July is for Bicycling

Perhaps this is not an issue for everybody but, I tend to get incredibly distracted during the month of July. And this year has been worse than most. For many years now, I have had a ‘thing’ for bicycling. The ‘thing’ means that I crave getting outside and cycling through the hills and dales of the bay area. It’s my preferred method of exercise and it also aids in keeping my psychological outlook rosy. July is a busy mother for cycling fans for several reasons, the first being that the grandest bicycle race of them all, Le Tour de France happens in July. The second is the lesser known, non-professional, crazy, week-long ride across Iowa, RAGBRAI, happens the third week of July. And for masochist cyclists in California, the Death Ride is held in the Sierras.
Le Tour, as they call it in Europe, is a three week long bike race that takes place mainly in France (hence the name). It is a legendary race that includes the very best teams and riders in professional cycling. Think of an event similar in magnitude to the Superbowl, for 23 days in a row, that is Le Tour. These riders race every day in all types of terrain and in all types of weather and the winner comes in with the least amount of time to complete all 23 stages. It is like a soap opera on wheels – with larger than life personalities, drug abuse, bloody crashes, and drama with a capital ‘D’. Alongside that are the die-hard physical feats of riding over 100 miles every day, sometimes climbing multiple mountain passes in the Alps and the Pyrenees. This is all on TV by the way – and I somehow am compelled to record and watch every stage no matter what else is going on in my life. Many nights I fall asleep on the couch trying to get through a stage. This problem is compounded by work projects and my own bike riding, which this year posed a significant challenge.
That’s because this year I was training for one of the other July events, the California Death Ride. I’m not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to participate in this ride – but I got signed up and eventually realized I had to do some extensive training to get in shape. The ride is 129 miles long and climbs 5 mountain passes: Monitor, Ebbetts and Carson pass in the Sierra Nevadas (you climb both sides of Monitor and Ebbetts). This ride ends up being about 55 miles of climbing at altitudes between 6000 and 9000 feet. It is representative of a stage in Le Tour, which should have been a siren of warning that it might be an extremely difficult ride. I needed to find the time to be on my bicycle every day to climb, climb, and then climb some more. This was extremely problematic with holding down a 24-hour a day high-tech job and all the travel that comes with said job (since January I have logged 60,000 miles flying the friendly skies). It just adds to the frustration of working in high-tech that I can’t find enough time to train for something like this. But I digress. So when Le Tour began, I was traveling and then preparing to head up to the mountains with my Father and riding partner in tow. Needless to say, I’m not sure the altitude adjustment worked very well, and on the day of the ride I felt like I worked harder than I ever had on any of my training climbs. And, no, it did not help to pretend that I was a professional riding a tour stage, but like the tour, the scenery was fabulous. In the end, the mountains beat me – as I decided to throw in the towel after climbing two passes (both sides of Monitor).
The other distracting bicycle event in July is RAGBRAI: Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Yes, Iowa is a state – hard to believe but true, it’s right in the middle of the country (in case you learned your geography at a California public school). Anyway, this ride has a different route every year, but the concept is the same, dip your bike wheels in the Missouri River at the start, and end by dipping your tires in the mighty Mississippi. It’s generally between 400 and 500 miles during 7 days of riding. This is one of the oldest organized bike rides in the country, been going strong for 43 years now. There about 10,000 cyclists that participate from all over the USA and probably some from other countries too. I have done the ride 7 times – I think. Sometimes you don’t want to remember your RAGBRAI week, especially when the temps are in the 90’s every day along with the humidity! This ride is all about fun though – unless you are really competitive. People form teams and decorate their bikes and themselves – some past teams we’ve seen include Team TuTu, Team Bad Monkeys, the Donner Party (their motto is we eat the slow ones), and so on. I had an encounter one year with a man who wore a bandolier of lipsticks, and was approaching the ladies to provide them with lip protection and also to have them kiss his white t-shirt … Needless to say a completely different atmosphere than the Death Ride, where people are anxious to make cut-off times. I did not ride this year, but I did happen to find myself in Iowa at the end of RAGBRAI week and watching the local news teams reporting from the last few overnight towns.
In the end July becomes a lost month for me – too much focus on the bike and too little focus on work. It makes me wish that adults had summer vacation. In closing, I highly recommend that you pump up those tires and get on your bike and ride – it is a guaranteed stress reducer, and we all could use some time off of the clock!

How to do it… Founding a start-up

How to do it… Founding a start-up

When your personal frustration and that great idea just becomes the natural place your brain goes during its “down-time,” you’re ready to become a founder.

I’ve been there and done that, and have developed and progressed several ideas into software apps and hopeful businesses over the years. Just ask me about being at startups like SugarCRM, or designing Perfect Gift, or launching BenchPick. I have a track record that can cover the gamut of completion and success – which I’m lucky to have done.

Recently, I’ve been asked about how to develop a business out of a software idea, so I’ve put together this infographic that makes founding a software company more manageable. May it help you understand that every step focuses around a validation as to what your customer needs, and less so about the “great idea” ownership.

Also one other very important note: ANY step that you complete on your founder journey is an AMAZING feat. Most people don’t have the courage to fail, or the motivation to truly succeed. Good luck, and people like me are here to cheer you on while you incubate an idea into a fundable business plan.

Steps that will get you to incubate an idea and turn it into a fundable business plan.

Steps that will get you to incubate an idea and turn it into a fundable business plan.

Five Parallels Between Running a Silicon Valley Consulting Business and Riding the Tour de France

It’s Tour de France season again. My DVR is humming at 4 a.m. most days. Evening hours are disappearing as I attempt to squeeze in hours of bike racing in the small tidbits of time that remain after work, kids, housework, and exercise. But watching these amazing athletes operating at peak form – sometimes succeeding, sometimes having to abandon in excruciating pain – got me thinking about the ways that this extreme sport and resembles running a consulting business in Silicon Valley.CLA_IMG

1. You have to start the race in peak form.

After all, the service you’re offering is you. Prospective clients are looking for someone whose skills are sharp and who has the mental fitness to start every project at sprinting pace.

2. Consistency is of the essence.

Just as with 21 long stages of racing, you can’t just shine on one project or in one market. Clients need to be able to count on a quality product every time they call on you, and as they themselves move from job to job,

3. The peleton is moving at an incredible speed.

There are a few pockets of calm and sanity in Silicon Valley, but most companies move at the speed of 100 guys drafting off each other down a French country road, sometimes with the Mistral at their backs. Consultants have the added complication of jumping back and forth between multiple pelotons going slightly different directions and with slightly different rules of the road. You had better be ready to sprint hard, eat lunch while riding 70 kilometers per hour (sorry, Contador), and leave everything on the road.

4. Crashes can happen at any time.

Life in Silicon Valley companies isn’t predictable. Reorgs hit; acquisitions happen; and funding doesn’t materialize when it’s supposed to. As a consultant, you have to keep both eyes on the course and keep the bike moving no matter what affects it.

5. When you’re climbing the mountain, you sure can’t afford to crack.

It’s uncanny how everyone needs your services at the same time. You need fitness, stamina, and lots of determination. Without all of those three, your business will suffer or your family will (or both).

5. The scenery is awesome.

It’s absolutely breathtaking to ride against the backdrop of some of the fastest innovation that the world has ever seen. And consultants are in a position to see the forest through the trees.

So back on the bike!!!

Cars – They Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To

We just got our first personalized license plate, well my husband did, and asked me after the fact if it was okay. “LASTGAS”. As in this will probably be our last gas-powered car. I don’t necessarily think that in 5 years, roughly when we’re in the market again, electric powered cars will have over-taken the market…but there will certainly be a lot more of them and even more advances made.

Our soon to come license plate

Between us, my husband is the one that’s down right giddy over electric cars (rather the Tesla in particular) and perhaps I could be considered more of a fast follower. I’m all for less dependence on foreign oil and treating the environment better. I also don’t think that the needed charging infrastructure is going to be a problem – it’s going to happen. This is just a simple anecdote, but the new Target store by our house has at least 20 parking spots with charging stations, and oh what a nice excuse that would be to shop more than usual.

