Enough?

2013 Annual Report

chickenhavingfun

Never has a full year report been more accurately named. I tried to squeeze a lot in.

There were lots of exhausting but invigorating adventures…

I completed three of the Great Walks, without putting on tramping boots. We paddled the Whanganui River in the rain in January, I rode both the Queen Charlotte and Heaphy Tracks during winter, and then in September I ran the Abel Tasman Coastal Track (in 4h 44m).

I was a regular visitor to the Kaiteriteri MTB park and also completed a couple of rides over the Copper Mine track. I managed one night ride, and look forward to more next winter.

In spring I took our oldest on his first overnight tramp – from Caanan to Castle Rocks Hut on the Abel Tasman Inland Track via Moa Park.

We visited friends in Boulder Colorado and while there walked to the continental divide at the Rocky Mountain National Park.

There were also some less wet and muddy trips…

I spent two weeks in Singapore, on a return visit to the Joyful Frog Digital Incubator.

In Autumn, we spent a week in a camper van trip through central Otago, including my first trip over the Lindis Pass.

We soaked up some heat in Bali in July and I enjoyed some time in the snow (both cross-county and downhill varieties) in Queenstown in August.

We were delighted to attend a couple of family weddings – Josie & Lo in Stinson Beach California and Cam & Michelle in Auckland.

I saw some live sport, including both the All Blacks (v Australia) and the All Whites (v Mexico) in Wellington.

But without question the highlight was the Americas Cup in San Francisco in September (unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the whole thing, but left feeling pretty confident about the outcome, with the score at 4-1).

There was no shortage of work either…

It was my first full year on the Powershop board. I’m learning a lot.

I spent quite a bit of time in Wellington with the team at Southgate.

Early in the year we launched Triage. The critical response to that was overwhelming and flattering and unexpected. We briefly topped the productivity category and were featured in the US app store during the first week. However, we discovered in the process that financial success doesn’t necessarily follow from that any more. It was, in the first instance, a selfish project and it’s still the first app I use every morning.

We worked with Glen on Company Box, and later in the year we launched Rabble. We continue our search for the next big thing.

It was also a huge year for Vend.

We worked hard during the first part of the year to raise additional capital to continue to fuel our growth. In the course of just a few days in May it was exciting to announce the successful completion of that $8m round, welcoming some awesome new investors into the mix as part of that, and then to be recognised at the Hi-Tech Awards dinner in Auckland where we picked up awards for both Innovative Hi-Tech Service Product and the Hi-Tech Exporter of the Year (under $5M revenues)

Startups are squiggly, and unfortunately people mostly only tend to talk about the clean and easy bits. Vend is no different. Over the last year we’ve more than doubled the size of the team and the business has grown even faster. That creates some chewy challenges for those of us lucky enough to be working on it. It’s been excellent to be part of the story so far. Stand by for what we have planned for 2014!

In June I made a new investment, in Timely, and have enjoyed working with them too as they have started to build their team and hit their straps. I have high hopes.

It was an unbelievable year for Xero, which masks a bunch of other poorer decisions when you look further down the list of companies I’ve invested in over the last few years. It already seems nostalgic to look back on old tweets celebrating the day it passed a $1B valuation, way back in March.

I enjoyed Webstock in February, where I also MC’d at the Startup Alley and got to chat on stage with Derek Sivers.

As I look around there are no shortage of opportunities. It’s definitely an exciting time to be involved in early-stage technology companies in New Zealand.

I spent way too much time in my inbox. I received 13,653 messages and sent just over 6,000. That’s about the same volume as for the last few years, but having eliminated nearly all of the noise it subjectively felt like more of these required consideration than in the past. Even if I assume just one minute per message that still accounts for over five and a half full working weeks.

tweeted, probably more than I should have. And blogged, much less than I could have.

I spent 168 days away from home (taking 95 flights, visiting 20 cities in 6 countries and travelling over 82,000km, according to TripIt). That’s nearly half again more than the 113 days away I reported just two years ago, which I already thought was too many then. Not all of that was work, but I doubt that distinction matters to a 9 year old and 6 year old.

And, even when I was at home, there was always a lot going on there too…

We finally officially warmed our new house in March, complete with jenga, fireworks and feijoas. The lasting legacy of that weekend is a new haircut (inspired by Andre Agassi) and a street sign (inspired by a flippant comment on twitter).

I kept mostly fit and healthy. It’s now four years since I first dipped under 80kg and I haven’t been back since. But this is the third year in a row that I’ve ended slightly heavier than I started, so it would be nice to break that trend in the coming year.

There was some downtime, including a disconnected week in June. But, not nearly enough.

I started the year aspiring to focus, and failed miserably. All of the things listed above combined to mean I spent big chunks of the year red lining, feeling more anxious than vital.

I did a little experiment during the year – giving myself five points every day (roughly equivalent to one point for every three hours awake) as a way to track how I was actually spending my time. It made for some slightly uncomfortable pauses when I was asked what I was up to – I knew exactly, but didn’t always want to admit it. Various work commitments soaked up just over 800 of the 1820 points for the year (~44%), which is difficult to justify in retrospect. I did manage to carve out a decent chunk of time for myself (~16%) and family and friends (~28%), although both of those were significantly lower in the first part of the year (thanks, Observer Effect!)

Perhaps in 2014 I’ll be a bit more selfish?

Previous Annual Reports:

Much Ado About Nothing

For my own record, some tweets worth keeping from 2013:

But, what do you do?

We’re excited to see the number of companies and people listed on Rabble growing.

We’re now up to 360 companies and 558 people in the directory.

We’ve just added Clean Tech and Life Sciences categories, in addition to Hardware and Services categories which were added a few weeks ago, so please feel free to add your listing to those.

If your company isn’t listed you can add it right now using the Add a Company button in the top right.

If your company is listed, please check to make sure that all of the people associated are also listed. It’s excellent to see some companies with their extended management team, investors and advisors all listed – e.g. Vend, Parrot Analytics and Timely. We’d love to see more!

Anybody already associated with the company can add the names and details of others who should also be listed, or you can click the “+ Add me to this company” link.

One of the things we’re very keen to encourage is a short and succinct description of each company, so that anybody browsing the directory can get a quick idea of what you do and if that is something they are interested in.

As it says on the form:

“Please no marketing bullshit! This should be a plain-English, no nonsense description of your product or service from a customer’s perspective.”

When we were putting together the initial list of companies we added the descriptions ourselves – generally starting with the description from the companies websites. It was amazing how often we would read all of the words (sometimes hundreds of words!) on the home page and still be left with the questions “But, what do you actually do?” and “Who is this for?”.

The best descriptions, in my opinion, have this form:

[Description of your product/service] for [Description of your target customer]

So simple!

And, some have done a great job of this:

Rabble-RedSeed Rabble-GoVocab

Rabble-Mindscape Rabble-AcuteCrew
(especially Acutecrew – rules are made to be broken!)

And, last but not least, my current favourite:

Rabble-CropLogic

But, many seem to struggle. It’s amazing to see otherwise intelligent people suddenly develop verbal diarrhoea when they come to try and describe their business.

We reserve the right to edit descriptions, to keep the site looking clean and usable.

The first thing we do is remove the company name, which just about everybody starts with. The cards already display the company name in a big bold font, there is no need to use up precious space in your description by repeating that. Likewise, we don’t need full legal names so you can leave off the “Limited”/”Ltd”.

Next we try and remove the nonsense words. It’s staggering how many people describe their service as “an online blah” or “cloud-based blah website” (really, as opposed to the non-cloud based websites also providing blah?) We also see lots of “world class this” or “unrivalled that” or the ever popular “beautiful and simple to use whatever” (interestingly, nobody ever describes their product as ugly or complicated).

Finally we edit anything which is written from the companies perspective rather than from the customers. We want these descriptions to appeal to people who might buy your stuff, or to those who might want to work with you or invest in you.

We all just want to know what you do, so please help us out and make it easy!

Enjoy! :-)

PS we still have a small number of orphan companies from the initial list please let us know if you can identify the correct people to be associated with any of those and we will link them up.

The cake is a lie!

Busy Busy

Here is a little thought experiment…

How do you feel about somebody who fills their house to overflowing with stuff, shuffling clutter from one room to another just in time as each space is needed during the day, leaving no spare room to take in anything new?

How do you feel about somebody who manages their finances right on the edge, spending every last cent of their credit card limit, transferring money from one account to another just in time to cover repayments, never quite sure if their next purchase will tip them into the red?

Neither of those sound ideal, right?

What about somebody who manages their time like this – i.e. fills their days with work, constantly juggles their to-do list as urgent tasks come and go, and leaves no spare time to do things well?

That’s also not great.

So, why do we romanticise our busyness?

Them: How have you been?
Us (said with pride): Oh, you know, busy busy!

I’ve caught myself replying like that a lot, over the last few months especially. I’ve been keeping an unsustainable number of plates spinning, and often finding myself lacking the time to do as good a job as I can and should on any one plate without exhausting myself. And, it’s clearly irrational when I put it like that, but people are generally impressed when I explain how I fill my days, rather than asking why I would possibly want or need so many plates.

Why do we do that?

Maybe it’s what we expect each other to say? Like the exhausted and knowing nods exchanged between two parents of newborns, safe in the knowledge that neither is getting enough sleep, perhaps we take comfort from connecting with others in the same situation.

Maybe it’s just easier to measure inputs, than to look for evidence of outputs? It’s easy to assume that if lots of work is being done then lots of things must be getting completed and completed well. It’s even easier to confuse activity for progress.

But, the cake is a lie.

Doing a good job nearly always means focus, and focus means saying no.

You can be busy or remarkable, but not both.

What do you choose?

Unavailable

A while back I made myself unavailable for a week. That is, I was still connected and online, but I turned off all of the various services which make me visible and available to others.

This was a bit of an experiment, and these were the three things I learned:

1. I was much more available than I realised

I made a list of the various apps that needed to be disabled, and was slightly shocked by how many things I had given permission to interrupt me:

  • Phone (even in a normal week I normally only answer calls from people in my address book, but in this week I decided to turn my phone off completely for most of the time)
  • Email (I use Triage, which makes it easier to disconnect, but if you have push mail setup on your iPhone you’ll need to turn that off, and turn off the unread count badges if you didn’t already – I also set an out of office auto-responder, so anybody who did email me would at least know I wasn’t paying attention)
  • Calendar
  • Twitter (I took the slightly extreme step of deleting the app from my phone, so I wouldn’t be tempted to check in during downtimes)
  • iMessage (if you have this setup on multiple devices you’ll need to disable each independently – on OSX you’ll need to delete the account from iMessage completely otherwise you’ll still get notifications)
  • Skype (if you have the Skype app on your iPhone/iPad make sure it’s not running in the background)
  • Google Chat/Talk/Hangout, or whatever it is they are calling it at the moment (I had this installed and logged in to both of my Google accounts on both my phone and laptop browser)
  • Dropbox/Google Drive (I disabled the notifications which pop-up when others update files in shared folders)
  • WhatsApp

There were a bunch of others which I no longer use, but which were still setup for notifications – including Facebook. LinkedIn, Trade Me, Game Center (which I only ever really used for LetterPress), MessageMe, and Podcasts.

I also made an effort to contact everybody who was likely to try and get in touch during the week in advance, so they wouldn’t be frustrated by my unavailability, and left an out-of-office notification on my email accounts suggesting people call if it was urgent (I only got one call during the week).

2. The withdrawal symptoms were worse than I expected

I intentionally did some properly offline jobs the first day and a long run the second morning, to give myself a clean break from staring at a screen and all of its tempting distractions.

