Just 5 minutes

One of the challenges of being an adult is wanting to do more things than you have time for. Maybe this is a challenge of being human?

Usually the urgent prevails over the important. I’ve tried to overcome this prioritization problem in many ways: doing things on the weekend, putting it in my to-do app, telling people about it for accountability, signing up with a tutor (hi Spanish).

Nothing has stuck. When there’s too much to do, it’s easy to ignore, delete, or cancel.

At the end of last year, the team at Ultraworking launched a new year resolutions challenge. They built a website specifically for this challenge called Last Resolution Standing, and the last day to sign up was Jan 1.

Everyone picked a resolution that could be done either:

  • first thing in the morning, or
  • 5 minutes a day

As a not-a-morning-person-at-all person, I chose 5 minutes a day. And I decided I wanted to revisit Economics. It was my undergrad major, but I felt I remembered nothing. So I got a PDF textbook and spent 5 minutes a day on it.

Fortunately, I did remember a lot of it—and today it seems like so much more fun than when I was actually studying it. And I’m now 5 chapters in, which is more progress than I thought I’d make with such a small time commitment.

Sadly, the Last Resolution Standing streak ended for me on the 19th (my first day at Sundance), and I’m not allowed to use the app anymore. I’m ranked 31st of 159 participants. Most people stopped quite early (Jan 13th is known as “Quitters Day” – the day by which most resolutions are done and dusted). But there are still 14 people in the running, which is really cool.

While I couldn’t use the challenge as a motivation, I could just re-start the habit. So I downloaded the Streaks app, and I’ve been continuing my 5 minutes a day of Econ reading.

Compared to everything else I’ve done, this feels really easy. I set a timer for 5 minutes either on my phone or on this cute timer I bought through their Kickstarter (what’s the point of a new habit if you can’t buy a little tchotchke?) and open up the textbook. There are times I get into it and have more time on my hands, so I just keep going. The lack of pain with this method is seriously amazing.

And the key is that I’m not obsessing about the streak. If I break it, great, I just continue the next day. I’ve found when I overdo things, the pendulum swings hard in the other direction.

I’m going to experiment. I’m sure this, too, will fall on the floor at some point. But my goal is to pick it back up quickly and continue. The goal is to keep it light and also easy to do (i.e. accessible any time you have the 5 minutes). That seems like the key.

Want to join me? Let me know what ritual you’re starting. And I’ll let you know how long I keep mine going.

Mini-Obsessions as Self-Care

Photo by bady abbas on Unsplash

This has been the most insanely difficult year. And that’s saying something, because a couple of years ago, I lost all my hair!

One of the ways I have tried to keep my sanity is by finding mini-obsessions. For me, a mini-obsession has to check two boxes:

  1. There are layers upon layers, and you can choose how deep to dive.
  2. The objects of obsession are relatively moderately priced. So no cars, or watches, or high-end anything.

The first mini-obsession that I picked several months ago was house plants of all sorts, including bonsai. I have never been able to keep a bonsai alive. Bonsai retailers should just rebrand to “we grow them, you kill them”—at least when they are targeting me with ads. And so I decided to actually take a mini-course on bonsai (and yes they exist, online of course).

My first bonsai was a jade, which I thought would be easy. And it was, until I decided to try to wire the bonsai to make it look like a “real” bonsai. I also decided to re-pot it with my newly found “skills” (what was I thinking?!). So, yeah… the lovely little tree is now a stump.

I then decided to hold off on the more advanced techniques of wiring and re-potting and got a lovely little Chinese Elm that is pre-shaped. All I have to do with this one is water it. So, fingers crossed. But during the course of this mini-obsession, I learned about bonsai, their history, the care (ahem), how to wire and shape them, how to water them, the differences between indoor and outdoor bonsai, and the various tools used to shape them.

Given my desire to not harm any more living creatures during the pandemic, I then decided to shift my focus to inanimate objects, where the most I could do was lose interest.

My friend Ellen told me about her shiny new mechanical keyboard, and the seed for a new mini-obsession was planted. Growing up, I used mechanical keyboards (b/c I’m old), but in the recent past, the joy of using one is something I’ve missed. And so it began.

As a Mac user, I found there were a relatively small number of keyboards that are made to work with the Mac out of the box. In this case, you get a piece of software to remap your keyboard. But after years of using the super-slim Apple bluetooth keyboards, I did not want to return to wired keyboards.

Voilà, the Keychron K2 was the perfect keyboard. The next decision was what kind of switches I’d want. Switches are the mechanism that lie under the keycaps and above the board. There are three versions, and I knew I didn’t want the super-loud clicky ones. So at first, I went with the linear Gateron reds. Lovely.

