Happy 100th Birthday Grandma

By Uncategorized
Ann Bea Maloy at her 90th birthday party. I love this picture because she was so pleased with having a tiara for the day. Seeing her joy and energy at 90 makes me smile & laugh every time I see this photo.

Today, 4/17/2020 my Grandma (my dad’s mother) would have turned 100. I grew up half a mile from her and my grandfather in the house that they bought in 1948, and owned until she passed away. She was a big part of my life growing up. During high school I spent nearly every Sunday afternoon over there talking with her and Granddad. We had chipped ham sandwiches (it’s a Pittsburgh thing) and “Grandma’s Iced Tea.”

Her iced tea was famous—it is the sweetest sweet tea you’ve ever had. I’ll make you some when you come to Colorado. She had to make gallons of it for every family gathering because we all loved it so much. 

She was an amazing woman that showed love, kindness and understanding to all of her children and grandchildren. Some highlights about Ann Bea Maloy include: 

  • Earned her bachelor’s degree from Pitt when few women went to college
  • Her best friend was Jewish (this was unheard of, on both sides, for her generation) 
  • A savvy investor who understood the time value of money
  • A lead foot driver who used her white hair as a tactic to merge at the very front of the traffic
  • Doted on her grandchildren through her whole life 
  • Loved big gaudy jewelry
  • Always said, “we Irish need to stick together”
  • An independent woman, growing old was hard for her because everyone always wanted to do things for her!
  • And she was truly the matriarch of the Maloy family 

To celebrate her life, we got together today for a family Zoom call and did an iced tea toast. My uncle put picture of her at 20 years old in the frame of his computer. 

Iced Tea Toast 4/17/2020

Happy birthday Grandma. Thank you for all you did for us, for all you gave to us, and for always being there for us. I love you.

Letting the Air out of the Bull Run Bus

By Universe

Coronavirus is everywhere. Well, if you listened to the news you’d think that it was everywhere: in every home, on every corner, in every convention center, and on every flight. In truth, it’s still spreading, slowly, but spreading indeed. At the time of writing this, it is not an epidemic in the country. But you think it was based on the reaction of the general populous. The reaction to COVID-19 is spreading like… like a virus, only worse: a virus that can transmit from one person to one million in a single tweet.

Conference Cancellations

The first chip to fall in what could be the economic downturn of 2020 was Mobile World Congress. Driven by fears of contagion, a couple of big organizations pulled out. And then the rest of the world pulled out. So the organizers canceled it.

Next up, the corporate conferences started cancelling. Facebook. Adobe. Google. Microsoft. IBM. More. And then Expo West Natural Foods had major players pull out, followed by the entire conference cancelling. Then HIMSS.

Corporations are restricting travel. Mayors are declaring pre-emptive emergencies. (Does that defeat the purpose of declaring a state of emergency?)

And the 400,000 people that go to SXSW are holding their breath as they watch the mayor of Austin, the Austin City Council and SXSW organizers dance around the word “cancel” like it was forbidden fire. No one wants to be the one to cancel the event that brings $350+MM into the city each year.

Update 3/6 – they stopped dancing and the city cancelled SXSW.

All of this has me thinking about the economic impact to the country and the world.

Corporate Actions

First let’s unpack the corporate actions. Restricting travel and cancelling your own conference (that is purely a cost center) is a very rational thing for a company to do—not because of the health and safety concerns but because of the fiscal responsibility. The coronavirus provides the perfect scapegoat for saving a significant sum of money. Cutting your developer / marketer / influencer conference and saving $1-10MM in hard event costs “out of an abundance of caution” is a perfect excuse. Same with cutting down all but essential travel. This is a once-a-decade opportunity for big businesses to scale back costs without hurting employee morale, and you damn well better believe they’re going to take it.

With or without a SXSW, F8, MWC, Dreamforce or whatever your conference of choice is, corporations scaling back travel wil have ripple effects throughout the country. Those ripples alone are probably not enough to let the air out of the tires on the Bull Run Bus. Couple that cutback with media-fueled fears of large groups of people, and add in a solid dose of big businesses getting more restrictive with spending—done out of caution in case of an economic downturn—and we’ve got the making for an economic downturn.

The industries that are most exposed right now are anything reliant on travel, groups, or personal interaction. And then closely followed by consumer products, and its sister industry: advertising. But more important is the understanding that all industries are subject to belt tightening, and thus the most at-risk startups are those not mindful of their cash.

Drilling Down

My friend Eric Marcouliier on his website, ObviousStartupAdvice.com says that the CEO has only 3 jobs: 1) sell the vision, 2) hire the best people, and 3) never run out of money. Right now, #3 is all that matters.

