Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nervous (about Scarcity)

Coming from a company where basically no one is ever fired, to a place where two out of 50 employees were fired in a single week, I'm nervous. I'm nervous I'm next. I'm nervous that it's a sign the company has hard times ahead. I'm nervous that despite my perceived ability to execute, I'm not as good as I think I am. I'm nervous that applies to everyone in our company.

It's interesting coming to a startup from a large corporate job. Everything you read about, it's all based in some truth. We may try to tell ourselves at times that it's different, that we are mature for our age or our size, but we still have a lot to figure out. It's a strange feeling.

I'm probably going to talk about money more in the future than I have in the past. The reason being I've benefited from a high paying job, a long bull market, and a decent savings rate, that my horizons have been expanded, and I view the world differently than I did nine years ago.

It's easy for us to have a scarcity mindset. There are only so many jobs available for a person like me. I can only save so much money. If I mess this opportunity up there will never be another one. However, there is more abundance in the world, especially at this point in human history. There was a tension around the office this past week, because people don't know what is next. We like to make our own decisions and being fired or getting laid off is not a decision people usually make for themselves.

A few weeks ago, the totality of the issues facing us hit me, and I had a little bit of a meltdown. It's going to be hard to get where we want by when we want. Since that meltdown we've recalibrated and can probably achieve our new schedule. I had the thought that we might not make it, which despite being a startup was kind of new for me, and I would have worked hard and have nothing to show for it. But then, I considered when I am in life, financially especially, and I think I would take six months to get a membership at Mr. Money Mustache headquarters to do a little work on couple side projects that could each use at least 50 hours of dedicated time, I would go finish the 14ers, and probably the centennial 13ers (100 highest peaks in CO), and then I would reach out across my network and see what job opportunities are out there.

It's cliche, because I'm a white male engineer, especially now at a startup, but money and job security are things that my relationship with has changed in the past nine years. In 2010 and 2011 I was happy for any job that would have me. I was super excited to have $1,000 in my savings account or pay off a credit card. While those things are still exciting, now I think about paying off the mortgage on my rental house. Who owns rental property? Rich people! Similarly, when recruiters reach out to me through LinkedIn their offers are not bad. Sure in every case they appear to be a step backward in responsibility and pay, and I'm not looking for a new job, I hope that I can be at my current company for years to come. The point is, there is abundance in the world. Maybe I'm coming at that perspective from a place of privilege, but there really is a lot of opportunity in the world.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 44 and 45

July 7th to 13th, where I was too lazy to blog about, and then the more recent July 14th to July 20th. So the first week of the two, was relatively uneventful. I spent Sunday the 7th recovering from my trip to Durango and doing three 14ers. The work week was relatively uneventful. We continued to make make consistent progress toward a few goals, but not the progress we really want to make. Saturday M and I went to climb The Sharkstooth in Rocky Mountain National Park via the northeast ridge. It's like 5-6 pitches of 5.6 and then three double length rappels. It's a cool looking little mountain. Well worth the 11:15 car to car time it took us. It's the biggest technical climb I've done in my ankle recovery and that was quite enjoyable. I only have three pictures, of M, my climbing partner descending some rather steep snow in running shoes. But in the pictures you can't tell how steep it is, like many pictures of slopes.

This past week though, that was something else, something new. In the history of the company, less than four years, three people have been let go (fired) and one has quit. Two of the three to be fired were fired this week. In both cases there were warning signs to me as a person that worked with both people. I won't go into the details today, maybe later. I do want to share this experience so that more people might learn from it, but it's been emotional, because I feel like I failed both people by not helping set them up for success. And in the case that people are scared away from my company because of this, we're not the Lord of the Flies, in both situations there were signs that neither situation was working as effectively as desired.

Coming from a large corporation where once you are hired, it's almost impossible to get fired, it rattles me. We all take time to get up to speed. We all make mistakes on the job. No one is perfect. So being in a place where multiple people have been fired this year, for job performance, I have to wonder, 'am I next?' Probably not, but who knows. I'm not going to live my life in fear. I have to do the best job I can, and fortunately I'm in a financial position where I would not immediately be homeless. But it keeps me wanting to work toward financial independence so that I could retire early if I was fired tomorrow.

Saturday I went and hiked Mt. Lindsey, and it was a delight! The ridge goes at 3rd class, and frankly it was very pleasant. We passed people going up and coming down just moving along very quickly. Blanca looks great from the northeast! I'm excited to go do Blanca and Little Bear! 32 of the 53 Colorado 14ers done! Only 21 to go!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 43

You know how weeks are up and down, and all over the place some times? Yeah, that was this week.

