Anthony Bucci

I’m a founder, CEO, brand builder, investor, tech geek, family man and juggernaut. I’m most known for RevZilla. Expect a bit of storytelling, inspiration and insight as my different roles and perspective continue to evolve. I won’t settle and neither should you.

  • Autodidact

    Someone or something opted me into a daily email called Word Genius, which sends a new vocab word daily.

    I like new fancy words, but like any other nonconsensual opt-in, I was initially annoyed (enraged?). Before I could unsub and shake my fist at the internet, however, I found myself opening the emails and reading the new words.. Nerd me cannot resist.

    Last week they sent me the word “autodidact”, which means “a self-taught person”. I’d heard it before but was happy to have it reloaded into my working vernacular. It stuck with me over the next few days.

    I, like nearly all of us, have been learning non-stop my whole life, sometimes formally from other people and school(s) and most of the time informally via everything else. When we’re young, the learning construct is forced upon us. After formal education wraps, we decide how much of the construct we want to continue on our own accord.

    It’s also worth noting that I have noticed my most effective learning style is informally, by way of other people. I believe the personal and shared relevant experiences allow me to absorb and retain new concepts better than anything else. There is something about a story being shared 1-to-1 that staples the nuance and detail to my brain most effectively. Not a shocker, as I’m an extrovert who (usually) enjoys people.

    Reflecting on my life as a learner, what’s even more interesting, however, is how pivotal and more broadly beneficial have been the things I’ve learned on my own, though it’s a smaller list. Some of the most sustainable joy and confidence-enhancing boosts have come from taking the more self-reliant (autodidactic) and introverted path.

    A few examples:

    In 1995, when I was 15, I broke my leg a month before high school started. I was laid up in a huge cast for nearly the entire fall. So with a dial-up modem and a Prodigy account, I devoured the early internet in solitude. I also bought Visual Basic 3.0 and taught myself how to write code. For a dorky teenager, this was a massive confidence boost and identity redefiner. I now had a path ahead and a domain in which to shine, by my own hand. This was also the first time in my life when I felt the satisfaction of self-mastery. It was foundational. If I could chart my own path here, what else could I explore?

    For the next 2 decades, I’ve continued the path of self-study to many new and sometimes difficult pursuits. There has always been joy in improving incrementally with a side order of prove to myself I can do it on my own.

    I started weight training as a 145-lb senior in high school and within a couple of years I’d added 20-25 lbs of muscle that I remain disciplined enough to still carry today. (Side note: I aspire to be Jack LaLanne when I’m 80)

    I’ve always loved music and have wanted to learn to play guitar my whole life. At 19, I used some high school graduation money to buy an acoustic guitar, having never played a lick. I have had 3 lessons in 20 years, but if you throw on some Stevie Ray Vaughn, I’ll happily improvise my way up and down the fretboard. (Ask my wife about the daily concert at my house that she’s never wanted a ticket to.)

    At 29, I wanted to learn how to ride a skateboard on a halfpipe (mini ramp). So I bought a cheap ramp and some pads and 10 years later I have a rad dad bag of tricks and a much bigger ramp in my back yard (sorry again, wife).

    The list of personal pursuits, challenges and “hobbies” can go on and on. I think that critical broken leg as a teen and its resulting silver lining rewired me for a future of self-imposed challenges.

    The last item I’d put on this list is the obvious nod to my journey at RevZilla. More specifically, my personal leadership journey and evolution from maker to manager to executive within the company lifecycle.

    In a fast-growing company, everyone has to scale themself ahead of the company’s growth curve if they want to remain effective at their role. This is the most true for the founder(s) and early leadership. There are no entitlements if you expect the company to maximize its performance and continue to attract and retain the best talent. You must grow ahead of the role. You must outswim the “shark” or you get eaten (i.e., scale out).

    There was a ton I learned from my team, day-to-day ops and from my biz friends and mentors. Early on, however, I decided that those would not be enough to keep me swimming fast enough.

    So I stood atop the foundation of the confidence I had from figuring out other things on my own and attacked my perceived knowledge and experience gap. From about 2009 on, I read and watched everything I could get my hands on relating to leadership, management, ops, and strategy in non-stop fashion.

    It was a dogged effort to expand my executive tool kit in light of the fact that I was sans MBA and really hadn’t managed anyone pre-RevZilla. It was probably the key reason I don’t think I was ever “off the clock”. The autodidact, driven by a fear of failure, had taken the wheel.

    Some would say that the way I worked (obsessed?) bordered on diminishing returns, but I believe the additional inwardly focused effort contributed greatly to RevZilla’s ultimate success and my improved efficacy as a leader. The shark never got me.

