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Bon Iver, Risk, Hazardry, and when to say “I’m Just Gonna Call It.”

I spent the better part of a few moments today piecing together all the “Starred” songs on my Spotify. First thing I noticed was how my strategy for starring songs has changed over the past 2 years. I also noticed how I can track the trends of what I was listening to or working through at given points in my life. I listen to music as much to help me focus as to help shape my mood.

If I want to feel like a badass, I listen to Aloe Blocc. If I’m working out, I’ll listen to something like Breaking Benjamin or Metallica.

I was going through the playlist looking for a song that capture a sentiment I wanted to express and send to someone. I tend to catalogue songs that represent a given epoch in my journey, and they often become a memory capsule of the emotions I had at that time. Listening to Aloe Blocc anchors not only the badass emotions I wanted to generate, but also their counterparts: a series of negative feelings that weren’t productive at the time.

Listening to these songs is like following my own trail of breadcrumbs and retracing a timeline of emotions I was cultivating, people I had met, and ideas that I was working through at a given time. Sometimes a few weeks back, sometimes years back. It’s like reading an auditory journal. Or an AI penning a song to describe a moment you shared with it.

The song at the top of the page, Beth/Rest, off of Bon Iver’s sophomore album, was there with me at a number of pivotal moments in the past 2 years.

I remember a girlfriend dropping me off at an airport, and knowing with a lot of sadness it would be a while before we saw each other again. As I connected in DFW, I played the song, and figuring that an airport is as good a place as any to cry in public, I found an unoccupied gate and spent a few minutes doing just that. Beth/Rest helped queue the tears as I watched jets take off, waiting for my own.

The song represents coming full-circle, back through memories of the good and the bad, and finding a lot of beauty in how the past will play into the future. It’s a song about acceptance and resolve. Acceptance of where the present has brought you, the choices made along the way, and how to proceed forward with the best of intentions, and a focus on what has and will continue to be beautiful.

There’s a line where Justin Vernon makes the statement,

 

I’m just gonna call it.

 

It precedes the lines,

 

Sure some hazardry /
For the light before and after most indefinitely.

 

His poetry is amazing, and his choice to act for the beauty he encounters along the way is how I chose to live my life. I want to be in service of the beauty I can find, and willing to stop and appreciate it when I discover it. I’ve never gotten to those places of quiet wonder without experiencing some risk and hazard along the way, which is probably why I don’t have too much problem putting myself in harm’s way when I think there might be a sunset from the Marin headlands after an afternoon walking in Muir woods afterwards.

It never crosses my mind that jumping in front of some risk might not be worth it for the experience, for the journey, for the beauty. Risk for me is often a way of adding a bit more possibility to any given choice. Add risk, add potential reward. Do this intelligently, and God-willing, you can move a bit faster than the mean. Most of the time, the risk is a paltry sum for the potential reward.

Sometimes, despite all the fear, you just gotta call it. Face the hazardry, and remember the exquisite beauty of the experience that will be your traveling companion along the way. I think this is the surest way to fall in love with your life, and whomever happens to join you along the way.

Here’s to that.

Austin W. Gunter

When I Grew My Own Vegetables

I just bought a bonsai tree for my bedroom. It’s a tiny, bent thing that sits on top of my printer, underneath my window. It will never grow tall, but I’m looking forward to having it alongside me as I go through the next years of my life. When I get up each the morning, I look out over Polk Street and Nob Hill towards the Marin Headlands with my little tree.

It’s been several years since I started my vegetable garden and learned to grow my own food. From my urban apartment in downtown San Francisco, I missed the feeling of being surrounded by vegetation, and the simple pleasure of watching plants grow.

Living on the 12th floor of a high rise, it’s easy to feel out of touch with the rhythm of nature. I spend most of my time engaging with the world through my phone or one of my laptops. It’s not unlike Joaquin Phoenix’s life in Her.

Even when I go outside for a walk, I’m surrounded by buildings and asphalt rather than trees and nature. Where I am now is the most urban environment I’ve ever lived in. It’s the first time I don’t have woods outside my window, or a river in my backyard.

We’re all connected to the natural world around us, but I think it’s easy in the pursuit of career excellence to find myself intent on working late rather than getting out of “the city” to take a breather and recharge my batteries surrounded by nature.

