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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A Message for the Alt-Right This Holiday Season

Dear Atl-Right,

You’re riding high on the fumes of your supposed success, so you think you’ve won the fight.

You haven’t.

I’m still still here—we’re still here. The “others” you so very much detest and scapegoat for problems which have nothing to do with us. Change is hard and uncomfortable, so you don’t like it. You think it would just be easier—better—to keep things as they were. Except, ironically, you don’t seem to realize or care that you were on the periphery then, too. You’ve just found another “other” to turn your frustrations to.

You think that because my skin is black/brown/olive/caramel/tan/not-white that you can intimidate me. You can’t.

You think that because I go to synagogue/mosque/temple/non-church to pray that you will make me doubt myself. You won’t.

You think that because I’m an immigrant I don’t belong here. I do. And anyway, that’s pretty self-righteous talk for someone who lives in a country of immigrants and their descendants.

You think that because I am gay/lesbian/bi/female/trans/feminist/queer that I should just shut my mouth. I won’t.

You think because many of us have different opinions and political ideologies that we can’t and won’t work together against you. We can and we will. We intend to.

And most of all, you think that if I am any of the things above, I won’t be supported by others in my fight to push forward. I am, and we have all made the decision that you won’t win in the end. Singular victories are hollow if they’re not followed by lasting legacy, and they ultimately brittle and turn to dust.

Look at Ozymandias:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

You are him, proclaiming victory when time is coming to swallow you up. The empire you seek to build will soon be in dust, so don’t get too comfortable on that pedestal you’ve built for yourself.

All this time you’ve thought we could be scared away, content to meagerly limp out, tail between our legs.

You’re wrong. We’re not going anywhere.

Happy holidays.

Signed,

The “Others”

Musings on Memorial Day

Both of my grandfathers are veterans. My mom’s father served in Korea, and my dad’s father in WWII. Every Veterans’ and Memorial Day I think about that fact. And I think about the fact that I rarely hear any stories about it.

My dad’s father passed away before I was old enough to remember him—unfortunately what I know of him is concocted through stories from my dad, uncle, and their cousins. The one thing I do know—the one thing my dad says a lot—is that he never really talked much about the war after he got back. Sure he had a few entertaining stories, but he always stuck (I’m told) to a select few. I asked my dad one time about why he thought that was, and his answer was fairly poignant: “I think he saw more over there than he really wanted to remember. I think he had to try and put it to rest.”

My mom’s father—who I’ve been lucky to grow up with—served in Korea, and though he mentions his days in the army sometimes, it’s really not very often. He’s as proud of being a veteran as anyone, but I think the same holds true for him: I think he saw more in the conflict then he really wants to remember or talk about. He’s happy to stick to his stories of funny bunkmates and captains, because that’s where he’s comfortable.

These are the things I think about on days like this; the fact that though many have served (and are currently), what they see isn’t a movie like we experience at home on TV. They see and experience things that we hope never to experience—and which they never want us to. That’s the reason they make the sacrifices they do. So today I think about those sacrifices and appreciate them as much as I possibly can. Memorial Day is fun for pool parties, cookouts, American flags—but it’s also for remembering and honoring those who aren’t here to celebrate with us.

Taking Days to Breathe

There are days that sit in between one’s most productive days; they perch halfway in between relaxation and frustration. They’re relaxing because you find yourself somewhat able to recuperate in your mind, but are frustrating for almost the same reason—you feel lazy, unproductive, distracted. Some of these days aren’t so bad, and you might enjoy the reprieve a bit. And still many of them are terrible because what have you got to show at the end of the counting hours?

These are the days which all creative types loath. You can’t hate them fully because you know in the back of your mind you need to take days to breathe, to recharge and reset. But we hate them nonetheless because our minds are most always on—they never turn off and we like it that way.

It’s hard as a creative type—particularly as a writer—to accept that these stretches of time are necessary. In the end, we simply can’t be on all the time, though we try to fool ourselves into thinking so. We might like to believe that we can forge ahead—push through—on a creative and/or intellectual level, but it’s rarely ever our best work. Many times it’s a placeholder for the better work to come. Sometimes it’s that push-through right after those sorts of days that we are most proud of in our work portfolio.

Take a day to breathe every now and then—the work only really suffers when you burn out completely.

Keep Pushing Forward

Some nights I get to the evening hour and I’m wiped out. I’ve been writing and talking with people all day, and find my mind completely fried. The light is dimming outside, and people are settling down after dinner. And I’m alone with some thoughts.

Yet in those moments when I’m almost a zombie to the world, I find I have some of my most intriguing thought processes. It’s in those precise moments that I come to grips with the passing day, and prepare myself for the volley of thoughts which will undoubtedly bombard me before bed. Such thoughts don’t overload my mind though, surprising as that might be. I find that this particular strain of thoughts tend to be what help me to keep pushing forward.

