Benjamin Franklin, pride and TV for smart people

I’ve been reading a lot of biographies recently. Steve Jobs, Einstein, Jeff Bezos, Karl Marx and, most recently, the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (which, if you ask me, should be compulsory material in college regardless of one’s academic major). Franklin’s entire biography is a wonderful read of wisdom and inspiration, but this one paragraph has really stuck with me over the past few days:

“In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride.  Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

If I look back, pride has always driven me towards making mistakes. This one time when I was about 21, I was unhappy that my software company was utterly unsexy (notwithstanding that it was profitable and growing), so I decided to become a “media mogul” in Romania. After investing in equipment, production studio, TV presenters and video editing experts, I launched BrainTV, an online TV channel positioned as “TV for smart people”. A year later it was shut down. Looking back, it was nothing but vanity and the desire to be in the spotlight that made me launch BrainTV. In other words, pride. It wasn’t solving any problem and, frankly, we weren’t even that good at it. Lesson learned.

At the same time, whenever I was brave enough to swallow my pride, things worked out so much better. When you’re not doing whatever you’re doing in order for others to see how smart, successful, sexy or creative you are, chances are you’ll actually focus on doing the things that really matter and make a difference. Just don’t be too proud about it.

The best CTO in the world

They say opposites attract, and that’s exactly the case with one of my best friends in the world and Brainient’s co-founder and CTO, Andrei Baragan, who turns 28 today. 28 going on 14, as he’s born on the Romanian Children’s Day.

I first met Andrei six years ago and we kicked off really well. I had just started my first company, a software development shop, and he was looking for his first job. I don’t remember many interviews, but I remember that one. He was this super smart, super likeable guy and 15 minutes in I wanted to hire him. I didn’t tell him that, but I called the next day and offered the job. He said yes.

Within three months he got promoted from web developer to project manager and within a year he was running the entire tech team. We started a bunch of projects together, and I was always in awe at his ability to deliver them on time. Oh yes, and he was the only one who told me when my ideas sucked (which happened a lot). I kinda liked it.

After all these years, what still amazes me about Andrei is that he’s a super smart geek and an incredible people person, all-in-one. You don’t find that very often, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have him as the co-founder of Brainient. I always come up with ideas, he shoots the bad ones down. I set tight deadlines, he makes them real. I dream, he brings me closer to reality. He’s married, I’m far from it. He has a kid, I don’t know of any. If Andrei were a woman, I’d marry her.

It’s been six years since we first met, and we’ve had our ups and downs. But he’s the best CTO in the world  and an amazing friend. For that, I’m grateful.

Happy birthday, chief!

 

Drive

One of my favourite books when I was in high school was Losing My Virginity, Richard Branson’s biography. It’s a thick, detailed journal but there’s a paragraph inside that has stuck with me over the years: “I have no secret. There are no rules to follow in business. I just work hard and, as I always have done, believe I can do it.”

A few months ago, I was watching an interview with Michael Bloomberg and the interviewer asked him what his secret is for becoming so successful. I can’t remember his words exactly, but it was something like “Look, I’m no smarter than you, him or anybody else. I just work harder than everyone I know. When I used to work for Salomon Brothers I’d be the first in the office at 7am. The only other person in the office with me that early was John Gutfreund [CEO], so we’d grab coffee together and talk. That’s how I got to grow within the company”.

Today, I read a short but amazing interview with Elon Musk in Wired. When asked “How do you maintain your optimism?”, he responded with “Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we’re going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I’m hell-bent on making it work.”

Successful people work hard, never give up and don’t take no for an answer. In other words, they are driven. Driven to achieve the impossible, go the extra mile, driven to succeed. I hope to be able to look back one day and say that I’ve worked harder than everybody I know. “Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we’re going to make it happen.”

How we’ve all become acquaintances

Two years ago, someone told me to keep my real friends very close because they’re hard to find. So I did – for the past couple of years, the relationships I have with my three best friends have grown immensely, despite the fact one of them is in Bucharest and another in Palo Alto. But I also decided to build new ones. Real, honest, authentic friendships. Much to my amazement, however, I’ve come to realise that when it comes to “relationships”, not much changes after we finish high school.

You see, most people seem to be interested in at least two of the three following things when it comes to choosing their “friends”: social validation (are you one of the cool kids?), monetization (what’s in it for me?) and intellectual / physical confirmation (do I feel I’m better than you?). As if that weren’t bad enough, it is now considered common sense for “friends” to skip the phone call and just write on someone’s wall for their birthday. The “Like” has replaced the email and the Facebook comment has replaced the letter. One shouldn’t expect “friends” to actually show up after confirming their attendance to a birthday party and, obviously, forgetting to cancel a scheduled dinner is totally normal. Via SMS. It seems to me that “friend” is the new “acquaintance” these days. xoxo

A few days ago, someone in my group of acquaintances called me to ask for help with something. I helped him, but it made me think. I could’ve bet that some of the people in the group are much closer friends to him than I am. And yet, here he is, calling me. It’s a sad world we live in, and I blame it all on high school and on Facebook.

For those of us who do wanna grow up though, I think friendships should be based on: honesty (does this person seem trustworthy?), intellectual compatibility (do I feel challenged or bored?) and reliability (can I rely on them not to disappear when I need them most?). But FYI, waking up at 3AM to help a friend in need is much more difficult than clicking “Like” on a Facebook status message.

My email dilemma

The graph above shows how I spent my time last week (while in front of the laptop). Email gets by far the most time, which is fine as 90% of my meetings / requests / to-dos arrive that way. But despite spending so much time on email I don’t seem to be coping with all incoming emails that hit the inbox on any given workday. Priority Inbox is a life saviour and I read everything that gets in there, but I find it very difficult to respond to all emails.

Hence my email dilemma: should one answer to all emails or not? On the one side, when I send an email to someone I expect a response, and I believe everyone else thinks the same way. On the other side, many of the emails we get (recruiters, consultants, etc) are completely irrelevant and answering them wouldn’t go anywhere – so what’s the point?

To reply or not to reply, that is the question.

 

3:30AM

It was 3:30AM and I had just gotten back from a few drinks with Mike Butcher, Tarik Krim and a few other friends. I was having a glass of water and checking emails on my iPhone. No email caught my eye, so I opened Twitter to see what’s going on in the world. In a matter of seconds tears started dropping into the glass of water after seeing my Twitter stream flooded with the news that Steve Jobs died. A few seconds later, Tarik called me. The only thing I could tell him on the phone was “wow”. The only thing he was able to say was “yeah”, and we spent the next couple of minutes in silence.

Never in my life have I cried for someone I have never met, before yesterday. There’s no consumer brand I love more than Apple, and there’s no person that has inspired me as much as Steve Jobs.

Rest in peace, mr. Jobs.

The wisest dad I know

I love getting emails from my dad. Every time I see one in my inbox, I imagine him sitting at the desk in front of the window, looking at his wonderful garden, pretty apple trees and the road strewn with roses, typing away. He types very slowly, my dad (who recently just turned 63), which makes me appreciate long emails even more. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends half an hour whenever he sends me an email.

I also love my dad’s emails because of the wisdom that breathes through them. Every now and then, in-between a story about an upcoming trip to the countryside and how the weather’s about to get quite cold in Romania, he’ll throw a phrase like “When you’re young, you want to grow up faster. When you get old, you want to grow old slower. And guess what, the process is much faster than you can ever imagine when you’re young. Just so you know.”

Dad – thanks to you, I know.