When I was first getting my career started, I was living with my parents for a bit. They have this big giant yard that backs up to a creek, and that was when I decided I was going to start a garden I could eat from.

I researched this type of gardening where you can fit tons of different crops into a small space, each into a square foot of soil, and built one with a friend. I had everything from this really amazing spinach vine that loved the Texas heat, to red basil, to jalepenos, and on. Not everything I planted grew, but I was just learning and getting started. 

Every day, I would come home from a stifling job at a consulting firm and water my garden. I’d change out of my biz casual and into some jeans to hang out with my plants before dinner.

Walking around my garden with the hose, I felt connected to everything, and very at peace with myself. In some ways, it was better than having pets. The plants were cool being with me as I was in my head with my thoughts, letting the day wash over me like the water from the hose.

As the water seeped into the soil, I could watch the plants respond and thank me.

The red basil would fill the air with the smell of fresh basil as soon as its soil got damp. It was letting me smell it as a way of saying thank you. The plant was offering itself back to me as gratitude for caring for it, and I loved it for its beauty and simplicity.

Over time, I could tell that they each knew me and responded when I was nearby. I never knew plants had such personality or a deep capacity to connect with us.

The last year or two I lived in Austin, I moved every 6 months. My garden at home froze one winter, and I didn’t stay in one place long enough to let anything else put down roots.

Even though I don’t have a garden today, growing my own food still profoundly affects how I experience the world.

When I cook, the food I make today, years later, is still influenced by what I grew in my garden. Every pizza I make or order comes with with spinach and basil, even though it’s difficult to find red basil most of the time.

I yearn for the time when I’ll be able to return to a life when I’m daily connected with the environment and growing the food I eat. I believe we’re supposed to live in lockstep with the rhythms of the natural world that surrounds us, but it’s easy to disconnect from that as we swim in a sea of technology.

A natural rhythm is part of why I love to travel for work. Arriving in a new city for an event, I can fall into step with the rhythm of the conference I’m attending. It carries me along for a few days, and I am a full citizen of the community that forms.

But once the show is the over, as I head back home, the show tears down and the rhythm disappears. Outside of work, there are fewer and fewer rituals to be a part of as a 20something male. I’m not the only one feeling this, but I lament what I perceive to be a great loss that comes from our deeper connections to our devices and our jobs, which have 24/7 access to us, but at the expense of creating more and more shallow, temporal connections with one another, and with the earth that would breathe life into us.

And breathe into us something more than endless push notification and urgent fires to put out. But rather life that offers us less to do via a touchscreen, and more for us weave into the fabric of every step we take, and the small rituals that over months and years of repetition form our identity.

A walk through Muir woods. A slow afternoon at Dolores Park, empty on a Monday when everyone else is busy at work. Silence between two people.

A few years ago, I dove headfirst into my career in the expectation of creating amazing value, achieving escape velocity, and then escaping the rat race and the trap of working my whole life because that was “the plan.”

I’m still working towards that goal, but when I wake up in the morning, sometimes I think there are more answers found in my little banzai tree than any blog post I could read, or any startup veteran who could give me advice.

Sometimes I think that complicating my life in the pursuit of an ultimate goal of simplicity might not be the shortest distance between two points.

Meanwhile, my little bonsai tree patiently waits for me to get home to water it. It reaches ever skyward to the sunshine that gives it life.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence is Still Progress

conscious incompetence on the horizon

Last year, I had the opportunity to drive a Tesla Roadster around Austin. I remember being absolutely blown away by the power of the car, and feeling eager to see what it was capable of, and to milk this rare experience for all the joy I could. Never mind, I didn’t have much experience driving high-performance super cars to get behind the wheel with as much earnest as I did. I just wanted to push the cars limits.

You know where this is going. I almost wrecked the car, and didn’t realize how close I came until later.

Supercars, like the Tesla, push a lot of power (torque) to the rear wheels, which allows the car to get up and go incredibly fast. The more power, the easier to make the tires spin, burn rubber, and lose traction if you press the accelerator to the floor.

But if you spin the tires as you go into a turn, the rear wheels can lose grip and send the car into a tailspin.

