Last year when I turned 43 I wrote an introspective post, and I thought this year I would do the same.
Here are some things that I have learned, re-learned, and generally had on my mind as this year comes to a close. This is a long read, and there is no TLDR; – sorry.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a workaholic. I work a lot, and I work a lot more than I don’t work.
Through the years I’ve struggled to achieve work/life balance, but in the last few years I have finally managed to turn things around.
It started with a simple realization that in order to accomplish more at work I need more time outside of work.
Next, I began to understand that the causes of stress and bad decisions are lack of schedule and lack of exercise.
Now, by putting everything on the calendar, including family time, exercise, all projects, tasks, and meetings, I am able to accomplish a lot more at work and at home, while continuing to improve my physical and mental state.
I am now an investor in 55 startups, and every single day I am humbled to be a part of this founder’s journey. Hands down, running Techstars NYC has been THE most incredible experience of my entire life.
My goal is to become a better investor. To reach my goal, I am constantly trying to learn, analyze how I am doing, and figure out what I can do to improve.
I am thinking a lot about the importance of a founding team and resilient founders. I am thinking a lot about founder-market fit. I ask myself questions like, “Why this founding team going after this specific problem?” “What experience do they have in the space?” “What unique insights drove them to start the business?”
On the other hand, once we make the investment, I am ALL IN.
We get behind Techstars founders and stick with them 100%, no matter what. Through the pivots, founder breakups, tough fundraising, lack of growth, rainy days and sunny days, my goal is to be there for the founders.
As I evolve as an investor, I realize that my strength is empathy.
I understand what founders are going through because I was a founder myself. The struggle is real and ongoing. Understanding what it is like INSIDE the struggle makes a big difference.
It is this empathy, this understanding combined with always being there for the founders when they need you, and being their biggest cheerleader that helps establish the trust and relationship.
Elon Musk is incredibly inspirational to me.
During the Recode interview, Elon was asked about his plan to go to Mars. His response – complete architecture for colonizing Mars to be unveiled soon.
Elon’s response caused laughter and sarcasm, and that rubbed me the wrong way.
Elon is a genius. When genius isn’t understood, it isn’t because it is wrong, it is because the rest of us need to learn more before we can understand.
Having a clear plan is a good idea whether you are launching an app, or opening a restaurant. It is certainly a good idea when you are going to Mars!
Another person that I’ve come to really admire this year is Tim Ferriss.
Tim has created something truly special. In the age where being intellectual is kind of unsexy, and true knowledge is few and far between, Tim’s show is a true feast for the mind.
The breadth and depth of his knowledge and that of his guests is incredible. Tim has an infectious, limitless appetite for information. He is moving fluently between atoms and stars, between micro and macro, and no subject or detail is left behind.
Tim also is exceptionally disciplined and fearless. He is a perfectionist to the core, and a rare bread of a teacher, who generously shares every bit of his knowledge with everyone.
And lastly, this year I’ve come to admire and love A16Z podcasts.
The quality of information and the range of the subjects is exceptional. For investors and techies, A16Z has become THE source for VR, cryptocurrency, AI, sales strategies, stock options, hiring, and tons of other subjects.
But what impresses me the most about A16z is that Marc, Brad, Chris, Ben, and the rest of the crew are humble and relentless students of history. Every single episode is full of data and patterns that the partnership extracts from the past.
One of the top venture firms in the world realized that to imagine the future, to make money in the future, one has to be a student of the past.
I am a massive science nut, or at least I used to be.
I spent my twenties reading about complex systems, physics, genetics, and neuroscience. During those days I learned that the universe is wonderful, and much weirder than we can ever imagine.
This year, I read a book called Life on the Edge that made a big impact on me.
In a nutshell, the book focuses on the role that quantum mechanics plays in biology. Biological organisms are largely thought of as mechanical systems subject to Newtonian laws. Not so, argues the book.
The author shows how every system inside the human body, and most importantly our brains, are influenced by quantum mechanics.
The implications are that we have deeper connections to the universe. We are one step closer to a scientific explanation of things that seem like magic.
The universe is even weirder and even more wonderful than we can imagine.
It would be impossible for anyone who knows my grandfather to not respect him.
