Spend 2012 on the Right Side of the Haimish Line

Posted on Jan 1, 2012 | 92 comments


Occasionally on this blog I break away from industry commentary and write more broadly. The first day of 2012 seems the perfect day to do so.

One of the most important articles I read during the entire year was David Brook’s op-ed article on “The Haimish Line.”

In it Brooks talks about his recent trip to Africa with his 12-year-old son. They stayed in some nice camps with showers & swimming pools and in some very basic camps without electricity or running water.

At the simpler camps his family interacted with all of the other guests – there was a certain bond – a warmth. At the nicer camps they had more luxury, comfort and space.

Sometimes a bit of each is in order. But what he noticed was much more happiness & many more memories were derived at the poorer camps where you interacted with people. He defined the difference between being at the two camps as “crossing an invisible haimish line,”

“[Haimish is] a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality”

I like that. He goes on to say,

“We live in a highly individualistic culture. When we’re shopping for a vacation we’re primarily thinking about Where. The travel companies offer brochures showing private beaches and phenomenal sights.

But when you come back from vacation, you primarily treasure the memories of Who — the people you met from faraway places, and the lives you came in contact with.”

So true.

And so I framed much of my life since reading the article in Haimish terms. Was I on the right side? What things made me happy? What luxuries were false comforts?

The more I reflected on what makes my truly happy the more I realized that I was happiest on the right side of the Haimish line even when it’s sometimes easier to sneak back over the the reclusive luxury side.

The great irony is that the more success you have in life the more likely you are to be pulled on to the wrong side of the Haimish line. You can fly first class and not talk to fellow passengers. You can stay in super exclusive hotels. You can have big offices and lavish houses.

Yet none of these things lead to the great feelings you get being amongst people of all walks and backgrounds. It is this reminder that helps me form my internal compass and not hide behind a fortress.

It’s why I still randomly meet up with people I’ve met on Twitter or this blog. It’s why I still go to after-conference parties and hang out until the end of the night with whomever wants to chat. It’s why I can still be caught playing beer (and tequila) pong at 4am at the Local Response offices.

And why I still made it to breakfast at 8.30am with Christina Cacioppo the next morning (although I’m not sure she found me too Haimish of a conversationalist that day ;-)).

If you get a chance after you’re done with this post ;-) then please be sure to read Brook’s Haimish op-ed.

Examples in My Life & Work

SxSW
2011 was the first year I went to SxSW. I wrote about my experience in this post and why I enjoyed this event more than most. If you haven’t been and are considering it I highly recommend reading that post.

But summarizing what I liked most about SxSW? It lives on the right side of the Haimish line. Almost all of the people at SxSW are from out of town. They have very little “other business” in Austin as they would when the come to NYC, SF or LA. So many people just “hang out.”

The event seems to be more focused on 6pm – 3am than it does to people sitting and watching panels. I had so many casual meet-ups with random people that I wanted to spend quality time with, like Naval Ravikant and Farb Nivi. Like Steve Blank, Dave McClure, Dennis Crowley, Evan Cohen, Gary Vaynerchuk, John Price, Angelo Sotira and many, many more.

All of these people were publicly accessible and talking with just about anybody.

One of the biggest pleasures for me was just meeting all of the random people at food trucks at 2am like Joshua Cook from Gunderson Dettmer where we chatted over chicken-fried waffles served with syrup and hot sauce. Nom nom nom. Or riding a crazy party bus and sitting next to Aaron Batalion the co-founder & CTO of Living Social. Randomly.

Office Space
I always love visiting companies because you can tell so much about the character of the company by spending time in their offices. You get a feel for the company “vibe.” Do they all get along? Do they have a strong sense of culture? Do they seem to have fun?

Having a great work environment is tremendously important in attracting & retaining great employees and in getting teams to work well together. Teams that hang out together work more productively in difficult situations.

