What I’ve Learned from Chris Sacca: Value, Empathy, and People

TL;DR: Life is all about relationships. A reflection on how Chris Sacca’s notions of value and relationships have shaped my views on business and people.

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I was debating whether or not to write this a post under the Minimum Viable Network banner, but in the end it seemed that it was better as a stand-alone thought process. Frankly, I was going to save the whole reflection for another time, but sometimes when you have to write it out, nothing else suffices.

Creative Minds

No doubt that most of the tech and VC world is talking about Chris Sacca’s retirement from VC today. And while I won’t pretend I saw it coming, I also can’t say that I’m 100% surprised by it. Growing up, working, and socializing among artists and creative individuals, one thing I’ve come to accept as true is that truly innovative minds become restless and constantly seek new adventures and challenges.

In my time identifying as a writer, poet, journalist, painter, artist, founder, I’ve heard people who don’t quite understand the pull describe it as “lack of focus” or “a desire for obstacles over happiness.” But that cheapens the real feeling that we contend with; it’s not about lacking focus or not wanting to be happy. Just the opposite—it’s about finding happiness and meaning in new adventures and letting those new teachings sharpen our focus and perspective on life.

I’ve had the unique opportunity of speaking to Sacca just once, and in that short exchange, I saw in him what I’ve described above. And it made me want to get to know him even more.

There’s a myth popularized by artist biopics that truly creative people prize art/winning/results above all else, especially relationships with others. Sacca proves that to be dead wrong. In so many ways, the greatest creators and innovators were great because of the relationships they cultivated, most times with oft forgotten people in the background. Van Gogh had his brother Theo to support him and keep him (mostly) sane, Jim Morrison had his long-time companion  Pamela Courson, and in many ways Steve Jobs had Wozniak (certainly not forgotten) to keep him balanced for a time.

Relationships don’t distract from incredible achievements; they are what make those achievements possible.

Relationships Define People

So what does any of this have to do with Sacca? Everything.

My first thought reading Sacca’s retirement post wasn’t “oh no, but I wanted Lowercase to fund my next company,” or “but why walk away, you’re winning.”

It’s simply: “Money or no money, I still want to know Sacca because of the things he’s espoused over the last few years which have shaped my perspective in tech and business, as well as life.”

I’m more grateful to Erik Torenberg and Product Hunt than I could even say for facilitating the aforementioned encounter. In life, sometimes the most transformative experiences can come from the most serendipitous opportunities, and that was certainly true here. (A full reflection on this experience for the Minimum Viable Network is forthcoming when the time is right.)

So why has listening to Sacca and reading his posts been “so transformative?” Because his notion of creating value for others before asking for yourself, prizing empathy, and networking through conviction have become central tenets to how I think.

Core Tenets

In creating the idea of the Minimum Viable Network, so much is centered around the concept of creating value for others, cultivating deep relationships through empathy, acting as a support network when your friends and allies need you, and projecting magnetic positivity and opportunity. When I talk to artists, I tell them to go out and project a powerful, positive persona—that’s what attracts people. In helping a good friend of mine prepare for a lecture on ethics at Syracuse University (happening tonight!), I told him to emphasize empathy, and that power will come from a conviction for honest networking.

To other founders who now tweet me and ask how to get into tech and startups (why they tweet me is still a mystery haha), I say simply: Go and create ridiculous amounts of value for other people; don’t worry about “getting your’s” right now.

Karma comes around when the time is right. Focus on making yourself so magnetic to others that they can’t not know you.

I’m Richer for Seeing Life Through Relationships with People

I’m in so many ways richer for shaping my perspective on life around these core ideas. I’ve had the good fortune of building an incredible network of friends and allies, seemingly through just running my mouth and doing things for other people. The irony? It was never a “strategy” I was employing—creating value for others to create value for myself. It was—and is—simply doing things for others because I can, and because I want to. But like I said, karma has a funny way of keeping track.

So at the end of all of this, where am I?

