It was 20 years ago today... January 7, 2011
Late in December, 1990, I got my first NeXT computer. On a snowy new years day at 4am, I woke up, crept out of bed and started playing with my new NeXT machine... I started learning Interface Builder.
By the end of the day on January 2nd, 1991, I realized that I didn't want to be a lawyer, but I wanted to start a software company and build software for NeXT. More generally, I realized that I loved creating software and I loved creating software on advanced computing platforms.
I finished law school, passed the bar, but also started Athena Design and launched a game for NeXT: Culture Shock '90... it was a tile removal game with sounds and pictures based on cultural events in 1990. It sold a few hundred copies, but more importantly, I was shipping an app for NeXTSTEP and that allowed me access to the NeXT developer program and other goodies. It was there that I met Bambi Fernandez, one of the folks in NeXT's developer advocacy program.
In November, 1991, I laid down the first lines of code for the Mesa spreadsheet (which is still available). About 2 years later, November 1992, Mesa had become the best selling spreadsheet for NeXTSTEP, powering trading floors in London, New York, Chicago, and Houston. We sold an enterprise license to Mesa to Chrysler and helped NeXT land many financial services and telecom accounts. Mesa was the first real-time spreadsheet (no, I didn't patent it.) We, the Athena Design team members, had built software and a company that was about as innovative as they come, yet able to execute, and was (marginally) profitable.
Athena Design was made up of some pretty stellar people, Athena's alumni include (in rough order of joining) Dirk Fromhein, Linda Julien, Benji Cline, Tracy Kugelman, David Policar, Jeffrey Bussgang, Bill Watt, Dave Rodger, etc. At the time, I was thoroughly unaware of the amazingly stellar quality of the folks on the team.
In fact, at the time of Athena, I was unaware of the true value of team. I was just beginning to make the transition from libertarian (fiercely independent mountain man) to liberal (we're pack animals that cannot survive without the pack and laws and government are there to insure a strong pack.) I'm not sure how I motivated such an amazing group of folks to join the team (it certainly wasn't the money... most people were making $24K/yr) and I'm not sure how the folks stayed organized to deliver such amazing results year in and year out (although having Jeffrey's "adult supervision" didn't hurt.)
One of the things I loved most about the NeXTSTEP community was the particularly amazing group of people that self-selected into it. Steve Jobs did a truly spectacular job of creating a community and an environment where excellent thrived. Whether its the Chris MacAskill (SmugMug) or Jonathan Schwartz (Sun), there were a disproportionate number of spectacular people and projects that were part of the NeXTSTEP community. The NeXTSTEP community was an amazing community to be part of.
Over the years, I've experienced a lot of different teams. During the late '90s, I did a stint doing technology project rescue (going into venture backed companies that had a mis-match between what sales/marketing was promising and what engineering was delivering and getting things back into alignment.)
As I've walked the 20 year path from that snowy night in Boston to today... as I've turned from the bombastic 27 year old CEO to the merely temperamental benevolent dictator for life of the Lift framework, I've learned the following things:
- Waking up every morning excited about what you're going to do that day is wicked important
- Building innovative software really makes me happy
- Working with people who change the world is something I relish
- Being surrounded by excellent people who work hard, get excellent results, and care a lot (Lift team, this is you), is invigorating
- I really like and really thrive on being the lead sled dog
- Being in a community of intelligent, caring, polite, helpful people (the Lift community) is both refreshing and give me hope that the world that my kids grow up in will be much than the mostly excellent world I've grown up in
- Communicate more effectively about why systems have to grow and evolve and why particular paths offer better results... aka... don't just build it, but explain why.
- Meet some of the people that have influenced me from afar... meet some of my idols. Yes... I've met and worked with a pretty stellar group of folks over the years, but I'd like to have dinner with some of my idols including the Clintons, Paul Krugman, Michael Crichton (okay, too late on that one) and others.
- Spend a little more time revisiting the relationships I've made over the years.
- Looking more at organizational behavior, communication, and process (as in simple and light weight) as a way to improve results.