Sunday I sat around for awhile until deciding to finally go for a hike up around Camp Dick and Beaver Reservoir. So about two miles into my walk, I saw a black bear! It was off the trail about 30 feet, and about 50 feet away from me, and we kind of surprised each other, and after that 1 second of confirmation that it was a bear, I started yelling and shouting at it and waving my hands and it ran away. Five minutes later a light rain turned into hail, so I couldn't hear anything as I quickly hiked away from the location the bear probably was. It was a bit scary being out there alone, it's the fear that when I turned and walked away the bear would come after me and I wouldn't know it until it was 15 feet away going 25 mph right at me. Of course that didn't happen, but it's not a crazy fear.

It was a three day work week, punctuated by a couple conversations with leaders in our company about possible improvements we could make. Those, and some interesting articles I read, led to a crisis of confidence on my part Wednesday. So risk is something that exists everywhere. Our reaction to risk varies. It varies between people, and it even varies within a person at different times. Alex Honnold has gotten scared free soloing at times. It's not that I became aware of any new risks, it might just be that I recognized those risks in a more clear way, and it scared me. I'm good now, but it was a moment of "Hello, you're working at a startup! It's not guaranteed! This is hard to build not only a product from scratch but a company from scratch!"

It was kind of fascinating from an objective point of view. I occupy an interesting place in the company. So, a lot of the company leaders probably feel a responsibility to be stoic and project confidence, and a lot of the company is young, and doesn't really recognize the risks that those of us more experienced might see. I happen to be in a situation where I can recognize issues that younger people don't and have the security to speak up and say something in public. I lean toward the transparent side of communication instead of opaque. I'd rather we get stuff out in the open, yell and cry about it, and then move on and eventually laugh about it, rather than sweep it under the rug. In other words, we might all be thinking something, and I might as well be the person to say it. It's a balance though, and I don't know what is the right amount of public discourse. I think I went a little too far on Wednesday, but whatever, I'll learn and move on.

Thursday I woke up at 2 AM and headed to Creede to climb San Luis Peak, which I did in about seven hours. There was a fair amount of snow, and the hike down in the afternoon was a bit of a slog. Still I did 38,000 steps and 14.8 miles, which I'm super happy with! Then I went to Durango and met up with a friend of a friend, had dinner, and went to bed at like 8:30 PM before hearing any fireworks.

Friday I hung out at Starbucks most of the morning, and walked around Durango. I left my wallet in Longmont, so my only form of payment was Apple Pay, until I was able to Venmo my new friend W some money for cash. It was super convenient to have Apple Pay! Exxon and Shell gas stations seem to accept it, Starbucks, Walgreens, and most fast food restaurants seem to take NFC (Near Field Communication) devices like Apple Pay. Without that, I had about $3 in change in my car, and would have had to resort to pan handling to get back to Longmont when I discovered the issue at 6:30 AM July 4th, in Del Norte with only two gallons of gas left in my tank. However, able to get a full tank of gas, I was able to prolong my trip and do some 14ers like I set out to do. I did a little bicycling up a small category 2 hill called Coal Bank Pass, and then drove into Silverton, for my first time ever in Silverton. It's a cool little town and I expect to visit more in the future for both mountain climbing and skiing.

My friend arrived Friday evening and we went out for dinner. The ultra running scene in Durango is small enough they all know each other, but large enough they don't all train together. In Dubuque the few of us strong runners would train together, at least sometimes. In Boulder county where I live now, it's so big I have no idea what 2:18 marathoners live within 15 miles of me.

Saturday I again woke up at 2 AM, and drove the four hours to Lake City to climb Sunshine and Redcloud peaks. I did that, going up the East ridge of Sunshine, which is the standard winter route. Over Sunshine, to Redcloud, back over Sunshine, and down, all in 5 hours 40 minutes. I am pretty happy with that 5500 feet of elevation gain and loss and 9.7 miles in that short time. I did a little running on the way down and my ankle is getting better all the time! With those summits I have 31 different Colorado 14er summits and only 22 to go (using the 300 feet minimum height rule for what counts as a mountain).

So the week ended really well, despite my fears during the week.  Just a note on June, I bicycled 309 miles and took 393,000 steps, which are both the highest numbers I have done since March 2018, when I provoked my pulmonary embolism. They aren't great numbers or super high, but a huge step in the right direction.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 42

What a good week! It started Sunday at 1 AM. We woke up from a little hotel in Ashford and after some last minute packing and a midnight snack, headed up to Mt. Rainier for our one day attempt. About 4000 feet elevation we drove into the clouds and a light misting rain. 'Huh...' I thought.

We unpacked at the parking lot and headed up, into the light rain. Yep, that 35 degree kind of rain, just above freezing. It was okay as long as we kept moving because it was so light. Eventually we made it to the top of the cloud and the rain stopped, and then around 8500 feet we broke out of the clouds on the Muir snow field. The snow was perfect! It was very consolidated, but still snow and not ice. We were able to make quick progress. We started hiking at 2:30 and made Camp Muir at about 5:45.

Unfortunately J had an old back issue flare up and he decided not to continue. Then T was feeling dizzy and also decided not to continue. I looked at M and said, with a hint of frustration, "M do you still want to climb it?" He responded with an enthusiastic, "Yes!" So the two of us roped up and left Camp Muir around 6 AM. (It's normal to leave Camp Muir at like 1 or 2 AM on a two day climb.)

The route was in the best condition I have ever seen it in in my four attempts. There were few crevasses all of the lower crevasses were closed up. There is often a crevasse above Ingraham Flats that is all sorts of sketchy. About 13,000 feet the route split, with the previous trail going left and a new trail going right. We asked several parties which one to take, because we knew there was a new trail, but didn't know why. None of the people seemed to know either. So we took the left trail up which appeared to have X wands in front of it. Around 13,500 we went to cross two different crevasses, which on the surface each appeared to be to two separate crevasses 20 feet apart. However, from the right angle I could see down 100+ feet into the crevasse. We were walking over a snow bridge! I had M anchor me as I walked across, and then I anchored him as he walked across. Most crevasses seem to be less than 40 feet before you would hit a ledge, and many are only 15 feet or so before there is a ledge or the bottom. On those crevasses, in a worst case the one of us that didn't fall into the crevasse would simply be pulled toward the crevasse, however, in a 100 foot deep crevasse, both of us would probably be pulled into the crevasse... and that would be it. I can't believe the other teams did not see the danger of those two crossings!! They were two of the most scary features I have  encountered, because it wasn't immediately and superficially obvious the danger. We of course descended the new route, which was a little steeper, but no dangerous crevasse crossings.

The winds at the top around 11:30 AM were about 30 mph, which was cold and we stayed about 2 minutes, long enough for me to sit down, take a few pictures and a video, and then we headed down. The snow was a little soft on the way down, but not enough to really slow our progress. We made it back to Camp Muir about 2:30 PM and after changing clothing and a short break, made it down to Paradise about 5:00 PM, for a 14.5 hour round trip adventure! Not nearly as fast as the 8.5 hours I blasted it in 2016, but given my ankle and I'm not in as good of shape now as I was then, and M and I were on a rope team, it was a really good time. I told him after not to take this for granted as a normal Mt. Rainier ascent. There is nothing normal about doing that mountain in 14. 5 hours car to car. It's not a special or record setting climb, but it's like going from the 99th percentile to the 99.9 percentile in terms of most Americans mountaineering. I would estimate less than 10% of Mt. Rainier climbs are one day climbs. Probably 2-5%.

Monday we lounged around a bit before heading for Mt. Hood. Tuesday we woke from a little Air BNB at 2:30 AM and headed up hill, we started hiking at 3:45 AM, just minutes after another group, and maybe the last group for the day. However, we just started catching group after group. We made it up to the flat area at the Devil's Playground in 2:26, which is a crazy like 4000 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot. We just flew up the mountain. M and I were joined by his high school friend F for this, and F being fresh just pushed the pace on the hiking part. We then roped up and did the Pearly Gates, which was steeper than I was expecting, maybe 50 degrees and very icy. I even put an ice screw in, because there were crevasses below and I didn't want us tumbling down. We then made the top, and spent 10 minutes confirming it was the top because I thought it was 11,600, and our altimeter and GPS were saying 11,200, but it turns out the top is only 11,166 ft. We trekked back down, and M's crampon fell off three times, because he was wearing running shoes and hadn't adjusted the length tight enough. Each time we stopped for him to adjust his crampon, I put the pick of my ice axe in the snow and a clove hitch around the adze, it was a simple way to put an anchor into the ice for our little group.

Mt. Hood round trip took us 6:41, which was just a plain fun day. We were back at the base by 10:30 AM. Often these mountain days are brutal, difficult, painful, tiring, but Mt. Hood was not any of those, it was just fun. It wasn't that cold, it was steep, but not that steep, there were crevasses, but not scary ones.

