First let me be crystal clear: I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I’m employed for the foreseeable future, working on something I enjoy, with people I’m (mostly) fond of. I completely understand that most people do not have the luxury that I currently have, and that the circumstances surrounding the COVID–19 outbreak are not pretty for many people in the US and abroad. That said, I’m not only trying to be grateful for the circumstances I’m in but also to make the best of it. The Bunches team and my family are living together in a quarantine house in Napa Valley, CA. Yes, I know. Things could be worse. We’ve cut salaries across the board and moved in together in order to get our MVP out the door. But in the meantime, I’m taking the opportunity to pay down some debt.
Of course, when most people think of debt they think of financial debt. Which certainly applies. In my younger years, I didn’t always make the best financial decisions…even when I had money. Early in my career, I wasn’t making that much which meant that when I started to make a bit more, I had no idea how to be responsible with it. No savings, too much discretionary spending, etc. I was completely irresponsible, and I’m certainly paying for those decisions now. Literally.
That said, I’ve been working quite hard over the past couple of years to pay down debt, and I’m getting close. From credit card payments to a moving loan to a car payment, we’re building our savings and slashing debt across the board which is a very good feeling. The current situation hasn’t changed that fact, and is one of the many things for which I’m very thankful. But I’m equally as excited about the paying down of informational debt as well.
I’m an informational fiend. Honestly. Podcasts, blogs, books, Twitter, longform writing, newsletters, music. The list of mediums is long. If it’s value-driven content, I’m into it. Which is one of the many reasons I love building Bunches. But it also means that my Pocket Casts library is constantly full (and growing!), my Instapaper backlog can get out of control, and I’m constantly checking Feedbin for the latest posts from the 100 RSS feeds to which I’m subscribed. I know, it’s absurd. But I love it. It’s my hobby. Some people knit. Others devote their basements to model railroads. I consume and learn. Sue me.
But the past few weeks have meant that I’m paying down this debt as well.
I’m reading more books. I’m listening to more podcasts. I’ve reduced my Instapaper backlog to a single page. And I’m very thankful for being able to “pay down” this debt as well. I’m learning a ton, enjoying my time, and catching up on things that I’ve wanted to for some time. Without the distractions of “normal living”, it’s been much easier to do so. The trick will be keeping the debt down in the future.
My, how things change in just a month. According to my last update, we were supposed to be preparing for a move to Los Angeles right about now. Instead? We’re holed up with the rest of the Bunches team at a home in Napa Valley. This post was supposed to be a deep dive into Bunches (it’s still coming, I promise!), but instead it’s been sidetracked into an update on where we are due to COVID–19.
Bunches is my latest startup, and the first one that I’ve started from scratch myself. After years at larger companies, and after leading Exeq through an acquisition that culminated last year, I finally feel ready to lead my own from start to finish. Hopefully, this is the big one. What we’re building sounds quite simple, but also has the flexibility and opportunity to grow into something huge, which is exciting.
Simply put, we’re building the easiest way to create a paid group chat. With the rise of the Passion Economy, more and more people are looking for ways to directly monetize their audiences and creations, so we’re creating a way for them to do that.
We raised a pre-seed round last November, closed it in December, moved to the SF Bay Area in the beginning of January, and have been working with our investors since then. I’ll go into a bit more details in the next post.
Basing the company in Los Angeles makes a ton of sense for us, considering our target audience and preference for sun and a food scene. But then this little thing called a coronavirus happened.
Thankfully, we saw the writing on the wall fairly early, and were in a position to make decisions freely. We decided to isolate as a team, and booked a house in Calistoga, CA. I’m not going to lie…it’s a dope house. Jacuzzi, pool, a grill, a yard, and plenty of space for everyone. After all, there are 8 of us living in one home. But we are still living together.
Right now, we’re making decisions to preserve four things:
1. Our health & neighbors’ health.
2. Our cash.
3. Our productivity.
4. Our vision.
As of this writing, we’re all healthy and asymptomatic (knock on wood!), we have enough runway for 18 months or so, we’re still cranking on the product, and we’re still excited about what we’re building. So far so good…we’re four-for-four.
Frankly, I don’t know. As I wrote in the last post, we do plan on moving to Los Angeles, but with the pandemic throwing a wrench in those plans, who knows what the coming weeks hold. I do know that I’m with my family, building something of value in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. I couldn’t be more fortunate.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. For those of you who enjoy following along, I’m sorry for the delay. In any case, here’s a brief update on what’s happened in the past year or so…and what’s happening now.
At the end of 2018, the writing was on the wall for Exeq. While we had solid product traction and usage, a couple of things were happening in the market that changed the investment landscape. Goldman Sachs was entering consumer fintech in a real way: they had just acquired Clarity Money (folding them into Marcus) and they were the banking partner behind Apple’s soon-to-be-launched Apple Card.
With Goldman and Apple both entering the fray, we knew that CAC was only going to rise, product differentiation would only get slimmer, and that to compete you needed bottomless pockets.
Serendipitously, we had recently brought on a pilot partner on the B2B side of our business. There was immediate alignment around what we were doing, and acquisition talks began in earnest November of 2018. We canceled our plans for raising another round of funding and pursued the acquisition with the full support of our board.
As anyone knows, acquisitions are rarely closed quickly (if at all!), but long story short, this one did close in Q1 of 2019.
Flagship was, and remains, a very exciting company in the hospitality and retail world. As an umbrella brand over solid brands in the Northeast, they’re building really engaging businesses around food, fitness, and wellness.
I joined Flagship initially as CTO, but we later realized a more appropriate title would be Chief Strategy Officer, primarily tasked with helping to guide decision-making, digitizing the business, and implementing an overarching strategy around the CEO’s vision.
While we both knew from the outset that the relationship was likely short-lived (having operated in and having come from two different worlds), I’m thankful for my time there. I’m grateful for the learnings and friendships made there, and can only hope that the impact that I and the Exeq team had there is even longer-lived than our tenure.
Currently, the family and I are in back in the San Francisco Bay Area through the end of March before heading to a new city: the City of Angels, Los Angeles.
I’ve started a new company that I couldn’t be more excited about, one that has a genuine shot at being legacy-defining.
For quite some time, I had been keeping my eyes on cruise prices; none of us have ever been on one, and I knew that it’d be a fun adventure at the very least. When Carnival finally dropped a last-minute deal on a balcony room during a week that the girls were out of school for winter break, I pounced. I had my doubts, to be honest. I thought we would be cramped in a small, sub-par room for 5 people, with sub-par food and kitschy entertainment, packed on a boat with thousands of other people with nowhere else to go for 4 nights. But I wanted to see what the hype was all about. Glad I did.
Our cruise departed from Miami, and it just so happened that direct flights out of Philadelphia were super cheap on my loyalty airline of choice (American). At the very least, I told myself, it was a way to rack up miles ahead of our anniversary trip. So I booked flights out of PHL to MIA, and then grabbed a cheap Amtrak from Penn Station to Philly. Total cost was less than our flights out of NYC would’ve been, counting taxis to and from the airport. Who knew?
NYC to Philly to Miami
The train was great as usual (one of my favorite modes of transit), and after a stop at Barnes & Noble to get some trip reading for the little ones, we headed to one of my personal delights in Philly: Tony Luke’s. You should definitely visit the touristy spots (Pat’s, Geno’s), but for my money, Tony Luke’s is the best cheesesteak in town. The wait was insane, though, but still worth it.
Crashing at the Admiral’s Club in PHL for a couple of hours was great as well, and gave us a break before jumping on a nearly three-hour flight to Miami. Was a fairly smooth flight, albeit long. We checked into our hotel for the evening (again, a loyalty spot at a Hyatt near the MIA airport), and I headed out into the humid Miami night to find food. The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, stopped by Books & Books to get some additional trip reading for me, and then headed to board the ship.
Boarding in Miami
We boarded the Victory and went straight to lunch on the primary open air deck. It was then that I began to think that we got more than we bargained for, in a good way. The tacos I had from the Blue Iguana cantina were legit: fresh made tortillas, cooked right in front of me, with well-seasoned meat and a serious hot sauce bar. Color me impressed. We shortly left PortMiami, with the Miami skyline slowly fading in the background.
After dropping our luggage off at our room (which was only slightly larger than expected, though the balcony was great), the family and I took a tour of the ship, including the kids’ club, called Camp Ocean, and the spa. The spa reeled me in with a men’s haircut & shave offer that also included a much needed skin care treatment. My generally dry skin betrays me most in the winter months. Plus, I look great wrapped in towels.
Throughout the trip, dinner was what solidified my opinion on the food. Night after night, we had exotic bites (rabbit, ox tongue, strawberry soup) paired with well-executed entrees (filet mignon, grilled pork chop, BBQ brisket) and delicious dessert options. The tiramisu was legit great.
