Creative Commons

zuckI just watched Mark Zuckerberg do a live Q&A on Facebook.  He said a few things that I will quote:

“We’re here to connect the world… The best entrepreneurs don’t try to create a company.  They want to make a change in the world and help people… I am not a cool person.  I never tried to be cool.  I spend every day thinking how to best serve this community.”

I wake up every day and work on either Change Agents Worldwide or my new passion, Big Mountain Data. Both businesses are precisely more like “projects” (as he described Facebook was in its early years) than businesses.  Both have soulful purposes and have drawn incredible people to our mission. It’s magical to be able to wake up every day and take another step on these journeys.

I see so many founders mindf*ked over how they’re going to raise their round, tweak their MVP, secure the perfect cofounder, nail the product/market fit, get the “right” coverage, blah blah blah.

Just do it.  Build something you love.  The reward is in the work and seeing your dream unfold.  When you start racking up results from your efforts, it’s the absolute best feeling in the world. You can’t possibly predict in the beginning what your business will look like or will need over the long term.  But you can predict what will inspire passion in your team. Focus on that, and just get something out there.

You can see the whole Q&A here.

A Sort-of Review of a Sort-of Feminist Manifesto

bookThe first red flag for me reading Sheryl Sandberg‘s, “Lean In,” came early in the book. It was page 6 to be exact.  She writes,

“I graduated from college in 1991…The proverbial glass ceiling had been cracked in almost every industry, and I believed that it was just a matter of time until my generaton took our fair share of the leadership roles.”

I wrote in the margin, “1991?”

On page 14, she further expands on her worldview at the time with this statement,

“When I arrived at college in the fall of 1987, my classmates of both genders seemed equally focused on academics.  I don’t remember thinking about my future career differently from the male students.  I also don’t remember conversations about someday balancing work and children.  My friends and I assumed that we would have both.”

And that’s when I knew this book was not written for me, or for many other women like me.  This is a book Sheryl wrote for her friends.

I remember 1991.  I was well into my career by then.  A business book that hit the bookshelves that year made an irrevocable impression on me as a woman, a mother, and particularly, a business professional.  The book, “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women” was written by a Wall Street Journal reporter named Susan Faludi.  The original copy of that book still sits squarely at the center of my bookcase in my office.  Faludi spelled out that year, in pain-staking detail (the reference notes alone take up 81 pages in 8-pt type), how women were losing on every front.  That this “backlash” had cropped up, a counter-reaction if you will, to feminism to “put women back in their place.”

Here is Faludi herself talking about the book in 1992.


Sandberg hardly, I mean hardly, even mentions this book.  There’s a tacit self-shaming (and I wondered if her editor at Knopf made her add this) on page 142 where she admits,

“I would have denied being in any way, shape or form, a feminist.  None of my college friends thought of themselves as feminists either.  It saddens me to admit that we did not see the backlash against women around us.”

She gives a single footnote to Faludi with this line.  Really?  A footnote?  Now, like Sandberg, I will state for the record, as she does, “I am not a scholar, a journalist, or a sociologist.”  I’m only writing this review because I told a few people I would not pass judgment about the book until after I’d read it.

I’m not really even sure Sheryl Sandberg read Backlash.  Why would she?  She had no early indicators that life was going to be tough.  She was a good student, daughter of an Ivy League graduate mother and physician father.  In high school, between junior and senior year she worked as a page for a U.S. Senator.  Getting accepted to Harvard was just the next logical step in a trajectory laid out for her and so many like her. So, yes. The accusations are legit.  This is a book written by an elitist woman who’s enjoyed tremendous class and power privileges.

The mean girl in me thought it might be fun to make some money off the Sandberg book by marketing a drinking game you could play at middle class BBQs and backyard summer parties.  Everyone could take shots and advance around the board when the dice rolled you another privilege Sandberg racked up on her career journey.  You’d get bonus points and rounds for everyone! every time you opened the book randomly and and spotted a 1 percent keyword: Harvard, Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Stanford, Treasury Department, Larry Summers, McKinsey, etc.

But, I’m really not a mean girl.  I don’t hate Sheryl Sandberg for her success, for her book, for her “movement,” …for anything.  In her world, she actually did take a brave step and one that was difficult for her considering the thwacking she’s received already.  It’s impossible to read this book as a thinking woman without filtering it through your own experience.  I know there will be a lot of women who don’t have the problems ordinary women do, who will use this book as ammunition to accelerate their careers and pursue more power.  And, if she’s right, these women once in power (although not sure I have seen any evidence whatsoever that this is true) can begin to address some of the drudgery and hardship being an ordinary working woman, wife, and mother is. Sandberg addresses this the best she can, from her own perspective. I’m rooting for her and her friends to lean in.

