30 November 2005

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

I’ve been enjoying writing again. Whenever I get busy or particularly tired, writing seems to go by the way-side.

Had someone ask me for the key things that I learned about writing from the Going Long process. Here’s what I wrote:
Probably the two most important things that helped me..

1 -- making a detailed outline of the entire book -- chapter by chapter and section by section. Very helpful.

2 -- clearing the decks -- setting my schedule up so that I had two full weeks to focus exclusively on the book. I wrote six days per week and had to finish the rough draft of the goal chapter before I was allowed to leave my office (which was a Starbucks).

I also hired Wy to collate my existing writings into the pre-draft of each chapter. That gave me ideas and text to get the ball rolling. There were extensive rewrites from the early drafts but once you have the entire book down -- totally rough -- it is FAR easier to create a solid product that reads well. Once we had the final drafts, Joe's cold review of the finished product -- start to finish was very, very valuable. So a project partner that understands your subject matter is valuable. Having a guy like Joe involved really helped me as I am weak in many of the areas where he is strong.
Overall, I was surprised at just how tough it is to write a book. My 2005 project was my 2nd book but I haven’t really got stuck into that project. While I have a lot of bits and pieces, I don’t have the chapter structure. Perhaps my super-long-haul flights in early 2006 will get me rolling on that. No rush there as I keep learning each year.

I received the following in my mailbag. I spent most my 20s feeling this way about one thing or another (sailing, athletics, travel…).
I've seen a few off-handed comments about how you semi-retired from the world of VC when you were about 30. I guess you always knew you would reenter the working world but you had some tri-business to take care of... is that a fair assessment?
I was 32 when I handed back my partnership – I’d been with the firm for ten years. At the time, I didn’t have any strong goals in terms of triathlon achievement. I figured that I’d be able to get into the low-9s in terms of IM performance but that wasn’t the driver for me at all. The main driver was that I’d become a bit bored with my working life and the pollution in Hong Kong was really getting me down. As well, I think that I was a bit worn out from ten years in London/Hong Kong – however – I didn’t feel that way at the time.
I've thought about taking time, maybe 6-9 months or maybe several years when I turn 30. This happens in about 2 years. I'm wondering if you could share some insight into how you decided it was time for you. I know it's a rather personal thing which wouldn't necessarily apply to me, but I'm interested in your thoughts anyway.
You are right that we each have to find our own way, our own experience. I’ve seen others try to follow the path of a friend that appears happy/content to find neither. Perhaps, that’s because a feeling of satisfaction arises from the way we think on the inside rather than how we are acting on the outside.

I didn’t have any real plan or strategy – I simply had a very clear feeling that I had to leave. Before I left the firm, I took a two month leave-of-absence. I spent most of that in Boulder and truly loved the freedom of being able to train (helped to grab a Kona slot in the first week of my break). Back then, I wasn’t constantly on-line and had much less going on. So I had 7-9 weeks that were almost completely my own. I’d wake each morning (staying in the mountains above Boulder) and write for 20-40 minutes. The process of morning writing, training and spending time alone – that helped me realise what I wanted to do and deprogram from Hong Kong.

If you are wondering what’s really possible with athletics then an experienced guy like yourself really needs to allow five years and attack it with a true passion/joy. With a period as short as 6/9 months, you’ll get into great shape but you won’t be able to make the physiological changes required to see what’s possible. You need a few years simply to prepare/build yourself so that you can do the training required to see what might be possible.
I feel like there's a lot more I want to do in my professional career, but I also realize that this might be a good time in my life to pursue athletics in a more focused manner.
You’ve likely got 50 years left to pursue both your working and athletic lives. That’s worth remembering – in a lot of different ways.

If you are just about to get yourself in a position to make a stack of cash in your career (Monsy calls that making “bank” – I always smile at that expression) – then… think it through before you hand that back to ride your bike. What I always do/did was review what I was forsaking financially against two criteria: (a) percentage of current NAV; (b) percentage of annual cost of living. Not a bad way to review most financial decisions because it focused on current capital as well as current burn rate. Probably the VC guy in me.

Thinking about that – I do the same evaluation in terms of my training – I look at average weekly volume in each sport compared to race distance. Learned that from Mister A – the big guy taught me a few things.

However, I have to admit that it is a HUGE trip to be right up at the sharp end (of any race) and there is a sell-by date on that (but Joe B is still winning them). However, if we are talking about being world class then you can do that in your 40s, 50s, 60s… and it is plenty competitive. I coach a guy in his late 60s and it’s been WAR between him and his pals for years. A good natured kind of war, though.

One of the things, for me, is that I haven’t been very good at kicking back and waiting it out. When I have been most happy is when I’ve thought something up and gone for it.

