2018 was a year that took its time coming to an end. The hardest ones always do.
What follows is a reflection of how I feel now that it has ended. There was a lot to process and turn over. Reviewing emails, Slack and social media posts to try and find evidence of how and when my thinking changed on certain topics and what that meant for the business and my own personal growth.
Paperchain’s founders released our annual note on Christmas Eve.
From the note Paperchain isn’t the product or company it was 12 months ago.
We’ve taken a pragmatic approach to business-building and I thank Dave and Rahul for indulging me here. I’m a very pragmatic and sincere person. Any decision I make is the result of a lot of thought and introspection which is sometimes at odds with expediency.
I don’t like things that sound too easy to be true. In that sense, I have probably made the fundraising process for Paperchain longer than it needs to be by being more pragmatic about how we do it and who we approach.
It’s not just about getting capital, it’s about getting the right capital from the right partners.
We ended the year with positive news that goes in some way to establishing our pre-seed round but we still have some ways to go.
We held our first advisory board conference call on December 21. Until then we had met with advisors 1:1 only. The call had people dialing in from NYC, Frankfurt, Sydney, California and Brisbane. Everybody made the effort to dial in on the last working day of the year and that meant a lot to me. I prepared an agenda and managed the call. Of most personal significance was the feedback from one of our advisors, who said my organization and management was “CEO-worthy” and very impressive.
That was very encouraging for me to hear as one of my biggest areas of self-criticism and reflection is working out if I am capable of being a CEO. I don’t think I’ll reach a point where I’m not constantly questioning myself on this topic. I imagine one day I will wake up and look back on what Paperchain has achieved and realize that the entire time I had indeed been a “CEO”.
Dave, Rahul and Kaspar have done an excellent job of pushing the product development along with minimal resources. The demo web application is live and interacting with the Ethereum Rinkeby Testnet via Metamask and web3.js integrations.
We now have a short video demonstrating the financing process.
Seed Investment (almost)
Before the Summer break we had prolonged discussions with a potential seed investor. Our ask was clear ($1.75m) and we had the interest confirmed in writing before beginning diligence.
When the Summer break ended, we reconvened with the investor who came back with a final offer of less than the initially agreed upon amount, and the amount was to be in the form of a contractor agreement. We would essentially be contracted to build the tech for another of their portfolio companies and also give them warrants in the business.
While the money would have provided us with income, it wasn’t an investment in Paperchain. It was a contractor agreement. At this time we need people who are believing in and investing in Paperchain, not just paying us to build their technology. Now is not the time to dedicate our time and resources growing somebody else’s business. And even by building their technology, there’s nothing to suggest why that would mean they would also get warrants in our business.
We told them it was unacceptable and unless they were serious about an equity investment into Paperchain, the discussion will end there. It ended.
First revenue (almost)
A few months ago we came very close to generating our first revenue streams. We pushed for a very thorough diligence process with the seller as we wanted to make sure the first deal is a sure things. They pushed back and refused to provide the information we require to conduct transactions on our marketplace. We decided not to push this to our market-makers and unless the other party was willing to operate on our terms, we would have to end the discussion.
At the time, the founders spoke about how much it meant to start generating revenue. How flexible should we be in adhering to our desired diligence standards? We felt it was a matter of integrity.
While they are missed opportunities, we’re comfortable with the positions we took in both instances.
In early 2018 we produced a report on Mechanical Royalties in the US for BIEM, the international organization representing mechanical rights societies.
While a seemingly small project, it was a large research undertaking, I learned more about mechanical royalties than I probably ever wanted to, and most importantly, we finished it. Finishing a project is something that I’ve become to value more and more. This report is now being leveraged by many international mechanical rights societies to inform their US royalty collection strategy.
I had my most active year for public speaking.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent Paperchain and for the organizers thinking that people wanted to hear me pontificate (I’m being facetious, I hope it didn’t come across as pontification). I am warming to the role of being a public speaker but I have a lot to work on and that is one of my goals for 2019.
