Week 3 in SF: Life out of Balance


All of my healthy New Mexico habits have gone out the window.

My fantasy for my month-long trip to San Francisco was to spend half of my time reconnecting to “the scene” and the other half of my time I’d spend on writing, reading, and thinking. Silly me for forgetting that, in San Francisco, the scene is pervasive. Every moment of my day is scheduled with something. I have a breakfast before work, coffees, meetings, lunches, cocktail hours, and then dinners. All of these conversations are enriching. Some are fascinating and a few are groundbreaking. If my goal was come back to San Francisco to plug back into the tech community, I’ve succeeded.

I wonder though: do we convince ourselves about the value of networking and being plugged into the Valley, when in reality it acts as a distraction from working?

I left the City in 2014, headed off to New Mexico to start Descartes Labs. I was ready for a new adventure because I was burned out. Being the CEO of Zite, a company that I sold to CNN, afforded me a lot of privilege in the Valley and I figured I ought to take advantage of it. I remember being at a party at the end of 2013, standing by myself, looking around at the usual crowd thinking: when do these people work? I took a sip of wine and was horrified: “Wait, when do *I* work?” I set my glass of wine down and B-lined for the door, intending to go home and write what was on my mind… only to be caught by a friend—”Mark! What’s happening? You’ve gotta hear about…” I woke up the next morning, hung over.

Isn’t Sheldon a sexy, sexy beast?

Living in New Mexico for the past 4 years has been life-changing. Santa Fe is nestled in the mountains at around 7,000 feet in some of the most beautiful, unspoiled nature in America. More often than not, my weekend is consumed by outdoor activities. I hike all the time in the rugged Sangre di Cristo mountains. My beautiful orange Santa Cruz Stigmata (aka “Sheldon”) is my constant companion. And sometimes the best Friday night is coming home, lighting a piñon fire, writing in my trusty notebook and reading. There’s a scene in Santa Fe if you want it, but there’s no pressure to participate.

Having space in New Mexico has made me both physically and mentally healthier. Maybe most importantly, it’s made Descartes Labs healthier. With no VCs to schmooze, no press to impress, and no launch parties to get trashed at, I focus on what I should be doing as a startup CEO: work.

What’s lacking outside of San Francisco is the dialog. I’ve had an incredibly productive week in terms of having many, deep conversations about startups and technology. I’ve honed the message of Descartes Labs and how we’re changing the world. I’ve debated AI from here until Sunday. And I’ve gone deep into the weeds: where else can you have a conversation about whether to raise on a note or raise a priced round?

The problem is that all of that knowledge is rattling around in my head, not being applied.

I suppose there is a balance—one that I’ve never been able to achieve—of soaking in all the knowledge that the Valley has to offer and being disciplined about leaving time for yourself. If y’all have hacks, my ears are open.

I’ve resigned myself to spend the next two weeks in San Francisco as a sponge. I don’t expect to produce much in the next two weeks, but I do plan to fill my head with fresh conversation. On April 11, I’ll ride back into the sunset (or the sunrise, more accurately, since I’m headed East), recharged with new ideas and energy, poised to execute.

Until then, I’ll raise a glass of wine and debate you on the singularity.