I’m posting this from a Delta flight from Columbus, Ohio on my way back home to Seattle. This trip home would mark the last journey in the month of October, capping an epic 40,000 mile trek around the globe. But October wouldn’t go down without a fight.
About 24 hours ago, I was in NY, being interviewed on Anderson Cooper’s talk show as the deadly Hurricane Sandy came barreling in to the East Coast. It was an eerie feeling on Sunday night when I came to town. The streets were deserted, the usual assault on the senses replaced with a deadness unfitting of Manhattan. As the night wore on, and as the city started shutting down its trains and buses, my interviewers were canceling one by one.
I had a hard time sleeping that Sunday night. Sandy was forecasted to make landfall on Monday, a day sooner than we had expected. I had dinner with my friend Tom and we talked about Hurricane Irene and how overblown most predictions of doom and destruction were. After 3 hours of sleep, I woke up at 1 AM and started scanning the news. Flights were being cancelled, people were fleeing the coasts. Mayhem was ensuing and it looked very real.
I was in NY to do one day’s round of press for LOLwork, the reality TV show based on I Can Has Cheezburger?. Between my wonderful wife Emily, our PR consultant, Bravo TV’s PR staff, Anderson Cooper’s producers, there were 6 people whose job was to coordinate where I showed up for what and when. But while I slept, the email exchanges between the team were taking on an air on serious concern. I was due back in Seattle on Tuesday morning for more interviews and talks. The whole week was jam packed and Hurricane Sandy was about to scramble all of it.
Monday at 8 AM, I was in the green room at Anderson Live, one of the few interviews that didn’t cancel, and the council of travel coordinators were trying to find a way to get me back home after the show.
Plan A was Newark. Closed.
Plan B, JFK. As soon as we booked it, it was closed. So was LaGuardia.
Plan C, was Allentown, PA, 2 hour’s drive away. I’m starting to sound a little desperate.
As I finished taping my segment, Allentown called it quits.
Plan D? Boston. Too optimistic.
At this point, most people have given up and stayed in NY. But I just wanted to go home. I didn’t want to blow up my entire week because of some storm. I was done traveling for now.
It was time for Plan E.
“I’ll drive to Pittsburgh today,” I told Kristen, the PR coordinator from Bravo who was assigned to guide me that day. Driving out on a one-way rental from Manhattan, Pittsburgh was 7 hours away without a giant fucking hurricane throwing debris on the roads. A 5:40 AM flight on Tuesday morning would take me into Seattle for a full-day’s work. It’ll be hard, but nothing I haven’t done before. Kristen’s face looked as if I was shouting Klingon at her.
A game of telephone ensued where I had to assure everyone at Bravo that it would be perfectly safe for me to drive my ass 400 miles away to Pittsburgh just to fly home on time. I neglected to tell them that I had only slept for 3 hours.
I also regretted not packing my GPS. But I figured, how bad could iOS 6 Maps be? And I had a back up Android phone anyway.
I made it to the Holland Tunnel at around noon. Driving through Manhattan felt like driving through Columbus, Ohio on a Sunday morning. I was in Jersey in no time.
Then the rain and winds picked up. And the rain and winds picked up everything.
Traffic cones. Road signs. Branches. Fans. Underwear. Windows. Tires. Dead deer parts. I’m pretty sure there was a kitchen sink in there somewhere. Between the dancing tractor trailers, 100-yard visibility and gusting winds, my hands were hurting from gripping the wheel too tight. I just wanted to go home. Pittsburgh was at least 6 more hours away.
Fuck it. I was going to own this. With my right hand checking the Doppler radar and my left hand navigating the rental car, I realized that this was going to be a battle for the ages. A giant red and stormy cell of rain was following me westward. Apparently, I shouldn’t try to be a meteorologist.
After a couple of hours, I got used to the white-knuckle conditions and even managed to squeeze in a couple of conference calls while driving. A little over a year ago, I basically closed the purchase of Know Your Meme driving through a hail storm in the middle of Indiana at night. This couldn’t be harder than that. Right?
