Post-startup school thoughts

This weekend was Startup School (thanks to Jessica and the YC team for organizing). The event was thought provoking in a different way for me this year. Usually it's a raw feeling of inspiration and wanting to build a successful startup so one day I can be a speaker and not an attendee. This time it left me more reflective.  Differences in the talks this year were Tony Hsieh and Mark Pincus going into the psychology of why people start companies and Paul Graham talked about what startups are really like i.e. for the most part they're a brutal experience.

My motivations for doing my first startup were simple and mercenary. I wanted to get never-have-to-work again rich and thought a startup represented the best chance of achieving that goal.  I didn't question that motive in any great depth. I'd never had much money growing up and the desire to be rich was hardwired in me since as far as I could remember. The time I spent on a startup was by far the most intense and stressful period of my life.  I've now seen first hand just how hard building a business is and I've been around enough failed startups to confirm it. The net result of this is I can't use mercenary motives to justify doing another startup. My brain just won't let me delude myself on the chances of that outcome like it used to.  

We were incredibly lucky to be in the group of first time entrepreneurs to get a profitable exit.  It wasn't never-have-to-work again profitable but it significantly changed our financial positions.  It still doesn't change the reality though. Startups are hard and big exits are rare. That's where my thinking was at before going into Startup School.  In this context, these parts made me think the most: - Tony Hsieh presented an interesting thought experiment. Ask yourself what one of your goals is. Then ask why. Then ask why again and keep going. It should end with to be happy. We set goals and do things because on some level we think they will make us happy. He touched on the ideas presented in Stumbling on Happiness (a fantastic book I found via Kul) namely that although we do things because we think they'll make us happy, humans are notoriously bad at correctly predicting which things will actually make them happy.  

Unless you're fortunate (or have a low bar for happiness, which is arguably in many ways a good thing), knowing which things and actions will make you happy is not a trivial exercise.  It's something everyone should spend time thinking about but especially in the context of startups and founders, not enough of us do.  There's so many external forces pushing us (peer pressure, societal expectations, family, circumstances, etc) that make it hard for us to listen to our inner voice when there's so much value to be had in doing so. - Mark Pincus talked about how even after selling a few companies and being successful he still had the desire to start another one. I spoke with Mark after his talk and he articulated why selling a company can be an anti-climax.

Once you sell, you reap the financial rewards but if it wasn't a product that really mattered to the world you're left with nothing to really show for it. That's what drove him to start Zynga - he wanted a product that really mattered to people. So far I've managed to distill two (very vague) motivations/goals that I want to optimize around for whatever I do next: - Work on something that positively impacts a significant number of people's lives. - Work with people who can improve me I'm curious to see where the thought process will take me. If anyone is/has been in a similar position, I'd be interested to hear about your experiences.

Laser Eye Surgery

I had laser eye surgery last week and have repeatedly been asked about the process by people thinking of having it done.  There's two types of laser eye surgery, Lasik and PRK.  In a nutshell Lasik has a faster recovery time but isn't suited to people wanting to do contact sports e.g. martial arts. PRK takes longer to recover from but leaves the eye more structurally sound in the long term.  I went for PRK. Cost was $2399 (CAD) - I think that's on the expensive side but the clinic I went to was highly recommended and I didn't think my eyes were something worth cutting costs on.

Week before procedure: You're not allowed to wear contact lenses for a week before the procedure.

Day before: Consultation where they check you're eligible for surgery.  Nothing uncomfortable or invasive - just a vision test, looking at blurry images while they take pictures of your eyes and some eye drops to dilate your pupils.

The procedure: I was seriously nervous beforehand. I hate having people do anything near my eyes - it took me over an hour to put my first pair of contact lenses in. I was surprised by how easy the procedure actually was. You lie down, they put a clamp like thing to keep you from blinking but they wet your eyes so it's not actually (that) uncomfortable.  Then they use drops to numb your eyes (slight sting but nothing much) and put a ring over your eye (you don't feel it). You're basically looking at a red light (given I was -5.5 in my left and -5.75 in my right eye it was a very blurry light). Then they pour a cold liquid into your eye. Doesn't hurt but it's pretty cool. Next they wipe your eye (they're removing a thin out layer that grows back by itself) and then the laser starts moving around and making noises. You can smell burnt hair which is pretty gross. This whole process takes about 2 minutes and once they're done the red light is no longer blurry. They then put a protective contact lens in the eye that you wear for 6 days. Process repeated for other eye.

Directly after surgery: Your eyes are still numbed so you don't feel anything in them. Everyone has different levels of vision after but mine was pretty clear - it wasn't 100% but pretty sharp. You're given three sets of eye drops, one you put in every 3 hours and 2 that you use three times a day. There's a final set you use if you have any pain.

Few hours after surgery: My vision stayed relatively clear but my eyes started stinging quite a bit and had some pain.  Not a crazy unbearable amount but definitely a uncomfortable level.  The pain killing eye drops are great, you can put them in and they instantly numb your eyes for 3 hours. I used them a couple of times that day.  I was also super sensitive to any light.  I tried to sleep as much as possible (advice given by doctor).

Recovery Day 1: I'll be honest, my eyes hurt quite a bit this day and I was getting freaked out. The pain killing drops are great but you're not supposed to overuse them as it can delay healing.  Stuff I found that worked great was putting an ice pack over my eyes. Also you're given artificial tear drops you can use whenever. I chilled these in the fridge and then used them - helped a lot.  I had a checkup at the clinic, they said everything was fine and the pain would go away. I slept as much as possible again and rode out the day. It's worth noting that not everyone has pain e.g. I know Kul said he didn't have any stinging but did have really dry eyes. Everyone reacts slightly differently.

Recovery Day 2: After waking up in the middle of the night to numb my eyes after they were stinging again, I woke up and found the stinging wasn't there. I kept icing and resting and got to lunchtime still without any stinging or need to use the eye drops. My vision was definitely blurrier (supposed to happen as the thing layer of your eye grows back).  Made it until the evening without needing the pain killing drops.

Recovery Day 3: Eyes felt much better. I slept the whole night and there was no stinging at all. I kept icing a little anyway as I found it helped moisten my eyes a little but there wasn't any pain. Vision became progressively cloudier during the day.

Recovery Days 4 and 5: No pain. Vision was seriously cloudy on day 4 but became a little better by day 6.

Recovery Day 6: Eyes were feeling a little dry from the contact lens but no pain. The contact lens were removed. Felt a bit irritable at first, like having an eye lash in your eye but this only lasted for 15 minutes. I've heard from others this sensation can last for a few days but I was told my eyes had healed perfectly so it wouldn't last long. I'm pretty sure that sleeping a lot and not using a computer i.e. properly resting my eyes since the procedure really helped optimize my recovery.

Recovery Day 7: Woke up today with pretty sharp vision and eyes feeling good. I don't think I'm at 20/20 yet but I feel pretty close and every day they should get better. I now have one eye drop I use 5 times a day and a gel type thing I put in before I go to sleep. Next check up is at the end of the month. Touch wood my recovery continues going smoothly.  Apart from the first two days everything has gone really smoothly and I'm really glad I had the procedure done. Not worrying about glasses or contact lenses is an amazing feeling.

Leaving Live Current and Vancouver

This week I left my role as Director of Product at Live Current Media.  I'm grateful to Live Current for having faith in the Auctomatic product and team and acquiring us last year.  I've enjoyed the past 15 months but the time is right to move onto something new. For me that means moving back to San Francisco.  

I've loved living in Vancouver, it's an amazing city and I've bonded with people here in a way I had never anticipated when I moved out here.  I'll miss everyone a lot and leave behind a lot of amazing memories.  However I always knew that at some point I'd move back to San Francisco.  It's the best place to be as an entrepreneur and I'm looking forward to being back and getting sunk into something new. I've no specific plans about what I'll be doing next beyond knowing that I want to start another business.  

This time around I've lost the naivety of a first-time entrepreneur, which is both a strength and weakness but leaning more towards the former.  Having experienced the incredible stress of a startup  I'm under no illusions about how hard building a business is but having had time to think about things, I honestly can't think of anything else I'd want to do. My first objective is to put a team together. If you're interested in working together and want to bounce some ideas around drop me a line. I'll be back in the Bay Area from 1st October.

P.S. For everyone in Vancouver, I'll throw a leaving party before I head off. It'll be less than a month after my moving in party. That must be some kind of record somewhere.