You find some offices where the CEO or senior team have cordoned themselves off. It’s an obvious temptation. As a founder you end up having to deal with a lot of sensitive information & discussions. You probably also value the concentration you can get from a bit more quiet and solitude. Cordon yourself off and you get dragged into a lot fewer problem-solving sessions for other people.

But doing so has many drawbacks. And I usually recommend against it.

One of my big disappointments at GRP has been our office space in Los Angeles. When you walk in it feels like a lawyer’s office.  Like we take ourselves a bit too seriously. I can’t really change it because we had a super long lease. But that expires soon and I hope to get back to the right side of the Haimish line. We’ll see.

TechStars Interactions
I refuse to go to demo days. Not just TechStars but any demo day, really.

Why? Well, I get nothing out of seeing how well a bunch of people can pitch their businesses on stage. You don’t get to know companies that way. It’s very artificial and contrived.

Yet I love TechStars. So I promised the guys that I would come and hang out with companies well before their demo days. Dave Tisch was kind enough to organize sessions for me in NY (little did I know in advance they would be filming it for a reality TV show on Bloomberg where I was cast as Simon Cowell ;-))

I came and hung out with companies and got to know many 1-on-1. Some I still speak with.

And Nicole Glaros organized a full day and evening for me in Boulder. I did individual sessions with every single company. And then we busted out the ping pong table. And as anybody who was there will attest I summarily defeated every TechStars company handily.

They were lulled into a false sense of security by my gray hair ;-)

It wasn’t until David Cohen turned up that I got knocked off my mantle. And went home with bruised ribs from diving. I was too sheepish to tell my wife it was a ping pong injury. Creek.

Entrepreneur Dinners
One of my favorite things to do is to organize entrepreneur dinners when I travel. I usually ask somebody local who knows the local scene to invite out 10-15 local entrepreneurs who might be interested to meet up and I agree to pick up the tab.

What I love is that I don’t pre pick the companies. I don’t try to optimize for who might be a great investment opportunity or somebody that I really “should know.” In stead of just calling up buddies who live in the area or inviting out the most senior person in town that I know, I opt for random interactions.

Why?

The Haimish factor. I find no better way to get a feeling for local communities than to sit with a group of early-stage entrepreneurs and talking about the local scene. What is working, what isn’t? What are their projects? What is the local funding environment like?

I profiled one of these interactions from when I last visited Seattle.

Sure, it would probably be “easier” to just grab a friend and have a quiet dinner at a local posh restaurant. I like to do that sometimes, too.

But I prefer the crowd.

The Subway
I lived in London for nearly a decade. For the first few years I took the Underground everywhere. Over time as I became more senior at Andersen Consulting I had more resources to take taxis everywhere. For a few years I found myself constantly in taxis.

It was certainly more private. I probably caught less colds. But it was colder. After I started my first company I find myself back on the Underground. I love that feeling of being amongst random people. I love the people watching. I love imagining what all of their lives are like. What they do. Where they live. Who they are.

When I’m in New York City I almost always find myself taking the subway where possible. I feel more connected. I feel more at one with the city. I feel more Haimish.

Camp in Sequoia National Park
Every year I go with my family to a camp in the mountains of Sequoia National Park – it has become a family tradition.

The kids get to go hiking, water skiing, kayaking, sing camp fire songs, roast marshmallows, do a skit in front of a group, do archery, swim in a lake, make tie-dye t-shirts and even shoot rifles.

Mostly they get very dirty. Hang out with new friends. Spend lots of time with my wife & me. And we eat every meal together.

The accommodations are fine – certainly not The Four Seasons. Tania & I each do activities that we don’t get enough time to do during the year like mountain biking, rock climbing, water skiing and sunset hikes with spectacular views. And we also shot rifles! For suburban kids turned city-slickers I have to admit it’s a lot of fun.

The camp attracts people from many different backgrounds from NorCal and SoCal (there’s no easy airports so people don’t seem to come from out of state). But almost nobody asks what other people “do.” It barely comes up until late in the week.