He is a person of exceptional breadth, depth of knowledge, and just all-around massive intellect. A voracious reader with encyclopedic knowledge, he is an engineer, an inventor, a truly kind person, and an inspirational human being.
For the past 3 years or so, my grandpa has been deteriorating. This gradual, humiliating decline is terrifying, cruel, and impossible to fathom.This year in particular has been tough for our family because my grandpa, after several falls, can no longer live by himself.
It is heartbreaking to lose a friend, an intellectual partner, someone with whom I’ve had thousands of conversations about everything since I was born. The loss is way more painful because, at the age of 91, he is still here, with us.
His life reminds me of the movie Memento. While he remembers us, he has short-term memory loss, and as a result he can’t really form new memories, or carry out long conversations.
To observe one of the most magnificent minds I’ve known deteriorate like that is scary. Nothing can truly prepare you for this experience, and it is particularly agonizing, because as humans we hope.
We hope that one day he will get better and we will have a thousand conversations about everything again, but that’s not going to happen.
When I turned 40, my wife bought me a grill, and I fell in love with the simple joys of cooking. Over the last 3 years, cooking has become one of my favorite hobbies, and has become my creative outlet.
I think I have gotten pretty good at it – my kids, my wife, and my family and friends seem to enjoy the food that I make.
But something else has happened over the past 3 years that is far more important than a perfectly grilled piece of chicken or mushroom.
I became more mindful of what we eat and where it comes from.
As I became more mindful, I also become more angry. Why is it that people in Paris can enjoy fresh, amazingly tasty ingredients while we in America accept bland, processed food full of chemicals?!
My anger grew throughout the year, but it wasn’t until I serendipitously ran into my former boss Jeff Holden, that I fully connected all the dots in my head.
Jeff, by the way, is another insanely smart person that I am lucky to know. He was an early employee at Amazon, and is now a Chief Product Officer at Uber.
During the course of our intense conversation, Jeff told me that he has become a vegan and recommended that I read How Not to Die.
Over the next couple of weeks, I read the book How Not to Die, a bunch of related articles, and I watched “Cooked” and “Forks Over Knives” on Netflix.
I’ve now been vegan for about 8 weeks, and I feel amazing. I absolutely love it.
Here is why this is the right choice in my head:
In the US, we spend a ton of money on healthcare, and a ton of money on crappy processed food. We are spending money on the wrong things.
The top 3 causes of death in the US are heart attack, various cancers, and dementia. All are scientifically proven to be caused by poor diet.
To put it simply, by eating processed foods and sugars we are clogging our pipes. We are also literally KILLING the planet.
What really stuck with me is the quote from Hippocrates – the father of modern medicine. He said, “Let the food be your medicine.” Doh!
As I peeled back the history it became clear that after the second world war, the food industry engineered a campaign to invade our kitchens. Methodically and gradually, using disgusting scare tactics, the food industry shamed American mothers into pre-cooked meals and started the snowball effect of processed foods.
Everything about the way we eat in America is backwards.
Instead of having a ton of local farms that deliver fresh, chemical-free ingredients, we choose cheap crap that makes us fat and dumb, and literally kills us.
And that is not all.
We have lost the simple art of home cooking.
We made a terrible tradeoff to pay others to cook our food. We decided that it is more important to spend 2 extra hours at work than to spend the time in the kitchen preparing our meal.
We made an economic choice, but it was the wrong choice.
We gain economically in the short term, because someone else cooks our food, but we lose dollars in the long term on healthcare, and more importantly, we are shortening our life span.
In the last 6 weeks, even more than in the last 3 years, I’ve come to appreciate the work and the joy of cooking at home.
Making a meal from scratch using greens, grains, and other natural ingredients, and then eating this meal with your family is an AMAZING experience.
It is also very time consuming and laborious.
This experience makes me truly appreciate what my mom and grandmothers had to do every day, and what my wife does for our family every day.
It makes me think about where the food comes from, it makes me think about chemicals, farmers, and truck drivers.
Cooking at home makes me truly mindful, and with that comes a piece of mind, empathy, and gratefulness.
Engineer, Immigrant. Vegan. 3x Founder, Managing Partner @2048vc. Previously ran @techstars in NYC. I write #startuphacks: http://alexiskold.net .