As the cases of the coronavirus spread and grow, the fear factor will only get worse. As I write this, my mom is going through chemo and has a compromised immune system. I worry about her, though I know she and my dad are taking precautions. I live 2000 miles away (CO to Pgh) but if I lived closer, I would be very careful about going over to see her. And I sure as heck wouldn’t go see her after coming home from SXSW (and yes I’m still going to SXSW) . And if I lived with her, I wouldn’t go to SXSW at all. I’m not worried about me getting coronavirus—if I get it, I’ll fight it off and recover because our bodies are built to fight viruses. She might not. How many people are having the same thoughts?

Let’s play this out on a larger scale. Corporations cut travel. Conferences are cancelled. General public cuts exposure to large groups of people. The country turns inward, online, and closes its doors. For every 1 person that gets sick, another 10,000 are paralyzed by fear. Schools are shutting down—preemptively or reactively. With children at home instead of at school many parents will be unable to go to work, which puts financial burdens on the lower and middle classes. Many of those people do not have the financial resources to withstand missing work. Household spending begins to dry up. The economic ripples begin turning into waves.

Travel industries and tourist locales are going to get hit hard this year. Retail is going to take it on the chin, again. Events–whether sports, concerts or conferences–will suffer. As these ripples out into the economy more people will become unemployed. Families will spend less, resulting in lower consumer spending, and that is a massive driver of our economy right now. When consumer spending falls, so falls the economy.

It doesn’t help that supply chains are getting disrupted right now—and I mean “disrupted” in the classic “breaking” sense not the startup “innovation” sense. With less stuff to buy and fewer bucks to buy it with, the secondary effects kick in: less advertising. Lower marketing budgets. Less dollars to go around in that industry. (Poor AdTech, can’t win in a bull market, going to get slaughtered in a bear market.)

Side bar: I can imagine an alternative scenario for adtech where everyone stays home and digital ads and digital video ads take off. This is with the added disclosure that I’m an investor in an awesome video ad tech startup, Brandzooka.

I digress.

Bull Run Bus

My belief is that the underlying business fundamentals of most businesses are strong. That is, the Bull Run Bus has been based on solid fundamentals and not the “eyeballs” of the late 90s. And as far as I know, there’s no financial manipulation happening by Wall Street as with the 2008 crash. Even better, the public market is not buying the “cult of the CEO” shit (WeWork, Uber) any more. My hope is that there is truly no funny business being done by bankers (whether of the fed or goldman variety) that has created unnecessary risk exposure beneath the surface.

The reason we’ve experienced an unprecedented bull run is because we continue to unlock human potential by replacing humans. When Edwin Hubble proved that other galaxies existed and the universe was unimaginably massive, he did so by sending the data of his observations to humans (mostly women) who computed the results using pencil, paper and slide rule. Human computers. (h/t to Answers with Joe) We now have all that computing power in our pockets, and more. That is unlocking human potential by replacing humans. That cycle is accelerating. For this reason, I’m a long term bull.

But even with solid fundamentals, as consumer spending dips, as consumer sentiment is driven by fear, and all these little ripples sync up turning into waves. Add in businesses curbing spending—starting with travel budgets being cut—and the economy will take a hit.

Advice for Startups

Startups, now is the time to take a hard look at your cash flows. The venture capital model is predicated on a company continually raising more capital at higher valuations in every subsequent round. The underlying message is: growth at all costs. That is certainly one strategy. Another strategy, and more fitting in down cycles, is to keep the lights on at all costs.

What will it take to stretch your runway between rounds from 12 months to 18 months? From 18 to 24? What do you do if your revenue is cut in half? What happens if you can’t raise at the next higher valuation? Who is prepared to take salary cuts? What projects need to be cut? How will you handle all of this as a leader? Now is the time to buckle down, figure this out, draft a plan, and be prepared to move quickly, nimbly.

It’s been fun, bull run. I’m a long-term bull, but I’m ready to ride the bear this year.

Turkey Hat

As Nassim Taleb said, “you can’t make a prediction without being a turkey somewhere.” We’ll see where I end up being a turkey…

Losers
Consumer goods
Physical retail
Travel
Events
Marketing and advertising

Winners
Remote work enablement
Ecommerce
Esports
Streaming services

Could go either way
Supply chain
Logistics
On-demand economy
Digital advertising

Originally written Tuesday March 3, 2020. Updated Friday March 6, 2020.

The Night Before S8E6

By Universe

Here’s my prediction. I thought I’d share with you my awesome theory. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen up to S8E5. And don’t read if you don’t want this theory rolling around in your head in advance of the show tomorrow (or today as it’s already late here). First, it’s worth saying that I’m really enjoying Season 8. Despite the hate on the internet—and granted, it’s the internet and so there’s always going to be hate—I think the writers, producers and directors have done a phenomenal job with this season.