We eat at tables together. We hike together. We sing silly songs together. We see each other every morning looking like a Mack Truck ran us over. Everybody talks. Everybody lets their hair down (and certainly doesn’t wash it).

It’s one of our highlights every year. And it’s very Haimish.

Launchpad LA
A few years ago I started a mentorship organization in Los Angeles called Launchpad LA now run by the uber talented Sam Teller.

As I alluded to in my post on our recent program in which we now invest $50,000 per company and have shared office space, Bill Gross (the founder of Idealab) was instrumental in convincing me to keep Launchpad LA running despite an over-abundance of local LA accelerators. He said:

I think that the more initiatives, the better … I think it’s the many initiatives and variety that make Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley and that we need to do more of that here.”

But one of the other major drivers that I discussed with all of the people with whom I sought counsel in the decision was The Haimish Factor.

Having been involved with 23 companies that had been through Launchpad LA in its first couple of years, I felt very close to these founders. I count most of them as personal friends. We hung out a lot together a dinners and educational events.

And as I said to my close friend Adam Lilling who helps run Launchpad LA

“I’d much rather sit in Launchpad’s offices and get to know 10 companies intimately than to constantly sit in a conference room in an artificial situation being constantly pitched by entrepreneurs where my job is to mostly say, ‘no.’

Getting to know a handful of entrepreneurs better and helping them with their daily problems does a much better job of keeping me connected to what issues modern companies are facing than debating the merits of pitch decks in 45-minute sessions.

In my job, I obviously need to do both. But I can tell you which is more clearly on the right side of the Haimish line. So in 2012 you’ll see me a lot more often at the Launchpad LA offices. And on the road out meeting you. Speaking at events. Holding dinners. Getting rides from random people (a habit I picked up from Brad Feld). Occasionally inviting anybody available in the next 30 minutes to come have breakfast with me.

Happy 2012 to all of you.

My wish for you all is – when your January program to “get back into shape” fades into normal life, try for your second goal.  Remember the Haimish line.

Find ways to always put yourself amongst people where you’re an equal and where your status is less important than your ability to talk, engage, challenge, compete and laugh with others.

Some Fun Extra Reading

If you have some extra time and want to read some of the other posts I’ve done that stray outside of the tech boundaries I’ve compiled a small list of my favorite ones below (in no particular order):

1. Focus on “The Dopeness” (Life is 10% how you make it, 90% how you take it)
2. Whose Life are you Going to Change? (my tribute to Cory Van Wolvelaere & challenge to readers)
3. Don’t Take the Littles Things for Granted (on spouses, children & friendships)
4. Leadership, Teams, Success & Happiness (Tiger Moms & the true definition of success)
5. Don’t Lose Twice (know when it’s time to be gracious)
6. Read, Travel, Experience, Live (avoiding monoculture as a way to become a broader thinker)

  • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

    Another great post Mark.  I look forward to the day when this whole “social” thing can really bring us across the Haimish line, instead of sharing popular links with people we no longer care about.

  • http://twitter.com/bpgridley Bernie Gridley

    Great post Mark.  Good for New Years when everyone’s thinking of ways to become a better person.  I plan to be much more involved in my communities this year, so this was a good inspirational read.

    One good example of crossing the Haimish line I wanted to point out is AirBnB.  I took a chance and used it this fall instead of a hotel on a short trip to San Francisco.  One of my primary motivations was price, I admit, but I got much more out of it.  Staying with a real person in a real home made the entire trip more personal and more rewarding.  Instead of being bored watching tv or working on my laptop in my hotel room at night, I met new people with totally different lifestyles, went to places I’d never have gone without local recommendations, and overall experienced the city as it really is, as opposed to my best guess of which 5 star reviews on any of the millions of “social recommendation” websites was the most my style.

  • Larabee

    Great post young Suster, and Happy New Year to you and your family. This notion of Haimish reminds of my years at the state penetentiary. Off in the secluded white collar section, it was very stuffy – squash with the insider trading guys was cold and competitive, as were the meal time clicks that formed around academic pedigree and the presitge of wall street firms from which they came. My most memorable experiences at Lompoc however, were with the guys in the general population (gen pop), where one could really let down their hair, make pleasant conversation, and not worry too much about appropriate etiquette and such.

  • http://blog.redfin.com/ GlennKelman

    Great post Mark… I loved David Brooks’s original essay and glad you took his advice to heart. I try to too…

  • Brian Cleary

    Good advice, but I think this post stems from a narrow perspective.
    There is no need to contrive situations to “put yourself amongst people where you’re an equal and where your status is less important than your ability to talk, engage, challenge, compete and laugh with others.”  This is the way of things – if you find the need to maze your way back to this truth, then you have blinders on.We do not “do community” to experience the liberation of role-reversal and equality.  We do not “do empathy” because its fun to touch our feet in tattered shoes.The suggestions of your post are great.  The tone, however, seems to be “act as though you were one of the people,” and I wish it was “remember that you are.”

  • http://twitter.com/ScotchGuyDan Dan Bowen

    One cannot build for the masses if they don’t know who they are…

    Won’t it be refreshing when our technology releases us from its grasp and puts us back in touch with that which is most important?

  • http://adingintheuniverse.com/ Emily Merkle Snook

    well put.

  • Ataub24

    Another big thing you do right, Mark, is that you take the time to respond to every comment here. That speaks volumes to your readership and keeps them coming back to talk with you. 

    This is the most scalable way for anyone to network- consistently write substantive content (blog), build a readership, and form a deep bond with them. 

    Kudos and happy new year.

  • http://explorence.com/ Mike Suprovici

    This post really hit home with me. Growing up in Romania, we would have to take public transportation everywhere.  One could almost feel the pulse of society this way. It’s very humbling. You are kind of pushed on the right side of the Haimish line.  You also made me reflect on another experience.  In the early stages of founding Explorence, I was working hard to recruit one of our co-founders. He invited me to spend the weekend at his parents house in central California. Through their stories, I learned about their family values, humble beginnings and incredible work ethic.  Had I not accepted his invitation, we may have never been able to connect on such a deep level.      Terrific post Mark.  Happy New Year! And, yes, we are changing the company’s name like we talked about ;-)

  • Saul_Lieberman

    I think  your posts are a great contribution to the community.  And if you did no more, I would be thankful. (Dayenu.)
    That said, I think you might have made clearer in this post that getting out there with the people presents the opportunity to flash a smile, exchange a greeting, give advice, lend a hand and do some good. I am sure that was in your head, but not so clear  in your post.

  • http://adingintheuniverse.com/ Emily Merkle Snook

    I often have trouble with that. You put that very nicely, Saul. 

  • reuben e katz

    I always love your posts, Mark. Kicking off the year with a focus on the Haimish side of life just goes to show the mensch you truly are. I really enjoyed this read, such a great reminder that we all need to keep it real. (your last sentence reminds me of the israeli army… the great equalizer, and how great my time as a volunteer there was. I don’t remember who had what or where they came from… I remember guitar playing, unity and teamwork… all things critical for startup success. Thanks and looking forward to your posts in 2012. l’shana tova!

  • reuben e katz

    Brad, how do you like/what do you think of the great number of co-work spaces like RocketSpace, General Assembly, Co-loft etc… and their ability to create that environment as well? Your thoughts on co-working for startups Mark?

  • http://twitter.com/micfitzgerald Michael FitzGerald

    Would be great to meet up Brad, and Mark if the 20% doesn’t trip you up. 
    Travelling from Ireland – I’ll say hello!

