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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Acknowledging Others – Week 1

Posted by direwolff on April 13, 2005

Andy SackI've never been satisfied with myself or my achievements, and blogging has been no exception to this lack of self fulfillment. I'm working at not being so hard on myself for everything I do, but no matter how good I get at anything, as soon as I see someone else doing it better, a shadow comes over me and I feel unaccomplished. During the time I've stayed away from blogging, part of this was spent reading books on writing. All in hopes of improving my skills in that domain, but like anything it requires practice and it's important to keep at it. So I continue my attempts. I've also been reading on how to be more forgiving of myself, hopefully translating this into an ability to gain more empathy for others. Not sure what's been harder, learning to write again, learning to be more forgiving of myself and others, or learning to throw backside 360 kiteloops while kitesurfing in the SF Bay. Suffice it to say, they all have their challenges.

Tonight I decided to catch up on some blog reading of people that I enjoy keeping up with, mostly because I know them and can relate to their comments in a more familiar way. While doing so, a particular posting struck a chord of truth with me and given another of my shortcomings (not acknowledging others enough, related to the empathy problem), I decided to follow his lead. The blogger I'm referring to is Andy Sack, the founder and CEO of Judy's Book, a start-up based in Seattle, WA focused on enabling people to share their recommendations on service providers. Andy is a veteran entrepreneur, having founded Firefly which was acquired by Microsoft (some time after Andy had left), then founding abuzz which was acquired by the New York Times.

In a recent posting he talks about "acknowledgements", and specifically acknowledging others. This gave me the warm and fuzzies. I have found it so easy to downplay other people's accomplishments or to point out their weaknesses, and only recently realizing the direct relationship this has to my own self loathing. Hell, when you're good at putting yourself down, it gets pretty easy to see the worse in every one else too.

Well tonight I start dedicating at least one blog posting per week (even if it's my only posting for the week) to acknowledging people in a meaningful way. Since Andy's posting was so inspiring, I'll start with him.

Andy and I do not know each other very well, and while we've met a few times and ran into each other at a few conferences, have never really spent much quality time. We first met during my days at First Virtual Holdings Inc. (FVHI) in San Diego, the first payment systems company on the Internet in 1994. Andy had already left Firefly and had started abuzz, which had developed a collaborative filtering platform. Because one of the angels in FVHI was somewhat affiliated with Andy, we had been in discussions about our companies entering into some relationship that would enable FVHI to leverage the abuzz technology. While no business was ever transacted as a result of these discussions, I found Andy to be very articulate and smart about the space. More importantly to me at the time, was the enthusiasm and drive that he conveyed and appeared to be carried by.

Being that we were both east coasters, I also suspect that his communication style was very comforting to me, as it generally is with other east coasters, especially when getting together out west. He seemed confident, and generally interested in the discussions and information he was sharing with us during the half-day meetings we ended up having. His style was also very engaging and humble.

While I kept up with abuzz's progress in the trade rags, I didn't see Andy again for several years, until after I had already moved on to becoming VP of Biz Dev at Impulse! Buy Network. Like abuzz, Impulse! had Softbank VC as one of its early stage investors. It was at the annual Softbank Technology Ventures Conference in '97 or '98 that I ran into Andy after abuzz had been acquired by the New York Times. I was happy to see him because here was this smart guy and "I knew him when…" :-) He was an entrepreneur with lots of promise who had embarked on an auspicious venture and had reached an important liquidity event after having started with nothing. He was living my dream.

Needless to say, when I saw him he was all smiles, and for good reason. He had beaten the odds. Sure, many people will say that it was easy to get funded and exit prior to the bubble, but the fact remains that there were many more failed start-ups than there were successful ones. It took perseverance and a genuinely good idea and product to make it through the morass of bad ideas. Today, abuzz is still a technology within the N.Y. Times and they are beginning to leverage it in several applications. In my recent conversations with them, they speak very fondly of Andy. Andy had done good.

Most recently, I ran into Andy at the Kelsey Group's Interactive Local Media 2004 Conference in Jersey City near NYC in the first week of November. He was on a panel with Mark Pincus, one of Tribe Networks' founders. It was good to catch up with Andy in person as I had only recently discovered his blog and had been keeping up with his travails with his new start-up and finding out that he had moved to Seattle and was getting to like it, (though not initially).

As always, when we had a chance to spend some time chatting, he was very honest and forthcoming about the challenges he was facing and his feelings on where the space was heading. All this while confessing that he knew that there was still lots to figure out. This was a true reflection of his humility and intense focus on figuring out the business. Andy blogs pretty frequently, even if it's a couple of lines to tell us about his day, but it's always refreshing to read because these insights have helped me realize that we all go through regular days with regular challenges and feelings that we are not so unique afterall. He also provides insights into some of his thoughts on running his early stage company, and that's been very useful as well. Reading his posts has helped me think about my own challenges.

Anyway, all I can say here tonight is that it's been great keeping up with Andy and participating in his life vicariously. He's a good egg and I thank him for sharing with the rest of us.

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