It was hard to fight the fatigue, rain and wind, but at 7 PM, I managed to pull into the Pittsburgh airport without a scratch and went to my hotel room. The winds were howling and shaking the building, but 7 hours of hardship wasn’t so bad. I looked up the Doppler radar and saw this Eye of Sauron looking motherfucker. Wow.
After settling in for the night, I tried to check into my flight.
Plan E just got blown away.
At some point, you have to call it quits. I drove 408 miles from Manhattan across New Jersey and most of Pennsylvania only to find myself back at square one. I had even survived iOS’s suicidal navigation directions. I was a survivor.
And I was pissed. I understand that a super-sized hurricane that’s engulfing all of the Eastern Seaboard is an act of God. If I cancelled all my meetings for the week and called in stranded, everyone would understand.
Everyone but me.
I was moving on to Plan F. I called up the council of coordinators again. My next choices were Cleveland, Columbus, or Detroit. One way or another, I will be in the office Tuesday morning. Period. We figured out a plan and I took a 2 hour nap, letting them book the logistics.
Just 5 hours after checking in, at 12:15 AM Tuesday, I walked out of my hotel and to the Hertz counter, only to find that they had gone home early, abandoning my reservation and stranding me at the airport. Plan F was off to a fucked up start.
I called up my wife and I wondered if this was meant to be. Was I just supposed to be stranded? Was this fate? Was this the invisible hand of God? Was Hurricane Sandy trying to tell me something?
But there was one rental car company open. There was always a way. Always. But I had to ask myself, was this a good idea? Was it worth it?
Most sane people would say no. Just cancel the meetings and stay. I could hang out with one of our employees who lived in Pittsburgh. It looks like a nice town.
But Pittsburgh ain’t home.
I left Pittsburgh International at 1:45 AM in a VW Jetta and headed 175 miles West towards Columbus, Ohio.
I passed through the clump of rain clouds that had followed me from New Jersey. Then winds slowed, and the rain got lighter. But just to make life more interesting, as I got within an hour of Columbus at 3 AM, the rain turned to snow. At that moment I wished I had slept more than 5 hours in the last 2 days. I wished I had brought something heavier than a sport coat. I wished I was home. Hurricane Sandy was throwing every trick in the book at me.
I pulled into the Columbus airport at 4 AM. Grabbed myself a version of the road warrior’s Thanksgiving and let my body relax.
I don’t know if there is a lesson in this story. I don’t even know why I tried so damn hard. I’m so tired that I can even barely type this story and I’m sure it’s full of typos. But I wanted to remember this, perhaps to regret it. Maybe it’s a lesson about the stubbornness of entrepreneurs. Maybe it’s about the determination of travelers who want to go home. Maybe it’s that if you drive 408 miles, another 175 doesn’t seem so far. Maybe I’m just loopy from lack of sleep.
I’m saddened to hear about those who lost their lives and homes to Hurricane Sandy. But right now, as I am flying home, I can tell you that I feel like I fought Hurricane Sandy. And won – or got incredibly lucky. And every once in a while, you just need to know you can win at something, or appreciate that you’re just lucky.
Being on the plane while it is being loaded is not the same as being on the way. As I posted this, Sandy brought in one final surprise in the form of a blizzard. So we had to deice the place twice, causing almost an hour delay. But I did make my connection, if just barely.
Lesson learned: you ain’t home until you are home.
And Sandy, fuck you and the tropical depression you rode in on.
On Friday, May 18th, just after sunrise, I stood at the edge of a 150 foot tall natural rock arch in the Moab desert looking over the side, ready to jump. There were an infinite number of reasons why this was a bad idea.
Just how did I get here?
In February, a viral video of the insane jump off Corona Arch was making the rounds. It had accumulated more than 10 million views. So that same month, when Francisco Dao, organizer of the 50 Kings conference asked me if I would do the jump. I didn’t hesitate at all. It looked exciting and fun.