After a good night’s sleep (the king bed was fairly nice, though the pillows a bit thin), we awoke to being docked in the southernmost area of the continental US: Key West. We skipped the shore excursions, and opted instead to spend our half day wandering the Key ourselves.
We walked around for a bit, enjoying Cuban Queen coffee and meandering in and out of the small businesses lining the warm sunny streets of Key West. Eventually, we made it to a semi-educational phase of our cruise.
One of the highlights of the entire trip, at least to me, was our visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. He’s an author that’s pretty fascinating to me, in that I care more about him and his life than his actual works. Until this past week, I don’t believe that I had actually read anything by him. I changed that by picking up Old Man & The Sea, which was worth the hype, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his creative space, his pool, and his home. While his death was tragic, his life seemed to be frenzied, enjoyable, and productive. The girls enjoyed the home as well, and Ava is currently reading Old Man & The Sea.
We had to re-board the ship fairly early in the day so that we would make the trek to Cozumel for the next day. I snapped a pretty majestic picture of the Carnival Victory, and after grabbing some lunch and key lime pie, we headed back to the pools for an afternoon in the sun.
Ah, Mexico. While Cozumel wasn’t our beloved Merida or Playa Mujeres, it was still great to be back within our warmer southern neighbor’s borders. Again foregoing the Carnival-sponsored shore excursions, I had booked us a beachside cabana at a park on the island. These things can often be hit or miss, and this one was a shot out of the park. We loved it.
The ladies seemed to have a great time as well, with them splitting time between reading in the hammocks, building sand castles with the provided sand toys, and finding adventure. Ava particularly enjoyed the hammock, though I’m not sure it enjoyed her.
Our hosts for the day were wonderful, and they took to the girls well. Freshly-made guacamole and ceviche kinda helped the ambiance as well. Loved our time there, but wrapped up after a few hours and headed into the town of San Miguel before we had to be back on board. I introduced the girls to fresh churros and a marquesita, which is a Yucatan specialty, comprised of a cheese-filled crepe with Nutella. We found a local taco spot (recommended to us by a local where we picked up the marquesita), before heading back to the ship. The tacos were good, but they honestly didn’t compare to the ship’s tacos, much less the tacos al pastor of Merida or the late night tacos suadero of Mexico City. But still: it was February, snowing in New York City, and we were eating tacos in Mexico.
Our last full day on the ship was a “fun day at sea”, and while we battled a bit of waves on the way back, it wasn’t strong enough to detract from our enjoyment of the day. I read a lot, we swam a lot, and overall enjoyed the open ocean. We got into Miami early Friday morning, and began our trek back to NYC via plane and train through Philadelphia again. Overall, a very successful trip, and the girls slept great.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. My family enjoys traveling, they’re good at it, and the cruise was a welcome escape from the twenty-degree weather we have been having here in the five boroughs.
So we’re more or less moved in. Sure, there are a couple of random boxes here and there, but we’re no longer sitting in an empty house! There are still a couple of loose ends here and there, and we’ve had our maintenance guy on-site throughout the last week or so, but it’s getting there. The hot water works, the doors are sealed up, our recyclables tied off, and the basement is dry. Most of our furniture is settled, the clothes are hung in their closets, and the books have found their places on their shelves. Of course, the bathtub has been put through its paces as well. Now of course, it will take quite some time for this place to go from house to home, but that’s normal. A few weeks will go by, and there will be doubts, but it’s part of the package. As soon as it starts to really feel like home, we’ll have the age-old question of “do we move again?” to answer. Considering we started looking at other properties last fall, it’s great to be nearing completion on this prolonged move.
It’s also pretty great to explore another neighborhood, and one that feels like a real neighborhood. Chelsea and Downtown Brooklyn were great for a season, but they don’t have the same “lived-in” feel as Bed-Stuy. In those prior neighborhoods, I always felt like a tourist in my home, and that’s certainly no longer the case. There are multiplecoffeespots within a couple of blocks of my house, some greatbakeries, and a fewgreatrestaurants. Not to mention the wine stores, and the local hardware store that I’ve already frequented a number of times (and no, not the nearby Home Depot). Not to mention a diversity that makes New York such a great city in which to live.
All of this effusing aside, I’m excited to take a little break before diving back into the professional world (seriously, I promise news there soon), as the family and I will be traveling this coming week. More on that later.