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October 20, 2004

Potting Plants

I was trying to recruit someone recently for my new company. Despite hours of pushing by me and the team, they ultimately concluded that they needed to take time off before deciding what to do next.

There was a time, five years ago maybe, where I would have tried to push through their reasoning.

"You'll miss an incredible opportunity"

"There will always be time to take off but not always a time to have a huge impact like this"

You get the idea.

This time I let it go and wished them well. Why?

Peter Ueberroth
Four years ago I met Peter Ueberroth at a venture capital event. Now I had never met Peter before, but I knew that he had made a tremendous and varied career for himself: an entrepreneur and millionaire in the travel industry, organizing the Los Angeles Olympics, named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1984, running all of baseball as its commissioner, spearheading the "rebuilding Los Angeles" campaign after the 1992 riots, investing in and building companies as a venture capitalist, and running for governor in the California recall election.

I was fascinated by this guy and I had to know how he did it. So, I asked the cliched "how have you accomplished so many amazing things in your life" question.

He paused for a moment and I'll never forget what he said.

"I pot plants."

Um... I sat on that one for a moment.

Saving me from the embarassing "I have no freakin' clue what that means", Peter said that every time a job has run its course and he decides to move on, he makes it a point not to do anything right away. He goes into his back yard and he gardens.

He literally pots plants.

His idea is to put himself into a quieted state over as long as it takes, so that he can listen to that little voice in his head that tells him what's next.

He gets himself bored and quiet and calm.

Then he goes on to his next greatness.

I've never forgotten that lesson. It's why my wife and I put backpacks on and traveled to Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia and many other way-too-hot places when I left Excite.

It's why I no longer push when people say they need to decompress.

It's a huge luxury. But if you can, take Peter's advice. Pot some plants.

October 20, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (10)

October 13, 2004

Moons Over My Hammy

I've been absent for a while. Sorry. My new company just launched and it took all my time away.

Now, like Chucky in Child's Play 2, I'm back...

When Vinod Khosla stepped up to the plate to fund Excite (born Architext), a funny thing happened. Suddenly, there was a lot of interest by a lot of people in the company. Nothing creates interest like interest.

One of those people was a guy named Phillipe Courtout. Phillipe ran a search technology company called Verity. What I remember most about Philippe was his French accent and this bad-ass Mercedes he drove.

Phillipe didn't want to fund Architext, he wanted to buy it. Price? $3 million bucks plus some nice cubes at Verity and perhaps an Aeron chair to boot.

So there it was. Phillipe's offer of cash now vs. Vinod's offer of investment and potential.

Those were some high-class problems.

In those days, the tried-and-true way to solve complicated issues was to take the two couches we had "liberated" from the trash bin at our local self-storage locker and drag them together, face to face, in the middle of the living room. Then, with three of us on one side, and three of us on another, we hashed things out.

At midnight, this meeting started with a roll-call vote.

3 to 3.

Three people wanted to take the Verity deal. Three of us wanted to take the risk with Vinod.

Everybody spoke for a while, making their plea. By 1am, we broke the huddle and split up.

A few of us walked the neighborhood, others chucked the nerf football in the street. We re-congregated at 1:45.

We looked at one another and I remember this big pause. Then someone, I don't remember who, said "we've thought about it more and we're willing to take the KP deal." It was done.

After the initial "are we sure about this?" wore off, it was time for celebration. I had a mission: Las Vegas. Now. Martin Reinfried remembered that his dad had one of those books that listed all scheduled flights from all airlines (yes, it was a book in 1994) so we called him and woke him up.

No flights to Vegas at 2:30am? You have no idea what a shock this is to the 22 year old mind.

"How about Denny's?"

That's right, Denny's. Someone floated Denny's as a viable alternative to Las Vegas and the funny thing was we couldn't think of anything else. So, you know where we celebrated the financing decision for Architext?


Can I get a shout out for "Moons Over My Hammy"! It never tasted so good.

For me, this story always reminds me about the nature of startups and about the value of celebrating your successes. Someone once told me that startups are like qualifying for the olympics. Every time you cross the finish line in first place, it represents a milestone and a victory. But, really all it does is qualify you to compete with companies at a higher level. You may think every milestone is a finsh line -- funding, first product ship, more funding, public offering, etc -- but the truth is that the competition never ends. Every finish line merely qualifies you to walk across the track, get back in the starting blocks and compete against even better competitors.

How's that for a VC sports-analogy?

The point for me is this: don't forget to celebrate your successes. It's way too easy to burn out by immediately focusing on the new race right after crossing a finish line. Don't. Take a moment and revel in it.

I never did this enough at Excite. I wish I had. We crossed a lot of finish lines in first and we never took enough time to celebrate.

So now that this new company is launched, it's time to celebrate. It's 10pm, and in my 20s perhaps I'd be in my Jeep on the way to Denny's. Now in my 30s, married, with a new baby, I can think of no greater luxury than going to bed...

Whatever happened to Las Vegas?

October 13, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack