Magic

I believe there are just a handful of moments in one’s life where you feel the beauty of what it is to be alive.

Even more precious than those are the rare instances where you can share that experience with those you truly love.

Mr. Big Stuff

After a loved one passes away, your mind and heart go into a state of panic. First there’s the disbelief that you won’t ever see them again. You have recurrences of seeing them out of the corner of your eye. Hearing them only to discover it was someone or something else. Each time this happens, your mind remembers that they’re gone and your heart breaks all over again. As you work through it, you become obsessed with remembering the mundane things about them: the sound of their voice, things they’d say at certain parts of the day, little looks they’d give you. This obsession is fueled by the fact that you know you will forget many of these things, and you don’t want to. You know that your mind is built to forget, and by it’s nature you will end up not caring as intensely as you do at that moment. It is a survival mechanism, it is unavoidable, it is heart-breaking.

Plenty of people don’t like cats, are allergic to cats, prefer dogs, think pets are silly, don’t understand how people can be so attached to animals, etc. If you are one of those people, stop reading now and go share of your time in some other productive way: feed the homeless or raise money for breast cancer awareness;

Murphy was our cat. The day I first set eyes on him was September 20th, 2004. Following an advertisement in the Toronto Star, we drove out to a dodgy very East part of Eglinton, to a shoddy townhouse where this hideous woman who was clearly out of her mind had been questioningly breeding Maine Coons. Prior to that day I had done research on the various dispositions of pure-bred cats, and I had decided that we should either get a Norwegian Forest cat or a Main Coon. After discovering the advertisement for pure-bred Maine Coons in the Star, and not knowing anything about responsible feline breeding, we made the trip and found Murphy:

Murphy on Sept 20, 2004

This woman’s house stunk. There were cats everywhere. The big cat who the woman claimed was Murphy’s mother had a growth what looked like a goyter on her bottom lip. In retrospect, the entire experience was terrifying. But I believe that I’m not the type of person who realizes the situation he’s in until he’s had time to reflect upon it. Only all these years later do I fully understand what we were getting ourselves into. But I’m also a firm believer in fate, and that we were meant to find Murphy and fall in love with him that day, which we did.

After speaking with other breeders and discovering that this woman was in-breeding her cats, that her cats were likely to have health problems, that they could even be mentally handicapped, Sarah convinced me that we needed to save Murphy from whatever other life he might lead. Could he really find a home better than ours? Two devout cat lovers, ready and willing to give ourselves wholeheartedly to this small animal built to generate and consume love? It was already too late, we had fallen for him. So, on October 6th, 2004, we brought him 20 floors up to our 2 bedroom, 900 square foot Walmer Road apartment near St. Clair & Bathurst in Toronto. The ride home had been a bumpy one in our jeep, and he threw up a little tube of cat chow in the elevator. But it didn’t stop him from being playful and fun even on that first day.

After playing around for a bit, I sat down on the floor. He jumped up on my lap and fell asleep shockingly fast. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he had already decided that I was his “person”. He was mine, I was his, and that was final. That would never waver throughout all of the years he graced us with his presence.

He was a loud cat. He never screamed, he always roared. A little low on water in his bowl? Roar! He just had a big poop and wanted everyone to know? Roar! Annoyed that we had been gone from the house for too long? ROAR!! We are trying to sleep in on Saturday morning and he wants us to get up? ROAR!!!

That being said, he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. I never heard him growl in his entire life. I don’t believe he had the capacity to get that angry. Sure he got feisty and chased us around, rough-housed us a bit. But he was just playing, and that was clear. He was never mad at anyone. The only emotions he ever experienced were love, joy, contentment, and fear.

He was afraid of the vet’s office. When he was very little he spent quite a bit of time there. It turned out that when we got him from the dodgy breeder he had fleas. He got a strange growth on his forehead that took some ointment to get rid of. He was in-and-out of the vets office for a variety of problems, and he decided with complete finality that he didn’t like the vet’s office when we had him neutered and he had to spend a couple of nights there. We went to visit him after the procedure, and when he saw us he started panicking. Reaching for us through the cage, roaring and roaring. It was heartbreaking to leave him for another night, and he continued to roar long after we had left (so the vets told us).

Murphy adored us. He never wanted to be away from us. And for the first 6 years of his life, he didn’t have to be. I was a contractor, and I worked from home for most of those years. If he wasn’t on my lap, he was on the desk beside my computer as I worked. We had our daily routine where I would get up in the morning and feed him; go change his litter; make myself some cereal and tea as he ate his food. We’d re-convene in my spare-bedroom office where I’d go through my email and he’d have a bath. I’d lose myself in work, and sooner or later this would be the situation:

Six years. SIX years spending every day with each other. I can’t describe to you how our lives became intertwined. I know … he was “just” a cat. But the patterns we developed together became the fabric of my existence. Not only was I used to them, I enjoyed them. I WANTED to get up each day and perform our mundane routines. I wanted to waste time jokingly calling him insulting names and playfully pushing him around. I liked him fighting back, scratching my arms, nibbling at my hands, and eventually fall asleep again on my lap.

Over the years there were times when I got mad at him. He’d make messes, he’d wake us up when we were exhausted, he’d get “the mads” and chase Sarah (terrified and shrieking) into a corner. I would get mad at him in return, assert my dominant position, and he’d accept. He was never angry at me; It wasn’t in him to be that way.

Everyone who met Murphy immediately understood that he was special. We used to call him many names, but my favorite was “The Prince”. He was unlike any other cat we’ve ever met in his happiness, zest for life, and loving nature; but also in the way he commanded people’s attention. Once they saw him, they couldn’t turn away. They had to pet him. People who were deathly allergic to cats and don’t even like to be near them would say, “No, it’s fine. I can pet him. I’ll just take some Claritin™”, and I’d watch in awe as these people would be completely captivated by him. He was the Sven Gali of cats.

I believe he led an incredibly happy and full life until 2010, when we moved from Saskatoon to Montreal. When we first moved there, he got sick. We had been in the city for less than a day when he stopped eating and drinking water. He would hide in corners, staring at walls, moaning. Sarah and I were in a state, and to this day we don’t know what was wrong with him. We took him to a number of different veterinarians, none of whom could say what was wrong with him. We thought for sure that he was going to die. I was grief stricken, and I sat holding him for hours, sobbing, wishing there was something I could do to bring him back to us. In the end we enticed him back to the world with delicious and unhealthy cat-foods. Eventually he began eating again (although throwing a lot of it up). It took a few weeks, but eventually he normalized. But the truth is that he was never the same after that. The next upheaval in his life was a new addition to our family. On November 14, 2010 our daughter Francesca was born.

I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like for Murphy to go from being the head honcho to being swept aside by the time-intensive requirements of parenthood. We literally had no time for Murphy anymore, and because he was such a loud cat and our daughter had such a hard time sleeping, we had to put up a barrier to keep him downstairs. He went from being treated like a King, pushing our heads off our pillows to make more room for himself, to being left downstairs alone at night so we could get a couple of hours of desperately needed sleep.

Of course, Murphy accepted all of this with grace. We knew that he didn’t like it, but he accepted the order of things and took the love and time he could get. Again, he didn’t have it in him to hold a grudge or be angry.

Murphy’s one crutch was always his love of water. From when he was just a young boy, his favourite past-time was getting wet. As a kitten he would hop into the shower as I got ready in the morning and “accidentally” fall into the deluge. And for the last two years of his life his one daily sojourn was to get into the bath-tub and drink water from the tap. He roared for it constantly, and we let him do it as much as we could because he loved it so much and we desperately wanted to give him any joy we could in a time where we had so little to give. It was quite literally the least we could do.

As Frankie grew and eventually began interacting with him, he took it all in stride. As a clumsy baby, Francesca was not exactly tender with him. She climbed all over him, using him as a rolling pin, hitting him repeatedly with excitement. We did our best to stop her from hurting him, but he loved the attention and would get in there like a dirty shirt no matter how rough the play was. He never hurt her. He never bit or scratched back as she learned the limits of her strength. She did get scratches from time to time, but only from the way that she tackled him, none of it came from Murphy trying to inflict any damage.

Over the final months of Murphy’s life, Frankie had gotten old enough that she was able to understand us when we would explain to her how she should treat Murphy. “You need to be NICE to Murphy. He’s a GOOD boy. Pet him SOFTly. That’s right. SOFT.” His life was gradually regaining some of the comfort and adoration that he had enjoyed for so long. We were able to give him more attention! After Frankie was asleep, Sarah and I would hang out with him downstairs. We would groom him, pet him, massage him. He’d cozy up next to us and sleep. Things were moving in the right direction.

Finally, about three months before Murphy passed, I made some major decisions about our future. I needed to make life better for my family, and Murphy was a big part of that family. I knew that we needed to turn everything upside down, and as things settled in this new place, I wanted it to be better for everyone, including Murphy: if we moved to a new house, I wanted Murphy to sleep in our room with us again; I wanted to give him back some of the life he had before moving to Montreal; I wanted him to feel that kind of love and devotion again.

On Tuesday, September 11 2012, Sarah and I got up and began our daily routine. Sarah went downstairs to get Frankie’s breakfast ready, and she lifted Murphy over the child barrier so he could come up to the bath-tub for water, one of our daily rituals. I was changing Frankie’s diaper, and instead of going to the bathroom, Murphy came into her bedroom and roared at me. This was slightly unusual. I said, “Hi Murph! Frankie, want to see Murph?!”

I picked him up and gave him a good scratch on his neck & shoulders. I held him upside down across my chest like a baby, and I dipped his head back towards Frankie on the changing table. She laughed and reached up to kiss him on the forehead. “That’s right!”, I said, “He’s a good boy!”

I put him back down on the ground and told him I’d put the tap on in the tub for him in a minute. I was finishing getting Frankie dressed, and Sarah yelled up to me that he was back downstairs. Again, unusual. I took Frankie down to Sarah, and carried Murphy up to the bathroom. I put him on the side of the tub so he wouldn’t have to jump up himself (he always had a hard time jumping). I turned the water on, and he hopped down and began to drink. I showered as he drank and bathed himself. I got dressed, we met at the top of the stairs, and we went down together. I picked him up and carried him over the baby-barrier. I began to get my things together for work, and I filled up his water & food bowls. I turned around, and saw that he was low-walking and panting. His back legs were very low to the ground, and he was mostly dragging himself with his front legs. His breathing was shallow, but he was taking rapid short breaths. His mouth was open. His tongue was out. Something was clearly wrong.

I dropped everything and took him to the vet. Sarah didn’t even get to kiss him goodbye. We had no idea he wouldn’t be coming home. He was on the exam table within 30 minutes, and the doctor knew immediately what was wrong: He had suffered a stroke. The blood clot had gone down a main artery in his back and blocked blood flow to his back legs, which is why his legs weren’t working. Murphy had let out a heart-wrenching moan as I slid him out of his travel bag onto the table, and the doctor now confirmed that he was in an immense amount of pain. The doctor explained that the available treatments were not very effective, but I already knew that Murphy was going to die. Blubbering like a fool, I said to the doctor, “He’s in pain?”

The doctor nodded solemnly and confirmed, “Yes.”

The words fell out of my mouth like unwelcome thoughts, “Then … he …. has to … go”.

“I’m sorry, man,” the doctor said, “This is just shitty.”

They gave him a local anesthetic in his hind quarters to ease the pain. Then they euthanized him. When they put the needle in his arm, he bit my hand from the pain and gave me a little scratch. I’m looking at it now with love. I wish it was deeper, bigger, and would scar permanently. I told him he’d feel better soon. I caressed his head and looked into his eyes throughout. He stared back at me as he went.

I feel so proud and lucky to have been chosen by him, and I do truly feel that he chose us to live with, and me as his person. I wish that his life over the last 2 years had been better, and I wish that I had been able to have some more time with him to show him that he wasn’t being punished since Frankie had been born; that he was still my beloved boy. But none of that matters now. Now he’s gone, and our intertwined lives are unraveling. Our patterns are gone, and I feel it in everything that I do.

The house feels empty. Quiet. So quiet. We are going to forget what his roar sounded like. The pain of the loss will dull. But I can’t believe how much I miss him. I’m so shocked by his sudden death. Living our happy comfortable rut one moment, and one hour later he’s gone. This Sven Gali of cats with the ability to soften the hardest of hearts is gone. The world has lost some of it’s magic. I am just so lucky to have been witness to it for the last 8 years.

