Well, the world seems to have gone crazy since my last post. I hope wherever you’re reading this, you’re healthy and taking precautions to stay that way.
I flew back to SF Monday after a long weekend in Florida where I spent time with family and close friends. I haven’t visited in about a year so I enjoyed quality time with my mom and grandma. I also celebrated my best friend’s 30th birthday with him and his family (which after 12 years feels like my family too).
Aside from the corona situation we’re all dealing with (SF is under a shelter-in-place order so Carole & I are isolating at home with George), I wanted to share a recap of our recent trip to Mexico City and an update on the career side of things.
Mexico City 🇲🇽
A few weeks ago (which feels like a lifetime ago) Carole & I flew down to Mexico City for a few days. We stayed downtown in the midst of what turned out to be the cultural heart of Mexico: El Zocalo. We ate incredible food for a fraction of the price we pay in SF and walked all around some of the beautiful neighborhoods in town, including Condesa and Roma Norte.
Carole also booked three Airbnb Experience for us while we were there:
Lucha Libre - we had tacos and mezcal a short walk from our hotel and met the group, including our four hosts. After several shots of mezcal, we all walked over to a local arena to see a series of Mexican wrestling matches (picture a low budget WWE event). It was nonstop yelling, cursing and laughing. Our host said it best: “this is my therapy”.
Xochimilco - about an hour drive from where we were staying is a world heritage site where you can rent boats and spend an afternoon on a tour through the ancient canals of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital upon which modern day Mexico City is built. We enjoyed a sunny day with tequila, mezcal, tacos and mariachi bands on the water alongside a cool group of tourists which included a Canadian bachelorette party 🥳.
Teotihuacán - home of the largest pyramid in America (the Temple of the Sun), this 8-hour experience was the most unique of the three. Our host was born & raised minutes from the site and played there as a kid. He knew it inside and out. He showed our group of 18 people around, shared stories and facts and then took us for a local lunch nearby. He then brought us home to meet his wife and daughters and his wife served us some of her homemade hot chocolate while he showed us dozens of old clay and obsidian figurines that he found on his property over the years. He then took us down to underground caves on his property and did what I can only describe as a 10 minute ritualistic drum and chanting ceremony in the pitch black dark. It was intense.
I would recommend all three (once people start traveling again) so go ahead and bookmark these now so you don’t forget 🤣.
My summary tweet got all kinds of reactions:
A few days after we got back from Mexico, there were some changes at Abstract and I was let go in a layoff along with a group of my colleagues. These are unfortunately common at high-growth, venture-backed startups. It’s part of the risk of working at early stage companies.
This was the third company where I’ve seen layoffs first hand; I also went through layoffs at Life360 and Breeze.
At Life360, I was let go along with ~20 people when the company had ~70 employees and at Breeze I made it through a couple rounds of layoffs (one that reduced headcount from 70 to 35 and another that brought us down to 25) before Ford acquired our team and technology. I stayed for an incredibly productive two years post-acquisition as we spun up and scaled the Canvas business.
Each of the three companies where I’ve seen layoffs had a unique path to that point. There’s a lot of nuance to each situation but there are some systemic commonalities.
In my opinion, it all stems from the venture capital model in which startups raise a lot of money from investors. Each time a startup raises money, it buys 12-18 months of runway (runway is how long your company can survive if your income and expenses stay constant). Then the startup needs to raise again. And again.
Each time a startup raises, the stakes become higher and the goals more ambitious. You have to go big or go home. Grow or die.
As you can imagine, there’s an unnatural amount of pressure in this environment. A founder who raises venture capital is like someone who gets on a treadmill and can never get off. As an employee, it’s incredibly motivating.
Usually, the way founders put the money to work is by hiring a lot of people to execute on the company’s ambitious goals. Team growth comes with many scaling challenges. When headcount doubles each year (as it did in all three companies), you end up having new employees onboarding new employees. It’s a tricky dynamic.
A tiny fraction of companies pull off hyper-growth without needing corrections (I would guess the majority of startups make corrections along the way). Corrections I’ve seen include - but are not limited to - CEO changes, re-organizations, acquisitions, changes of strategic direction and, of course, layoffs.
I’m rooting for the team at Abstract and wish them all the best. It was incredible to work on a product I loved as a customer. I made a lot of new friends along the way and managed a large amount of resources as we shipped big improvements to our product. I spent many hours on calls with our customers and ended up learning about so many different companies’ product development processes. I earned something like a graduate degree in “how product teams collaborate”.
My time at Abstract also taught me how to be a product manager in a remote work environment. With everyone working from home for the foreseeable future, I’m grateful for this addition to my toolkit.
So what comes next?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure yet. I’ve been consulting with a startup called ProdPerfect and helping fill some gaps as they scale their team and build out a lot of process. They raised a $13 million Series A recently and have some aggressive goals. I knew the founder/CEO before he started the company so it’s been amazing to see things take shape. It’s also a remote company so I’m getting to see another flavor of distributed work so far. They do things very differently.
The consulting work is giving me space to reflect and be strategic about picking my next full-time role. I’m very lucky to have this. I’m also starting to line up interviews and see where the conversations go. The most important thing is finding a good fit. I’m looking for alignment on values, product philosophy, resource allocation, transparency, mission, vision, and role. Just small stuff, you know 😉
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