Entrepreneurship

Getting Good. by Nate Westheimer

It was 12 months ago last week that my friend Sam Lessin sat me down and gave me the kick in the rear that got me going down this road of learning to code. A year later, and I'm super excited about how good of an engineer I've become.

I got good.

Some day in the future I'll write Chapter Two of the HoPE Manifesto, and go into great detail about phase two of my education as an engineer, but today I want to write about the single biggest factor for "getting good" at something.

Just work.

Just say "no" to coffees, lunches, drinks, events, speaking opportunities, advisory board positions, calls, Skype chats, etc.

Let emails go un-replied.

Wake up at 7am every day -- at the latest -- and get back to working on getting good.

Test your relationships with friends (don't test them with your partner or family).

Be selfish, if selfish means spending more time mastering your craft.

Be generous -- always -- but especially if that means helping other people master your craft with you. You'd be surprised how much you learn teaching others.

The single biggest factor in getting good at something is true devotion.

For the past year, I've devoted myself to getting good as an engineer. It's the first skill I've ever truly devoted myself to, and thus the first skill I can actually say I have.

Lord knows I have a ways, ways ways to go, but today, I feel pretty awesome about how far I've come. And, I can't wait to see where I am one year of devotion from now. I think I'm hooked on this concept of "just work."

Sorry, Emails...

Ohours Finds a Future: Hirelite Acquires Us! by Nate Westheimer

I posted on the Ohours Blog and Hirelite CEO Nathan Hurst posted on his: today we're excited to announce that Hirelite.com has acquired Ohours.org. Obviously this is super exciting for me (baby's first exit!) but I'm mostly excited for the amazing Ohours community. Over the last 6 months, the community has grown to thousands of people while I've simply neglected the platform. I'm just thrilled to see Ohours getting worked on and loved on like it should. As a user I couldn't be more excited about the new features Nathan has planned, and I can't wait to see how -- now that Ohours is being taken care of the way it should be -- this community grows and flourishes and opens more doors for more people.

Please help me celebrate this by going to the new Ohours and schedule some face to face time with someone new!

Lastly, I need to thank everyone who has supported Ohours so far and helped me build the platform to what it is. Kyle Bragger deserves most of the thanks. I started building Ohours with almost no development skills whatsoever and he was there coaching me every step of the way. Vin Vacanti was the first person to tell me he'd be a user of the service and has been an active host ever since. Gary Chou at USV reintroduced Nathan and me and helped us think through the transaction. Christina Cacioppo at USV, David Tisch at TechStars, Ben Siscovick at IA Ventures and Melody Koh at Time Warner led the NYC VC charge, while Spencer Lazar helped bring Ohours to London and the rest of Europe and Andrew Parker brought Ohours to Boston. Meanwhile, Evan Bartlett, Adam Schwartz, and Lis Hubert led the charge with NY tech's professional scene. Andrew Mager got Developer Evangelists rocking on the system. Aaron Cohen, of course, is someone else I have to thank. He was a big cheerleader of mine in this project and brought Ohours to the University market.

I know I'm leaving people out of this thank you (the dangerous thing about thanking people in the first place, and trying to blog quickly!) but I'm just so thankful for everyone's involvement and want to make sure I at least mention a few people by name.

The last person I want to thank is Nathan Hurst. I couldn't imagine a better person to take ownership and custody of this awesome community. If you don't know him yet, meet him. He's a rockstar entrepreneur and hacker and Hirelite is a super innovative company doing incredibly creative and disruptive work in the recruiting space.

The future of Ohours is bright and I'm beaming along with it.

Thanks to everyone again.

Hard is Good by Nate Westheimer

Jeff Bussgang just wrote about a great dinner he and (frequent NYTM sponsor) Dave Carvajal hosted on Wednesday night, and highlighted a number of the take aways he had from the dinner's guest of honor, Brendan Rogers, a 10 year SEAL member and now director of The Navy SEAL Foundation. For me, there was only one big take away, which was Brendan's first and strongest point: Hard is Good.

Now, we all operate on different planes, so let me say up front, I don't think anything "hard" I've done is in the ballpark of what the SEAL members go through in their training. But, I was struck by what Brendan said because I've been thinking about the idea of what's hard and what's not for the past six months as I've learned to code.

As I wrote in the HoPE Manifesto, going from total n00b to proficient developer is HARD! For days on end you don't understand what you're doing, and it's personally demeaning, mentally excruciating, and you want to quit. I had quit several times before as I wanted to learn to code, and I've watched many people quit as well.

When I came out of my "sweat lodge," though, I realized something important: going through the process of learning to code was important less because of the coding skills I picked up, but more because it was hard, and the lesson that provides:

You see, for nearly my entire life, I've relied on my strengths, and avoided my weaknesses. I couldn't code, so I out-imagined what a product should do. I couldn't delegate, so I manically took on as much as possible and "just did it myself" rather than teach someone else how to do it.

In school I was happy with B+ because I could easily get B+ without really working. That was my strength, so why change?

Do you do the same?

The process of learning to code has forced me to stop myself when I say "I'm not good at..." or "I never learned how to..." or "XYZ doesn't come naturally to me."

Before I would have accepted it as reality, like someone north of 20 accepts that they won't learn a foreign language. "Could have when I was a kid, but too late. That's not my skill."

But now I try to catch myself.

That weakness in delegation -- the one that I've always masked by taking on more work and doing it myself -- that's a problem, and chances are, it's a skill I can learn. But, before I learn to delegate and become a better manager, I have to first accept that it's going to be HARD! And that, wait for it... Hard sucks! But, hard is good!

Same goes for keeping my body in shape.

Talk about what comes naturally... My gene-pool is absolute shit when it comes to cardiovascular health. Nature has made it quite clear that keeping a healthy body is not something it's going to make easy for me.

However, even after having some pretty intense and scary events happen in my family life around cardiovascular health, I did what was easy for me -- make modest changes to my diet -- but, I didn't change my (lack of) fitness routine.

Why? Because "I know me and I just don't like working out unless its competitive sports. It's not what I do."

Right, Nate, that's true. You don't like it. Working out is HARD! But listen, asshole, that's the reason to do it.

Ultimately, this new lens is exciting for me as I near my 30s. For whatever reason, I had gone through life to-date thinking it was best to "know my strengths" and play to them. I am who I am, right?

For the last few months, and now bolstered by Brendan's inspiring words and Jeff and Dave's dinner, I've come to realize something much more powerful than my strengths -- that I can address any weakness and any blind-spot that I want, and continue to evolved to be precisely the person I want to be.

Will it be easy? If I'm lucky it won't be. It's going to be hard. Real hard. Excruciating if it's truly hard. But hard is good.

Hard is good.

Can 1000 of Us Learn to Code? by Nate Westheimer

Editors Note (1/7/11): I've now posted my guide to learning how to code - The HoPE Manifesto. The other day, my friend Charlie O'Donnell wrote a post challenging the NY tech industry to recruit or educate 250 new engineers to the NY early-stage tech ecosystem this year.

Today, Fred Wilson upped the stakes and called for 1000.

I have a different challenge: Can 1000 of us learn how to code in 2011?

I already did. It took me one solid week of really, brutally hard work, and then an ongoing passion and interest (which has translated into two solid months of coding and learning on Ohours when I have the time).

For as long as I've been involved in the NY tech industry we've made cries for more engineers to a) move here; or, b) abandon/avoid Wall Street so they can join our silly startups that are "changing the world."

What if instead of calling on others to do things we just looked to ourselves? Aren't we the change we are waiting for?

If you're willing to put in the time to learn -- and if you're really passionate about something, the time and energy comes freely -- then learning to code really isn't that hard.

Once you can code, the entire dynamic changes. Instead of early ideas needing more money so we can hire more engineers, startups founded by people who can do the work become more self-sustaining.

Example Ohours: Ohours is a great idea with some early traction I'm excited about. If I didn't know how to code and was paying -- in financial or social capital -- a developer each time I needed a change or update to the site, a) the site would be a lot worse then it is today, because we really couldn't make updates that often; and b) our risk/reward profile would be way out of whack. I'd go raise angel financing, deluding myself and the investors that *now* was the time to invest in what's still a stupid-early project, I'd then I'd use that money to tie up an engineer in a non-proven startup. In the current model, everyone is over-invested and a great engineer is out of the market.

Sure, it would be great if NY tech was able to recruit more engineers and keep college hackers away from Wall Street -- I 100% agree -- but it's not going to happen just by wishing it to happen. And, the more "business people" (like me for the past 4 years) whine about the lack of engineers rather than turning themselves into engineers, the less I see us attracting people.