But, even then I was surprised how often I would reach for my phone to quickly check emails or tweets, including first thing in the morning and when I was in the middle of a conversation with people physically present. That’s not good behaviour, but useful to have that habit highlighted and hopefully now broken.

3. It wasn’t an entirely positive experience

It was lovely to be able to focus and be without distraction for a while, although in most cases I only made a minor dent in things which have languished on my to-do list for ages. At the end of the week they were quickly replaced again by more pressing things.

The main thing I discovered from the week is that very little of what I normally fill my days with is actually urgent and nearly everything that I defer is important.

That’s a little depressing…

Lies, Damned Lies & Kindles

On a recent flight, for the first time, I watched an air hostess actually enforce the “turn your phone onto flight mode, then turn it completely off” two-step masquerade.

When I’m sitting idly during those few minutes at the start and end of every flight when everything electronic is out-of-bounds I like to imagine how it would be if my humble iPhone actually could magically connect and interfere with the planes navigation systems, as they claim. You could have some real fun with that, eh!

Do you think, if there was even a remote possibility that this was possible, they would let you have the phones onboard, and (most of the time) just trust you to do the right thing? Or would everything electronic be confiscated at security along with the nail clippers and 125mL bottles of deodorant?

And, who is “they” in that previous question anyway?

Wouldn’t it be so much better for everybody if we were honest. We could simply say: “it’s safer if you have stuff like that put away during take off and landing so that everything is clear in case of emergency”, although that would force us to address the reality that a book or newspaper is just as distracting or dangerous as a Kindle if an evacuation was required.

Then again, this kind of misinformation is pretty harmless, right? It’s all part of the security theatre that is now an ingrained part of travelling. Just turn off your phone and don’t make a fuss.

While you’re waiting, maybe you can read an interesting article about the two sides of the global warming debate or the risks associated with the MMR immunisation?

Anyway, enough cynicism .. I hope you all have a good long weekend. Think about why it is you have a couple of days off work and enjoy the goodies the magical bunny delivered.

Inconceivable

Sometimes the internet can make you smile in quite unpredictable ways.

For example, this conversation on Twitter yesterday evening, starting with an innocent tweet from Sacha at the Auckland Geek Girls Dinner:

To which there was only one possible response:

(Su Yin has been here in person, so I know that she knows the truth, and I have to say I appreciate her help in keeping the crowds away with this misinformation!)

At this point, this chap joined the conversation:

I’ve seen him before. There are good bots and bad bots and this is easily my favourite.

And so it went…

Would it surprise you to learn that my grandfather’s name was Wesley?

So, there you go. Who said Twitter has killed blogging!

Somebody I Used To Know

2012 Annual Report

This is a thing, isn’t it?

While I have struggled to find time to blog much at all over the last 12 months, and only managed a handful of posts, for some reason maintaining the streak of annual reports seems important.

The first, back in 2008, was pretty uncertain. I don’t feel like that much any more.

Since then I’ve taken pride in having a wide and varied list of things to talk about. But towards the end of this year I’ve started to judge myself on how well I’m doing the much shorter list of things that I choose to focus on. I’ve found that a whole new challenge, and a work in progress.

As somebody pointed out to me earlier this year, there is a class of opportunity that requires an unbounded time commitment but there is only time in each day for one of those. I’ve struggled through 2012 with two or three (depending how you count them).

For those of you just picking up the story, I’ve spent the better part of the previous two years on a couple of bigger projects: building a new house and, in parallel, some new ventures to work on.

I naively thought 2012 might be the third and final year in that cycle…

Home

It’s coming up to 5 years since we found the land where we now live. It’s taken a long time to get here. As with a large software development project, there has been a trade-off to navigate between on spec, on time and on budget (i.e. choose two, at most!) So I’ve worked hard to stay patient. As some things are completed and we have an opportunity to think slightly further ahead, I recently realised we may be only half-way through.

I’ve also belatedly understood that a new build is the equivalent of writing code from scratch - when it’s finished it’s shiny and new, but is also untested and as a result hasn’t yet had all of the bugs worked out. There have been a number of one step forwards, one step backwards moments this year, including several times when I could easily visualise Kevin McCloud looking on with an arched eyebrow.

Having said that, I’ve throughly enjoyed the rare opportunity to design and build somewhere to live – a place with its back to the world, which we love, with lots of mindfully created spaces. It’s been work, but fun to be close to it. We’ve been pleased to have a great team of architects, engineers and tradespeople, who are hopefully proud of what they created.

It’s been great to start sharing our place with family and friends in the back half of 2012 and we’re looking forward to properly warming it up (literally and figuratively) in 2013.

Work

It was also a year too full of work, which broke me at times. I spent a lot of time feeling like I was chasing it all, and never quite catching up.

Mostly I did email. I sent just over 6000 email messages and received more than 12,200 (not counting spam or junk mail). I burnt way too much precious time fighting my inbox.

And also flew. I was away for 132 days and clocked up 101 individual flights. It wasn’t all business, but still I think I’d rather be a Gold Elite husband and father. The cat’s in the cradle.

The various ventures I’m involved with spread themselves right across the spectrum in 2012.

Vend is kicking ass and taking names. We grew by 400%, passed $1m of recurring revenue, raised $2m of new capital, hired a bunch of great people and had quite a bit of fun in the process. 2013 promises to be a defining year, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.

Despite seeing the patterns repeated several times now, it still surprises me just how much you can differentiate yourself by doing the simple stuff well. The best example of this from 2012 is the recognition that Vend got in November for being a company that trusts staff to dress themselves.

Sonar6 was sold to Cornerstone On Demand in April. My only contribution was as an investor, but even so it’s good to be involved in another success story. Congratulations to the guys who lived and breathed it over the years – I look forward to what’s next for you all.

Xero continues to defy gravity and takes the pressure off my other start-up investments by promising to return the fund and then some. It was no surprise to see Rod win the NZ Herald Business Leader of the Year - daylight was in second place.

Powerkiwi came second at the Deloitte Fast50 awards. That’s a little embarrassing given the anaemic amount of capital invested and razor-thin profit margins, but it’s still good to be back on that list and something we’ll look forward to repeating with other ventures in future years.

At the other end of the spectrum, it was a difficult year for Pacific Fibre, before it was finally shut down in August. Putting aside the money we lost as investors, it’s mostly just sad and frustrating that the project won’t go ahead with the change that it could have created.

Outwardly, it was another quiet year at Southgate Labs. I’m hugely excited by the team we’ve built, and we continue our search for a product of our own to get excited about. We have a couple of things we’re working on as the year comes to an end which are promising. Creating space to focus on these has required some tough decisions, so hopefully one becomes something to justify that effort. I may have said the same last year?

Most of the other ventures fall somewhere in the middle. I’ll watch with interest for progress next year, and hopefully contribute in a small way where I can.

Everything Else

I got an early taste of winter in January, visiting New York, Chicago and Ottawa with Vaughan from Vend, including a memorable birthday dinner stuck in a departure lounge in a snow storm.

I enjoyed three excellent weeks in the heat of Singapore at JFDI. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to spend more than one or two nights there and get to know some locals. I squeezed in side trips to Palu Ubin in Indonesia and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where I enjoyed a dinner of Tarantulas with Sam Ng.

I also visited the Cook Islands for the first time, but not the last.

I kept moving, ending the year where I started in terms of weight, but feeling a lot fitter. I did quite a lot of running and cycling and a bit of swimming. In the second half of the year also got bitten by the mountain bike bug. But, unlike previous years, only once felt compelled to do any of that in an event against the clock (10km off road, with Koz, in 46m 15s) I cancelled my Les Mills membership, after 8 years and $7000 of subscriptions.

I attended a wedding (my youngest sister) and a funeral (my wife’s grand-father).

I learned to drive a tractor.

I soaked up a day amongst the art and animals at Gibbs Farm, climbed Ben Nevis and Mt Ellis in the Richmond Ranges, joined the Geeks on a Plane on a helicopter to Minaret Station near Wanaka, spent a day skiing in pretty ordinary winter conditions at Coronet Peak in July and in great spring snow at Rainbow in September (and even got in some water skiing last week), watched a lot of the Olympics on the big screen, walked the first part of the Able Tasman walkway with our boys in July (!), enjoyed the celebrations around the Hobbit World Premiere in Wellington and saw Radiohead live in Auckland.

My first-world life is tough.

With luck 2013 will be more of the same but different.

We’ll see.

Previous Annual Reports:

Sooner is over. It’s later already.

Next week this blog will be six years old. These days I don’t write nearly as often as I used to, despite best intentions. However, here are three posts from the last year which I’m proud of:

And, a bonus guest post series by Sacha Judd:

It’s also now four years since I started tweeting. Here are some favourite tweets from the last 12 months:

I went for a run in Central Park and didn’t get mugged even once. #nikeplus
12 January

Returning to NZ after visiting developing countries is depressing: we live in a clean underpopulated paradise and still we frown and moan
17 February

If only everybody working on creating an innovation ecosystem would work on/with one company of their own. Then we’d have an ecosystem.
21 March

When you say “we need to celebrate our successes more” I hear “viva la inequality”.
5 April

Time to replace present continuous with perfect: winter has come. #brrrrrr
6 June

Just getting shit done shouldn’t be a competitive advantage … but it nearly always is.
29 June

Post-funding equation for start-ups: adjust your reality to match perceptions before perceptions adjust to match your reality.
5 July

Found our iPad hidden under the kids pillow tonight. Swapped it for a $1 and will blame the tooth fairy in the morning. #cruel
25 July

Startup Busking v. Repeatedly pitching to angel investors, in an effort to raise immaterial amounts of capital.
14 November

A startup celebrating getting funded is like a mountain climber celebrating reaching the summit. As Ed Hillary said, it’s a return journey.
4 December

I’m @rowansimpson on Twitter if you want to follow along next year.

In the meantime, enjoy the Christmas and New Year holidays. See you on the other side!

Cheers,
Rowan.

30,000 Days

Through a random series of events I recently rediscovered this short movie called Quest, directed by Saul & Elaine Bass, based on a novel by Ray Bradbury.

I first watched this when we studied it in 5th Form (what the kids these days call Year 11). That was about 4,300 days ago, in my case.

It will only take 30 minutes of your time. You can spare that, right?

Patience

When building something you have two options:

  1. Understand and accept the trade-off between good, fast and cheap;
  2. Be impatient.

I appreciate the first option isn’t very popular at the moment. It’s almost old fashioned.

But I also know that everybody I know who has built something worthwhile has ignored all of that and focussed on quality and efficiency, and on sustaining themselves through the longer-than-you-think that it actually takes.

The Golden Gate

Golden Gate Bridge - Photographing World's Most Photographed Place

Photo: Anirudh Koul, http://www.flickr.com/photos/anirudhkoul/2535955996/

Millions of people fly from thousands of miles away, on vacations of a lifetime, to take a picture of one of the most photographed works of architecture in history, which so happens to be the very same bridge that hundreds of thousands of people commute across to work on a daily basis. Think of all those grumpy souls with coffee mugs clenched in one hand ending up as background minutiae in someone’s favorite vacation photo. Then think about that photo eventually ending up on that person’s desk at work thousands of miles away: a photo that they’ll look at and think of happier times as they sit there grumpy and clutching a coffee mug. Where tourism and the real world collide: everything comes full circle.

Not For Tourists

Busy

It’s a while since I wrote.

Time to think is scarce.

I’ve been busy.

You too probably.

If so, I strongly recommend you put aside your busyness for a few minutes, and read this, from the New York Times blog. It might change your mind:

The ‘Busy’ Trap

If you’ll excuse me I’ll quote from it extensively:
(maybe you’re too busy to read the whole thing?)

“[Those who boast about being busy are] almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence”

“What [my busy friend] had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.”

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

“I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

Hmmmm…

I observe three levels to this:

Some people measure themselves based on inputs - i.e. how much time you spend working, how full your calendar is, how many emails you respond to?

Other, smarter, people measure themselves based on outputs – i.e. how much progress did you make, what did you create or learn in the process? In other words, what was the return on time invested?

Those who understand this, and act on it, get much further without working so long and hard by cutting out the unnecessary stuff. It’s incredible, but just getting something done actually turns out to be a huge competitive advantage, because it’s so uncommon.

(I wrote a bit about the difference between these two levels in a previous post)

However, I’ve only recently noticed that there is a third level beyond this (there is always another level!) where you stop measuring yourself altogether and rather than being deformed by your busyness optimise for enjoyment.

Obviously your ability to do this depends on your circumstances. For most earning a living means spending some amount of time on work, one way or another. While everybody has obligations, I don’t really have that excuse. I found myself a few years ago in the unusual position where money was no longer the biggest constraint. But, still that mindset turns out to be a hard habit to break. So I continue to allow my days to fill with busy and this level remains mostly aspirational to me.

The people who are best at this even seem to be comfortable wasting time!

I’m not sure about you, but the precious few moments I’ve wasted recently have been easily the best ones.

If only I wasn’t so busy, I’d definitely waste more time.

How about you?

Space & Time

2011 Annual Report

I said that 2010 was about “laying foundations (literally and figuratively)”.

In 2011 we got busy with walls etc!

The literal foundations were a new place to live now under construction near Nelson. This has already been a long project – nearly four years, and counting. It’s a bit unusual for me to stay focussed on something for this long. It’s been very satisfying seeing the development progress from the original idea, through lines on a page, to something now physically taking shape.

We’re looking forward to re-locating in March/April. It’s going to be a big change.

The figurative foundations were Southgate Labs. I’ve throughly enjoyed working with Amnon and Koz. Towards the end of the year we were excited to add Nick and Amanda to the team.

Our first investment, Vend, has had an amazing year. Once a start-up has momentum like this is when it really gets to be fun. The business has scaled quickly and added hundreds of customers around the world. Vaughan has grown into his role as CEO – he’s hired a great team in Auckland and San Francisco and it’s exciting to be a part of that. It’s my first experience as Chairman and as such has my full attention. Stand by…

On top of this we made two new investments during the year: Go Vocab and The Rugby Site (one more thing that Richie McCaw and Ruby On Rails have in common!) We have high hopes for both as they continue to refine their product and business model over the coming year.

In August we completed a new iPhone App for StarNow, and just this week released v2.0 of the RadioNZ iPhone app, with live streaming and a bunch of other improvements.

And, after some false starts, we also have a couple of product ideas of our own which are under development. Hopefully at least one of these will surface in 2012.

It would be misrepresenting things to say we know exactly what it is going to be yet, but some of the blanks have been filled in, and in any case we haven’t let that stop us getting on with trying a few things.

All of that makes it sound like a lot of fun. In reality, I spent a large portion of the year just drowning in email. I received 14,363 messages (not counting spam and junk mail), or 40/day on average. This is a 50% increase since 2010 and nearly three times as many as in 2009. I sent 6,765 messages, or 25% more than in 2010, despite consciously trying to reduce this. It doesn’t seem particularly sustainable to continue to work this way.

I took a lot of coffee meetings too (but I still don’t drink coffee). In the process I met some excellent people who are working on some exciting new ventures and a bunch of others who are probably going to struggle. I tried to give honest and practical advice to both.

I didn’t blog as much as in previous years, with just 51 new posts, although 2,449 tweets made up for some of the difference. I’m especially proud of two series of posts – The Mythical Startup (which was also published in Idealog), and Founder Centric Startups.

I was featured in a business profile in the Dominion Post. Thankfully it was a very friendly article – so the only uncomfortable bit was posing for the photos (lesson: don’t do this in front of a whole open plan office full of amused onlookers!)

It does feel a bit odd to still be talking about Trade Me in these sort of situations, given it’s now years since I worked there. It was very cool to watch from a distance as they completed their IPO, and achieved a market capitalisation of over $1billion, although amusing to see media pundits say that we original shareholders obviously sold too cheaply, when at the time the same people thought David Kirk had gone slightly mad.

In between all of that there wasn’t much time or space for anything else, to be honest.

However, I did try to keep moving…

In March I completed the Contact Triathlon race in Wellington in 2:41:35, (doing the final 10km run leg in 47:25). In case that sounds impressive it was more than 20 minutes outside of qualifying time for the World Champs.

In August I completed the National Duathlon Champs in Taupo, in the wind and sleet (the weekend it snowed everywhere!) I ran a fast opening 10km in 44:36 (as fast as I’ve ever run over that distance) but died on the bike leg and struggled home in 2:36:10, 13th in my age group and again well outside of the qualifying times.

As part of my training I did the Wellington Half-Marathon in June, also in pretty cold and windy conditions. This was the first time I had raced over that distance without a long swim and bike immediately beforehand, so I was more-or-less assured of a personal best time. Nonetheless I was stoked to get home in 1:44:11, a good 45 seconds ahead of a fast closing Koz!

I enjoyed some cycling in Wellington with PayPal founder Max Levchin, when Wellington had her best Autumn coat on, and a brisk/refreshing ride up Signal Hill in Dunedin with Julian Cox. Perhaps 2012 is finally the year for me to get into mountain biking?

I started the year at 73.7kg and finished at 75.3kg. The difference is explained by just 53 calories per day – or the equivalent of two small chocolates. You can tell from the graph when I got really busy with work.

I really did keep moving…

According to TripIt I was away from home 113 days during the year.

I especially enjoyed two trips to San Francisco and Silicon Valley with Vaughan from Vend – including meetings on Sand Hill Road, and a guided tour of the Twitter HQ (thanks to Doug!) We even managed to squeeze in a ball game at AT&T Park.

But, of course, the big sporting event of the year was the Rugby World Cup. Highlights for me included watching Wales vs South Africa with my dad (the best crowd noise I’ve experienced at the Cake Tin since the Lions test in ’05), All Blacks vs Canada with my oldest son (his first live test match, also the first time the ABs have played during the day since he was born), Tonga vs France with my new brother-in-law (a former Tongan player, both of us proudly wearing some official team kit he had been given) and the two quarter finals in Auckland. I watched the semi-finals and final from the comfort of my couch (from the very edge of said couch in the later case!)

In May I grew a beard, under doctors orders! After getting that prescription I had some nervousness about the strict definition of “in sickness and in health” but luckily Emily was understanding – even if it did overlap with our 10th wedding anniversary.

We made up for it with two great trips: to Mount Cook, and to Auckland to see the Foo Fighters, in the rain, at Western Springs. Maybe in 2012 we’ll finally get around to a honeymoon?

There was a stark mix of happy and sad family times during the year.

We started the year in Perth, Western Australia, where extended family had gathered for a scorching Christmas and my sister’s wedding, which was excellent. And, we ended it in Nelson, to celebrate some milestone birthdays with Emily’s family.

In between times we welcomed a new nephew (my brother’s first) and niece, but sadly farewelled my grandmother, the matriarch of our family and my last surviving grandparent, who died suddenly in April.

And so to 2012…

At this stage my rough plan is to keep running hard until Easter and then collapse into a comfortable chair and hibernate. We’ll see how that goes!

How about you?

Previous Annual Reports:

Urgent vs Important (vs Neither)

I thought I’d had a pretty good week … mostly keeping on top of my inbox, meeting interesting people, getting lots done.

Until I look back at my Top Three history:

Two out of three ain’t bad, apparently, but in terms of the three things I considered most important at the start of each day I only managed half that!

Today I have just one thing on the list. Sadly, it’s not writing a blog post.

Top Three is available on the iTunes App Store. It’s as cheap as we could make it without giving it away. If you use it, we’d love to hear what you like and don’t like about it.