Sunday, January 5, 2020

2019 Year in Review

I haven’t blogged much the last few months because it’s not as easy to see progress as it used to be in my life. Running 18 miles in a week doesn’t feel like an accomplishment, despite the fact that it is for me now. Similarly, having a part I design work the first time we physically assemble it isn’t as exciting as the first 500 parts I’ve worked on. However, I have been doing these for nearly a decade so a year end review seems like a really good way to update the world.


This was a fascinating year for me. I am at a startup that has gone through several phases just this year. Phases that I would not have guessed a year ago, but are actually common to startups. We started 2019 on a high note achieving a number of milestones, but near the end of the winter we had a set back and morale started to deteriorate. There were a few moments where we had minor victories but in general there was a slow grind down in motivation among the more experienced employees who had been at other companies. The people new out of college might have been a little oblivious, and frankly, at the time I tried to keep it that way. There is a positivity spiral and a negativity spiral. Once you get on either one it’s a lot easier to keep going in that direction than it is to stop and change course. 

This summer we changed course. We had some management turnover, and some public fighting. I questioned wether this was the place for me long term. Maybe the company wasn’t headed in the direction I wanted to be a part of. Some actions are not okay. As I told a coworker on a walk at work one day, we have the opportunity every day to burn the bridges of our relationships. It can take a very long time to build a bridge, brick by brick or casting the concrete, but burning one down, destroying it, it just takes a few hours, maybe even minutes. In short, we had some emotional moments this summer. Moments that no one really likes discussing, but they are lessons we shouldn’t forget. A few people had to take apology tours to rebuild relationships. It was rough. I think it was a very definitive year for the company. 

After the drama settled down we reorganized for the second time of the year and had the chaos of trying to certify our product at the same time in the late summer. When I lit out and spent that week in September climbing mountains we essentially did it, certified our product (to our own internal standards) and shipped one to a customer. Whew that was not easy. But! It actually went pretty well. I’m quite happy with the amount of documentation that we put into it, and while we have a long way to go, we’re not in a bad place. 

The fall we settled back into fewer weekend work and just one shift instead of two. However, for our second product, or product line you could say, we are building a new test facility, and we designed the whole thing in house. It’s roughly three times as many parts (thus three times as complicated) as our product, so needless to say it’s a big project. And to be honest, we are almost done and we basically did the whole thing in just over a year from just one guy working on initial design and sizing to a team of over a dozen people at times bolting stuff together, and more people ordering parts, kitting stuff, and designing random stuff. It’s interesting how as a project gets more complicated you need to spend more time communicating the designs and assembly. In other words, when the entire team can sit in one room and just turn around in their chairs and talk about it, you can move super quick, however, somewhere between 10 and 20 people working on the same thing and that’s just not possible any more. I’m employee 27, four of the people who started before me have left, and still we are up to 59 full time employees and we have two different locations 30 minutes apart, so it’s harder to communicate than it used to be. 

Point being, we know we need to put in effort (human time, engineering time) into how we communicate to all the necessary people, but we don’t always know who needs to know, or what information those people need. With any communication it’s rare that the person trying to convey the information will give 100% of the story. If it takes me three weeks to come up with a new design, I’ll usually be able to describe it technically, and the work done on it in maybe 10 minutes, but that leaves out all of the design work that I tried that didn’t work or the many little iterations that I had to make to get it all to fit together and pass analysis. 

Also as we grow we run into different problems. We work with mostly young (or perhaps I should say still maturing) people who are exceedingly bright, have great educations, but step on others toes and many are still trying to prove themselves. To boil it down to three general scenarios we have situation one where person A screwed up and person B caught the mistake, situation two where person C thinks that person D screwed up but actually didn't, and situation three where person E and person F simply have different opinions about how to handle a situation, and neither one is clearly better. In situation one, person B should try to handle the situation so that it allows person A to keep his or her dignity, instead of publicly eviscerating person A’s work. In situation two person C would do well to check a fact or two before confronting and accusing person D about the mistake. By the same token, person D could stand to be a little less defensive, because it’s likely that person C doesn’t have all the information (because again we are learning how to communicate as a company). Also, people frequently don’t know if they are in situation one or two at the onset of a confrontation! Finally situation three, if it isn’t super important it can be nice to not make a decision until you have to. Spreadsheets exists to make decisions like this. That’s one of the things I did multiple times at my old company and it helped me get my Six Sigma Greenbelt in 2018. I mean situation three is basically peace in the middle east or nuclear weapons in emerging countries. However, going into situation one, two or three, if you think it might possibly be situation three then going in with humility is a good idea because it could be situation two and you are person C. Both person E and F would do well to go in with the attitude that he or she might be wrong and the other person might have a better idea about how to handle the situation. Unfortunately I see more of these three types of confrontations in the future for us. 

In short, despite the last paragraph, we’re actually in a pretty good place now, as a company overall. However because of a number of issues related to situations one, two and three above, I think we are at risk of several people leaving in 2020. In 2019 a total of six people left the company. Whatever the case, I did exercise my first batch of stock options so now I’m a part owner in the company too, roughly .01% to .02% of the company. I'm bullish for our future, and I expect that while 2019 was a year where we figured out things as a team, as humans who work with each other and about our culture, 2020 will be all about executing and delivering. We'll probably have another fund raising round after we hit a couple milestones, and I'm guessing it will be a big one which will take my stock options from valued at a small vacation in Colorado to a nicer used car.


I don’t want to talk about it. It was pretty bad. After getting over the pulmonary embolism, I broke my ankle and now I have a whole new appreciation for a sprained ankle because the ligaments healing (one is the deltoid ligament I forget the other one) is going so very slowly. I am at 677.7 miles run (and hiked) for the year. Just this month in December have I ran three days in a row and been able to do five mile runs consistently. I’m thinking about making it a 2020 goal to run 1800 miles (and that would including hiking miles too). That’s only five miles a day and I have been over 2000 miles for something like 15 years including a year high of 3640 miles.


From my perspective I basically didn’t push my limits at all. But that needs some clarification. I’ve done so much that between my sickness and injury it’s been hard to get to the point where I’m really going for it. I did lead a number of grade 3 ice climbing pitches and mock led a grade 4. In my mind, leading grade 4 ice is the clear next step for me. Also trad leading 5.10 is also on the list, which I have done before. It’s what I need to do to feel ready to go climb K2 or go to the Charakusa valley and do K7. The other skill I need to work on is steep skiing. There is a good argument that skiing is not necessary at all in mountaineering, but it opens up so many opportunities for easy access. I’m reading the biography of Voytek Kurtyka, and up through 1984 it doesn’t mention anything about skiing, but it talks a lot of deep snow, avalanche conditions, and some very slow progress at times when skis might have sped things along.

By the numbers, I climbed 17 Colorado 14ers for the first time and that leaves me only 9 to go, and I added maybe eight 13ers to the ticked list. I did Mt. Rainier in a day again, about 14.5 hours round trip and added on Mt. Hood two days later. I climbed Sharkstooth finally in RMNP, did a bunch of simple crag climbing, and did the third flatiron three times, twice just after work. I went ice climbing in Canada twice this year, and Mt. Murchison Falls is super cool I’d like to go do it again, but lead all of it next time. 

What’s on tap for 2020? Finish the Colorado 14ers, perhaps go climb and ski Mt. Robson in Canada in the spring, another Rainier trip, maybe Liberty Ridge finally, and there is a chance of a Pakistan trip, looks like Charakusa Valley is the most likely to do some technical rock climbing on 6000 meter peaks. (If you are interested let me know, I might be organizing the logistics and we have room for more people.) Plus the usual local weekend trips to places like Ouray.


Ugh, I’ll put this down because I get asked about it, frequently. I dated seven different women this year. That seems like a pretty big accomplishment for me, but I am confident that there are people who read this who have dated seven different people in one month. It’s a statistics game, looking for the one that can check a few boxes. To be fair to the all of the women I have ever dated, I’ve dated some pretty awesome women! As I think about the relationships that have been the most successful for me there are some themes that make me scratch my head, which I’m not going to put down in writing for the world to judge because my thoughts on them are like 'really?! that can't be a criteria or even a thing.'

Point being, it’s fascinating how I can sit across the table from a woman, an objectively awesome woman, and not really be attracted to her, and then be around a woman who is debatably awesome or perhaps even clearly radically different than me and I am totally enthralled. 

My dating has kind of hit the skids the last few months (I’m just not getting any dates despite a few swipes most days) and there is a part of me thinking that I just need to take more time off the apps and go climb and run more. But to be honest, I'd like to be in a romantic relationship at least for a little bit.


I had the best year I've ever had in terms of investment increase and net worth increase. Wow, I did so well in the stock market this year. I mean, basically everyone invested in index funds did too, the difference is that unlike in 2013 when we had this kind of massive year, I have a lot more money in the stock market now. In other words, my gains were almost triple my contributions for the year, and I contribute a lot. On that note, I bought a BMW X5 used from 2008 with 148,000 miles in cash. I finally have all wheel drive! And still I've never had a car loan.

This year I reached the point where I could potentially retire in a relatively undeveloped place, like Pakistan or Rwanda. Another way to put it is that I could not save any more for retirement, and at age 65, between the pension from my former employer, social security and my probable investment gains, I would be just fine. Of course, that's 32 years in the future, hard to say what is going to happen between now and then.

With this great increase comes guilt. Financial wealth is complicated, we hate people that have it, and yet we want to have it ourselves. I've dealt with my guilt by donating a little more to charities, like Give Directly, supporting a basic income experiment in Kenya. As I look forward to what my possible career looks like the next 30 years, and subsequent earnings, I feel it's not fair. Sure, I have worked hard, but not especially hard. Sure I have skills, but not especially extreme skills.

I realize talking about my fortunate financial situation makes people uncomfortable, but not talking about it, even in these abstract terms, confers advantages to those that already have wealth. In other words, there is essentially no limit on investment gains. I read a quote recently in the book "Born on Third" that essentially said, 'to turn $100 into $110 takes work and saving, but turning $100 million into $110 million is all but assured.' I've railed in the past that Bill Gates made something like $73 million in dividends from his John Deere stock in one year alone, for doing essentially no work, while the CEO made a mere $20 million. I will probably not make $20 million dollars in my whole life, let alone $73 million, let alone in one year, and my lifetime earnings are likely far higher than millions of Americans.

So, while I have honestly considered taking a vow of poverty for the next decade, moving to Pakistan, specifically the Hushe valley, and climbing mountains while living on a handful of dollars a day and being the only American or Christian within 500 miles nine months of the year, I'm staying and working. I do have some engineering talent, however minor. I'm paranoid that I would lose all of my wealth from a cyber attack (please more two factor authentication!) or an illness or injury. Plus, while I don't really understand how, I want to give back, even more than I am. Right now I essentially fund a small neighborhood, what's next a whole village? Maybe.

In other news…

Two family members died and one was actually a suicide, my sister was married, two of my climbing partners were married, a famous climber who was actually on the route beside me in Utah in November when I took a 30 foot fall died in a rappelling accident a few weeks after I saw him. I renewed my lease for another year. My parents moved in for three weeks with me while their new house was being built (that was rough). I will be losing my silver status on United because I don’t travel much for work any more. 

I’m not sure I will ever have a traditional job again after I leave my current company. Meaning when I do finally leave, hopefully many years in the future, I’ll likely start my own little company, buy a company, work some little part time or seasonal outdoor job, or who knows what. While it's nice to have the stability of being an employee, I'd like to try the adventure of building not just a product, but an organization.

My social circle has expanded a little to include a neighbor (like we actually hang out), a retiree from church who makes home cooked meals for me, and a random climber I met who was dirt bagging it until he ran out of money and moved to Boulder, among others such as new employees at work and my sister's friends. I'm quite happy with the size of my social circle, I get the sense some people aren't, especially after they move to a new place. That being said, I have a spare bedroom (with a bed) and I invite people to visit and stay a couple days so we can catch up in person.

Finally, as we go into 2020, and maybe head toward war with Iran (and I've hung out with Iranians on 8000 meter expeditions, they have always been very nice and generous to me), I'll leave you all with a Bible passage from 1 Corinthians 13, verses 4-7, that I read at my sister's wedding, because the world could use more love (and patience) and less hate (and self-seeking). 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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