Me?  I’m waiting for the day I’m no longer a case study.  The day I’m no longer a data point on some Harvard student’s regression analysis that compares income with domestic violence.  I’m waiting for the day my daughters tell my story, and their daughters tell theirs.  There is a day coming where we won’t be leaning in, we will be falling over ourselves with equal pay, rights, reproductive choices, gender preferences, executive access, and celebrating our own battle-worn victories.

Sheryl is doing her part, and me and my female friends (professionals, SAHMs, gay, straight, single with kids, single/married without kids, and so on), we’re doing ours.   What we lack in marketing budget, we make up in large numbers.  And we’re not roaring anymore; we’re mostly yawning. But, we’re making that better world happen.  Every damned day.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Social Studies 2.0

So. There it was. An iPhone just laying there under the front passenger seat of my cab. Should I pick it up? I knew it wasn’t the taxi driver’s because he was chatting up his friend on his phone while he zoomed me down 5th Avenue. Yeah, I gotta pick it up. Should be easy to just call the owner and tell him/her, “Hey busy guy/girl, ya left your iPhone in the cab.”


I reach down, pick it up. Hit the home button, slide the slider… oh crap. It’s got that damn password block on it. The one my teenage son uses so I won’t read his text messages. I guess at a few passwords. Of course, that doesn’t work. Crap. Now what do I do? It’s impenetrable.


I ask on Twitter what do I do with an iPhone I found that is locked? Most tell me to take it to an AT&T store. They can track it by GPS. But, I don’t want to do that… so impersonal. It would release me from my decent sense of civil obligation to personally return this phone safely to its owner.

Hey, what’s that? A tweet comes through from @steamykitchen. I look her up on my iPhone. She’s in Tampa, a food writer with a lot of followers. Hummm. Not likely she’ll know my iPhone owner. But, what the heck… Maybe she’s a sister; a college roommate? I send her a Tweet. No luck. I realize the Tweet notifier came through as “emFeigen.” (which I stupidly don’t recognize as her twitter ID). I google emFeigen. Nothing. I search “Emily Feigen Twitter.” Nothing. Shoot. We’re so close, but so far.

The iPhone is running out of battery. Luckily, I have my charger in my bag. I arrive at NYU Parent’s Day at the Kimmel Center, and I’m worrying about the iPhone. I settle into my seat in the auditorium and spot an electric outlet near me on the wall. I discreetly charge the iPhone.

The kickoff speech is over. I check the iPhone and see there are texts coming in. Mom, Shara, some other names, nothing that gives me a clue how to contact the owner.

Finally, a phone number texts to the iPhone… I text back, “You just txted someone’s iPhone. Please tell that persion I have her/his iPhone. It was left in a taxi in NY.” A text comes back, “Thanks for texting back! Where are you? Still in NY?” Yay! I feel good. I’m only one degree of separation removed from the owner. Connected.


It turns out the owner’s name is Emma, not Emily. Emma’s friend calls me while I’m in the rest room. I tell her I’ll be at NYU all day; my name is Susan. I eventually hear from Emma. She reaches me while I’m eating lunch with my daughter at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. She’s two blocks away. She says she’ll come by in ten minutes. She arrives with a beautiful bouquet of three dozen roses and offers to give me money. I flatly refuse the money, but am happy about the flowers because I know my daughter will love to have them in her dorm room. Emma is very sweet and very grateful. I had learned from her friend she is a chef downtown. I feel good about humanity.

It turns out, it was a banner social media day. The reason I was receiving so many texts on the iPhone is Emma wrote this note on her Facebook wall:


Because of the volume of texts I received, I was able to text back to the one number she did not have in her address book. (If a text from a friend comes up, you only see the friend’s name, not the number.)

Later, I text Emma and ask her for her Twitter ID and I ask her to friend me on Facebook. I tell her I’m a blogger and would like to post about this encounter and take a screen shot of her Facebook wall. She agrees.


In this simple vignette, I affirm for myself that the social web is bringing out the best in people. It’s connecting us in ways that are wonderful and useful. During the dotcom era I was a CMO for a digital startup. Our tagline was a question– “What happens when everyone is connected to everything?” In the late 90s, we didn’t know; the question was rhetorical. A decade later, the answers are unfolding.

The more connected I become, the more hopeful I am about the transformative, empowering changes that are taking place in society as a result of moving from an atoms-constrained planet to a pervasive-digital world. Yes, I know it’s only a minority of individuals who are connecting today, but the connections we’re making and the do-good we’re doing is establishing a new social order among civilized humans. With the exploding growth of mobile connectivity and ubiquitous access to the web, those in power to change our world are getting the job done in a spirit of service and humility.

So maybe it was only a lost iPhone and a grateful owner today, but the premise of humans helping humans via Twitter, Facebook, and SMS messages, is becoming the rule and not the exception.

And I’m loving every moment of it.