A meeting with my future

About a month ago, I ventured down to Austin to SXSW for the first time. Chris McCann told me it was spring break for entrepreneurs. Steven Chau told me I really should go, and he hasn’t been wrong about these kinds of things very often. So I looked into the prices for a pass to the Interactive sessions, and they were obnoxious. Chris assured me that the best way to go was *without* a pass so I could spend all of my time networking and talking to people at the parties. If I was disciplined and persistent, I figured I might even be able to swing a few meetings from some of the crowd that would be in town. So I thought about it some more, and asked my friends from other towns if they were attending, and it turned out most were. But the cost of a place was so high, I wasn’t really ready to commit. I went through my list of people that I want to meet face to face to see if any of them were coming, and it turned out Mark Suster was coming. That sealed it for me; I had to go too.

The backstory here is that I first found Mark’s blog well over a year ago when I was spending lots of time reading about my ADHD and what it meant to me. I started reading his blog regularly and after a while I started to notice that what he was writing seemed to be exactly how I thought about something, and when it was a topic with which I was unfamiliar, his writing still made complete sense. In March of 2010, he wrote an article about Twitter that made things really click for me. I immediately activated my twitter account and started @replying him pretty regularly. From that point on, I was usually asking questions in the comments of his blog, challenging his assertions on twitter, and for the most part trying to find any way I could to dig into his brain without being obnoxious. And for the most part, I guess it worked.

So I told Mark that I wanted to meetup while in Austin and he agreed to do it. He warned me that I would have to stay in touch with him. It felt weird to have someone tell me to pester them, but as an ADHD person, I knew that he meant he would be busy but he didn’t want to forget about me. Once I got into town, I pinged him to see if he wanted to grab lunch, and he did. Honestly, I couldn’t freaking believe I was actually going to sit down and talk to someone whose thought process I could understand so clearly and yet had so much life experience. I was truly ready to learn. We met up for some Texas BBQ, which wasn’t bad in my book, with two guys from a company he had invested in. We didn’t get to talk much directly, but I got my first cool experience of the trip when he invited me to some exclusive party that evening. Score one for the little guy from Kansas! I walked with them towards the convention center, where Jason Calacanis saw Mark on the street and came over to chat. I was really just like a fly on the wall, trying to keep up and process as much as I could about media and advertising and other things that I generally don’t know very much about. Mark said we should try to get together later for some one on one time, which I thought was generous, and we went our separate ways.

Now, that evening at the party, there were plenty of VIP’s, but I really enjoyed meeting lots of polished and aggressive entrepreneurs. Sure, it was cool when I was sitting next to Dave McClure and opening a bottle of beer on the edge of a table for him when he didn’t have a bottle opener. He didn’t say thank you so I thought of course he wouldn’t last 10 minutes in the Midwest. But it was an interesting atmosphere and dynamic to find that the most interesting people to me were mostly people that you wouldn’t know. I would also like to point out that it helps when I am feeling introverted to run into someone I know loosely that is a known extrovert. It makes it so much easier to get going and start more conversations later. Thanks Trevor.

At this point, I started running into people I know from other cities that I primarily met last year at the SO Summit, and it felt great to see people that I think really get it. I personally don’t get enough exposure to that here in KC, but I am trying. Over the next day, I combined a little bit of Twitter stalking with lots of accidental bump-ins on the street to keep up with his schedule, which was naturally very busy. The nice thing about the Twitter stalking was finding that there were usually a couple interesting people also chasing Mark. So even though I didn’t grab his attention at one particular time, I could usually fill it with a side conversation with someone that I could learn from. I tried to get him to come over to the Silicon Prairie News party, but it was now Sunday night and there were other things going on. I would have to wait until Monday, which was my last full day in Austin.