Wednesday after sleeping in and touring Seattle a little I flew back to Denver. Hard day, rest day (or two), is a combination that I think really helps my ankle recover. It's hard on the ankle and then there is some swelling and then there is time to recover and get some blood flow into the ligaments that are still healing.

Thursday and Friday I was back at work. We're nearing this important time where we are certifying our product and delivering one to a customer, and it's stressful. We all want to make it as successful as possible, and whenever there is a miscommunication emotions rise. We'll get through this. We closed the first part of our series B funding this week! So we have runway to get us if not through 2020, as least through most of it. That's exciting because we will have our second product in testing at that point, and while our first one is cool, the second one is the real money maker. Our first product we have to sell about one per week to be profitable, our second one it's less than one per month.

Saturday I was pretty tired from the week so I went to the coffee shop and then went on a little 35 mile bicycle ride.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 41

It was a busy week at work. We're trying to meet two different deadlines, both an internal testing milestone, and an external customer delivery milestone. They are very related, but every step of the way it's like we are walking through quicksand as we encounter new challenges. The cool part is, unlike working at a big corporation where the pressure and challenges are essentially the same, it feels as if the reputation, and really the success of the whole company, is on the line. It's exciting! I've stayed past 5 PM a number of times recently, which was super rare for me when I was back at a large corporation. This, this transition from a one off that meets the goal for a couple minutes, to a reliable production line that can hit the goal for hours, is why I came here.

My parents were in town for a few nights this week. They have more or less retired and are looking to move to a warmer climate than Wisconsin and closer to a large airport, and the Denver area checks those boxes. So they were house shopping as prices and interest rates have declined a little out here over the course of 2019. Still a long way from being a bargain or truly affordable, but hey I'll take a $25,000 discount.

I ran twice on the Alter-G treadmill. My physical therapy office has one and I get to run on it for free in half hour increments, so I went twice this past week. I'm doing well, very well, but I still can't really run. I ran at 75% body weight and 80% body weight and at 80% it was still hard on my ankle. Running pushes my ankle both in range of motion, and force. I can hike for 14.5 hours on a mountain. I can bicycle for seven hours in the mountains. Yet, I can't run an 8 minute mile on flat ground at the moment. However, at the rate I am progressing I think by the end of July I'll be able to go out and run without limping.

Friday I flew out to Seattle with my friend M. We had separate flights and both were delayed about 3.5 hours. So we arrived at like 2 AM on Saturday. Fun. Saturday we met up with a college friend of mine and his friend, and the four of us headed up to Mt. Rainier. Unfortunately, they were out of permits for Camp Muir for the night, so we got a permit for the next couple nights, and then on the drive back to Ashford, decided that we'd attempt it in one day on Sunday. Tune in next week for the story of my second one day Mt. Rainier climb!

Monday, June 17, 2019

I don't really get summit fever.

Two of the people I have been hiking with recently talked about how they each get summit fever, and it scares me. I told both of them, "Don't attempt Everest yet, please." I really don't get summit fever much any more. I did, when I was somewhat new and felt I needed to get the summit to build up my climbing resume. But after enough bad weather days and a couple close calls high in the mountains, and reading enough accident reports, I don't really care about making the summit like I used to.

I like mountaineering, climbing, hiking, skiing, and being out in the mountains on difficult terrain in general. The summit is just a pile of rocks and snow, and they all basically look the same. The main difference is the size of the Longs Peak or Devil's Tower summit plateau vs a much smaller one like Crestone Needle or Mt. Everest, the same way some parking lots are larger than other parking lots.

It's interesting, the number of times in the last few years when I've been within about 500 vertical feet of the summit and been ambivalent about making it to the top. I would not have guessed this is a mental state of a climber. I used to think everyone wanted to get to the summit on every attempt. But now I realize that the process, the climbing itself is most of the fun. I've been on the top of well over 100 mountains above treeline, and while I will keep going after summits, I have no problem turning around near the top if conditions aren't right.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 38 to 40

I've been busy. May 26th to June 15th. My ankle has been healing well enough for me to get back into doing my more normal weekend fun. Actually, I feel my healing has plateaued the last two weeks or so, I'm not sure if that is temporary, or I need to get on my physical therapy exercises harder, or maybe there is a little more ligament damage than initially expected, or perhaps my weekend jaunts are a little more than I should be doing at this stage of the recovery.

