20 years without my father

 

My dad died 20 years ago. For a few years, I’ve had this post on my todo list and the due date has arrived. I was both looking forward to it and dreading it a bit.

After 20 years, your memories of someone who is gone tend to condense. They’re summarized in your brain like a highlight reel. Those highlights, I suspect, represent the core of what the person meant to you. So, what are the highlights that are left in my brain about my dad?

First, humor. There were many times when my father would literally be laughing so hard that he was unable to talk or breathe. He loved the Pink Panther movies and we’d watch them over and over together. We’d be on family vacations playing some stupid board game and we’d need to wait 10-15 minutes until we all stopped laughing. He had a great sense of humor and these are my fondest memories of him. As  a specific example, the clip below would always set him off for 10 minutes or longer.

The second highlight of him in my brain is kindness. Whether it was rescuing and caring for 11 puppies found underneath his office building abandoned by their mother, or giving a yard work job to someone down on their luck that nobody else would give a chance, this epitomized my dad.

The third highlight was of him as an entrepreneur. He started his own accounting firm and merged it with another. And it was built to last. Even though he’s been gone twenty years, that firm is still going today and is called Cohen, Smith and Company which I view as quite an honor. I used to work in his company doing payroll data entry for his clients when I was a kid. I remember being amazed that you could build a company from the ground up, create jobs for people, and make it in your own image. In his own way, he was making the world a better place for his customers, his employees, and his family.

Fourth, he was a really good tennis player. He had an amazing slice backhand. He taught me how to play at a beautiful tennis club that he helped build with a bunch of other families (another entrepreneurial activity). I remember going to the site with him that was nothing more than a field of kudzu that he had to chop down along the path just to show us where the courts would be.  I basically grew up at that club.

I'm on the right.

I’m on the right.

Since he passed away, I’ve had a recurring dream. It’s happening less often now, but for a while there it was 4 or 5 times a year. In that dream, we’re usually on a vacation, just spending time with each other. It’s the current year, my family is there, my kids, my wife, my brother, my sister, and my mom. And my dad. He’s just there, and it’s normal. We all seem to understand that he died, but in the dream it’s common knowledge that even though that happened, he’s just back. He looks just like he did 20 years ago, although everyone else has aged. There’s nothing special about the scene, he’s just a part of it. He’s laughing and smiling, he’s a part of the normal conversation. Inside the dream, I know I’m dreaming. I’m hoping I don’t wake up for a while.

When I finally do wake up, I have a thankful feeling for being able to spend a few more minutes with him. And it reminds me to laugh, play tennis, be kind, spend time with family, dream, and change the world for the better. Just like he did.  I like that dream.

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Back from Sabbatical

I spent the last month completely offline, not working. I hadn’t done that in the 8 years since i founded Techstars. Last year, we raised a new venture fund and I was on the road twice as much as normal. When we closed it in January, I promised myself and my family some time for rejuvenation last this year. Needless to say, it was amazing. I feel very refreshed and energized, and I’m raring to get back at it today.

I’m not going to detail the time off. Instead, I thought I’d record a few random takeaways.

Time to disconnect: People may ask how long it took me to truly disconnect. I’d put it at about 5 days. For the first 5 days, I woke up thinking about work, and instinctively reaching for my phone to check email and other messages. After that, it was completely gone until I was flying home. I think this worked both ways at the start, because various co-workers contacted me on each of the first 5 days via text message – probably also instinctively, but also due to a couple of small emergencies.

Emails: I didn’t check my work email once while i was gone. Only about 1,200 emails came in over 30 days. Typically I get about 300-500 per day. It turns out if you don’t email as much, you don’t get as much email. Well, that, plus tons of great co-workers covering for you and dropping you quickly to bcc. I sent 44 personal emails in those 30 days and received about 25 back. Most of those were scheduling activities.

Weight: I gained 1.8 pounds during my 30 days of sabbatical, which is under 1% for me.  I put this in the miracle category, the way I ate on vacation. I was able to play tennis about twice a week, so that must have helped. I think I ate ice cream in the middle of the day on about 75% of the days (exclusively chocolate, of course, with one exception which was a clear mistake).

Massages: I got two eighty-minute massages in the last month. I’ve put it on my list to get at least one of those a month from here on out. I think it can really help with the pains of too much travel.

Books: I read five. My favorite was Give and Take. Highly recommended for everyone. A ton of actionable stuff in there for our #givefirst organization at Techstars. One I re-read was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Hadn’t read that in 20 years. If you’re in that bucket, re-read it. I took away many new meanings later in my life than i had before.

People might wonder if any new inspiration or “aha moments” came to me while not thinking about work. Yes, a few. I won’t detail them here. It seems true that inspiration does occasionally hit when you’re not focused on it at all.

