So What’s Next? Part 1: My Search Criteria

Now that the cat is out of the bag on my departure from TrueCar, lot’s of folks have been asking what’s next for me professionally.  So I thought I would share my process and how I’m thinking about what I want to do next in a series of posts.  I actually began this process several months ago, it’s been a challenging journey with emotional highs and lows but has also been rewarding having met some incredible people and re-connected with others.

Bottom line, there are a number of potential paths to take and criteria to examine – company size, role, geography, my risk appetite, work/life balance – and there are pros and cons to each of the many combinations.  The good news for me?  I’m not ready to make a decision and I’m in no hurry.  And I’ve been blessed with a unique opportunity to have a professional transition at the exact time that my child is born and I plan on taking advantage of simply being a dad and staring at my son for a few months.  I’m extremely thankful for that opportunity.

So how am I going about my search for the next big thing?  There are really two high-level components to the process.  First, being clear about my search criteria and second, executing a process for uncovering opportunities and ultimately choosing one.  I’ll talk about the first component in this post – my ideal search criteria.  Important to note that “ideal” implies a willingness to compromise and evaluate tradeoffs, which in turn requires that criteria are ranked in priority importance.  Here are mine, in order:

  1. I’m not going to start my own company from scratch.  So, I’m looking to partner with a Founder or Founding team.
  2. Chemistry with and complementary skills to the Founder(s) is an A-1 priority.  Alignment on strategy, roles, values, culture, team building among others is important.
  3. I have a strict “No Asshole” rule.  Meaning I won’t work for one, I won’t be one and I won’t participate in a culture that rewards being one.  It’s toxic and threatens both morale and productivity.
  4. I’m looking for an early stage, venture-backed business post Series A.  As opposed to a pure garage startup with limited traction and no funding.
  5. I want to build a company with balance – work / life / pursuits.  I have enough experience to know that working 80-hour weeks just because your “supposed to” in a startup is bunk.  A culture of work hard, smart and leaving some juice for personal pursuits is far more productive.  I’m also not suggesting that clocking a 40-hour week is the right answer either.  You work harder in a startup, period.  But balance is possible.
  6. I’m considering four geographies.  Boulder, Austin, Bay Area and Los Angeles.
  7. I don’t care about industry vertical, but…
  8. I want to focus on a huge industry with a large addressable market.  Even better if the industry is fragmented with limited established brands.  But it needs to be a big idea.
  9. I’m targeting CEO roles, but will consider COO roles.  This is really a function of the experience/strengths of the Founder, back to chemistry.
  10. I want to build a company that solves a real problem and helps people in some meaningful way.
So, have I narrowed myself out of sufficient considerable opportunities?  Maybe, but that’s why its important to create and priority rank a list of criteria, so I fully understand the tradeoffs to be made and which of them can be compromised to create a broader set and volume of opportunities.
These are, at a minimum, guideposts for targeting companies, roles and geographies.  In Part 2, I’ll talk about the process of uncovering, narrowing and choosing which roles to pursue.

Thank You TrueCar

As I wrote in a previous post, there are several “life events” happening for me simultaneously.  Last week it was the birth of my first child and this week a professional transition – my last week of employment with TrueCar.  As I reflect on the past 3.5 years, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much about building a company from the ground up.  Most important however, I’m thankful to have worked with an amazingly talented team of people – product specialists, statisticians and analysts, engineers and technologists, finance and accounting gurus, lawyers, PR and marketing wizards and the list goes on.  The original leadership team in particular deserves and has my deepest gratitude – Damon, Chris, Mike and Jesse – who took a risk in joining our startup and did so because they all shared a vision for building a business that had the potential for changing a huge industry.  And we did it!

While I’m excited to move on and tackle another challenge, it will be difficult to replicate the quality and cohesiveness of the team we built at TrueCar.  Building a leadership team of the best, who can also function at a high level together, is really hard to do.  It’s not just about intellect and job skills, its about personality, values and cultural fit as well.  A startup is by definition chaotic, ambiguous, uncertain, stressful and requires more time away from family than a normal “job”.  It can also be incredibly rewarding and energizing.  Its not for everyone, in fact its not for most.  But it was right for these guys and for the functional teams they built.

Finally, special thanks to Scott for giving me the opportunity to join him in building the business.  Eternally grateful.

A Week of Firsts

At 42 years old, I didn’t think so many “first” new experiences could possibly be packed into a single week.  That was before the remarkable experience of childbirth.  Renee and I welcomed our son Jack Robert Taylor into the world last Saturday, July 16.