The thing that swung it for me was that I realised that my worst case scenario was that I’d get my old job back – perhaps at a bit less money but I was earning more than I needed. I was also earning far more than I needed to do the things that I loved. Reviewing where I was spending my time and money in 1998 and in 1999 was an eye opener for me.

So… I was fortunate to get myself into a position in my early 30s where I could support myself for a year of training. I also surfaced various part-time “jobs” that were able to contribute towards covering my overheads. So I managed to hold my personal NAV steady while doing what I loved. For me, that seemed like a great deal. I also had a multiple of my annual burn rate socked away so that gave material comfort.

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Les Impressions

We’ve been in France for nearly a week and I love the place. There are a lot of unique idiosyncrasies about the place that remind me of my time in Montreal.

Le Driving – the French can smell fear, I swear it. The slightest vehicular-hesitation and we lose our spot. I’ve got a massive Renault Transit van – great vehicle and it increases our street creed. I love their use of yield signs – minimal use of traffic lights and lots of action.

Le French – the locals take a lot of pity on my French. So far the best situation was when I was struggling to sign up for the gym. Eventually, a guy came by and said (in French) to the receptionist that she’d better speak English to me or we were going to be there all afternoon!

Les doggies – the French love their dogs. I wonder what the per capita ratio-de-chiens would be. They are well fed and well loved so they don’t hassle cyclists or runners (so far). Le poop is a bit of an issue but it’s their country.

Le maison du pain – we are staying at friends of Monica’s. It’s a great place and they are very kind. However, there is a large basket with 4-6 types of bread placed on the table at every meal – quite challenging for a starch addicted person such as myself. I really do like their way of eating. We all sit down properly for lunch and dinner. Ced talked about when he lived with an Aussie guy – “he ate everything between two pieces of bread”. He also said that after a few weeks, the Aussie guy asked him why he was always laying out a plate for him. I guess bread was just fine…

I’ve been spending 8-12 euro per day on parking meters. Ced recommended that we simply buy a 1 euro ticket and leave the car for the day. He said that they don’t write tickets for anyone. We laughed at the French solution – you “kind of” follow the law. Anyhow, I bought my one euro ticket and came back a few hours later.

Found an 11 euro ticket on my windscreen.

Guess they knew I was Canadian.

26 November 2005

Back Yourself

The guys that I used to work with in London recently launched a five billion euro investment fund. That struck me as a heck of a lot of cash. It also made me smile. Generally, terms in the venture capital industry are “2 & 20” – an annual fee of 2% of the fund and 20% of the capital gains returned to investors. Let’s say you double the investors’ capital, then you are talking about a profit share of one billion euro as well as a hundred million euro per annum of management fees. Inspirational stuff when you consider that their first fund (before most of the current team joined that business) was less than 100 million euro equivalent 25+ years ago, the annual management fees of the business could be close to double that today. Shows what a group of smart, motivated people can achieve with sustained long term focus.

Why is that relevant? It’s relevant because how often do we hold back because we aren’t sure if we are worthy of success? I can assure you that the folks in that business are regular folks (as “normal” as any of us, at least). They work hard and take advantage of their opportunities as best they can. For the senior folks, I imagine that it’s long ago ceased being about the money. They were always a pretty humble bunch in terms of how they lived.

Another neat stat is that my first boss’ current business went through a benchmark this year where they returned their first billion pounds to their investors. Raising a billion is pretty impressive – actually returning it (successfully) is even more impressive.

Stuff like that makes you think as I am not far off my first boss’s age when he hired me. Of course, simply doing things because one “can” is also a bit dangerous if our ethical compass gets out of whack, or if we fail to consider the best use of our intent.

Somebody asked me about recruiting the other day – I didn’t really answer them all that clearly at the time. I’ve been thinking about it. Having had a couple of weeks to consider, I think that I’d recommend a recruiting trip to Harvard Business School and focus on the Baker Scholars. I’ve come across six of them in my working career, all successful folks and good people to have backed. Been trying to figure out how I can tap that knowledge. Perhaps just file it for the future.

Thinking to triathlon and a couple of my training buddies. Folks generally fall into two camps, improving athletes and lifestyle athletes. The lifestyle crew often seem to be on a triathlon vacation. The improvers are enjoying themselves too, but have a certain fanaticism in their approach. When lifestylers talk about their races, they tell you what went wrong. I rarely hear about that from the folks that improve.

Perhaps, it is that people that move ahead focus on what can be done in the present, rather than what’s gone wrong in the past.

