9:30am in San Francisco. Smoke has blotted out the sun. Month six of the plague. Locusts scheduled for noon. Maybe a frog blizzard.
This is Tom Coates’ fault.
A few weeks ago, Tom’s blog – Plasticbag.org – suddenly reappeared on my RSS reader. In that moment, I was whisked a dozen years back in time.
Back to 2008 when Tom’s blog, along with Zoe’s and Ruth’s and Tim’s and Markos’ and scores more I’ve forgotten, was on my list of essential daily reads.
2008, the year I sold all my possessions and moved full-time into hotels and began blogging in earnest to an audience of many six friends and twelve enemies and a dog. About my travels, the writing of my first real book, my various hirings and firings at the Guardian and the Telegraph and my eventual arrival at TechCrunch. 2008 was the year I first met Sarah.
Seeing Tom’s blog suddenly reawaken prompted me to dig out all those old posts, which for some reason I’d kept, archived in a big xml file on a plastic USB stick. I expected to find all of it very embarrassing, and I wasn’t disappointed. 2008 was still two years before I got sober and in the gaps between posts I got flashbacks of two day hangovers and police cells and beastly behavior towards good people who didn’t deserve any of it.
Still, for all my youthful awfulness there was something therapeutic about reading back all those old posts. The me of 2008 was dirt poor and desperate to scramble out of obscurity. You could feel it back then in every post – in every mention of a new book I was pitching, or a column I’d just written for some obscure German magazine. But what I didn’t know at the time was that eventually the desperation would paid off. The blog would become a book, then another book, then that job at TechCrunch, and a very public resignation live on CNN, followed by a trip to Vegas…
Fast forward >>>
Twelve years later, I’m more than a decade sober and by any measure you care to use I’ve achieved more than I could have imagined back in my blogging days. Today I have money in the bank, a Green Card in my wallet, and a house with a pool, and a fancy car parked in the garage. All of which came from my own writing, or from founding companies that paid other people to write.
My friends – the ones I used to write about back in 2008 – have fast forwarded too. Michael and Alex are now paper billionaires thanks to Calm. Basti is about to take Postmates public. Others are venture capitalists or media moguls or million-selling diarists or, in one unfortunate edge case, a celebrity Nazi.
I don’t say any of this to sound smug (not just to sound smug) and I certainly don’t say it blind to the role that privilege played in allowing me to fail so sharply upwards. But rather in some weird hope that, just as the new me read through all those old posts and felt like I was back in the room with the old me, somehow the old me can look forward in time and have his mind blown.
Your friends are right, old Paul: If you just put the fucking bottle down you could actually achieve something. It’s not too late. You don’t die at 30. Also, please start going to the gym. And floss.
I also bring all of this up because I think it explains why I stopped blogging. That hunger – that need for someone – anyone – to listen. That idea that some of the famous tech people I threw rocks at might read the blog and know my name. That need to posture that I was doing exciting, important, successful things – as if posturing could bring them into being. All of that is why I wrote those hundreds of posts. Look at me! Hire me! Love me!
Now I’m 40, not 28, and I’m not hungry any more. I’m full. I’m one of the people at whom others (often deservedly) throw rocks. And when occasionally I do throw them, the people they hit threaten to spend a million dollars to attack my girlfriend’s family. That’s a whole different ballgame. A much less fun ballgame. Writing is work. Unpaid writing is masochism. Did I mention I have a pool? I could be swimming right now.
But then I dug out the blog archive and started reading and I remembered how much fun it was to write knowing almost nobody was reading, and not knowing what adventure the next post might trigger. What was that George Bernard Shaw quote Michael used as the slogan for Firebox? “You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.”
Maybe it’s the same with blogging.
In which case, what better kind of midlife crisis than to make a fresh WordPress install, upload the old archives and start throwing shit at the wall again? Worst case it’ll remind me why I stopped.
And what better timing? For the past few months, I’ve been working on a book. It’s a different genre to anything I’ve written before so, just like in the old days, I’ve virtually no chance of finding a publisher. I also have no editor breathing down my neck, or readers pleading for me to finish. That was another great thing about blogging: It’s both a great motivator to keep writing and an excellent way to distract from the actual word count. Watch this space!