I want to thank my co-workers for allowing this and covering for me while I was out for a month, most notably my incredible assistant and my partners. One thing I did think about on the time away was the people that I missed. I’m very lucky to work with such a great and dedicated time that lives by the Give First mantra. It’s nice that Techstars and our venture fund is at a point where stepping away for a month is just not a problem. I think that’s a sign of a healthy business. Things seem to have gone very smoothly. Perhaps too smoothly. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Overhead

Yesterday, I didn’t leave my house.

I was supposed to be in San Francisco for a board meeting but I was forced to cancel the trip suddenly. It left me with a rare day with only that one meeting (which I had to attend remotely) on my calendar. Otherwise, my calendar was wide open. I can’t remember that last time my calendar looked that way. I ended up doing that meeting online, and putting it on my big screen TV in my basement. It was really as good as being there. I caught every nuance because of the big display. It felt great. Obviously I missed the personal interaction with the management team, but that was really the only drawback.

I then realized that the entire rest of the day would have been spent traveling.  I would have missed bedtime stories with my son, but because I didn’t have the overhead I got to do that too. Sure, I probably would have gotten a ton of email done on the plane. Maybe a call on the way to the airport. But really, the travel was pure overhead. Leaving my house would have been overhead too. I didn’t go out to lunch either, I just ate a quick sandwich at home.

Because of the lack of overhead, it was easily the most productive day I can remember. It was pure maker time, except for that one meeting. I crushed my task lists and caught up on several very important projects. I did a couple of urgent calls (this happens daily – something is always urgent when you have a large portfolio of companies). I went to bed feeling energized and great about what I had accomplished.

My only regret was that I bothered to shower or put regular clothes on. That cost me a couple of minutes. But my wife was OK it, especially the shower. And I’m pretty sure the other board members appreciated not having to witness my pajamas.

I highly recommend you have one day in your life with zero overhead. Doing this will help you think about which of the overhead items you want to add back in and which you want to try to reduce or eliminate. You may be amazed by what you find. I sure was, and it’s leading to a few changes.

 

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Help Fund the Jessica Ridgeway Memorial Park

We all felt the impact of the loss of Jessica Ridgeway. As a celebration of Jessica’s life, there’s an effort going on to renovate her neighborhood park in 2013.

The City of Westminster has collaborated with the family on the design and has committed $200,000 in cash and in-kind services. The total cost of the project is $450,000. Current partners include Jefferson County, Westminster Rotary Club, Heinrich Marketing, and Westminster Public Safety Recognition Foundation.

My wife and I just made a donation. You can also help the community and Jessica’s family heal with a tax deductible donation to a beautiful park in her honor. To do so, just visit the Westminster Legacy Foundation and be sure to note that your donation is intended for the Jessica Ridgeway Memorial Park.

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Denver PUC is being Uber-Annoying

If you’ve ever ridden in an Uber, you know it’s a great innovation. Now Denver’s PUC is trying to shut Uber down by inventing new rules targeted directly at it. It’s a sickening defense of a poor incumbent.

How can this be bad?

Image from www.thegoodlifedenver.com

 

Right! Who needs clean, comfortable rides on demand from your smart phone anyway? Please read this, and then take the actions suggested there (also they are below). You can make a real difference and teach the Denver PUC the same lesson that community leaders supporting Uber have already taught similar groups in places like Boston and Washington DC and others: that the people of Colorado won’t stand for protectionist actions that prevent innovation.

If you haven’t tried Uber, here’s $10 off to try it out. Help us keep Uber in Denver along with other great cities of the world such as San Francisco, New York, LA, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, DC, Vancouver, Toronto, Paris, Milan, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Dallas.

There are several things you can do right now.

1) Contact Gov. Hickenlooper and tell him, “Save Uber in Colorado! Withdraw PUC Rules Changes to sections 6001, 6301, & 6309.”

Email Gov. Hickenlooper

Write on Gov. Hickenlooper’s Facebook Wall

2) Contact the Colorado PUC Directly:

Email Joshua Epel, Chairman

Email Doug Dean, Director

3) Sign the petition that shows the PUC your #UberDENVERLove.

Disclosure: I’m an early angel investor in Uber.

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Common Pitch Chile

I’m really looking forward to my upcoming trip to Santiago, Chile where I’ll be speaking about startup communities at Common Pitch Chile along with some incredible people including Al Gore, who is the keynote speaker. (I’m very excited to have lunch with him and learn all about the Internet!)

This is the first time Common Pitch will take place in Latin America, and it will also be the first festival of its kind in Chile. The three-day event kicks off on November 29 with Start-Up Chile Demo Day, and continues with tons of interesting workshops, good music, and more than 20 speakers, including Charly Alberti, Tom Chi, and Dan Burrier.

The finale is on December 1, when eight social entrepreneurs who have been selected for a final pitch round will present on stage and compete for a prize of $35,000. This will be followed by an after party that I’m sure will be awesome.

I’m really excited about participating in the conference, meeting lots of cool people, learning about the community, and playing some tennis on the red clay with my new friends from Startup Chile. I also want to thank my friends from NorthSur for helping organize the trip.

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