Happy Thursday

“Why doesn’t Mark blog anymore” you ask?

It’s not because I have nothing to say. To the contrary, I have plenty of things going on, and many many thoughts keeping me up pontificating at night. No, it’s because of something my father told me many years ago, “Say anything you want, but never put it in writing.”

Of course, my father was referring to things like angry exchanges with an employer. But through my work with Vanilla, I became afraid of over-promising and under-delivering. I decided to not write about anything we were doing until it was done. This practice led into my personal life as well. And before I knew it, I didn’t want to put anything on my blog because the thought that someone might want to debate a point with me made me feel nothing but exhaustion. I figured that if I don’t care to hear another’s opinion, what right did I have to share mine?

Well, as things go, I’m in yet another “transition period” in my life. We all go through them. We cut ourselves a nice groove and ride it for any number of years, and then eventually we begin to vibrate at another level and we decide to either accept our circumstances as they are, or take the responsibility for changing them. Recently I (finally) chose the latter.

I’ve found that during these transition periods you become introspective and melancholy, but it is eclipsed with an immense feeling of pride for all you’ve been able to accomplish (even accomplishing the decision to finally make a change), as well as a warm feeling that great things are in your future. Tonight I’m at home alone and I decided to take a glance back at all that has happened to me since my last point of life-transition.

Four years ago my wife and I were not happy. I had taken a keen interest in “getting healthy” and yet somehow managed to “party” constantly. I exercised until I was at a point where I was happy with my physical appearance, and I was out with my friends until ungodly hours doing things that I’m definitely not going to put in writing. It was not just unfair to her, it was completely reprehensible of me. I woke up one day thinking (not for the first time), “I can’t believe she puts up with me. I need to get my shit together before she leaves.”

That was when I reached out into the world and discovered TechStars. To say that TechStars saved my life is probably an overstatement, but to say that it set me on a positive life trajectory is completely accurate. I plucked myself out of the world I’d created and put myself into a foreign one. One filled with warmth, friendship, knowledge, passion, technology, venture capital, belief in the unbelievable. A world that literally felt like the wild west. Anything was possible.

For about three years I’ve struggled up the steep hill of entrepreneurship, rebuilt my relationship with my beloved wife, been witness to the birth of our first child, and watched in awe as our lives unfolded before our very eyes like a hazy dream. We struggled, we fought, we cried tears of anger, joy, passion, and happiness. And now we’re moving on.

I can’t believe how amazing the last three years have been, and I count myself extraordinarily blessed to have taken on the responsibility to change my circumstances, and to have met and befriended so many incredible people along the way.

Everyone at Vanilla, TechStars, and Real Ventures; Everyone in the Boulder/Denver, SF, and Montreal startup scene; You all know who you are. I’m a lucky man to have enjoyed the pleasure of your company, and I look forward to seeing you again some time soon.

Here is a slideshow from the last three years full of people, places, and things that I love.

… and here’s a soundtrack for the slideshow:

You have no idea how good you look

People are the worst judges of how they look. I came to realize this while looking through some friend’s profiles in facebook. Typically the pictures they chose as “profile pictures” – ie. “the picture that best represents you right now” looked nothing like them. Most of the girls were giving silly coy poses and making the duck face. What is up with that? Seriously.

What were your favourite pictures in your high school yearbook? It certainly wasn’t the face listings, and it wasn’t any of the posed shots. It was always those “captured moment” shots from dances, sporting events, whatever. It’s the pictures that were taken when the subjects didn’t know anyone was watching. It’s the pictures of you in a moment where you’re just being yourself. Let’s face it, you’re awesome! The sad part is that even if you agree that you are awesome, you probably don’t think you’re that physically attractive. I’m looking at you: women. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t think she’s ugly in some way. She’s either too fat, too thin (a rarity), too veiny, too wrinkly, hair is too curly, hair is too straight, too hairy, too balding. You get the point.

Why can’t people just be happy with themselves? If you get up in the morning, make sure you don’t stink (shower), make sure you don’t look absolutely ridiculous (wear untorn, well-fitted clothes, comb your hair, etc), I can guarantee that the only person who thinks there is something wrong with your physical appearance that day will be you. You’re too damn self-conscious. You need to accept that it is the person you are underneath your skin who people really see.

That is why my favourite feature of Facebook is the “Pictures of ” album. This is the album of photos taken of you by other people. Photos that people have tagged you in, that you didn’t even know were being taken. These are the closest you will probably ever get to capturing who you are in image format. The shittiest part of it is that many people I know end up requesting that a large majority of these pictures be untagged (it’s their right in facebook to request this) because “my arm looks fat”, or “you can see my mole”, or “my ear looks weird”. It’s stupid. Let the chips fall and show people who you really are. No-one is going to think you’re ugly, and those who know (or have known) you will appreciate the glimpse into the awesomeness of you.

I really don’t want to get in trouble with folks for putting up pics that they don’t like, so here are a few examples of the types of pictures I’m talking about from my “photos of mark” album in Facebook. These people are all awesome:

CE(Uh)O

No Doubts

Fred Wilson states that (a wise VC he knew stated):

A CEO does only three things. Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders. Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company. Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank.

Fred goes on to say:

I’ve learned that great CEOs can and often will do a lot more than these three things. And that is OK. [...] But I have also learned that if you cannot do these three things well, you will not be a great CEO.

I wish Fred had posted that on the web a year before he did, and I wish I was wise enough to understand what it meant at that time.

When we took Vanilla through the TechStars program in Boulder in 2009, we really went there for the mentorship & networking. The program most definitely delivered on that account, and we came through a gruelling 3 months with our minds in heavy “listen to your mentors” mode. After leaving the program, we were able to raise a round of financing, and Vanilla’s Board of Directors was born.

We have an awesome board of directors at Vanilla with, we believe, some incredibly smart people who bring unequaled insight to the table. This fact, combined with the fact that we had just come out of a program where we had been heavily (and happily) mentored led to one powerful problem: I was not a good CEO.

The part of Fred’s quote above that got me was that a CEO “Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders.”. I failed at this job. Miserably. Instead of coming into board meetings with strong opinions about what we are doing and where we should take the company, I was deep on the other side of the fence: asking (practically begging) for advice, always willing to accept criticism on decisions to the point where I never sounded confident in any of them. I treated our board of directors like mentors instead of equals.

The hard lesson that I’ve learned over the last year is that when you put yourself in a diminutive position, people will treat you accordingly. In other words, if you act like you might be wrong, people will assume you are wrong. And if you act that way all the time, they will think that you just don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

It’s a hard fact to remember, but for all their experience, investors put their faith (and money) into your company (ie. you) because you are the experts in your field. You should always have the strongest opinions about the direction of your company from day-to-day tasks to overall vision & strategy.

I’ve spoken with many CEO’s about the struggles of being one, and there are many pitfalls that my friends and colleagues have experienced – this one being no exception. I hope that someone (perhaps the latest companies leaving the warm embrace of TechStars) reads this and takes it to heart.

Wonderful Wonderful

I finally have an excuse for never posting to my blog anymore, and she’s a wonderful one we’ve named Frankie.

Me & Frankie

Shenanigans at Grow Conference in Vancouver

Last week I attended the Grow conference in Vancouver, where I had an amazing time meeting smart and talented entrepreneurs from across Canada. There are some truly groundbreaking things happening up here in the great white North.

During the second day of the conference, a small group of us got together and rented a boat to do a tour of the Harbour. Those people are:

Scott Annan is the founder of Network Hippo in Ottawa, which is “a powerful and unique network relationship management tool that helps you build stronger relationships with people that matter. [They] help you stay in touch, reach out, and build stronger relationships.”.

Scott Lake and Craig Silverman founded SWIX aka “Social Web Index” (also in Ottawa) which is “a social media analytics application that monitors all of your social media properties (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, +20 others). Each day, SWIX gathers visitor and usage data for your sites, graphs it over time and puts everything in one convenient place for you.”

Leila Boujnane founded Idée Inc. in Toronto, which is “develops advanced image identification and visual search software.” They do all kinds of cool stuff, and if you are a designer, you should check this out, and definitely check this out.

The five of us got up to no good while out there. My flickr pictures from the trip are here, and we also have this video entitled “Bye Bye Mark O’Sullivan”:

Bye Bye Mark O’Sullivan

Don’t Suck at Email

spam

One of the bigger lessons I learned over my time in Boulder at TechStars was this: Don’t Suck at Email. Now that I consider myself to be quite good at email, it pains me to see people suck at it. And the sad truth is that most people truly suck at email. This was a topic we discussed a lot over the Summer, so I hope in sharing this information I can help a few people.

Seven Rules to Not Sucking at Email

1. Use the Subject Line – Sounds simple, but it amazes me how many people send out emails with useless subjects like “hey”, or worse – no subject at all. The subject line is not only the first glimpse a person gets of your reason for contacting them (which is extremely important if you are cold-emailing someone), but it also is a key piece of information that people might search on when trying to find your email some time down the road. Take a moment to actually think about the purpose of your email. Keep it between 2 and 7 words. Make it descriptive and succinct.

2. The “Three Sentence Rule” – This is one that can be tricky to use across all emails you send, but it is definitely worth using when you are reaching out to people who (a) you don’t know personally, (b) you have never contacted before, or (c) you know suck at replying to emails. Keep your email body down to three sentences. I know that you might feel the need to put more information into an email than three sentences, but the reality is that the people on the other end of the line are giant question-marks. You don’t know how busy they are, how much they suck at email, how interested they are in what you have to say, etc. If you go above three sentences, there is a high likelihood that they will not reply to your email. It can be challenging at first, but eventually you’ll find that you can get your point across in an extremely succinct manner. Only ask them one question, and put it in your last sentence. This leaves the question lingering in the other person’s mind, and it allows them to quickly shoot you back a response without feeling the pressure of a mass-volume, heavy-content email that will require more than 1 minute of their time. Most importantly, it gets the volley of conversation started, so your more detailed questions or information can follow-on in a conversation that the other person is now invested in.

3. Spell Check – If you are not great at spelling, use the spell checker. Nothing makes you look dumber than bad spelling and bad grammar. Simple, but true.

4. Reply to Important Emails Right Away – I used to get important emails and decide that I needed to think about the response for a long time before replying. I didn’t want to send knee-jerk emails back that had incomplete information. So, I’d wait a day, maybe two days, or sometimes as long as a week. Two things happen when you do this: First, the person on the other end thinks that (a) you didn’t get the email, (b) you don’t care about the email, or (c) you are a complete idiot. Second, you could possibly forget to ever reply at all. So, when I get important emails, I reply to them right away – even if I don’t have all of the information the person needs, I’ll tell them that I don’t have it, but I’ll get it to them by X date, and then I set a reminder and make sure that I get them that information by the time I said I would.

5. Use “Unread” Status – This is a habit I’ve picked up, and I find it extremely useful. If I read an email that isn’t very important, but does require a response from me, I’ll leave it marked as “unread” until I have the time or information required to respond. Every time I open my email program, I see X unread messages, and I am reminded of the emails I need to respond to. At least once a day I know I have the time to respond to those emails (typically first thing in the morning), so I’ll go back and make sure that everyone gets the information they need.

6. Be Conscious of How Much You Suck – If you send out emails that you consider important and you don’t get a response, think about why that might be. Go back up to the points above and compare the rules to the email you sent: Did you use a descriptive subject? Was the body of your email full of too much information, or did you stick to the three sentence rule? Did you only ask one question, or did you manage to squeeze more than one question into your three sentences? Did you have spelling mistakes? Was your grammar so bad that the email didn’t even make sense? If you’ve done a good job on all of those points, then we fall into point 4: the person you are trying to contact (a) didn’t get the email, (b) doesn’t care about the email, or (c) is a complete idiot. Because so many people suck at email, I’ve often found myself falling into the (b) category. No matter which way the cookie crumbles, you need to remember the most important rule of all when sending emails…

7. Be Persistent – No matter what the reason is for someone not replying to you, persistence will get you everywhere. The best way to be persistent and not be annoying is to use rules 1, 2, and 3. Keep your emails about the business at hand, and don’t let emotion get involved – which can be difficult if you’re dealing with someone who sucks at email. The last bit of advice I can give on this point is to remember that we all live in the real world. Email is fast and easy, but the reality is that not everyone uses it, and not everyone cares about it. I know it’s scary, but if you’re dealing with someone who sucks at email, sometimes you just have to pick up the phone and call them.

How to Handle a Pull Request from GitHub

pull-requests

We decided to pick up Git for the Vanilla & Garden projects after discussions we had with people from many other companies while we were in TechStars this past summer. Git is still a bit of an enigma to me, and I’ve been receiving pull requests from people for a while, and I’ve failed to successfully get their changes into my code – instead opting to just manually apply their changes with my own IDE. That is, of course, a total waste of my time and contrary to the entire purpose of us adopting Git. So, today I finally sat down and dug my way through to figure out how to handle a pull request.

After a few hours of frustration, it finally makes sense. Here’s the long and short of it: Define the user’s remote repo, get a local copy of their work, go into the branch you want to pull their changes into, and cherry pick their commit into your branch.

Here are the actual commands I used to accomplish this for a number of different pull requests today:

Step 1. Do you already have their repo set up as a remote branch on your dev machine? Check with:

git remote -v

If not, add the remote branch and fetch the latest changes with:

git remote add -f <username> git://github.com/<username>/Garden.git

Note: “Garden” is the name of our project on github. Obviously, you would need to substitute that for your project name.

2. Do you already have a local copy of their repo? Check with:

git branch -a

If not, create it and check it out with:

git checkout -b <username>/master

If you do already have a local copy of their repo, fetch the latest changes:

git fetch <username>

3. Get their changes into your personal working branch:

git checkout master
git cherry-pick <hash of user's specific changes that they requested you to pull>

That’s it. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure that out!

The Green Room

TechStars in Seattle

I just got back last night from a TechStars event in Seattle. The event was an opportunity for TechStars teams from all locations and years to get together and share the challenges they’re facing in every aspect of their businesses. Beyond that it was a great opportunity to meet some of the people from the Seattle entrepreneurial community and some of the fantastic mentors out there.

Listening to the other teams speak, the thing that really struck me was the different stages the companies were at based on the year they “graduated” from TechStars. Teams from the first year ranged from completely disbanded to successful exits (some of whom are onto their next big ideas). Teams from year two fascinated me most of all, as they represented the place where Vanilla can be a year from now. Some were struggling, others were seeing great success through bootstrapping alone, and others were considering new rounds of financing. Finally, the teams from this year (my “class”) were all in roughly the same boat – at or near closing their first round of financing, starting to hire staff, and really cranking hard at improving their products and services.

What struck me about the spectrum were the levels of what I’m calling “green”. I believe that we’re never going to know everything, and everyone is always in an intense state of learning – especially in start-ups, where there is always more to do than you had anticipated. I found that the knowledge I gained from interacting with the teams from the first two years was just as valuable – if not more valuable in some cases – as the knowledge I gained from interacting with mentors at the event. I left the event extremely excited about all of the things (yet unknown) that will happen to Vanilla in the next 12 months.

I spoke about these levels of green to some of the other teams from 2009 TechStars, and we all brought up one of our favourite sessions from our time at TechStars – the “Previous Founders Day”. On “Previous Founders Day”, David Cohen invited all of the companies that had previously gone through TechStars to come back to Boulder, sit in a big group across from the new class of founders, and field their questions until they ran out of them. To me, this past summer, those companies seemed so much further along than me, and I felt that we – sitting across from them – were clueless. What I didn’t know at the time was that they were sitting at various shades of green as well.

I, personally, can’t wait for that day to come in 2010. I’ve already started to compile a list of things that those founders should know about the program going in. For example: what it actually means to take on an investment and what the expectations of the investors are. In 2009 when I was going through the program, I was unaware that we’d be placed in front of investors so early in the summer, and I’m sure that to many of them I came across as a complete fool. Another example: how to make the most of your time. I thought I knew what “busy” was when I first entered the program, and by the last month of the program I ached for the heady, lazy days of month 1. Another example: how to approach mentors. In the beginning I was nervous about approaching mentors. I was afraid of saying something stupid and scaring them away. I didn’t realize that they expected me to say stupid things and have silly misconceptions. They wanted to help me work through the things I didn’t know.

Prepare yourselves, future TechStars, for the green room. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been working on, and share my “advanced” shade of green with you.