So, four days until I turn 50... and I’m doing a bit better. It doesn’t hurt that today I did a nice hard 45 mile ride to Fillmore and back, nor that it was another gorgeous day; bright and clear, crisp, slight breeze... And it doesn’t hurt that I’m working on our Christmas Cards, and on Team Aperio mugs for 2008... And it doesn’t hurt that I've got more football to watch and food to eat.
But what has really helped is realizing that I have so much for which to be thankful, and that turning 50 doesn’t change any of it. Thanksgiving has given me permission to focus on the half full part of the glass, and to notice that it’s more than half full.
(However if you haven’t yet turned fifty I suggest you put it off as long as possible, and try not to schedule concurrent financial meltdowns :)
I have a lot to be thankful for personally - my family and friends are the most important, of course, and my health - but this weekend I've been thinking a lot about my work. I'm fortunate to live at a time when the intellectual effort of making machines and teaching them to do stuff is valued. And I am especially fortunate that the particular machines we make and teach at Aperio are helping mankind in such important ways. Imagine the awe with which Hooke or Leeuwenhoek or Galen would have regarded a ScanScope system! I get up in the morning knowing that what we do that day matters. Not only can we create business value with what we do, we can create value, period. And that is something for which I am very thankful.
I’ve just begun re-reading Michael Lewis’ The New New Thing, about Jim Clark, Netscape, the Internet, and Silicon Valley. It was written in 2000, and taps into the incredible sense of optimism and possibility that pervaded Silicon Valley at that time. I was fortunate to live there then, working for Intuit and later PayPal, and the book evocatively brings back the mood. I remember going to parties where every single person in attendance thought they were on the edge of becoming billionaires (myself included :). To give you a flavor of that time, I used to go to the Excite datacenter (pictured at right; remember them? They were Google-before-Google) and they had a spiffy BMW parked in the foyer, one of which was given each month to someone who successfully referred a new employee.
When the .com crash occurred in 2001 the deflation was palpable. The world didn’t feel that as much as the world feels the current credit crunch, and it is possible this will end up being worse, but if you lived in SV then it felt much the same as this feels now. The main thing for me was that sense of possibility was gone. I no longer felt like I was on the edge of becoming a billionaire. I know, I know, cue the violins, but it was depressing.
In October 2001 Excite declared bankruptcy (along with a myriad of other dot-coms), but the big news was that I joined Aperio. At that time it was based in the founder's garage (!), had two employees, one semi-working prototype, one customer, and was in the process closing a Series A. You could not have chosen a less propitious time at which to start a company, and probably anyone would have bet against us, but I was excited. Not only did it appear to be a sound business opportunity, but the chance to do something important beckoned. The sense of possibility had returned.
It wasn’t a straight line from that point to this one, there were a few bumps in the road. There were days when I feared we would not succeed. But this isn’t one of them; we are still a sound business opportunity – now validated – and we still have a chance to do something important – we are doing important things every day.
I’m going to try to keep this in mind in the days ahead … try to maintain a sense of perspective, and optimism. This is important for me personally, so I can stay focused and have fun, but also for my team (and my colleagues :); we all set an example for those around us to follow. But most of all, this is the best way for me to bypass all the mental crap that accompanies turning 50.
So, T minus 4 to the big Five-O, and I'm A-OK... stay tuned...