So, June 1st I bicycled up Pikes Peak! I had two attempts last fall, both failing due to having a pulmonary embolism. Even though I am 10 pounds heavier now and in worse shape aerobically than I was last fall, I was able to do it. I think this particular Strava segment best encapsulates having a PE and in below average shape, and having no PE, in poor shape, and weighing 10 pounds more, meaning a PE makes it really hard to breathe.
58 minutes with a Pulmonary Embolism, 35 minutes without.
Fun fact, I don't think of myself as a great descender, on a bicycle or running. But I'm not bad. I mean, I generally take big descents at a speed that I feel very in control, but somehow I have the time to beat for the first 12 miles of the Pikes Peak descent this year.
Then on Tuesday, June 4th I fell off my bicycle near the top of "SuperJames" which is the HC bicycle climb that goes from highway 36 up to Jamestown and then up to 8,500 feet above Jamestown. It's my go to 42 mile bicycle ride. It's so cool to go bicycle a HC (French for beyond category, meaning something like 3,000+ feet of ascending) climb on an average weeknight from my apartment! We had snow May 21st, and maybe even more recent up there at 8,000 feet, so there was still quite a bit of sand on the road and I could not slow down enough to make a left hand turn and when I hit the sand I fell over and thankfully did not get hurt any more than a bruised knee! It really got my attention. My head (encased in my helmet of course) bounced when I hit the ground. I am sure I do not have any concussion, but without a helmet I probably would have. Plus, I had slowed down to maybe 10-12 mph when I finally fell over, I only slid about 10 feet. Whew! I could have easily been going 25 mph, and in that case I would have hit the guardrail (which I was only 3 feet away from when I stopped) and maybe even gone over a steep slope.

June 8th I attempted "The Loop" as I call it. From my apartment in Longmont to Estes Park, over Trail Ridge Road, through Granby, up Berthoud Pass, into Idaho Springs, down to Golden, up to Boulder and back to Longmont. It would be about 180 miles, and include a 12,000 foot pass and 11,000 foot pass. Well, I failed, but I had a really good ride. I bicycled up to Estes Park, and just wasn't feeling as strong as I feel I need to be successful and safe and finish in the daylight. So I turned left and bicycled down the Peak to Peak to Ward and then down Lefthand canyon for a little 86 mile bicycle ride with 7000 feet of elevation gain.

June 15th, yesterday, I did a 11 hour and 45 minute excursion up and over Mt. Yale and down the north ridge into the airplane gully in my continuing research for a Nolan's 14 attempt. There was a lot of snow and in places it spend up our progress, but overall it definitely slowed us down when we would inevitably post hole. We then did a loop hiking down the valley until we met up with the Colorado trail at 9,400 feet and went back up to nearly 12,000 feet and down into the Avalanche Gulch Trailhead. Apparently I burned 8,051 calories yesterday. I estimated it would take 6-8 hours, so I was pretty off on that estimate. My ankle held up well. I did limp a fair amount, and had to take many small steps (52,000 steps to be specific), but the three of us made it. It was the hardest thing I have done since moving out here. Harder than doing Pikes Peak, the 86 mile bicycle ride, the February Piz Badille climb, Princeton and Longs Peak with a pulmonary embolism. It rained, snowed, and hailed on us at different times. I don't think my ankle will be ready to attempt Nolan's 14 this year. Or at least, it will most likely not be in condition to go sub 48 hours on Nolan's this season.

Work has been good. It's been a bit stressful and I've put in a number of 10 hour days, mostly unintentionally, because I get excited. We have a customer delivery coming up and it's all hands on deck to mitigate as much risk as possible and make it successful. What are some highlights? We were trouble shooting an issue three weeks ago, an issue we had been working on for weeks before that, and we finally made enough changes to get rid of the issue! It's the classic: struggle, struggle, struggle, success! Then, just Friday a new subsystem that I designed was tested, and it worked! There were so many little thing wrong with my design and prototype parts, that frankly I was not very confident it would work. But it did! It's a completely new subsystem to our product, and something that will speed up both our internal operations and is a huge customer benefit. I was not at all the driving factor, the credit goes to my coworker J for pushing for a long time to get this subsystem designed and implemented. The difficulty was that I just had never designed something like this from scratch before, so I didn't have much confidence it would work. I was afraid there was something I did not understand that would lead to failure.

I hope you've had some good weeks too. Next weekend I'll be out in the northwest climbing Mt. Rainier, so check out my Garmin inReach tracking to see how that goes: