Derek Shanahan

Lessons In Team Culture From Stanford Men’s Soccer

This post is a part of Startup Edition, an awesome blogger collective.

A team’s culture is an extension of the people on the team.

When Ryan brought up culture as a topic for Startup Edition I initially thought about the culture efforts that I’ve seen in Startupland. There’s a lot of great content out there from the startup community already, though. I’m not sure I have a lot to add, beyond suggesting you be thoughtful about your culture. Spend a bit of time looking at how other’s have crafted their own. I like MOZ’s TAFGEE approach, and Github’s got a pretty interesting lean approach to management. Ev William’s Medium is testing a no-manager approach that probably resonates with a lot of small teams.

I like looking for culture tips where I’ve seen it done well, so in this post I’ll look a one of the non-startup examples I have: my college soccer team.

The times that I’ve seen culture crafted well, both the leadership and role players contributed significantly to the end result. There was a set of principles, attitudes, and beliefs that everyone bought into. There was also always a common goal within the team; a core reason that everyone felt motivated to show up and kick ass.

Stanford Soccer & Culture

As an example, our Stanford Soccer team went from a relative unknown to first-ranked organization in a matter of three seasons. I arrived in year three of that rise. We held a #1 national ranking for about five more years once we’d attained it.

We were a pretty damn good team talented-wise, for sure, but we had less US National Team and big name players on our team than all the other top-ranked schools. We started out as complete underdogs.

What we did have was Bobby Clark, arguably the best soccer coach in the country. He has a system that defines his teams on and off the field.

His attention to detail when it came to our team culture was maniacal. In a good way.

Family First

Our team was a family first. We ate meals together, cleaned up after ourselves, and put our studies and our teammates first.

It was quickly obvious to freshman that they weren’t the only ones who’s joined the team. Their extended family, friends, and roommates were a part of our family, welcomed to the fold and integrated into our mission.

Takeaway: Treat everyone as if they’re part of your team, all the time. Your “team” is bigger than just the people you hire.

Impact Second

Most first-rate people work at things because of the impact they perceive it will have. That impact is different than the goals you set out to achieve. A company might want to IPO or cross $100 million in revenue. That’s impactful, for sure, but impact isn’t binary.

At Stanford, our impact was both interpersonal and as an organization. Bobby made sure we gave back to the community that came out to watch our games; we taught clinics for kids, visited local hospitals, and did charity work.

He made sure that our academics never slipped, no matter how far we travelled or how successful we were in the rankings. We were expected to graduate first, succeed as athletes second.

Takeaway: Your team’s lives aren’t all about work. Make their time with you impactful, even if nobody gets rich.

Impart Discipline

When I talk to friends who played college athletics at other schools, it becomes clear that our discipline was very different. Bobby got a surprisingly high level of buy-in from us. He treated us like adults, but expected us to act like adults.

During our season, we didn’t drink alcohol for 72 hours before a game. That left Sunday and Monday nights to have our fun, which we stuck to religiously. That’s a big ask for college students.

We were always on time, to everything. Weights, light runs, meals, and travel departures were all concrete on every player’s calendar. Standards were high and you didn’t skirt them because your teammates didn’t. Interestingly, it seemed jolting at first, coming from a much looser high school environment; a few weeks into pre-season every guy on the team wouldn’t dream of being late or lax on the structure we’d all agreed to.

Takeaway: Discipline is a product of buy-in. If your team believes in the goals you’re aiming for, and understands the impact they can have, a new level of discipline and dedication is within reach.

Yeah, but building a company is different.

I do think athletics teams and companies are different, but they have a lot in common. In Startupland we ask for a lot of faith from our team members. We shoot for seemingly unattainable goals, and gather small teams together to make sacrifices so that we all might succeed.

Your team’s culture will always be a product of the people you have on your team, but you can learn a lot from any team that’s been successful. Mapping yourself to another team isn’t the answer, so at times it can be helpful to use teams that aren’t much like your own to find inspiration.

This post is part of Startup Edition. If you haven’t, go subscribe for a collection of posts each week from Startupland.

 

10 Things I’d Tell My Pre-Startup Former Self

This post is a part of this week’s Startup Edition, a collection of posts inspired by the question: “What advice would you give young entrepreneurs?”

I never planned on being an entrepreneur.