    Even now, as I reflect on where I have spent some my most fulfilling time in the last few years post-operations, I am somewhat surprised. Some of that time has been with new teams or companies, but many of the most satisfying moments have been solo pursuits of new skills or knowledge on my own. I didn’t think deep dives in my fortress of solitude (home office) would be as fulfilling as they continue to be. As an adultish age and lifestyle have crept closer, more unadulterated and introverted time to learn has been a surprisingly enjoyable addition.

    The deep dives provide the satisfaction of figuring it out today along with a continual reassurance that I can still climb potential future mountains on my own.

    I ask my children all the time, “Why do you go to school?” and when they respond with the partially correct “To learn”, I help them understand the better answer is “to learn how to learn”.

    I hope they find their autodidact moments early and I hope my continuing pursuit of constructive friction makes a lasting impression on them.

    To even the most extroverted extrovert I might ask a different question.

    “When was the last time you climbed the mountain on your own? When was the last time you found introverted joy with the tangential benefit of elevated skill?”

    It’s worth it. It always has been.

  • Andy Dunn and Bonobos

    Last month, Andy Dunn announced he was leaving Walmart, about two years after Walmart’s acquisition of Bonobos, the company he co-founded in 2007.

    Bonobos first hit my radar in 2009, when a friend participated in one of their early angel rounds. I remember him telling me that they were “solving for khaki diaper butt”. This is a problem I could not identify with as I had not worn or owned a pair of khakis since Spring 1994. They were Bugle Boy. My mom bought them, probably at Boscovs’.

    The business, however, became an instant follow for me (along with Zappos at the time) as Bonobos was and still seems to be all about elevating service and customer experience. Their self-described “Ninjas” handled the customer service and experience aspect which contributed to my early thoughts on RevZilla’s “Gear Geeks”. I appreciated what their namesake primates were contributing to brand positioning, but we did choose to not fully follow down that path.

    I kept an eye on them for the next few years and I even think we spent cycles working with StellaService 1.0 (Yeah, Jon and Jordy!) trying to understand more about where Bonobos placed the bar for customer interactions. I didn’t, however, know a ton about any of the founders until Andy Dunn’s blog post, “eCommerce is a Bear”, hit my radar in 2013.

    The post is a bear in its own right and reads like a eulogy for the multi-brand ecom model while further crystalizing what became the Digitally Native Vertical Brand (DNVB) strategy that Bonobos was built upon.

    The post opened our eyes a bit wider and is still quite relevant today. It’s worth noting that today the catch-all people use to describe businesses like this is DTC or direct-to-consumer, assuming many brands are vertical with proprietary products. Pre-2010 was not usually the case with the multi-brand non-marketplace model still humming. (For frame of reference, I think UPENN launched 400+ DNVBs in the last five years. The times, they have a-changed)

    Now I’ve never met Andy, but I have continued to follow him and the brand over the last decade. I ended up with some chinos along the way (none of them are khaki) and have bought online and from their physical guide shops numerous times. I used to benchmark my perceived experiences to what we were trying to accomplish at RevZilla, online, over the phone and eventually in-store. I also developed an affinity for the brand, but I’m not sure if I loved the clothes or loved that I felt I knew the story and was part of the tribe. The clothes are nice, but not blow you away amazing so it’s probably the tribal “latter” – and that means they did their job.

    Over time, I watched Bonobos grow its line, online presence and its physical footprint. They took multiple rounds of investment from Nordstrom and ultimately exited to Walmart in 2017 as part of the ongoing Jet / Lore / Milennial brands experiment. The exit was a sizeable figure (~$300m), but based on total capital raises, I’m not sure it is considered a home run for this early pioneer of DTC. I think many people, including myself, expected it to grow larger, faster. (Side note – sadly this has been the case with so many venture-backed eCom and DTC stories. They all just run out of growth eventually. Usually shy of expectations.)

    As the brand and the lore (no pun intended) continued to unfold more broadly beyond the startup press, it seemed like there was a mercurial aspect to Andy’s approach that continued to be highlighted. I can’t comment on the fairness or unfairness of that positioning, but I do know a lot of founders. Being crazy enough to sign up for the job usually means that you’re used to ruffling feathers or having your “mercurial” moments. I did.

    About six months ago, I happened to discover NPR’s How I Built This podcast covering Andy and Bonobos. Based on my then-current perception of who Andy may be, I was not expecting it to be as interesting as it was. I was surprised to find his take on the Bonobos journey thoughtful, introspective, grateful and notably regretful at times. The episode covered the company journey, of course, but more interestingly it dove into inner struggle, co-founder dynamics and the ultimate cost of fallout. All parts of the leadership journey, going from start-up to grownup.

    The arc is often glamorized, but is more universally a humbling one. He told more of the humbling story, along with what he learned and what he got wrong, and what he could have done differently.

    I appreciated that.

