August 2009 Archive
It's been an exhausting few weeks. I'm getting ready to start traveling again, leaving for Brazil very soon. But I've been trying to pause and spend some QT with Mr. Lacy and friends before it all heats up again. Tonight, a good friend Christopher Michel took this photo. It's a very rare stop-and-kiss-the-husband moment these days. BTW- this was taken at Flour + Water- an amazing new restaurant in the Mission we hope to frequent as often as we can get in! It's sort of the new Delfina. (But slightly better....)
I've always been a pretty happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full kind of person, which I've long attributed to my upbringing. I grew up the youngest of five kids with parents who were teachers. I had no business "connections" or nepotism to take advantage of, and with four older siblings, I was well aware nothing revolved around me. I always had to work incredibly hard for everything, but on the flip side, when I did work incredibly hard I was always rewarded, which is a nice feeling. When something didn't go my way, I'd be upset but I'd also remind myself that things happen for a reason and trust there was some reason.
Fast-forward to today. I have more than I ever thought I would achievement-wise, materially and personally. And yet, increasingly I'm more irritable, more demanding, and feel more entitled -- and hence angrier when things don't work out the way I'd like.
That's had me wondering all week: What has happened to me? I've come up with a few culprits:
1. Success. Doing well in a competitive industry often means you possess qualities that don't make you a very content, easy-to-be-around person. In short, to convince people you deserve things over others, you have to believe it-- hence the entitlement thing. And once you've had any measure of success the balance between having nothing/everything to lose tips in the wrong direction. You're on a treadmill that's moving faster and faster and the pressure to keep up is harder.
2. I'm Just a Jerk. Maybe I've just turned into more of an entitled jerk as I've aged? My mom always said people's true natures emerge more the older they get and the more fatigued they get with putting up a polite filter. Wow. I hope this isn't it or I'm really going to suck in another decade or so.
3. Instant-Gratification of Technology. The Web and gadgets like BlackBerries, iPods, iPhones, laptops and Kindles have spoiled us. We can now have anything we want at any moment we want it: The etymology of a word, that actor you saw and can't quite place, that song you want to hear this second, etc. When you live a super-digital lifestyle you get seduced by that kind of master-of-the-universe control, which of course doesn't exist in the real world even for moguls.
4. The Economy/Mass Uncertainty of Media. I've been pretty lucky not to lose any income or jobs during the downturn. But new opportunities aren't flying through the door at the rate they were. Since I'm self-employed and my industry is crumbling all around me, maybe that self-preservation insecurity is seeping into my subconscious in ways I don't realize.
5. The August Doldrums. I have no clue if there is such a thing. But somehow as my schedule has slowed down, I'm both crankier and accomplishing less. WTF?
Anyone else experiencing any of these?
Here's my plan to turn things around and end August in a better mood:
1. Start running again. An hour of hardcore cardio is the best cure I know for handling stress and anxiety.
2. Saying no. This month has been tough because it's the first time I've been in town for a long stretch and I want to see everyone. But it only stresses me out more because I'm not getting my to-do list done.
3. Work harder. I've been trying to take it a bit easy this month, as 2009 has been pretty hardcore. But the reality is, I'm happier when I'm accomplishing more, even if I'm exhausted. That sucks because I'd rather just go shopping or see a movie.
Sorry the updates on the mural have been so sparse. I had a Yahoo shoot this week, a story of international intrigue to unravel for TechCrunch and I'm digging out of a hole of late BusinessWeek columns. But Brian has been working hard. So hard he claims he'll be done Friday! (We don't believe him, but that's wishful thinking because we like the tunes he plays during the work day.)
Look close: It's mostly nuance and fine-tuning at this point.
(Me on the phone with Bernstein, er...Paul Carr discussing Spotify last night. That's right, Paul, I'm Woodward.)
The dining room updates have stalled because Brian had to hang a show at District on Monday and Tuesday, and I was in LA on Wednesday and Thursday. Then Brian was hungover from his opening Thursday night, so Friday was pretty much a wash as well.
About the time his hangover was kicking in, I came home to a mural with all the blue replaced by brown and an upset Olivia and Mr. Lacy who thought it was getting too dark. "Trust the vision!" I said.
Brian worked all day Saturday and is in there getting in his groove now, and I think it's looking awesome. Here's how it looked at the end of Saturday. I'll post a Sunday update tonight.
Weird that I was riding a bike on the beach in a dress last week and there's now a rather curvy lady biking in a dress in the bottom corner. I think it's me heading to meet Mr. Lacy, on the skateboard on the right. Also, we recently took pictures of giraffes in Africa, and there's a giraffe on the right side. And, per Arrington's comment about "elephants walking and dogs barking" on my post yesterday, I'm delighted there's an elephant in there. Brian seems to be channeling our lives into the wall! If he paints a pregnant lady I might scream.
I spent part of this week at a mini-blogger retreat in Manhattan Beach, hosted by JR Johnson, the founder of Lunch.com. Lunch.com has a broader mission of finding commonalities between people online and a hope that over time that can make the Internet and the world a nicer place, filled with more empathy, not less. There's a huge gulf that's emerging around people who spend a good deal of their lives online about whether the social Web is making the world a better place or a worse place-- and this was the centerpiece of a two-day debate between the Lunch folks and bloggers like Robert Scoble, Paul Carr, Julia Allison and me.
Of those four, I'm really the only one who doesn't make a living by being me. I make a living writing about business and technology, mostly for pretty serious publications. But somehow-- with the exception of Julia-- I get more personally attacked than the others. And it's not just online and not just anonymously. Aside from a few very close friends and my husband, no one knows the more disturbing things that have happened to me, not even my parents or my various employers. For the first time in my life, I don't know if I'll still be in this career five or ten years from now, not because I won't have a job, but because I just don't know if it'll be worth it anymore. My husband has already asked me-- in certain very desperate moments-- to quit it all and do something else.
Lots of people I know and don't know have debated why I get so much shit all the time. Is it because I don't punctuate my sentences the way Katie Hafner would like? Is it because I'm inherently just hate-able? Is it professional jealousy? Is it because I'm a woman? Or simply because it tends to drive traffic? I don't know, and likely I never will. But after two years of hate being slung at me nearly constantly and watching the toll it's taken on my loved ones, I've reluctantly made some changes.
There's always been a limit to how much I've put myself out there. Before I had a book to promote, you couldn't even find a photo of me online. I never write anything revealing about people in my personal life and anything I write about me is about me as a reporter and author in this world. That's my job as a columnist. There are about five first person pronouns in my last book. The one exception is this blog, which is aptly named SarahLacy.com and has a tiny readership. I've never had a Google Alert on my name, and I've never added people on Facebook who I don't know.
Increasingly, I've stopped replying to any comments on the blogs or sites I write for, with the exception of this one. I've recently stopped @-replying people on Twitter. I've stopped responding in any way to personal attacks. I've turned down scores of speaking gigs that aren't paid-keynotes for serious business or tech conferences. And I grant far fewer interviews than I used to. And since work on my new book has forced me to step down from day-to-day work on TechTicker, I'm not even on camera that much anymore.
I decided today I'm going to take that a step further. For the foreseeable future, Twitter is a professional tool for me, not a personal one. I just can't put myself or my loved ones through it anymore. In fact, I'm not even Twittering the link to this post.
It's sad that it's come to this. As someone who's been a reporter for nearly 13 years, I loved the early days of the social Web when blogging and Twitter and Facebook allowed me to interact with readers in a way I never could before. I loved getting to be a real, flawed human being, not just an anonymous, cold byline.
And, on a professional and financial level, it was hugely effective. I sold more books, I got a wave of speaking gig invitations, and far more spots on national TV and radio. When the New York Times repeatedly and publicly trashes you, you've gotten under their skin and you matter. I've not only side-stepped the volatility that nearly every other traditional journalist I know has gotten mired in-- I've actually profited from it. I have no doubt if I continued in this vein, I'd make more money. But money isn't what motivates me. I like writing about companies, and over the last six months I've realized how much I love going to countries where no one knows who I am, they just know BusinessWeek or TechCrunch or in some cases, my book.
Let me be clear-- I'll continue to be just as controversial, abrasive and outspoken in my analysis about companies and the industry as I always have been. That'll mean more trolls and more haters. If I didn't have people taking issue with my work, frankly, I wouldn't be doing it very well. And people will still lob personal attacks at me, because, well, that's just my life. But I have to believe in a world where millions are vying for personal attention online, if I'm doing everything I can not to get personal attention, things will get better on some level.
I had an argument with someone at Twiistup about Ben Mezrich's Facebook book and whether Mark Zuckerberg starting a company meant he'd "put himself out there" and hence it was somehow "less wrong" for an author to write an imagined series of things Zuckerberg had done and label it as non-fiction. I've long thought that was a bullshit argument akin to saying a woman who dresses provocatively deserves to be raped. But it's especially pronounced these days when anyone on the Web has effectively "put themselves out there." None of us deserve to have lies published about us. None of us deserve to be verbally or physically attacked. And no matter what people say, it doesn't really get easier, and it hurts on a deeply human level every time. (See kangaroo above. It's not quite that bad...)
Is this post an indictment about a lot of what I've said and written about why the social Web is so powerful? A little bit, yeah. I've always been an optimist and some of the things I said at this two-day blogger retreat shocked me. Two years ago, I would have heartily agreed with Johnson's rosy statements about the good in humanity. Not anymore. As I wrote in my book, the Web isn't good or bad, it's just a medium for channeling raw human nature. What I wrote about the Web wasn't untrue-- I just gave human nature too much credit.
As regular readers know, I'm one-third of the way through reporting a book on entrepreneurs in emerging markets that has me spending at least half my time in other countries. I'm spending about six weeks in the U.S.-- and it's the only stretch in the 18-month project where I have such a break. My poor cat, Vinnie, who I've had since I was 20 (pictured here in a sadder moment) has been alternating between being excited to see me and moping around the house the entire time. He's started acting out and gaining weight too.
I've been pretty annoyed. After all, he's got Olivia and Mr. Lacy to lavish him with attention, right? Then Mr. Lacy showed me this MSN report on noisy cats:
I'm a total jerk.
I've always loved this blog because practically no one reads it. It's a nice contrast to writing a column for the largest business magazine, blogging for the largest tech blog, and hosting a show for the largest site on the planet. (BusinessWeek, TechCrunch, and Yahoo respectively.) But ironically, it's this blog-- and not those other mega-platforms-- that is responsible for my relationship with Zappos and its CEO Tony Hsieh.
One of my very first posts was about Zappos and their TV commercials, which I thought sucked. I'd never covered Zappos, wasn't a big fan personally of ordering shoes online and frankly, didn't know that much about the company. I got an immediate flood of responses from people defending the company-- and these weren't trolls. These were just passionate Zappos fans that wanted me to understand what I was missing. The most impressive comment I got was on a ho-hum Sunday afternoon from Hsieh. It was a PR masterstroke. No one reads this blog and there was no chance what I'd written could do any harm to his brand, but he wanted to engage nonetheless. And it was light and jokey, inviting me to come visit Zappos headquarters next time I was in Vegas. I did him one better and invited him to be on my Yahoo show the next time he was in town.
I still don't order shoes much on Zappos. But as a reporter, I've had Hsieh on TechTicker, blogged about him here and on TechCrunch, used him as an example in keynotes about companies that use social media exceptionally well, mentioned him in BusinessWeek columns, and on other national TV shows. We've even co-hosted parties in Vegas.
What I found captivating about Hsieh was how he thought differently from any other CEO I've met in the Valley. It's common to meet entrepreneurs in the Valley who are great coders or great product visionaries, but finding that kind of contrarian thinking about management, cash flows, marketing and brand is rare.
So obviously, I've had a lot to say about the company's decision to sell to Amazon. Here's a round up of my coverage on the subject:
My TechCrunch post as the deal was breaking
My TechCrunch post about Draper Richards-- a firm that could have owned more than anyone else, but demanded loan repayment instead of equity back in 2001. DOH!
My TechCrunch post about what everyone made from the deal. (Hsieh has responded to my outing his $218 million + fortune by forwarding me all financial management and investment pitches he gets.)
Last, my BusinessWeek column about why this acquisition is one of only four I've seen make total sense in all the time I've covered startups.
There was a bit of debate about that BW column, because I noted Hsieh didn't have a traditional "lock-up." In other words, he doesn't make any less money if he quits Amazon tomorrow or stays for ten years. This is incredibly rare in startup deals. A commenter noted he does have one, as stated in the S4. Actually that's only a restriction for when he can sell his Amazon shares-- no public company would allow you to dump them all at once because it would hurt the stock. But it has nothing to do with whether he has to work at Amazon at the time he sells them, which was the point.
Anyway, a huge congratulations for Hsieh, Zappos CFO Alfred Lin, Sequoia and the Zappos team. Moving on to a new story now I promise!
An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.
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