Fast forward to last Friday, I hesitated the morning of the jump trying to pick out what I would wear. I unknowingly brought a FAIL Blog t-shirt. If I wore it, would I be tempting fate? Would it be funny? Would it scare everyone else doing the jump? What if I really did die wearing our own branded shirt?
Friday morning at 5:45 am, the guide showed up to pick up 12 brave souls at our lodge in Moab, Utah. Out of 27 conference attendees, 12 signed up. But there were only 11 waiting in the dark before sunrise. Just one person, Paul Carr of PandoDaily, was missing. He had talked himself out of it after listening to the guide at the rappelling excursion the previous day with Sarah Lacy, his boss.
“Our guide said it was crazy,” Sarah told me, looking directly into my eyes like a negotiator trying to convince a jumper off the Golden Gate bridge. “You can’t use the rope more then four times because of the force. Do you know how few people have done this? You guys are nuts.
"He said people have died doing this.”
It turned out Sarah was correct. The person who invented the jump had died doing it – albeit at a different arch. Sure, but people also die from vending machines that fall on them.
“Sarah, it’ll be totally fine,” I said. “No one is going to die.”
THE CORONA ELEVEN
The eleven maybe-jumpers started the mile-long hike to the arch with helmets, water and gear in tow. We arrived at Corona Arch just before the sun cleared the tops of the nearby cliffs.
The arch was beautiful. Standing atop a 300 foot cliff, it’s huge mass dominated the stark, dusty landscape like some colossus warning mortals not to go beyond its tall gates. Its southern arm towered out of the ground like a solar flare. It’s powerful trunk arced northward over the sky and touched the top of another cliff. From under the arch, its cracks looked like bolts of lightening. From the top of the arch, it was a total of 450 feet to the canyon floor.
The plan was that I would jump from the north west side of the arch. I would free fall down the side of it for a bit, letting gravity speed me mercilessly towards terminal velocity. Then the green and purple climbing ropes anchored to 5 bolts atop the arch, would kick in, accelerating me even faster laterally through the arch in excess of 60 mph. At this point the 120 foot rope that was anchored to my waist would stretch an additional 10 feet, with my hiking shoes skimming 17 feet off the solid rock floor.
Once I swung through to the other side, the momentum would extend me over the canyon, all 450 feet of it, achieving zero gravity for a moment. There, I should be almost parallel to the original jump spot. I would then swing back and forth like a pendulum for several minutes before being lowered to the ground.
Our guides asked us if any of us were “top heavy”. None of us knew the answer. They said we needed to wear a different type of harness for those people who were likely to go upside-down.
“Matt, how many times have you done this?” Someone in our group asked our guide.
“A few.” Came back the reply, with a smile.
“Can you clarify exactly how many jumps you mean by ‘a few’?” Someone shot back.
“A few.” Matt answered again.
The smile was a little bit more serious this time. (We later found out that he had likely jumped twice.)
Then my friend Gerry Campbell pointed at the rope hanging off the arch.
“Matt, isn’t that rock edge rubbing against the rope?” He asked.
The redundant ropes were bolted to the top of the arch and threaded through a garden hose where the ropes rubbed against the rock at the top to delay the affects of abrasion. But under the arch, where the rock angles back 90 degrees against the ropes, there was no hose. As the ropes swung back under the arch, the edge would rub against the ropes. It was an astute observation by Gerry.
Matt assured us that it was fine. The abrasion wasn’t significant.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. I figure I would break the tension.
“Hey everyone,” I addressed the group as I pulled out the camera. “it’s time for your last will and testaments.”
Gallows humor at its finest. Then someone noticed my FAIL Blog shirt.
“Did you wear that on purpose?”
ALL YOU CAN JUMP
Francisco had “rented” the arch until 2 pm. He had to get multiple permits from the government agencies who had jurisdiction over the arch. “You can jump as many times as you want,” Francisco told us at the lodge.
Standing under that giant arch, we questioned if there would be any jumps at all.
