Alone on Thanksgiving? Come to My House.

Do you not have Thanksgiving Plans? New in town? Are you wondering WTF you are going to do tonight? Feeling broke and maybe just a little lonely?

If so, you should come to my house and join my family for Thanksgiving. My girlfriend Stephanie is making Turkey Dinner. We have beer, wine and not much in the way of family around these parts. We live in downtown Menlo Park 5min from the Caltrain.

Feel free to bring a friend. We’ve done this a few times before and it’s always a lot of fun.

RSVP using the form below and if you’re bringing food, please indicate what kind & how much in the Google Sheet that this form redirects you to after you hit submit. Once I get your RSVP, I’ll send you my address and other details. Dinner starts ~5pm and will go until ~9pm

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

 

People, like businesses, want predictable revenue.

Let me set the record straight for you deluded millionaires of the world: For most people most of the time, working in the “Gig Economy” is an act of desperation that you do only because the alternative is unemployment or an even worse job.

Working a gig is exactly like being a temp. It sure as fuck beats unemployment, but unless you’re a teenager or a bored housewife, temping is not desirable.

People –like businesses– want predictable, recurring revenue. 

In business, we call this “quality of revenue.” Investors pay a premium for companies with high quality revenue. Here’s how Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital (led Uber’s Series A) described

Investors favor pricing models that provide a high level of predictability and consistency in the future. It is easy to see why revenue visibility would have a positive impact on a Discounted Cash Flow analysis. The more certain you can be of future cash flows, the higher premium you will put on a business, and as a result, you will see a higher price/revenue multiple.

-Bill Gurley, All Revenue is Not Created Equal: The Keys to the 10X Revenue Club

Working in the Gig Economy is the worker equivalent of an transactional eCommerce company reliant on SEO. Times may be good now, but you never know what tomorrow will bring. The flick of a programmer’s switch can leave you ruined .

And while the same can & does happen to full-time employees, with employment comes a financial safety-net called unemployment compensation.

A financial safety net… yeah, who would want that?

The Greece Situation

Here’s what I would do if I was running Greece right now…

  1. I would vote “no” vote in the recent Greek referendum.
  2. I would move to abandon the Euro and re-adopt the Drachma as the national currency.
  3. I would stay in the European Union.
  4. I would print money and use inflation to solve the government’s internal debt problems.
  5. I would use my country’s now-improved negotiating position via threat of complete default to get our external creditors to restructure our debt on terms favorable to Greece.

There is no “happy” outcome for Greece right now. The choice is between dysentery and amputation. To leave the Euro would be to suffer a crippling dysentery that would leave the country crippled over and in deep pain for months. To stay in the Euro would be to willfully amputate one of the country’s limbs, making Greece forever an economic cripple.

I choose dysentery, because it is the only path of hope, however grim.

Getting Unstuck

“The only difference between Elite Entrepreneurs and those just getting started is the amount of time we stay stuck.”
Dan Martell

Winning is all that matters. You only have to get to the top of the mountain once. How much time you spent falling down at the bottom beforehand doesn’t matter (other than the opportunity cost, I suppose.)

Q: How long did it take for Steve Jobs to get back on the horse after Apple fired him?

A: More than a few minutes. Also, who the fuck cares?!?

Being able to get yourself out of a rut is a good thing. But even the best of us end up there sometime.

Something to think about.

Letter to a Fired Founder

A friend of mine just got fired from his startup. As a founder, he was classy, loyal and relentless. He behaved like a champion. But despite all this, he got shitcanned nonetheless. So I wrote him a letter:

Hi,

I know you must be feeling pretty shitty right now. Probably a little bitter too. I know I would.

[!Name], I’ve seen you in action. You’re an inspiring leader. You’re a motherfucking relentless hustler. And you’ve got the heart of a lion.

If you go off and start a company some day, I’d be honored to work for you. Or co-found. Or invest. Or whatever.

In the coming weeks, I’d advise taking some time off, investing in your mental health and getting out of the valley. This is what I wish I had done.

Travel. Mentor. See the world outside of Northern California.

It’s not a marathon, it’s a fucking ironman.

And whenever or wherever you need me, I’ll be here for you. I am your friend.

Thanks for being part of my life and supporting me so much over the last few years. I hope that now I’ll have the chance to be there for you in your time of need, whatever that looks like.

Sincerely,

-Matt Mireles

Be there for your friends, the real ones. Tell them what you see in them. They deserve it.

Ask for the Money

I have a technique for asking investors for money. At the end of the pitch meeting, I ask:

“So… are you in?” 

