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As the year ends you think about your life, your accomplishments, your failures. In my case, as a tech entrepreneur, I was thinking not about the thousands of people I hired in my life through my companies and who did well (and sometimes very well), but about the people I have had to fire. These people come in two distinct groups. The ones I had to fire because they were incompetent and the ones I had to fire because I was incompetent.
With the first group I am at ease. But this post is dedicated to the second group. The ones I had to fire because my start up didn’t take off as planned. Like the first employees at Fon, we had to fire half of them only to hire others three years later. Fon really took off and now is the largest WiFi network in the world, but it took off much later than planned, it took off after the iPhone became huge and people started needing WiFi, and Androids, and iPads and so on. So for us at Fon, it was hire big, fire big then hire big again.
And years before when I was building Jazztel, the same thing happened: we hired too many employees, we then had to lay off hundreds but over time Jazztel has gone to an employee count that is at its highest ever by now. For both companies I founded, Fon and Jazztel, 2012 was the best year ever, but this is little consolation to the people I had to fire at the time. To those employees I owe an apology. A big one. My only excuse really is that the life of an entrepreneur is one of trial and error, and in my quest to build great companies I have to give my vision a try. But in these two cases my timing was dead wrong. And many people lost their jobs because of me. And they had families, mortgages, plans, and they suffered. And until today I never really apologized for this.
So here it is: this is an apology to all of those I had to fire in my life because I screwed up, because I failed to execute my strategy well, because I was incompetent. I am really sorry.
Warriors vs. Worriers
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So you are worried about something. You are frequently worried about something. But whatever worries you changes from day to day. Well, here is a post about worrying, worrying as an activity, about what’s good and bad about worrying.
As negative as it sounds, worrying itself is not negative. Being worried can make us better off. When we are worried our intellect sharpens, worries make us focus on problems, confront issues, win battles and move on with life. As an entrepreneur who over the course of 25 years founded four startups worth over half a billion and blew up one, I was never worry free. Indeed my start ups always felt to me as a string of endless worries, of failures, that somehow miraculously one day, were highly valuable. In all of them I had near death experiences. In all of them, thanks to worrying, I found ways out of them. Because worrying as in “I have identified a problem” is a positive trait. Worrying as in “I am deciding on the best strategy to cope with adversity” is a positive trait. But many times we worry about issues in life that truly don’t deserve our focus, that are not real problems we should worry about. That are not true challenges. That are bogus.
That is why some people are more “worriers” than “warriors”. And indeed there is medical evidence for this, genetic evidence. Research shows that some genes code for worrying behaviors (worriers) while others for learning from adversity (warriors). Warriors see challenges as learning opportunities. Worriers on the other hand don’t fight true problems– they lie in the battlefield of their mind, waiting for an enemy who doesn’t show up. And instead of rejoicing when real evidence shows them that they are trouble free, on they go, to find something else to worry about. They are the hypochondriacs of life. And they exist. On a good day they become lawyers and turn their handicap into income, billing others by the hour for their worries. But most are not that lucky, and worry in vain. And we understand them because even the most optimistic among us has something in common with those “worriers”. We have all worried about issues that just did not deserve our attention. The key question is how frequently does this happen to us.
So how can we distinguish the worrier in us from the warrior in us? Here’s an idea. Start a diary of your worries. Every day write a note to self in some type of social media, about “the worry of the day”. Write it in a circle with only one member: yourself. Tell yourself what upsets you that day. Something like: today I am worried about… blank. And build a collection of worries. A timeline of worries.
And then, at some point in the future, go back to these worries. And see what you were worried about last month, or last year. By then you will be able to judge if worrying made sense. If it helped you. If you worried about something worthy of your angst. If you had a fear or a phobia. If you were a warrior, or a worrier. And if you were a worrier, use this diary to learn to fine tune your worries to their likelihood of true damage to your life in the future. Learn to pick opponents who deserve your anxiety.
I know, I fight ghosts sometimes, we all do. And we will go on worrying about some harmless issues. Still, it would be good to have a “worries tag cloud” after a year. To be able to study what made us lose sleep, and use that cloud to avoid sleepless nights in the future.
This article was also published in LinkedIn. You can follow Martin by clicking below
Can you fire your ski instructor?