“Who wants to go first?” Matt asked.
I’m not sure if the question had caught the group off-guard, but there was silence yet again.
If I was going at all, I wanted to be first. Was it for glory? Yup. Was it for vanity, bravado, bravery? Yup, yup, and yup. I felt very little fear at the base. I was confident that once I was up there, no matter what fear and emotion I felt, it would not be difficult to overcome it. It wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be hard.
“I’ll go first,” I said without a flicker of hesitation in my voice. Confident and certain to the outside, my brain started to scream as soon as those words left my lips. My brain screamed ‘FUCK’ as loud as it possibly could.
The group split into two. I would jump first, followed by Char Genevier, Aziz Gilani, then three more brave souls. Five people remained on the base of the arch to film.
The journey to the top of the arch was surprisingly steep. Going past under the arch, the trail came to an abrupt stop. To my front was a cliff to a rocky bottom, to my right, another cliff face led to an abandoned railroad track. To my left, was a steep, smooth rock face with climbing ropes attached. To my back, certain safety.
We climbed for about 15 minutes. Learning to use our carabiners and finding footholds worn out by repellers. As we went higher, the winds got stronger.
After the hard climb, I figured it would be easier to jump off the arch to return to the base rather than climb back down.
I kept on rubbing my eyes, trying to get sand out of them. The gusts of wind would mount an assault, only to retreat to perfect calm seconds later. Seated at the peak of the arch, I took in the view and just how far you could see from up there.
The guides fretted about the strong wind.
“If the wind is too strong, you can’t jump because it will push you into the wall of the arch,” Matt said as he walked calmly across the top of the arch, often disconnected from the safety line. I sat there with Char and Aziz, not wanting to get anywhere near the edge while watching the guides with eagle eyes.
I didn’t know what I was looking for and I had no idea what was being done. But it made be feel better knowing that the guides were working hard and being diligent.
The bravery and bravado I felt down at the base was swept away in an instant. The jump became hyper real all of a sudden. I started having second thoughts.
THIS HAS TO BE ILLEGAL
“You ready?” Matt asked.
‘FUCK NO’ said every cell in my body as I stood at the jump spot. I was no longer connected to the safety line. I was now only tethered to the arch by the green and purple ropes.
Then a sheriff appeared way down on the base. Would this be my reprieve? Maybe he would shut us down. I would step away from the precipice with my ego and life intact. I would have gone closer than anyone else only to have the heavy hand of the law squash our adventure and my bravery.
“What’s the sheriff doing here?” Asked Matt to another guide. “Whatever it is, we’re fine. We have all the permits,” he shrugged.
The sheriff pulled out his camera. Like the small gathering of tourists who came to see the arch and found something more interesting, he became another spectator.
I still had the green light.
MY LIZARD BRAIN
The amygdala is the part of the human brain that controls emotion – such as fear. Normally, the voices that come from the amygdala are like the hum of a car engine: present, expected, but rarely overpowering.
But at the ledge of the arch, staring at the people down below who were no larger than a couple of real-life pixels, the amygdala cranks up its volume to 11. Like a roar of a jet engine, it is hard to do anything but listen to the instinct of self preservation.
At the ledge, I could feel everything. It felt as if the ropes were pulling me overboard, like a Biblical snake wrapping its tail around Eve to commit the Original Sin. If I wasn’t going to voluntarily jump, it would just pull me into its grasp, tumbling me down the rocks.
It took every available brain cell to not walk back. I had never felt fear like this before. You see, I didn’t have to do this. No one would think less of me if I backed out. The logical brain agreed with the emotional brain. There was absolutely no reason why this had to be done.
I decided to take a deep breath and was surprised to find sand in my mouth. The momentary distraction of grit brought a small glimmer of perspective:
First, I had to tell my emotional brain that it was perfectly safe to stand there.
Second, as my legs turned to jello, I realized I didn’t know why I was up here. I didn’t know why I was doing this. I had no actual reasons that brought me here. I was just here because the option to jump existed. Jumping was not about proving anything to anyone. It was not about checking a box off a bucket list.
It was about doing the jump. It was about overcoming fear.
Third, clear my mind and quiet the…
I was interrupted by a countdown. The small group of my friends at the top of the arch started counting down from three and I wasn’t ready to go. I came all the way up here to realize this was about being fearful. I wasn’t going to let anyone else dictate the terms of my victory.
“I don’t want to count,” I said. “Let me just think.”
I had never felt indescribable fear like this before, and I knew I had to drown it out. I focused on the action I had to take. The form. The process. The act. It wasn’t even a battle between the logical brain versus the emotional brain. I side stepped the fever pitch battle in my brain and went to another place. It was quiet there.
‘Fuck you, fear. I got this. This is for me, myself, and I, and every time you scared me for no good fucking reason.’
Then I stepped off the edge.
The fear instantly vanished, but something felt wrong. I didn’t take one clean step. I took three little ones.
At that moment, I knew three things:
Adrenaline is one helluva drug.
The rocks to my left were formed by sand over millions of years.
I was too close to those rocks.
Adrenaline has the miraculous power to increase the number of things you can observe in a split second. And I observed a lot.
The sandstone, hardened into massive rocks by pressures greater than I could imagine, was so close that I could touch it if I extended my left arm. But that would be a very bad idea, I told myself. After all, I was free falling and I was actually trying to avoid slamming into them. Shit. This was not what I was expecting.
On top of it, I was free falling for a lot longer than expected. Fuck.
To make it worse, I saw my right hand approaching the ropes. I told it to stop. The stupid hand was ignoring my command. Instinct was overriding logic. ‘Shit, I’m going to get hurt’ I thought to myself. ‘Stupid hand. It’s your damn fault.’
But before I could try to wrestle back control of my hand, I felt an excruciating pain in my back and my vision was filled with a bright, circular light. The pain was so powerful that I became disoriented. For a split second, I wondered where I was. My head felt heavy, as if was going to pull away from my body.
But as quickly as I felt the sensation of heaviness, it went away. I saw my feet, and I realized that the sun was under me. I was upside-down.
Apparently, I was top heavy.
I had enough of my act together by the end of the first swing that I was able to form a cross just as zero gravity hit. As I swung back up, I figure out what I could say within earshot of everyone who was waiting on the top of the arch to jump.
“That hurt a little.”
I grinned, knowing they could hear me. I wish I could see their face.
My helmet cam captures the chaos(Skip to 4:30 to get to the jump)
I was lowered down and greeted by the second group. They were happy to see me, but there was a new emotion in their eyes: terror. After witnessing the jumps firsthand, everyone but Gerry in the second group backed out. Apparently seeing me free fall 50 feet and get yanked across the sky upside down didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
I could also hear the guide at the bottom of the arch yelling up to Matt: “He was upside down!” She said, sounding concerned. (Eventually, that same guide would make it to the ledge of the arch but back out.)
I then learned that I was the first ever “commercial jumper” – in other words I was the first person to turn this into a paid excursion. I felt a tinge of pride and then wondered if I was stupid, lucky, or brave. But at least I did it. And I certainly never had to do it again.
A group of amazed tourists who saw the jump noticed my FAIL Blog shirt and asked if I worked for the site. We shared a good laugh about tempting fate.
Char would jump. Then Aziz. The three of us were beta testers and were given three very different instructions. And all of us would get snapped pretty badly by the rope due to the long distance of our free fall.
I was done. It was over.
But there was this growing voice in my head. Even though I was in pain, I wanted a clean jump – not an upside down janky mess of a free fall. Besides, the second time should be a piece of cake.
(Skip to 3:20 to see Aziz free fall like a rag doll)
TEARS FOR FEARS
After a couple of hours and letting everyone else jump (or back out) I practically ran up to the top of the arch. I waited at the top and watched Alex Karelin jump. I was next.