It’s that simple.

If you’re a founder and you’re raising money for your startup, you need to ask for the money at the end of the pitch meeting. Cuz if you don’t ask, you won’t get.

So many people don’t do this.

Don’t be one of those people.

No One Is Self-Made

One of Robert Putnam's famous scissor graphs

Fatherhood has changed me.

In my pre-fatherhood twenties, I thought of myself as a self-made man. I viewed the world through an individualistic, narcissistic lens and my accomplishments, I believed, were largely my own. I had taken risks and busted my ass to get whatever I got. I congratulated myself and began — quietly — to scorn those who had failed to put themselves in the right industry, the right career. They were weak, I was strong, and that’s the game.

Fatherhood has taught me that no one is self-made.

My son will never remember how much he has been given. He will never remember the love he got at three in the morning when his tummy ached from constipation pains. But it — along with the thousands upon thousands of other gestures of love — will teach him to feel safe and secure in his person, which in turn will fuel his confidence and one day (I hope) enable him to take economic and social risks that propel forward his civic, social and business life.

Matt Reading to Luca

I am constantly impressed by how much my son depends upon me, upon us, for guidance. If we don’t teach him to eat with a fork, he will not eat with a fork. If we don’t teach him to be kind, he will not be kind. If we don’t teach him to read, he will not read. It takes effort, consistent effort, to raise the man we hope that he will become.

Civilization is not an automatic process.

Stephanie and I read to him regularly. When I stop, Luca cries. He will take this for granted as a natural part of life, because it is all he knows. Yet it will give him a permanent leg up in life, especially compared to his peers whose parents are not so involved, maybe because they’re too busy trying to make ends meet or maybe because they simply don’t know that it matters.

So too will the $20,000+ / year (!!!) we’re investing in his education at the Palo Alto daycare (in SF, the pricetag was $30k) pay off in ways large and small. His best friend is the child of two Harvard graduates. He and his little girlfriend have so much fun together. Amidst all that fun and play, they talk and teach each other things. The effect of peer influence is real. He learns from her. I see it. For a 3 year old, his language skills are quite advanced, yet she talks even more than he. His growth accelerates when they are together. And so too does his advantage.

My boy is not above hitting, kicking or biting. He is a child. I am the disciplinarian in the family (shocking though it may be to my elder siblings). He needs guidance — sometimes stern, sometimes soft. But he needs his parents, both his mom and his dad. Daddy in particular doesn’t fuck around. Resistance is futile, as I like to say. He knows that.

In those moments when I’m dragging him to the naughty corner (a pain for us both), I often wonder what would happen if I wasn’t around or if I didn’t care. What if Luca didn’t have a dad who was around? How would he turn out? It’s easy to imagine a different life, one without the discipline, without the guidance, without daddy to enforce lessons of right from wrong.

Same with Stephanie. Whereas my favorite past-times with the boy are reading and wrestling, hers are talking, more talking and playing with him & his toys (something I find dreadfully boring). Were it not for Stephanie, he’d be physical brute with middling verbal skills.

Together, we give him what he needs. Or so we endeavor.

Were it not for both of our efforts, our incomes and our social capital, where would he be? How could he hope to compete with the children with the children who are so priveleged?

Such are the thoughts that have been occupying my mind as I read Our Kids — The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam. The book tells the story of an America increasingly divided — not by race or ethnicity — but by class and educational attainment.

Over the last 40 years, college-educated, rich Americans have clustered together, enjoying all manner of positive network effects much like the ones I just described. Americans without college degrees are living together too, suffering from the same sort of network effects, except in reverse: crime, drug use, low expectations and bad schools.

The graph below and other “scissor graphs” like it tell the story.

One of Robert Putnam's famous scissor graphs

 

They all look ominously similar. Each graph shows two lines diverging over the past several decades in the experiences of American kids at the top and bottom: in the share born to single mothers, in the chances that they’ll eat family dinners, in the time parents spend reading to them, in the money families invest in their clubs and lessons.

“Every summer camp you went to or every piano lesson you got or every time you went to soccer club, you were getting some advantage,” Putnam says, “that somebody else out there — Mary Sue — was not.”

from The Terrible Loneliness of Growing Up Poor in Robert Putnam’s America

This other America is not foreign to me.

Before I was a father, before I was an entrepreneur, I worked as a 911 paramedic in the Harlem and the Bronx. Monday through Thursday from 2005 to 2008, I attended Columbia University, taking courses in international politics at the best political science department in world. But come 7am on Friday, I put on the uniform and got to work on 12 X-ray (central Harlem) or 17 Willy (South Bronx). The people we served were poor. We were mostly tourists in their lives, parachuting into their living rooms or street corners to fix an asthma attack or an overdose.