Still positive, still excited, and still looking forward to my first coffee with Sacca, whenever that might be. In tech as in music, everyone seems to know everyone, and reputation is everything. So I have total faith that people who endeavor to help others will see their paths cross at some point. Until then, I’ll keep learning, keep building, keep creating value, and keep empathizing with others.

Life is relationships. And relationships happen at the most serendipitous of times.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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Win Where You Win

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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When building out your minimum viable network, it’s easy to feel as if you have to be great at everything—or at least be good at the “right” things. This is something I especially struggled with when getting into tech; I felt that because I didn’t study engineering at Stanford—because I excelled in other areas—that I somehow had to shift my strengths to fit the “right” type of strengths for the tech startup scene.

Understanding Where You Come From

But I was wrong, and it took a lot of self-exploration to see that.

In the end, I know at least three areas where I excel that help me stand out from the crowd:

  • I’m a good writer/editor
  • I’m good with people
  • I know that the music industry is my wheelhouse

It’s important to know where you win, and be comfortable with that. There are tons of people who will always know more about SaaS than I will, who will always be more suited to design than I will, and who will always find bitcoin more interesting than I do. There will for sure always be tons of people who will win at engineering in ways that I won’t.

And over time I’ve accepted two things:

  1. I don’t need to be good at those other things to be valid and valuable
  2. By winning where I win, I can become the “expert” in those respective areas

Becoming an Expert in Your Field

Over the last few years, I’ve cultivated an image as being a good writer/editor, being a good people person, and knowing a lot about the music industry. And that’s mainly where I stick.

I’m always down to jump into a Twitter conversation music streaming because I have a decade of experience in music. I’m comfortable enough in my own viewpoints and experience to hear other’s points without feeling an attack on my own validation. This is a mix of confidence in my own experience and comfort in my industry.

The result is that I write and tweet extensively on music, and that people reach out to me when they want to understand something that’s happened in the music world. I love discussing royalties, licensing, artist dynamics, and content distribution.

Win where you win. If you know a ton about video and Snapchat, then make that your flagship quality. Run with it. Write about it, tweet about it, and take a stance on it. Even if you expand your quiver of arrows later on, become “the video guy” or “the marketing woman” that everyone has to know in that respective field. Developing that persona will tell others that you know much more than the average joe.

Keep in mind that it’s very hard to become an expert on something without taking a stance on something in your field. Being ambivalent will only take you so far, and might even tells others that you don’t know enough about it to make a definitive decision. This is not a perception that you want to promote. Be willing to put your money where your mouth is; people rarely remember when you write an article with a flawed thesis, but it’s very memorable when you write a piece with a new point of view that turns out to be right on the mark.

Which brings up the further point: be generous with your knowledge (to a point). If people in your network start coming to your for your expertise on a subject, give it to them. Prove to them that you’re priceless as an asset in understanding that industry. When you cultivate this persona, guard it with your life. You don’t always have to be right, but never let anything shake your confidence in your knowledge of your industry. Confidence grows over time, but the best way to help cultivate it within yourself is to put yourself in positions where your opinion and/or viewpoint are integral parts of the overall conversation.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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Forget Building a Network—Build Relationships Instead

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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For many people, the prospect of building a network is daunting. It requires putting yourself out there, and for any number of people, this constitutes being confident in ways that may not come naturally. But because so much of life seems to depend on who you know and who you can get access to, networking seems to be, at the very least for some people, a necessary pain.

But in so many ways it need not feel this daunting and arduous.

Why Networking Sucks

Make no mistake, meeting people can be difficult if schmoozing doesn’t come naturally. But the mistake to avoid making is in the perspective of how you go about “building your network” as opposed to how you should actually perceive going about it.  

The fact of the matter is that “networking” as something we do—something we go to events for, listen to motivational talks on, read how-to books on—is presented in an overblown way. In so many words, it’s overrated and superficial.