Fortunately, all modern sports cars have a safety feature called “dynamic traction control,” or “dynamic skid control.” Basically, there are computers and sensors plugged into the tires of the car that monitor when the driver is at risk of losing control of the vehicle. If you start to spin the wheels, the computers reduce the torque to the rear wheels so they don’t lose traction, and you stay on the road instead of wrapping the car around a pole.

If you lose control of the car, something like this can happen.

You’ll never guess what I do almost as soon as I hop in the Tesla.

I floor it around a corner in a West Austin neighborhood. My margin for error was about 18 feet across to the other side of the street where someone had parked a Volvo. Of course, nothing happened because the Tesla had skid control on and protected me from the $130,000 catastrophe I was a few foot pounds of torque away from.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and it almost burned me.

After driving my MX-5 in the rain enough – which has a much smaller engine, but is light and can easily go into a fishtail – I have a lot more respect for the nuance and control needed to drive a powerful car like the Tesla Roadster.

Ignorance in Business can be just as dangerous

In the last 6 months, I’ve begun to learn how much I don’t know about business and startups. The shape of my own ignorance is revealing itself to me. As if the sun were rising to reveal a new point on the horizon that had appeared suddenly the night before. It’s still far off, but I can see what I couldn’t 6 months ago.

I can’t yet describe it to you here. It’s still nebulous. But I know there is something for me to learn. There is evidence all around in the incredible effects of knowledge and experience from the new folks who are joining our company. Their experience, put to work, is having an incredible impact, and it’s clear that they are bringing things to the table completely unique to their experience and superpowers. And I wasn’t even aware of what was possible before they came on board.

Writing this down makes me think, “Well duh, Austin. Of course other people who have worked in startups longer than you have more experience to bring to the table.” All the same, it’s amazing to see the effects of their work and to admire the accomplishments of the team that wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t working together. I’ll confess that I a few months ago, I didn’t have much perspective about what could be possible. That ignorance could have gotten me in trouble.

This is encouraging. Despite the seemingly dispiriting dawn of awareness of my own ignorance, it actually means that I am making progress. When we are still unaware of it, our ignorance can be dangerous if we act as if we are totally in control. We can climb out of the Tesla without realizing how close we came to wrapping it around a station wagon.

I take heart in the knowledge that beginning to identify the shape of my own ignorance is a good sign of progress. I suppose it’s the classic process of “unconscious incompetence” transforming itself into “conscious incompetence” hard at work inside of me. Hopefully “conscious competence” is on the horizon soon.

As I reflect on what we’ve all had the chance to witness at the company in the past 6-8 months, all the growth, maturity, and progress that has been made as a result of the amazing leadership we’re bringing in, I find myself in awe of what excellence looks like, and in awe of how I basically had zero concept of the vision our executive team could bring to bear, and in such a short period of time. It’s a testament to their skill and experience that the company continues to live up to its promise, and exceed expectations.

The post isn’t really about what the people I get to work with are able to accomplish, other than to celebrate them as an example of high-achievers who serve as a horizon-broadening example of amazing vision, as well as what excellence and execution look like.

Instead, this blog post is mostly a way for me to publicly confess my own ignorance, in recognition of how much there is to learn. And then to remind myself that staying willing to learn means we can keep making progress day after day.

One of my beliefs is that if you have the ability to visualize something you want to achieve, then your mind has the capacity to achieve it. I don’t believe as humans we are able to conceive of things we cannot achieve. When we begin to recognize our own ignorance, it means we are beginning to identify the steps between where we are and where we want to be.

And as long as we don’t burn ourselves too bad along the way – and don’t crash $130,000 supercars – chances are, we’ll achieve what we’re after.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

 

 

 

 

Relationship Remnants


As I was making breakfast this morning (I make a fairly consistent breakfast every day), I was struck by the fact that I basically inherited the contents of the food I was preparing from an ex-girlfriend. It seemed like a funny thing for me to continue carrying on from a previous relationship, but there I was preparing the same thing she would make for me. It’s a protein-heavy, paleo-inspired thing she concocted for me one weekend: turkey bacon, corn tortillas, spinach, and refried black beans. I loved it then, and I still love it today, breakup or no.

It’s not about the meal. The meal is trivial, but it’s a meal that is unmistakably her contribution to my life. And it’s a contribution that I revisit almost every day. I did not go to work or go about my business without carrying a piece of what she gave to me at every step.

It made me think that every relationship is like that. Every smile, intimacy and trust we share with someone creates trails of their gifts to us whether we like that or not.

The breakfast I make is unmistakably hers, and so I think about the relationship from time to time while it cooks. If it weren’t for those reminders, I’d not think to remember the past that way. As it stands, this morning, I got this picture of what my life looks like as a result of our time together. The meal is a symbol of a reality that I cannot escape. As painful as a breakup can be, and as much as you can sometimes hate a person or never want to speak with them again, if you’re paying attention, you can’t help but notice all these pieces of what you shared lying around that you’re actually really happy to have. They remind you that the relationship was rich, and lots of it, you wouldn’t trade for almost anything.

Of course breakfast isn’t the thing I took away from being with her. It’s just a symbol of all the things I learned, but wouldn’t otherwise remember. I learned how to start loving myself then, but that’s not something any of us think about every day. I just notice that I’m a better person, and more at peace today than I was 2 years ago. I know how to express myself better in a fight. I’m not as quick to run away from my emotions.

There’s a million things like that, which represent the love we shared.

Listening to the bacon cook, I was taking this all in and thinking about the relationships that I have had and will have in my life. How will the women that I connect with continue to leave traces of themselves in my life. Will I be as pleased to discover them as I am to find hair on my pillow, or notes on my mirror? Will I look back on a particular event in a relationship and wish it gone completely? Will a mistake that I make turn every reminder into a dagger?

Of course, this is true not just for all of us, and not just the people we allow ourselves to fall in love with. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve made some amazing friends. They’ve all brought new things into my life, and I’m quite sure that I won’t recognize many contributions for what they are until I’m making a new breakfast or ordering a drink that someone introduced me to. And then that act will serve as a reminder of the part of that person that they gave freely.

All this made me realize that we never really know in advance what gifts someone will bring to us. And once those gifts have been given, it’s impossible for them to be taken back. That relationship has ended, and new ones have taken its place, and I’m the product of all of them along the way.

It’s a great mystery worth celebrating how someone will affect us. From the people we work with to the friends we get drunk with to the lovers we share intimate moments with.

As I was thinking about that, I realized that my heart was full and my life was beautiful. I had nothing to take for granted, but everything to share. Hopefully I’ll be remembered fondly along the way as well.

Hopefully we all will.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Your customer experience begins on Twitter

Every time I go to a conference, there is a long list of people that I’m planning on meeting and connecting with for the first time. A big goal of every conference I attend is to create new relationships of value with folks in my industry, and I work hard to maximize that value by careful research before the conference starts.

Before I ever step foot at the conference venue and into physical proximity of those people I’m hoping to meet, I make a point of doing as much research as possible. This usually involves asking people in my network what they can tell me about those folks I plan to connect with. What are they like in person? What are their values? How much should I invest in them? And on.

Doing a bit of advance research makes it much easier to create real connections between folks that I look up to and want to collaborate with.

Of course, the other thing that I do is look them up on social media. What people share on Twitter and Facebook will tell you a lot about what they do and think. You can also get a sense for how much value they provide to their communities by the way they give back on social media. An online presence has become the new first impression, which is often simply confirmed when you actually meet in person.

We can spend 2o minutes on our computers doing research without ever having to talk to the person in real life. Social media is a frictionless way to get to know someone.

Your Brand’s First Impression is on Social

Of course, companies and brands make the same first impressions on social media, and consumers do the same online research. Doing a little research of a company on Twitter is easier than calling them up to talk with a sales rep. The sales rep is going to have an agenda, but the Twitter account isn’t. Customers want to learn about your company in the simplest way possible. As much as possible, they want to draw their own conclusions about whether or not to buy. Social media gives them this simple way to learn about your company before engaging your sales process.

It’s no wonder that, according to Google, customers have gone through 57% of the sales funnel before they ever engage a sales person. Today, customers have access to all sorts of information via their computers and smartphones that they had to engage a salesperson for a decade ago. This empowers customers them to test-drive the customer experience of your company without first becoming a customer.

In the same way that you or I want to do research on one another before we meet and greet at a conference, customers want to learn as much as possible about your company and your product before they even consider buying from you. And they want to learn about you out in the wild, where you can’t carefully control the experience and the message.

In other words, they want the honest truth about your company, not the party line.

This isn’t a trend that we can fight. Nor should we. In fact, as marketers (and we are all marketers in this age), we can seize this trend as an opportunity and provide breadcrumbs of content and digital marketing that make it easy for customers to build relationships with us from their first interactions on social media.

Customers are looking for information about us online. It’s our responsibility to give it to them. If we don’t someone else will.

Elements of your Customer Experience

There’s nothing worse than navigating over to a company’s blog or Twitter handle to find nobody is home. If that happens, people are likely to leave and not become customers.

You need to keep a constant stream of content flowing for them.

It’s important that you have a carefully produced strategy that articulates which aspects of your customer experience you want to share with your customers. You have the opportunity to highlight the best parts of doing business with you and nudge the customer closer to a sale with every tweet and every blog post. Here’s a few things you want shared in your digital marketing:

  1. Company Values - Now, more than ever, consumers want to do business with companies that share their values. Make it painfully obvious what yours are, and you’ll draw the right customers in.
  2. The Support Experience – Companies have different styles of support, but consumers are increasingly taking to social media with support concerns before they ever pick up the phone or send an email. Make sure that you provide the same level of support on social that you do elsewhere.
  3. Thought Leadership - How is your company leading the innovation and growth in the marketplace? Keep a constant stream of blog posts coming that illustrate this.
  4. Community Engagement - Does your company give back to its community? Share those experiences on social media, and engage with key community members who are social media savvy as well.
  5. Humor - Social media is a fantastic place to let customers know your company has a healthy sense of humor, so let your hair down a bit.
  6. Your Product - Are you sharing content that is related to your product and its benefits? Relevant news surrounding your industry develops massive credibility over time. Fashion brands should talk about new releases; API Platforms should talk about industry developments; Open-source companies should share the latest community news.

Think about the different ways you can share this sort of content with your users, and the people in your company who are well-placed to produce this sort of content. It can make all the difference between a sale and striking out.

I remember the first time a girl I was dating told me her friends had decided to Google me after our second or third date. She told me the story with a bit of pride in her voice because when her friends put “Austin Gunter” into Google, they saw pages of results that had my face on them. My status went up immediately because I had already done the work to create breadcrumbs of “competency” that her girlfriends could follow to the obvious conclusion that I was a guy worth dating.

Of course, I’d done all that work to impress future employers, but I knew that it would work to impress future girlfriends as well. Now I had proof.

Go forth, Tweet, and impress your customers.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Life itself is organic – that is to say, nonlinear by definition. Intellectually this is very frustrating.

Non-linear logic

To “make sense” has ordinarily meant to be definable in terms that are linear – logical and rational. But the process, and therefor the experience, of life itself, is organic – that is to say, nonlinear by definition. This is the source of man’s inescapable intellectual frustration.

-David R. Hawkins, M.D. PhD, from Power vs. Force, the hidden determinants of human behavior

There are two different ways that human beings draw conclusions. By deductive reasoning, which involves a step-by-step, sequential process of applying specific forms of logic to rationally arrive at a single conclusion based on observable evidence and “facts.” We may also arrive at conclusions via inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning springs upon us in the shower, or somewhere between the first gin and tonic and the second. It’s the sort of reasoning that happens completely out of order, at the unconscious level. We are aware of the truth of our conclusion, but sequential backtracking may not happen immediately.

Those among us who one might describe as intuitive are familiar with the second form of reasoning, and the frustrations that come along with trying to explain something when the rationale behind an idea arose from the ether.

Malcolm Gladwell’s research in his book, Blink, describes this phenomenon of when we arrive at the conclusion in an instant, and then must spend arduous months retracing our steps to find proof.

As people in business, I find that deductive proof is often the most valuable currency available to us in meetings and business deals. Despite this reality, however I spend hours every week meditating. Sometimes my brain surprises me with great ideas when I’m least expecting it.

Finding my feet again

20130709-225307.jpg
Tonight, I went and saw a movie by myself. A lot has been going on in the past few months, and I needed to find some solace and take refuge in my old friend, The Cinema.

After the movie, instead of heading straight home, the action a painful limp had forced me to do since moving to SF, I started walking. I walked until my head was clear and my emotions had peacefully walked themselves out.

Maybe you relate to this. Since I can remember, I’ve taken walks to clear my head and center myself. Being able to walk your thoughts out is one of the best ways to untangle all the thoughts in your head.

Like a huge ball of string, my thoughts unwind themselves with each step. Each mile we walk is a mile willing to accept our baggage and our burdens. Our feet carry us great distances while our minds work out the problems of today, preparing us for tomorrow.

Except, for the past 8 months, I’ve had an ankle that limited me to where I could take a cab or drive my car. I was able to travel from place to place, but I didn’t realize I had been unable to unburden my mind with my feet.

This is the second time in my life that I’m teaching myself to walk again. The first time was at 16, after having my hips replaced, and now again at 26, after ankle surgery.

I’m either unlucky that I had to go through the trouble three times, or lucky that I had the chance to make sure I learned everything I could from the process.

Learning how to walk again is a hard-fought battle. It also comes with a new lease on life. When you suddenly can walk again, it’s like the world opens up in a completely new way. That feeling is worth every halting step. Worth walking with a cane. Worth embracing what may be a lifelong limp that starts in my mid-20s.

A limp that means I always got back on my feet. That’s something to be proud of.

I stopped to write and to remind myself that it’s worth it. The combination of words and footfalls that signal where I’ve been. Words and steps that sometimes fall shakily, but help me move forward. Other than a slight limp, this blog post will be the only marker of this part of the journey.

Find the thing that hobbles you. And then find the strength it offers you.

Accept it. Then take the next step.

Email isn’t people. Email is one way people get a message across. And it’s over-saturated.

If Email Is People, Can I Mark You As Spam?

Whitney Hess wrote an interesting piece about email today. She was responding to the tide of “email is the worst,” and the “stop checking email so much” manifestos that have populated the internet like Inbox Zero and GTD.

Her thesis was the following:

I want to stop the email slander. Instead I want to recognize it for what it is: the people who make up my life. Best friends, strangers, colleagues, role models, mentees, prospects. Even the bills, even the mailing lists, even the surveys! There are human beings behind every one of them. Regardless of intention, regardless of quality, regardless of relevance — there they are, right in front of me.

So let’s embrace email. Let’s embrace each other. And respond.

While I understand where Whitney is coming from, I disagree with the conclusion. Email isn’t people. I agree that most of the time, we owe people the respect of a response when they take the time to reach out to us in most communication forms. It’s important to never lose touch with the people that surround us, and that means staying in communication. That means responding.

But email isn’t people. We can’t treat email the same way we treat our friends or or coworkers or our significant others. That’s a trap.

Email is simply one way (out of many) people have learned to communicate with one another. Not all ways of communicating are equal. And, depending on the context, we prefer that people communicate with us in certain ways over others.

For example, we don’t yell at our significant others all day because it’s disrespectful and emotionally draining. In fact, we modulate our voices a lot based on the context of the exchange. Everything from a whisper to a normal voice is fair game depending on the context and the message.

The medium of communication is intrinsic to the message. Sweet nothings are whispered, not shouted, because they are more intimate that way.

That’s an extreme example to establish that people have a lot of nuanced ways to communicate with one another. The internet is simply an expression of that. We have as many ways of communicating digitally as we do with our body language and our voice.

Think about it.

We don’t send an hour’s worth of text messages when one 5 minute phone call will do. And we don’t write on a Facebook wall something that was private between two people. I don’t tweet you to ask if you want to go on a date, and you don’t send a fax to ask me if I want fries with that.

Let’s say that two people were sending each other sexy photos as part of their flirtation. That goes somewhere like Snapchat or Pair, not on HackerNews, right?

There’s a context for every communication, and a proper medium for every message.

So back to email. Email is just one form of communication people use to get a message across. It’s one form among many.

Where email went wrong was it became the go-to for too many different types of messages, not all of which have the same value or urgency. Email is all the things. Email is everything from appointment reminders to contract proposals to technical questions to “can you help me with my startup?” to “please pay your credit card bill.”

Not all of those are of equal import. Not all of those deserve a response every time.