But soon, I realized that on some keyboards, the switches could be swapped out without any soldering. So then, I got the K6, which allows hot swappable switches. This time, I chose the tactile Gateron brown switches. But the whole world of switches was calling out to me. After getting a Gateron switch tester, I realized the ZealPC switches are even nicer than the Gateron ones, so… I had to get the tester for the Zeal switches. And then I fell in love with the Zilents, which are both tactile and relatively silent.

My K6 – removed the Gateron Browns and replaced them with the Zilents

So that’s mostly where I am, besides of course having ordered 2 amazing sets of keycaps (ABS, PBT, and Pudding are the major varieties) and a couple of custom keycaps, too.

Except, I have now realized that some of the keys, particularly the spacebar, backspace, and right shift key are not very silent, even with the Zilents. So, I’m off to learn about stabilizers, foam, lubing, band aids, and the like.

While looking into that, I came across this most beautiful video of someone rebuilding a K6 keyboard. The level of detail, the fantastic editing, and the sheer love is wonderful to watch. While the tests of the keyboard sounds before and after are aural ASMR, the whole video is ASMR for the soul.

I have no idea how long this pandemic is going to last, or how much anxiety the election will cause, but these mini-obsessions have given me a focus on learning in a sphere where there is no upside, no downside, no specific purpose besides curiosity and the desire to learn and relax. I love spaces where the more you dig, the more there is. There is also a joy in discovering a community that is passionate about something relatively obscure, seeing the love and work they put into sharing knowledge. In this particularly tough year, these obsessive learners, artists, and creators give me hope in humanity.

Gratitude to the Giants

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her confirmation hearing. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, it hit me very hard. As I thought about why, I realized it’s because she fought for the things we now take for granted.

As Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post tweeted:

So much of what I have accomplished would not have been possible if RBG hadn’t fought for herself and for everyone who deserves equal treatment.

While RBG’s influence is overarching, there are people in other fields who, by fighting for their chance to do the jobs they loved, fulfill their potential, or realize their view of a different world, created opportunity for thousands of people in the future.

In my own life, here are a few I’d like to stop and thank.

Sandi Sissel was one of the earliest female cinematographers. When she started, she couldn’t be in the union and she had to wear skirts to work. Skirts—for a cinematographer who might have to climb a ladder, or run along with an actor, or lie on the floor. But Sandi ignored the indignities and did exceptional work, making it normal for women to be fantastic directors of photography.

Lynn Reedy was CTO and the leader of the largest organization at eBay – all of engineering, product, and design. She wasn’t the “female leader.” She was the leader. Lynn and I have to thank Meg Whitman, who, back in 1998, became the CEO of eBay. And all of us have to thank Pierre Omidyar, who hired the best candidate to be CEO. The best candidate also happened to be one of the first women CEOs in tech.

In more recent news, Gavin Newsom just announced that in 15 years, no new gas cars can be sold in California. Every new car sold in California from 2035 on will be an electric car. It warms my heart that one of the people who made his possible is also one the nicest people I know, and someone I hold in very high regard: Marc Tarpenning, the co-founder of Tesla and a Venture Partner at Spero.

We are living through a period of great stress. California has been ravaged by wildfires and some dear friends have lost their homes. Americans have been devastated by the pandemic, shocked by the violence against our black citizens, and are worried about violence and chaos around an election. Stress and anxiety is off the charts.

During this insanity, taking a moment to recognize these incredible people gives me a sense of comfort. RBG, Sandi, Meg, Lynn, Pierre, and Marc. We stand on the shoulders of these giants—and one way of repaying them is to face the future unflinchingly, trusting in our values and our ability to move us all forward. And then doing the work necessary, like they did.

I’m going to take a break from publishing for a little while, but I’m looking forward to checking back in with you with some great stuff soon!

Who are you?

Photo by Jyotirmoy Gupta on Unsplash

Every August, US filmmakers rush to make the Sundance Film Festival deadline. And in early December, Sundance announces its lineup. The day before, everyone is equal—all aspiring filmmakers. But the moment Sundance announces, the wheat is separated from the chaff. There are those who will have a film that “premiered at Sundance,” and… there are the other mere mortals. Both groups will now be treated differently as expectations start to diverge.

While companies are less of a lemming-like march to the cliff than film festival applicants, similar rules apply. After a company goes down in flames, or after you get fired, the same thing happens. The very next day, there’s a sense that you’re a different person.

In both cases, I see a similar pattern: people define themselves (and each other) in terms of their successes and failures. But both success and failure are transient and ephemeral. They can both be taken away, forgotten, or overcome. Successes and failures aren’t who you are.

Perhaps, instead of letting successes and failures define you, define yourself according to something no one can take away, something you cannot lose.

If you can lose your job, you are not your job or your job title. If you can lose company, you are not your company. If you always need permission to create or make a film, you are not a creator or filmmaker.

A couple of years ago, someone asked me if I would view myself as a failure if I failed at my job as a venture investor. My answer was yes. I explained that my job is a huge part of who I am, and if I fail at it, yes, I would be a failure.

Since that conversation, I’ve come to a more nuanced view of the world. I wouldn’t say to a founder, “If your company fails, you are a failure.” Quite the opposite. You are not your company, and regardless of whether you took it public or closed it down, you are separate from the entity that is your company.

So, if not by those ephemeral things, how can you define yourself?

  • Instead of defining yourself according to your job description, you can think about characteristics like persistence, compassion, and thoughtfulness.
  • Instead of defining yourself according to successes and failures, you can look at the chances you choose to take. There are second chances, there are third chances—but they only exist if you don’t give up on yourself, and if you actually take them.
  • Instead of defining yourself according to your ego, you can think of yourself as someone who’s always learning.
  • External validation is the bane of humanity. Fuck external validation.

Despite the transience, we let success and failure have such a huge impact on us. Depending on how we deal with it, they can change our life trajectories. But these things still aren’t who we are. Who you are is the amalgam of personal characteristics that make you up. It’s what you learn from success and failure. It’s how you deal with it, and what you go on to do with it. That’s what no one can take away from you, and that’s what makes you who you are.

Being Wrong

Photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

At some point in 2002, while I was still relatively new to eBay, I found myself sitting in a room with the exec staff discussing something strategic. Many of the details of the meeting are now blurry, but one little event is still crystal clear in my mind. People were talking, discussing options with opinions flying around, and I said something. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember the reaction to it. 

One of the senior leaders—a lovely, but brutally honest and blunt man—said, “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”

There was a pause in the conversation. My heart stopped. And then the conversation continued, while I sat there, stunned. 

I felt in my bones that I must speak again, in this meeting, to get over that comment, to move on and retain the confidence that I can contribute.  I practically forced myself to speak again. Sort of like falling off a horse and getting back on. 

I can guarantee you that the only person who remembers that moment now, 18 years later, is me. It’s actually a moment I’ve thought about several times as one of the key learning moments in my life. 

The reality is that we will all be wrong sometimes, or at the very least, perceived to be wrong. It’s the price of speaking, the price of thinking, the price of writing. So what should we do? Never speak, think, or write unless we are certain we are right? That would erase your voice from the conversation. 

I wrote a post last week about Quibi, and I purposely made a bold statement about how innovative this new film platform is. The innovation is not just the short-form content (or chapters) that Quibi uses; it is creating an interaction between the form factor of the screen (the phone) with the content for the first time in cinema. 

Many (most?) people disagree. Some even wrote to me privately to tell me why I was wrong. I love the engagement. 

Am I sure that Quibi will succeed? Absolutely not. But I am glad they are trying something fresh, new, and innovative, and I certainly hope they will succeed because I love the bold approach. I’ve been watching chapters for the past two nights and it’s a slick user experience. 

As investors, we need to be both right and contrarian to make a return for our LPs. We will often be wrong, too, because the path to success for any company is filled with so many near-death experiences along a very winding road. But we can’t be afraid to make an investment.

Similarly, we can’t be afraid to talk or write. I will be right sometimes. I will be wrong sometimes. What matters to me is the thinking and the engagement. And I prefer to have a hopeful and optimistic view of the world, where I am rooting for success rather than failure. 

Speak up. Claim your seat at the table. So what if you are wrong sometimes? We are all wrong sometimes. Shake it off and move on. I promise you that you are the only one who will remember that moment (even days later). Ultimately, your voice matters. Don’t erase yourself.

What I’m Doing as I Try Not to Panic

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

All you can do right now is focus on the things you can control. 

Most of the world is in lock down, which is crucial to keep vulnerable people safe. Anxiety is through the roof. The natural state is to allow the “issue” to take up 95% of your brain and to fully embrace a state of panic. I’ve definitely had moments of this in the past few days. 

But, I’ve had to reel myself back and think about the other times I’ve dealt with high levels of anxiety — 9/11, parental illness and loss, a cancer diagnosis. The key, each time, to my keeping my sanity has been to focus a majority of my brain on the things I can control. 

To do that, I structure the shit out of it. Our work lives and our home lives have a structure, rhythm, and flow. I am trying to continue that while being trapped in one location. 

Spero Ventures has been WFH since March 3rd. We cancelled an event that was scheduled for that day and encouraged people to stay safe.

While we are working from home and all of our “meetings” are on video, everything else is the same. 

  • We are still investing. We closed on an investment today.
  • We are still looking for new investments. We are meeting founders on Zoom.
  • We are still doing regular calls with our portfolio and focusing on how to get through this time.
  • We are even doing our events. They just happen to be on Zoom. Later this week, we will announce a Zoom call for anyone who is interested in or building a community around our Product-Led Community thesis. Follow me on Twitter to hear about the announcement. 

Personally, I am:  

  • Keeping to my regular working schedule. Doing all meetings at my desk at home instead of my desk at work or at founder offices.
  • Making sure the kids have structure for their online learning — no PJs all day!
  • Making sure I meditate. I’ve been using Core several times a day – here are the results of my mediation from this morning
  • Doing PT for my knee (ski accident, ugh) 
  • Working on things that get me into the flow state – this is awesome because the anxiety is not front and center when this happens.

One upside to having four people locked in the house is that I don’t have to uber my kids anywhere. That is free time that I can use to re-engage with things that give me joy.

My plan is to upgrade the internals of my old (2008) Mac Pro, set up a central photo database, and start editing again. I’m going to try to get Final Cut Pro X up and running and recut a film I made in 2012 that may be festival worthy. 

Even writing this made me realize there is a lot that I can control. My hope is that focusing on this gets me through the next few weeks and months.

I will leave you with this perspective-setting paragraph from Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell:

In some of the disasters of the 20th century—the big northeastern blackouts in 1965 and 2003, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast—the loss of electrical power meant that the light pollution blotting out the night sky vanished. In these disaster-struck cities, people suddenly found themselves under the canopy of stars still visible in small and remote places. On the warm night of August 15, 2003, the Milky Way could be seen in New York City, a heavenly realm long lost to view until the blackout that hit the northeast late that afternoon. You can think of the current social order as something akin to this artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster. In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative and local society. However beautiful the stars of a suddenly visible night sky, few nowadays could find their way by them, but the constellations of solidarity, altruism and improvisation are within most of us and reappear at these times. People know what to do in a disaster. The loss of power, the disaster in the modern sense, is an affliction, but the reappearance of these old heavens is its opposite. This is the paradise entered through hell.

What we leave behind

Photo credit: My Father

Like many fathers, mine had a list of aphorisms he’d repeat. One of his favorites was “You come with nothing and you go with nothing.” 

Last year, I got the middle of the night phone call every immigrant fears. It was too late to say goodbye. Landing in Chennai, coming home, and seeing him, so alone and still, the memory of his words resonated strongly. 

This week, I’m in India again to mark the first anniversary of my father’s passing. One of the unavoidable side effects of this trip is being forced to think about life and purpose.

My father will be remembered for starting a company that focused on innovation and excellence, establishing environmental and worker safety standards much ahead of its time. More importantly, he’ll be remembered by employees for recognizing their contribution as vital to the organization. When the company was awarded the Deming Prize, my father took top management and union leaders to Japan so they could all accept the prize together. 

He’ll be remembered for his creativity and love for tinkering, creating a go-kart from scratch while a student at IIT, Madras. And for taking apart the Nano, one of India’s new generation of small cars, slicing through the body and putting it back together to make it even smaller (and fully functional). More importantly, people will remember his infectious joy at solving a challenge he set for himself, his curiosity, his unwillingness to give up, and, despite his deep appreciation for the effort that created the ideal car for the country, his delight at having bettered something hundreds of engineers had worked on.

He’ll be remembered for his obsession with photography. For the incredible images that captured the scale and devotion of religious festivals of Madurai (as in the photo above),  and the detailed and intricate ones that captured the delicate beauty of flowers. More importantly, he will be remembered by the people he taught to be photographers and by the people he impacted with his photography. 

In a world where leaders are criticized for putting profit above all else, he will be remembered for how he lived with complete integrity. 

My Father

What we leave behind are not just the things we create, but the enduring impact of how we do our work and pursue our passions.

It’s something I have thought a lot about this past year and that I will continue to think about in the years to come.

My father took nothing with him. But between the coming and the going, he left a lot behind. 

Facing fears


So I biked down a steep country road (and hit a car). I sledded down an icy hill (and hit a tree). I don’t remember my parents freaking out; they seemed to understand that mishaps were part of childhood. I got a few stitches, and kept biking and sledding. Misadventures meant that I should try again. With each triumph over fear and physical adversity, I gained confidence.

Source: Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute to Be Scared? – The New York Times

This is important for all kids. Grateful that my mother let me do anything I wanted – I climbed trees and fell, rode a moped and crashed into a wall, biked, swam, ran barefoot, played soccer with the boys, and broke many, many bones.

Like the author, my mother supported me. Unlike the author, her mother supported her. A line of outliers.