AngelList founder and CEO Naval Ravikant tweeted it so concisely just a few days ago:

Anyone who’s ever been to a networking event has more than likely experienced a similar reality: many of the other people there are there to drop titles, salaries, company names, and other supposedly impressive credentials. These, in turn, are meant to persuade other “targets” at the event that Person A is too important not to notice and/or connect with. It’s why so many of these events are dry, useless, and why so many successful founders, VC’s, and business operators simply forgo them.

So If Building a “Network” Doesn’t Work, What Does?

So what does work?

In short: relationships.

Where the act of networking fails, relationships succeed over and over again. Networking events feel transactional; relationships feel genuine.

Where networking comes across as superficial and self-serving, relationships immediately feel more symbiotic and mutually beneficial. And where the former requires a somewhat unnatural, car-salesman-esque confidence, the latter relies simply on one’s innate personality.

It’s a fair point to note that relationships require much more effort and more time than “networking” does; after all, networking is done by handing someone your business card, and relationships can take months, if not years to cultivate. Most people don’t want to spend the time or effort to do that kind of work.

And they only do themselves a disservice for their laziness.

Time Is on Your Side

The first basic thing to understand is that time is on your side when building relationships. Utilize it. Be willing to do the work that it takes, usually over a longer period of time than any “networking” event usually runs. Put in the hours—don’t be lazy.

Once you shift your mindset from transactional networking to focusing on long-term relationships, a lot of the intimidating—and therefore daunting—parts begin to take care of themselves. The prospect of having to prove to someone else that you’re worth their time works quietly in the background as the relationship develops. Instead of heading to a networking event and trying to get someone to meet up for a follow-up coffee (something VC’s especially seem to detest), understand that there’s no reason anyone should make time for you after 20 minutes of talking (unless you’re a really good talker).

Relationships happen naturally; they can’t be calculated to work in a specific time frame and they can’t be forced. Natural development—as slow and tedious as it might seem in some moments—actually helps to strengthen the potential relationships precisely because it doesn’t feel cheap and transactional.

I have never had good outcomes when I’ve tried to force relationships in the past. The best thing to do is make patience one of your virtues—things will happen in the right time frame. And I say this as someone who isn’t a patient person by default—I’ve worked very hard to become a more patient man. All of this, though, will yield a much better result in the long run than any networking event ever could.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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The Minimum Viable Network: Introduction

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A few months ago, I was discussing with my friend Jason Rowley how it seemed to me that so many people on Twitter talked about how to build and ship a minimum viable product, yet didn’t seem to be utilizing similar strategies to build their networks. A lot of thought appeared to be given to the prospect and process of building a product prototype, but little seemed aimed at cultivating the seeds that real networks take to germinate into robust synchronicities.

For those unfamiliar with it, the “minimum viable product” (or MVP) concept is a strategy for efficiently building, releasing, gaining feedback on, and improving a product and/or service with as few financial and personnel resources as possible. It’s become a mantra in the tech world, and there are whole books and courses dedicated to understanding how best to achieve this.

(Another friend, Andy Sparks, is currently working on a project compiling some of these great resources for founders.)  

During the course of our conversation, though, it struck me just how much people’s strategy seems to differ when it comes to building and maintaining one’s network. It occurred to me after some reflection that this is because building a network—cultivating relationships—is everything that the MVP strategy is not. Whereas the MVP strategy is barebones (bootstrapped), fast, clean, efficient, direct, and requires comparatively little personal nuance, building real relationships can be robust, messy, time-consuming, arduous, abstract, and doesn’t just require a human touch, but a touch all your own.

And as I thought more about it, I began to conceive of a new idea—a new strategy: the Minimum Viable Network.

How could one build a network without having the same benefits that others might have? What if you don’t have the “required” skills? What if you’re in a different city than many of the other people you want to connect with? What if you’ve studied something different in college? Or not gone to college at all? What if your passion and drive is in an industry that others already consider over? What if your overall strengths are different and sometimes hard to articulate?

