I noticed this post today from Ezra Galston titled “Dear Brad, Fred & Mark: How The Hell Do You Do It?”
The premise is that either I (I won’t speak for Fred or Brad) have some magical solutions that allow me to produce a lot of content, or I’m super human or conversely I could read it as a negative post in that I’m somehow neglecting my duties as a mentor and advisor to the startup companies in which I’ve invested or to the fund that I manage.
“how the hell do you do it?
How are you everywhere at once? How do you produce so much content? How do you maintain thoughtfulness on the forefront of industries? How do you have time for all your entrepreneurs? How do you have the time to help them hire? How do you have time to handle their midnight freakouts? How do you have time for your freaking families?!?! How do you stay balanced? How do you find time yourself?
Seriously, how do you do it?”
Ezra was recently a Kauffman Fellow (meaning a tribe of aspiring VCs who get apprenticeship and have a cohort of classmates, many of whom will go on to be VCs), is a senior associate at a Chicago-based fund called Chicago Ventures and is an alum of my alma mater, University of Chicago, GSB. I don’t know Ezra yet but since he’s taking the time to blog (which I hugesly respect) and share thoughts I thought I’d take him up on his challenge and also spill the beans on my secrets.
So here goes…
“There’s no secret.”
But here’s how I cope, here’s my own foibles and how I’ve gotten comfortable with life in general.
1. On blogging
I blog because I love it. It’s a creative expression. I get the thoughts out of my head and into a computer and then get judged immediately by it. And then it forms part of the conversation. I’ve been doing it for long enough that I can crank out posts quickly. I don’t worry about typos. I don’t worry about sounding too smart. I don’t worry about every post becoming part of the national treasures. I just write. Usually single sitting. No editing. Hit publish. Sayonara.
I used to worry more. I used to edit more. It used to take me longer to think about what I wanted to say. But after my metaphorical 10,000 hours it’s become natural for me and doesn’t require the same effort it once did.
My other secret on blogging? Many start – I finish. It’s 10:29pm right now. I’m going to watch the season finally of OITNB in a minute with my wife. I told her I need “20 minutes” to write a blog post. I won’t miss that 20 minutes. What matters more than anything is consistency. Keep on writing.
Oh. And while I was on vacation last week I woke up every morning at 5:30am and my family wakes up between 7:00-8:00 on vacation. I took 2 of those morning to write blog posts and then read. It gives me alone time and I’m currently reading this. I love politics and also thinking about how political principles apply in business. Which leads me to
I love my family. My wife knows she’s my priority above all else. And a tiny step behind her are my two boys. That’s why I wake up early. I do it every morning and many school days I get email and/or blogging out of the way in the early morning so I can cuddle up with them before school.
And … speaking of which. I’m back. It’s 6:40am. My wife announced at 10:40 that “Now was the time to watch OITNB or never” and I know that means “unless it’s urgent, stop what you’re doing,” so I did. The season finale was 90 minutes so I didn’t finish until 12:15am. When I was done I had to send an email to Adam Lezack that was urgent and due by the morning. Then I checked the NY Times and realized this that the US has passed an historic nuclear deal with Iran and since for me Twitter is a real-time news platform I figured I would Tweet what I was thinking.
Iran deal reached. I never understood is how they plan to get it past a congress that can’t even pass gun control? http://t.co/CEcrFPeoCC
— Mark Suster (@msuster) July 14, 2015
and the beauty of Twitter is that within 60 seconds I had been corrected. Which is the beauty of Twitter, of being public and of having realtime conversations. People correct you.
I intentionally tried to stay apolitical in my Tweet because some people are passionate that we should try to negotiate with Iran and some people (like Bibi) believe it’s an historic mistake. I didn’t want to get into that debate – just share the news. And remind people how ridiculous it is that congress can’t pass gun control even though the overwhelming majority of US citizens support some form of gun control.
It was 12:35am when I got into bed and had to watch the opening act of Jimmy Fallon who has slowly become one of my favorite people and will replace my evening ritual of a 10-minutes of comedy before bed now that Jon Stewart is retiring. Unbelievable but it turns out that Fallon nearly lost his finger recently by tripping on a rug, catching his ring finger on the side of a table that nearly tore his finger off due to “ring avulsion” which we are warned to “seriously, don’t Google that” (I didn’t). But he handled the show and the episode with such humor and grace.
Why do I write all of this? Because, Ezra, I’m a normal guy like you. Sometimes I stay up too late when I have other stuff I should be doing or getting a good night’s sleep. But I value my little moments like Jon Stewart or Jimmy Fallon. I fit in small moments by watching the opening 10 minutes in stead of full shows. I value the time with my wife to either chat, read or watch our favorite shows.
Back to family. How do I balance this? As best as I can. As I’ve said before, “You’d Have to be a Really Big Baby to Complain About Being a VC.” It’s not as perfect as many people think, we work much harder than most people think, we care a lot more about people and teams than common press or blogs would have you believe … but still … we have a lot more control than most. And what everybody knows about me is that every Summer I make time for my family. I take my two sons on a trip every year – this year I wanted to show them NYC. We then went to our annual trip to Chesapeake Bay. And in August I take them to the mountains to Sequoia National Park.