  • Laura Yecies

    Happy new year and thanks for writing this post. I think there can be another dimension to this Haimish idea which touches to the meaning of the word as I know it (comfortable, homey). I try to invite employees, friends, and, yes even investors to my home in addition of course to getting together out at restaurants etc. I think it is a way to make the relationship warmer and more Haimish. It’s interesting how rare this seems to be but I’ve been doing this since my Netscape management days.

  • http://seogear.net/ seo firm

    Thank you for sharing your articles, I hope you have an interesting and creative new year.

  • http://www.feld.com bfeld

    I’m a big fan of co-working spaces. I think anything that creates more “entrepreneurial density” (entrepreneurs in one place) is good.

  • http://www.feld.com bfeld

    Holler anytime.

  • http://wildirishguy.com Damon Oldcorn

    This is one of the few blogs I take time to read … quite frankly don’t know how you keep up the frequency and quality. Have a good year.

  • http://www.pingup.com/ markslater

    all the best in your hunt for the right side! if your travels find you in boston – look me up!

  • http://twitter.com/yoniboy Jonathan Meiri

    Great read Mark! Come spend some time in Tel Aviv, seems like much of the city, even the country is on the right side of the Haimish Line

  • http://www.thedailyriff.com/ Catherine

    Ha- you always have fun w/these important conversations.  love that.  Okay – here’s another side to being silo-ish – isn’t that what we are kinda talking about? ;)
    http://bit.ly/vRTLcw  my post, but reverse in that some of our students  who are so fortunate – may be missing opportunities – by nature of . . .  stereotypes, situations – what do you think?

  • A.J. Renold

    Another way to get Haimish: Couchsurfing

  • Donovan

    This was a GREAT read. I have read a lot of blogs over the years, mostly for research and learning, but never have I commented on one… until now.

    The post hit home a lot. I love to interact with all walks of life and hope to continue to be that way when I start my business. I’ve witnessed people growing in their venture and slowly hiding from the real world because they feel that focusing more into their business is more important than anything else.

    You, Sir are proof that running a business and having a fun social life can work together.

    -Donovan
    P.S. You got yourself a new subscriber. :-)

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  • Aigerim

    Thank you Mark for such an inspiring post! Meeting new people wherever you go is indeed the most incredible and valuable experience. That is why we started  @Triptrotting:twitter – to help connect like-minded people anywhere in the world. We are looking forward to a fun and prosperous 2012, on the right side of the Haimish line! :)  

  • Ketan Kapoor

    As always, a great post. We at Mettl (www.mettl.com) just love your blog. A very happy new year to you and your family.

  • http://twitter.com/Ferede Thomas Ferede

    Fantastic post, Mark. Last year, I spent 9 months in Ethiopia.  One of the most valuable experiences professionally (learned a lot about risk taking and making decisions off 20% information) and fulfilling personally for many of the reasons you mentioned.  I would add the following article by Clay Christensen as a great read to start off the year:
    http://hbr.org/2010/07/how-will-you-measure-your-life/ar/pr

  • Sukosuko1

    Its nice to cross the Haimish line with people from one’s own industry… but in the current environment how do you deal with acquaintances very persistently asking for jobs?   

    perhaps its easier to cross the line on safari someplace rather than too close to home.

  • http://twitter.com/Dave_Amato Dave Amato

    I personally agree with a companies office space. I use to use that feel or vibe when I was in the workforce applying for jobs. Now as I am starting a new company I think back at that experience.  I want my office to reflect our companies attitude.  It has been hard finding that perfect space but I won’t give up because I know it will “talk” to me when I find it. Thank you for all the advice this is a godsend to a new entrepreneur. 

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    I’d heard the saying but never dug into it’s meaning. Got it now, situations which ground our attention in the present fall on the right side of the Haimish line :D. Down to earth, a lack of pretense or putting on airs, an undeniable breath of fresh air. Great post Mark, Happy New Year!

