Ich bin ein Berliner

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin.

I never met President Kennedy but it’s comforting to know we share this sentiment (though I might swap ‘men’ for ‘people’ but that’s the 2015 in me).

While Berlin and Germany have long been on my travel bucket list (a layover in Frankfurt doesn’t count), when the real opportunity to visit emerged through my work, I couldn’t believe it: could we really do this now? For reasons I couldn’t fully articulate, Berlin has long held a captivating if ephemeral appeal to me. So much history, so much culture and so much transformation in so little time. But these were all abstract concepts to me before last month.

So now my time to see for myself what this all meant arrived! Given that most of my current knowledge of the town related to an apparently lively music scene there, it was also a foregone conclusion that Todd had to join me.

The first 3 days of work were intense and extremely productive. As always it was fun to see yet another Mozilla space; I view these as instantiations of our Mission in a given cultural context.

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Germans love real food.

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Except for their Corny bars, of course.

Fortunately, Mozillians know how to soften the blows of jet lag and international travel so we started slowly and appropriately.

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Beer conquers all forms of jet lag.

And even though our days were quite full of collaboration and deliverables, we were still able to venture out at night to see some pretty amazing stuff.

This list of ‘amazing stuff’ absolutely includes the great tip from my coworker Janet to check out Monsterkabinett and (perhaps more amazing) the stunning section of street art on Rosenthaler Strasse that you walk along leading up to it.

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And close to our hotel was not only CheckPoint Charlie (we opted for the walkby-only vs going into the museum – this seemed sufficient), but also this building we couldn’t identify (anyone know?):

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Of course being in the same room as my teammates is always enormously gratifying and relationship-building. And the added bonus was having our colleagues from the Foundation on hand to work through some new territory for us. It was a fruitful time!

One reason I love @mozilla - we don't try to be diverse. We are.

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Digging the Berlin digs.

Once our 3 days of work were up, I could join the hubs in romping around Berlin – cold as it was.

Did I mention Todd likes beer?

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Going to Germany is sort of a beverage Aliyah for Todd

We couldn’t get enough of the street art – whether near Rosenthaler, the East Side Gallery or…pretty much anywhere.

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In honor of this post’s title

If there is one thing that I took away from Berlin, it’s the ubiquitous references to history – reaching back from the Roman Empire and laying out the dramatic eras of World War II and the Cold War, it’s all here to see.

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One of my favorite parts of East Side Gallery.

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Poignant Jewish WWII memorial in the center of town

Before we left I read up a bit on some of the post-WWII programs. “Denazification” intrigued me a LOT. I need to read at least one full book on it.

And then there’s the food. THE FOOD. Where to start? Of course, there’s the supernatural sausages:

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And the fact that pretty much all forms of meat enter a totally different league:

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And yet, as amazing as all the meat (and beer, per the hubs) is, it’s really hard to come up with something better than the schwartzebrot.

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This homebaked slice was accompanied by pumpkin seed spread (also from the house).

What truly made Berlin awesome – apart from strolling around Mitte, the Brandenburg Gate and such – was hanging out with “the locals.” We had a great tapas dinner with Matt and Sara:

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…and a *blast* hanging out with “Dr. Willy” a good friend’s relative. Willy came to Berlin before The Wall went down and stayed, studying and practicing medicine and now serving as a blue chip Berlin escort.

Wednesday 1 April 2015 (yep)

Spirits-mates

Auf wiedersehen, Berlin: hope to see you real soon.

Still Weird, Still Awesome Austin

2015 marked my 4th year not-in-a-row at South by Southwest. My observations from last year still largely hold true, though this year some of the crowds seem to have staved off (Mykel, my Austinite buddy, speculated that some of this may be from key sponsorship changes this year – from Chevrolet to Mazda and from Frito-Lay to…McDonalds…) and I’m not going to disagree: I sure didn’t head over to the Golden Arches area. That said, there is such a plethora of rich, meaningful content and amazing people all in one spot, it still deserves a go.