Look at that hair!

Now that we are a week post-delivery, I thought I would share a few firsts in my life as experienced during the week.  I’m sure there are many more to come!

  • First time experiencing the miracle of childbirth.  And it is a miracle.  I was doing great helping Renee through the birthing process, really holding it together until I saw Jack’s head, then the rest of his body enter our world.  Then I lost it.  Remarkably emotional and never to be forgotten experience.  And made even more special by having my Mom and Aunt join us for the birth.
  • First time driving 20mph in a 30mph zone.  Seriously, I’ve got a bit of a lead foot and can’t remember the last time I drove the speed limit.  The drive from the hospital to our house was terrifying.  It was old lady driving at its best.
  • First time experiencing true sleep deprivation.  Now I’m a guy that needs his beauty sleep and while I’m losing some sleep, I’m actually sleeping like a King compared to Renee who is up constantly feeding.  We’ve worked out a system that in short has made our days highly efficient.  The next step?  Finding some time for each other.
  • First time there’s someone utterly dependent on me for survival.  I’ve become instantly unselfish.  There is no other way now.  It’s cool.
  • First time I felt relieved to the point of giddy by someone else taking a poop.  To be clear, the first few days are tense when the baby is losing weight and is not pooping and so when it finally came it was the best laugh Renee and I had since the birth.  Now we just laugh every time he poops because it sounds like a volcanic eruption and it scares him.  I’m laughing right now thinking about it.
  • First time I put my wife’s appointments on MY calendar.  Everything must be planned and synched between us.  If she can’t take our ESP machine (Eating, Sleeping, Pooping), then I need to care for him.
And finally,
  • First time I realized my life is really different now.  Friday night our neighbors were having a huge, blowout bash and there was a moment when Renee and I were on the couch, she was holding Jack and I was trying to figure out if the explosion I heard was Jack soiling his diaper.  Sticking my nose in his leg opening didn’t do it, so I stuck my finger in his diaper and got a creamy chocolate surprise.  So there I am, baby poo on my finger, looking at Renee and listening to the trance music and revelling next door.  I said, “Well, our lives sure changed overnight, heh?”.  It was good for another gut-busting laugh.
All you parents, what other “firsts” did I miss?

Renee on the Eve of Baby G

Renee on the Eve of Baby G. Inducing at 6am tomorrow. http://ow.ly/i/elOY

What’s Up G?

The waiting game is brutal, we are now 2 days past Baby G’s due date which normally might not be so bad, but we’ve been told for the past 6 weeks that “this baby is coming early”.  The OB/GYN said this morning that the earliest they would induce labor would be next Tuesday, putting us in week 42.  So at least we know worst case.  And we want to meet him!  The Nana’s have traveled from far and wide and are waiting here with us.  Renee has been handling everything amazingly well – including daily trail hikes, stairmaster and bumpy car rides to “encourage” the little guy to start his journey.  So what’s up G?  Let’s get this train rolling!

As for me, its been hard to get motivated to write, work, read, job search, think, exercise, you name it.   The Tour de France has been a great distractor and reason to procrastinate as it is every year for me.  This year’s Tour is particularly engaging and unpredictable.

I’ll probably continue to be off the grid for awhile with regards to any professional posts unless something comes along that I just can’t help reacting to!

My Favorite Things Right Now

Thought I would share some cool stuff thats made its way into my life most recently.  This is a random walk of technology, books, apparel and music.  Take what you like, leave the rest.  Here goes!

Books

  • Born to Run by Chris McDougall.  For those of you that count running/jogging as a hobby, this is a fantastic read.  Very well written non-fiction about the ultra-distance running phenomenon focusing primarily on the Tarahumara Indians from Mexico’s Copper Canyon Region.  Humorous, educational read that inspired the barefoot running movement in the US.
  • The Big Short by Michael Lewis.  Incredible read inside the 2008 mortgage collapse, focusing on the big Wall Street firms, mortgage banks, Moody’s and others involved in the debacle.  Also includes some individual and small firm stories that made the right bets and raked in jaw-dropping profits, in one example 3 guys trading out of their Berkeley house made $80M on a $100,000 investment.  Crazy.
  • The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.  I am just now making my way through this 600-page reference manual that is a result of Tim’s personal 10-year quest to find “For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results?”  Pretty incredible claims in this book, many of them counterintuitive but personally experienced by Tim and almost always defended by scientific explanation.  Really interesting stuff especially if you’d like to lose some weight or massively increase endurance or strength by spending the least amount of effort and time to do so.