So you know what would really turn things on its head? If every damn "business person with a great idea" in this town decided to take a bit of time and actually learn how to code and built it themselves.

  1. First, we'd alleviate demand put on the talent pool by non-proven businesses.
  2. Second, we'd have an increased yet more sustainable rate of creation and creativity in our market
  3. And last of all, I guarantee that -- when the startups founded by newly minted hackers actually needed to expand and hire talent -- we'll be a heckofalot more attractive place to move to/work for ('cause if you were a hacker, would you really want to work for people who didn't have it in them to learn to code?).

So who's coming with me? Can 1000 of us learn how to code this year? Sign below in the comment thread if you're with me.

And after 1000 of us learn to code, I'm sure we're get those 1000 new engineers the old-fashioned way.

It's the Partnership, Stupid. by Nate Westheimer

TeamworkImage Credit: Dunechaser Over the years, I've learned a lot about Venture Capital and Venture Capitalists, and what I've learned is that a VC is only as good as his firm, and a firm is only as good as the health of its Partnership.

What do I know about VC? Certainly not as much as some, but VC is something I grew up around, and then as I got into startups it's something I've surrounded myself with, for better or worse, over the past 5 years. I've worked for two VCs, been backed by another, and through my closest friends have intimate working and specific knowledge about their experiences with many more. Lastly, let's not forget my personal relationships with VCs who I consider more friends than colleagues, but from whom I learn a great deal about VC as well.

So it with this experience I wanted to share one lesson that has become crystal clear to me in the past twelve months: The quality of a VC is not defined by the VC herself, but but by her Partnership.

What's a Partnership? A Partnership is not just the legal entity formed by a group of people -- that's the stupid details -- a Partnership is the dynamic among two or more people, created by working and living together.

And so, while there are a number of VCs I really like a lot on a individual level, for too many I don't believe their Partnership functions at a high enough degree of Integrity and Healthfulness, and so I wouldn't do business with them.

Now Integrity is an easy thing to look and do diligence on: all you need to do is ask around. Are these people honest? Do they believe in doing the "fair" thing over the short-term profitable thing?

Healthfulness, however, is a harder thing to look for and judge -- yet it's just as critical.

Let me tell you how I first started thinking about the concept of "VC Partnership Healthfulness":

Back in August, after attending about 8 months of Monday morning Partnership meetings at Flybridge, I was getting tea in New York with one of its Partners, David Aronoff, and brought up the issue.

"David," I said, "It's strange, but it's palpable how much you guys respect each other in these meetings."

I was serious. It seemed the Partners went out of their way to make sure everyone's voice was heard and that both dissension and support were heard with equally open minds and ears.

It was eerily straight out of my Quaker upbringing.

And so, David's reply to my observation was both surprising and obvious:

"It's because we work very hard on it."

If you want to learn more about how Flybridge "works on it," read this great post by Jeff Bussgang called "Stop Avoiding Conflict" -- it's an important read for people in any kind of partnership, business or otherwise.

But what I want to highlight is the effect -- or lack of effects -- this has on the startups in the portfolios of Partnerships who operate this way.

In Partnerships where they don't "work on it," by the time that Monday morning Partnership Meeting rolls around -- where they could be voting on a Big Decision about your company (whether to invest in the first place is a small one, the biggest are whether or not to continue investing, to sell, or how to deal with other mid-stage startup quandaries) -- it really matters whether or not that Partnership is making life and death decisions about your company with a clean, healthy slate, or if a Partnership's toxicity, usually unseen by an entrepreneur working with a single Partner he or she likes, is making that Monday morning's decisions less about the specific company being talked about, and more about how one Partner may or may not have voted the week before on another Partner's portfolio company, how your company is doing relative to other companies in the portfolio, or other petty-yet-dangerous issues that do not either have to do with 1) Your company; or 2) Fund-specific reserve policies.

Let's just said I found this out the hard way.

So, as folks head out to raise funds in 2011, I advise you to add a new Checkbox to your VC diligence list: "Is the Partnership -- not just the Partner -- good enough for me." "When the going gets tough, will the firm be lock-step if figuring out what's best for me and my company, or will there be other politics at play?"

Sadly, you may find a lot of the Partners you love ending up on the cutting room floor.