Working At Threshold

I’ve been toying with this idea of working at threshold. It first came to me as I considered a recent hike where I wasn’t synced up with my partner. When hiking, I like to move as fast as I can up a slope at a pace that is sustainable for at least a given section. That’s also the way I prefer to run. Some people like to run hard and fast, above their threshold, and then stop and walk before running hard again. That’s not for me, even though it may ultimately have the same time and distance result.

The interesting thing about hiking or running in this analogy is that finding the right partner or set of partners, that have the same rhythm or style of working can meaningfully improve your threshold. One of the things I miss most about Austin is my running partner, Glenn Stotts. You wouldn’t know it to look at us (he’s tall, long-legged, and thin!) but we were excellent running partners. On good days, we would yo-yo back and forth, pulling the other along at an ever-increasing threshold. Running with Glenn, from around 2010 to 2015, was incredibly gratifying and we meaningfully increased our thresholds because we had found the same rhythm.

I feel like I’ve found that same set of benefits from my partners at Foundry Group. Brad, Jason, Seth, and Ryan have had a special relationship since forming Foundry Group in 2007. They’ve become best friends along the way but I think combining that emotional connection with sustained effort in the business has also meaningfully increased their output and effectiveness as a group. We’ve worked hard to add in three new partners to the mix and it feels like we are hitting our stride as a pack.

One of the cultural norms for us is that we all work hard. And we all do the work ourselves. We tend to work an investment or project on a single or small-team basis, constantly reporting back to the partnership, getting feedback and also knowing that they are there to back us up or pick us up when things aren’t going right. Perhaps its the high communication level, or witnessing your partners doing the work that is the motivational cog. It’s also true that we’re all competitive and we sure don’t want to disappoint each other. Whatever the case, the effect has been that all of us work at a higher threshold because of each other.

In fact, we run the risk of spinning each other up too much. It’s fun to be part of a team that pushes you to be a better version of yourself but it’s also hard to keep up! We all like our work and it can become addictive at some level. Each of us tend to take on slightly more than we can chew and have an automatic response to “fill” any blank space. This actually isn’t healthy long-term as we tend to run about 120%. It’s fun and we all like to be spun up but it can affect our work, and our personalities, not to mention any idea of balance and putting our families first. One of my partners read this post and added the comment – “One interesting observation is that we tend to individually take on too much. But, as partners, I think we are good at looking out for each other and helping (or simply pointing out) when someone gets too deep. Basically, we often look after each other better than we look after ourselves.”

We’re in a constant push to optimize our time and be brutally efficient while still being responsive to random goodness. I don’t think we’ve found the right way to regulate our pace but there is a certain seasonality to the work that tends to save us from ourselves. I can feel that we’re all running hot right now and I’m looking forward to a summer season that allows us to pull back to a more reasonable threshold. Maybe the analogy holds, think of summer as a flat part of the trail before the natural push of work in the fall. Either way, I’m glad to be part of this team. We’ll keep working to find the right cadence as we keep pushing our threshold higher.

Now, if I could just get Glenn to move up to Boulder and help me get back into running shape!