I never really planned on a career at all, like most of the people in my generation. I spent the first 22 years of my life thinking I might play professional soccer, and when that stopped feeling right I walked away from the sport without a Plan B.

I primarily followed my nose after that, and it lead me on a path to trying to build companies and products.

If I could go back to my senior year in college and share a few nuggets of wisdom with my youthful self, these are a few of the things I’d say:

  • Building products, services, and companies is an enlightening experience that’s likely to redefine your paradigm for the idea of work. If it’s right for you, you feel as if you’re almost always working but it never feels like work.
  • Think about networking any which way except for the way you’re taught to think about it. Don’t do it with a specific goal in mind – do it because people are what will truly make the difference for you.
  • Speaking of people, focus on meeting as many great ones as you can. Good people lead to good things, always.
  • Hypothesize and prove yourself wrong as often as possible. Every day if you can. Being wrong is hard for most people, and the more comfortable you are with it the better equipped you are to succeed.
  • There’s a big difference between acting like a founder and acting like an owner. Founders are leaders, owners are bosses.
  • Co-founding is akin to marriage in a lot of ways. Don’t do it lightly, and hold up to your end of the bargain.
  • One of the tricks to being efficient (as opposed to busy) is learning to say no more often than you say yes.
  • Work hard at becoming a great product picker. If it’s not your thing, find a co-founder or team member who’s already great at it. It’ll make all the difference going forward.
  • Stay fit. The energy, clarity, and strength you’ll get from exercise is a competitive advantage.
  • Eat real food and make food a priority, even if money’s tight. Ramen profitable doesn’t mean you actually have to eat shitty ramen.

There’s probably hundreds of little insights I’d like to share with my former self, but these jump out based on my experience over the last few years.

What advice would you give yourself prior to the path your currently on?

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Not Perfect Customers

This post is part of this week’s Startup Edition to answer the question: How did you get your first customer?

Early on as you begin building a company one of the most common things you hear from advisors and other entrepreneurs is “Who’s the customer?“.

At Foodtree, our early goal was to build a “digital farmers market” that connected people to the origins of their food. Our earliest users were foodies, food bloggers, and small food producers. They would use our mobile app or website to upload photos of their foodstuffs and tag it with origin metadata.

It was essentially crowdsourced food provenance, and we quickly realized that small to mid-sized local food producers were getting a lot of brand and marketing value out of the content being shared on the network.

We also realized that there really wasn’t a lot of room for those particular types of businesses to pay for new services – the margins in the food business are thin. On top of that, those business owners are incredibly busy growing, harvesting, transporting, and selling their food. We faced very real problems that would hinder distribution and adoption. Our path to revenue wasn’t clear.

As we were testing our early product while the farmer’s market season opened up, we met an organization that wanted to improve their website’s ability to show consumers origins and meta data for the food they certified. Along with a complete refresh of their website itself, this “provenance element” piqued our interest and we began discussing the project as a potential win-win for both companies.

As the deal came together, it looked like a great fit.

Looking back now, though, I can see clearly that it was too good to be true and that it had significant unforseen impact on our startup. We had taken on a Not Perfect Customer, and it ended up hurting us.

Let’s look at how and why that happened, and what you might do to avoid taking on a “not perfect customer” of your own.

What’s A Not Perfect Customer?

Originally, I planned on writing this post about my experience with the “wrong” customer. When I thought about it, though, the idea that you’d make the mistake of working with the wrong customer seems to imply you get it all wrong. That’s just not the case.

Landing the wrong customer will likely feel as if you’re landing the right one.

I think the signs you’re looking for to avoid the kind of customer that negatively impacts your progress are signs that suggest they aren’t a perfect fit for you. They’re “not perfect” but you find yourself moving forward with them for reasons I explore below.

Why We Signed A “Not Perfect Customer”

We all know that hindsight makes us experts, so it’s worth discussing why we pursued a Not Perfect Customer in the first place.

  • The revenue: This was our first big customer deal, so it was also the first large payment we collected. We were running out of money so the revenue lengthened our runway.
  • The validation: Signing a customer is a great validation signal for investors, employees, and other potential customers.
  • The use case seemed to fit: It felt as if the functionality they needed on their new website was perfectly in line with the direction we wanted to take our own product. It felt as if we’d found someone to fund internal product development.

Our Dangerous Assumptions

Looking back there were assumptions we made about the deal that came back to bite us. Some of these assumptions were:

  • Things go according to plan: Especially with larger B2B deals, the opposite is true. When I looked back on our original planning document six months after we’d started working together, I literally broke down laughing at how naive we’d been about the scope of the project.
  • Things happen on time: This is also a very dangerous assumption, in that almost everything takes three or four times longer than you’d expect when working with bigger businesses. We’d planned on a two month engagement (or thereabouts) to get us to launching their site. I think we launched it six months later, and I did my last bit of support for them over a year after we’d begun.
  • Support will be minimal: In all probably 70% of the time we spent on this project would be considered support. We’d conceptualized the project as a “simple website build”. It was nothing of the sort.

Some Critical Mistakes We Made

I think some of the signs we missed when we orchestrated our deal with a Not Perfect Customer are instructive for other startups in a similar situation. You’re eager to land customers (and should be) so you convince yourself these things aren’t important, but in reality they will be.

  • We agreed to build “other stuff”: We were interested in the deal because there was a piece of the new site which could be handled by our product. Having a customer pay for your product dev is great, but agreeing to build other things for them burns precious resources on non-essentials. A startup doesn’t have the luxury of devoting resources to non-core activities. This is very hard to remember in the face of a potential deal.
  • We were working with a committee: We didn’t foresee the number of different people and departments who’d decide to have input on the final deliverable. This alone added months to turnaround cycles and resulted in long lists of added tweaks and adjustments throughout the project.
  • We didn’t plan for the learning curve: I think it’s very important to assess the technology IQ of an organization you’re going to work with, because overestimating it can severely impact the level of support you’re forced to provide. Like I said, we spent an inordinate amount of time onboarding their team to the new site and how it would change their internal processes. A simple change you might take for granted at your startup can create meaningful ripples in other organizations, and you’re not done until the customer can use your deliverable.
  • We thought we could provide services: We weren’t blind to the fact that we were being hired as a vendor providing services, but we did underestimate what it means to provide those services. If you’ve operated as a services business already (or are bootstrapping that way) you’re far more prepared to work this way than if you haven’t. We hadn’t, weren’t very good at it, and never wanted that to be a core competency.

Final Thoughts

When I look back, I can see why we did our deal with a Not Perfect Company, and it’s hard to estimate the outcome if we hadn’t. Would we have gone out of business without the revenue? It’s possible. Would we have built our own product faster or found a better market fit earlier? That’s possible too.

What I do know is that I’d avoid a deal like that in the future if I could, mostly because of the unforeseen distraction it caused us as entrepreneurs and a company. I’d do everything I could to limit the outcomes we experienced by rigidly defining the deliverable and fully clarifying the hard boundaries of the project, down to the hours allotted.

As a startup, time is really the scarce resource, and we burned a lot of it because we took the wrong customer.

How about you?

Have you taken on a Not Perfect Customer?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about early Not Perfect Customers if you have them – comment here or hit me up on twitter!

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8 Simple Insights Early Founders Forget When Pitching

I try to talk to as many early stage founders as I can.

I do that because I learn so much by hearing other people’s ideas around building a business from scratch, and I appreciate how difficult it is to start a company so I want to help whenever the opportunity strikes.

I also spent two years working on a startup that never really got the kind of traction we were looking for. I went broke in the process of learning quite a bit (as anyone will if they crack at it for two years). We made plenty of mistakes, some of which are listed below.

There are a few signals I get when talking to new founders that suggest they’re thinking about the wrong things when they pitch their idea to new stakeholders.

They’ve got their eye on the wrong carrot.

NOTE: I’m not really talking about marketing your product to customers here. I’m talking about building a group of stakeholders that includes investors, advisors, and team members.

The following are a few insights I think early founders, especially first-timers, should take to heart when talking about their project.