    It’s useful for the community at large and it made me respect him enough to write about him and Bonobos today.

    Happy new year, folks.

  • Having Kids

    Fred Wilson beat me to the punch with today’s “Having Kids” post on the heels of Paul Graham’s essay “Having Kids” last week. Paul spoke to his thought process and shift in world view upon becoming a parent while Fred piggy-backed with some specific insights of his own.

    Both are thoughtful and worth reading. I certainly felt them resonate with my own journey.

    15 years ago I was a selfish single guy with a certain perception of kids and a lot to learn about life. I then transitioned to a still-pretty-selfish start-up guy with a young family that he spent physical time with but, sadly, was not really “present” as much as he should have been.

    I find myself now the father of 5 with an oldest who’s not even a teen yet. I’m part of all of their lives and I’ve shed enough operating focus and start-up stress to actually be present and engaged. In some ways, I was always there for them and, in other ways, only in the last three years have I really been parenting them – at least in the way my wife has been and that I was lucky enough to have my mother and father parent me growing up.

    It’s worth noting that I used to catch a ton of flak for using “parenting” analogies with regard to leadership and managing within my former company. Some people have strong negative emotions attached to it. I get that sensitivity although I don’t share it.

    My view is that whether it’s kids or employees, the parent’s (manager) job is to care / love, define success and hold accountable while doing their best to practice what they preach. How it all goes is in many ways a reflection of the parents investment and approach to it. (Side note – board and advisory work is Grand-parenting. More on that another time).

    Considering all of that, I looked back on operating RevZilla and searched my experiences for moments where through today’s more experienced parental eyes I might want a do-over.

    The one area I kept coming back to was empathy.

    I have always prided myself of having a strong EQ, walking the walk and building a healthy culture centered on focus, trust – and intensity.

    But today when I think about one of my children working for me 5-7 years ago I cringe at times. I could have said or done certain things with more compassion. No excuses.

    When early employees felt the loss of the business scaling up and becoming less personal for them, I could have been more patient or understanding as they processed it.

    When early employees were unnerved and sad that they no longer reported to a founder, I could have made more of an effort to bridge the gap.

    When I/we helped someone realize that they were no longer the best one to lead their team as we grew, I could have made more effort to acknowledge the pain of what that meant for them.

    When someone invested all of their talent and time with a great attitude but ultimately came up short of the experience or functional demands of the job, I could have made sure they felt fully valued – even if the numbers needed something better than their best moving forward.

    The list goes on…

    I don’t believe I should have relaxed my standards for myself or anyone else. It still has to be a meritocracy. Time is not on your side. There are no entitlements. Every business and market opportunity has an arc. You capture it moving as fast as you can, wasting as few opportunities as possible- or you don’t. Doing something special is a tradeoff for you and for your team.

    But in certain moments when people were wobbly or or flat out feeling the sting, I could have been better for them.

    Being a better parent means still being objective about actual needs. It’s not catering to squeaky wheels or raising soft adults who have never skinned their knees, but it is ensuring appropriate feelings are acknowledged and met with appropriate empathy. Sometimes it just takes a moment.

    It’s easy to say all of this now that I no longer have the schedule or the stress that consumed nearly all of me for the better part of a decade. How do you expend the extra energy to save someone from drowning if you’re drowning yourself? I like to think I could have dug deep and performed better on this front, but as a first-time founder, I may or may not have had it in the tank. Some days you are just trying not to look stupid in front of 100 people while behind the scenes you are thinking about keeping the biz and your marriage from cratering, simultaneously.

    I think about all my kids, each with their unique talents, paths and challenges, especially as I see them growing into their own people. I see how they interact at school and at home. I see the things that they work hard at, wish for and believe in. Sometimes those things don’t come easy or may be nearly impossible, but I won’t tell them to stop.

    I then imagine how they may be treated in the workforce someday.

    I hope they work at companies that evaluate more than just their quantitative output. Even more, I hope they work for leaders who care as much as I did, but are more empathetic than I was in my first attempt.

  • In September I was asked to participate in the PACT Capital Conference “Lion’s Den”, a Shark Tank-style event in Philly. The conference bears the distinction of being the oldest and most established conference connecting VC, PE and entrepreneurs in the Northeast. (Right on, Dean Miller.)

    In preparing the conference materials, they asked me for a quote for the attending entrepreneurs to accompany my bio and adult-ish headshot (lolz).

    I offered:

    It’s just as important to scale yourself as it is to scale your team, but remember to be strategic about it! Double down on your strengths and hire complementarily for your weaknesses – but before you do either, make sure you invest the time to really know yourself!

    I’ve written a lot about personal growth, scaling myself and scaling the team in the past (here, here, here). These are the post-revenue things for a startup founder and they represented a disproportionate amount of my time at RevZilla.

    Remember, we didn’t spend a ton of time or money to discover or invent a new market in moto – we set out to redefine the eCommerce experience through scalable tech and media.

    Simply said, we took execution risk (vs. market risk) in launching RevZilla with the goal of becoming the “Zappos of Motorcycle gear.” We believed if we could build it without burning through all of our personal savings, we were 85% sure we’d be a leap ahead of what already existed in the industry.

    So we holed up and built for six months pre-launch and within 90 days post-launch the site was cash flow positive. I have only appreciated that more and more as time has passed. Being involved in a ton of VC-backed companies these days, it feels like we skipped half the founder work of fundraising and managing investors.

    BUT – we still had to execute and executing is all about the team. With that, we can bridge back to the critical “know yourself” part of my quote above. I still believe it is the foundational aspect of scaling yourself, your team and your company effectively.

    “Knowing yourself” is the output of an ecosystem full of data points about you that comes from many angles and places. Some are self-serve from within, but most of the really valuable ones come from others – if they trust you and care about you enough to share.

    Here are some of my learnings and maxims that helped me mine my personal ecosystem for the necessary truths needed to scale my impact, i.e. become a better leader:

    React Consistently – If people trust you and feel safe, they may actually give you true feedback. If you get crickets a lot, even when you ask directly, they are scared of your reaction and what the consequences of sharing may be. If you react consistently to bad news and constructive feedback, even when you don’t agree with it, you train people to know that the messenger is never in danger. Your actions need to match the words.

    I once had C-suite member offer in the most diplomatically way possible that I “at times was a hair loquacious in meetings”. If he felt safer, he would have told me, “Booch, you are sucking the air out of the room in meetings and it may be impacting the ability to have the most valuable and fully participated conversations”. And he probably would have told me 6 months before I formally asked, as well. Also if he didn’t feel safe offering it to me even when I asked, there is no way more junior folks felt safe enough to offer suggestions for ways I might support them better. I was happy I learned this lesson when I did, but wished I had learned it years earlier. From there on, I consciously worked to be more predictable. If they know you will react in a safe manner, even to rough or personal news, you may be surprised in how useful the things you start hearing will be.

    Feedback is a Gift – Now that people hopefully trust that you will react reasonably, continue to ask for and show gratitude for feedback. Seek it constantly – informally and formally – from individuals, small group settings and in your town halls, if possible. When people care enough about you to share how you could improve, they are spending cycles for you and sticking their neck out on some level. Never forget to thank them for it and reinforce your appreciation.

    I read once that the only good direct response to any piece of feedback from a peer or subordinate should be “thank you so much for telling me that”. You can always follow up for more clarity and texture later, but in the moment when folks are uneasy about your potential reaction, put the person who’s sharing back at ease. Reward and reinforce their effort to help you and the organization improve and train them to do more of it in the future. Wanna bet they tell their co-workers how you reacted? You have just modeled great behavior that could affect their managerial interactions downstream, as well.

    Feedback is a Gift Part 2: No Real-Time Examples – You have now offered immediate gratitude to the party who has attempted to help you, right? From there you can talk about a lot of related things, problem-solve together and you can certainly hope that the sharing party gives you some specific examples backing up their perceptions right then and there. In my experience, the odds are low that you’ll get specific examples with the initial feedback. Sometimes you’ll get full texture from more experienced and comfortable feedback givers which I’d consider a bonus. But, no matter how flimsy or concrete the sentiment being shared, you never get to ask for examples in that meeting. In the sharing context, asking for examples is the equivalent of saying “I won’t believe you unless you prove it right now” and it supports the fear / consequences aspect of speaking truth to power.

    As I mentioned earlier, you can always find a moment in your next interaction to get the extra clarity you need, but the patience not to ask immediately will reinforce the feedback loop and eliminate future fear. Sidenote – Conversely if you are sharing any negative feedback or area for improvement with anyone you should ALWAYS have multiple examples to create as much clarity in the moment, as possible. Take the guesswork out where you can. Highlight the cost element being addressed.

    Feedback is a Gift 3: Advertise your Plan – After you have processed the feedback, gotten any additional clarity and potentially thought through how to change your approach in the future, advertise your new approach to the person brave enough to have shared the feedback with you originally. Remind them that you appreciated it, and showcase that you heard them and that you found value in their opinion. The ultimate testament is actually modifying your behavior when future opportunities present themselves.

    Leverage the Friday 5:15 – The “5:15” is a weekly “post” shared with you by someone you manage within a document that they own. It’s not a progress report, it’s another scalable feedback loop to be used in supporting the individuals on your team. Generally, it’s completed every Friday by 5:15. It should take a staff member 15 minutes to write and five minutes for you to read.

