I’m running the San Francisco Marathon this Sunday.

It sounds so oddly nonchalant as a weekend activity – like I’ve decided to watch a movie or have brunch with a friend. When I hear the words come out, it sometimes feels like someone else is saying them.

I’ve known this day was coming for a while, but it’s still surreal to have it finally be here.

Long Runs

The last few weeks of training since the Lake Chabot Half Marathon have gone pretty well. I followed the PR Race Plan Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running put together for me and it’s been great. Building up the distance beyond the half marathons has been hard – especially early on, the last few miles of every run were really tough on my feet.

Over time, I’ve come to enjoy these 2+, 3+ hour runs and completing them have helped me gain confidence in my ability to finish. Here are my last few weekend long runs (with links to Runkeeper):

I was pretty bummed to miss the 20 miler. After having a tough long run in New York and splitting up the distance in the next run, I was looking forward to testing myself in my final big long run. Unfortunately, I started feeling pretty crappy starting Friday morning (aches, weakness) that I knew trying to push myself that weekend would have been foolish.

Tapering and Final Prep

It feels weird to run so little after running so much, but the two week taper is an important part of my training plan. I realized the marathon actually starts around 5:42 am for me, which means I need to get up around 4:30am. Since I normally sleep around 1am, I’ve been sleeping earlier and earlier to prepare my body for this early morning race.

I also got some last minute gear for the race:

  • a Camelbak water bottle with a handle so I can just palm it
  • Gu gels to keep me fueled up during the run
  • a sweatband to keep my eyes stinging over ~4 hours
  • new injinji socks to keep my feet blister-free

The most important preparation left is all mental. I have a good friend and former teammate who was planning to pace me for the 2nd half of the race, but I just got a call from him saying he might have broken his elbow in a biking accident so who knows.

Either way, I know that my mental game has to be totally on point for this race to be a success. I want to break 4 hours, which means running 9:09 mins/mi for 26.2 miles straight, having never run more than 16 miles in one go.

Intellectually I understand that most first-time marathoners never run the full distance before the race, and that their long runs are slower than race pace, but the gymnast in me, which is used to practicing something tons of times before competing, is a little thrown off.

Still, I have to trust that my training has put me in a good place. My feet getting hot/sore on long runs no longer seems to be a limiting factor and the SF hills are no longer intimidating after 3 races and a collective 33 miles run on far hillier trails.

All that’s left to do is to run my race. And I plan to do exactly that. Wish me the best and I’ll do a full recap after the marathon!

Photo Credit: HalfMarathons.net

I recently heard the story of how my friend met his cofounder and had to share it. I think there are some great lessons here for business folks looking to team up with smart technical people. I changed the names and am vague about certain details because they don’t really need the attention from this story, but it’s all true.

Chris’s First Startup

I met Chris at Stanford: really smart guy who studied CS and has a great eye for design. He cofounded a company right out of college, a collaborative editing/viewing tool, raised a round of funding, grew the team to six and eventually sold it for a small sum to a much larger technology-for-enterprise firm.

Chris stayed on post-acquisition, working on various projects for his new employer. While heading up a mobile app project, he ran into an challenge and can’t find a good solution for it in the marketplace. He decided to start working on a home-baked solution on nights and weekends as it was somewhat tangential to his day job, but wisely kept his employer in the loop about his efforts*. The entrepreneurial side of him started to wonder if there might be more firms out there with the same problem.

Meeting the Business Guy

Chris began working on it as a nights and weekends project, letting his firm know he was making this for the company, but that he also saw greater potential for it. One day, at a tech meet up event, Chris strikes up a conversation with a guy named Mike. Mike is a few years older than Chris and has been a part of the tech scene for some time, having most notably hacked on a consumer web product that got strong traction in the early-to-mid 2000’s.

However, these days Mike spends his time blogging, advising startups and angel investing. He’s turned into a “business guy”. Mike is intrigued by Chris’s side project and tells him:

“That’s a great idea. But you gotta stop calling it a side project, because it’s clearly a startup idea. Listen, I’d like to be involved. I think I could really help you out.”

Chris rolls his eyes. Having sold his last company, he doesn’t really need money – there are lots of investor who want to back a successful entrepreneur with a new idea. What does Mike have to offer? He has been out of the game technically for a few years and his experience is in consumer web, not enterprise, which is what this new idea would be for.

“Sure, whatever,” Chris replies, “I’ll let you know if I take it further.”

Hustling Pays Off

Some time passes and Chris has nearly forgotten about the whole interaction. Then, out of the blue, he gets a phone call:

“Hey it’s Mike.”

Oh boy, now what?

“Listen, I was serious about helping out. Over the last two weeks, I’ve called over 40 companies and pitched your product. I’ve gotten 30 who are willing to integrate with your service and try it out.”

Whoa. Now we’re talking.

I’ll skip ahead.

After meeting up, talking quite a bit more and working together, Chris and Mike eventually decide to join forces and co-found a new startup together. They raised a seed round and then a series less than 6 months later, have gotten tons of press and most importantly, has been a hit in the mobile development industry, with 100’s of customers ranging from one-man dev shops to publicly traded companies.

Lessons Learned

It’s dangerous to extrapolate too much from a story, but every data point is worth something. Here are two take aways:

  • You gotta be legit. Mike was already an impressive guy, with money, connections, professional clout and a technical background. But being legit wasn’t enough.
  • You gotta overdeliver. Mike didn’t complain about how Chris didn’t “appreciate the value he brought to the table”. He went out and proved that he could bring in business for the company. Getting a hold of the right person at 40 companies in a few weeks and actually convincing ~30 of them to say yes on a cold call, without a demo or even screenshots, is very hard.

If you’re a non-technical guy looking to co-found a startup, realize that you have far less leverage than whoever you choose to work with for your technical co-founder. You have to prove your worth both from the resources you have access to, the skills you can bring to bear on the project, and your relentless resourcefulness for getting sh*t done.

Do you have a story about co-founders meeting that you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments!

Photo Credit – stuck in customs


*the company, to their credit, was pretty open and happy about Chris’s side project efforts

jason shen getting his playa name at burning man 2011
Getting my playa name at a booth at Burning Man 2011

Burning Man was one of the coolest things I did last year and also happened to kickstart Ridejoy with our very first rideshare service – BurningManRides.com

Well, we recently just announced the re-launch of BurningManRides.com for 2012, and celebrating with two free Burning Man tickets in a gift-away. If you’ve never been or heard of this awesome festival, my co-founder Randy called it “like being on the moon, illuminated with neon, bass and the warth of the human spirit.”

So a couple things to check out:

I’d love if you could share BurningManRides.com with your Burner-friendly friends. It’ll probably be super-helpful for them and it’d make my day!

Heavy traffic (herding sheep)Photo credit: magical-world

With very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons.

It is futile to demand that men do the right thing for the right reason – this is a fight with a windmill. The organizer should know and accept that the right reason is introduced as a moral rationalization after the right end has been achieved, although it may have been achieved for the wrong reason – therefore he should search for and use the wrong reasons to achieve the right goals. He should be able , with skill and calculation, to use irrationality in his attempts to profess toward a rational world.

– Saul D Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

We live in a messy and convoluted world where people are motivated by a variety of things – things often considered to be foolish, base or irrational by idealists and purists. But I am with Alinsky in the belief that what matters most is the outcome. Let’s focus on getting everyone to do the right things first – right intentions can come later.

EDIT – July 14th, 2012

Some folks have interpreted this post to mean “the ends justify the means” which is incorrect. It’s about creating the right kind of incentives to encourage action. For instance – my startup Ridejoy helps people share car trips. This is a great way to reduce carbon emissions, which is a cause of global climate change, which leads to all kinds of bad things for human and animal life.

However, our branding is about having fun and affordable roadtrips. We don’t guilt or badger people into sharing rides to “be efficient” or “protect the planet” even when that might be one of our ultimate goals. Instead, we offer an incentive, a reason, that appeals to them, even if it’s not the “right” one.

“Don’t take too much advice. Most people generalize whatever they did, and say that was the strategy that made it work”

Ben Silbermann, cofounder of Pinterest

When we raised our seed round for Ridejoy, we got lots of great advice from many smart, experienced people. This was wonderful except that much of the advice was contradictory:

We had never raised capital from anyone (friends/family, angels, VCs) before and it was a little frustrating to seek out perspectives from people who had fundraising experience or who invest for a living and get such ambiguous advice!

Ultimately we had to carve out our own path by being relentlessly resourceful. We took the advice that made the most sense, made pitches, learned from our mistakes and iterated till we figured how to make it work.

I could write a “top 10 list of tips on raising a 1.3M seed round”, and maybe I will another day, but the point of this post is that with fundraising, as with many other things in startups and life, you’ll never be totally sure that you’re “doing it right”.

The best you can do is listen to everyone and then make up your own mind.

This is scary because that means if things blow up, you have no one to blame but yourself. On the other hand, this approach affords you the strongest learning opportunity (because you decide for yourself what you’re going to do) and over time, makes you a more capable individual.