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This One Thing in The Last Jedi Really Ruined It For Me

By Universe

I just saw Solo. I want a sequel.  But what I really want is rant about The Last Jedi right now.

There’s a saying I heard somewhere about that the only thing Star Wars fans hate more than Star Wars’ critics is Star Wars itself. Might be true for me as I reflect on The Last Jedi.

The more distance I get from The Last Jedi the more I am pissed off about the resolution of the Finn/Rose/Poe conspiracy. To be fair to the movie, I really enjoyed the Rey/Kylo/Luke story arc. But the more distance I get from The Last Jedi, the more this one thing really grinds my gears.

Let’s summarize:

  • Poe asks for information from his commanding officer
  • She deems it unwise to share with him, given his reckless behavior
  • Pissed off by the slight, he proves his recklessness by defying orders in two huge ways:
  1. He sends two people, a mechanic and an ex-Stormtrooper, on a crazy one-in-a-million-shot mission
  2. He mutinies and captures his commanding officers

Let’s pause here

The one-in-a-million mission was a failure. That’s fine. It’s actually pretty good and it’s nice to have some realism (for lack of a better word) play out, as opposed to a non-stop barrage of one-in-a-million things panning out all in the same movie.

I don’t have a problem with the mission itself. Even the entire casino planet being a pointless diversion except to maybe play out a freedom-from-oppression allegory and introduce us to the new character, DJ. That’s fine. Whatever.

And the plans fail. That’s great. Better yet, they get betrayed by the morally-absent new character, DJ. That was fantastic. In your heart of hearts, you were secretly excited for a “new Han.”  A scruffy, stuttering, hacking genius was there to tease us and to make us think we had a new Solo who was going to join up and save the rebels, flying out of the sun to blast the baddie at the last minute. Admit it, you thought it, you hoped it. I did.  But no, the tables turned on him and he turned on his new friends. That was a great twist.

Not only does DJ turn on the two misfits he brought on the ship, but he turns on the entire rebellion by helping The First Order track the loadlifter ships that were fleeing in secret. The First Order otherwise would have never noticed. That’s Crait salt in the blaster wound right there.

Fast forward a bit

  • Leia wakes up from her near-death and blaster-stuns Poe
  • The rebels begin their evacuation on the loadlifter ships
  • Holdo stays behind
  • First Order starts shooting down the evacuation ships
  • Holdo sacrifices herself to shred the mega-class Star Destroyer (fucking amazing BTW)
  • Finn, Rose & BB8 escape to join the rest of the rebels on Crait

It’s at this point that I’m starting to become the True Star Wars Fan. My transformation is nearly complete.

Poe, along with Finn & Rose are put right back into the rebel troops. And Poe still holds his position as an officer.

In what universe would a mutiny leader be left in a commanding role? Shouldn’t he have been spaced? (I’m crossing universes with that jargon, but you know what I mean.)

Not only did Poe lead a mutiny, but his actions along with those of Finn, Rose and BB8 led directly to the deaths of hundreds of the (already severely diminished) rebel fleet. The escape to Crait would have gone of perfectly smoothly, without the First Order ever noticing if Poe had just followed orders of a commander who was wiser and less self-absorbed. There would have never been a Battle of Crait, and there would be hundreds more alive, ready to continue the rebellion another day.

I’m not saying this because I think there shouldn’t have been a Battle of Crait. Quite the opposite.  The battle was awesome. Nor am I saying the plot line was bad. It wasn’t; it was fantastic. Everything coming together in the rebel’s last stand.

Missed opportunity

I’m saying this because there was an opportunity to enrich the plot by holding Poe, Finn, Rose, and even BB8 accountable for mutiny, treason, and the deaths of a hundred or more fellow rebels. Instead, they’re back in the ranks like nothing ever happened.

The character arc of “Poe learns his lesson” and decides at the last minute to call off the frontal assault against the battering cannon is pathetic. He mutinied! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths! That doesn’t phase him or anyone else, at all. Anywhere.

There’s a great chance to add some distention to the ranks, for the rebel alliance to have internal divisions to overcome. There’s an opportunity to turn from black/white characters and add some layers of complexity. Is BB8 a fun party droid, or a mutiny conspirator partially responsible for hundreds of deaths. Is Finn a reformed Stormtrooper, or mutiny conspirator partially responsible for hundreds of deaths. They are both. And that would make them better characters.

Instead, it’s brushed under the rug, and we all escape in the Falcon singing kumbaya without acknowledging that major mistakes were made, that a mutiny—no matter how well-intentioned—led directly to the deaths of hundreds of fellow rebels.
None of that got addressed. At least for now. Maybe it will get addressed in the next film. Maybe.

