It’s been a little more than a year since I moved from the startup world to restaurants. Here’s an update on professional and personal lessons learned from this past year.
Estimated reading time is 7m 58s.
In this update:
- Important events of 2022
- Reflection and introspection
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1. Silicon Valley to Main Street
Having been in the shadow of the Silicon Valley umwelt for several years the transition back to Main Street, as expected, was a bit of a culture shock. Everything, as you can imagine, from pace, how problem-solving is approached, to meetings and emails, is done with a completely different set of norms. In some respects, this is refreshing and in others, frustrating. The greatest challenge for me has been to build trust, learn the language, and perceive the social mores. Coming from Tech and having an MBA comes with suspicion, and rightfully so. Main Street views Silicon Valley with more favor than Wall Street but understands it as well as most Americans understand Chinese business culture.
I can’t understate the opportunity in Main Street. The vast majority of the vendors and partners I work with lack the infrastructure and methodologies to create efficient businesses. Help with creating simple systems is greatly needed to free up operators to build machines that require adjustments and fine-tuning instead of reinventing what should be repeatable or automated. But here lies what I also admire the most about Main Street— it’s not completely driven by utilitarian logic and optimization. To better understand where I’m coming from, I recommend reading Luke Burgis’ Wired article “Three-City Problem of Modern Life”.
Nonetheless, in the time since I’ve been with the company, we’ve seen steady growth.
- Created a holding company
- Added a second “friends and family” franchise making this our second location in Illinois
- Opened our first retail location in Huntsville, Alabama, our first location outside of the Midwest
- Cost savings of up to $70,000 through bringing some functions in-house and from strategic purchases
- Introduced better reporting for financial clarity and operator improvement opportunities. This has allowed us to make decisions in half the time.
- Grew enough to be able to provide health coverage for full-time employees at our restaurants
- We adjusted well to recession and inflation without layoffs or labor shortages in part due to strong relationships with our teams and customers. More than anything, the culture of the company — that it’s intentionally personal, family-run organization — is the core of the business and why we are not struggling for talent like other restaurants. This also drives me to be conscious of how much Silicon Valley we let in the company.
- Several new projects coming in 2023
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2. Cultural Projects
This year I’ve been working toward eliminating side projects — a first for me in more than a decade. But on the way to zero I dabbled in a few things:
- Curated SCALE: Sensorium, the Q4 2022 release of SCALE. This is the second on-chain edition which includes poems, essays, and artworks from eight contributors making meaning of what the late-St Louis theorist and theologian, Water Ong, called the new sensorium. It was initially released at the Creative Commons Summit in San Francisco and is now available online to access with the purchase of an “NFKey” at scalepublishing.com.
- Supported PaintLouis’ 25th anniversary through my involvement as a board member of the Fabricatorz Foundation. This globally recognized graffiti event takes place every September at the largest graffiti wall in the world. We secured sponsorship for KRS-One, paint supplies, and national artists, and we threw a party at the City Museum to celebrate.
- In January I co-hosted the Twitter Spaces event, GODPILLED. The four-hour-long discussion looked to uncover why the sudden interest in God was appearing in avant-garde and emerging art scenes. The event included dozens of participants, a handful of “infamous” online personalities, more than 700 active listeners, and more than 3,300 replays as of November.
- In the final weeks of December, I got sick, and to avoid getting everyone sick for Christmas I quarantined for a handful of days. During this time I stumbled on the nostr protocol (only a handful of months old). I’ve been able to assist with beta testing, submitting issues, and writing a guide to understand some of the technical and unobvious features of the Damus iOS client. Think of it this way— nostr is to social media as SMTP is to email. With the nostr protocol, you can own your social media data with a pair of keys. As long as you have the keys you can take your profile anywhere whether on another site, mobile app, or local client. It’s all very, very new and exciting, but time will tell how far this goes. In the meantime, I’ve been happy to meet other talented people and exchange comments with Jack Dorsey (one of the more active users). Learn more at nostr.com. I’ve added my public key at the end of this post.
