5 Reasons I Wish I Had Found Yoga Sooner

Well, this blog is about life in Silicon Valley, and one thing you’ll find here is plenty of non-traditional sports activities like yoga. Over the last few years, I have evolved from being yoga-ignorant to a yoga dabbler and now a true yogi. Here’s what I wish I had known about yoga decades earlier.

  1. Yoga makes you really strong.

I always thought of yoga as a bunch of people sitting in a dark room saying, “ommmmm.” Yep, you do that once in a while. But you spend a lot of time building power in your core muscles. I’m almost as strong as I ever have been before, or at least since I quit gymnastics some time during the Ronald Reagan presidency. And this strength has helped me with many other activities (like lifting kids up off a ski slope or lugging stuff out of Costco).

  1. Yoga takes an approach to movement that works for lots of different sports.

Drishti, or focused gaze, controls balance and channels how you use your muscles. My skiing and even my swimming have gotten better with it. And even my work benefits from yoga’s practice of how to avoid distractions.

  1. Yoga reminds you to focus on one little thing at a time.

Many yoga classes ask you set an intention for the class. Your intention could be on a physical aspect of your practice or just something that you wish to concentrate on more. By setting an intention, I can really see the progress I’m making in that particular area. I used to do this in my dance classes as well. I need to learn how to do it in other parts of my life!

  1. Yoga doesn’t treat pain as a cost of playing.

I have reached the point in my life where I’m paying for my past sports with “no pain, no gain” mantras. In yoga, have made a lot of progress by focusing on what’s realistic for me and not on pushing it at any cost. Strangely, I never really thought of progress being so easy! And with its emphasis on the individual, it doesn’t matter if the person next to you is more flexible or more seasoned: Yoga helps you turn your attention inward to your own body.

  1. Yoga provides a reboot for the brain.

Yoga isn’t the only sport that I do that can rid me of the endless distractions of being a high tech marketer and mom. But it is a very effective one. It’s amazing how an hour can fly by without me noticing and how just a couple of minutes in Savasana (corpse pose) makes me feel as fresh as if I had a one-hour nap! In fact, I have learned that you can take a few minutes of meditation in the carpool line or while stuck in traffic on 101… (Shhh! It is not texting and driving.)

If you haven’t tried yoga before, there’s no time like the present to start practicing. Most of us were not fortunate enough to find it first, but the good news is that a yoga practice can stay in your life for a long, long time.

The Silicon Valley Economy, a History Told by Traffic

SF Traffic

Photo courtesy of George Miquilena via Creative Commons

Ah, traffic. I despise it. Not sitting in
it is one of the big benefits of working at home. That being said, I need to meet clients face-to-face at various points in time. So I find myself dealing with many traffic jams: sometimes ones with which I’m familiar, sometimes new forms of trafficular torture when I go to someone’s office for the first time or at a new time of day. I have lived in the Bay Area for most of my working life, and all the time I have been stuck in my car/ on BART/ sprinting to an office from the San Francisco Caltrain station has made me think about how well traffic tells the story of Silicon Valley.

1990’s: 101 or 280?

I spent parts of the mid 1990’s driving the 101 corridor on the Peninsula. As long as you didn’t go at peak rush hour, life wasn’t too bad. In 1997, I commuted from Belmont to E*TRADE in Palo Alto. I could leave home at 7:00 a.m. and zip down with only a minor slowdown where Dumbarton Bridge traffic hit 101. If it got to be 7:20 or 7:30, 280 was the only way to go. I would hit top speeds on the freeway until I had to weave my way down Sand Hill Road, through the Stanford campus, and all the way across Palo Alto. In spite of the traffic lights, the drive wasn’t too bad. Getting home usually wasn’t a big deal at all.

Dot Crazy

I moved to San Mateo in 2000, at the absolute peak of the dot com bubble. Sometimes it would take me 45 minutes to get to my job at high-flyer BroadVision (now considerably smaller company) – 9.3 miles away. It wasn’t just a choice of 101 or 280 (not the 101 or the 280, LA friends!). Now I had to consider whether El Camino Real would be faster, even with a traffic light every half mile or so. If El Camino was clogged, side streets could be the best option. Then the bubble burst, and by mid-2002 I was flying down 101 at 55 miles per hour to go do four people’s jobs.

Mid-2000’s: Slowly Building Steam

Traffic increased gradually from 2002-2007 as the economy recovered. I could feel the difference even from month to month, but more traffic was a welcome sign of less stressful times to come. My coworkers noticed too. We would joke about it how long it had taken to get home some night by saying, “Well, at least we know things are getting better.” Anyone who had survived Dot Bomb never wanted to see traffic get better so quickly again.

The Big Not Tech Recession

I wasn’t in my car very often during late 2007 to 2008 (infant twins will do that to you), but the big financial crash didn’t take all that many cars off the road. You had to plan ahead carefully, but travel times were predictable as long as you weren’t trying to go somewhere at peak times (or through the dreaded trip up 101 to San Francisco on a Friday night).

In 2009, I could do the 9 a.m. drive to my client near 101 and 237 in about 30 minutes. By 2010 when I had a client about five miles closer near Google, the same drive took about the same amount of time. By 2011, I had to leave about an hour later to get to the same client in the same amount of time. I could see things steadily getting more busy.

2015: Are We Really Any Better than LA?

I was a traffic change denier for a couple of years; I guess my working-at-home gig just made things too easy. Then I had a bunch of on-site activities that started creeping into peak commute hours, and the denial had to end. Worse yet, traffic—particularly on 101—has started to affect me at unpredictable times of the day. Now, 10 a.m. is still rush hour. 3 p.m. is too late to leave San Francisco and expect smooth sailing home. And if you have to drive through Burlingame and past the San Francisco Airport, you need to be ready to hit traffic no matter what time of day or night.

I spent two years driving up and down the 405 while I completed my MBA at the wonderful Anderson School at UCLA, and every week 101 reminds me of that time more and more.

Yesterday I got stuck in traffic heading south from SFO at 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday. Last week, I saw a lady driving a BMW 70 mph in the fast lane of 101 while putting on mascara. Lipstick at a stop light? Not out of the ordinary for the Bay Area. Mascara at 70? That’s a sign of desperate times. I’m waiting to see a man primping or combing his hair while driving, and then I’ll know that LA has arrived here.

What does your commute tell you about the economy? About life where you live?

The Four Personas of Project-Management-Phobes, and How a Technophile Like Me Can Help Them

I just finished a really hectic product launch, so project management has been on my mind a lot. When you think of a well-executed marketing campaign, I’m sure that beautiful creative, clever messaging, or quirky tactics are the things that come to mind. But good project management is the secret ingredient that brings all that stuff together in the right place at the right time. Don’t underestimate its importance!!

On a typical day, I might have as many as 30 smaller projects—and a few big ones—going on for 2-4 different client companies. The success of my business depends on meeting a bunch of constantly moving milestones. How do I keep it all straight in my head? Project management software.

There are several good cloud-based solutions out there. My personal choice is Wrike, but I have also heard great things about Clarizen. Here’s what I like about Wrike:

  1. It’s super easy to start using. At its most basic, you can just keep a running list of tasks, responsible parties, and due dates. As you get more advanced, you can manage dependencies, organize tasks in folders so you can duplicate similar projects, manage workloads, and more.
  2. It takes no time at all to create Gantt charts that really impress my clients. For example, here is the process of being a team parent for an AYSO soccer team. This took me 10 minutes to build, and now I’m all set for next season!

Project Plan for Soccer Mom

  1. It sends friendly little emails to my clients, summarizing the tasks that they need to do (or should have already done).
  2. When tasks slip, your delivery dates get updated in 10 milliseconds.
  3. I got a lot of practice using Wrike thanks to one client, and one who is even more organized than I am!!

And here’s the tough part: Getting my clients to use Wrike effectively. A few of them see the value immediately and jump on board. The majority are much slower to warm. I would segment these project-management-phobes into the following personas:

  • The Hurry-Up Offense: “We’re all too busy to take the time reviewing a schedule. It will just get out of date anyway.”
  • The Compulsive Procrastinator: “What schedule? I have 1,000 unread emails to deal with first. Can you send me some more?”
  • The Committed Artist: “Nothing should stand in the way of creation.”
  • The Unwavering Denier: “There is no due date. Is there?”

Of course, there’s a comeback for everyone:

  • Project management allows the Hurry-Up Offense to operate like Peyton Manning, doing more in the same amount of time because they have the playbook down pat.
  • Procrastinators can delete all of the emails discussing the parameters of the task and have one place to go for all of that information, when they decide at the last minute to get going.
  • Artists can maximize their creative freedom because they know exactly when their backs will be against the wall (or up on the ceiling).
  • Deniers … OK, there’s no hope for them.

The reality: Whether or not my clients embrace project management, there’s a big reason I’m willing to pay $49 month to have it. It cuts down on the number of brain cycles I have to use remembering what I need to do when. It eliminates loads of time spent looking for emails and documents or flipping between individual project spreadsheets. (Clients: Don’t you wonder how I’m able to bother you about a specific issue or deliverable at a specific point in time?) And it clears my mind to do more valuable, revenue-generating work.

But how do I get more people to see the light? Project management vendors, I’d love to hear from you…

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!!!

Another View on HBO’s Silicon Valley: Is This Really What the World Thinks of Us?

Last week, I got a chance to watch the first episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley (on HBO Go, of course). More than anything, I was curious to see how the show would portray the work environment that has filled up much of my world for the last decade and a half. And just like my pal and fellow blogger Sarah Kling, I wasn’t sure I’d like what I saw.

My first reaction was based on the extremes – and how people outside of the tech industry would perceive them. The tech haters have had a pretty loud voice in the Bay Area lately, and I personally don’t want to see the tension get worse because of caricatures in a television show.

Besides the dorky, “navel-gazing” coders (Sarah’s words) and the strange lack of women, several things stuck out to me about the environment portrayed in the show:

  • The extravagant parties: I have been to some, but not since the first dot com bubble.  And it turns out that Mike Judge, the series creator, based the party scene in the first episode on an event that also took place during that earlier era.
  • The toe-sock wearing executive: I saw that once in a corporate setting.
  • The cynical coworkers at Hooli: Those people show up in my life from time to time, although the way they are portrayed in Silicon Valley reminded me that Mike Judge is the same guy whom we can thank for Office Space.
  • The stocked corporate kitchen: Yeah, that is real…
  • The incomprehensible, jargon-filled language: Something that I hear almost every day.

“Yes, we’re disrupting digital media, but most importantly we’re making the world a better place through constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility.”

What?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????But the underlying pulse of the story—and I couldn’t figure out exactly how to describe it until I heard Mike Judge being interviewed on Fresh Air—is that the smell of money is everywhere, peppered lightly with statements about making the world a better place. Is that how we really live?

We hear all the time about how the rich in this country have gotten a lot richer while the lower and middle classes have seen their real incomes/ buying power go down. In Silicon Valley tech, insane valuations are here again – crazier than ever. Super-wealth is pretty visible if you live in the Valley itself. The person who got into Google at the right time might live next door to someone else who didn’t – until he buys a big house in Atherton. Even if the “have-nots” are way better off than the “average” person in many other industries and geographies, it’s hard for the smell not to float over to those of us who work, commute, try to save for our retirement and kids’ college, and have the nerve to go on a ski trip in Tahoe.

But here’s another view, which came to me as I ready fellow blogger Kylee Hall’s recent post:

“I, admittedly, have been following the carrot quite a bit since I left that first company–all in search for the next big payout that will give me that long-term security.”

In our world (and most other Americans’), you can’t count on having the same job for more than a few years. You can’t count on anyone else paying for your retirement. But here in Silicon Valley, some people have found the path to long-term security: the tech equity/ buyout machine. And that seems like something that is in our control, if not in our grasp. It’s different, and could seem obnoxious if you don’t have that control in your own life.

So what does all of this have to do with Silicon Valley the show? I think that Mike Judge is trying to create characters, not caricatures. Individuals with exaggerated personality traits and faults that are magnified by an environment soaked in money and success. (And in trying to make the world a better place – which, even if it sounds corny, I think a lot of people in Silicon Valley are genuinely trying to do. Take a peek at my friend Jack Kingsley’s latest Habitat for Humanity build in Cambodia—his 12th—for one example.) But what the non-Silicon Valley world will most likely see is the caricatures of money-driven nerds, pot-smoking capitalists, and people who like to hear themselves talk. The real Silicon Valley Tales will have a much harder time getting out.

 

Dilemma of the Self-Employed: Will I Ever Be Able to Work for the (Wo)Man Again?

This fall will mark the 10th anniversary of my business, Giant Stride Marketing Group. I’m part of the huge, virtual shadow army of Silicon Valley: the consultants and contractors that bring in their expertise for a project or to help a company get off the ground the right way.

I am typically engaged with three, four, and sometimes six companies at a time, and I bring in other parts of the army so that my clients get the fastest, best business results at the lowest possible cost. This model has become business as usual for a lot of my clients and their Silicon Valley competitors, but once in a while I remember that it’s the front edge of a huge wave that’s changing the global economy.

I can’t believe that I have been at this for almost 10 years. I have NEVER done any one thing for 10 years. So it’s not surprising that once in a while I ask myself if there’s a point in time when I should start thinking about taking the job calls that are still coming my way.

Take-Plunge

The big pluses of being a consultant:

  • Every client brings new learning and new ways of doing things. It’s very rare for me to be bored.
  • The money can be quite good if you’re disciplined and play your cards right.
  • Flexibility and flexibility. Don’t get me wrong; I have lots to do. But when I do it and how I do it is totally up to me.  Or not do things and go on a long vacation instead. ( Like the one in the photo to the Cayman Islands)

But of course there are minuses too:

  • With the flexibility comes responsibility. And responsibility means doing whatever it takes to get a project done, often at the expense of sleep and personal time.
  • To keep the revenue flowing, you always have to be selling. And the critical time to do it is when your project is at its peak.
  • The mix of work I do is often much different than what I would do if I were still an employee. I know of at least one fellow consultant who went back to the W-2 side of the house just for that reason.
  • With some notable exceptions, I typically don’t build the same kind of relationships with my clients that I had with my co-workers. (Good thing many of my former co-workers are still in my life and are often clients. J)
  •  And no matter how disciplined you are, the consulting life brings some level of financial uncertainty. From unpredictable forecasts to slow months, last-minute project cancellations, tardy payments, and even bad debt scares, I have seen a lot.
  • I am a tough boss. Maybe the toughest.

For now, the balance of pluses and minuses is still weighing heavily into the consultant camp for me. I love being in the shadow army. It isn’t for everyone, but if it works it can work very, very well. 🙂

Giant-Stride-logo

2014: A New Year with Resolutions for Home and Work

Christmas on a Wednesday puts Silicon Valley into the uncharacteristic state: two very slow weeks. All of my high tech clients were running at full speed in December. Projects hit a crescendo around the 12th when people realized just how little time they had in 2013, and then they crash landed just as school let out on the 20th. Luckily, those eight days were followed by an unprecedented calm.

In my case, I got 10+ days of family time, exercise time, house cleaning time, accounting time, and of course football time (which has become even more fun now that my six year-old will curl up with me on the couch, ask questions about the rules, and calculate the number of ways that a team can score 26 points). Go Niners!!

new-year-champagne

With ample time on my hands (for once), I reflected on my life a bit and made some New Year’s resolutions. While my aim was personal, I realized that my resolutions could be applied almost as well to my client relationships and my clients’ businesses.

Resolution #1: Invest the time in better family communication

When you’re rushing to get a bunch of people out the door in the morning or rushing to get a campaign or product into the market, it’s tempting to under-communicate, then repeat yourself or re-hash the same discussion over and over, and finally YELL. (Or worse yet, give people the silent treatment.) Families and teams aren’t always on the same page, even when they think they are. And communication really does take a commitment.

At work, I find that using a project management system really helps. Even in my technophile client base, only about half of my clients can actually make the jump. But when they do, it’s so much easier to set expectations, manage priorities, and keep everyone in the loop.

At home, this resolution seems to require even more attention. Sticker charts don’t always stick, and other methods are hard to apply consistently. Nothing seems to work the same at different times in the day. Maybe I need to get everyone on a home project management app!

Resolution #2: Live healthier

Pretty straightforward at home: eat better food, cook more from scratch, and exercise more. Less straightforward at work but equally important: do the research to make data-driven decisions, inject creativity into every task, and get the most marketing output from every input. Living healthier isn’t about the destination; it’s about the journey.

Resolution #3: Slow down and smell the coffee, even if just for a minute

The technology is ridiculously fast-paced. Sometimes I think about what my life must look like from my children’s eyes. So different from what my parents’ lives were like when I was a kid, and so different from what should be normal for a human being. It’s too easy to get caught in a work spiral that ends in burnout. But I think if I can find a way to step back for a minute once in a while, I’ll remember how much fun my job is!!

So wish me luck in keeping my resolutions for another 359 days.