Then I noticed something during Alex’s jump. The rope looked different. Right where the unprotected rope met the bottom side of the arch, it was white instead of green or purple. I told the guides what I saw.
They checked the rope and found that the rocks had torn and frayed the outermost protective barrier. It took another 30 minutes to replace the rope.
As I waited, I realized that I was about to jump on a untested rope.
Was the length right? Did they reconnect it correctly? Was it snagged anywhere? Questions raced through my head.
At the first jump, as my emotional brain raged, the logical side helped turn the tide. This time around, as the questions mounted, now both sides were in full revolt.
When I was finally hooked to the new lines, it was clear that the rope were too short. I was fighting against being pulled off the ledge. It took another round of corrections, and another round of soothing the voices to make it to the ledge.
The beta wasn’t over yet. Fuck. It was no less scary this time around. I was wrong again. Experience provides confidence, but it won’t wipe away the fear. That’s a skill you have to earn.
Fighting all the alarm bells, I took one solid step with my right foot and pushed off the arch in one clean motion.
This one felt perfect.
Thank you to my fellow adventurers at the arch:
And birthday boy, Roger Lee
And thank you Francisco Dao for being the ringleader.
Brad Feld is a managing director at the Foundry Group, one of the venture firms that invested in Cheezburger. If you are a person in the startup world, you already know him as a venture capital rock star thanks to his track record and his openness.
I just spent a day in Boulder, presenting to our investor’s investors, and I wanted to memorialize my interactions with Brad here as honestly as I can. And if you have the good luck of getting a term sheet from Foundry and/or Brad, this should help you understand what it’s like.
I’ve been fortunate to have him on our board and he’s helped us even before we took funding. In start-up lingo, he’s my number one value add, even on a board studded with greatly helpful and wickedly smart people.
The funny thing is, I would describe my interactions with Brad as slightly weird. Yup. Weird. Not in the creepy WTF? kind of way, but good, like whoa-I’m-being-transported-to-another-planet kinda way.
Working with Brad is like working with a combination of the three Ghosts of Christmas from A Christmas Carol, Warren Buffet (with more hair), and Yoda (with more hair). And those are traits that I want to emulate as I advise others.
He’s unlike any VC I’ve ever met.
Brad The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future:
One of the first things you realize when you start working with Brad is that he won’t just tell you to do something. He’ll show it to you.
In many a conversations with Brad, I found myself floating outside of my company, looking at it from angles that I couldn’t see before. It’s sometimes unnerving as it feels like he’s testing you. Asking you questions where he clearly knows the answers. But that’s not what he’s doing.
The right answer is the one the works for your company and the situation. Brad’s job is to make sure you’re seeing the world correctly, and therefore see your company correctly in the context of the situation. Only you can live your life. The only thing the ghosts can do, is give you context.
Brad The Warren Buffet
In 2008, I was able to attend the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha to listen to Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. In an arena filled with shareholders and the powerful, Buffett sat on stage eating his candy and drinking his coke, dispensing plainly worded advice.
He was an unassuming man, living an extraordinary life, through a few uncomplicated principles.
Brad produces a lot more passion and off-color jokes, but I can see that he lives an uncomplicated life, doing what he loves, and trying to keep things simple and true. He works from a deep well of patterns and rules that he’s learned over the years, much like Buffett, and has the discipline to rarely, if at all, break them.
And in our financing, he has been very fair in the terms he’s given to us – a pattern you see a lot with Buffett.
Brad The Yoda
Brad believes in people. Not all of humanity, per se, but in you, the entrepreneur. He picks people and invests in themes. If you are the right person in the right theme, that’s pretty much the entire discussion.
I’ve seen this over and over again from many founders he’s worked with – several of them have never made money for Brad, yet it seems, he keeps investing in the people.
The Yoda side has some drawbacks. It may seem like he’s not around you much. He’s by no means cryptic in his words – if anything, he’s a velvet hammer. But you, as the entrepreneur, need to maximize your time with him. It’s not his fault if you’re not asking for help – you know your business the best.