On Monday, I was feeling especially introverted. I didn’t want to go out. My friend Robin invited me to a small lunch thing and I still didn’t really want to go, so I decided to walk a few blocks and think about it, where I naturally ran into Mark. We made plans to catch up after an immediate commitment he had, and that I would pester him to make sure he didn’t forget. He was starting to sound pretty hoarse, and he was a popular person on the street, so I went to find a quiet and obscure place after catching up with Robin. I did my obligatory pestering, and after a while he sent back a message saying he had been roped into lunch. I was starting to feel a little unsure it was going to happen. Score minus one for the little guy from Kansas. Then I got a voicemail from him saying we would definitely do it soon, and he would ping me. The truth here is that if you get someone with ADHD to stop and say this is important and we will do it and I will let you know when, then it is probably going to happen. So I went back to the apartment I had rented, read some news, and was ready to take a nap to freshen up. As I was setting my phone down, in came the message. “Free?” At this point, I figure I was probably 14 blocks from him, so I grabbed my bag, and I started running through downtown Austin to catch him before someone else had the chance. Success.

The conversation that happened over the next 75 minutes was nothing short of pure bliss. I won’t waste your time with the specifics, but it was all advice that I would give myself, and in the end, that is really what I thought was unique about him. I am glad I was right, and of course I am glad he took the time for me. I still can’t believe some of the weird parallels between us, and it really felt like I could be talking to my future self. Perhaps if I play my cards right, I will get there. And that was the story of my first SXSW. I planted seeds long ago, and when an opportunity arose to meet with my future, I took it.

  • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

    Great post. I was always wondering what the value of SXSW was and this post helps to put some of the pieces together. Sounds like it was a great experience.

    • http://wfjackson3.wordpress.com wfjackson3

      It was a great experience. It was tiring, and if there weren’t other people around town from Kansas City that I could connect with for a few minutes here and there, it would have been much less fun. It helps to see a friendly face when you are out running around on your own.

  • http://www.decodedpathways.comwww.personify.it Chuks Onwuneme

    Hey Willis, nice experience! I also was at SxSW for the first time, even though I have lived in Dallas for over 13 years. I also met Mark for the first time in Austin, after he was gracious enough to have a phone chat with me earlier. Best of all, the advice you get from Mark is something you must cherish. Goodluck in your endeavors. I would like to her more about your venture. Cheers.

    • http://wfjackson3.wordpress.com wfjackson3

      I knew the entire time I was pinging him while down there that there were other people like me out there getting some of his time. I can only imagine he had an epic crash after SXSW finished from spending so much of his time talking to folks like us in addition to all of the other people he must have been meeting with.

  • Rodrigo

    Great post, Willis. How does your ADHD impact your coding and or entrepreneurship?

    • http://wfjackson3.wordpress.com wfjackson3

      It is a constant yin and yang. Here is how it breaks down:

      Coding:
      ADHD really makes it easier to learn things, but unfortunately, it also means I have no patience. It is easy to get down on myself when I have been working hard for a full week and have made only slight to moderate progress on the site. Problem solving is also typically easier for me than for others, but without the right context, it can be frustrating too.

      Entrepreneurship:
      Actually, I think this is about the same, but with the procrastination dynamic. I go in cycles where it is hard to pay attention versus being hyperattentive to what I am working on. Some of that is also the result of having to work on this during the evenings and weekends, and despite my best efforts, sometimes the energy just isn’t there.

      The reality is that there are pros and cons to doing anything with ADHD. The key for me is that I married someone who is very different from me, and I count on her to help kick me in the butt when I am not “feeling it” that day. For the most part, that works pretty well.

  • http://www.skill-guru.com Skill-guru

    It is good to see that ADHD have great future. :) I wil let my wife read this and then she might stop complaining about mine ADHD.

    • http://wfjackson3.wordpress.com wfjackson3

      ADHD is a gift. It has its drawbacks and it can be difficult to manage at times, but the good definitely outweighs the bad in my opinion.

  • http://davidsmuts@twitter.com David Smuts

    Your description of your encounter with Mark sounds quite typical of him and really differentiates him from his peers. I don’t know of any other VC more accessible (and humble) than Mark Suster. If I were looking for a VC to back me, I would definitely want Mark.

    • http://wfjackson3.wordpress.com wfjackson3

      I honestly couldn’t agree with you more.