— This is something I wrote when I was struggling for clarity in 2011. It’s always interesting reading back on times of difficulty— times where life grants you a crossroads and you fear the option deep in your heart is correct but excruciatingly difficult. In my experience, perspective is earned in days, months, years. It’s easy to look back knowing you made the right decision. Courage is having the confidence not to settle. It’s certainly more difficult than you’d think.
His name is Daniel but people call him “too loose.” He wears a black beret and taps his foot while he sketches. Every so often he’ll whistle or sing along to the jazz playing on the New Orleans streets. He’s 80 years old but when I tell him he doesn’t look a day over 40, he smiles and tells me he’ll draw my eyelashes longer. He’s lived in New Orleans for 40 years until recently. He moved to Detroit to take care of his sister who’s battling cancer. He’s back for a month. Daniel met his wife 54 years ago. She was offering up a place to stay. She opened the door and it was love at first sight. “I took the place, no doubt,” he says. He doesn’t have a certain feature he likes to draw. It’s the sum of all parts. “I can show you better than I can tell you,” he says. He tells me he captured my eyes. You’re a deep thinker, inquisitive, he tells me as he finishes shading in the picture. I tell him I can write better than draw so I’ll capture him through words. We listen to jazz. I hand him twenty dollars, we say goodbye and he heads back to the canvas he calls home.
This is for a friend of mine who recently passed away.
To Jenseds and all the people who loved her.
One of my favorite monologues is from a play called “Our Town.” The character, Emily, is deceased but has the opportunity to watch herself living.
"Do human beings every realize life while they live it?" she muses.
My friend, Jennifer Sedney, died on Christmas Day. She had an aneurism and she was gone. We spend our whole existence trying to make sense of life— who we are, what we should do, who we will love. But death makes no sense. You can’t flip the switch on a life — on those moments that define us. When people die, whether they’re young or old— it simply makes no sense.
It seems that only in death, do we realize life. Jenny, or Jenseds as we called her, was a beacon of heath. She was adventurous. She loved running. She loved cooking and music, spending times with the people she loved, and those who loved her.
And there were so many who loved her. Jenseds was infectious and inherently good. She was glowing, and around her boyfriend, she was radiant. He watched her when she wasn’t looking. His arm was always around her. She had the kind of love you want for your children, your parents. She embodied the kind of love you’d want for yourself.
On Christmas Eve she had a headache. On Christmas Day she was gone. No matter how much you try to wrap your head around it, it simply makes no sense.
In Jenny’s death, I can’t help but look at her life. She’s gone but I’m convinced that all her love is somehow still here, in the people she touched and the ones she encountered.
When my dad was very sick years ago, I remember looking at the sky — it was unfairly blue, the moon glowing in a way only noticeable when facing the realization that time is a luxury and it’s not always on our side. When I heard the news about Jenny, I envisioned her months ago. We were driving back to Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was in the front with her boyfriend singing along to top forties, and I was in the backseat watching them like a romantic comedy.
Writer Nora Ephron once likened death to a sniper. It hits. It makes no exceptions.
It didn’t spare Nora Ephron and Jenny was no exception either.
Today I watched people around me. Airports are a prime place to watch the transient flow of people coming in and out. A great place to identify humanity.
Tomorrow I will head to Connecticut to surround myself with an army of friends. We’ll meet again - a reunion of sorts — the last time was a football game. Michigan verses Notre Dame. This time we will bury our friend. None of us will be able to tell you why. There is no moral. There is no saving grace. Jenseds, our friend so full of light — the one who was at the prime of her life — is gone. Just like that.
Death as a sniper has taken her, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to bring her back.
We can love deeper. Hug longer. We can tell our loved ones how much they mean to us, and more importantly, we can show them. We can understand that these moments we have are like sand slipping through an hourglass and whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, we are on a timetable.
My friend Jenny didn’t make it to 2014, but if she did, I know she’d be celebrating. She’d be celebrating because she realized life while she lived it. Life is a celebration, and she knew that better than most.
— Jonathan Van Meter’s feature on Cate Blanchett. I love this description…and can relate.
To be an entrepreneur.
To be told “no” on a regular basis. To fight an uphill battle, to fall constantly.
I always joke with entrepreneurs I interview - I’d never want to step into their shoes.
Entrepreneurship is tough. There is constant failure.
Some of the greatest rewards come with the greatest risks, and often times those risks end in epic failure.
Not as many people talk about that. They don’t talk about the moments when you’re alone in your head, battling your worst enemy.
Often times we talk about huge wins, happy endings. Dark moments don’t always make it into print.
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs battle with the greatest demons. Having the ability to change the world, to disrupt the status quo, isn’t something to take lightly.
The people that do this are far from normal. It takes a thread of intensity that not everyone has and sometimes that intensity can do more harm than help.
I woke up to the news that internet entrepreneur Aaron Swartz committed suicide.
The word “tragedy” doesn’t do it justice.
To have all the ingredients to change the world, to have already made a huge dent, and to see the demons win, isn’t fair.
For those of us who live in extremes - extreme success, extreme failure, for those of us who are harder on ourselves than any critic and sometimes have trouble getting out of the dark, I say this - as dark as the world can be, it can be that light. As bad as it can be, it can be that good.
We aren’t always defined by our successes, it’s often our failures that makes us fight harder, see clearer.
Choosing to be an entrepreneur requires a respectful degree of insanity.
For those who are going through a tough time, I hope you know you’re not alone. The world is much better with your crazy ideas, your passion, and your ability to hack the status quo.
Don’t forget that.
I recently got back from TechCrunch Disrupt, a conference where startups go to get their break, where people who’ve technically “made it” talk shop. It’s busy and loud and a bit exhausting, but there are always some interesting moments. One of my favorite parts of covering tech is getting a rare glimpse at the people behind the sites we use and the apps we hold dear. Behind every site, every app, every product, there’s a person who was told no countless times. Tech has always been an interesting mix of perseverance, failure, and humanity. Here’s my take on Mark Zuckerberg’s first talk post IPO.
The room is crowded. I am two seats from the front. Mark Zuckerberg will speak for the first time since the company he created went public, bringing with it a host of problems: tanking stock prices, angry investors, negative sentiment.
Bloggers lined the aisles. I could barely get to my seat. People were packed inside the auditorium, waiting for the young billionaire, the one that made “Facebook stalking” a thing, to take the stage.
We waited, the market waited. Twitter blew up with anticipation.
And then I caught a glimpse of Mark moments before he stepped on stage. There he was, 28 years old and addressing what most of us 28-year-olds don’t have to deal with: anticipation hanging on every word he would say, a company’s future lying on his shoulders.
I caught a glimpse, he breathed deeply, lifting his shoulders like he was pumping up for a ball game. It’s something you’d do in college before slamming the ping pong ball into the last beer pong cup and defeating your contenders. For me, it’s something I do before a live television segment. I shamelessly talk myself through it in the shower, in front of the mirror and right before “go time,” I take a deep breath and go.
Often not so smoothly.
Mark would understand.
The 28-year-old billionaire who has become an icon in the Valley, well I suppose in mainstream society since Aaron Sorkin took a liking to his story and wove it into a Hollywood blockbuster, walked on stage in jeans and a brown t-shirt.
“Ok, you ready?” Michael Arrington, notorious Silicon Valley figure, asked him.
I was close enough to see his face turn slightly pink, to see him tense in his chair.
He was going on message. Quickly, abruptly, he took the question bait— the much anticipated, “so what’s up with the falling stock price” question and he drove fast and furiously towards mobile. It was all about mobile. But he drove too fast, his words and sentences too quick and conjoining together — a student explaining to a teacher why the homework assignment wasn’t complete, a teenager recounting to his parents why he was entering the back door long passed curfew.
Mark Zuckerberg was nervous. He was 28 years old, sitting on a stage in front of Facebook’s 950 million monthly users, in front of journalists, in front of investors, in front of himself – explaining for the first time, why his widely hyped company – the holy grail of social networks, didn’t seem to be shining when thrown against a public market, against a corporate picture frame.
The hacker, who dropped out of Harvard, who was forced to grow up and grow into a position as CEO of the largest social network in history, seemed to me, an innocent bystander, more human in his quick robotic answers than we often give him credit for.
Because in this moment, a boy is forced into manhood, a startup into full-fledged company and here’s the thing us media folks don’t often cover – puberty is painful. Especially when you’re prom king.
— Great DM I just got from a friend who finally feels like pieces are beginning to fit. Nice way of putting it.
— thoughts on the 1 train on a late summer evening
I’m writing this as a response to one of TechCrunch’s latest articles about a girl named Shirley, who seemingly “tricked” Silicon Valley. I’m having a bit of a Jerry Maguire moment as you’ll soon read.
I met Shirley Hornstein the same way many folks in the tech world met her – she somehow infiltrated the inner circles of Silicon Valley through white lies, through name dropping, through invites to homes in the mountains, or flattering tweets and instagram photos.
In speaking to her, I got the feeling something was a bit off. In the Valley full of people who make the apps you use on your phone, who fund what become big or bust ventures, people who know the big names don’t often flaunt their connections.
But you see, Shirley was a nice girl. If anything, she struck me as determined to fit in a world where geeks who may have shunned high school have recreated the campus and the cliques all over again. I never realized how far she’d stretched some of those lies and contacts, often mentioning working for a company when she hadn’t or being friends with celebrities when she wasn’t.
I’m pretty sure most people in the Valley have at some point before their coding careers struggled to fit and finally came to terms and embraced the fact that they don’t fit – it’s what makes Silicon Valley special. It’s what I was initially drawn to years ago, when America was struggling to climb out of the recession and I had stumbled on a bright spot full of vibrancy and energy – the tech realm. It’s why I committed to covering startups at CNN.
On Tuesday night, TechCrunch “dropped a bomb,” revealing what many people deep in the Valley knew – Hornstein wasn’t exactly who she made herself out to be. There were burned connections and broken promises. The stories started coming in and immediately, the viral backlash began.
Blogs picked up the story. Twitter took to tweeting at @Shirls. All of a sudden, she became the girl that “hookwinked” Silicon Valley. Finally! She was exposed. One twitter user called her a “sociopathic savage.” Hundreds of tweets poured in. Users with no connection to Hornstein sent tweets about her.
To those who’d been burned, it was the “I told you so” moment they’d been waiting for. To me, it felt wrong. It was an online attack against someone who of course should be called out, especially if it put companies at risk, but the article (citing anonymous sources) felt more like a “gotcha” piece than anything with true value.
Shirley Hornstein has a problem. It is clear from her “web of lies” that she is far from the hoodwink bloggers make her out to be, rather she’s a bit of a troubled girl who is now being harassed online by many of same people who may have known she was lying but still ate the cake, went to the benefits, and shared the mountain house with her.
It seems if anything, unproductive.
We are at a crucial time where technology and startups can change the world. Years ago, the little guys had to prove it. Now many of them have and they’ve paved the path for a number of startups who followed in their footsteps — many startups, who in my opinion, were funded without having to fight hard enough, to break through enough barriers. Many of these startups were committed to an idea until a different one came along. This isn’t the environment I knew years ago when I took days off to attend tech conferences and listen to crazy young people who truly believed they could change the world.
Those young people are still out there and their startups are still infants that may one day grow to change the status quo – to disrupt education, healthcare, transportation, to break down barriers and make people’s lives better. Many are already doing this.
But the parking lot is crowded. In the years I’ve covered startups, the space is saturated and while it hasn’t vanished, some of that hustle and hunger has seemingly waned.
It hit me when I watched the tech community roast Shirley Hornstein. “What a scoop!” people exclaimed. But really if you take a step back, there’s a troubled girl and a lot of work to do.
One of the top tech CEOs who shall remain unnamed once told me he had a love for aspects of Silicon Valley but a disdain for the often petty side of the industry. “It’s just distracting,” he said. Two years later, I have a better understanding of that line.
Of course what Shirley Hornstein did was far from alright, but someone (maybe one of those anonymous sources cited in the article) should sit down and talk with her, tell her we all don’t have to fit nicely or play in the in crowd. And for god’s sake, the people who are waging an online war against this girl should find another distraction in the crowded world of startups and ideas.