Often when I am invited to join a panel, they are male-only, or white-only. I ask my friends if they can either replace me on the panel or have good recommendations on replacements. I haven’t and won’t be on male-only or white-only panels. I’m happy to work with organizers to source replacements or reconfigure the panel makeup.
It’s something I’m very conscious of when I meet with the Token Engineering NYC organizers to discuss presenters. Representation on panels and speaking isn’t the goal in and of itself, but I’ve read enough to agree with the general thinking on the positive impact it has.
Rugby League & the New York Knights
Over the Summer, I joined the New York Knights, NYC’s semi-professional rugby league team that plays in the Northern Division of the USA Rugby League. Most people in the US know rugby, or rugby union – I always explain that while similar, rugby league is the “working class” version (in Australia, rugby union is mostly played in private schools and players are developed in private school systems). Rugby league requires a different skill set and a higher level of fitness.
You can see highlights of a game here to get an idea of the pace and physicality of the sport. State of Origin is the best professional players in Australia born in Queensland versus the best professional players born in New South Wales. Rugby league’s version of the “All-Star” game, although unlike the All-Star star games in American sports, which are a waste of time, these matches are brutally competitive and taken very seriously.
While playing against Delaware I took in errant elbow from a teammate and busted open my left eyebrow, resulting in six-stitches.
In the following match I seriously bruised my ribs and couldn’t move for several days after.
I hadn’t played the sport in nearly 10 years. My body was in shock initially.
I joined to get fit and to make friends. In many ways, startups and team sports involve trial by fires and those that are left at the end invariably develop deep, life-long relationships. This was no different.
Sports is not without politics although it is ridiculous that healthcare in the US is considered a political issue. Every match I played required a trip to CityMD. $125 minimum. The stitches cost $400. In Australia, that would be $0. So much of quality of life and general happiness is derived from access to healthcare and it is non-existent in the US (unless you can afford for it, but in matters of healthcare, it is not something that should be offered to only those with money).
Anything less than the establishment of national, universal healthcare in the US will be a failure of political ideas and ambition. That might be my main axe to grind if I ever reach a position of public importance or influence.
I learned there are two relationships for founders—ones that exist and the ones that don’t get a chance to.
Not too long ago, the founders of Paperchain spoke candidly about the personal toll the business was taking. We’d all been feeling it after a long year.
Once we all saw outside of our own pain we recognized the next one—the pain and sacrifice from those we had relationships with. And that becomes the hardest to reconcile.
This business has driven my marriage to the point of dissolution. I keep telling myself that if I were to stop now that sacrifice would all be for nothing—I’d have less than what I started with. So would my wife, whose life has been put on hold wile I invest everything we have—monetary, physical, and emotional wealth—into Paperchain.
You don’t make new friends. At least in these early times.
One of the harder things I went through was the ending of a relationship before it had even begun. Why create something else just to have it dissolve? (“We need the eggs”, as Woody Allen would say.) But you’re also knowingly forcing your priorities onto someone who possesses different priorities to your own. That’s another death in itself.
My 12-year-old sister-in-law was involuntarily admitted into psychiatric care a couple of months ago, and tried to kill herself a month ago. 12 years old. I couldn’t be there for my family through that.
My brother struggles with depression and anger. I can’t be there to help him.
My mother is buried by depression and an eating disorder. She’s unable to help herself and will probably die in the next couple of years because of it. I can’t be there to help her.
My mother and father will most likely die in the next 10 years (they are late 60s now). I won’t be there for most of the rest of their lives.
A part of the desire for Paperchain’s success is entirely selfish and personal. To make it up to those who sacrificed the most for you to get here. To generate a financial windfall as immediately as possible and make life comfortable for those whose lives I’ve missed. For nieces and nephews that don’t recognize or know who I am.
