Go Into the Garage

I met with a VC named Jim Millar a number of years ago, and he made a great observation:

If you want to be at the right place at the right time, you need to be in as many places at once as possible.

It’s a twist on the “you make your own luck” adage, but I like its emphasis on effort and the reality of probabilities.  Of course, being at the right place at the right time is only part of the answer.  If you don’t recognize that you’re at the right place at the right time, you might as well not have been there!  Or if you realize you’re at the right place at the right time and you don’t take action, the same is true.   So, even though “luck” is a requisite ingredient for making the most of a situation, you need two other critical ingredients: 1) pattern-recognition abilities (experience) and the smarts to spot luck when you visit with it; and 2) the wherewithal to take action and follow through.

The nice thing about our modern world – with technology enabling instantaneous communications, global travel and capital flows – is that it’s never been easier to be at the right place at the right time.  It’s just gotten a lot more competitive because it’s easier for everyone else, too.  But “being in as many places at once as possible” is unfocused and can be hugely unproductive, so it’s important to balance a frenetic pace with some discipline.

To impose some order, I like to schedule meetings in blocks so that I can reserve time to do other work that requires uninterrupted thought.  It can be challenging to get things done if your day is chopped up into interminable 15-minute sprints (although necessary).  If a day has a morning meeting scheduled, I’ll try to block future meetings in the morning, leaving part of the afternoon free to do more involved work requiring bigger chunks of time.  Similarly, if that day has a single afternoon meeting, I’ll block future meetings in the afternoon.  Blocking meetings together just gives me more time to focus on getting real work done.  Oftentimes this strategy goes out the window, but it’s a good framework.

In order to stay focused on the real work I need to do during these “free” blocks, I compile a list (usually the night before) of the 3-5 substantial things I want to accomplish the next day.  If I get through my list, then it’s been a productive day (thank you to Marc Andreesen’s (now dormant) blog for putting me on to this.  If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read Marc’s fantastic post on personal productivity tips).

Nonetheless, I try to connect with as many people as possible and I like to cast a wide net.  I frequently get more inspiration and ideas out of meeting folks who do not work in the technology world I inhabit (one of the benefits of being a NYC-based entrepreneur).  Similar to any industry, the technology community can become a bit of an echo chamber, so it’s beneficial to dig into how other industries and disciplines operate.

So, don’t let opportunity pass you by.  Renowned Bessemer VC David Cowan knows this best: in 1999 while leaving the house of a friend who was renting her garage to two smart Stanford guys named Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Cowan said, “How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?”  Inspiration can be found in unexpected places, so I’ll be going into the garage and won’t mind if I sometimes find it empty.

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