    Done well, it’s short and specific, giving you a sense of where your teammate’s head is at as they wrap up the week along with highlighting anything new they may need from you ahead of their next 1o1. My promise was that I’d have read and potentially commented back by Monday at 9am, so long as they were completed on time. At RevZilla we tested these in the exec ranks and found them valuable enough to be rolled out company-wide. There is more to the concept and you can find a broader article and my podcast discussion on the topic here. In my eyes, a scalable tool supporting servant leadership from a schedule perpetually under fire.

    Share Your Defaults and Preferences – I’m a D9I8S1C5 on the DISC profile. I’m an ENTJ/P in the Meyers Briggs matrix. I’m a Challenger-Enthusiast (8/7) on the Enneagram spectrum. I prefer collaborative problem solving and I would prefer bad news delivered in person during specific work blocks vs. via electronic means. I have even more communication preferences on a number of common scenarios as well.

    During my career, I have shared my information in a mixture of places but never pulled it all together. I’ve seen others who I respect collect and build a 1-2 page “Operating Manual” with all relevant preferences and links. They then shared their personality, work and communication styles manual with their team in an effort to help them find more success and consistency in their interactions.

    Next time, I will centralize my data and share it via the extended “operating manual” approach. If (when) I received feedback that the team found the document valuable, I’d then ask them to create a manual for their respective teams and I’d look to be shared on it, as well. As a manager, I obviously try to use all the tools at my disposal to understand my people.

    It’s worth noting that some folks don’t put much stock in personality profiling. In my view, a personality profile is just another framework for simplifying a person’s inherent needs and patterns that affect communication style, which is the true productivity unlock here.

    Learn the Other People Patterns – So many of the same people patterns have been distilled in a number of different flavors across many books and articles. A committed 3-6 months of regular reading can build a heck of a leadership foundation. One truth spans all of the following resources: It’s all people, the higher you climb, and the person it starts with is yourself. Some of my favorite written resources: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Principles, Any Number of First Round Review Articles on Management or Culture, Trillion Dollar Coach, Reboot.

    Avoid the Vacuum – The climb is way harder alone. Find other climbers. Get out of your office and invest in building your network of folks who sit in a similar seat, at a similar stage of company or personal life. Compare notes on the self-development journey. Their perspectives may help highlight things you have not already thought about, along with identifying red herrings or shortcuts to less obvious solves. This one is so trite, but I see so many founders who live in their own echo chambers or, worse, celebrate not playing well with others.

    Find Grey Hair Who Can’t Fire You – This is in the same vein as the last bullet, but rather than peers, find a mentor or an exec coach. I’ve written about it before, but you need to discuss what scares the hell out of you with someone you’re not married to and who is not on your cap table or payroll. Even more importantly, that person should know you and care enough about you to be able to call bullsh*t when needed and without fear of repercussion. When you have someone in your corner who sees enough of your patterns and has a non-financial stake in your outcomes, they can force intellectual honesty and, hopefully, highlight additional blind spots for you to work on.

    You can always be better. More effective, more supportive, more introspective, more efficient. Don’t ever let yourself, your management style or your approach to leadership be “done”. Grind your way to excellent.

    Make sure that you are getting strong regular signals from your feedback loops and personal ecosystem that you can act on. Make it part of your management framework. Share your approach with your team and help them make it part of theirs.

    Think about the compounding effect if all of your managers and leaders got better at scaling themselves and their leadership by only 5% each year. Think about what it might look like if the output of the effort were that your company improved all its KPIs by 5%. #mindblown

    As I said, feedback is a valuable gift at the foundation of scaling success on all fronts.

    Never settle.

  • Last Meal and Testament?

    23 days ago, I sat in the back of a cab headed from San Diego Airport to meet a biz friend for golf. I was flying to CA a day ahead of a Tony Hawk Foundation meeting and as usual, I was trying to cram more into the agenda. I asked the cabbie to hit In-N-Out Burger on the way to the course.

    As I ate my Double Double Animal Style, which is 100% my favorite burger on the planet, I never imagined that this might be my last one — especially since it was going down with a side order of cab ride.

    Fast forward a few hours into my round of golf, and I had officially made the decision to run a plant-based experiment on myself. Two months earlier I would have laughed at the mere suggestion, given I’m a food-nerd and searching out special things to eat is one of my favorite hobbies. On any given day, you could find me dreaming about jamón Ibérico de Bellota — the Celine Dion of Spanish ham. How could I possibly cut her loose?

    But cut her loose I did, as I’m now 3+ weeks into a 90-day experiment of dropping all beef, chicken, pork and dairy. Below is what led me here, along with my expectations, framework and what I’ve observed so far.

    Spoiler alert, it has not been that difficult and I’ve seen some early benefit. Read on.

    How I Arrived Here:

    In the last few years, the variety and number of my doctor’s visits have increased along with my amount of activity-related soreness (muscle, joint, lower back, etc.). People tell me this is normal in my late 30s, but it still sucks. I’m still really active and I expect a lot of myself on a consistent basis (workouts, skateboarding, surf, golf, general energy level, etc.), probably no less than when I was in college. I’ve also noticed odd aches and pains in new places and when getting out of bed in the morning, which again seems to be normal. As is the case with so many other things in my life, I’ve been increasingly thinking about ways to reject this normal for the last 12-18 months.

    In the last 6 months, specifically, I have also noticed my metabolism changing a bit. I’ve been 172 pounds since I was 20 years old through the spring of this year. That’s when 6-8 pounds just showed up out of nowhere, right around my 39th birthday, with no discernible change in eating habits or activity level. My wife heard me complaining that “someone shrunk my chino shorts” from our closet one day and responded, “No one shrunk your shorts. Check the scale”. Well, damn.

    It’s worth noting that I did leave a super-intense full-time job about two years ago, which I thought may have decreased my daily activity, but the sneaky iPhone step tracker said my daily steps and weekly total steps have not changed that much. If anything, the regular walking, transient meeting schedule and more time for chasing kids have actually increased my average number of steps per month. It’s also worth noting that my overall stress level is down, and I have to believe that’s a good thing, but I am curious about the effect.

    In short, my general health, internally and externally, has been on my mind this year.

    Now, enter the “Game Changers” movie on Netflix that I first heard about from my friend Dan at goPuff in September. Dan is a fellow productivity nerd always looking for ways to unlock the next level of performance and output from each day. I think we’ve bonded partly over our affinity for attempting to live in 6th gear.

    He shared with me that the movie is about an elite athlete who gets hurt and in an effort to expedite his recovery ends up learning about a universe of athletes who have dropped animal proteins from their diet strictly for the performance, recovery and health benefits. The movie chronicles many of those athletes, their approach to food and exercise, and makes an argument that the human body is primarily designed for plant intake.

    We debated the possibility of there being some merit to going plant-based and, if a person could find a mythical 7th gear, would it be worth dropping so many tasty things from our menus in perpetuity.

    After watching the film, I’ll say there are absolutely some baked-in biases and some conclusions that need better science to back them up, but if even 20% of the stated benefits exist, it could be a compelling switch. The sentiment that stuck with me was nothing tastes better than feeling amazing every day.

    You can watch on your own to get the full rundown if you like. I also followed that with another movie called “What the Health” on Netflix which had its own angle and bias. I will say the “experts” in that one seemed a little wackier but some of their points were equally compelling.

    Over the next month, following my meeting with Dan, the theme just kept coming back to me from random angles and random people so completely unsolicited it was becoming bizarre. I get there is a buzz right now on the heels of this documentary, but I also had people randomly sharing with me that they have been doing this for years. Why are friends and new people I have just met mentioning scheduling our lunch meetings where “they can find better plant-based options?” Why are they telling me this? Why are they choosing this month? So much plant-based gravity right now.

    Rewind back to San Diego for a second. When I told my friend Nico about my cab ride double-double on the 6th hole, his response was “Those are so great, but I’ve been plant-based for the last 18 months and I’ll never go back”.

    We had 12 more holes to talk through his implementation and his results and it absolutely pushed me over the edge. His description of an energy boost, dropping 30 pounds off his frame and not missing much by way of tastes was compelling.

    He also described his journey as “a choice not a diet”, which in his words meant, “If you have me over to your house, I’ll eat what you cook, even if it’s meat, but if I have a choice at a meal I’ll choose something different”. He mentioned that 98% of the time he’s vegetarian, the other 2% ends up meat or dairy when life gets in the way of the alternatives. On those occasions, you roll with it, but net net you are still getting the bulk of the benefit from the 98%… and no one wants to slap you for being difficult or evangelical about your dietary ethics.

    That resonated with me. I don’t want to be vegan and if once on a blue moon the choices are limited, I will eat what I need to vs. being hungry. This swap can’t be stressful and I don’t need a new food-oriented religion.

    Through this framing, I could also justify cheating on Thanksgiving. This got me past the gate of the holiday meals much more easily. If I made the turkey for everyone, I’m having a slice. The fam will all just take the leftovers with them and I’ll wait until Thanksgiving 2020 for my next gobble.

    So all that said, if I was going to make the switch, and give up so many things I enjoy for a shot at the mythical 7th gear, it was now time to crystallize my goals.

    90-Day Experiment Goals

    Primary Goal:

    • An Upshift – Discernible boost in overall energy, mood, recovery time, well-being. Some of this is how well I know myself and some of this could be placebo, but honestly, if I’m not feeling like I’m generally operating on another level at 90 days, it might not be worth the missing ribeyes. I want the ability to go harder, sleep better, be stronger and generally maximize myself. Hard to measure, for sure, but I tend to struggle in the winter when things slow down and the days get darker. I know what that baseline feels like in general.