A lot of these questions came from a place of personal experience. I’m in the startup tech industry, and yet:

  • I live in Atlanta, not San Francisco, LA, or New York
  • I studied history and art history at Brandeis, not engineering at Stanford
  • I’m a non-tech founder; I don’t code
  • My passion is music; my first startup was a music-tech startup
  • I still see huge signs that music—an industry many argue is already over—is still very much up for grabs
  • I don’t excel at code or designing, but I’m a good writer and I’m good with people

I began to think about all the strategies of the MVP process and how to augment them for the MVN process. Bullet-points and adages need to become more fluid—less rigid—and the length of time needs to extend greatly, from trying to build and ship within a couple of weeks to focusing on cultivating a persona and relationship over the course of a few years.

People, after all, are not products, and won’t act as such. They are irrational, emotional, passionate, driven, and abstract—everything which the MVP doesn’t account for. In the end, it’s all about the human calculation factor.

So this will be a continuing series on how to do just that: understand people and relationships, and how to build your own Minimum Viable Network.

Among other things, I’ll discuss:

  • How to approach people and broach new relationships
  • How to be valuable without being aggressive
  • The difference between reading someone and manipulating them (strive to understand the first, never do the second)
  • How relationships evolve over time
  • How to work with flighty or mercurial individuals
  • How to weigh potential relationships
  • How to match-make
  • How to create a personal brand as “someone to know”  

Life is relationships.

Let’s begin.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Stop Telling Me I Need to Code

Originally published on my Medium on September 15, 2016.

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An argument for those of us who write best with sentences, not code.


I’m Not a Coder

Let me start off by saying that I am not and have never been averse to learning a new skill, even one outside my general comfort zone. In fact, I quite enjoy expanding my horizons and learning how to see the world in different ways.

But I’m not going to learn to code.

At least, I’m not going to learn to code well enough to build something completely on my own. I’ve done various courses on Codecademy and it was interesting to me to begin to see the possibilities of tech and information in a new light. But that’s not my background and not my wheelhouse. My wheelhouse is broad trends, analysis, synthesis, and communication.

In college, I studied a wide variety of non-tech/coding subjects. And I’m not alone. I studied:

  • Art (as did Brian Chesky)
  • Psych (like Jason Calacanis)
  • Sociology and philosophy (as did Chris Dixon and Stewart Butterfield)
  • English and Poli-Sci (like Jessica Livingston and Morgan DeBaun)
  • And come from a family of lawyers (something I feel Chris Sacca might relate to)

I also studied a ridiculous amount of history. These things—not code—are what help me put the world into a larger context.

First Coming to Tech

When I first got into tech, I felt overwhelmed. And I felt inadequate. It seemed that everyone knew how to code except me, though I resolved to find a way to learn. And I powered through a few Codecademy classes. But it didn’t stick in the way that would allow me to build an app or site myself.

I understood the concepts behind basic design, and had a better understanding of the work it took to make something materialize—but I knew I was never going to be the one to do it. It never got easier, and it’s still challenging for me.

Easy for me is sitting down for a couple hours and drafting, editing, and blasting out a solid, synthesized argument. But in those early moments, that didn’t seem to be on par with knowing how to code in java.

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While in the headspace of “I need to learn to code or I don’t belong,” I seriously underrated what I was good at. And that’s people.

I’m Good at People

I love networking; I never knew there was even a term for it—I just figured it was called talking. I love hearing the stories of others, connecting them to potential partners, and trying to identify mutually beneficial opportunities for both (or all) parties involved.

I’m better at reading people than I am at reading code. People are flexible and creative—code is not. (That is, it’s not to me).

I come from lawyers. I come from the mindset of there is never one right answer;” it all depends on how good your argument is, and how you can continually restructure your thought process. The notion that a line of code doesn’t work because one character is out of place is foreign to me. The same way that lateral thinking—that there might be multiple, arguable right answers—is foreign to others.