  1. You can only do one thing. Your big vision usually clouds a conversation about how you’ll survive your first six months. Get crystal clear on the most simple way you can explain what you’re doing NOW. What’s the problem you’re solving and what’s the unique value you’re bringing to that problem? The biggest signal for missing this insight is the words “and then”. Never say “and then”.
  2. Sexy doesn’t survive a seed round. You can raise “dumb” money from people who don’t know anything about technology by telling a good story. It’s actually not that hard. What is hard is identifying a valuable problem and surmising a plausible strategy for solving it that will convince real stakeholders (who’ll act as multipliers) to buy in. Stop selling and start learning more than anyone else about your market by gathering real data.
  3. Flashy, showboating decks are like websites that play music. I know you want to stand out, and there are stories of pitch decks that broke convention and got a lot of buzz. Ignore those stories. Build 10 slides and crush what’s important. Think about it this way: the best decks get forwarded to people’s networks…nobody’s forwarding a video deck or overblown sales pitch to their network.
  4. Your story matters a lot. People get behind people they like. It’s true in sales and it’s true in startups. Don’t be afraid to share your story and a bit of your ethos in your deck (or in your accompanying email). Your background doesn’t have to demonstrate you’re an ideal customer, but you do need to highlight why you’re the team who’s got what it takes to persevere when things get really ugly. Hint: Things will get really ugly.
  5. You don’t have all the answers. Too many early founders present themselves as if they’re right about all of their assumptions. Startups are mostly about being wrong. The winning founders have a plan to figure out how they’re wrong quickly, via product design and iterations. What if you presented your idea as a series of hypotheses you needed time to prove? Would it change your pitch?
  6. Never fudge material signals. An almost Fortune 500 customer isn’t a Fortune 500 customer. A non-material acquisition conversation isn’t an acquisition offer. It’s far more helpful to discuss the reasons you didn’t land a customer or acquisition deal. Focus on what you’ve learned so far, and use “almost signals” as data points that you’re seeking knowledgeable advice on.
  7. Outline your revenue model. An amazing amount of pitch decks don’t outline a revenue model. Businesses are made to earn profits, so assuming you don’t have incredible retention or growth metrics yet, you should have a really strong grip on the ways you might make money. Have a favorite revenue model, but be open to exploring other ideas.
  8. Humble intelligence wins. You’re pretty smart. Anyone who gets a company off the ground has a bit of smarts in them. Mute the ego and become a great listener, absorbing the feedback you’re getting without taking it personally. Defend your hypotheses but listen to outside perspectives and treat startups like professional sports…very few rookies make an impact in their first season. Be a rookie in your Rookie Year.

A lot of these insights are based on the idea that the benefits of being open, humble, and honest when you’re just getting started outweigh the natural inclination you have to present yourself as as a big deal.

The biggest companies in technology are almost exclusively the ones that nobody thought were going to be huge.

Live in that space while you can, and learn as much as possible quickly, leveraging the smart people you have the opportunity to meet with.

Now I’ll ask you readers…

Founders, what mistakes have you made while pitching your idea?

Stakeholders, what kinds of things do you see repeatedly that you wish everyone knew before you sat down to meet founders?

 

Are Startups Cool?

I was catching up some friends and someone at the table said, “I don’t really get what you do…but it just sounds cool. Anything with ‘startup‘ in it sounds cool…so good job!”

That’s pretty much how the world thinks about startups right now.

I think that’s an unhealthy way to think about startups.

I didn’t get into startups because they’re cool, but I have a sense that people are starting to do just that.

A sad economy and bleary job prospects have made even my most risk-averse friends consider leaving their jobs to join a startup. The excitement surrounding early stage tech is so high right now that for some people “sitting on the sidelines” has become the risky career move.

That’s insane. The idea that starting or joining a startup is a rational career move is straight up crazy.

Any startup founder would agree that the last reason they got into this game was because they were thinking about their career.

My Story

An early draft of this post didn’t include much about my own experience and the few I asked to read it suggested I include a bit about my own experience. I think they’re right in that it’s helpful context. I’m not writing from the top of the hill, having sold my company for millions. My first startup is still alive but it’s a company we’re still pushing to find real success in.

I went broke as a startup founder. Dead broke. The kind of broke that people get uncomfortable talking about.

It was the kind of broke that left me unable to pay rent in Vancouver, having relocated there following our seed round. Unable to pay rent, I ended up taken in by an entrepreneur friend to crash on his couch. At 30 years old I was living on someone else’s couch without a dime in my pocket, working on our startup at every spare moment.

Every day, waking up presented two major challenges:

  1. Find a way to push our startup towards success and find a revenue model that worked.
  2. Find a way to survive by acquiring food.

If that sounds basic, it was. When was the last time you worried about eating enough?

I reached a point at which I’d ration out my week on less than 20 dollars. I was forced to ask for help from other entrepreneurs who would buy me meals. I couldn’t always feed myself.

Unable to pay bills, I stopped doing so. My credit card debt began to build all around me. My phone went dead.

