“This Storm Is You” and Other Thoughts After a Year in M&A Limbo

I spent the last 9 months working on selling my previous startup, Mattermark, and now it’s finally done. This blog is more than 10 years old, and I’ve been blogging for nearly 20 years now… so the break from writing and sharing my life has been strange, but good. Now I’m ready to get back to it, and I find myself transformed by life (this is always happening, but it’s often so gradual you don’t notice it) and having a hard time recognizing my old voice, my old “face” in the digital sense. Writing here again, logging into the WordPress console and skimming hundreds of stubbed out potential posts I haven’t touched in quite awhile, is like looking into a mirror after spending a year shipwrecked.

I love Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s construction of surreal metaphors for transformation, and in many of his books he builds up real storms to  unleash a metaphor of lasting change in the course of his character’s lives and selves. From his novel Kafka on the Shore, this passage has stuck with me and is a way of conveying what I know about what has happened to me in the past year:

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

I could write a whole book about selling the company and still not convey what is captured in this quote. There are the logistical details on doing a M&A deal, but the more interesting part to me is the psychological journey of spending years of one’s life creating something, and then realizing it is time to let it go.

In 2017 faced the true finitude of my own life, of my time here to do the things I find personally meaningful. I read everything I could get my hands on to help me make good decisions about what matters, and while I love philosophy there is no single guidebook for effectively bargaining with our finite time on Earth. There is quite a bit of startup mythology to lean on, but when I had been recommended to read The Hard Thing About Hard Things for the tenth time I realized no one really knows what they’re doing, and there is more to it than just how to “do a startup”.

2017 was about taking control of my story, and I just kept re-learning something I had already figured out in January 2016, when I wrote Overcoming the Tyranny of “Should”:

“There are a lot of articles telling us what we should do to be good, often formulated to demonstrate how to be more like whoever the hero CEO is. Wake up early. Time block your calendar. Raise now. Get that big valuation so it will be easier to recruit. Everywhere I turn on Medium someone has advice for what I should do, and I tell myself to listen because I want to be open to feedback and I want to learn. But sometimes when I am able to quiet that story down, I catch myself listening because it is just so much easier to have someone else figure out what I should do.

“I’m tired. Could you bargain with fate for me please? Thanks.”

What I’d already learned, but had a hard time holding onto, is that you can’t delegate these big decisions to someone else’s checklist of “10 Ways to Know It’s Time to Sell Your Startup”.

What I’m Doing Now

While I dearly miss my friends and my City I’ve loved spending time outside the Bay Area, because it is giving me the mental space to quiet a lot of the noise I was letting in before.

We’ve rented a house in Denver and been here almost 3 months already, we have a 6 month old black Lab puppy named ‘Emo’ who loves to nap and play, we’re working on what our marriage can be now that we’re not running a business together, and also taking much more time for our health and fitness.

Instead of taking a year off, as I had originally planned to do to write a book, I’m working full-time for a mid-stage startup where I am running Product without having to simultaneously run the entire company (which is what I was doing before). I’m reading at a pace of 1-2 books per week, and you can check out my library on my Goodreads profile.

I hope to keep writing, both on this blog and possibly to restart that book project I mentioned, but I’m not ready to commit to publishing every day. There’s just so much living to do, and so much more time to do it now that I am forcing myself to work normal 40-50 hour weeks! I have 1,000 square feet of finished basement to set up as an art studio, another 20 pounds to lose, a bunch of tickets to concerts (including Emo Nite, Sam Smith, and Odeza!) and several trips planned in the coming months including Disneyland, the French Riviera, and Kevin’s 40th birthday extravaganza in Vegas.

I’d love for you to follow along with those adventures on my Instagram.

To my friends, family, team, and others reading this who showed me love and support through this process in 2017 and throughout this crazy startup life — thank you so much for everything, I love you too. I’m ready to move on now, and start creating things again and sharing my life on the Internet like I always have done. I’m also so ready to hang out again, sorry I’ve been a hermit!

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