Big Lessons I Learned in Sunday School: A 64-year-old choir boy

I’ve been watching Halt and Catch Fire, a really good show, showing the evolution of the computer industry, from the birth of PC clones in the early 1980s into the Internet era. I lived that life, and watching it is painfully nostalgic.”Painfully” because the show reminds me how clueless I was back then, in so many ways. (Remind me to tell you how I got injured in ballet class.)

In particular, it’s painful to relive the experiences of those years, since I’m a tech culture guy, and never fit into a marketing culture.

Fast forward 30 years to another really good show — HBO’s Silicon Valley, which I think is a fairly accurate summary of the Bay Area’s tech industry. In the space of those three decades, there was increasingly tremendous pressure on tech developers and start-ups to scale and monetize. There still is.

So both shows remind me what I lived through and the circumstances that surrounded the business decisions I made.

It took me 42 years to put to the test the lessons I learned back in Sunday school — especially the lesson about knowing when enough is enough. It was never a thing for me until I had to decide how much I’d monetize craigslist, when I changed it from a hobby into a business. Silicon Valley type bankers and venture capitalists were telling me I should monetize the usual way, and they’d make me a multi-billionaire. I’d thought about what that would do for me and to me, and like, I finally came to the conclusion: What’s the point? When is enough, enough?

Photo by: Peter Vidor

During my Sunday School years (we’re talking late fifties into 1960s), the guy in the choir robe lived in Morristown, NJ, in far from a prosperous part of town. It had been a neighborhood of recent immigrants from Europe — families who were working their way up to the middle class. There was a junk yard right across the street from home, but I preferred to play in the junk yard owned by family friends up the street. Many years later, my old house became a crack house. Recently, they tore it down to build affordable housing.

With the hindsight of 21 years of direct customer service at craigslist, I’ve come to realize that pretty much all I do, I learned back in Sunday School:

  • Know when enough is enough.
  • Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
  • Treat people the way you’d like to be treated.

Lessons learned by 64? My business model is about doing well by doing good.