And thus I cherish this time—and these thoughts—more than one might think. Though they take up time as I’m trying to wind my mind down, they are nonetheless soothing in their reflective qualities. For some, relaxation and reflection mean plopping down on the couch and turning off one’s mind to watch Netflix. For me though, I (ironically so) find myself most reflective and somewhat relaxed when bombarded by thoughts that seem dogged in their stubbornness. Perhaps I’m even more of an artist than I think.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom

So today was Mother’s Day, and though we all know it’s a day created by the greeting card companies, I still reflected on my relationship with my Mom. How lucky I am to have the supportive relationship that I do, and how fortunate I am to even be able to spend the time with her that I do. It’s easy to take good fortune for granted, but the moments that we have in life are ephemeral, and never come around again. They only live in our memories, a realization that’s sobering in itself.

My Mom is one of my heroes, and someone I model myself after in many more ways than one. We are all products of our parents, for better or worse, though in my case I’m lucky enough to say better. I talked here about how my mom shaped my love and desire for music, but I’m fortunate for much more than that. It’s in the moments when the walls seem to be closing in, and when the world seems completely upside down that I find myself the luckiest. It’s in those moments that my mom reminds me of who I am, and who I can be. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, I love you.

Yesterday Was May 8th, 2015

Yesterday was May 8th, 2015. For those of you out there who are history nerds, yesterday marked the 7th anniversary of one of the most pivotal days in world history: VE Day, May 8th, 1945. Though it seems so far in the past for today’s kids in grade school now, Victory in Europe Day marked a significant turning point in the 20th century—like 9/11 or the JFK assassination, most people who were around remember exactly where they were when they received the news of victory in Europe.

Yet I saw surprisingly little fanfare online yesterday, especially for the 70th anniversary of such a momentous day in history. It made me wonder if people simply forgot, or if as we move farther away from the actual day, it seems to recede into history (for me though, I don’t think it’s the second). It also occurred to me that—sad as it is—many (if not most) of those who were around during VE Day in 1945 aren’t with us anymore. It’s the natural order of life—people pass away, but it does put into perspective things that must have been so momentous to them and that to us perhaps seem less so.

I’m not sure that I think that people simply forgot what yesterday was, but perhaps most decided to take in the anniversary with less fanfare than we summon up for Memorial Day. Perhaps family cookouts and pool parties really aren’t the way to celebrate—but also remember—the near end (victory in the Pacific wouldn’t come for another few months) of one of the most catastrophic wars in history. The historian in me observed yesterday with a certain sense of wistfulness. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Mercurial Writing

Inasmuch as I would like to write about intense topics every day, I find that one reaches a point where such topics are too tough to tackle without the proper mindset. Such a mindset isn’t something you (or I) can will yourself (myself) into. It’s something that comes from the sometimes spontaneous (sometimes ephemeral) desire to take a shot at the universe. Poetic as that might sound, the spontaneous quality is something I find helps me create pieces that possess a keener energy than some which I slave over for days or even weeks at a time.

The poetic nature of spontaneity and ephemerality lend to one’s writing a mercurial quality that makes it even more like art than it might otherwise be. It’s such an artistic flavor that makes less dramatic posts both more entertaining and more engaging. For that, I understand that not every post will be able to take on such a quality, but I know that by willing myself into it unnaturally, such a quality would surely elude my writing. Thus, for now, I’ll let my mind settle as I wait for the mercurial ephemerality to return to it.

Exhibiting One’s Creative Pieces

Today was day 2 of TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, but what really excited me today was the announcement by a friend of mine that she’s starting a small arts and writing publication. As much as I enjoyed watching TCDisrupt today, it was almost overshadowed in a sense by getting that message in my inbox. I’m still incredibly attached to my writing (as one can tell) and my art, and the chance to present it publicly (however minor) thrills me beyond measure. I suppose that’s part of identifying as an artist: any possibility of an exhibition of your work immediately takes on a whole new exciting tone when one considers it as a viable possibility.

Delusions of grandeur aside, the thrill that comes from doing a small art exhibition, or seeing a piece of yours published somewhere other than your own blog, is something that we creatives live for. In the end, it’s not about being the next great whatever; it’s about creating something and knowing that someone somewhere will see it. That dynamic of produce and consume is innate in all creative souls, and something which drives us every morning to make something new. For me, I’ll be looking into my portfolio soon to see which pieces I’d like to send her first.

The Ways in Which People Change (or Don’t)

I had dinner tonight with an old high school friend. It’s actually been a year since we saw each other without needing to go through Facebook or email. It’s kind of amazing how time changes people—or doesn’t change people. Of course everyone is subject to change—that’s the natural order of things. But the ways in which people change are what intrigue me the most.

As with anything, people grow apart after high school and go on to lead different paths in life. You still get together every now and again when both people are free to do so, but it’s not really the same as knowing someone. You sit and exchange life details over a beer, but then realize after that drink that you’re separated from who you used to be, both singularly and together.

Yet, every once in a while, you might find yourself lucky enough to be around someone who hasn’t changed much, and is all the better for it. Of course people grow up and become more responsible in life (hopefully), but the things that you wish would never change about someone—the things you told them never to change in their yearbook—rarely stay the same. When they do and you find that you need to try to remember why you loved someone in the first place—because those reasons are still all there—it strikes you just how fortuitous it is to be sitting across the table from that person.