A Funny Thing Happened to Me on a River

Apr 26

In: Fly fishing, Personal

Once or twice a year, I go out of town for a solo fly fishing weekend. I did so this weekend and met someone to whom my heart goes out. I’ll explain.

When I take a fishing trip, I live a monastic life, getting up early, packing a lunch to eat while on the water, and returning as late as I can. I fish about eight to ten hours a day, with no break. I’m standing the whole time, and during this time of year, in cold water.

Once I’m too tired, I pull away from the river. Then, after a big dinner out, I tie flies until my eyes can’t stay open. I drag myself to the shower.

Repeat the next day.

This past weekend, I went to the Farmington River in Connecticut. The river was high and cold. I think spring is about three to four weeks behind this year, after all the snow and ensuing snow melt.

I stayed at a B&B right on the water. Sal, the owner, is a great guy and he fly fishes, too. I found the place on AirBNB and am glad I did so.  A beautiful room.

I caught about five to eight fish a day. I had to work hard for them, for the fish weren’t that active in the cold. The water was 41 degrees, and there were snow flurries. It felt like December out there, but it was fun.

I caught a variety of trout. The most memorable is a 20″ and very fat rainbow (video up top, or click here). A fine catch, a true catch.

Anglers can sometimes be pretty chatty. I ran into an elderly man, who had a walking stick and a slow gait. After the usual pleasantries, he mentioned that it was a big day for him. “I’ve been sick for a few years,” he said. “And, this is my first day back on the water.”

He shared with me that he had a kidney transplant after being on dialysis. When I mentioned that my mother experienced both, too, his eyes got bright, and he said: “The doctors work on the physical part, but my biggest obstacle was mental. Not losing hope during the dialysis treatments that sap your energy.”

It wouldn’t be manly, but I wanted to hug him right then and there, and tell him that he has overcome a big challenge and that he has many years ahead.

Instead, I offered to yield my part of the river to him. “Go ahead,” I said, “take it, since I’ve caught plenty of fish.”

He politely declined and followed the fly fishing etiquette: “Nah, you were here first.”

With that, he walked up-river. I watched him cast a few times, and after just 10 minutes, he walked back to the bank and walked away.

I wonder if he was tired and just wanted to say hello to the trout.

I’ve often thought that, one day, decades from now, I too will return to a river when I am grey and walk slowly. I too will carry a walking stick. I too will visit a river that I know so well and am grateful that I can visit it yet again. I too will be at the sunset years of my life, hoping that there’s fly fishing in heaven.

In the midst of cold, wind, and trout, I met an incredible person.

Learning to Fail

Apr 24

In: Entrepreneurship, Personal, Philosophy

I am still thinking about the talk I gave yesterday at Brown, about which I wrote here

A student from Brazil, Gabrielle Bufrem, asked me a question about decision-making after college. I told her that the most important thing to learn for making better choices was this: learning to fail. 

You see, if you get into a known school, it is a byproduct of many years of getting great grades, rocking test scores, and numerous accolades. You are always the star. You’ve probably become a perfectionist. You probably beat up yourself when you don’t get the A grade. 

In other words, students at Brown probably have never failed at anything. Ever. 

Unfortunately, entrepreneurship is about something different. It is about taking on and managing risk. It is about developing grit and understanding that other people’s approval is often a bad sign. 

When I started Kepha, most people seemed to snicker. A new VC firm? The belief then was that new entrants weren’t possible. 

Fast forward. Newish VC firms now are the norm. Many of my peers have branched off from their mega firms. Many are contemplating it. And, honestly, if I had to start Kepha today, it would be challenging to differentiate among a sea of newish VC firms seeking inaugural funding. 

So, the irony is that when conventional wisdom thinks something is a good idea, it may be too late. 

So, my student friends at Brown: learn to fail. Learn to just flat out get it completely wrong. Learn to royally screw up and have everyone think you’re a loser. 

Learn how to suffer. Then, learn to recover from it. 

You’ll find that the world doesn’t change when you’ve failed. But, you will have. You will have evolved to a newer and more resilient person. You will have acquired not just knowledge, but wisdom

I am currently going through a very difficult challenge in my personal life. But, I know I will emerge stronger. And, it too shall pass. I think self evolution is a wonderful gift. 

I choose to embrace change. It will bring wisdom. 

Speaking at Brown

Apr 23

In: Career management, Personal

I am at Brown University this morning, speaking at a class on entrepreneurship, which Danny Warshay teaches. I’m grateful for the opportunity. 

I’ve arrived early and am parked at a coffee shop at a bookstore. Why not blog?

I’ve never been to the campus. An ex-girlfriend went here (we met in high school, things didn’t work out, she wanted to get back together, I didn’t, cue the drama). One of the founders of StreamBase, a Stonebraker company, was head of the CompSci department. I’ve always wanted to come here for a visit.

And, here I am.

I’m in my 40s now, but as I sit here amidst a sea of undergraduates with their laptops and coffees, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was doing what they’re doing, but in New Haven. As a close friend says, “the days are long, but the years are short.”

I feel I have a lot to say to the students today. I will probably steer the discussion to one of my thoughts on career management. I suspect many of the students are seniors and anticipating life after college. I will tell them what I wished I knew when I was a college senior. 

I will encourage them to Ignore the Noise. Focus less on what they think they should do, and focus honestly on what they want to do. Honestly, it is one of the more important messages I can give, which is to help young adults find their mission in life. A VC has social capital. Some people want to listen to you just because you’re in VC. So, I have a platform and want to use it wisely.

Yes, I’m feeling both excited and nostalgic. I’m cool with that.

Tax Fraud

Apr 16

In: Personal

It’s been an interesting few days, as I learned that someone filed a fraudulent tax return in my name. The scam, which I’ve read will affect 3 million U.S. citizens and cost $50 billion this year is the following:

  • Anyone can file a fraudulent tax return if they have your name, Social Security number, and date of birth
  • They can make up everything else and can quickly get a “refund” paid to them via an anonymous debit card. This is because the IRS wants to make sure that those who don’t have an address or are unbanked can receive a refund. So, with just three pieces of data, thieves can get paid

The good news from all this is there’s a standard protocol to follow, as so many people have been affected. You call your financial institutions, file forms with the IRS, and ask the credit agencies to put a freeze on your credit reports.

The bad news is that I think this is the result of our data being “out there.” All of our doctor’s offices have our Social Security numbers and dates of birth. Since I electronically filed my returns in the past, I read with dread that the TurboTax servers have been hacked.

When I spoke to a customer rep for my bank, she said she has been getting so many calls this past week from people with the same situation. The IRS rep told me that many people who file electronically have been affected.

It is what it is.

Going forward, I won’t be electronically filing my returns. And, I won’t be writing down my Social Security number at doctor’s offices.

Saturday at the Westfield

Apr 11

In: Fly fishing

I went to the Westfield River today. Windy and water at a chilly 38 degrees. No bumps or strikes.

Sometimes the trout are on. Sometimes they’re not. That’s fly fishing.

But, it was fun to fish in Cummington, MA, for the first time. The Westfield really is a special place and it is a beautiful river. I then ventured to the Chesterfield Gorge area, which is one of my favorite areas. The water was rolling along at a good clip and was a distinct olive green.

I was the only angler out there at both spots. Very peaceful.