    Secondary Goals:

    • Lower Cholesterol, I’ll be checked in January.
    • Drop the 6-8 pounds, lower my BMI.
    • Maintain lean muscle mass and strength.
    • Quicker recovery from activity and sports (I work out 3-4 times a week and skateboard or golf 1-2 times a week).
    • Make plant-based eating easy and tasty, vs extra work and bland

    The secondary goals are going to be much easier to measure than the primary goals, for sure. I’m also going to be looking for anything else that could change. People have mentioned complexion and/or hair or skin texture can change. It will be interesting to see any surprises that show up.

    Implementation Framework

    Per my friend Nico, I’m calling it the “98/2” implementation referring to the % of plant to meat/dairy. I’m dropping all land-based animal protein and dairy. I’m going to be fish-friendly when dining out, but I’m not going to seek it out or cook it at home. To date, a few restaurant meals have had a couple of pieces of sushi and an oyster or two here and there, but even those meals were skewed toward the mostly plant-based options on the menu.

    As I mentioned earlier I’m going to have some turkey on Thanksgiving and I’ll probably have a single piece of my Mom-Mom’s recipe braciole (Italian rolled meat) on Christmas. Also, I’m on the west coast 3-5 times per year, and if I end up getting my In-N-Out fix a few times per year, so be it. As I said, this is not a religious choice.

    I’m almost looking at “quitting” meat, like quitting smoking. There are plenty of ex-smokers who bet the long game, but will still have a cigarette a couple of times per year when in unique situations — granted that they can be disciplined enough to stay on the wagon the next day.

    I was also initially concerned about the learning curve of shopping for groceries and cooking meals with the need to swap key elements of my diet. There would certainly be some work to gain new knowledge around food options and easy wins at home and dining out.

    Lastly, due to my workout routine, I am usually pretty focused on protein intake, which for me should be 1.5-2 times the amount that a person who does not work out might need to maintain my body type and size.

    I was previously supplementing normal meals with cheese sticks, eggs and a ton of Dannon Triple Zero yogurt. All those things are high in protein and super fast to ingest. I’ll need to replace them with something easy, high protein and not terrible for me on other nutrition axis (sugar, sodium, trans fat etc).

    Observations at Week 3

    Generally speaking, this has not been that hard and I don’t feel like I’m missing much, even by way of missing certain flavors. Remember, I’m a foodie, so I’m as shocked as anyone that this has not been the primary issue.

    Shopping and cooking have not been difficult, and there are lots of resources and swaps available (or Google it). Have you seen the almond milk section of the supermarket recently? There are literally 5 versions of almond milk before you get to the soy milk, oat milk and other derivatives.

    I feel like this switch would have been very difficult 10 years ago with a limited number of options that by and large probably didn’t taste very good. Do you remember veggie burgers from 2010? No, you’re happy to forget them, as they were nothing like the Beyond or Impossible Burger of today.

    I only remember having two moments of mild craving in roughly all of the last 60+ meatless meals; One was the RevZilla board dinner, when everyone had a steak and I had a lukewarm halibut (so I ordered an ill-timed shellfish tower to supplement). The second was at an event with my wife last weekend when the cocktail hour had a mountain of special cheeses and cured Italian meats…. but I still managed to walk away.

    At this point I feel like I’ve only missed out on 3% of potential eating experiences. Easy. Also I have to believe this will only get easier to stick with when it becomes more of a habit with a house full of options and my taste memory fades.

    Beyond these initial observations, I’m going to break this up into three more specific groups: Early results, Things that are easy and Things that are hard.

    Early Results:

    • Energy feels normal to high for this time of year, but it’s early going I need more time for this study.
    • Food comas don’t exist anymore. I have yet to feel anything but light on my feet and alert, even after a complete meal when I ate until I was full.
    • I’m not craving anything wacky, including red meat.
    • I have lost 6 pounds.
    • I have noticed no difference in strength in the gym, but I am hoping for an increase in muscular endurance over time.