Technology, Music

  • Vitamix 5200 industrial strength blender.  Renee and I are breakfast smoothie freaks – protein, veggies and fruit blended at supersonic speeds to produce an incredibly healthy meal.  Traditional juicers filter the fiber from the ingredients taking out substantial nutrients.  With the Vitamix, you pile it all in and let the jet engine take it from there.  For $500, this blender should create the most heavenly and healthy smoothie ever.  And it does!  Not to mention the 7-year warranty.
  • Google Reader RSS Feed Aggregator.  After getting to the point of subscribing to way too many blogs and news feeds via email, I’ve now aggregated them all into an automated RSS aggregator and have all of my reading in one view.  Since I use Google for email, calendar and contacts (Gmail), its a natural choice for me.  There’s a ton of options out there for RSS aggregation and reading.
  • Polar RS800CX Multisport w/ GPS wrist computer for running and cycling.  This is a pretty awesome device that measures and tracks just about everything – Heart Rate, Speed, Distance, Route (Google Earth), Calories, and on and on.  It’s a wrist mounted device so you can use it for both running and cycling.  The only downside for cyclists is the inability to program routes and see them before and during your ride (like the Garmin Edge 705), but that’s the tradeoff to get a non-clunky, wrist mounted device.
  • RockMelt social browser.  This product is really cool, particularly if you are an avid user of social media, Facebook and Twitter specifically.  It’s actually an entirely new browser, a replacement for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc. and it rocks!  It functions just as your current browser does, except it integrates your social media applications around the border of the browser.  No need to have a separate tab for Twitter or Facebook, you can see with a glance all of your social media feed information and which of your contacts are online.  There are mobile apps as well so you have a seamless experience no matter where you are and which platform you are using.  A friend of mine just took a leadership role at this company, which recently closed a $30M round of funding from tier 1 VC’s.
  • Turntable.fm shared music experience.  This is a brand new service where you can create your own rooms by music theme, invite your friends to join, and jam out by DJing, searching for and playing your own music.  You can also join other rooms based on the type of music you are in the mood to listen to.  This is an incredibly social music experience, with real-time chat, avatars, points system and just great music.
  • Uber car service in SF and NY.  If you travel to SF, Palo Alto or NY and want a fantastic, hassle free car service (50% premium to taxi fares), download the Uber app and enjoy the experience.  Create your profile with credit card information, then simply request a car through the app.  It will tell you precisely how far away the driver is, provide her name and ratings and when your ride is finished, you jump out no payment or tip required.  Your credit card is charged automatically and receipt emailed to you.  SF is an awful city to hail a taxi, particularly when it rains.  Uber to the rescue!  Watch out for these guys they are about to expand into Seattle, Chicago, Boston and DC.
  • Quora answers everything, and does it intelligently through crowd sourcing.  I’ve been really impressed with the quality of topics, answers and discussion on Quora – a more opinionated but real-time wikipedia.  You can follow topics or people and because answers can be “voted up” by the community, it ensures the most valuable, useful answers are seen first.

Apparel

  • (Near) Barefoot running with Vibram FiveFinger shoes.  After reading Born to Run, I gave barefoot running a go more as an experiment that a convert.  So far its been good and pointing out how under-developed certain muscles, especially calves, have become using cushioned running shoes and (arguably) improper form.  I’m still using a mix of barefoot and traditional running shoes in order to keep my mileage up as I ease into the new process and attempt to avoid injury.  Another “how to” book for barefoot running is The Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard.
What are your favorite things right now?

Life is Good

There are a lot of “life events” about to occur in my life.  Specifically,

  • A new baby to arrive any day now.
  • A professional transition, to where has yet to be determined.
  • A probable relocation to a new city.

Many would say “Wow, you must be stressed, that’s too many “life events” happening at the same time”.  In fact a quick Google search of “life events” yields pages of articles, advice and tests associated with the stress of certain life events.  According to one test, I have had 9 life events in the past 12 months and registered an off the charts score of 302, which gives me an “80% susceptibility of stress-related illness”.  Phooey, I’ve never been healthier.

The reality is I’m filled with excitement about the various adventures and changes that are taking place.  Life is good.  Baby G is about to enter this world and join our family, it’s an exciting new chapter beginning in my life.  And while I will deeply miss TrueCar, a company I helped create from the ground floor, and the incredible team of people I’ve partnered with for the last 4 years, I’m excited about getting engaged in a new opportunity and new challenges.  Finally, while we’ve enjoyed a great quality of life in Los Angeles and may stay awhile longer, we are considering a handful of other markets where we would love to live and be closer to family.  Priorities after all.

Sure, there’s plenty of uncertainty in our future, but as an entrepreneur I’m used to uncertainty, ambiguity and chaos – the only thing certain about a startup is that it’s wrought with uncertainty!  For me, its all about perspective.  A narrow view of all these events could yield thoughts of concern and unending questions of “what if”.  What if I can’t find a fulfilling job?  What if I can’t provide for my new family?  What if we move to a new city and hate it?

A healthier, broader perspective would lead to appreciation of my current situation and a focus on creating the outcomes I want in each of these life events.  The reality is this – My family is not going to be homeless or live in a shelter as nearly 1.6M did in 2009 in the U.S. alone.  My family will not go hungry or live in extreme poverty.  We will not face genocide or live in fear of our lives as so many do in this world.  Our child will have healthcare and an education.  And Renee and I will have each other if everything else fails.  I’ll repeat, its all about perspective.

I’m happy and probably more relaxed and excited about my future than I have been in some time, certainly over the past year.  And right now I’m focused solely on welcoming Baby G into our family and spending a few months being a new father.  Everything else can wait.

Travel Lockdown

Now that Renee is nearly 36 weeks pregnant, I just completed my last travel until after the baby is born.  I’ve been traveling incessantly over the past year, particularly over the past 6 months to/from our San Francisco office.  Lucky for me, most of my travel has been “easy” with direct and short flights.  I was reviewing my TripIt account this morning, here are my travel stats for the past 12 months:

  • 32 separate trips; 21 of them since January 1
  • 25 business trips, 7 personal trips
  • 95 nights sleeping away from home; 127 days gone
  • 66 individual flight legs; 132 takeoffs/landings
  • 72,227 miles flown
  • 16 unique cities visited; 3 countries

I’m looking forward to having more time and energy over the coming weeks to read, write, work and help Renee as we prepare for the arrival of Baby G.

 

Hold On Baby G!

UPDATE!  OB/GYN appointment today went great, Mom is off bed rest, at least for now…

We had a close call over Memorial Day weekend as Baby G almost wanted to make his grand entrance 6 weeks too early.  Renee and I drove up to Pismo Beach on Saturday night, about 3 hours north of LA, for our last getaway before travel lock down.  On Sunday, after a hike that in retrospect was way too long and strenuous (those of you who know Renee are rolling your eyes now), Renee experienced some minor bleeding.  So after a quick convo with her physician, it was back in the car for a traffic-heavy, 4-hour drive back to LA and St. John’s Emergency Room.

Turns out, her cervix looked great (still closed) but she was having minor contractions, potentially due to dehydration.  After 1500ml of IV fluid, the contractions continued and we had a scary moment that Baby G was ready to fight his way out at 34 weeks, officially 3 weeks before considered “full term” and 6 weeks before our due date of July 9.   5 hours later and after a shot of Terbutaline to relax the uterine muscles, we were discharged at about 3am once the contractions subsided.

This is Renee shortly after hookup to the IV:

And, this is me:

Now for the fun part.  Renee is on “bed rest” which means exactly what it says.  Hanging out in the bed or on the couch.  No cooking, cleaning, laundry, working out, working, you get the picture.  Again, those of you who know Renee have now moved past eye rolling and are laughing hysterically.  So I’ve declared Martial Law in the Taylor-Gross household, with full-time chaperoning and supervision by General Rob “Sit that Pretty Ass Down” Taylor.   This is a military operation (dubbed “Operation Incubation”) that cannot be underestimated in its complexity and challenge.  The mental and emotional fortitude required to keep Renee on the couch would make mere mortals weep in fear.

But I’m up for the challenge!

Just 3 more weeks Baby G, hang in there!

Professional Cycling House of Cards?

I love cycling.  I love riding my road bike and I love watching the pros, especially on the Grand Tours (France, Italy, Spain).  I’ve seen every moment of every Tour de France since 2002, and Lance Armstrong for me has been a true inspiration, an almost freak of nature in his ability to suffer more than others and dominate his sport – and doing so before and after recovering from near-fatal testicular cancer.  Truly amazing.

So, I couldn’t help being completely mesmerized, despite writhing in pain, at watching Tyler Hamilton’s interview on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.  Tyler, in the most believable exposition of the dirty side of pro cycling yet, proceeded to explain how he and many of his teammates on the 1999, 2000 and 2001 USPS team, including Lance Armstrong, used a systematic performance enhancing drug (PED) doping system including injections of EPO and blood transfusions in training and during major races.  This interview occurred after Tyler testified, under subpoena, for the Grand Jury investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs where Lance Armstrong is the focus of the investigation.

There have been others who have told stories of systematic doping on Lance’s teams, including Floyd Landis, a teammate of both Lance and Tyler on the USPS team.  Floyd’s allegations for me seemed at the time to be easier to dismiss, in part I think because he raised significant sums of money from thousands of people for his legal defense, denying his guilt for nearly four years and when he finally did admit to doping, then allegedly started sending letters and emails to Lance’s camp and cycling officials that “felt” like a desperate attempt to take others down with him.  And that’s exactly how Lance and his legal team dealt with these and other accusations – these guys are cheats and liars and are simply not credible, we have testing and the facts on our side.

Yes, Tyler is also an admitted cheat in pro cycling having served an 8-year ban from the sport due to doping.  And he’s denied using PEDs and implicating others, keeping his mouth shut until the moment he was forced by subpoena to testify under oath.  And, he’s writing a book so the 60 Minutes piece certainly serves his interest for generating book awareness.

Despite these facts, what makes his situation different and far more believable for me?  A perfect storm of 3 things in my mind:

  1. Timing and Momentum.  With a Grand Jury investigation going in the background, it brings focus, attention and credibility to the PED problem in professional cycling, especially with Jeff Novitzky, the investigator that uncovered the BALCO scandal that ultimately exposed Marion Jones and Barry Bonds.  And its not just Lance under investigation, its entire teams, coaches and the governing body of professional cycling itself (UCI)
  2. Terms of Tyler’s Deposition.  Tyler’s deal with investigators during his deposition – immunity from prosecution, but if he is found lying about anything related to his testimony, he goes to prison.  It’s important to understand that Tyler didn’t just do the 60 Minutes interview, but he also told the same story under oath and under the threat of going to prison for lying.
  3. Hincapie’s Nail in the Coffin.  Simultaneous to Tyler’s Grand Jury testimony, it was reported by CBS News that George Hincapie, Lance’s closest teammate for every one of his 7 Tour de France wins and who Lance has described as “like a brother to me”, told Federal authorities under oath that both he and Lance used PEDs during their time together.  Here’s a guy who’s never been implicated in PED scandal, has never been tested positive for PEDs and has absolutely no reason to admit to such a thing – except that he was under oath in a federal investigation.  Just like Tyler.

It’s easy to come to Lance’s rescue given he’s the most tested athlete in history.  Over 20 years and 500 tests with not one positive test, although Tyler alleges Lance did test positive in 2001 and the governing body in cycling (UCI) “made it go away”.  It’s easy to come to Lance’s rescue, that is, until you hear Tyler talk about the ease with which testing for PEDs can be beaten.  According to Tyler, there’s a manageable difference between doping enough for performance enhancement and doping too much for detection.

So what does all of this mean for pro cycling and for Lance?  For cycling, I believe it can only bring about positive results, albeit painful in the short term, provided the investigation is thorough and the truth is rooted out sufficiently to result in real reform within the sport.  The success of the code of silence over so many years in cycling is astonishing.  Perhaps exposing the truth and reform also sends a vivid message to our children about right, wrong and consequences about illegal doping in sports.

For Lance, I fear a far worse outcome.  Lance has done not only miraculous things for cycling, but as a philanthropist he has inspired millions worldwide – both through his personal story and by his ability to leverage his brand to raise incredible sums of money for cancer research.  If his story is a lie and his brand is predicated on cheating his way to the top, won’t that have repercussions among those affected by him now if not certainly in the future?

I also fear that despite how strong the prosecution’s case, that Lance will forever deny any wrongdoing.  There is simply too much at stake for him to admit guilt.  And this will result in a long and difficult-to-watch fall from grace the likes my generation has never seen, certainly in sports.  I would argue that if its true, its in Lance’s interest to get in front of it now, take a massive painful hit and at least attempt to put it in the rear view mirror.  A slow, defiant march to the bottom, potentially ending in prison for obstruction and fraud, eliminates any hope of rear view mirror.

I still hope the investigation turns up facts and data that proves innocence, as much innocence as possible.  But I believe in my gut, based on the facts revealed to date, that we are way beyond the fantasy of innocence.

I hope I’m wrong.

%d bloggers like this: