I encountered a strange phenomenon starting last fall. When I ran into people I don’t see often or otherwise communicated with them, they would say “I didn’t know you still lived in Las Vegas.” These interactions confused me.
When I shut down my company SHIFT in early 2015 I did it for a combination of reasons. We had adequate capital to survive the year but in late 2014 we woke up to a reality that we had some challenges with potential market size in Las Vegas. I had chosen some time before not to expand to Denver where we had a perfect setup to grow quickly. At the time, I didn’t want the distraction. By the time I realized we needed to do it to survive, doing so would have put our employees at risk. I chose not to take that risk.
More importantly, I was burned out and on a path to death. This is not an exaggeration.
I did not anticipate that a lot of people would assume I left Las Vegas as a consequence. Perhaps this is because a lot of people move places to start companies and, if they fail, they leave and go back to where they came from. Perhaps this is just a Las Vegas or even a downtown Las Vegas phenomenon. I don’t know. In any case it surprised me.
In case we don’t run into each other around town, I feel compelled to explain why.
Beware of narrative fallacies
Our monkey brains yearn to find patterns and attribute them to narratives. If X, Y and Z happen they must be a reflection of a linked set of events. There are cases where these narratives are true. Almost always they are wrong.
I’ve been witness to a unique version of this phenomenon over the past six years. It’s taught me that most of what I read from widely distributed sources is not fully accurate. And it’s taught me beware of my own cognitive biases and limit passing judgment on events. Through first-hand experience I know that doing so often leads to narrative fallacies.
Those who know me well know that I have a tendency slash uncanny ability to compartmentalize. I hold competing if not fundamentally opposed viewpoints simultaneously. I generally isolate the influences on decisions about one thing to influences relevant only to that thing. Thus, one thing I do is rarely directly related or influenced by another. It’s not fair to expect others to understand this. I’m working on that.
I did not move to Las Vegas for SHIFT.
I moved from San Francisco to Las Vegas to lead product at Zappos. I had an opportunity in 2011 to explore new areas and fell in love with two things: building physical places and the work of venture capital. These loves led to developing the Zappos campus, launching VTF Capital (fka VegasTechFund), launching SHIFT, building (and now selling) Work In Progress and a bunch of other stuff. Some of my work was with Downtown Project, a lot of it wasn’t. I compartmentalize.
I don’t drink, I eat weirdly and rarely go out
After the wind-down and through 2015 I grew obsessively focused on my mental, physical and emotional health. In some ways, I became a gym rat and I study food science relentlessly. Unintentionally (and through tons of research) I fell into a routine that has completely changed my being.
One side effect is that I don’t drink which means I don’t go out unless it’s to specifically meet up with close friends. Separately I realized I’m happier in 1:1 or 1:few settings and most uncomfortable in groups. So you don’t see me in groups, in bars very often.
To minimize decision fatigue I essentially eat the same thing every day. After much research and tinkering, my diet is limited to foods that make me feel good and excludes foods that make me feel bad. Since restaurants often add tons of hidden ingredients to create amazing flavors, I rarely eat out and I don’t have meal meetings. These are my choices…because I’m weird.
I believe if I discovered this lifestyle while building SHIFT it’s likely I would have made different decisions about winding it down.
Even as a non-drinker I love meeting friends at bars. If you want to meet up, text me.
I don’t see home ownership the same way as most people
I once received feedback that the fact that I had not purchased a home in Las Vegas made people doubt my commitment to the city. And I’ve been repeatedly told renting is throwing money away. Both of these things are untrue.
Home ownership versus renting is first a trade between control and flexibility. It is less a financial decision than one of lifestyle.
I’m insanely fickle. Renting, which I have done my entire life, supports my tendency to want to change my environment frequently. Those who have worked with me know I constantly rearrange my home and work spaces. I am an obsessive tinkerer. Nothing is ever done.
Renting allows me the freedom to change my space or even the entire environment relatively frequently and with little friction. It also constrains the degree to which I can change my space since I can’t knock out walls in an apartment.
Priorities shift over time. As I write this I’ve just opened escrow to purchase a home in Las Vegas. I now value control over flexibility so I am buying a house in a neighborhood I love in the city I call home, Las Vegas. Ironically it was a trip to Austin that led me to consider owning versus renting.
And as an aside, the home buying process is whack. Agentdesks, please hurry up and fix this.
My work is global, I am local
I subscribe to the global vs local worldview. Derek Sivers articulates this thinking well. One is not better than the other. They are just different.
You can focus your time locally or globally.
But if you over-commit yourself locally, you under-commit yourself globally, and vice-versa.
If you’re local, then you’re probably social, doing a lot of things in-person, and being a part of your community. But this means you’ll have less time to focus on creating things for the world.
If you’re global, then you want to focus on creating things that can reach out through distribution to the whole world. But this means you’ll have less time to be part of your local community.
I have been a General Partner VTF Capital since 2011. Our team is based in Las Vegas and my partner is based in SF. We started as a 100% local firm and in 2013 started reaching globally. Today we are focused on commerce and retail without regard to location. A small percentage of our portfolio is based in Las Vegas which means the bulk are based elsewhere. I travel a lot.
Because we live here we do what we can to support the growth of the startup ecosystem. We sponsor events hosted by a local angel event organizer to help activate the local angel community, we’re investors in The Mill and we’re sponsoring several things in 2016 that don’t relate to our commerce and retail thesis.
I am a direct investor in several businesses. I am a board member at several others, all of them global. Two of them happen to be based at least partially in Las Vegas and both employ a substantial number of people in startup terms.
I have been working on a small physical product company (that’s really more of a hobby) for a year. It is based in Las Vegas (in my house) because Las Vegas makes sense for that type of business. Need/Want, a company I’m a fan of and am visiting next week, moved to St. Louis, a city to which they had no personal ties, because it made sense for their business.
I’m involved in real estate development not related to that of Downtown Project and not completely limited to Las Vegas. This is probably the most local thing I do.
Since May 2015, I’ve published what I am working on at zgware.com/now and most of the things I do are not related to one another. I do all of them from my home in Las Vegas.
No one narrative can explain everything we do. The closing of SHIFT is a single, isolated data point. Be skeptical of any narrative that relates one thing to another.
Las Vegas is my home. I was here before SHIFT and am here after it. I didn’t deeply consider leaving until people seemed surprised that I had not. Those people made me wonder if I was supposed to leave.
Clearly I did not.