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Once in Baqueira, a ski resort in Spain I had a ski instructor who kept criticizing whatever I did. Not a word of praise no matter how hard I tried to improve. In the middle of the lesson after he told me that “all my years of ski lessons were futile and I hadn’t learned anything”, I looked at him in the face and told him “you are fired”.
He could not believe me. I stared at him and said “I hired you to learn, not to get trashed, please go, I would rather ski with my family”. And he left. And I had a good day of skiing.
I don’t believe that learning should be demoralizing: criticism should always be balanced with praise.
As a person who lived in USA and Spain I should add that US instructors are generally uplifting. Unfortunately a lot of teachers in Spain believe that praise spoils the student. As a result many in Spain are demoralized.
Sports at conferences: bonding is stronger than networking
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Sun Valley is the only conference that really trains both: your mind and your body. The schedule allows it. There is content in the morning and sports in the afternoon. It is interesting to see that many of the most successful people in the world are also the fittest. While over half of America is overweight or obese I would say that only 20% of Sun Valley attendees are (this is a personal guess).
In my case I confess that I train hard before attending Sun Valley. I am probably not the only one. To me Sun Valley is both a conference and a sports event. During the conference which ended yesterday I was mountain biking 2 to 3 hours a day and did so in the company of amazingly smart and fun cycling buddies.
Allen and Co has found a great formula that trains the mind and body. To practice sports at conferences makes sense. And it is not only to be fitter. When you meet people practicing tough sports you bond, and bonding is stronger than networking.
Most of humanity woke up, had a normal day and went to sleep
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Do read this post that I have in Google+. It’s about humanity and how peaceful it is now compared to other times in our history. Concretely it’s about the declining rate of casualties of war and armed conflict over time since WWII. The rate of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants has been falling drastically. Then rejoice. Then read the comments and see the widespread skepticism about this good news. People just can’t believe that we are now living in remarkably peaceful times compared to what we have gone through. That the probability of a random human being of dying in war is lower than ever.
Still I believe in this news. I am happy that my children do not go through what my grandparents went through living in the time of WWII. I guess that one of the characteristics that distinguishes entrepreneurs who do well, myself included, and the general population is that we are more prone to believe in good news. We love good news. We celebrate good news. Most people seem programmed to like and believe in bad news. I guess a headline that read “Most of humanity woke up today, had a normal day and went to sleep” would not get a lot of attention. But it makes me happy.
I have 5 children. They go from 21 to a 6 month baby. My 21 year old daughter, has come up with an idea for a start up. She is implementing it. This was a surprise for me because until recently she had not shown interest in the start up world. She studies history at Columbia College in NYC.
I will not go into detail on what her Internet start up as that is for her to share and she will at the right moment. What I can say is that I heard what the plan is and it looks very feasible to me. And this is only partly because I think all my children are stars. It is actually a great, original idea and she could execute it very well. But while not sharing with you what her business is I will share with you what I said to her.
My daughter, I said, what you have is the “start up bug”. It is a bug so powerful that once infected with it you carry it for life. The dream of turning an idea into a company that millions use and enjoy never goes away. I don’t know if this start up will be successful but what I do know is that sooner or later you will be. Go for it!
On managing my time
Published by MartinVarsavsky.net in Entrepreneurship with No Comments
My answer generally centers around the fact how I have a great team of managers, that they are so good and reliable, that Fon has an amazing pool of talent, I also talk about how much I delegate, and that is all true.But there is another side to this question that I have not told journalists. I have not done it because I fear sounding obnoxious, elitist, or just weird. But this is my blog so if I don’t do it here where else? So here’s the other answer, the more private answer of how I have managed and manage my time.-I don’t watch TV, that alone gives me 14 years more of life for doing other things! If I watch anything it’s Netflix or Youtube, that’s where I get my TV content and movies from. I rarely go to movie theaters and watch all movies in our home theater with the family.-I am not interested in professional sports, another activity that seems to consume endless hours of many people including most of my guy friends. The Super Bowl went unnoticed. I only watch the World Cup and that is once every four years. Not watching sports, nor commenting or talking about them, is a real time saver.-I read less books than others, I just don’t have 30 hours to devote to each one of them. I read a lot on the net, and some magazines also short stories during flights. But just like I practice sports much more than I watch sports (I mountain bike around 8 hours a week) I write much more than I read. I read a lot in my 20s, now it’s my time to contribute to others by writing. Yes I did read the Steve Jobs bio, or some Nick Hornby, Martin Amis recently. But reading whole books takes too much time for me to be able to do it on a daily basis. I read when I am on vacation, when I sail. That’s when reading feels great and is a real pleasure.
-Personal grooming: many top business people spend a great deal of time selecting their clothes, getting haircuts, manicures, pedicures, massages, and all sorts of time consuming personal grooming activities. I instead sometimes cut my own hair, dress simply, wear sneakers and jeans, never wear ties or suit. My wife chooses my clothes. This alone saves me 83 minutes a day according to some estimates.
-Logistics and commute (this part is only useful for entrepreneurs): I sometimes drive, but I have a driver and while I go anywhere, I work in my car. I don’t need to look for parking. This is clearly a luxury but it is a time saving luxury. Also by design my home is 10m from my office and 20m from the airport, also near my kids schools. I pick up my kids from school every day and spend the afternoon with them. When I travel, we have homes in New York, Paris and London. This is partly because I don’t like to pack nor check in hotels, in those homes I find all I need. I can go in and out quickly. I also have another special luxury which is a small private jet and therefore spend much less time at airports and travel more efficiently point to point. The Citation V increases my environmental footprint but I have built a lot of wind farms to pay for my sins
-Even though my company’s name is Fon I rarely make phone calls. I communicate over every imaginable platform, Facebook, bbm, whatsapp, Skype, Google Talk, you name it, but phone calls are for family and friends . In business I prefer electronic media or in person meetings.
-I don’t drink. Yes this one is a shocker but I rarely drink, if anything a glass of wine with a meal. I dislike beer and liquor. Drinking is something that consumes an incredible amount of time in the lives of other people and renders them useless for a lot of other activities for a significant percentage of their lives. Not drinking has put me in difficult positions doing business, especially in Japan. Same with drugs, I tried many, but didn’t like any. Cigarettes, cigars, I don’t like any drugs. Being sober at nights, on weekends, already puts me ahead of most of the population in terms of productivity.
-I rarely do business lunches and dinners and spend most meals with family and friends who I really care about. Business meetings are at the office and in the morning. I work from 9 to 2. Afternoons are for family and sports. Evenings for family and friends. My business meetings instead are invariably short. I am always online and work online. But I don’t like to be at the office just for being at the office. When I am at Fon, my door is open and people can walk in for short meetings. People at Fon know that I treasure my time, but they also know that I am there every time when I am really needed. Of course I do show up for emergencies, road shows or those moments of the year when I am needed all day. But that is an exception not a rule like with anyone else who does spend their afternoons at the office. Being CEO allows me that benefit. If I was anything else I would have to be at the office all day.
-I am punctual and have little patience for those who aren’t. I don’t make others wait, I don’t wait for others. The word must have gotten around on this because we all tend to be on time. I don’t waste time waiting.
-I make social media work for me, sometimes people say, how do you get work done if you spend so much time on social media, but I use social media to take notes, like I have an idea for a business and I blog it, I share it, I work collectively with people, social media looks like a waste of time for others but it saves me time, I recruit on twitter, I brainstorm on Google+ or my blog, I work inside social media, get ideas, its a sanity check many times, crowdsourcing saves me time. When tweeting I use Tweetdeck to time my tweets so they appear at different times of the day when I am doing other things. This allows me to tweet across time zones although sometimes it angers people when they think I don’t answer and I am asleep. I also developed an Android app to listen to my social media on my bike. It’s called Radiome and it reads your social media while it plays music, it’s perfect for my bike.
-Against what many think I sleep and I sleep well, 8 hours or so. Sleeping is an important time of the day. I sleep much better with my wife than alone when I travel without her. Lately I sleep with our 5 month old baby and I still manage to sleep reasonably well because we are lucky enough to have a baby who sleeps 11 hours almost every night. She sleeps much better than my older kids and I think it’s because we adopted co sleeping.
-I go to a couple of conferences a month. What I like about conferences is sometimes the content, like at TED, but mostly the fact that I get to see a lot of people all at once there. Many think conferences are a waste of time. I find them a very efficient way to have a lot of in person meetings in the same place.
-I say no to a lot of formal invitations, events, dinners and business meetings. I see time as sailors see wind or photographers see light, as something to use, manage and shape, not as something to be a victim of, or to see go by. I rather stay at home with my wife and kids than go to some useless business meeting.
-I take a lot of vacations. Around 10 weeks a year of vacation. But only one week in which I am truly disconnected and on vacation. My other 9 weeks of vacation are devoted to family, friends, sports and meditation. Meditation in the sense of thinking deeply about some problem that I am trying to solve. Like my best ideas for work I have while on vacation. Maybe because I think my work is a vacation. Because I love what I do. This is something I can do because I am an entrepreneur, because entrepreneurs get paid for their ideas, not for their time.
And yes, I do have a great team of people who work for me and help me out and I am very, very thankful for what they do.
Fifi cherche WiFi – Best Fon ad ever
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Belgacom (powered by Fon) has created an awesome campaign to advertise its fonspots. A dog called Fifi whose innate talent is to smell wifi hotspots. In the middle of 2011, we announced the agreement between Fon and Belgacom and two months ago we reached 100.000 hotspots. Nowadays, we have 300.000,.
Here you can see the video. The story would be as follows: Jean has a dog called Fifi that barks when she finds a wifi hotspot, because of Fon and its agreement with Belgacom, this virtue has turned out to be his worst nightmare as she never stops barking.
Yoko Ono’s thoughts. My disappointment.
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Yoko Ono was at DLD Conference in Munich last Sunday and I made room on my agenda to see her. I had heard about Yoko all of my life. Well as it happens it would have been better that I had not gone to see her as I now have a really negative impression of her. I will summarize it in three comments she made:
The first one was that babies born through C-section suffer trauma because they were never hugged and said goodbye to their mother.
Another one was that babies conceived via IVF can never get to love their father and mother. No comment was made about the ones that are both conceived via IVF and born via C section but you can only guess how sorry she feels for them.
So by then she had hurt without reason maybe around 20% of all babies in the planet but that was not enough. She went on to insulting the rest of the planet by saying that we don’t need to wait for nuclear war so only the cockroaches survive because us, humans are the cockroaches. And she went on to explain her point.
In the end she changed her tone and said a lot of positive things about humanity, she even said, “all you need is love“. But I guess if you are an IVF conceived baby love is not enough, as you will not love your parents.
We are 12 family members at our vacation home in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay, many teenagers. We have WiFi, computers, tablets, smartphone, Kindles, books but no TV. And nobody gives a f….
During this vacation, nobody mentioned that we should buy a TV or that they missed watching TV. And since I don’t watch TV either I did not get one. But a couple of days ago, a broker said we should have a TV for a tenant who comes in February. “A tenant could not rent a house without a TV” he said. So I ordered one online and connected it to DirectTV thinking that somebody in my family may want to watch it. Still nobody gives a f…. about watching TV. The TV is there, turned off, everyone is online in some form or other, or reading, or just interacting with each other, but no TV. People go to the beach, cycling, walking, dancing at night, all sorts of things other than watching TV.
Now I don’t know if there is a global trend towards watching less TV. There are also no newspapers in this house and news are read online, so maybe traditional TV is really going the way of newspapers. But data show that in some families TVs are on 4 hours a day. So here’s a theory of what may be going on in my family.
Communal TV is in a way like telephone calls, which are also disappearing in our family. Telephones have this thing to them that is rude, that they ring and annoy everyone, that one person speaks and everyone has to listen to half of what they say, and they are then disconnected from others while they speak but they are still there. Telephone solved a lot of needs when that is all there was to communicate. But now telephones are smart, different and people rarely talk on them. All types of messengers are taking over, Facebook, email, chats of various kinds. They are more private, you answer when you want to.
TV also has this aspect to it that it’s hard to get everyone to agree to watch the same thing at the same time. It’s great for those who enjoy it, annoying for the rest. We can watch TV content of course, and we do, especially series such as In Treatment, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Boardwalk Empire, Big Love, Dowton Abbey, The Pacific and many others. But we don’t use a traditional TV for that anymore. We have tablets, Netflix, etc. So no Big TV always on for the Varsavskys, just tablets, PCs, smartphones, kindles and still a few paper books lying around.