An Armenian Grandmother and Persistence

Mar 3

In: Entrepreneurship, Guest posts

I recently meet with Ara Kouchakdjian. His family’s story is incredible. it’s about grit and courage. So, I asked Ara to write a guest post. Here it is:

All of us who work in early stage companies have learned the importance of persistence.  For some, we learned it from a sports coach, for others it was a mentor.  For me, it was a frail lady who was less than five feet tall and likely never weighed much more than 100 pounds, my maternal grandmother.

Always kind hearted, always the optimist, her gentleness may have made it easy for some to miss her strength.  Her view of any challenge was that it was a solvable problem, and the solution was nothing more than (translated from the Armenian) “Seeing from where you will enter and from where you will depart.”

Prior to me being born, she had been through a lot.  Born to a family of grain merchants, and educated at the American College in Smyrna, Turkey, she had been through more than her share of challenges. These included:

  • Surviving the anti-Armenian pogroms of 1909.
  • Surviving the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks between in the 1915-1918.
  • Surviving the burning of Smyrna in 1922, that led to the death of many of her siblings.
  • Making Oriental rugs in sweatshop conditions for many years (I remember that she had the smoothest fingers I’ve ever seen; I doubt she had fingerprints).
  • Dealing with the Nazi occupation of Romania.
  • Surviving the Allied bombings of Ploesti, Romania. Ploesti was a critical target for the Allied forces, as the town had oil refineries.
  • Seeing the Nazi occupation replaced by Russian Communists
  • Losing her husband during communist occupation and keeping her family together while dealing with constant gall bladder issues.
  • Leading her family from Romania to Lebanon without much more than the clothes on their backs.
  • Arriving in Lebanon just in time for the first Lebanese Civil War.
  • Making it through a number of illnesses and surgeries after finally coming to America.

Through all of these challenges, she kept her optimism and her determination.  For me, that frail, old lady was an unbelievable inspiration.

So what’s the lesson here, for those of us who work with the challenges of early stage companies?  It’s not about how hard she had it compared to us.  Each person’s challenges are unique; comparisons are subjective.  The real point here is that we all have challenges.  If we are willing to confront those challenges, it’s all about “Seeing from where you will enter and from where you will depart.”

Time Flies & British Ska Music

Feb 28

In: Fly fishing, Music, Personal

What ever happened to British ska music?

It’s Saturday morning, too cold for fishing, and so, I’m home tying some fly fishing flies (photo at bottom). For some reason this week, I’ve had 1980s music on the brain. From Joy Division to New Order to Echo and the Bunnymen, it’s what I’m thinking about at times when I’m driving to/from work.

Now, I’m recalling English Beat and their song “Save It for Later.” It’s actually great music with which to work on fishing gear. So, I found it on YouTube and am playing it (above, or click here). Hope you enjoy it. The song brings back great memories.

The Internet is pretty cool. I found that song in just a few seconds. Tech didn’t always used to be like this. Back when the English Beat song came out in 1983, the Apple II and Commodore 64 series were all the rage. Most computers weren’t even connected to a LAN. Back then, I learned to code COBOL and Pascal on a TRS-80 machine at my high school. Now, not that much time later, it feels, I’m married, a father to four children, and have founded a VC firm. Wow.

Time flies.

Finding a CEO Mentor

Feb 26

In: Career management, Entrepreneurship

I had breakfast with one of our CEOs this morning. It’s a great way to talk about the company, and his career progression, in a relaxed environment.

One thing he has done is brought on some CEO mentors to the Board. I’m a big fan of bringing “CEO coaches” to a Board, as I think Boards dominated by VCs is a bad thing. I also think CEOs need “safe” conversations with a sounding board, someone who is not a double agent for the VC.

We talked about some other candidates that could be helpful and talked about the pros and cons of various individuals. Finally, I told him this: “Pick someone whose life you can imagine living when you’re that person’s age.”

I didn’t author that line. I don’t know who told it to me when I was early in my business career. But, honestly, it has been a “true north” principle in my work life. It has encouraged me to stay at some jobs and to leave others, all with a clear conscience.

Saying you can imagine living that person’s life one day forces you to answer whether the following about that person jives with you:

  • Day to day tasks of the job
  • Personal growth potential
  • Income potential
  • Work-life balance
  • Values
  • Industry focus
  • Functional expertise
  • Hobbies
  • How they treat their family
  • How they treat junior staff
  • How they spend their money
  • Etc.

I’ve found it to be a powerful question: can I live that person’s life? If yes, continue the relationship. Perhaps, even, you’ve found a mentor. If no, get out and move on.

Treat Yourself

Feb 23

In: Brain hacking

While I was driving to work this morning, I could easily typecast two types of drivers.

One type is the person who lets you go first on a road narrowed by enormous snow drifts. They wave, and their attitude is “after you.” They look relaxed.

The other looks pissed off. When they can slow down to yield to you and let you turn into a lane, they instead accelerate. When a pedestrian is at a cross walk, they ignore him/her and just bomb by.

I’m working hard at being more of the first type. It’s very easy to focus on the toll of this winter: the endless shoveling, scraping and de-icing of driveways, sidewalks and cars. The worries about ice dams and the leaks they cause, most of which you don’t see until it’s too late.

Honestly, I’m trying not to let other people’s frustrations drag me down.

I find that small treats/rewards really make a big difference. For me, this morning has been about: a long workout, good music during the drive in, thinking about an April fly-fishing weekend, telling a joke to one of my partners, and writing this blog post. All this as I also answer many emails and plan for our weekly Partners’ meeting.

And, I’ve just decided that lunch will be a steaming hot bowl of Vietnamese Bun Bo Hue. I’ll grab it before a meeting today in Harvard Square. Photo up top.

Try it. Find a small treat/reward today.

Day Dreaming about the Green River

Feb 22

In: Family life, Fly fishing

There’s a “break” in the cold weather this weekend, with temps approaching nearly 40 degrees. I had planned to fly fish and enjoy a day off during the Feb. school vacation week. That’s not happening, as Mrs. T has a cold. So, there’s plenty of shoveling and household chores to do.

But, I can day dream.

I’ve been looking at some fishing videos online and came across one about the Green River in Utah (video above, or click here). I’d love to go one day. There are some amazing streams and rivers in Utah.

The area in and around the Rocky Mountains is amazing. Great skiing, hiking, and fishing. I’ve visited Montana twice, and have gone skiing in parts of Utah and Colorado. I’ve always felt “at home” out there. One of our children this summer will go to Boulder, CO, and I will live vicariously through that.

I think it is great how the Internet can really enable day dreaming.