On being crazy and Elon Musk almost having a nervous breakdown

You feel like a failure. You know, a failure like Elon Musk. To quote the irresponsible risk taking and brilliant Mr Musk:

“The end of 2008 was really really terrible. I never thought of myself as somebody who could have a nervous breakdown…. I came pretty close honestly in 2008 the day before Christmas…. We just barely made it.”

Q: “So you did have those experiences?”
A: “We had multiple near death experiences. Like death on the nose. Not just in front of you.'”

Q “What’s it like when you go all in and you are about to lose?”
A: “It’s quite a terrible emotion actually.”


So maybe Elon is crazy. He risked his own failure and thousands of people’s jobs. But he isn’t a failure. He rebounded pretty well it turns out. Because he was willing to face death and total failure and keep fighting. To use his words “death on the tip of your nose” and then salvation one hour before Tesla would have gone bankrupt.

One hour. One single hour away from complete devastation.



“Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”
– Joshua 1:9

Dig deep down and ask yourselves, who do you want to be? Not want, but WHO?

I didn’t want to just be a bodybuilding champion. I wanted to be the best bodybuilder of all time.

Dig deep down and ask yourselves, who do you want to be? Not want, but WHO?

I’m talking about figuring out for yourselves what makes you happy. You have to think outside the box that’s what I believe after all. What’s the point of being on this earth if all you want is to be like everyone and avoid trouble.

We have so many rules in this life about everything. I say break the rules, not the law, but the rules.

Dig deep down. Ask yourselves. Who do you want to be?

Not want, but who?

I’m talking about figuring out for yourself what makes you happy.

You never listen that you can’t do something.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

Anything I’ve ever attempted I was always willing to fail.

Don’t be afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you would never push yourself.

If you push it is because you believe in yourself and in your vision. And you know it’s the right thing to do. Success will come. So don’t be afraid to fail.

I mean how many times have you heard that you can’t do this and you can’t do that because it has never been done before? So pay no attention to the people who say it can’t be done.

If I would have listened to the naysayers I would still be in the Austrian Alps Yodeling. I would never have come to America. I always listened to myself say “Yes you can.”

You never want to fail because you didn’t work hard enough. Work your butt off. I always believed in leaving no stone unturned. No Pain, No Gain.

When you are out there partying and horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard. Someone is working hard and someone is winning. Just remember that.

You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in the pockets.

– Arnold Schwarzenegger

a 12 year old kid will never buy art from us

Got a story for ya Ags!

A long time ago when I was working at Circuit City as an Operations Manager I had days off during the week because I worked all weekend. Rachel, my wife, worked a normal job and the kids were in school with after school care so I’d get an occasional day off in the middle of the week.

I am not one to sit still so for years I drove around Houston. Hit the museums. Explored the antique stores on lower Westheimer. Wandered around parks. Read books. (ahem, there was no Internet in this fable kids. “˜cause I am old like that.) But I wasn’t just going to sit in an apartment and watch TV. Eventually I ran out of things to do so I decided since I liked Art to see if I could work at an art gallery on my two days off. Or at night after getting off work at my first job. Thus in short order I found a part-time job at an art gallery in the Galleria.

Salon AgamI had some sales experience from working at Structure (now Express for Men) in college and briefly out of college. And I had sold a few things at Circuit City although this wasn’t my primary job in Operations. I’d also worked with some of those travelling art auctions as muscle to load and unload the trucks occasionally while in college (hint ““ lots of fake bidders in the audience people). And for the record I still love the work of Yaacov Agam.

In my limited time working at the Art Gallery (they went out of business about six months later.) I found that our sales came from:

  1. Gallery openings – you have to get the buyers into the gallery. Make them feel special.
  2. The house list – “warm” calling past buyers/collectors and telling them about new art on the wall. Asking if we could set up an appointment with them, etc. Depending on the collector you might even load your car up with art and drive out there to show it.
  3. Weekend floor traffic. With enough traffic you could move some pieces. We rotated “ups” between the sales team. Mary gets the first one. Don the next. Ed the one after that. Repeat the cycle.

What didn’t work in sales was middle of the day on a Tuesday. This was dead time. You had to be at work, but you were doing your calls, dusting off the art, hanging or unhanging, packing or unpacking new work, etc. We still rotated the “ups” in theory but if it was your up and you were busy you might just say “hey Mary can you get that one.”

So this 12 year old kid walks into our art gallery shortly after I started working there in the middle of the day on a weekday. My coworkers completely ignored him. Glances were exchanged between us, or should I say I gave a  quizzical  look and was greeted with eye rolls and raised eyebrows. Think of how they portray a snobby gallery employee in the movies and you will know exactly what I was looking at.

Now, as for me, if you are in my place of business you will be treated with respect. I am sure I have made mistakes and done something wrong, but my intent is definitely to treat every client with respect. And if you spend enough time in sales you know not to judge a book by it’s cover. So I asked the young man if I could help. He was a quiet kid, but knew what he wanted. He was looking at a list $500 original film cell from an animated movie.

At the time in this gallery everything was really about double priced. So a $500 piece could be sold for $250 without talking to the gallery owner. More than that and you needed special permission. The kid busts out a small cell phone (This was the early 90s. Few had cell phones and even fewer had those tiny Nokia ones.) So he gets Dad on the phone. Hands it to me. We talk briefly and I sold my first piece of art for the gallery for $250.

He left very happy and I had my first sale. And my coworkers were dumbfounded. Because  a 12 year old kid will never buy art from us. But he did. Thank you kid.

CREDITS: Thank you to flickr userpterjan for the Yaacov Agam Creative Commons photo.

the race really is to the swift

It’s not like Microsoft didn’t foresee the changes ahead. With a staff of almost 90,000, the company has many of the tech world’s smartest minds on its payroll, and has incubated projects in a wide range of fields that later took off. Experiments like Courier (tablets), HailStorm/Passport (digital identity), and  Windows Media Center (content in the cloud) show the company was ahead of the game in many areas — but then it either failed to bring those products to market, or didn’t execute.

“In this age, the race really is to the swift. You cannot afford to be an hour late or a dollar short,” says Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC.

– (source)

When to Apply Business Advice

I emailed out to the company today’s quote of the day, something we do internally, with the three quotes below. But given how popular advice from 37 Signals is among some of my employees, I wanted to add some commentary (after the jump). And BTW, I definitely agree with these three quotes from Rework.

“You need less than you think”¦Do you really need six months or can you make something in two?“   (pg. 53)


“No time is no excuse.   The most common excuse people give: “There’s not enough time.“   They claim they’d love to start a company, learn an instrument, market an invention, write a book, or whatever, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.   Come on.   There’s always enough time if you spend it right.“ (pg. 40)


“When you put off decisions, they pile up.   And piles end up ignored, dealt with in haste, or thrown out.   As a result, the individual problems in those piles stay unresolved.   Whenever you can, swap “˜Let’s think about it’ with “˜Let’s decide on it.’   Commit to making decisions.   Don’t wait for the perfect solution.   Decide and move forward.   You want to get into the rhythm of making choices.   When you get into that flow of making decision after decision, you build momentum and boost morale”¦You can’t build on top of “˜We’ll decide later,’ but you can build on top of “˜Done.’   The problem comes when you postpone decisions in the hope that a perfect answer will come to you later.   It won’t.“ (pg. 77)

All from  Jason Fried and David Hansson in the book  Rework

COMMENTS: 37 Signals has been successful creating jobs for people and making a profit. They build tools for themselves and then share their applications with others. There is no question Basecamp is a success. The 37 Signals formula is to build products to the exact specifications of THEIR customers, it just so happens the customer is first and foremost THEM.

Our business model is different. We make products for OTHER people. This is a subtle but important distinction. Picture a male fashion designer who makes women’s clothes. He can appreciate them. He has a creative vision. But the clothes he designs will be worn by his female clientele. The male fashion designer’s success is when women purchase his designs built for the them. The male fashion designer is challenged to make a simple and beautiful product that works with the physical reality of his customers.

While I usually agree with the content of Rework, I find I do not always agree with the 37 Signals viewpoint. Yes, it works for them. Yes I agree with 90% of it. But just as critical is to know what advice is bad advice for a firm like ours. I think it is important that I plan for the company’s future. Thus I do not agree with statements such as this:

“Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control”¦Why don’t we call plans what they really are: guesses.   Start referring to your business plans as business guesses, your financial plans as financial guesses and your strategic plans as strategic guesses.   Now you can stop worrying about them as much.“   (pg. 19)

It is catchy. It makes for a good anti-establishment Purple Cow type of quote. But I suspect the employees at Schipul appreciate me applying that advice carefully. Does that advice relate to our particular situation? No. And I think the team at 37 is plenty of smart enough to tell people to apply their advice…well, if it applies!

Sometimes advice is populist, but there is a logical flaw. A company who follows the infamous “work smarter not harder“ quickly falls to a company that believes “work smarter AND harder.“ Working smarter-not-harder would only work if hard workers were dumb. But we get smarter through experience! So unfortunately, hard workers are typically also smarter than you. Oooops. But we don’t like to admit that. What we want to hear is that the 4 hour work week is a winner.  I certainly wish the global economy worked that way!

I guess I am saying, use common sense and trust experience built upon DOING stuff.

don’t seek happiness, seek meaning


Several friends of mine over the last few years have talked a lot about “seeking happiness” and the goal of “being happy”. Some even have “happiness projects.”  I am reminded that America’s liberties include the right to “the pursuit of happiness.”

Yet there is something about the pursuit of happiness as an end goal that bothers me. I find the pursuit of happiness alone to be shallow — I don’t think it makes you happy long term.

Money doesn’t bring happiness.  Tiger Woods is worth close to a billion dollars, is married to a Scandinavian swimsuit model, and yet he still felt the need to sleep with an assortment of cocktail waitresses so that he could feel better about himself.

Yes we all need money. We are capitalists as a country. We earn money. Is money the motivator? Not for me beyond a certain point. It’s this internal drive. I don’t think I will ever show up  at work without a fire in my belly and a drive to accomplish MORE. You take risks so you sometimes fail. When you fail you are unhappy. You get back up. That’s how it works.

I can’t be described as walking around in “a state of happiness.” I am much more wound up than that. But my life has meaning because I take care of my family, which in turn makes me feel happy. I have surrounded myself with intriguing people who I deeply care about. My relationship with God is conflicted, but that is hardly surprising for a  Catholic Army Brat. My relationship with my kids could be better, but in my defense they are  called teenagers for a reason. I am approaching my 20th wedding anniversary which we will  celebrate in style. I could work out more, but I do work out. I am working on all of those things. They are meaningful and they require hard work. I have a damn good life, but what I am not is running around completely happy all of the time.

My real issue is that I believe “the pursuit of happiness” is  misguided and superficial as an goal.

Yes I said it. It’s shallow, people. We should seek meaning. If you  seek meaning then happiness may, or may not, follow. There are no guarantees. But to flip it around and seek  happiness first simply doesn’t work. Without first forming a clear idea of  what you find meaningful and worthwhile, chasing “happiness” is like chasing a figment of your imagination.   You will find the  proverbial cart, and then abandon it after a day or two when you realize there is  no horse attached and it’s useless.

Seeking happiness as the end goal leads you to wander the desert until you find the NEXT  bright shiny object. This again makes you happy. Briefly. But unless you load it up with  pirated Plato and talk about it, it won’t bring happiness either, as the  it is just a thing.

How many marriages  fail because someone says “I am just not happy” as if marriage is supposed to be 100% happy? And are these folks reading interesting books, talking about them, and seeking the meaning in life?

Yes clean out your closet if that makes you happy. But please let us not discuss your closet cleaning as meaningful conversation or life changing. Particularly lets not talk about the closet when our education system  has eliminated shop class and our  partisan politicians on both sides are putting their political parties over the people they represent. There are  meaningful big questions to consider.

It turns out I am not alone that meaning is more important than happiness alone. Sunday’s Chronicle has a post titled  Seeking happiness? Think big thoughts by Robert Zaretsky. It begins:

A recent study finds what we all once knew before our hectic lives made us forget: that like good barbecue or prime crude, the making of  happiness takes time. Time enough, and world enough with others.

According to Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona,  individuals who spend more of their time wondering about big questions, and doing so in the company of others, are happierthan those who wonder about the weather or John Edwards’ love child.

Don’t worry, be happy. I have nothing against happy  LOLcats and  sports talk. They are great conversation starters.  Deep meaningful questions can be derived from them. I enjoy these diversions. But they don’t bring happiness in and of themselves. Fewer hours at work to give me more time to read LOLCats will not in fact make me happier. Yet contemplating with friends what  deep psychological need is met by  Internet memes may in fact make us happier. Meaning may help you avoid the quarter-life-crisis.

Others are free to seek happiness as a goal even if I don’t think that is a worthy goal in and of itself. As for me I will continue to seek meaning with my family and friends. I may not get there, I may not find the meaning of life, but it takes time, and  seeking meaning is proven a better path than seeking happiness alone. And I intend to enjoy the thoughts and the journey of life.

I’ll leave you with a video from my friend  Aaron who had it posted on his blog after Hurricane Ike. It’s his girls at the beach at his parents old beach house on bolivar. The video has meaning. And it makes you happy too.

Any Excuse, No Matter How Valid, Is Still an Excuse

  Sunday Breakfast 
  Originally uploaded by darkhairedgirl

One of the points that is articulated well in the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is the awareness that:

Any Excuse, No Matter How Valid, Is Still an Excuse

We rotate kolache and donut duty at our office and the email went out this morning with this line in it.

“Not a lot of varieties. The guy in the Kolache store just had a baby last night, so he didn’t get much time to make more.“

Read that again. The man’s wife had a baby THAT NIGHT and still opened the store for business taking care of his customers. While his regulars would surely have understood if he wasn’t there, new customers would have wondered if the store was closed. So he opened it regardless.

This is a guy, who for better or worse, understands the phrase "any excuse, no matter how valid, is still an excuse". This is the competition. This is why I work on Saturdays. Yes be smart. Yes have a work/life balance. But know that the competition opens the kolache store at 4 AM after being up all night with his wife who just had a baby. That is the competition. Be afraid.

Update: before you ask, yes I was there when my kids were born so judge me by my actions. I am not advocating or even agreeing with this man’s actions. I am however impressed with his drive.


Thanks to some amazing people – 10 years of business!

“A great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” – unknown

As the reader has probably gathered, I run a small web design business in Houston Texas. 23 employees now that our summer interns have gone back to school. 300+ clients ish.

Well that small business is 10 years old today. I put in my notice at Lyondell Petrochemicals on 8/15/1997, worked my two weeks, and my first day solo was 9/1/1997. 10 years old today, which is September 1, 2007.

Sheeeeesh! 10 Years! Holy crap!

The main emotion I am feeling is thanks. THANKS to all of the people who have made this happen. I like that quote at the top because it highlights the very challenge. In fact *you* can’t do this, but *you* can build a team and that team can do close to anything. So in so many ways, I do not have a 10 year old business, I have just been lucky enough to assemble a team of brilliant people and have HUGE support from family and friends that allowed us this success.

Humble. At an emotional level that has to be the biggest emotion I am feeling.

The biggest thanks has to go to my wife Rachel of 17 years. Rachel has been the rock that held everything together. It is not easy being married to an entrepreneur, a word that also took me years to accept. But there it is. So THANKS RACHEL!

While many more thanks are in order, we have a few “birthday celebrations” coming up over the last two quarters of this year and I hopefully get a chance to thank most of those people in person. However I do have a few lessons learned that I wanted to share after the jump.

Continue reading “Thanks to some amazing people – 10 years of business!”

Winning Makes You Live Longer

It is good to be a Nobel price winner. You get to live longer according to Wired.

So it seems to me that this ‘control of destiny’
phenomenon is in effect even among Nobel Prize finalists – if you win,
you’re the king of the world, in total control. If you don’t, you’ll
always know that there’s always somebody out there better than you,
even if it’s just one punk physicist at MIT…

Just one more reason why WINNING! is good.