Hello friends! You likely signed up for this after reading one of my essays on Medium, my personal website, or seeing something on Twitter. I send this thing every few months, mostly a wrap-up of stuff I’m working on and thinking about. See past issues here. There are always typos. Now, to the newsletter…
In February, I was lucky enough to take a trip to Park City for my second-ever west coast skiing adventure. I only fell once.
For most of my adult life, my favorite band has been The White Stripes. I fell in love with the two-piece garage rock bank out of Detroit because of their music. But as I get older and make more stuff, I increasingly admire the execution of the group.
I’ll spare you the fanboy details, but the basics go like this: singer and guitarist Jack White believed that most musicians are distracted by excess. By 100 tracks in Pro Tools. By endlessly rethinking their look. By a revolving door of collaborators and bandmates.
The White Stripes were there to make blues music. That’s it. There would also be just three components (guitar, drums, vocals) three colors (black, white, and red), and two members.
As Stephen Covey would put it: They kept the main thing, the main thing.
Lately, I’ve been ruminating on the value of a White Stripes-like (or Giannis-like) focus — of knowing who you are and what you want to do. And then just going out and doing it every day. If you’re lucky enough to know what you want, it’s immensely satisfying to operate this way. There’s no need to explain yourself.
I haven’t written many things on the internet lately, mostly because, um, what I’d say wouldn’t change that much. I also think it's a kind of burnout from COVID turning everything into a screen and how the air feels sucked up by the never-ending culture war. I'm in a bit of a cynical moment when it comes to the power of communicating ideas online. I don't like that about myself, but it's true.
So, I've been heads-down hacking away for a while at the same handful of things. And with any luck, the next time I send this — it’ll be the same handful of things. (I'd love to hear what you're focused on. Hit reply! Even if we haven't spoken in a while.)
Like most American cities, Philadelphia has had a rough two years. The murder count is at a 30-year high. Our transit system is comically neglected. And, perhaps the most visible malady: There is trash everywhere.
But, there is some progress. Center City is humming back to life and more people = less litter. The city is finally instituting street sweeping. But in my neighborhood of Point Breeze, there are still pockets of neglect where trash piles up and jaded citizens, feckless leaders, and craven businesses shrug their shoulders and allow it to pile up.
That’s why I started Point Breeze is Beautiful. An organization that takes donations from the community (and anyone else interested in solving the trash problem in Point Breeze) and then uses that money to pay returning citizens a fair wage to sweep the streets. No “studies” or “awareness” - just taking the cash and removing trash. The last time I sent this in September, we removed 520 pounds of garbage. Now, we're up to 3,700.
However, I know working off of $10-$100 donations isn’t a long-term solution — and I’m working to help structure PBIB to receive grant money or some other renewable revenue source. If I was an eccentric billionaire I’d create a new streets department to patch potholes, clean the garbage, and plant trees. One day!
Washington Avenue is an arterial that acts as the northern border of South Philadelphia. It’s two blocks from my home, and I cross it several times a day either on on foot, bicycle, or car. It’s also a chaotic road with massive potholes and double and medium parking as it’s lined with industrial warehouses, car repair shops, apartment buildings, retail, and restaurants.
So when the city announced it would be “reimagining” the avenue there were many stakeholders and layers of grievances from past processes and injustices. I’ll spare you the details (though you can read them here) but I’ve spent a good deal of my free time helping to organize and advocate for a pedestrian-friendly version of the avenue. I’ve sat at a bar to collect petitions, knocked doors, and attended several closed-door community meetings.
I’ll write about this more soon — but even after all the community meetings, endless Zooms, and thousands of petitions, the avenue is exactly as it was a decade ago. The city is cynically using “equity” as a shield to abdicate any responsibility.
Candidly, the ordeal has reshaped my politics as I find myself just hoping for a competent city government that can build and improve things. Anything!
In January, I was promoted 🎉 to VP of Content at Crossbeam, a B2B SaaS start up based here in Philadelphia. In August, we raised $76 (trust the process) million from Andreessen Horowitz and others.
I wrote about our progress in September here — but working at Crossbeam feels like the final exam, it’s a use of all of the skills I’ve been able to pick up at past jobs. It’s been chance to take many of the things I believe in building audiences online and focus on them relentlessly. As a result, the success we’ve seen has been especially gratifying.
I’m not going to pretend that the graphs are always up and to the right - but I’m trying to enjoy them when they are!
Our next big effort is Supernode, Crossbeam’s first conference here in Philadelphia on May 17-18. It’s the first corporate event I’ve helped create from scratch. Which, again, feels like using all of the experience I’ve picked up organize things like Pilcrow House, 99U, and Philly Tech Week. Mainly, the belief that an event is like editing. You are curating ideas and experiences like any magazine… but in a physical space — and as the organizer, it is your highest responsibility to respect the time of the people that left their homes to attend. I hope we do it justice.
For Supernode, we’re expecting around 200 executives from major B2B SaaS companies to attend, it’s one of those fun but exhausting projects that make a career enjoyable.
Earlier this year, my daughter Quinn turned one surrounded Allison and I’s family and friends. My father once told me, “Your children are nothing more than the memories they spend with you.” And being with my daughter is the best part of my day, every day. It’s difficult to write about one’s children without veering into the cliche, but cliches often exist because they contain truth.
I was having a conversation with someone ten years younger than me that I didn’t know very well, and they volleyed over a conversation starter: “How do you relax?”
I responded, “I spend time with my wife and daughter exploring the city” I could tell he found the answer unimpressive and predictable. And he could tell I didn’t care what he thought. And we gracefully moved on.
I think that's what focus feels like.
Just like the White Stripes, who broke up after 14 years of making music, one day my focuses will change.
But for today, we continue to rock out. Play me off Jack.