Until then, my transformation to True Star Wars Fan is complete.

What’s In There? Only What You Take With You.

By Life

Master Yoda

During the Dagobah scenes in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Master Yoda shares a lot of wisdom with Luke Skywalker. We all know the most famous, “Do or do not. There is no try.” It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture—especially startup culture—that it brings on ennui for me. It’s such a well-worn path that it hardly bears repeating.

There’s another interaction between Luke and Yoda that I prefer for its depth and multiple layers of meaning.

Scene: Luke stops deep in the jungle, and sensing darkness emanating from a nearby cave, he turns to Yoda.  

Luke: What’s in there?

Yoda: Only what you take with you.

Take a moment to reflect on that:

What’s in there?
Only what you take with you.

In literature and in Star Wars, the cave is a metaphor for a journey inward.

The Dark Side Cave

What’s In There?

Luke didn’t know what was in there, but he went in regardless. He brought in his fear and anger, and that is what he faced.

We go into every day not knowing what lays ahead. Sure, we have our calendars organized, and know where our lunch meeting is, and who to expect at the client meeting. And we know what we can reasonably expect when we go home. But we don’t really know what’s in there, be it on the road, in a meeting, or at home.

We don’t know, because “knowing”  implies certainty. We know precisely when the sun will rise for any particular point on the earth on any particular day. But we don’t know if our lunch meeting is going to happen, if the client meeting will go smoothly, nor if we will close that deal.

What’s in there? We don’t really know. But we go regardless.

Only What You Take With You

Luke was arguably not ready to face his dark side, but that cave—that challenge—was on the path of his training. What he found was what he took with him: his anger and his fear.

As we move through life, facing challenges, enjoying moments, getting excited, or being calm, how we are in that moment depends on what we take with us. Did you get blindsided by a difficult conversation? You faced it with only what you took with you. Did you prepare for the meeting? You faced it with only what you took with you. Each day we have new caves to enter with unknown challenges to face, and we do so with only what we take with us.

That is the unspoken layer of this dialog that I love so much: if the only thing in each cave—each challenge—is what we bring with us, then we should strive to bring the best with us at all times. This requires both self-awareness and training.

What You Have

In Star Wars, the ability to tap into the Force is innate; you either have it or you don’t. Luke brought his emotions and his abilities into the cave, just as we bring our emotions and abilities into each encounter. What do you bring to each challenge?

  • What’s in [today]?
    • Are you prepared for the day, coming in refreshed with a good mindset, or are you tired, frazzled and scattered?
    • Only what you take with you.
  • What’s in [your role at work]?
    • Are you adding value, moving things ahead, and keeping your mind & skills sharp?
    • Only what you take with you.
  • What’s in [your relationships]?
    • Are you bringing empathy and compassion into your relationship, or conflict and unresolved emotions?
    • Only what you take with you.

This ties into my Rule #6, “YOU are responsible for creating the world you want to live in.” Do you bring a lousy attitude, distrust, and anger into your world? Wondering why there’s only bad attitudes, distrust and anger facing you every day? It’s what you bring with you. What do you want the world to be? Bring that with you.

What You Can Train

Sometimes what we bring with us isn’t enough. Luke was in the Dagobah swamps to receive Jedi training from the only living master. We are fortunate we have many masters to learn from in our world. We need to train ourselves, or “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey says in his classic, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.”

For example, in a professional environment when there are difficult conversations I need to lead, I spend hours preparing, rehearsing, and getting comfortable with what I need to say and how I want to say it. When I go into that encounter, what I bring with me is a prepared and ready mind. I’ve trained to lead difficult conversations.

To take more with you into each challenge, you must train.

At SpringTime I have much to learn; a lot of training ahead of me. We’re fortunate to have a team with diverse and complimentary skill sets, and we can all learn from each other. In addition, I read blog posts, listen to podcasts, read books (on Audible), and reflect on the lessons.

As a new father, I have many, many years of training ahead of me. There are many challenges to face, some I’ll be prepared for, and most I probably won’t! I read, learn, and reflect to continue my training. With each challenge, what I take with me enables me to be the best possible father to my son and soon-to-be-born daughter.

If we didn’t learn, grow, and evolve as individuals, we would live in a world of screaming infants—whether you want to take that literally or metaphorically is up to you.

Your weapons…

Your Weapons, You Will Not Need Them

Like Luke, I put on my weapon belt. But Master Yoda’s point is that it’s not about the tools on our belt, it’s about our mind and our preparedness. Regardless if I live by my Google calendar, keep all my to do’s in Trello, and take great notes in Evernote, none of it matters compared to what’s in my head.

I know that with each challenge, what I face it with is only what I take with me.