Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.
Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.
I used to say “Yes” a lot. Yes is the catalyst of serendipity and socializing. It is an amazing way to traverse the world and I love seeing friends and meeting new people.
Lately however, I’m saying “No” so much more. I feel badly, but I also get giddy when I see a day on my calendar with ZERO appointments. And frankly, I need that. I need those long unstructured days to get in the zone and think through the building of a company.
Point is, it’s hard to balance and I’ll never get it perfect. None of us ever will. Anyway, this post is a call to arms for those who say “No.”
I talk a lot about “team.” Teams are fascinating and I absolutely love seeing well-oiled teams executing efficiently toward a common goal. Specifically, I’m talking about our team here at Shelby, but I examine teams in action wherever I see them, whether it’s at a startup, at a restaurant, or on the athletic field.
It is easy to pooh-pooh team dynamics in athletics, as it all seems so simple - “You’re on the same team. You all want to win. Just play.” but it is anything but that, particularly in the pros where big contracts and egos come into play.
One such team (that I’ve discussed before) is the New England Patriots. Sure, I’m from MA, so yes, I like the Patriots… but that’s not the only reason why. The more fascinating reason for me is the organization that Bill Belichick has built. Team first. No ego.
The most powerful example of that is today’s news about Tom Brady’s contract extension, in which he is accepting an offer for FAR less than he’s worth in order to free up cash to build a better, more competitive team for the long haul. (P.S. It’s the second time he’s done this).
In 2005, after his third Super Bowl title, Brady agreed to a six-year, $60 million deal, which at the time was dwarfed by Peyton Manning’s contract, which averaged $14.2 million a year. This year, clearly, he is doing exactly the same thing — in fact, giving the team even more of a hometown discount — with one goal in mind: to keep the Patriots competitive for the rest of his career. He’s putting his money where his mouth is. He knows it’s easy for him to make millions in endorsements. One teammate once said about Brady he would be such a sore loser he’d do whatever it took to never lose. At a time when the growing market for quarterbacks pegs the average per year at about $20 million — Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are there, and it’s likely Super Bowl champ Joe Flacco will be there soon — Brady’s average over the next six years will be consistently about 30 percent lower.
It’s a jaw-dropping move and I can’t help but relate it to startups when hiring. The analogy is simple. The “salary cap” is your runway and you only have so much wiggle room. Startup lore dictates that you must only hire “A” players and get them at any cost, thus blowing through your salary cap. The other option is to spread that cash out across a couple hires in the hopes that the sum of the parts is greater than the individuals.
The latter is what the Patriots have done. They pick up no-name players and groom them into the best team they can possibly be. (Hell, even Tom Brady was a 6th round draft pick). Further, their individual stars believe in the organization, its mission and their future legacy so much, that they’re willing to take less cash for the betterment of the team and the potential for true greatness.
I’m obviously impressed by this and commend Brady for it. Of course, it’s easy to do when the difference in cash still leaves you a multi-millionaire with three Super Bowl rings and a supermodel wife, versus a Ramen-eating startup junkie, but still.
h/t to Alex Rainert for sharing the link.
“If you never want to be criticized, for goodness sake don’t do anything new.” —Jeff Bezos, at re: Invent Conference. November, 2012
Inventing something new isn’t easy. Be it a company, a product, or even just a theory, getting the idea right… designing it, building it, testing it, iterating, repeating. It’s a tiresome process, and that’s just what you have to do to deliver it to a market (or audience).
Once your ideas is ‘there,’ you subject yourself to endless criticism from haters and fans alike. Everyone, it seems, has $.02 for you. Some have $2. Others… well, you get the idea.
It can wear you down. You build and build and build and you put so much energy into this one thing and then someone tells you “It’s ugly.” Others say, “I don’t get it.” They’re the nice ones. Some will just say “That will never work.”
But a funny thing happens on your path to creating something new… you stop listening. Err… you’re listening, but you’re not hearing. The criticism becomes background noise. It’s just there. It doesn’t affect your vision. It doesn’t make you consider radical changes. You just process it, pick out the constructive feedback from the haters hating, and keep moving forward. Forward toward the creation of something different. Something radical. Something special.
Eventually, your idea, your invention, your product - finds the audience that sees the world the way you do… from this slightly strange perspective that becomes more and more feasible the more you stare.
Seems to be working for Jeff Bezos, anyway. Full interview below.
On Wednesday, Dan and I drove up to Cornell University for their annual Startup Career Fair. Our intern Ian, who is in school at Cornell now, also joined us and together we pitched the Shelby vision. We had a great turnout and spoke to many bright young engineers, some of whom could really be great a great fit on our team.
But how, in a quick conversation at a career fair are we able to tell if someone can hack it at Shelby where everyone’s equally as sharp with their wit as they are with C++?
Firstly, let’s establish the scene. There are hundreds of students, all with resumes in hand, many with very similar academic tracks, and little to no work experience. Who stands out?
Well, it is not the student with the wordiest resume or the highest GPA. For us, it’s the candidate who says they prefer programming languages that are hard, not easy. It’s the student who challenges our product vision against the competition. It’s the candidate without the resume, who can clearly and simply demonstrate who they are and how they think.
When asked what we look for in a team member, we usually sum it up as “passion and intelligence.” The right blend of these qualities is such a powerful combo, but given that passion isn’t quantifiable and our traditional methods of testing intelligence are generally lame, it’s tough to spot.
This is why it’s crucial for all recruiting to go through the founders in an early stage startup (and as long as possible into the company’s life cycle). So when a friend was shocked that Dan and I made an 8+ hour roundtrip to recruit at Cornell, all I had to say was “Recruiting a great team and maintaing cultural fit is too important. That’s our job.” and they understood. No one knows cultural fit like the founders.
The final piece of the puzzle that sticks out is the risk-taking, lean forward, go for it hustle that we love to see. When I got an email from a candidate pitching why they’re perfect for Shelby - before we even left town - all I could do is smile. That’s the kind of hustle I love to see, and that’s why we hustled up to Cornell, stood up all day and greeted every candidate with the same passion we’ve had since we started.
Today, I’m headed to Harvard for their Startup Career Fair. Let’s see if they stack up.
Companies are not people. But they are comprised of people. And the people side of the business is harder and way more complicated than building a product is. You have to start with culture, values, and a committment to creating a fantastic workplace. You can’t fake these things. They have to come from the top. They are not bullshit. They are everything. There will be things that happen in the course of building a business that will challenge the belief in the leadership and the future of the company. If everyone is a mercenary and there is no shared culture and values, the team will blow apart. But if there is a meaningful culture that the entire team buys into, the team will stick together, double down, and get through those challenging situations.
At our #ShelbySummit a few weeks ago, we revisited our core values that we wrote as a team in July 2012. Since then, I have taken the team’s feedback and rewritten the values to really establish who we are and what we believe in as a company.
It made me think of Fred’s post which resonated with me a year ago(!), as I share the view that a company is a product unto itself. And while we have had our successes and failures so far, it is our team and culture that have gotten us through each of them.
We’re still putting the finishing touches on our values, but I look forward to sharing them here soon.
Last night the New England Patriots lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. I’m a New England fan, but I’m not upset.
Well, most of my life a large portion of my identity was wrapped up in my success in highly competitive athletics. For better or worse, so was much of my happiness. It’s easy to see why.
Winning is fun.
This definitely applied to my athletic career, but somehow it was also inextricably linked to the success of the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox. I was never depressed after a loss or anything, and I never took things as hard as these guys, but a loss always put a damper on my mood for a bit.
The thing that always snapped me out of any funk was remembering the age old “it’s just a game.” There are far more important things than some competition that people are getting paid to play. As I told my saddened Patriots fan friend last night, “There are billions of people in the world who don’t give a F^$# about this game.”
So. The Pats lost. It’s a bummer. Whatever. My well being isn’t tied up in the happiness of Tom Brady and more importantly, it’s not worth getting upset over things I can’t control. I wasn’t on the field. I didn’t lose. Moving on.
But this brings me to why the Patriots, however, should be really, really, really, ridiculously upset. (“DUH Reece” Yeah yeah it’s an obvious statement, but bear with me).
It sucks to say this, but the Patriots have gone from being an underdog, to a perennial power. Three-Superbowls-in-10-years-cocky, and it shows. In startup terminology, they’ve gone from bootstrapped hustlers to bubble-funded babies. They’ve lost the hunger, the ire, the “YOU THINK YOUAH BETTAH THAN ME?!” hustle that got them where they are.
Instead, they hold this sort of “It’s ok. We’ve got Coach Belichik and Tom Brady and we’ll be fine…” Thus, when the Patriots finally got ahold of the ball in the 4th quarter… it was way too late.
But so what… “it’s just a game,” right?
Thing is… “It’s just a game” doesn’t sit right when you didn’t leave everything on the field. The Patriots could’ve played with tons of heart and still lost, just like there are startups out there that hustle like hell and still fail… but those startups tried. They worked their asses off and went for it. They walk away with scars, but hold their heads high.
The Patriots can’t do that. They didn’t work hard. They treated it like it was just another game on the road to yet another Superbowl and now they’re wishing they could take every down again, and again.
The takeaway - for startups and athletes alike - summed up in two classic coaching cliches: “Play every play like it’s your last and leave everything on the field.” You may still lose, but at least you made it a game.
As for me, I’ve got my own game to play.
What makes you kick ass on a project? I mean, really fucking blow the doors off. It’s motivation. No tricks needed. When you’re doing rewarding work and have intrinsic motivation, you will blow it out of the water. Scott Adams wrote an interesting post on the subject…
…which I forwarded on to my team.
At Shelby, we’re not building the first personal computers or machines that can restart a human heart. We work with video, a medium the average American spends > 33 hours/week watching.
But before video, printed word, or even spoken language we were a social species, sharing our collective knowledge around the fire. As individuals with great technological capabilities, incredible quality of life, and so many freedoms, we owe a great deal to the rest of our species, particularly those who came before us. Because we are social we have excelled.
The way our species tells stories is changing - for better or for worse - and we have an opportunity to lead that change. There is no doubt that at Shelby, we can change the world. Every single thing that each of us do will be a part of that legacy. From an entire app, like [not yet released], to the finer features that users will only see once, like onboarding or choosing an avatar, our actions will imbue our products, our community, and our company with excellence and pride in craftsmanship.
I first met David Tisch two years ago under the premise that he is an up and coming angel investor who liked sports. At the time, I was pitching our first company HomeField - a video platform for coaches, athletes, and fans.
Going in, I thought this is a no-brainer. Coming out, however, I had a very different thought… “TechStars is coming to NYC? …and we should apply?”
Despite feeling that we were too late-stage (we weren’t), we applied and I started emailing Tisch… And I quickly realized that he never sleeps, that answering emails from young companies at odd hours of the night was a crucially important first step in proving that he could make a dent in the universe with TechStars NYC, that he knows the history of every startup ever, and that Tisch has a passion for entrepreneurship that was rare.
Months later, we were one of Tisch’s chosen 11 for the first class. I later learned that we were numerically ranked lower than that and Tisch made a judgment call that was hugely important to us.
From the start, Tisch was extremely hard on us. He told us when we sucked… and to be fair, we did. He was critical to a point of no return, but it was because he cared deeply about us - as founders, as a company, and as TechStars - and this helped us successfully raise capital, grow our team, and start down our path to building a great company.
Since then, we have seen three stellar classes of TechStars in NYC and I am proud to be a part of a vibrant, growing, ecosystem of excellent people and companies.
So given today’s news that Tisch is transitioning away from his role as MD at TechStars, I’ve got a few thoughts.
- Firstly, thank you to Tisch, not just for accepting us and helping us, not for being a great mentor and friend, but for what you’ve accomplished with TechStars as a whole in the past two years.
- TechStars will be fine. The model is strong and the community is stronger.
- Who will fill Tisch’s shoes at TechStars? I honestly have no idea. I only hope they bring the same passion, knowledge, and special sauce that NYC deserves.
- What will Tisch do? No idea there either. He’s a prolific angel investor with epic deal-flow, he’s a product fanatic who obsesses over the details, and he’s a literal walking encyclopedia of startup knowledge. Who knows what he can do with his skill set and network, but I know I’ll be paying attention.