I probably spent no more than 90 minutes talking to Brad while I was in Boulder for a day, but even in those few minutes, I was reminded that he was genuinely interested in my success, completely knew where our business stood, and took time to make sure I was welcome in Boulder. Oh, and I learned some really powerful things.
Now, I’m not out of touch with reality. Having presented to the investors of our investors before, I know that this is business. Brad needs to show superior returns to his investors to justify the existence of Foundry Group. Foundry and others invested in Cheezburger because they believe we have a chance at becoming very valuable.
I also have the advantage of being perfectly aligned in my goals with Brad’s – to create a great company, not just a good one.
So the next time you see Brad, don’t keep pitching, get to know him a little. Maybe this will help.
In the past, comedians didn’t get to own their work. They had to water down their words, their voice, their talents to satisfy an endless stream of constituents other than the viewer.
Why? Because you have to listen to who pays you if you want to get paid.
But now, as comedians and other acts find themselves being able to create a product directly for the consumer, there is no other customer than you. While that seems like an incredibly liberating proposition (and they clearly say it is), it’s going to raise the bar.
The old media infrastructure isn’t parasitic. I know it’s easy to think of them that way, but they did provide true, real, tangible value: marketing, distribution, advertising, logistics, etc., etc. The list goes on and on and on. Comedians liked this because it gave them access to markets and customers and channels it didn’t have before. It helped.
But now, the world has changed. The problem is that the value these old models provided just aren’t worth it. In other words, “It’s not you. It’s me.”
Since those support mechanisms are going away, that means comedians are going to have to raise the bar to overcome the competition. Because no matter how much we think the new model is superior to the old, the old model still has a lot of power.
Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari, and those who will come after, will not only have to figure out how to do all the things, but they will have to compete with the old machine. Now only that, as vanguards of things to come, they risk the ire of the old guard.
They will have to make up for the lost support by being funnier, leveraging new marketing channels, learning about how to best make use of technology, or all of the above.
So when you buy their shows, think about how pioneering and scary this must be for them. And think about how amazingly multi-talented these guys are. I am.
I’ve been learning more and more about how venture capitalists and investors operate in the past year or so (after raising our first venture round). They are an interesting bunch of animals.
One of the most interesting traits I’ve seen is their ability to look into the future. Basically, the best VCs I’ve met are a) good human beings, and b) can see into the fabric of tomorrow.
Now, none of them will tell you that they can actually predict the future – and I am not saying that either. But all of them are keen on seeing what’s happening today and having a broad, general idea about how it’ll impact the world in 5-10 years.
In the 1990s, the mobile phone industry exploded into the scene. They demanded ever smaller components, ever lighter, and ever power thrifty. Merge this with low cost manufacturing of electronics from Asia… Bam! It drove down the size and price of small devices practically overnight.
At the same time, wireless communication in the early 2000’s benefited from this outsourcing movement, and while most of us saw Wi-Fi and bluetooth as a way to get ourselves onto the Internet, other smart people started using this connectivity to connect machines to machines that didn’t provide a Web interface to humans.
But, combining just these two factors (cheap low-power component manufacturing, cheap device-driven Internet access) wasn’t quite enough for the quantified self movement to blossom.
In the late 2000’s, we saw another advancement: the cost of sensors declined and became smaller as they became added to phones and other mobile devices.
That means now, a company of 5 people in the US could design (and have someone in China manufacture) a small, low-cost, low-power, sensor that could connect to the Internet.
And then companies like Fitbit were born, changing the landscape of what we know about ourselves.
(I keep using the word “cheap” because it’s very important when it comes to turning tech into a business. It was possible for people to design a Fitbit 10 years ago, but it would have prohibitively expensive, and hard to use, virtually killing adoption. Cheapness is a virtue, and that’s for another post.)
These three factors…
1. Outsourced component manufacturing
2. Consumer-grade, always-on, wireless devices connectivity
3. Low-cost, low-power, sensors
Will continue to drive huge amount of innovation in the next 10 years.
