Back in the Valley, looking in

Well, well, well. As I was driving on the 110 into LA Friday morning I saw a huge billboard for something or other, and had a gut reaction that I really have gone over to the dark side. Oh well, people make their own decisions. Is being an enabler really that bad?
So obviously I used to work in the Bay Area. Berkeley/Emeryville/Oakland is not exactly the Valley, but you know people, you do business there. I was also very young. It’s quite a thing to be on the other side looking in, and especially from the international perspective. Back in the day a big part of my job at Ask Jeeves International was to persuade the folks at “AJUS” as we called it, aka HQ, to make my priorities of supporting our overseas joint ventures their priorities, when the entire bonus structure and corporate goals were tied 100% to U.S. revenues.
The U.S. market is big enough that you can be completely insular and never even need to worry about international expansion, unless it’s purely opportunistic. For a lot of South African startups, the reverse is true: the SA market is so small that you must plan to sell into bigger markets (such as the USA) from the very beginning.
So it’s quite fascinating. We are the centre of our own universe but we do not factor at all in the minds of people in the Valley. Or most of the rest of the world, for that matter.
I also now really ‘get’ why people want to live here and work here. It’s one thing when you’re a bright young thing, you can work for a startup anywhere in the country. When you’re a mover and shaker, and you want to negotiate big deals and work with the best of the best, have those synchronicity moments, be connected to the other key industry players …. The Valley is the place to be. I mean, where else can you just randomly go and hear the founder of Instagram?
But then, my mind is also coloured by having spent a bunch of time with two South African expats. In some ways there is nothing more depressing than talking to an expat about why they left home for the greener fields overseas. Of course, the Bay Area is pretty special. At least it’s not San Diego (inside joke). I get it, too, when education is this bad, you have to think twice about raising children in the country.
It was great to have some face-to-face time with one of my board members. Lots of coffee, a glass of wine, two big meetings that were fascinating to me in their differences from each other. We also saw the insides of two different business incubators: Google Ventures and idealab. idealab in particular is iconic, it’s almost sacred ground in a place where you can toss a rock and hit sacred ground. But this guy, firstly I like him personally which helps, because it’s great when you are able to to tease and joke and enjoy the people you work with. More importantly though, he makes me want to up my own game by just stating over and over again the level of the bar we should be aiming for. He helps me keep the eye on the ball, and I appreciate that. He also brings up such things as death by tiger and python in business meetings. You’ve gotta love that.
Speaking of celebrities, I finally got to meet a Cape Town celeb who is famous for not living in Cape Town any longer, a homeboy who made it in Silicon Valley, the very entertaining and dynamic Vinny Lingham. Turns out we have a mutual acquaintance that we both, um, don’t particularly care for. Great moment there when he asked me if I knew this person … I should definitely not play poker because my poker face isn’t very good!
Anyway interesting week, including a whirlwhind exhausting day trip to LA, lots to think about, and as much fun as I am having I cannot wait to get home and back to my team. They are working so hard and I just wish I could be there more to support them.
My friend called me out a bit for some hedging of expectations that I had going on. It’s true; I remember when I was at Jeeves I knew that all sorts of fun stuff was being discussed behind closed doors by the guys running the show, and I wanted in. So it’s nice to be sitting on the other side of the door and I’m continuously and happily reminded that no, I’m actually not in over my head. I just wish there were more hours in the day or more people in the company, or that I was better than I am. But hey, it’s this level of pushing yourself that does make you better.
So this week saw me finally resuming my CrossFit (yay!). I did a workout of wall climbs, pistols, and ring rows, then the next morning some jerks followed by deadlifts and lateral jumps over the bar. This was interesting mostly for the insight that my old ankle sprain has residual effects not only in the inflexibility in the ankle but also in a very ingrained fear. Something to work on. Always fight those fears.
Possibly the most fun I had was at CrossFit One World. Not just saying this because my visit made their blog but it was also just a super cool vibe in the gym. Good coaching, looks like good programming, and a super fun group that I happened to train with.
Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with my own performance: the rest period combined with over-working myself has left me a bit overweight and out of shape, and my central nervous system freaked out a bit at heavy front squats (when your legs shake just unracking the bar something isn’t as it should be). The metcon was pretty epic: deconstructed Grace, buffered on either end by a 400m run. I finished in a pretty decent time but I was feeling very weak – I’ve been away too long, I can feel that, but I’m still not fully healthy. If I were less resilient than I am, I might be starting to despair at this point.
A few themes for the week: simplicity, process, consistency. Oh, and trust your gut. If a partnership, or relationship, or friendship feels wrong, it probably is. If it feels right, it probably is. Cathleen and I were discussing many things but one of them is that notion that people tell us over and over again who they are but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.
Not unlike Mitt Romney, who got stomped in the second debate. The Daily Show had the best caption: “Second Presidential Debate: Now Featuring the President!”
Aside from work & training, I spent a lot of quality time with Cathleen in this week of Indian summer. I did manage a little bit of shopping, went to Napa Valley this time, attended the aforementioned talk by the Instagram founder, stopped in at the Tailgate32 RV all-too-briefly but we’ll be seeing more than enough of each other in the next week or so.
Stay tuned for the next episode.
  • “No! You can’t die!” – Michael
  • “It’s about leadership.” – Michael
  • “Can I just call bullshit on you, though?” – Cathleen
  • “It’s not as big as yours so it won’t take as long.” – Barack Obama
  • “The bully got whipped tonight.” – Al Sharpton
  • “What is a number, anyway? It’s nothing without context.” – Michael
  • “I knew I liked you!” – Vinny (the enemy of my enemy is …)
  • “It helps to get obsessive.” – Michael
  • “The best country in the world right now is Palo Alto.” – Vinny
  • “Pick one thing, and do it well.” – Vinny
  • “It means you’re not getting full extension.” – Freddy
  • “A year is a long time to be jacked up.” – Freddy
  • “That was the quickest hi and bye in the history of the world!” – Mike
  • “People who don’t live here underestimate it.” – Kevin
  • “Simplicity is key.” – Kevin
  • “Guess we are a service and not a product co[mpany.]” – Michael (I bought him a nice cappuccino)
  • “You’re saying the company is the product?” – Michael
  • “You were so confident that I thought – ‘how could I possibly be right about this?’” – Cathleen
  • “I think you do tend to appreciate a place more when you don’t live there.” – Cathleen 

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