I had the great pleasure of having lunch with Eliot Peper on Friday. If you haven't heard of him, you're missing out! He is the author of the Uncommon Stock trilogy of books in the new and fun genre of "Startup Fiction." You should go read them now and then come back. I'll wait.
My very favorite conversations are the ones that leave my mind running away with ideas and imagination, and this was no exception. I came away inspired in several ways, one of which is to write more, hence this post.
Most of our conversation was about getting to know each other better "IRL." Except for a brief introduction at the launch of his first book, our entire relationship had been based on his insightful and complex books, my odd Twitter comments, and the occasional online exchange. That this would turn into lunch triggered one of those "we live in amazing times" moments for me.
You see, when I was a kid, Robert Heinlein was a huge part of my life. Besides my father and my longtime friend and mentor Rick Woodsome, he probably had more influence on who I became as a person than any other man. (Several women (including authors) have also had powerful influences on my life, but that's a discussion worthy of its own post.) In any case, though his writing had a profound impact on me, the relationship was almost entirely unidirectional. I consumed volumes of his words, but our interaction was limited to a very short, kind note returned by SASE, not long before his death. Today, Twitter, e-mail, online comments, AMAs, and a dozen other platforms allow authors to cultivate a following that might start off small, but tends to be more interactive and certainly more engaged. (For an example of what this can become, look no further than the past four years of Andy Weir's life with The Martian.) As with most things, it makes me wonder what opportunities Zoey will have in her life. At 8, she's already finding her voice and her passion, and I'm thrilled that whatever medium she chooses to express her creativity, our increasingly connected world means the barriers to her finding an audience are disappearing. The problem is, of course, the signal-to-noise ratio makes the connections more challenging. How many other great stories, works of art, music, etc. are we missing because their creators can't reach the right audience?
The other theme we talked about at length was about how startups can impact in the world outside of the "startup world." I mentioned that one of the things that I wanted for Zoey (due to perhaps the only downside of growing up in Boulder) was to experience other parts of the world. I love Boulder, and it's been my home for all but 4 years of my life. For everything it has going for it, it suffers from a painful lack of diversity. Because of the nature of our company, our team is distributed around the world, and it's been an amazing few years for me working closely with people of different cultures, religions, and phiolosophies. I also lamented the fact that the "Boulder Thesis" was cultivated in Boulder while I was away. (I was between startups, working in the "real world" as it came about). Eliot pointed out that the whole world is ripe for a transition to more entreprenurial startup-focused communities, and that cities, states, and entire countries are ready to test the thesis. Just because I missed the experience here doesn't mean I couldn't have it somewhere else. The thought has been spinning in my mind for a couple of days now, and it's making me think a lot about what the next chapter of my own story will be.
Finally, I walked away from lunch thinking that those people who say our technological society is making us more isolated are just plain wrong. Our connected world has introduced me to more people and more diversity than ever would have been possible a couple decades ago. Some of my strongest friendships are with people who I've not yet met in person, but with whom I work every day.
All of this really comes around to a simple piece of advice: read a book by an independent author. Read several. When you find one that excites you, engage with the author. Take that intimate, personal gift they have made of themselves, and give something back. Tell them how it impacted you or share it with your friends. And most importantly, if the author sends you an email inviting you to lunch while they're in town, by all means, say yes! Your life will be richer for it. I know mine is.