To keep up with all the messages, we have to be more efficient with our emailing habits, and train the people who email us to help us with that. That means brevity, and not answering emails when the email probably shouldn’t have been sent in the first place.

The volume and diversity of messages we receive via email is incompatible with the amount of time we should spend on email in a day. If we were to spend tons of time with each email, we’d lose touch with all those other ways we connect with people. And those other ways of communicating, like talking, are much more powerful methods of connecting with people than email will ever be.

The problem isn’t that we’re disrespectful of one another via email if we don’t respond to everything. Sometimes no response IS the response. The problem is that email still needs some innovation to add context to the medium so that the inbox cues us to the importance of a message. Email has a ton of potential to be nuanced and subtle, but it needs to give us more to work with than an inbox and some folders.

People aren’t email. We can’t simply “archive” our friends, or “mark unread” and come back to them later.

Well, we could, but they might not stay friends with us very long.

And we can’t treat every person in our life the same way either. Our close friends get more attention than people we don’t know. Some people deserve a response, and sometimes the best choice is to not respond to someone and simply move on with our day.

People are people. Email is a fledgling way that people connect with each other.

Email needs to adapt to us. Not the other way around.

Being an entrepreneur

being an entrepreneur

Being a successful entrepreneur means going through a process of becoming one.

No one is born a successful entrepreneur. We all start out from zero. The men and women who “make it” put themselves through the process of becoming a leader of a company, capable of creating value and generating wealth.

That’s a personal process as much as a professional one.

Last week when I was in Austin, I was talking with someone I’m going to be working closely with this year, who asked me, “what’s exciting about where you’re working right now?”

I told her my endgame is to be an entrepreneur myself, because I’m motivated by the opportunity to earn my freedom.

I also explained that I think that WP Engine represents an opportunity for me, as an employee, to learn how to build a company myself.

I think the growth of any company is limited only by what the founders themselves can envision, and then their willingness to be self-reflective and grow in response to the company growth.

The founder cannot be the same leader they were of a 3-person startup when the company has 50 employees. As the company evolves, so too must the founders. I’d even go so far as to say that when companies plateau, it’s safe to say that someone on the leadership team may need to let go of an old way of doing business.

The strategies that grew the company through the first 15 employees will not work for the next 50. What’s more, those early strategies might actually hamper growth.

 

The entrepreneur can choose to do things according to their first response, or they can ask, “how has my company changed, and how should I respond accordingly so I don’t get in the way?”

Sometimes that’s why bringing in new execs is so powerful. The founders may want to get the right sort of help to take the next steps.

Employees can ask the same question. They truly have the same opportunities to grow or not.

My role has evolved so dramatically in the last 14 months, and sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with it. I’m not the same person that I was a year ago. You can even look at photos and see the difference. I’ve done my best to grow in response to the company’s growth.

Leg 3: Bakersfield to San Francisco, a few weeks after arriving

My desk in the Mission

My desk, now that I’m all settled

Shame on me for not finishing this post sooner. I’ve officially been in SF for a month, and I’m getting settled into my routine.  It’s been an intense few weeks. My highs have been high, and I’ve had a few lows and “Oh shit, what did I just do” moments, of course. Packing everything you own and driving across the country with no backup plan will do that to a person.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that the lows in life are inevitably followed by a high. It’s almost as if we need to go down hill for to pick up enough velocity to reach the next summit. That’s another blog post for another time.

To arrive in San Francisco, my last leg of the 5-day journey, I had to drive North, and follow the California Coastline. I left Bakersfield, outside of LA, after some amazing hospitality from Jason Cosper and his lovely wife Sarah. They put me up and fed me before I made my final push into SF.

I hit the road about 9AM, and drove through the farms outside of Bakersfield, making my way over to the Highway 101. It’s not the fastest way to drive from SoCal to NorCal, but it’s the more scenic route up, taking you along the coastline and through the California farmlands before you hit the Peninsula and drive into San Francisco. You can even drive by the spot in the road where James Dean wrecked his Chevy that fateful night. It’s an unassuming spot where 3 farm roads meet. There’s just a small sign and a tiny plaque to commemorate his life.

The drive up the coast was one of my favorites. The farming operations that I passed along the way stretched for miles and miles, bookended by the Sierra Nevada range, with clouds and fog looming over everything I saw. The state of California matches the lyrics of America the Beautiful very well. Every single type of beautiful ecosystem is present in the state. I feel like I’m going to get an eye roll for saying this in such jaded times, but I spent hours on the road driving North through Cali, and I kept thinking, “purple mountain majesties,” as I passed through. The drive was a great time for me to just let go of my cynicism and be inspired by the natural beauty.

Rolling into San Fran, I had the new single from Tegan and Sara, Closer, on repeat. I probably listened to it 10 times that afternoon. It was a love song about the infatuation stage of a relationship, and connecting with someone those first few exciting times. My car explored the curves of the highway the same way our hands and our emotions travel the curves of a new lover. That track, and the rest of the songs on my road trip playlist, which transformed into a NorCal hip hop mix, are on Spotify.

It was raining hard as I started seeing signs like, “San Jose,” and “Cupertino” through my windshield. Driving North on the 101 is like thumbing through the tech industry’s greatest hits album. You get a rush seeing all those famous names flying by. As each city flies by, you realize you’re on the same highways that millions of men and women have driven, searching for the same Gold Rush that the 49ers were after. That afternoon, I was driving directly into the epicenter of the last 40 years of tech innovation and I could feel the energy.

San Jose.  Cupertino.  Palo Alto.  Stanford.

The best way to describe what was going through my head is to explain that I realized that I was literally behind the wheel, driving myself into the best place in the world for tech entrepreneurs. A place full of history and momentum. And a place where many of the best minds travel to make their vision into reality. I had found an opportunity to live in the thick of Silicon Valley. I was incredibly excited. I was also wondering WTF had gotten into me that I wasn’t afraid to leave the last 16 years of my life behind, forsaking the past for an unknown future. I wasn’t holding myself back psychologically, or holding onto the past.

Jonas and Mayor Ed Lee

Jonas Lamis and Mayor Ed Lee at the RallyPad

Many times in the past, I second-guessed any sense of entitlement that I *could* have the life I wanted.  That I could live at the epicenter of the most creative people on the planet, and that I would belong with “the cool kids.” Since I practice honesty on this blog, I have to confess that the move was striking a mortal blow against the part of me that used to whisper, “that life isn’t for you, it’s for ‘other people.’”

As I was driving into San Francisco, I knew that I was driving home, and that I was in the process of claiming my rightful place among the “other people” that I used to fear. It was liberating. The only thing that had held be back before was my own thoughts. Confronting those was the only obstacle to having this adventure.

After weaving through rush-hour traffic, I finally got to my place in the Lower Mission, and met my new roommate and her spaniel, Zorro. I found a nice place to park within 3 blocks of my apartment. Turns out I may not have to pay for parking. That’s $150 a month I can roll into other stuff.

My boxes from UPS had arrived that day. Completely trashed. My stereo looked completely broken, but it still worked. I began the process of unpacking and organizing my life. I have a list of things to set up in my new life in the city, from getting a Tai Chi dojo (check), to finding a doctor (check), to getting started on dating so I can meet someone  (double-check), find good coffee shops to work at, etc. I set goals for things I want to achieve every week that gradually build my life here.

Knowing that I can make my life exactly what I want it to be is liberating. San Francisco is the place where people go to live to the limit, so I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity to re-invent myself. When faced with a choice, I ask myself, “what do I want my life to be like in a year, and how do I make that happen?” Then I go do the thing that makes me happy. I’ve made a list of the things that I want, and I’m going after them week-by-week.

The final thing I did was head to the WordPress meetup at Automattic HQ in the Mission. Evan Solomon and Daryl Koopersmith were presenting on 3.5 and going deep into the code

More Friendly WordPress Folk

More Friendly WordPress Folk at Dolores Park

changes for WordPress this time around. They were kind enough to hang out for a while afterwards to show me some cool places on the map, and help me get settled. It’s great to have new friends in place as I’ve arrived. The Automatticians have all been incredibly hospitable since I’ve arrived, and I’m glad we’re connected.

The weeks are flying by, and my life is completely different, but it’s still me. I’m changing incredibly quickly, and learning so much. Look for for more changes, more ideas, and more adventures to come.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter