Year: 2019

  • 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.

  • Scale Yourself, Know Yourself

    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

  • Summa Read, Summa Listen

    It’s been a bit, but I promise I’m not asleep… and my brain has also yet to “turn to mush”, as one PE guy asked me recently. I guess everyone just expects you’re playing Xbox all day when you have a home office.

    This summer has been active with exec coaching and a mixture of leadership changes, fundraising and exec hiring across the handful of organizations I’m involved with. My favorite moments have been the moments where everyone is learning or contributing together and it’s clear the teams I’m focused on are growing themselves.

    Remember, my wife and I also have 5 kids under the age of 12, who have been delightfully underscheduled and home. So I took a moment (July) to be as fully present with them and my wife as I could be. I gave myself permission to just “be”. (Thanks, Jerry Colonna.) My favorite family moments have been the moments where everyone I love is experiencing the joy of doing meaningful things (growing?) together.

    I do notice that none of my favorite moments happened solo, but it bears mentioning that I found myself alone, but content, at least half of the time.

    A younger me would have sought to fill that time with people, external stimuli and moments of entertainment or extroversion — but this version of me was perfectly fine thinking, learning or discovering on my own. I believe that’s the byproduct of the last two years of recalibration and an increased comfort with my current blend of focuses (work, family, self-development). It’s no longer one “scoreboard” to rule them all. Everyone is (hopefully) better with me, but no one is going to die or go out of business without me… and to be fair the latter was probably never the case. Funny, how a little bit of space and perspective can go a long way.

    So while I kept my cadence steady with my current work, I did say no or not yet to most new opportunities. I think 90% of them will still be there when the kids are back to school and it’s cold and dark in the Northeast afternoons again — or I may have crushed the top of my funnel for new opportunities. If I’m writing about sweat pants vs. joggers this winter, we’ll know that the funnel had a shorter expiration date than I thought.

    One of the things I found most enjoyable this summer was how great good weather, a fire and the overlay of crickets pair so wonderfully with learning in book and podcast form.

    Here is a list of some of the best of what I’ve been consuming with a little extra texture.


    Trillion Dollar Coach (Eric Schmidt) — I continue to be a leadership geek and read leadership geek stuff even while I “grandparent” (advise) other leaders and companies. And, while many trite leadership books articulate differently named solves for the same universal and recurring people patterns we see everywhere, “Trillion Dollar Coach” beats that baseline. Bill Campbell died in 2016 after being the CEO of Intuit, but more interestingly he was the CEO whisperer for so many of tech’s Mt. Rushmore. From Jobs to Zuck to Google, he was unorthodox in his approach and seemingly as loved as he was effective. This will probably be my holiday book this year. Go snag it.

    Reboot (Jerry Colonna) — Jerry’s book made me appreciate how simple my life and leadership journey have been comparatively. He’s had a wild and sometimes surprisingly rough ride. It’s also one of the more introspective and inwardly focused reads from the leadership and exec coaching catalog. Jerry believes there is no paint-by-number path to transition from founder to great leader or CEO — the only way to do it is to look inward, understand what’s misaligned about yourself and strive to actually become a better human being. He also spends a lot of time unpacking what he believes drives the irrationally ambitious entrepreneur, which — *surprise, surprise* — all center on the things that were most difficult for us when we were young people. In short, if you don’t know yourself and what drives you, how do you mitigate your blind spots or have any hope you won’t project your “issues” onto your team or decision making. A few years into RevZilla, I took an inventory on where I sucked as a leader and manager. After wincing my way through the feedback, I worked on those things and everything got easier or improved. Seriously, everything. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as “Trillion Dollar Coach”, but I still recommend it, especially for first-time founders scaling their teams and themselves.

    The Fifth Risk (Michael Lewis) — Non-fiction, fascinating and terrifying. If you want to understand more about how the government, its departments and programs actually work to protect us from things we haven’t imagined but could wipe us out, this is the read. It also focuses heavily on how each new presidency handles (or doesn’t) the transition of leadership of these government agencies without threatening the efficacy of programs in place protecting our country.