Every morning I get work done on vacation so I don’t really get caught up on sleep. When the family wakes up I stop, cuddle, hang out and start the morning activities. On vacation it’s not uncommon for me to sneak in phone calls between activities. And by “not uncommon” I mean every day, usually 3-4 per day. I’m sure it’s mildly annoying to my extended family. But on the other hand it’s the trade off for being able to spend lots of time together. See the key for me to balancing is that I DO take enough time away from the office to be with my family but the sacrifice is that I then therefore need to get stuff done when there.
Every one of the companies in which I’m on the board will tell you that when they need me they get me – even when I’m on vacation.
3. Balancing portfolio
My “portfolio companies” (which means the companies in which I’ve invested) get my top priority. I will call, email, text or see each one whenever they have something urgent going on. They know that and it takes priority to emailing, blogging or whatever else. In fact, I never blog during work hours and I seldom check Twitter, email, etc. during the day except to scan and make sure nothing urgent is burning.
On vacation I helped with a fund raising deck, I helped by taking recruiting calls, I gave advice to a CEO who was planning a fund-raising trip, I worked on a 409a valuation issue that cropped up at one company and I reviewed an M&A transaction at another. On my first day back in the office, yesterday, I called 6 CEOs for general catch ups. Each was between 20 and 60 minutes so that took a great portion of my non-meeting day. I picked up take-out dinner on the way home, ran into an entrepreneur, Luke Kervin, that I really like and agreed to come by his offices in August to check out PatientPop’s progress. That’s what I do. Always on. I got home at 9:00 or so, ate dinner and talked to the boys about their first day at soccer camp and put them to bed.
If this sounds ordinary – it is. I’m ordinary. Most people are.
4. Doing less
If I had to identify my superpower it’s “focus.” I don’t try to do too much but the things I choose to do “I’m a persistent mother fucker” until I’m done or accomplish what I want. I have ADD so choosing what to focus on is important or I’d be all over the place. So I choose my tasks wisely, I prioritize rigorously and as my colleague Stuart Lander would say about me, “yeah, it’s true you’re disorganized but you somehow always seem to know exactly what NEEDS to be done and when and you never let the important stuff slip.”
And I choose to “Do Less. More.” I don’t have FOMO. I don’t live my life as a slave to email. I know that email has its importance but it’s basically an inbox that anybody else gets to add to and I’m expected to prioritize it. I find that attitude to be reactive and I prefer to be proactive in what I choose to do. So I’m an “email skimmer” and I’m ok with that. I’ve let go of feeling like I’m disappointing everybody whom I don’t respond to.
I have as much stress as the next guy (or girl) and I try to be open about that. I wrote this blog post about Entrepreneurshit this is widely read to express that feeling. I wrote it early morning on a weekend and I was feeling exhausted, stressed and alone.
Everybody has something that gets sacrificed. Because I work a lot I have less time for hobbies than some people. But I try to make some a priority. I still have “date night” with my wife once / week as we’ve done for 12.5 years since my first son was born. We either go to a nice dinner, go see a movie or meet with friends. This weekend I’m surprising her and taking her to a jazz show on Sunday night. I love Jazz and Blues. My last surprise was taking her to a Billy Joel concert. But I guess jazz won’t be a surprise if she reads this post.
But I struggle to balance fitting in the gym or the swimming pool in the morning. It’s a constant struggle and I go through periods of being really disciplined and being less disciplined. I’ve talked about that publicly, too. I called in the Y0 Yo Life of an Entrepreneur but it really applies to me as a VC as well. I wrote this in January 2010.
I live the same life as you, Ezra. I have the same struggles, the same enjoyments, the same work-life, work-family issues. I do some things really well. I suck at other things. I think we’d all like to think that successful people live perfect lives. In fact, I nearly vomit every time I read one of those predictable “12 secrets to successful business people” or “8 things that successful CEOs do that you don’t” or whatever. It’s mostly all bullshit.
Successful people try to focus. They get shit done. They are achievement oriented. They probably work more, work harder and work smarter than most. But they still have the same number of hours every day as you do. So any time they put into to their maniacal focus on being successful at what they choose to be good at necessarily comes from other things they don’t have the time to do. They make choice.
I don’t write perfect blog posts. I write frequently as you may be able to tell from how many links I’ve left in this post.
I’m not everywhere. But when I travel I don’t fuck around in my hotel room or visit 10 friends or sightsee. I take early breakfast meetings, I pack my schedule and I take portfolio companies out to dinner. Always. It’s critical that you know your teams like friends so you can really help when problems do crop up. I always imagine that in NY I’m going to sneak out and see a Broadway show but I never do. I always think in SF I’m going to call my old high school or college friends but I seldom have time so I see them twice / year.
Ok. It’s 7:45. My kids are watching “Master Chef” before camp. I’m going to grab a cup of coffee and snuggle on the couch for 15 minutes before racing to work. So – no time to edit this. Which means I’ll get tons of comments about my typos and why this post went on-and-on for too long and lacked focus.
But now I’m following you on Twitter, Ezra. I look forward to getting to know you.
Oh, and Stuart. I’m sorry I didn’t read that contract you has asked me to read. I know it’s important. I promise to get to it a little later today. I felt like blogging.
(Image credit: Bigstock)
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)