day, I am trying to think of the most important lesson I learned from my dad. Something that has helped me in my career. Something he said that is so simple but powerful that it can be summarized in 140 characters. Hard to do but I'll try. "Focus on the important  things." That would have made for a great tweet but he never actually said those words to me. Instead, he lived those words everyday. An even better way to learn as a kid than reading a tweet.


Time To Build 2014

Last year I wrote a new years resolution poem for 2013 that applied to a lot of things in life but each line was specific to lessons I learned the previous year and my professional goals for the next. I’m really bad at poetry but I’m going to take a shot at doing it again for my 2014 new years resolution post.

Once questions of “what if” turn into answers of “that’s it”;

Once research turns into discovery;

Once "a few" turns into team and artillery;

Once it is time to do what we do;

To put in the work;

To focus on the problem;

To create delight with what we’ve learned;

To surround ourselves with those who know;

To build onto a team that syncs as they row;

To put in the hard work;

To focus is what makes us grow;