The fallout of going really broke is immersive. You lose your sense of the normalcy most people experience. You’re doing it for the dream you’ve committed to, so you’re left with nothing except for the work you’re doing.

You work.

You have nothing else you can afford to do.

It’s brutal. It’s not glory.

A startup means uncertainty. Startups mean risk and pain and embarrassment. Startups can mean homelessness.

So…are startups “cool”?

Let’s look at the good and the bad. This is by no means an exhaustive look at startup life. If you’re in it, please share your insights in the comments for my mostly non-startup audience.

The Good Stuff

  • DREAMS – Creation IS cool: Building something new is cool. It’s as cool as writing a hit song or making a beautiful movie. Mainstream culture is now idealizing Sean Parker in the ways that they used to idealize The Rolling Stones.
  • INNOVATION – Risk aversion drives innovation: Startupheads are risk averse and face uncertainty in a way that most people don’t have the stomach for. Facing failure forces people to keep on pushing their boundaries. The survivors persist because it’s what they’re meant to do. That selection process benefits all of us.
  • BENEFITS – Work your own hours, unlimited vacation, blah: Startups build their own culture from the ground up, and we are lucky to have that fortune. It’s not 9 to 5. It’s a life very driven by results.
  • COMMUNITY – Altruism makes it all possible: Startup people are passionate. That passion birthed an industry full of collaboration and support that puts other industries to shame. Newbies in the startup world are met with encouragement and mentorship. It’s a competitive world, but it’s generally more friendly than other industries (I’ve worked in high finance and law, others can comment otherwise).

The Real Stuff

Here’s a bit about the stuff that isn’t “cool”.

  • DREAMS – Uncertainty is horrible: Imagine never knowing if you’ll have a job tomorrow. Or if you can pay your bills next week. Founders have it the hardest, but no matter where you are in the ecosystem, you’re always living a life that’s got no guarantees. Startups aren’t a career, they’re a lifestyle.
  • INNOVATION – Failure, always: In a startup you’re always fucking everything up. There’s nowhere to hide; you will feel bad at your job. You will often go to sleep knowing you could have done more. You will always know how much more there is to do. Everything but work can become “not working”, if you aren’t working.
  • BENEFITS – Paychecks are unstable: In Startupland, salaries are kind of a joke. Being an early team member on an unproven technology venture means you may find yourself elated every time you get paid. Financial instability is pretty consistent and it affects nearly aspect of a startup team members’ life.
  • COMMUNITY – You don’t complain: Whether you’re a founder or an early employee, every early stage ship is a rocket ship, and saying otherwise is sacrilege. There isn’t a lot of room in the startup culture to complain about your job. Startup jobs aren’t jobs. They’re tribe memberships.

I think it’s important to recognize that joining a startup is an admirable endeavor, but it’s equally important to acknowledge that it’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most.

Startup work is a mishmash of incredible strength and passion living right next to complete uncertainty about a final outcome.

That uncertainty is the result of a 99% chance of dying early. Have you ever taken a job with a company you expected to fail?

That’s a prerequisite to working in Startupland.

I’d love to hear more thoughts on the hype I’m seeing around being a part of Startupland. We need to talk about how hard this is. We need to recognize that we’re all choosing to struggle.

If we deserve the accolades that we get when we succeed, we should honor and celebrate the challenges we take on for what they are.

Thoughts?

Where I’ve Been & Where I Am

A big thanks to everyone who still finds me invading their inbox or RSS reader.

I’m going to be writing a lot more going forward, but things will change a bit. It’s like that time you told your dog she was going to the park and really you were taking her to the vet.

(Your intentions were great, by the way.)

I’ve always written extensively about my relationships on this blog in the past, and I’m not sure that will go away. I can’t really write without including the deeply personal stuff.

But…I am sure that I’m a different person than I was when this blog started. I’ve gotten into the frame of mind that nearly anything is possible if you dive in head first, learn as much as you can as fast as you can, and stay close to amazing people.

The last few years have been transformative, and I’m passionate about the role that technology plays in our lives. I need to explore that with you, and I hope that while I do that it will benefit you (no matter how much you think about tech).

As to the title of this post, I’ve been through the amazing process of being a first time startup founder. To all the people out there who’ve started businesses or hope to start one some day, I’m going to do my best to share my experience (finally).

Today, I’m working on another startup that two friends founded, hell bent on helping them turn their already measurable success into a true game changer. It’s brought me back to San Francisco, a city I adore on every level and a community I’m deeply excited to be a part of.

Going forward; moar writing.

Momma Montessori

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My parents put me into a Montessori school right off the bat.

I’m pretty sure they couldn’t afford it, honestly, but both of my parents came from backgrounds that emphasized education. College was a must. Intellect was a stated goal when raising children.

When we transplanted to Chicago and out of the “East Coast System” I think that paying for Montessori was partly a selfish parental attempt to prove they weren’t the ones with the dumb country kids amongst a litany of thirty-odd brilliant ivy-league-destined cousins.

The truth though?

It was mostly a belief in a non-traditional way of developing young minds. In 1986, no less.

It shaped me.

Learning to learn in the way that Montessori teaches you to learn had a profound influence on the way my mind works.

//

I remember learning French before I could read.

I remember my teacher pulling me aside one day and saying it was time to see if I was ready to read a chapter book.

A CHAPTER BOOK.

I was the first in class to do this (or my 7 year old self I thought I was)…and I remember being proud. Even prouder when we were done and she bursted out with “you just read a chapter book!”

We took care of animals and learned math with our hands and had to clean up after lunch and snack time. Our days were spent solving puzzles and moving on to harder puzzles at the pace that made sense for each of us.

//

Montessori people can be spotted.

Their minds explore…and they have a refreshingly calm sense of the way their own mind works.

//

Mom began teaching. At the Montessori school they sent me to. The one I don’t think they could afford.

Momma dove into educating children The Montessori Way because she was a true believer.  She was setting little humans up to be great humans. She was also making it more affordable to give her son and two daughters the Montessori experience.

She’d have done road construction to make that kind of thing happen for us three.

//

Momma’s a child-whisperer. Momma turns kids into Rocket Ships of Goodness.

Today she runs the school that started me down my intellectual path. Down my emotional path.

Down the path that made me who I am today.

For two decades she’s given the gift I sit here and appreciate in a deeper way than I could ever articulate to thousands of children.

I know she doesn’t think her heart has room for anyone else when she thinks about me and my two sisters, but she’s wrong.

Her legend is in her capacity to deeply care about every single child that she has ever set eyes on, ever.

Her legend is how she makes her children the luckiest people in the world.

Our mother has the biggest heart.

We win.

My mother should raise the planet, from where I’m standing.

//

Tell me something about your mom?

 

You And Me Both, Brother

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I walk to work every other day or so, about a mile through a city I can now navigate with my eyes splitting time between my phone and the way the buildings here seem to volley sunlight back and forth in between them like little kids fighting over a beachball.

The coffee shop across from our office is a cave of a place, friendly staff and great food and good at knowing which drink you’ll have based on the way you open the door. It’s the destination, each morning, and the route through downtown Vancouver is usually similar to the previous one, similar to the next, save for a busy intersection that might send me this way or that, an extra block or two.

People in this town aren’t rushed like they are in other cities. Every once in a while you get a whiff of crisp mountain air that reminds you to look North to take in those pearly whitecaps you probably forget are always there.

//

This morning I took a different route. Sometimes you need to tell yourself to take another route, to push yourself outside of the most meaningless norms in order to have the confidence to do the same thing when when it really matters.

The sun and smells were fresh as came around the underbelly of the city near the stadium where my old friend spends his weekends captaining the soccer team into their second professional season.

A block or two from the stadium there’s an expanse of public soccer fields and my route takes me alongside them, fields to my right and the outer walls of the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden to my left.

Calm and solitude emanate from either side…especially nice while dressed in dusty columns of early sunlight.

//

I stepped off the sidewalk towards the fields to snap a photo. Empty soccer pitches in the morning anchor childhood memories I can almost taste.

Flashbacks to years of early morning dew and sunrise, sitting on the sidelines putting on shinguards and cleats hoping the grogginess subsides before game time. The buzz to play, to compete.

A man was sauntering along the street towards the corner I’d come upon. I stood leaning against the rail with my camera held towards the sun.

Spare some change?

//

I’d ask the guy taking time out of his morning to snap photos of an empty pitch for change too.

//

“Honestly wish I could. Elbow deep in chasing dreams these days. I’ve got nothin.”

He smiled genuinely.

“I guess we’re both chasing dreams, then, eh?”

Ha! Indeed.