    Secrets of Sandhill Road (Scott Kupor) — I’m not a VC, but I read a ton of VC. I’m always fascinated by this tiny industry and group of people that essentially serves as the R&D for our global economy. Look at a huge percentage of the growth in the S&P over the last 2-3 decades and how many of those companies have been backed and grown by venture capital. There was a book by Brad Feld called “Venture Deals” that came out about decade ago and accurately reflected the VC climate and the mechanics of the typical deal and VC-backed company life cycle. I’d consider “SoSHR” the successor read. It’s more timely and less dry from the perspective of the founding CFO of Andreesen Horowitz. It moves fast and Scott’s wit and personality come through even as certain elements can be very dry as topics on their own. Based on my experiences with RevZilla and goPuff, I actually started at the end of the book focusing on later-stage companies and M&A to compare notes. I then circled back and completed the read. A must read if you are a founder thinking about raising capital.

    Never Split the Difference (Chris Voss) — Recommended by a buddy in YPO (thanks Andy L.). I haven’t finished it yet but it’s another quick read. Written by a 30-year FBI hostage negotiator who challenges academia on their premise that rational outcomes and cost / benefit are the basis of good negotiating. This book is all about behavioral psychology, our “lizard brain” and how to disarm and build rapport to find productive resolution with even the most confrontational of parties. I’m a third of the way through this and nearly everything I’m reading could be used in a hostage negotiation, with a management team or with my kids at bed time. Universally useful.

    Side Note – I don’t read for entertainment, my goal is typically to learn something. I’m “investing” my time with the expectation of growth. So I don’t audiobook as I find that I lose focus and will not retain nearly as much as if I read something with focus. If I’m listening, I’m “snacking”. Hence the list of podcasts below.


    a16z — Andreesen Horowitz is only getting better and more useful as a platform to serve companies and entrepreneurs in all areas in the tech and startup ecosystems. What started as 30-minute podcast deep dives on a mix of interesting and diverse topics has now also increased its frequency to cover weekly happenings from their sphere.

    Pivot — Galloway and Swisher can be redundant at times but the focus is typical big tech, current events and politics on a week-to-week cadence. I do love the absurdity, ranting and intellectual horsepower of the “big dog” (Galloway) although Pivot still won’t ever fill the shoes of L2’s Winners and Losers during its heyday.

    How I Built This — NPR’s series of deep interviews with founders of merit from a diverse set of companies. Typically entertaining, insightful and introspective. My short list of faves: Nolan Bushnell (Atari), Marc Cuban, Mike Dubin (Dollar Shave Club), Andy Dunn (Bonobos). Did you know Chuck E. Cheese, founded by Bushnell, was originally called “Rick Rats Pizza”?

    Happy summer people. I hope you are in rhythm and kicking ass.


  • Interview on Sumo Heavy’s eCommerce Podcast

    A few months ago I sat with the guys at Sumo Heavy to participate in their eCommerce podcast, The Register. We had fun sharing ‘ism’s and rehashing some Philly eCommerce from the last 15 years.

    You can find the episode page with exec summary here and a direct link to the podcast here:

    We obviously talked about RevZilla a bunch, but it was also fun to talk about my career in tech before all the orange. We also chatted about what led up to the RevZilla acquisition and what my universe has looked like after transitioning out of full-time ops and leadership.

    gel ftw

    Sumo also found the most orangey, exhausted and high-haired photo of me that exists on the internet. Strong detective work, gents… Click through above if you really want to see it.

    It’s also worth noting that I do appreciate the opportunity to go on the record a few times a year to discuss my focus or how I’m seeing the universe at that moment.

    I find it useful to have a record of my headspace at different periods of my life and career. Every once in a while it’s interesting to go back and compare notes with a previous vintage of yourself.

    Thanks for the opportunity, Sumo.

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