Unintended Microaggressions

Whenever I read the sentence “you should learn to code,” my first thought is “you should learn to write (well).” The concept that code is the new literacy is—frankly—bullshit. It’s undeniable that coding is a hyper-important skill in the 21st century—but it’s not the end-all, be-all of literacy. Literacy spans a variety of languages, communication tools, and colloquial, idiomatic trends. There is no “one” magic bullet.

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Treating it as such is short-sighted and arrogant. Arguably, it’s an—albeit unintended—micro-aggression that dissuades non-tech founders and Humanities majors from taking the dive into tech. Similarly, telling me that it’s “easy to learn” is a matter of opinion, not fact. And again, it’s arrogant.

How Good Is Your Writing?

I read staggering amounts of material online. Much of it is posted by super smart founders, investors, and thinkers. And from a writing perspective, a ton of it sucks.

A lot of it rambles, comes off as tone-deaf, is too splayed, and hasunforgivable grammar errors. In fact, some is so grammatically jarring simply because the writers use grammar rules that are ancient, while ignoring new colloquially correct dynamics. This makes the writing unbearably stilted. When writing an article in my world, you make it tight and you make it bullet-proof. I don’t understand writing that isn’t structured like this (creative writing aside, of course).

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Growing Into My Skin as a Non-Tech Founder

I’m not bitter, though. I know I’ll never write code like Mark Zuckerberg, and I’m ok with that. I have amazing team members and connections who can do a better job there than I ever could. So why not let them win where they naturally win?

I’ll continue to refine the coding skills I have as much as I can, but I harbor no delusions of coding grandeur. I’ve now grown more comfortable in my non-tech founder skin. I’ve grown more adept at identifying the real things in code that I need to understand, and the ones that are nice, but superfluous for my skill-set.

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Instead of telling me I “should learn to code,” lend to me a plethora of tools I can use, and articulate to me that I’m not inadequate and no less a founder if it doesn’t come so easily.

In an industry with such a high rate of failure, teamwork, communication, and vision should be prioritized above most everything else. That’s the only way any of us succeed.


 Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Be Excellent: Even After a 4-Year Hiatus, People Remember You

"Be excellent to each other"

“Be excellent to each other”

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a guy who I didn’t know. At least, I didn’t think I knew him. I didn’t recognize his name, and couldn’t remember where I would have met him. And then it hit me—I did know him, from years ago!

Perhaps one of the most magical things about Facebook is how it’s enabled people to reconnect with people they haven’t seen in long bouts of time. Yet, inasmuch as reconnecting with old classmates or coworkers is nice and can dredge up all sorts of nostalgic feelings, reconnecting with people you’d even forgotten about is certainly a different kind of trip.

Screenshot of Facebook message from old band contact

Screenshot of Facebook message from old band contact

The guy who messaged me yesterday was someone I’d connected with years ago, and we haven’t spoken since early 2011. At the time, he was a guitarist in a band in the U.K., and I was a hungry new music journalist who’d stumbled across their band page. I’d fallen in love with their garage rock sneer, and written up a short piece on them. We’d exchanged a few messages and gotten to know each other a bit.

And then they went silent (on a hiatus and then breakup, I’m now aware). I moved on and went to college, and frankly forgot about them. Not out of malice, but simply because people get busy with life.

Yet to get this message yesterday from him—telling me he’d taken a break from music for a few years but was now back with a new project, had some demos, would love my opinion on them (was I even in the music industry anymore?)—was as thrilling as our first correspondence. It reminded me of why I love the independent music industry so much. It reminded me of the dynamics that are so magical—that you can go years without speaking to someone, move on with your life, and resume your conversation like no time had passed at all.

"Party on, dudes!"

“Party on, dudes!”

I’m not perfect by any means, but I do my best to take to heart Bill and Ted’s poignant mantra: “Be excellent to each other.” You never know what will come of your relationships with people.

I’ve since listened to his demos and they’re awesome. I’ll be messaging him tonight to see how I can become involved in his new project. This is where the real thrill is in the music industry. At the end of the day, like so many other arenas, it all comes back to the people you meet and the relationships you develop. Everything else is secondary.