He limbered by.

At the intersection a few paces away he turned around and he said, “I think that makes us both rich in some way.”

Your Heroes Have Heroes Too

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It’s been a whirlwind year.

On Conan the other night Aaron Paul relayed a night with his girlfriend in New York in which he spotted Conan at a play and stood outside reeling about wanting to go up and introduce himself. It was pouring rain and he and his girl were awestruck enough to wimp out on approaching Conan. They stood outside and watched him get in his car and start to drive away.

The car pulled up, stopped, and Conan jumped out like a crazy  person, running through the rain to introduce himself to Aaron. Conan told him Breaking Bad was one of the best shows that’s ever been produced on television.

//

I’ve always had this weird relationship with the idea of celebrity. I’ve always been opposed to it, actually.

When I was dating Kate we talked about it a lot…when we met celebrity was this thing, this otherworldly thing that carried with it a magic and an inaccessibility that put people like Brad Pitt or Bono or multinational CEOs in a class that wasn’t of the world normal people existed in.

I fought that sentiment. I fought it because I’d played soccer and gone to college with a lot of celebrities and that veil had been pierced. My ego probably played  a role there too; I won’t deny that.

I still meet and know people who have a similar view of celebrity, and it still doesn’t sit well with me.

When I look back, though, I know I had heroes too. I know I looked at people who inspired me as if they knew something I didn’t…as if they were a chosen class of people that didn’t include people who grew up in the suburbs and went to college and still knew all their friends from highschool.

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My heroes were people building tech companies. Founders of shit like Napster, Facebook, MySpace, and lots of other web shit you’ve probably never heard of. These were people I felt like I’d always be watching…people I’d watch get into fancy cars while standing in a downpour.

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One thing this whirlwind of two years has shown me is that people doing amazing things are just people too. They work their asses off and they’re inspired by all kinds of people just like everyone else is.

Your heroes have heroes.

Often the people living your dream life want to help you get there. They want to mentor, collaborate, or offer insight into how they’ve gotten what they have.

They’re not really interested in being fawned over.

They’re usually interested in how they’ve inspired other people.

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A wise friend of mine, Mack, put it well.

“I eat my heroes. I’ve eaten a bunch of them and I have a new set of heroes that I’m going to eat as well.”

“They start out up here [hand in the air] but eventually I’ll eat them and find a new plateau to go conquer.”

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I still have heroes, and I still watch them and work off of the inspiration they offer me.

When I wonder about how they’ve done what they’ve done, I ask them.

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Are you eating your heroes?

Five Years & Three Months Since Blogging

This blog was started on August 15th, 2006.

It’s sort of our five year anniversary around here.

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Before that I was writing an anonymous blog called PsychoticNormalcy. I got that website online in 2002 and I was using Moveable Type (which was a bitch, honestly).

I began writing online because I was reading these bloggers who were telling stories about their lives, and they wrote so beautifully.

This was pretty new at the time, writing about your life online – Blogger & LiveJournal were three years old.

But these people wrote with incredible courage and clarity. There were many, but the ones that seem to pop into my head when I think back to those times include Tony PierceRaymi, Tankboy, Gwen Bell, Chris Messina, Ryan McGee, TinkDarkness, AntiDis and xTx. I’m forgetting many.

They inspired me to write, and to keep writing.

I sucked at first…I wrote like a teenager. I wrote arrogantly as if my perspective mattered and as if my life was legend. I wrote “as if”.

Often, I’d try to figure out what whomever was reading would want me to say, and I’d write that.

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I haven’t written here in three months.

It’s been an interesting experience. I’ll explain why it happened in a different post, but I found myself facing the deletion of all of my websites one day. It was unexpected, and as you can probably imagine it created a bit of a hassle if I was going to fix everything.

After about two weeks, and heavily influenced by Gwen Bell’s Blank Slate and Digital Sabbatical, I decided to sit with the downtime.

To lean into it and to contemplate the clean slate as an opportunity as opposed to a dramatic problem.

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I’ve moved things around on this site as a result of the reflection that the downtime afforded me.

I’ve moved them around in an effort to align this site with what I’m doing, thinking, and experiencing.

If you’re reading this in a feed, you might want to click over here to poke around and get acquainted. There’s even a page to see what I’m seeing each day.

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I’ll explain more later.

For now, it’s nice to be back behind the keyboard writing.

How have you been?