    My serious question in regards to:
    “I did individual sessions with every single company. And then we busted out the ping pong table. And as anybody who was there will attest I summarily defeated every TechStars company handily.”
    Are you a cheating spinster or a straight shooter?

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    If you spent a few percent of your life boxed up in an airline seat, you deserve every privilege they can throw your way. If I drop 60lbs and a few inches off my legs I’ll squeeze in those flying coffins much better. 

  • http://mattr.co/ Jack Holt

    Catching up on your blogs..

    This hit me after going to a Wok n Wine event at Foodspotting mid last year. The communal eating, shoulder to shoulder, sharing chunks of bread from big loaves and pouring glasses and glasses of wine for others and yourself- it’s what it’s all about. 

    Regarding office vibe, I get that too. We’re in one big room, kicking each other under the desks, over-hearing discussions with the partner or kids, sharing climate control.

    It’s like growing up in a large household with just one bathroom. You have to learn to share. And when you’re good at sharing, you’re generally more fun to be around.

  • Andrew P

    Good article. Travelling really opened my eyes to the happiness vs wealth gap. I used to be in a highly paid job in Germany with all the perks – penthouse apartment, fine wines etc. But was probably only averagely happy. The usual stresses and “first world problems” got me down easily. I eventually quit.
    I then travelled through Cambodia, Laos & Burma for 5 months and saw people who had nothing but a roof over their head and enough food to go round who looked more happy than I had seen people in a long time. Constantly smiling & joking and incredibly welcoming.
    It’s a strange fact that the default wealth ladder for us seems to be “distance ourselves from each other and accumulate [unnecessary] stuff”, which is probably exactly the opposite of what we actually need to be happy.
    I can’t help but think if given the choice of being a billionaire with a mansion and high fences, chauffeur driven cars & private jets or having a simple life with lots of friends & family in a comfortable, but not luxuriousness abode, that most of us would be better off with the latter.
    Right, back to work, need a new iPad…

  • http://seogear.net/ seo firm

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  • http://www.healthandsuppliments.com/ Pushp Dutt

    I must say that the freshness of your blog has surely left me mesmerized, there were no better words to express and I will surely be a regular visitor to your blog.

  • Diisles

    Would be very Haimish to let one or two start ups in to Launchpad La whose founders are not technical but are going through the grind of recruiting technical people to be part of their team. Look we all know that incubators frown on applicants that are not technical, but building some products (especially social ones) takes more than just great engineering. There have been many examples of non tech founders who go own to build very successful companies, why incubators don’t take this into account seems a bit strange seeing that their purpose is to help seed stage companies learn and grow. Imagine if Andrew Mason applied to a incubator with his idea for Groupon but was turned away because he wasn’t technical or because his idea was too easy to replicate by competitors. Basically what I’m saying is sometimes you just have to take a chance, throw caution to the wind and say fuck it. Mark I truly think you are one of the more interesting, smart and honest Investors out there, so I hope you give some non technical founders a chance to learn about building a company under the wing of LaunchPad LA….THAT WOULD BE SOOOOO HAIMISH!! ;-)    and P.s. Anytime you want to get squashed in ping pong just tweet me @diisles       

  • http://adingintheuniverse.com/ Emily Merkle Snook

    My dad taught me by a single life changing example – pay it forward. The concept a class/cultural divide is just not sustainable. There is a reason. Rarefied air wihout circulation begets laziness and the drinking of expensive koolaid (which we were deprived of – xo). Go forth all Ye who dare to live.

  • Cory

    Spot on brother!!!

  • http://live-mapp.com/ Mat Jackson

    All good advice – so true.

    Get on the tube and mix with everyone – watch, observe, interact – see what they’re seeing, experience what they are experiencing.. Can’t do that locked away in a cab or an airconditioned office.

    Also, take different routes. I’ve always made myself do that over the years – maybe in my years as a property developer it’s been more important to be aware of the environment around you changing, but now as a tech startup guy  – it also keeps you in touch, informed, aware.

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