First up was my panel,Demystifying the Startup Accelerator Journey.” It was moderated by Luke Deering who recently coauthored “Accelerate” which featured the entrepreneurs’ perspective on evaluating accelerator programs (I’m also quoted in it but it’s still a super useful book). Joining us were Patrick Riley, Executive Director of the Global Accelerator Network and Ev Kontsevoy, founder of Y Combinator company Mailgun (acquired by Rackspace).

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Some of our key discussion points:

  • Entrepreneurs should determine what they need from a program and apply to the ones that fit.
  • Start-ups should not wait until they have ‘traction’ or get to the ‘next milestone’ to apply: once they figure out the solution to their problem, they should go for it. Ev regretted not applying to YC earlier – he felt his team spent lots of time coding before addressing some of the business elements that YC helped them with.
  • There is a trend towards ‘verticalization’ among the accelerator world. Examples include the white-labeled corporate accelerators run by TechStars at Nike, Disney, Qualcomm and more. This will lead to greater differentiation of accelerator offerings vs. a generic, sector-agnostic template that only a few top ones can sustain.
  • Entrepreneurs should do their due diligence around what kinds of deals and exits specific accelerators have brokered.

Special thanks also to Matt Cartagena, Luke’s co-author, for the panelist wrangling.

Go Card! When we were done, I had the enormous pleasure of reconnecting with my Stanford classmate Chris and his awesome wife Suzanne. It’s been nearly two decades since I saw Chris when I did some work for him while he was at Trilogy (the memories of which seem to have stuck with me more than him ;). In addition to talking about college and Austin, we talked shop: Chris and our other classmate Steve head up a “venture studio” in Austin that helps lots of start-ups get going, and Suzanne has led various innovation efforts in her health care career. So continuing the accelerator talk made lots of sense. And the lamb shank at laV was pretty tasty.

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Always Be Pitching. The next day it was back to the Hilton to check out Brian Zisk‘s Elevator Pitch session. Given the pitchers were talking apps and startups, it was a pleasant surprise when Brian – a long-time Mozilla and open source supporter (check out Xiph) – called me up to share about the pilot program I’m currently working on, the MDN Fellowship. That was fun.

My honey does it again. For the third year in a row, the hubs organized the wildly-popular “The Seven Hottest Topics in Music Tech” panel. The room was packed and they had to turn peeps away. While the panelists tried to start with a conversational tack it became clear quickly that the audience wanted to cut right to the chase; they quickly course-corrected got to the 7 topics.

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Gimme food, gimme love. While SxSW is amazing, for me the crux of Austin is two-fold: the food and the people. Luckily I had ample opportunity to enjoy high quality in both these areas. Certainly with the Porches (see above), and also with Alice and our two Bay Area-turned-Austinite friends, Dana & Luke, who invited us to brunch at Jack Allen’s Kitchen which lived up to its Texas heritage with a buffet line rivalling those at the DMV. I captured Luke’s plate for posterity:

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Moar BBQ was to be had with my coworker Janet and her fantastic partner Jason, who escorted us far away from the SxSW crowds to get the real deal at County Line. The bread alone was Texas-sized.

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Finally but hardly least significant was my time spent with the Mitchell Fam. I’ve already mentioned Mykel, who married my college bud Sheeri and they’ve since produced four children (known as the Muppets) and have hosted me numerous times over the years, whether in SoCal or Austin, where they’ve now resided for nearly 8 years. When I go to Austin, getting on a SxSW panel is the icing; the Mitchells are the cake.  Thank you, family!

MeGowallaTeeAUSSt. Paddy’s Day + South By = Gowalla Green Tee

What is all the fuss?

It’s hard not to love Gilda Radner or SNL. And I’ll go one step further: for me, it’s impossible not to love Emily Litella. She never understood why people made such a fuss over things.

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In 2015, I think Emily would be asking what all the fuss is about remote working (or maybe she’d ask what the fuss is about demote twerking…hint: you need to watch those episodes to understand).

Distributed teams really got their legs with the advent of open source projects and are becoming increasingly mainstream…but are not without their drama. My short presentation at yesterday’s always-awesome Forward 2 conference dispels some common fears and myths about remote work, and provides some tips on making distributed teams awesome. Enjoy!