In my time, I took care of a woman who’d had 30 abortions. I saw the police gleefully electrocute a man just because he made some noise in his jail cell. I did CPR on a floppy baby whose father had accidentally smothered the child in his sleep.

Now that I’m a father, I think often of all the sons and daughters growing up in that other America. It was a very different America from the one that my son will know.

How will these kids in that other America fare in a future where software has eaten the world?

Given the competitive nature of the education system and the job market, what chances for advancement will they have? How is it right and just that the circumstances of my son’s birth will determine so much of his future?

Their prospects look grim.

This is not the America that I want.

This is not the legacy that I want to leave behind.

This is not the American Dream.

I’m not sure what the answer is or how I can be a part of it, but as an entrepreneur sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley, I’m actively looking to be part of the solution.

If you know anyone who’s working on this problem, please send them my way. I’d love to be a soldier in this struggle.

Goodbye, Alarm Clock. How I Hacked Google Calendar to Call My Phone in the Mornings.

Oh Fuck I Overslept!

Oh Fuck I Overslept!

I used have a problem waking up on time. Like most early adopter types, I no longer have a physical alarm clock. Instead, I use my iPhone. However, the phone charger is in the kitchen and I always charge my phone at night. And for whatever reason, moving it back and forth from the kitchen to the bedroom just never worked. I think it’s because it was too hard to find the plug at night.

Not a problem really, except when I have a meeting scheduled in the morning and I don’t check my calendar the night before because my phone is in the kitchen charging.

First world problems, I know.

But, being the life hacker that I am, I came up with a fanfuckingtastic solution that I’m going to share with you today.

Whenever I want to wake up at a certain time, I create an event in my calendar called “Wake Up” and then at the appointed time, I get a phone call telling me to wake up. 

Here’s how it works:

Step 1
Create an event in Google Calendar called “wake up” at the time you want the alarm to go off. This can be a recurring event. I use Sunrise as my gCal client and here’s what it looks like:

Matt's Sunrise Calendar Screenshot

 

Step 2
Login into Zapier and create a new task. This is really easy and involves zero coding. If you don’t have an account, create one at Zapier.com.

Zapier Create New Task Screenshot

 

Step 3
Choose Google Calendar as your trigger app. .

Choose Google Calendar as Zapier Trigger screenshot

Step 4
Choose “Event Start” as your trigger. 

Choose Google Calendar Event Start as Zapier Trigger screenshot

 

Step 5
Choose Twilio as your action app.

Choose Twilio as Action App on Zapier screenshot

 

Step 5
Choose Call Phone as action.

Choose Call Phone as Twilio Action on Zapier screenshot

 

Step 6
Connect your Google Calendar and Twilio accounts to Zapier if you haven’t already.

If you haven’t connected your Google account to Zapier, you will need to now. Again, pretty painless

If you haven’t heard of, connected or signed up for Twilio, it’s a cloud-based telephony service that allows you to automatically send text messages and make phone calls. Very useful. Twilio is a bit developer focused as a brand and if that intimidates you, then maybe checkout SendHub.

Step 7
Choose the specific Google Calendar you want to use.

Google Calendar picker on Zapier screenshot

Step 8
Make sure “time before” is set to zero. Delete whatever is in the “time before” fields.

Time Before google Calendar in Zapier screenshot

Step 9
Add a Custom Filter that looks for the text in Google Calendar’s Summary field to contain the phrase “Wake Up.”

Custom Filter "Wake Up" Google Calendar in Zapier screenshot

 

Step 10
Setup your automated phone call, including your call from number, your cell phone number in the call to number, what you want the computer to say and the kind of voice you want to hear it in.

Automated Twilio Phone Call on Zapier screenshot

Step 11
Test it out and turn it on!

Test out Zapier zap screenshot

Step 12
Whenever you want a wake up call, add an event in your calendar called “Wake Up” and get your ass woken up by phone call and a female computer voice that berates you and tells you to get up.

This works really well for me because I’ve received near Pavlovian training to always hear and respond to the sound of my phone ringing, regardless of where it is in the house.

Do it and never oversleep again.

 

A Christmas Gift for My Dad

My dad looking happy with his new computer setup

How I Created the Perfect Computer Setup for My Nearly Blind, 85 Year Old Father.

After 85 years on this earth, my dad’s vision has declined dramatically due to macular degeneration. It got so bad that he was using a magnifying glass to read emails on his 27-inch iMac. This is especially tough because my dad is actually in the late stages of writing & publishing a 600+ page book about Billy the Kid, the famous outlaw.

As a Christmas present, I replaced my dad’s iMac with a Mac Mini and a 50-inch TV. Now he can read emails and browse the web with just his regular glasses on. He’s happy as a clam and I’m really happy for him.

How It Started

My dad had been using a late-2009 iMac passed down by my older brother. He would bring it with him when he’d visit us in San Francisco. This is what it looked like setup at my standing desk in the old living room:

Here's my dad two years ago using his old computer at my standing desk. Pretty clever. He hacked my standing desk using a chair and an ottoman.
Here’s my dad two years ago using his old computer at my standing desk. He hacked my standing desk into a sitting desk using a chair and an ottoman. Pretty clever.

My dad would bring his 27-inch iMac on the plane as checked luggage. He reinforced the original packaging with plywood to make the box travel worthy.

Dad at the airport with his gigantic portable computer
Dad at the airport with his 27-inch iMac in tow. He reinforced the original box with plywood to make it impact-proof and wrapped it in plastic to make it waterproof. Then he tied it all together with an old telephone cord.

Everything was great, or so I thought, until I visited my parents’ home this Christmas. Dad’s vision had worsened and he was struggling to see the letters on the screen. To read emails, he would pick up a magnifying glass, hold it close to his eye and push his head toward the screen.

“Papa,” I said, “there’s got to a better way!”

The Perfect Computer Setup for My Nearly-Blind, Elderly Father

Late in one afternoon, I took elderly parents to the Apple Store. After briefly considering the new 27-inch iMac, we picked up an upgraded Apple Mac Mini for $700, though you can buy the base model from Amazon for $459. I chose the Mac Mini because:

  • Just a computer – Works with any size computer monitor.
  • HDMI port – can use a TV instead of a traditional computer monitor.
  • Small size – easy to transport on a plane to San Francisco or car to the Apple Store.
  • Apple Genius Bar – my dad can take it in to get fixed and troubleshoot any problems that crop up. <––Makes life way easier for me and my brother!

Next stop: Fry’s Electronics of Anaheim, computer store of my youth. In case you’ve never been, Fry’s is an electronics chain known for low prices, massive warehouses and used-car-esque salesmen.

I walked into Fry’s thinking we’d buy a ~32-inch computer monitor for $500, which seemed like a decent option. However, I was concerned that we could get something much cheaper online, but then I realized: We could actually get my dad a big ass TV and use it as a monitor!

Me, I couldn’t deal with having a TV as a monitor. The resolution just isn’t high enough. I need a higher density of information and pixels. My dad however had the opposite problem. He didn’t just need a big screen, he needed big pixels and big text. The bigger, the better.

Dad at Fry's checking out TVs.
Dad at Fry’s checking out TVs. He’s still a bit confused about the end goal at this point. 

After perusing a few smaller options, we settled on a 50-Inch Flat Screen Television with 1080p resolution for $425 (refurbished). If you’re willing to settle for something slightly smaller, this 40-Inch, 1080p TV from Amazon looks like a great deal at $279.

I chose the big screen TV because it is:

  • Bigger display size than a regular monitor.
  • Cheaper than a regular monitor.
  • Text appears bigger than a regular monitor.

This turned out to be an excellent decision financially and practically. There’s no way we could have gotten a display that size for anything close to that price.

Since my dad already had a keyboard and mouse that he liked, we just needed an HDMI cable and a webcam to use for grandpa-grandson FaceTime.

Mom and Dad FaceTime with me and grandson
Mom and Dad on FaceTime. Me and Luca say hi.

FaceTime with my parents is one of my favorite evening pastimes with my son, so having a functional, low-hassle webcam attached to the computer was crucial.

We chose this HD Webcam by CreativeLive!. We paid $40 at Fry’s, but you can buy it Amazon for $20. Things I liked about it include:

  • Works reliably with Mac / Apple products.
  • 720p HD resolution.
  • Built-in microphone.
  • Lots of positive reviews.

Getting everything in the car paid for and in the car was a bit of a pain in the ass, but we made it home safe just two hours after we left. Getting started was pretty easy because I’d already set my dad up with a Dropbox account and used that store all his important files, including his book. I also made sure that he shared all his folders with me and my brother, so that we could poke around with files just in case he got into trouble.

A Huge Win for Accessibility & Usability

I was pretty sure my dad would be happy with the end result, though he was a bit skeptical during the purchasing process. After a day at the helm of his new computer, he was unequivocally happy with the new setup. “It’s tremendous!” he said, calling me the next day. “Son, I can read everything just fine. I don’t need the magnifying glass.”

My dad's new computer setup - rear view
This is me showing my dad how to share a Dropbox Link. Man, that’s some huge text. 
My dad's new computer setup - side view
Suddenly, my dad could see the text and do work without squinting or using the magnifying glass. Pretty awesome!
My dad looking happy with his new computer setup
My dad with his new computer setup. “It’s tremendous!” he told me the next day. “I can see everything with just my glasses.”

In case you’re interested in buying this setup for someone you love, I created an Amazon store so that you can buy this setup for someone you love who is vision impaired. 

 

Mission Driven Companies Do It Better.

The North Star

Mission driven companies do it better. They execute better. They scale faster. They grow quicker.

In my first company, we were anything but mission driven. And this caused us huge problems.

If you had asked 5 people in the company, “What does your company do, exactly?” you would have gotten five very different answers. Each employee, each founder had their own idea of what the company was about:

  • “We’re a machine learning company.”
  • “We’re a cloud labor company.”
  • “We’re a transcription company.”

And on and on.

Ok, you’re wondering, so what?

Practically speaking, this meant that I, as a the CEO, had to micromanage the team if I wanted the company to build the product and customer experience I had envisioned. This is bad. I had failed as a leader in a big way. People didn’t know the why, so I had to constantly decide on and explain the what. This sucked. “Why don’t they get it!?!” I would wonder, frustrated.

Ultimately, the fault was my own.

Think about it from the employee’s perspective. They show up, join the company, poke around the product, listen to the founder talk about their big dreams of riches and world domination, yet each founder’s dream is unique or in conflict somehow with the others. And so what is the employee to do but come up with her own interpretation, her own vision of what matters and what is important. And then use that to make decisions––decisions that invariably affect the product and the customer experience.

The more employees you have, the bigger the problem gets.

Things got exponentially worse when I was raising money. Some CEOs can still manage the company’s day-to-day while fundraising. I was not such a CEO. Fundraising consumed me. It forced me to delegate. And that resulted in things going off the rails.

When fundraising was finally done, I returned to a company focused on a different vision than the one in my head––one more focused on solving hard technical problems than customer problems. At the time, I blamed the team. Now I blame myself.

Later, when I ventured off the island that was my own company, I experienced the privilege of meeting some truly great companies. One thing I noticed of all the great companies was that everyone in company was on the same page. Everyone knew what the mission was and everyone used the same language to describe it.

This alignment was an extraordinary management tool. Because everyone was on the same page, mission and outcome wise, management didn’t have to micromanage people. And because they didn’t have to micromanage people, they could focus on bigger things. They could delegate to people in the lowest levels of the organization and know that the employees decisions would reflect the management team’s intent. They could build a flat hierarchy that retained the best people longer.

Awesome. And such powerful leverage.

Being mission driven doesn’t mean being progressive, enlightened or humane. Being mission driven simply means that everyone in the understands the organizational end game and actively uses this understanding guide their day-to-day decision making.

Being mission driven means that everyone in the organization knows not just the ephemeral what, but the unchanging why. Being mission driven means that everyone understands and is focused on the problem you’re trying to solve, not the current instantiation of the solution.

The CEOs of mission driven companies operate with more leverage than their counterparts. Instead of a swarm of men dedicated to doing their bidding and executing their commands, they have a hivemind of humans working together in parallel to solve a single well-defined problem. That’s leverage! And in the long run, that’s what wins.

 

Update: My friend Vijay Sundaram of Found (acquired by Hightail) made a comment via email that I think is worth sharing:

Great write up man, I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately to a huge portion of the venture and entrepreneur population this is “fluff” but nothing you’ll say will make them get it. Couple additional thoughts come to mind re: the underlying problem:

  1. Failure to instill “mission mindset” in employees – sometimes it’s a an issue of founders not operating with a mission in mind, sometimes it’s an issue of founders communicating that mission well, and sometimes it’s an issue of the employees that’ve been hired not being willing or capable of internalizing that mission
  2. Even with a “mission mindset” among employees, it doesn’t always translate into action (or the right action) – founders have to instill the mission mindset AND THEN have to demonstrate how to translate it into operating principles and decisions by example and consistency. This is where founder-managers are so crucial, because they do this day in day out by their wiring and why companies can flail despite an excellently articulated vision and mission (by a founder who doesn’t know how or do the hard work to translate to execution).