Thursday, July 18, 2013

Worry Less. Do More. Be Fearless!

"we better have health insurance"

. . .

"peyton got hurt"

These are not the text messages you want to receive from your wife on Mother's Day, when you are four hours away from home.

Our daughter Peyton is four years old. She has a twin brother. They scare me daily. I assumed she broke her arm on the swings, her wrist on her bike or something like that. Nothing to worry too much about.

About a month earlier I quit my awesome job at Disney Interactive making mobile games to dive in and cofound a startup, RealCrowd. A long time friend and cofounder Andy was at my parents' house with me, and we were on our way to the bay area to meet with our other cofounders and live under one roof. We had been interviewed and accepted into the YCombinator (YC) Summer 2013 batch and decided to get a jump start by moving to silicon valley a few weeks before the program was scheduled to officially start.

I've been working from home the last few years after the last startup (Hive7) was acquired and consequently we are a very close family. The twins are a lot of work, and I try to support my wife Erika by being as flexible with my time as possible. I was already feeling the intense guilt of moving four hours away to Mountain View and relegating my family to second priority for a few months.

"Is this startup going to be worth it? Of course this happened the day I'm supposed to go to the bay area. Am I being too selfish?" These questions haunted me.

. . . and then the texts got worse.

"she fell out of the window"

A few weeks before this fateful Mother's Day we had moved into an affordable three story condominium in Stateline, Nevada (South Lake Tahoe area) with a great lake and mountain view, cutting our monthly rent in half and saving a bit on income taxes (there are no state income taxes in Nevada). I was cutting costs to help decrease my burn. Andy had planned to call that his second home while we hacked on RealCrowd, prior to being accepted into YC.

I visualized every window of our three story home, floor by floor. Adrenaline started pumping. My heart rate increased. I had to consciously suppress the panic building inside. I knew the worst possible scenario had transpired. She had fallen through the screen from the third story window in the dining room, onto the asphalt driveway below. I almost vomited. At this point I was oblivious to conversation people were trying to have with me.

I immediately tried to call my wife. No answer. Again. No answer. Again. No answer. Then it dawned on me she was probably on the phone with 911, and that's why she had been texting.

"can she move? is she conscious?" I replied. "keep her still. it'll be ok. i'm coming. love you." I added.


That was the most amazing "yes" I had ever received. It trumped our marriage proposal, every deal close, every VC commitment, every new customer.

I looked up from my phone and told my parents I had to leave, Peyton had fallen out of a window at home. I jumped in the driver's seat of Andy's car and dragged him along with me to the hospital. He tried to make conversation to get my mind off of analyzing all the possible outcomes. He's a great friend. Due to the nature of the event, Peyton was life flighted to a hospital in Reno, NV. Erika had to find a ride as she couldn't go in the helicopter. It took her about an hour, and me about three hours to get to Reno.

Peyton had suffered multiple cervical spine injuries. Her neck was broken!

Those first few days after the event are a blur in my memory. Full of extreme sadness, happiness, worry, guilt, lack of sleep, and everything in-between. Would she be paralyzed? Would she live? I researched statistics on these things. The stress of not knowing ate me alive. Peyton had a surgery to align her cervical spine and had a halo traction device applied. She woke up from anesthesia and the nurse did some tests.

Peyton could wiggle her fingers and toes and apply normal amounts of pressure!

She walked a few steps the next day. And then a few more. But we lived in a three story condo. There is no way Peyton could navigate the stairs. My sister took the initiative and managed a crew of our amazing friends and family, including Andy, to move us out of the home we had moved into just a few weeks earlier and into a storage unit. We'd be taking our clothes to my in-laws single story house in the Sacramento area, and my family would move there for the treatment period, near to a cervical spine specialist at UC Davis Medical Center.

For the next week I was not sure if I'd be co-founding this company after all. Peyton would wake up in the middle of the night in extreme anger pulling at the bars and screaming to take the halo off of her. She was frustrated by her lack of mobility. She didn't want to try to walk. She was depressed and angry most of the time. I couldn't leave her.

But, thankfully, things got better. By the end of the first week she had adapted to her new mobility limitations, daily cleaning of the screws in her head (ouch), and started asking for help when she needed it. She stopped waking up in the middle of the night every night. She would walk wherever she wanted to go. We took her to Chuck E Cheese's.

At the end of week two I knew Peyton would be able to deal with the halo, and my amazing wife encouraged me to not pass up the great opportunity that is RealCrowd and YC.

Peyton is still wearing the halo, and will be for a total of 12 weeks. I see her on weekends. My little girl is alive. But life is not normal. She has a very serious risk of infection (in fact she's on antibiotics now for one), a risk of losing traction, a risk of her skull being punctured by the screws. She can't get her vest wet. She can't run and jump and tumble. She has a twin brother that gets to do all these things. She gets frustrated every day. At the end of dealing with all of that we'll know if she healed or if we have to do more invasive surgery to fuse some bits together. I worry about her constantly.

Will anyone use our product? Can we close that deal? Will our business keep scaling? Will we meet our goals? Can we hire that person? What if ... ? These questions no longer keep me awake at night. I do not fear the outcome. I keep pressing on. We're building a business, not dodging death. Perspective is everything.

Worry Less. Do More. Be Fearless!

Oh, and yes, we did have health insurance.

Public service announcement: If you have a window that's near the floor, make sure nobody can pass through the screen. Many state/local building codes say openings on the 2nd story or higher that are less than 24" off the floor must not permit a 3" sphere from passing through (aka, you need bars on the windows or a way to restrict them from opening). Ironically this can conflict with fire codes, so, your mileage may vary. This applies to deck and stairway railings as well. If you are a landlord, check out your rental properties and make sure they're compliant too.

About the Author

Wow, you made it to the bottom! That means we're destined to be life long friends. Follow Me on Twitter.

I am an entrepreneur and hacker. I'm a Cofounder at RealCrowd. Most recently I was CTO at Hive7, a social gaming startup that sold to Playdom and then Disney. These are my stories.

You can find far too much information about me on linkedin: No, I'm not interested in an amazing Paradox DBA role in the Antarctic with an excellent culture!