    Things that are easy:

    • Learning what to sub — If you are willing to Google, YouTube, and ask your plant-based friends for their fave swaps and recipes, this is a piece of cake.
    • Shopping — My normal Giant has a ton of plant-based swaps and proteined up versions of cereal, almond milk, bagels and bread. They also have a lot of Morningstar (soy) products and Beyond Meat (pea protein) foods. Going to Whole Foods was a whole other animal, including plant-based hot dogs, sausage, chicken (called Chick’n or Qorn), etc. Both venues also had this large and novel section full of these things called fruits and vegetables… I buy more of those now, as well.
    • Breakfast — This was the easiest. I swapped milk or yogurt for protein-infused almond-cashew milk, veggie sausage and protein-fortified bagels (Dave’s Killer Bread) or protein boosted granola (Natures Valley).
    • Snacks — Ditched the cheese sticks and now am doing granola bars (Nature’s Valley) with protein, peanut butter sandwich or fruit.
    • Lunch — I often eat out for lunch. Chicken pita became falafel. Chicken burrito became bean or sofritas burrito and pizza became tomato pie with veggies instead of cheesy pepperoni.
    • Dinner out — Lots of choices. Especially easy if it’s Japanese, Asian, Mexican, Italian or Mediterranean and Greek. They were my favorite go-to’s from before.
    • B12 — Apparently B12 only comes from animal protein by way of environmental exposure. I’m taking a B12 pill daily. This is the only true supplement. I’m hoping it keeps my coat shiny and my spin-kicks lightning fast.
    • Impossible Whoppers – I have not been in a Burger King in a decade, but when I have needed a burger fix recently, the Impossible Whopper is spot on. Hoping to see it show up at In-N-Out. A Chick’n Chick-Fil-A sandwich would also make my day.

    Things that are harder:

    • Family dinners — Cooking for the wife and kids is harder as I’m not forcing this on everyone. Also a little harder to do a multi-dish meal that replaces the main animal protein with something substantial enough that can carry the vegetable, starch, and salad I’d typically prep for everyone. I’m still figuring it out. Easy win when I did Beyond Meat beef tacos, but the fam was less excited when we had a vegetarian cookout with vegetarian hot dogs. A couple of the kids weren’t buying it, but the other 3 did.
    • Cheese – There is cheese in or on so many things and I’m not just getting snagged on the obvious slice of cheddar on something. Mozz, parm and feta still need to go, and I have found myself missing their sprinkles on so many pastas, pitas and salads.
    • Impossible / Beyond Burgers – These are delicious plant-based burgers, but they are not “health food”, it seems like there is a lot of other “stuff” in them. I have to resist the urge to do too much of these, just like some of the other processed swaps.
    • Cost — I’ve been roughly tracking the increase in expense, and so far it’s not been crazy even on the Beyond Beef products, but we typically bought decent food and lots of fruit and veggies before.
    • Sodium — A lot of the swaps have high sodium. Concerned about this.
    • Carbs — The magic here is fruit and vegetables increasing, but it’s easy to let your carb or sugar intake skyrocket, if you are not being thoughtful. Less concerning, if one of my secondary goals was not to drop the odd 6-8 lbs.

    In Conclusion

    My inner geek loves searching for the next level of anything and I do feel great right now, I’m just not sure how much of the great is actually new and related to the “98/2”, considering everything else I have going on.

    I also know my personality type is that of an enthusiastic nerd vs. a wary skeptic, so I really need to remain stringent on the actual results being worth living cheesesteak-free.

    Lastly, it’s worth noting that there are ethical and environmental aspects to the entire animal-based protein conversation. While I absolutely have my personal convictions about things, they were not the primary drivers of this experiment so I have left them out of this post.

    Look for me to report back on the 90-day test, around the end of January.

    In the meantime, wish me luck and dump a milkshake out for your non-dairy homie.

  • Bootstrapping RevZilla

    Just over a month ago, I got to hang with my old pal the Wizard of Barsh on DreamIt Ventures’ live webcast (embedded below).

    For clarity, DreamIt is a national tech accelerator with Philly roots and the Wizard is the Managing Director.

    As for Mr. Steve Barsh (I’m the only one who calls him Wizard), we go all the way back to the RevZilla bombed-out warehouse days. He’s always been generous with his time and connectivity. It’s also worth noting that for a hot second in 2009 he almost joined the ride with us.

    At this stage, I have told the RevZilla story many times, but it was exciting to be asked to share how we thought about the potential of raising VC and how we arrived at our ultimate decision to completely abstain from doing so.

    The bottom line is that we always felt we were growing fast enough, even thinly capitalized as we were, to capture the target market on our terms. Therefore, the benefit of moving incrementally faster never eclipsed the cost and constraints of taking on investors. And the more we learned along the way, the more we knew it was the right choice to continue to bootstrap RevZilla.

    There is much more to the conversation and we talk through the full decision-making framework set atop the market risk and execution risk factors.

    Most importantly, we also had a really good time in the weeds creating useful content together with O.G. Zillan Dustin behind the camera.

    Here is the talk:

    You can find the library of Dreamit Live casts covering many startup and biz-related topics on their YouTube Channel. Get notified of their live streams by following DreamIt Ventures on LinkedIn.

    Ahhh, to be back on the YouTubes, again. Like a glove… lol

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