Being a Founder is Hard

Location: Berkeley, CA

As Steve and I continue to build out our idea for L-squared, and actually get to work, I'm discovering an ever deeper respect for his ability to do this time and again, especially at the very beginning. It's hard. It's scary. It's thrilling and exciting. And yet, day after day, it's... well, it's hard to stay focused. 

On the one hand, every day I am amazed at how easy it is. How much time there is in the day. How much you can get done when you're not in meetings all the time, or having to respond to emails. God, emails. The bane of my existence at Gap. Think about it. If there was only you and one other person to keep in the loop, or run things by, how much easier would your life be? No meetings trying to educate and convince. No politics. No one telling you something can't be done, or inflating their estimate of what it would take to make it untenable. No one interrupting you with questions you've answered a hundred times. So even if I only worked three hours a day, I'd be far more productive than at a "normal" job.

On the other hand, there is no one standing over you telling you what to do. You have to come up with your own deadlines, your own execution plan, your own priorities. And if you don't do what you said... well, there isn't anyone who is going to yell at you. There's no big brother. This is definitely a good thing, but in some ways, it introduces some moral hazard; you could watch Gossip Girl at lunch and who would know? There's no adrenaline the way there is when you absolutely MUST get it done for a real deadline.

Yeah, I think the lack of adrenaline is the hardest for me. There is a huge dose at a macro level, the excitement of starting something completely new. Eventually there will be big milestones - launch, revenue, publicity, etc. But in the beginning... it's just you and your computer and a big, blank slate.

What's the difference between balance and laziness when there isn't a time clock?

I'm trying really hard to find the right balance. Take care of myself, go to the gym, take the dog to the park, not work too hard. But it would be so easy to just let the little things in my day take over, and never actually sit down to work.

It's not that I don't want to do what we're doing - far, far, far from it. I'm in fact really excited with our idea, and even more thrilled at my role in it. I'm finally getting to be a founder. I'm enjoying the work. And yet, I'm sooo out of practice of being disciplined. And when there are so many open questions still, and you might change direction any moment, you have to dig deep to find your own focus and energy. 

At a big company, as long as you get more work done than the other guy (or at least not as little as THAT guy), you can call it a good day and slack off the rest of it. Head to Starbucks. Have a buddy meeting. Gossip. The usual. Bide your time until the 5pm "whistle" blows. Not that I ever slacked that much, especially after years of being a consultant and having to account for every minute of my day, but still. You get complacent. There's only so much you can do some days.

But when you're starting a company, the more you slack and avoid work, the more you are actually hurting only yourself. It's a novel concept.

I know that once we achieve some momentum, and establish more of a regular schedule, it will get easier. It's just that working in our house runs me smack up against the voice in my head that killed me in college, the voice that tells me I simply can't start working until the entire house is clean top to bottom.

Yes, you guessed it. I'm a procrastinator. Luckily when I do work, I work pretty fast, so it doesn't always show... but it's true. I procrastinate horribly. So what happens when I don't have real deadlines? I'm trying not to find out. So, I'm creating them. I'm managing myself with a project plan. How geeky is that? But I find it's important to have a list, including at least one big thing I can cross off each day and feel a sense of accomplishment. 

In the meantime, I kind of miss all those meetings, in a sick, twisted way. Apparently I need human interaction so badly that I'd be willing to go to a meeting. Sad. Not that Steve doesn't count... it's just that he has an ability to become so engrossed and focused on a task that he doesn't even notice the lack of other humans. He knows how to be a founder.

Me, well, I'm learning how to be one... slowly but surely. I always thought I understood having lived vicariously through Steve's ten years of addiction -- I mean entrepreneurship. But understanding and doing are *very* different things.


To Sell or Not to Sell?

Location: Berkeley, CA

OK, so it's been a little while since my last post. My parents were visiting for the past week, so I didn't really have time to do much else. There were three Home Depot trips, resulting in new plants and a freshly painted sidewalk (covering up the teenage graffiti). Two farmers market trips. One spa trip. One trip to Walnut Creek for shoe shopping that resulted in my debit card being turned off due to suspicion of fraud. Three games of Apples to Apples, including a nine-person, rum-fueled free-for-all (the best play was definitely "Rubber Gloves" for the adjective "Snappy"). And way more bottles of wine than I can possibly count. Our recycling bin overfloweth. 

Yesterday morning my parents departed at the crack of dawn, just in time for me to clean the house up for a visit from some potential buyers. Our house is not technically on the market, the market being a bit crap at the moment, but through four degrees of separation we were put in touch with a family moving out from Chevy Chase, DC who love our street and neighborhood. They came by yesterday afternoon, and while they're still trying to decide between SF and our area of Berkeley so who knows if it will work out, I think they really liked the house. More importantly, I think they understand how rare of a house we have in a great location, and that "normal" market dynamics don't necessarily apply... especially if they want the house sooner rather than later. So, we shall see. If they don't make an offer, we'll need to think about whether to rent it out, or just take a loss and move on.

It's funny. I've been wanting to sell our house and move on to our next adventure ever since we returned from St. Martin, but now when confronted with the potential reality of it all... I mean, I love our house. It took us eight months to find it, back when the market was insane. Though I don't necessarily want to be living in Berkeley at the moment, I haven't ruled out wanting to be here in the future, in which case I can't imagine where else I'd want to live. And I hate packing and moving. Yuck. So while I've been talking a big game, and definitely want to make a significant change... I'm finding the reality of it, and especially the logistics, are just a tad bit daunting.

I can't decide if this is an indication that I really want to stay here. Or is it that old nemesis, complacency? It's so much harder to make a change than continue in the same course. Whether the current course is a rut or not... well, that's the question, now isn't it? A philosophical friend of mine once told me in order to make a change you had to perceive the pain of the new situation as less than the current situation, and therefore worth the upheaval. But it's not like we have a "bad" life here.

In the meantime, Steve and I are working hard on our new venture, L-squared. He's so much more used to being in the early stages of a start-up than I am. In fact, he's great at it, whereas I struggle with procrastination and a general sense of where do I even start? It's like when I'm cleaning the house - I might start in the kitchen, but next thing you know, I'm reorganizing the spare bedroom closet because I went to put away some random crap and got distracted. Meanwhile, the water is still running downstairs. Eventually it all gets done, but my desire to be efficient and multi-task sometimes backfires. But I digress (ironically). 

Soon I'll provide an overview of what we're planning to do, but not quite yet. It's too new. We're still gestating the idea, and sometimes the worst thing you can do is expose your little sprout to the harsh light of the inter-tubes. Stay tuned... 



Eight Years!

Location: Rivoli, Berkeley, CA

Yesterday was our eighth wedding anniversary, and to celebrate, we went out to one of our favorite Berkeley restaurants: Rivoli. Steve takes credit for discovering it last year for my birthday, and in this case, he definitely gets kudos. 

We started by sharing the handmade gnocchi stuffed with some kind of semi-sweet yumminess, and the portobello mushroom fritters covered in slices of parmesan cheese. Wow. Steve had the Pot Roast... he started sharing bits of it before I could even taste my food. Spinach like I've never tasted before, some kind of smooth mushroom tart. It took me a while to realize he hadn't let me taste the pot roast itself, which is a dead giveaway that it was even better than the rest of the sides. I had the spicy Moroccan plate, consisting of grilled lamb, merguez sausage and some kind of shredded duck stuffed in phylo, all over couscous with traditional cucumber yogurt sauce. I had been hoping for a seriously spicy dish like I used to get in France at authentic Moroccan restaurants, which it wasn't... but it was incredibly flavorful and delicious all the same. I decimated it before Steve even had a chance to ask if it was good. For dessert, we went with the chocolate boudin, which is apparently short for warm-gooey-amazing-goodness, topped with vanilla ice cream and just the perfect hint of orange peel sauce to give it that little extra something. Of course, the Chateauneuf-du-pape didn't go amiss, either. All in all, it was yet another phenomenal meal from our favorite upscale hole in the wall. 

Beyond the amazing food, I loved taking a moment out of our crazy life transition to appreciate how much we've been through together, and how good life is.

Earlier in the week we got to celebrate another milestone: Apollo's first birthday. Well, it was actually a couple weeks late, but it was perfect because we got to celebrate with all the rest of his litter. So we headed down to Hap Magee dog park in Danville for a "mellow" picnic with 12 labs. All of Apollo's four brothers, their mom, grandmom, uncle (who is a bruising 100+ lbs!), one sister and several other somehow related labs frolicked together for a couple hours. It was so funny to compare stories, and see all the similarities. Of course, I had always thought Apollo was a big guy at 70 lbs, but it turns out he's a bit of the runt - several of his brothers were 80-85 lbs!

In the end, Apollo distinguished himself as the best at "keep away." So proud. He is also the only one who doesn't yet lift his leg to pee... hmm. We had brought a pan of cinnamon rolls to the picnic, only half of which were eaten. At the time I was glad Apollo hadn't been picnic surfing quite as bad as some of his siblings... but apparently he was saving up. When we got home, he managed to retrieve the rest of the rolls from the counter and finish them off. The Vet had a good laugh when I called; luckily cinnamon is not as poisonous as chocolate, though the sugar rush made him a right pain in the butt. 

In the meantime, Steve and I are getting closer and closer to forging our new direction in life. We may yet decide to leverage our past experience and start ourselves a little company, but this time together, and just us. It involves moving to the Caribbean. It may even involve this blog. We've licensed a domain name, and come up with a code name - L Squared - because, well, every good company starts with a code name. To find out what it is... stay tuned!!


The Pyramid of Love

Location: Berkeley, CA

Years ago, when I found myself at a loss to justify and understand my singleness throughout my 20's, I came up with a theory to explain some of the aberrant behavior I witnessed in the dating world. Since then, I have found myself trotting this theory out time and time again, so I thought I would share. 

(I also realized most of my posts involve drinking, and thought perhaps a change of pace was needed :).

I believe that there is a good match for everyone out there. Soul mate? I don't know, sometimes yes, sometimes no, but I genuinely believe everyone has an opportunity to find happiness, even though sometimes that match is inexplicable to the casual observer. So why are so many amazing women still single? Why does it seem to take accomplished, intelligent women so much longer to find their match?

My theory is predicated on the idea that you can organize the male and female populations into pyramids.

The bottom level of the male pyramid, i.e. the largest group by far, is comprised of men who think they're the shit but aren't. They're cocky and arrogant. They believe they are entitled to whatever they want, and sad to say, they often get it. Even though deep down inside they are often insanely insecure, they use their bravado to bluff their way through it and cover it up. Selfish to a fault. For the sake of simplification, I like to call them Assholes. 

In the middle level of the male pyramid, you find the opposite: men who are wonderful, caring and smart, but don't realize it. For whatever reason, they aren't in touch with how great they are, so they have no confidence. These are the Nice Guys.

At the top of the male pyramid are the smart, intelligent, caring, committed guys who know they're great. They're not arrogant; they are simply confident. They know what they are capable of, and what they deserve, served with just enough of a dose of humility to make them perfect. They are the Heros. 

The female pyramid is similar, but with a key difference: the bottom two groups are inverted. In the bottom group, you find so many adorable, caring, committed women, who have absolutely no idea of their own worth. They've been brought up to believe that they should be the unsung heros, supporting everyone around them, and compromising their own desires to everyone else, especially their boyfriends/husbands, without any appreciation or recognition. Selfless... to a fault. I like to call them the Sweethearts. 

The middle group of women, just like the bottom group of men, is comprised of women who think they're amazing, but really aren't - they're insecure and reckless, and take advantage of others. No surprise, they are the Bitches. (Or Psychos).

At the top of the female pyramid you find intelligent, confident and caring women who know they're great. All too often they are mistaken for Bitches because our society expects them to compromise... but they won't, because they know they deserve more. They are the women who defy definition. They want love as much as the next person, but they're not willing to accept someone who isn't their equal. They are the Goddesses. Admired, but also intimidating if you aren't worthy.

So the pyramids together look a little like this: 

In the dating world, what happens is the bottom rung of women end up dating the bottom rung of men. The arrogant, insecure men pair with the caring women who don't know how great they are; the Assholes get taken care of by the Sweethearts. Same with the middle groups. All those amazing men who don't know how great they are, the Nice Guys, end up with the psycho women, the Bitches, running their lives. But for some reason, in both these cases, despite how twisted it may seem, the relationship often works. The Sweethearts and the Nice Guys get to be selfless and take care of someone who needs them, and the selfish Assholes and Bitches let them. 

At the top of the pyramid, you have the Wise Men and the Catches (not the best names - someone recommend something better!). They belong with each other in healthy relationships. They are worth waiting for. However, they are all too scarce.

Beyond scarcity... there is also the problem that the Wise Men sometimes get impatient, and settle for a Sweetheart. Whereas the women at the top of the pyramid are unwilling to compromise, sad to say, I've known men at the top who have. Well, at least I thought they were at the top. 

So the point of my theory is this: if you are at the top, it's going to be harder for you to find someone who is worthy of you. Be patient. Don't compromise.

The advice I give to my women friends who are having a touch time of it is that they are right to wait. Don't bend to societal pressure to get married. Don't try to love somebody because they're perfect on paper. Someday you'll find the guy at the top of the pyramid, and he'll appreciate how important it is to choose a life partner... someone who isn't intimidated by an equal, and isn't looking for just a beautiful yes-woman who never questions their decisions.

To my men friends... I tell them not to be idiots. It's worth the wait. Remember, passion and looks will fade. Be sure you want to have a conversation with your wife.

When people ask why I love my husband of eight years, and why we work well together, I tell them that we're partners. We both feel lucky to have found the other one - which we are. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses, but they fit together. We challenge each other to become the best person we can be. We fill each other's gaps. At the end of the day, we face the world together, as a team. Life is already challenging enough; why complicate it with a difficult relationship? It's easy to be with him, even if sometimes it doesn't feel like it.

And while some days my husband makes me absolutely nuts when he challenges me and doesn't let me get away with my intellectual slacking... like re-reading the Twilight vampire series because I don't know what to do with my life and I'm avoiding figuring it out... well, I know he's right, and I love him all the more for being a true partner, even if I don't show my "gratitude" at the time.

My grandparents have been married 66 years. None of their four children or seven grandchildren have ever divorced. Seeing everyone together last weekend, I was reminded of how great life is when you don't compromise on the fundamentals.

Next week is our eighth wedding anniversary. No matter what life throws at us - and it's thrown some doozies this last year - we're always in it together. I love him more and more with every passing year.


What a Frink Show

Location: Dallas, TX

Last night I returned home from my trip to Dallas for my cousin Robin's wedding; I am exhausted. 

Flying out on Friday was already a minor adventure as the American Airlines flight was packed to the brim. I hate flying American. I had already compromised my normal aisle seat for a window in order to be closer to the front of the plane - i go nuts at the end of the flight waiting for all the non-travelers to gather their crap to disembark. Having settled myself in the window, the last two people show up at my row to claim the middle seat... only there are two of them and they're carrying a 15-month old. They looked hopefully at the frequent flyer in the aisle seat and myself and asked if one of us would switch so they could sit together. Where is the seat? Oh, yeah, that would be another middle seat the row ahead of us. Seriously? Aargh. I don't want to be rude, but seriously? When the aisle seat turned out to be a gentleman and only slightly grudgingly agreed to move, I was at first overwhelmed with gratitude... until it dawned on me he was clearly more on top of his game, because here comes the couple without a seat for their baby blocking me in! Who flies stand by with a 15-month old with no seat? And nothing to amuse him? As it turned out, it wasn't the worst flight I've had because he managed to sleep most of the way, though I almost peed myself. It just seemed too risky to wake him up to get out. I distracted myself from the claustrophobia by taking pics of the beautiful day outside the window. 

When I arrived at DFW, my brother and sister-in-law were waiting for me in the bar... which is how Frinks kick off the weekend. I joined them in a glass of wine before we headed out to my Aunt and Uncle's for a BBQ. Around 9:30 it was time to meet up with the rest of the family at the next installment of the evening, the post-rehearsal-dinner drinks at an Irish pub. Despite almost getting horrendously lost on the many freeways of Dallas, we managed to eventually track down the correct Irish Pub (luckily my sister-in-law was sacrificing herself to be designated driver)... which we closed down at 1am.

It was such a treat to have all of the cousins together at the same time. Three male and four female cousins, ranging in age from almost 40 to 21, and all really fun. Even though we had seen each other in August at my other cousin Tracy's wedding in Galveston, it felt like it had been forever, and since then my youngest cousin Andrew had turned legal, a crucial milestone. All the grand children are now of age. Lookout world.

During our time at the pub, my cousin Tracy's new Belgian husband Peter made the mistake of throwing down the gauntlet to myself and my brother, telling us how disappointed his family was that the Frinks made such a poor showing at his wedding in August. Gee, because we left the party at 2am. Famous last words.

After we returned to the W at almost 2am, when all their bars had closed up, we scavenged bottles of wine from several mini bars and stayed up until 5am. At least I went to bed at 5am. Tracy and Peter, having just flown in from Australia that day, stayed in my brother's suite until at least 6am. I should know better than to drink with people that jetlagged! But it was just such a treat to get to hang out with my cousin who now lives in Perth, and to get to know her new husband, that I couldn't seem to tear myself away. 

When I awoke at 12:30 on Saturday, exceedingly thankful that the wedding wasn't until the evening, I realized just what a mistake it had been to go toe to toe with the Belgian on Australia time. Serious miscalculation. I again raided the mini-bar, and wonder of wonders, found they stocked Gatorade. Now that's my definition of a good hotel. I lay on my bed moaning, watching bad TV, until it was time to get ready. My brother smartly went to Bliss and let them take care of him. As he put it, he was unable to take care of himself, and wisely recognized that his wife was unlikely to step in, so he promptly paid the spa staff to do it for him. 

Arriving at the church five minutes before the ceremony was to start, we ran into Tracy and Peter... who promptly disappeared into the bathroom for the first part of the wedding. There is some justice in the world. 

The wedding was phenomenal. Ceremony was mercifully brief for a Catholic wedding, and the priest was droll and witty, always a bonus. Once we found the reception in downtown Dallas, at the former Planet Hollywood, the party got started. The Frinks dominated the dance floor... up until they played the Texas A&M fight song, at which point all hell broke loose, and we yankees hid under a table while the Aggies went to town, swaying and hollering. My cousin was utterly radiant in her beautiful gown. My favorite pics are her dancing with her dad, and then being a good sport when they pulled off her garter.

Her new husband Matt had apparently been well coached to not shove cake in her face. This was a big change from my wedding when my husband was successfully goaded by my brother's taunt "you don't have a ball in your sack if you don't shove that in her face." Lucky for Robin, we restrained my brother this time.

When they kicked us out at 1am (sensing a theme?), it was the Frinks who were there at the end - even my Grammie! - to pick up all the odds and ends that were leftover. Including a pair of shoes. Who leaves a wedding barefoot? My one uncle went around like prince charming looking for his Cinderalla, and unable to find her, took the shoes back to the hotel with them for safekeeping.... right before Cinderella turned out to be the mother of the groom. Oops. 

Upon returning to the W, we yet again found ourselves having just missed last call at the bars. My brother and his wife wisely used this excuse to turn in, but somehow I ended up again raiding the mini bar, this time with my youngest cousins. We drank our vodka and bourbon up on the 16th floor pool deck until 4am. Sadly, I had promised to meet my parents and others at 10am for breakfast, which turned out to be a very early wake up call.

I think I barely made it into my seat on the airplane before I passed out. I probably would have fallen asleep in the terminal except it turned out the real-life version of Glee was on my flight. They had just won gold in show choir at the national competition in New Orleans, and they were sharing, or perhaps showing off, their talents. Either way it was actually kind of cool. I was just waiting for the jazz hands to break out. 

All in all, it was an amazingly fun weekend... and a bit of a cautionary tale. It's apparently rather dangerous to actually like your family.