It doesn’t have to be this way and I respect those whose experience is different—founding this startup has been immeasurably painful. I envy those who have been able to minimize their loss.
In response to directly above, those same people still support you. This is their sacrifice as much as it is yours.
Friends and families have a near endless supply of forgiveness and ability to empathize. Share and confide more—both the successes and failures.
On investments—it’s a no until there is money in the bank.
On cryptocurrencies—shills and bad-faith actors currently dominate the most public attention and afforded the most airtime. Avoid them.
Be open about fear, uncertainty and doubt with the other founders.
VCs are a conduit for investment and growth but they are not subject matter experts (unless they have experience in that industry or vertical) and they do not know everything (or in same cases anything at all). The best VCs know this. Avoid VCs with a high media profile/celebrity factor, particularly those that see themselves as innovative and risk-taking as the founders and entrepreneurs.
Every meeting or call must have preparation. Even those you have not set and are asked to sit on, spend 20 minutes before to understand why the meeting was set, the backgrounds of those involved and the desired outcome. Otherwise you have no right to be in those meetings and should decline. Add value where possible, but if you’re not leading the meeting, leave it to the meeting leader to run the agenda and conversation.
Don’t interrupt or asset dominance by interrupting.
Everything can be a negotiation point. Let other parties establish their requirements before demanding your own.
“What will it take for you to be all in?” is one of the most powerful questions you can use in establishing agreements.
Most people are as scared and insecure as you are. Be kind and be gentle. Compassion and empathy should always inform first responses.
Less time on phone. Stop checking by habit. No, a notification hasn’t appeared without me being alerted to it. Remove apps that have a browser version. Disable push notifications where possible.
Commitment to exercise. Exercise daily until it becomes a habit. Mix up cardio/running with weight sessions, yoga, and class work. Make decision on another rugby league season.
Make dinner more often. Making dinner used to be a good way to unplug. ~1 hr of preparation and cleaning and not looking at a screen. Buy groceries and make dinner at home.
Raise pre-seed. The bare-minimum for Paperchain’s immediate growth and survival.
Raise seed. The bare-minimum for Paperchain’s short-term growth.
Earn a salary. See above.
Pay down/off debt. See above.
Move into own apartment. See two above.
Get family to visit me in NYC. See above, two and three above.
Get US learners permit. Study rules and book in for test.
Get US drivers license. I’ve enjoyed being forced to live without access to a car in NYC (you need one in Australia). But I also see how cars play a role in personal freedom/right of movement. It would be nice to have the option.
Get out of NYC more in the Summer. For financial reasons, I didn’t leave NYC over the Summer. This year, get upstate. Spend more time in nature.
Improve public speaking/presentation/storytelling skills. Bruce Springsteen’s “Springsteen on Broadway” is a masterclass in impactful storytelling. Granted he’s had 50 years to hone his skill but there is a lot take from here. Keynotes and public presentations need to be about more than just the technical information of the subject.
Diarize and write more. It will help with memory, reflection and measuring progress.
Be more assertive. Lead. While I am ultimately a conduit for the ideas and work for co-founders and co-workers, they should feel confident in my stewardship of the business.
Reduce time spent on executional tasks. Will be resolved as part of Paperchain’s growth. Identify the first areas of delegation of executional tasks so I can focus on strategic.
Focus more on self-care efforts. Take time to breathe. Take breaks more regularly. Walk around the park. Sit and enjoy a morning coffee instead of buying on way to office. Make morning coffee conversational with co-workers and friends. Feel less guilty about self-care efforts. Extension of above.
Communicate my actual thinking more honestly. I often hold back expressing my thoughts until I’ve had time to think a bit more. I’m generally a better written communicator than verbal. Need to write out my thinking but use that as a reference point/script to communicate verbally. Don’t be afraid to offer gut reactions but temper them and let others know that more thought and reflection will follow.
Don’t have the first say. Listen to the team discussions, let everyone else have their say, continue to ruminate, and then offer my feedback or thoughts after introspection.