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The first half of the year was a sea change. I learned a great deal about patience as I acclimated to a foreign business culture. In the latter part of the summer, I began the process of learning how to disengage from the Current Thing, or the Maelström as Marshal McLuhan references metonymically to the Edgar Allen Poe short story. Removing myself from The Discourse has afforded me more time for contemplation. My Solomon-everything-is-vapor moment has me reorganizing my priorities. Though, like the author of Ecclesiastes, I don’t take life too seriously nor too carelessly, but more intentionally. My key takeaways for the year:
- A re-evaluation of why I choose to work on the things I choose to work on. Many of the people in this country have the opportunity to decide what they want to do in life. I’ve taken the time since 2020 to reassess my motives— do I work because I enjoy it or to satisfy some mimetic desire of accomplishing what I think others identify as success? I know I don’t work as a necessary evil because I enjoy and find purpose in my work (perhaps too much). My original goal in my twenties was to climb the ladder through a non-traditional route. This led me to the startup ecosystem. Originally my goal was to run Venture Cafe for four to five years and then after setting it up for success, join the C-suite of a fast, growth-stage startup. But a global pandemic and the realization that some of my children are only a few years from leaving the house can really change your plans and make you reevaluate your path in life. Now, I’m focused on how to merge the Silicon Valley mindset with Main Street culture and remove wheat from the chaff in the process. I no longer work for the culture of work, but in balance with my family. In the professional circles, I ran in before this would be seen as a sign of taking a graceful L i.e., not being able to handle the demands of “real work.” And perhaps that’s partly true as the allure of that pace is not as appealing at the moment. I still have more drive than most, but I am now selective about when and where to use it.
- Becoming counter-modern. I never had a problem being both on the fringes of the art world and also a believer in the necessity of the market and technological progress. I thought this made me well-rounded, self-aware, and realistic about our world. However, removing myself from the Zeitgeist over the last several months has me questioning things about the invisible structures of our modern world. Like a fish in water, I had no idea how much modernity shaped my desires. As a person who was Extremely Online and active in The Discourse, I highly recommend disengaging from all media for at least one month but preferably more. Like an ex-smoker, I was wondering what to do with my hands (and mind) after disengaging. This current arc has allowed me to grow intellectually and spiritually in a deeper way. For the first time, I have time to think about what I’m thinking about. I’ve created much more time for growing closer to my family and for thinking about what trajectory I want to take in life based on my own desires free from the influence of others.
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4. Reading and listening
Over the last year, my reading and listening habits have changed significantly. I’ve moved on from consuming 3-9 articles and podcast episodes per day to reading whole books (mostly on philosophy and theology). For those not looking to disengage, here’s what I was listening to and reading:
- Scale newsletter
A newsletter by Scale VC, written by Brett Calhoun, covering startup and growth-stage companies in the midwest. I was in process of building a similar newsletter last year before making the jump out of startups. This is one of the last regional-focused newsletters I allow in my inbox.
- Results Junkies podcast
Hosted by tech entrepreneur and VC, Paul Singh and small business owner Ed Pizza. Similar to my path this podcast covers the opportunities and lessons learned from applying tech to small businesses.
- Permanent Podcast
Self-described as real talk about private equity and buying, selling, and operating small businesses from Brent Beshore’s Permanent Equity. They also have a newsletter covering similar topics.
- First Round Review
This newsletter has been around for a while now, but it’s one of the few I’ve never unsubscribed from.
Culture, philosophy, etc.
I’ve consumed more media than ever this past year, but here are the ones that stuck with me:
- Contain podcast, including the book The Spectre of Finance Punk (also one of the few podcasts I paid for)
- Covidian Æsthetics newsletter by Mónica Belevan and Alonso Toledo
- Ecclesiastes by anonymous (though, most likely Solomon, the monarch of ancient Israel)
- Violence and the Sacred by René Girard
- Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and Other Christians in Disguise
- Art of Darkness podcast
Earlier in the year I nearly stopped listening to music altogether and replaced it with a handful of podcasts that seemed more culturally defining than any music subculture for at least the past five years. But now that I’m not listening to podcasts for the moment, I began enjoying music again. Here are the top four albums I’ve been rotating this last quarter that are, in my opinion, contenders for getting into the flow state. (Plus three bonus albums that I had on rotation earlier in the year in between podcasts.)
- Evangeline by Loren Connors
- Wenn der Südwind weht by Roedelius
- Tablua Rasa by Arvo Pärt
- Vernal Equinox by Jon Hassell
- As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls by Pat Metheny
- Crest by Bladee
- 唱着那无人问津的歌谣 / Chang Zhe Na Wu Ren Wen Jin De Ge Yao by Organ Tapes
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If you made it this far, thank you for your time. If you ever want to talk shop — whether business, music, podcasts, theory, or theology, you can find me at [email protected] or nostr: npub1glm3vwld80dcphyt29rfx2fatzr3qcrsrzz4edd98a9mdhd6sdmsq0k5m0