If you want to play armchair VC, start thinking about how these 3 factors will impact us 5. 10 years from now as costs keep dropping, speeds keep increasing, and power consumption becomes more efficient.
What new places will we see these devices? (New markets) What happens to people’s behavior? (Consumption and cultural change) What happens if devices are so cheap and small, they become deposable? (Environmental impact, and upgrade patterns) What happens when we have too much data from too many devices? (Aggregation, standards, analytics)
In fact, looking at the past 10 years, we can even predict how fast, and how little power future devices will consume. Moore’s Law and others like it can literally tell you how much you should be paying for electronic components 10 years from now.
I often see very puzzling behavior from some entrepreneurs when it comes to dealing with the press and media.
Either they are desperate for it and would kill to get a press write up, or they vilify the press and hate them for whatever happened.
As far as I am concerned, there are two ways to behave towards the press:
1) Treat them with respect and make sure you are open, real, and fair.
2) Shut up and let them know you’re not ready to talk about it.
Maybe having been to journalism school helps me see this from both sides, but journalists and bloggers are people. The are not gotcha artists, they are not out to get you and dig up dirt (the reputable ones, anyway), and they have a job that you can either make easy or difficult.
They are also not an ATM. If you only approach reporters when you need something from them, it’s not going to work well.
There are some exceptions to this, as there are plenty of publications who live on sensationalism and pageviews, but for the vast majority, journalists are honest people, in a hurry, overworked and under-resourced, looking to do good and tell interesting stories because they are passionate about it.
They’re also great bullshit detectors.
So the next time you come across a journalist working on a story, be real. Don’t lie. Be helpful. Not because you want something from them, but because you realize they do amazing public good.
When you do this, you’ll be surprised that they take an interest in you or your work.
I’ve been telling startups to ignore the mainstream for a long time. Often, I see too many start ups try to tackle the middle without ever understanding the weirdos. The weirdos are where the future is at.
I’m going to paraphrase the “diffusion of innovations” theory by Everett Rogers. In a normal distribution, a standard deviation of 3+ will yield just 0.1%. These are your experimenters, those who will try anything once. A SD of 2+ is 2.2%. These are your innovators. A SD of 1+ is 15.8% are the early adopters. The vast, vast majority of companies will never get here. These three groups are the weirdos.
Startups are not trying to replicate the successes of existing industries. Startups are trying to invent something new, create value by destroying inefficiencies, create new industries, etc. In the world of startups, you don’t get to the destination by focusing on the destination. (That’s another blog post.)
You get there by focusing on your strengths and focusing on what you believe in. You sell that idea to the weirdos who believe in it when others won’t. Because in the world of disruptions, the destination doesn’t really exist – you’re going to have to make one as you get there and that means you’ll need believers.
And when I say “weirdos”, it doesn’t mean literally the people who walk around the streets who talk to themselves. I’m talking about those who believe passionately in the world you want to build for them.
I believe in a world where we, your friends and peers, are the funniest part of your day. A world where everyone has the ability, the tools, and the place to express their sense of humor. For a long time, and still to this day, Cheezburger has been called “weird” or “strange” or a host of other semi-negative terms. And I wear it with pride, because I know that the future is where today’s weird will become the norm.
One of the most common questions I get is “what do you read?”. Over the last few years, I have moved from business books as my primary diet to fiction.
Fiction provides more context, perspective, and ideas for my work and life. It’s an unfettered view into what the world could be, not a partial, fashionable view of what the world was.
Besides, fiction is more entertaining.
If you want to read three books to help you understand technology and business, I recommend:
1+2) Daemon, and Freedom™ by Daniel Suarez
3) Avogadro Corp. by William Hertling
I had an opportunity to talk to a bunch of really brilliant, overachieving high school students last year and they asked me what advice I would give them for the summer break. I told them to “read more fiction.” They all voted to spend more time on Khan Academy. Oh well.