I should also mention here that we have Google’s driver-less cars on the horizon. It was just a few years ago when I first heard about their side project, and I can clearly remember how skeptical I was, almost incredulous. No way would Americans give up their God-given right to drive. I mean our obsession with how a car makes us “look” had to have begun just a few moments after the Model T went into production. Cars, for the vast majority of people, have never been about getting to from point A to point B. We choose them to represent our personalities or the persona we want to be. Sporty? Get a Subaru Outback or Toyota 4-Runner. Stylish? BMW. SUV on a budget? Get a Cherokee. Got lots of kids? How about the Honda Odyssey. Even if you don’t want a showy car, and you’re the sensible I-don’t-really-care-about-cars type, there is a car for that. (The Camry or Corolla right?)

So what will it say about the state of America when that’s gone, when getting inside a car and shutting the door is now ONLY about getting to Point B? We will have come a long way baby. But I’m not incredulous anymore. I am definitely starting to see how it could happen. I’ve seen so many different industry disruptions happen in the last 10 years than any point of my life and I think that momentum is only going to continue. This may sound like a trivial reason, but our smartphones might be why we all finally accept driver-less cars. How many of you text and drive? I hate it but I’m raising my hand right now. I’m mean we’re all a bunch of multi-tasking maniacs. If there’s any idle moment, like the grocery store line, our mind kicks into gear and says “Oh did that guy ever email me back about so-and-so?” “I better check Facebook to see if Trish had her baby yet!”.

We will no longer feel guilty about that! We can no longer cause road accidents because of that. The reason I love my new commute, which is by ferry, is because my hands are not on a steering wheel – I can do whatever I want…text, read email, read a book, call Mom. One day all that can happen in our personal cars!

Also, I just went on vacation. Driving on vacation sucks because you’re so reliant on a map. Missing a turn becomes a 10 minute mistake. I would have LOVED a driver-less car on vacation, guided by an intelligent mapping system void of emotions and bad short term memory.

When cars become less about your identity and more about getting to Point B, we might also be more open to carpooling. Driver-less cars will be these super computers with wheels, so it’s easy to imagine a Carpool app on your phone (similar to Uber) that picks you up first and then the perfect 1 or 2 others looking to go to the same area. You don’t even need to own the driver-less car, it could be a Zipcar picking everybody up.

One last thought that hit me while writing this – our kids will never own a gas powered car. And it’s even possible they’ll never get a drivers license or drive cars. Today our children don’t recognize a dial tone, in fact my four year old just overheard me say I needed to make a phone call and she asked “What’s a phone call?” I guess FaceTime is more her speed. Our two year old frustratingly tried to pinch and zoom the viewport of our SLR camera. Times are a changin’. And even if I might be incredulous at first, I always come around.

Who has time for hobbies?

I really shouldn’t be complaining because some of my fellow bloggers are parents and have the extra responsibility of raising a family let alone trying to maintain a full-time job. But, I still have my days where I wonder how I can fit anything else in.

I get up at 5:30; out the door by 6:30; in the office by 7:30; work; work; work; gym; back in the car at 6:30; home at 7:30; eat; go to sleep; rinse; repeat. While I’m a creature of habit, quite frankly it’s depressing when your days become so predictable.

There’s always the thought that maybe one day I’ll find a career I’m passionate about and that “work, work, work” part of my day won’t feel like such a drain. That inspiration might not hit for some time though.

I found myself at a bit of a crux over the holiday weekend feeling the need to pick up some kind of a hobby—something outside of the day-to-day that engages parts of my brain left atrophied by thousands of hours sitting in front of a computer.

I’ve always had a penchant for music. In 1st grade, I played in a violin concert. In my heyday of college, I was a DJ on the local radio station playing Motown. In more recent years, you can sometimes find me at The Mint in SF belting out Tina Turner’s Proud Mary. So I figure I must have some musical talent.

Sarcasm aside, I decided I wanted to pick up an instrument as a potential hobby to try and vary my daily routine. With my loving and supportive husband in tow, I bought an instrument over the holiday weekend. I’m now the proud owner of a white on white Fender Stratocaster. Admit it, I look like a natural.

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I’m only a few days in and I’ve already learned a lot. For example, learning to play the guitar without any prior knowledge or know-how is hard. On the plus side, the hour or so of my day when I’m sitting there strumming the two chords I’ve learned, my brain can actually disengage from work. It’s amazing. I’m hoping I can stick with this because I think this hobby—or any hobby for that matter—is going to be extremely therapeutic. In the near future, I hope to follow up with a blog about my first gig. . .or potentially a listing on Craigslist for a used guitar.