Communicate with my family more. I’ll call my parents, brothers and sisters maybe once a month. Make it weekly. Or whenever the timing works.
Communicate and catch up with friends more. Don’t just interact via group messages or text. Call them if they are not in the same city. Organize a meet up before work. Or in the afternoon or on the weekend.
Delete Facebook. Need to get family to install Signal or other chat application. And to post their updates to the family group chat instead of Facebook.
Delete personal Twitter account. Do not go on Twitter. I wrote about my depression and deletion of my personal twitter account here. Better articulate political thinking. Learn how to organize & participate better. I’m not a fan of the anti-worker business styles of companies like Amazon, Tesla, and Uber. As Paperchain’s workforce expands, I want to learn how to empower my co-workers to organize and have better representation of their interests when it comes to decision-making and employment benefits.
I keep an exhaustive, daily list of all media I consume (full list here).
I did not read as dutifully this year as I have done in the past. I struggle with screen and notification addiction. It severely impacts my productivity and reduces time for valuable learning.
Last year I wrote a recommended reading list for founders and I still support those books and my rationale. The businesses, products, services, work we are producing all service humanity and often times, fiction inspires more insight into human nature and motivations than non-fiction.
Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, Karen E. Fields, Barbara J. Fields.
Posits that societal racism is akin to that of witchcraft, where logic and rationalization can promote racism and words like “race” are purposely designed to conceal racist acts. Displays the genetic and biological research that invalidates race as a category and how its adoption was a convenience of structural racism.
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holliday, Angela Davis.
Davis analyzes the lyrical and performative inspirations that allowed Rainey, Smith and Holliday to subvert their style and genres, and challenges the idea that these performers were apolitical.
My readings into American history so far have largely been from writers of African and Indigenous ancestry. It is a conscious attempt to frame American history from the perspective of those who have felt its most lethal force and suppression.
Film / TV
“Random Acts of Flyness”
I wrote a few words about “Random Acts of Flyness” in October. In the season’s final episode, They Won’t Go When I Go, creator Terence Nance presents a science fiction story of a black woman who has cloned her subconscious into a robotic doppelgänger, only for the robot to inherit the same insecurities, depression and racist treatment as the human original. A terrifying exploration of our moral responsibilities relating to technological progress told through the lens of black experience.
A great film about America’s clash of political ideas and the desire for law to bring about political equality. Tellingly, everyone is humanized except for the Indigenous Americans.
A conscience-altering experience. Ethan Hawke’s priest character slides into depression and radicalism as he realizes human-induced climate change is now irreversible—and with it, so too does the extinction of human life on Earth.
More: “Atlanta” S02, “Blade Runner 2049” (fascinating ideas ruined by shallow, uninteresting images), “Golden Exits”, “In Praise of Love”, “Annihilation”, “Isle of Dogs”, “My Dinner with Andre”
Nine Inch Nails
A fantastic album released this year (Bad Witch) followed up by their North American tour in the Fall. Reznor used the band’s aural aesthetic to rage against the American body politic (more on that here).
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Rhye Jonathan Wilson Moby Dan Auerbach The War on Drugs Pharoah Sanders U2 Poptone The The The Jesus & Mary Chain Nine Inch Nails Robert Glasper Bilal Kamasi Washington Butcher Brown Malik Abdul-Rahmaan Makaya McCraven
Great albums (new and first time listen):
Vince Staples - FM! Malik Abdul-Rahmaan - Field Research Malaysia Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch Joey Bada$$ - 1999 Moses Sumney - Aromanticism The Heliocentrics - From the Deep Yves Tumor - Safe In The Hands of Love Neil & Liam Finn - Lightsleeper Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth Yves Tumor - Serpent Music A$AP ROCKY - TESTING Childish Gambino - This Is America/Summer Pack Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer Four Tet - New Energy Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Bohren for Beginners Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. COLLECTORS EDITION.