So yes. Welcome back to the blog. I don’t expect anyone is reading this but, if you are, hello again world.
And do say hello back: firstname.lastname@example.org
(PS I’m going to go back through my various harddrives and add in posts and other detritus I find to fill in some gaps between then and now.)
A crazy couple of days, but wanted to take a few minutes to shout out our incredible team at NeedHop.
A few months ago we had an idea for a platform to help people connect one-on-one to solve their shared problems.
A week ago we submitted our app to the App Store. We imagined folks would use it to help each other through chronic health problems, addiction, relationship and work challenges etc etc.
Fast forward just seven days later and we’re living in a different world. A world in which the cutesy question we put at the top of the NeedHop app – “What’s your problem?” – seems faintly ridiculous.
Today we all have the same problem, and it’s a pretty fucking scary one.
A better question is “What do you need right now?”
To that end, yesterday I had a call with the team to figure out how NeedHop should react to the current crisis. Specifically how we can apply all the incredible engineering, product, design talent we have in house (and the venture capital money we have in the bank) to helping people get through this crisis.
A few minutes into the call it was clear we were all on the same page: Now and for the foreseeable future NeedHop needs to shift from being an app that helps people connect over shared experience to one that says “NO SERIOUSLY, WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY NEED RIGHT THIS MOMENT?” And then makes it as easy as possible for you to find someone who has that thing.
Now, bear in mind, this is a team that had spent months building version one of our app. Painstakingly engineering, designing, researching – figuring out all the various use cases. We had a road map of features planned for each of the next six months. We were going to start on iOS in the US only and then roll out to other platforms and countries over time.
People plan and God laughs, as the saying goes.
By the end of yesterday’s call, that entire roadmap was in pieces, replaced by an insane plan to rebuild our entire front end, re-engineer the back end, rapidly add in geolocation for people who need help locally, and prepare to roll out this new version of NeedHop to as many people as possible on whatever platform they prefer, in whatever country they find themselves. (It turns out viruses really are platform agnostic.) (Sorry.)
By 3pm we had confirmed the new roadmap. At 5pm our UX lead called me with the first wireframes (our engineers were already building), and by 6pm I was looking at the first fully designed screens on Figma. All day today my phone has been buzzing with new TestFlights from our CTO and Lead Product Engineer. At this rate we should have the completely revised NeedHop ready for initial release in the next two or three days.
The team has planned and is implementing a total product refocus just one week after launch. They’re not thinking about long term revenue, or whether any of this is exactly what they signed up for. Rather they’re all focussed on the same question: Will this new feature, or this tweak, mean we can help more people, more quickly?
And that’s not even the most remarkable part. The most remarkable part is that our team is all based in LA and the Bay Area so they’re doing all of this remotely, with a virus spreading, and their cities on near total lock-down.
As one of the team put it to me last night: “Thank god this is the product we’re building right now. Because if we weren’t I’d probably have to quit and build it myself.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I also couldn’t be more blown away by the amazing group of human beings who a few months ago agreed to take the leap of faith to build NeedHop and who are now doubling down amid the chaos.
But here’s the thing. Across SF and LA and the world there are thousands of teams like ours. Teams who showed up yesterday and today – remotely or in person – and did their job, despite the craziness and panic going on around them. Often while trying to homeschool their kids and make sure they have enough food in the freezer. Not just engineers, but grocery store workers and chefs and teachers and doctors and trash collectors and doctors. And doctors. Did I mention doctors?
My point is this: If you’re a CEO or (co-)founder or any other kind of boss and your team showed up or logged on or dialed in to do their job *at all* this week then they are fucking amazing. Period.
As CEOs and founders we owe them our gratitude, but we also owe them some other things. We owe them good (ideally fully paid) healthcare, flexible hours, and a promise that they’ll get their full salaries regardless of whether we have customers or not.
We owe contractors a promise that they can rely on our income in the coming months. That we’ll pay them even faster than usual by whatever method is easiest for them. In a lockdown, a same-day bank transfer or Venmo beats a paper check in the mail every time.
Not every business can survive this downturn, but those of us with money in the bank have a moral obligation to match the resilience and professionalism of our teams with every last thing we have to give.
Because it’s never been more true. We’re in this together.
Thanks for all the kind responses to this post. Of course I’m passing them all along to the team.
If there’s anything you need right now, or have something you can offer to a stranger in need, please do post it on the current version of NeedHop.
It’ll update automatically to the new version as soon as we release it. I’ll also update this post with Android, web, etc links as we have them. (International versions coming VERY soon.)Updated Mar 18, 2020, 9:11 AM
*Gestures at people chugging Purell smoothies and buying hazmat suits for their dogs as the markets slide into the sea*
Well, this seems like a good time to share something I’ve been stealthily working on for the past few months!
TL;DR: NeedHop is an app to help grown-ups connect one-on-one to solve their biggest problems. Built by our badass all-female dev team, v1 just went live on the App Store and I’m hoping you’ll download it, create a free profile and possibly change a stranger’s life.
Even before the Coronavirus forced us even further apart, technology and social media had already driven us into bunkers. We distrust and fear strangers, and talking to them online rarely ends well. That’s sad, but it’s also dangerous.
Whatever you’re struggling with right now – health, addiction, money, work, divorce, a big scary virus – you can be sure somebody out there has been through it too. I know from dark, personal experience that finding that person can change your life, and theirs.
In 2009 I quit drinking without AA. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and there were many times when I could have fallen off the wagon. But I was lucky: My job as a columnist gave me access to literally millions of readers, some of whom had been on the same journey and were willing to share their own hard-won advice. Those incredibly kind people, and my ability to find and learn from them, literally saved my life.
A couple of years later, after I wrote an essay about my sobriety for the Wall Street Journal, I started to get emails from newly sober people asking for *my* advice and support. I still get them today, and I always drop everything and reply immediately. I know what it’s like to feel alone in your problems and how powerful it is to hear the words “I’ve been there!”
Last year, while helping Sarah build Chairman Mom, I started thinking seriously about the power of shared life experience, and also how connecting with strangers online doesn’t have to be toxic.
Specifically I thought about the app I wish I had when I was trying to get sober, or panicking about getting my Green Card, or suddenly being co-responsible for raising two children. Something that fills the yawning gap between group therapy apps and paid expert networks – and is designed specifically to help grown-ups quickly find someone who can give them real, practical advice and support, via some kind of online chat/messaging, over the phone or even in person.
Eventually it would also have a way to fairly and easily $$$ compensate the people who help you, or to make a donation to charity on their behalf. (If it could end the tyranny of “can I pick your brains over coffee?,” so much the better.)
After I was done thinking, I decided to raise some money and actually build it.
Today, after a lot of hard work, mostly by my amazing technical co-founders Shea Ryan and Monica Engel, we’re ready to share v1 of NeedHop with the world.
(Android coming very soon!)
“How can I be helpful?”
Gosh, thanks for asking!
The biggest, easiest thing you could do is download the app and create an account. The whole process takes maybe 45 seconds and it’ll allow us to suggest people who might need your help. (It’s up to you if you actually connect with them, of course.) Soon you’ll be able to make $$ for yourself or charity in return for helping others.
It would also make a huge difference if you’d share NeedHop with you friends and followers, particularly those who you think could use a little help. It’s a noisy world out there.
And, of course, if you have a problem of your own that’s keeping you awake at night, please do share it anonymously on NeedHop so we can find someone to change your life.
One more thing: NeedHop only became real thanks to a few amazing investors who believed in the idea – in particular Tim Connors (Pivot North) and Andy Dunn (Red Swan). (Yes, the round is still open!) It also wouldn’t have been possible to do any of this without Sarah Lacy help and her letting me spin the initial work out of Chairman Mom. Naturally she’s also a co-founder of NeedHop.
Thanks finally to everyone who gave advice/suggestions for the minimum viable product – especially Sarah Kunst , Gregg Spiridellis, Marco Zappacosta, Bastian Lehmann, Sarah Tavel, Tony Hsieh, Alfred Lin, Shane Steele, Eris Stassi, and JR Johnson.
Ok! Please, please do download the app and create a profile. I’d love to hear your feedback, feature suggestions, bug reports etc. It’s very much a minimum viable product and there’s a LOT of exciting stuff still to come.
Now wash your hands.