So many similarities between athletics and business. That is certainly the benefit of moving between worlds, countries, interests… we are able to gain perspective. Oh yeah, it you happen to be long on Dubai real estate? I’d be a little careful – I’ve only seen a few places that remind me of how Dubai looks right now – Bangkok, Shanghai and Jakarta. Shanghai was driven by global and domestic demand combined with the world class work ethic of the Chinese. Bangkok and Jarkarta ended in tears for a lot of people. Anyhow, the tourism infrastructure won’t be wasted but I certainly have my doubts on what level of real economy will be created there given the nature of the geographic neighbours. It will be a fun place to watch develop over the next few years. They are building a city-state from the ground up. Pretty impressive regardless of the return on equity for FDI.

This weekend is Ironman Australia, for an athletic example of what sustained backing yourself can do then do a google search of the 2001-2005 results for a guy called Chris McDonald. I bet he’s done 5,000 aerobic hours over the last five years. Not many folks give themselves the opportunity to see what’s possible. Chris certainly has.

Dark Power
My buddy Clas has been clearing bush in the forests of Sweden. He’s a “glass half full” sort of guy. If you are a triathlete dealing with near total darkness, cold and snow… well you might as well enjoy it. I used to think that the Vikings must have loved getting away from the cold for their trips kicking butt around Europe. However, in getting to know the doodes, I sense that getting away to a warm climate is fun but… there is an element of recharging that they receive from the cold and dark. That and the winter seems to be a good time to do “man stuff”.

Hangin’ in Paris
Monsy and I were walking across Pont Alexandre III a few days ago. Heck of a nice ‘pont’, I recommend it if you happen to be in Paris. So one Italian guy kisses his girlfriend and triggers a make-out break amongst just about every couple on the bridge. Gotta love Paris.

Monsy and I later decided that the entire country must smoke. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled from the smoking bans that have been implemented throughout most of the countries where we spend our time.

If you do get to Paris then I recommend the Musee d’Orsay. Pretty cool – walk up to the top and look across Paris through the clock that faces the river. Also check out the polar bear sculpture on the second floor. Being Canadian, I suppose that I am partial to a good polar bear sculpture.

The Café Marillon also has a great selection of West Coast rap. Team Mongo were grooving along with TuPac while hiding out from the sleet yesterday. Some kid sitting beside Monsy apologised to the waiter that he didn’t have any cash to buy coffee – but we did note that he had enough smokes to nail four back-to-back in 20 minutes! I sense this could be a recurring theme with our interactions with our euro-conterparts.

Follow Up
A buddy wrote me some interesting thoughts based on the last entry. I thought that I’d share two parts that really appealed to me:
How do you separate "accepting what was your best effort at the time" from what is actually a truthful best effort. It is tempting to let myself off the hook… …Maybe the answer is to judge myself in the present. After all, the present is what we can impact. Positive actions going forward make the past a valuable learning experience.

I think results are like wattage -- they come from effort. For some that effort is fun, for others it is work.
Successful people, that achieve peace, seem to have the ability to draw the line at how good is good enough. Successful people that achieve success, they often fail to achieve peace – that feeling of never measuring up stalking them.

Fun/Satisfaction – for me that comes from being able to move forward – the little steps – so long as I can move forward. It’s when I am not moving forward, that’s when my dissatisfaction climbs. Now, learning to think that I am moving forward when chilling out, recharging, resting – that’s something that I’ve been working on. Read a book called – In Praise of Slow recently. Quite repetitive but it did make me consider where speed might not be the most appropriate method of attack.

At my recent wedding, Chris reminded me (and the entire dinner) about the time that I took over his secretary’s computer because she wasn’t typing the drafting changes fast enough into the deal legals. That was 1993 and I was certainly in a big hurry back then.

That’s all for today. Actually sitting on the tarmac in an Air France airbus right now. Pretty neat use of technology. I now have global internet roaming to go with my snazzy new machine.

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20 November 2005

Why Wait

I was out running last night running through the streets of Edinburgh. While running around physically, I was running through my head mentally, taking inventory of the year. It’s been a pretty big year for me. Actually, it wasn’t night, it was the middle of the afternoon but after a week in Asia, the return to Scotland had my head a little confused in daylight terms.

I’ve no idea how often I’ll be writing here but various things keep rolling through my head and it helps to clear them out by getting them down.

Why Wait – that’s short for “why wait to be great”. You can apply it to a wide range of things. Such as:
There’s always a good reason to party
There’s always a good reason not to train
There’s always a good reason to put myself last
I’ll stretch later
I’ll start tomorrow
That’s a conversation that I hear all the time.

Anyhow that wasn’t the main thought that was running through my head. I’ve been reading the internet as usual and the conversations are starting to fade in their appeal to me. I normally don’t mind the repetition but for some reason it was wearing me out. I probably need a vacation… or to simply train a little bit more… or to get back into my routine – I’ve been on the road for weeks and there is only so much fine dining one fellow can handle.

I read so much about folks focusing on what doesn’t matter and I wonder if they are killing time so they don’t have to take action on what does matter.

Actually, I don’t wonder. I know. At least I know for me.

So back to my run. My reflections – it always seems easy for me to achieve. For years, I couldn’t figure out why I was able to move ahead so quickly. Actually, those thoughts didn’t really start until I moved into athletics and shot ahead so much faster than I ever thought possible. When I was in finance, it’s a lot more up and down, the progress isn’t really as clear because each deal is pretty similar, the growth appears in terms of deal complexity, deal size and overall portfolio size. Also, in finance, much (all?) of the growth appears outside of ourselves. The closest things to marks is salary – suppose that’s why we can get trapped into seeing ourselves in our paychecks.

1990 – first class honours econ/finance, university scholar
1993 – youngest partner in my firm
1998 – climbed Denali, my first true expedition
1999 – first IM, little over 11 hours
2000 – left venture capital after ten years, moved to New Zealand to focus on elite athletics
2002 – spent summer in Edinburgh helping start a property investment business, won Ultraman
2003 – first sub-9 IM
2004 – rode across America, first sub-8:30 IM
2005 – pretty solid year:

March – Had a decent result at IMNZ but found a lack of satisfaction in the overall experience because everyone (other than the guy that I wanted to race) beat themselves. Have to say “chapeau” to Cam Brown. Ended the month by getting engaged.

April – Took on an assignment to re-domicile a fund management business. Decided to sell my house in New Zealand and wind-up my Kiwi Consulting business.

May – Started the month with a road trip to find a suitable jurisdiction for the fund management business. My vote was Cayman – everyone else preferred Bermuda. Decided that they were probably right, incorporated a new company in Bermuda and got the wheels rolling to move the business. While in the UK, realised that there was an opportunity to launch a new company, spent two weeks creating a business plan and info memo for the new company.

July – Got married.

August – Managed a couple of 100K run weeks. Saw the results for Ironman Canada and saw no reason to give up on my dream.

October – Decided that Hawaii is a lousy location from which to conduct business with the UK.

November – Closed the first round of funding for a new company focused on Scottish residential property investment. Six months from conception to legal completion. Joined the board of the new business.

Monica pointed out that we have, we will, spent/spend Saturdays…

In Kona
In Boulder
In Saint Paul
In Edinburgh
In Dubai
In Glasgow/Edinburgh
In Paris
In Montpellier

That seems like an awful lot of travel. One of the things that I do well is being adaptable to a wide range of people and situations. We’ll see how adaptable because I am going to be commuting between hemispheres in early 2006.

“I believe that, generally, people that are good at something are good at everything.” – that’s a quote from my business partner and his key hiring criteria.

My first boss used to hire associates and junior executives based on two criteria – school results and value for money (lucky for me I did well and was extremely cheap).

So why all the outlining? It is a preamble to some things that I’ve observed. Looking back over the last twenty years, I’ve managed to do reasonably well at some very diverse fields: academics, financial analysis, international finance, elite athletics and fund management.

What is the key component that I’ve observed in myself and others around me?

To succeed relative to others: a willingness to consistently out-work the competition for as long as it takes.

To succeed relative to self: a deep satisfaction from taking the actions required to work towards challenging goals.

Intent – if you want to learn about a person’s true intent then look to where they spend their time. What do they really do? Not what they say. True intent is seen through actions. That’s why when our actions aren’t true to ourselves, we slowly crush our spirits. More on that perhaps some other time.

Mile Twenty
Patrick wrote on my board… “…most of us have "accepted" that the wall will come and we can't do anything about it so might was well push it until it hits us and then we can create our own laundry list of excuses (nutrition/wind/temp/etc). this fear is hard for me to grasp on an intellectual level (not athletic, b/c I have been there myself)...why fear the possibility of underperforming by going easy on the bike when you know that this bike effort is undoubtedly going to force you to under perform once you hit the run…”

Great piece of writing…

The challenge of getting past Mile 20 is present daily. All achievement stems from creating the environment and habits that support getting past lots of little Mile 20s.

Most of us are too deeply programmed into our existing patterns to break out unless we are in a new field. Amateur athletics is so new to most of us, we haven’t had the chance to create self-defeating patterns.

Even with a, relatively, clean slate – we bring our existing patterns along wherever we go. As a result, we see many successful AG athletes with pre-existing success in a range of fields. The field depth isn’t as strong as single sports so new athletes can make a mark quite quickly, say five years of focus.

The illogic of self-sabotage might be driven from an underlying fear. If we do everything right and don’t perform… then we might realize our ultimate fear – that deep down we really do ‘suck’. I’ve met more than a few people that are driven by this contradiction.

OK that’s enough for now.

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