Ironman Barcelona Race Report

Barcelona, Spain—Sunday, October 5, 2014.


The morning started out with a torrential downpour, thunder and lightning. But the race conditions were perfect—nice temperature, not too hot, which made for a great race. I finished in 13:17.

Ironman Barcelona was my replacement for Ironman Tahoe 2014, which was cancelled due to heavy smoke conditions. Barcelona was flat, at sea-level and warm—basically the inverse of IM Tahoe, which I had completed the year before.

According to Garmin there are 1800 feet of rolling hills over the bike course and virtually no elevation change on the run. I enjoyed the course, although I found the bike course to be a little boring compared to Ironman France and Ironman Lake Tahoe.

This is for two reasons. Much of the course goes straight along the coast with minimal turns or hills until you get back near the start. As a result, there is not that much to look at—buildings on one side, ocean on the other! For lying on the beach it is perfect, for pedaling six hours, not quite as much! Also, there is not much elevation change. That means you really are riding nearly the entire time—unlike Tahoe and France where you climb climb climb and then rest on the descents. But these are very, very minor complaints—the roads were well maintained and the course well marked.


I flew into Barcelona from Moscow, where I had been for the previous few days. My bike arrived intact but my stomach and digestive system did not! I would eat or drink and within 20 minutes it was off to the bathroom. Not pretty and I was worried about how I was going to deal with nutrition and hydration come race day. The days leading up to race day I didn’t eat much more than some bits of bread, ham, eggs and chocolate.

Wednesday night after pulling my 23 kg bike case from the oversized luggage conveyor belt at BCN, I took the airport shuttle to the TRYP hotel near the airport. $130 for a decent room and full breakfast. (I’m including the costs of things in case it may be helpful in planning your own IM Barcelona trip.)

There was some excitement fitting the case into the back of the hotel shuttle—the wheels kept causing it to roll, but after we flipped it over onto the no wheel side it was fine. At the hotel, they stored the case in their luggage room so I did not have to lug it up to the room. I was overjoyed the case had arrived—I had been worried the entire trip with multiple connections that it would not make it. The temperature was just right—mid 60’s and I immediately fell asleep.

The next morning (Thursday) I woke up and did a few miles on the airport treadmill. My legs were feeling good but after eating a full breakfast, my stomach was still not cooperating. I headed back to the airport, bike case in tow.


At the airport I purchased a 30 euro Vodafone SIM card good for 900 MB of data and 60 minutes of calling. The apartment I had rented in Calella did not have Wifi, and the SIM card turned out to work perfectly—good reception and high speed data, akin to being on a Wifi connection.


I found the airport bus from BCN to Calella, where the race was taking place. The bus was a nice 7 euros 10 each way. Calella is about an hour north of Barcelona. It’s a scenic seaside town, with plenty of sports stores and full size supermarkets. At the bus terminal I met a nice Brit who was doing his first Ironman. We chatted and talked about the challenges of maintaining a relationship with non-cyclists—if there’s one topic that is sure to come up in an Ironman discussion other than which races someone has done, that is it!

The apartment was about 3 blocks from the bus stop (the second stop in Calella), and had a lift that made it relatively easy to get the bike to the apartment. It was the perfect base for the Ironman—a quiet bedroom to sleep in, full kitchen and outdoor patio, and a few blocks from the beach.


Thursday evening, the bike setup people I had coordinated with over email arrived just after 8:30 to setup my bike. I had done the same thing in Nice—arranging for a bike setup at the apartment. Great peace of mind and it worked perfectly. Within an hour my bike was setup, I grabbed a few CO2 cartridges from the setup guys, and I was ready to go. I was excited my bike had arrived intact and had no issues. On course, both the shifting and braking worked well. There is something incredibly comforting about having your bike setup while you wait—you can test it out after it is setup, ask for any needed adjustments, and you have the peace of mind of seeing it up until you bring it to transition.


Friday morning I took my bike out for a very short ride just to make sure it was all working. The shifting and brakes both felt good. After injuring myself on a pre-race ride just before Ironman France, I had no desire to do a heavy ride. I rode a few blocks, tested the shifting and headed home.

After that I walked to the expo, registered, and bought a race belt to hold my number, since I had forgotten mine. Check in was quick and painless. But here is where I learned the news that Special Needs bags were not provided by the race. If you wanted to have a special needs bag on the bike or run, you would have to give them to someone who would then hand them to you near one of the aid stations along the course.


I probably could have found someone to give a bag to, but the logistics seemed like more of a hassle than they would be worth. Also, I didn’t want to have to rely on the bags being there only to miss someone or find out the bags were not there. I changed up my strategy and decided to bring all the food I would need with me on both the bike and the run. This meant that my bike jersey was a little heavier than usual, and I did not have as many bottles of Perpetuem as I would normally have. Instead, I relied more on the on-course food and hydration. All the bottles on the bike course were bike-cage compatible, so that worked out fine. I ended up loading my bike with two bottles of Perpetuem with an extra scoop, one bottle of Gatorade. I used one Perpetuem during the first half, one during the second, and swapped in and out the Gatorade bottles as I rode. Had it been a hotter day or a tougher bike course, I’m not sure this strategy would have worked, but for the Barcelona course it worked great.

In the afternoon I headed to the beach and went for a swim in my wetsuit. It was pretty choppy but after I got going, things felt fine. Although I had swum in Aquatic Park in the San Francisco Bay many times, the water in Calella was a lot saltier. I could feel the burn in my nose and throat and it reminded me of Nice—although not quite as clear. But the temperature was perfect, not too warm, not too cold. During the race, I did see one athlete without a wetsuit, but it would have been a little cold not to wear one.

On Saturday, I went to the race briefing and learned that I would need to take my swim cap with my to bike check in. Other than that, I did not learn anything new and probably would have saved myself the walk. I headed home and then brought my bike and bags down to check in. Veterans will know that it is a lot easier to put your bags in the provided backpack, which I did, than to carry them and try to maneuver the bike at the same time! There was quite a line for bike check-in and I forgot a bottle of water and my iPod, but the time went quickly and my bike was soon setup. They had a bike mechanic on-site who was able to fix a clicking noise on my back wheel. I wrapped my seat with a plastic bag in case it rained and I hung my bags in the bag/changing tent—which was huge, at least 4x the size of the IM Tahoe changing tent. It was great, as you could change right near your bags during the race.

Race Day

The morning of the race I woke up at a civilized 6am, since the race was not due to start until 8:30! Sunrise didn’t happen until around 7:15, so it made sense, but during the race I kept feeling like I was running behind due to how late the start was. I managed to get three eggs down.

Just as I was about to head out, I heard the thunder and saw the lightning—huge streaks. The sky opened up and it was pouring down. A torrential downpour. Having just had a race cancelled two weeks earlier, the thought crossed my mind that I might be headed for another cancellation. I put it out of my mind. A few kitchen garbage bags with holes poked in the appropriate places for neck and arms did the trick as I headed down to transition. After filling my tires and putting the bottles on the bike, I headed into the  transition tent and ran into another athlete from San Francisco and one from Seattle, both of whom had also been to the cancelled Tahoe race. The SF athlete was easy to spot by his Sports Basement water bottles!


I put on my wetsuit and then walked the 1000 meters or so from the transition tent to the race start, clothing bag in hand. It was still pouring, thundering and lightning. I wore my swim cap and a garbage bag over the wetsuit. It was warm enough—but wet. I hung up my clothing bag. There was an ominous feel in the room, with people wondering if the race would be cancelled or converted into a duathlon. The race director kept announcing that they would be making an announcement about their decision soon. We all stood around in the tent, waiting. Outside the wind had picked up and it was cold and gray.

Then they announced that there would be a full Ironman—just with a 30 minute delay. I was relieved and overjoyed. I hung out in the tent another 50 minutes and then headed down to the beach. I warmed up in the water for a couple minutes and then went into the queue for the staggered swim start.

(As a side note, I am not a huge fan of swim starts staggered by age/gender. I would much rather have the start staggered by expected finish time.)

The swim took me longer than expected, 1:36. I saw one jellyfish, but other than that it was simply wetsuits and water. It had been a while since I had swum in choppy waters but the course was well marked and I felt good coming into T1. The sky had cleared and it was sunny and bright. I had a feeling things were going to go well from here. T1 went smoothly, I stayed in my same shorts and headed out on the bike course. The first couple miles are through town over speed bumps and grates so I didn’t push it. Once out of town I settled in.


Since Barcelona was a last minute choice, I didn’t have a real sense of the bike course. I had watched a video but between the distances being in kilometers and not having time to ride the course beforehand, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There are a few rollers coming out of town and then it’s steady going—with the headwinds being the only real issue.


There were plenty of refs on the course, but that did not prevent people from riding in huge pelotons of 30 or 40. I maintained my distance since my goal for the race is simply my own race goals. That said, there are some very narrow parts of the bike course where passing can be a challenge. Outside of a spin class a week earlier, I had not been on a real bike ride of any distance in four weeks due to the IM Tahoe preparation and cancellation. I was feeling good on the bike, although a little nervous about the hydration and nutrition due to the lack of special needs. Fortunately, the course was well stocked and six hours later I was headed into T2. It was already around 5 in the afternoon due to the late race start.

The run is basically flat, with one little hill. Crowd support is great for about three miles of it, and then there are three miles of the 4-loop run course that are pretty quiet. The only outhouses are mid way through the run course. I certainly made use of them—my stomach was begging for mercy. I had one of those “man, does that ever feel better” moments mid way through the run and then I was on my way. I had my mini-water bottle in my hand, which was great as there were not that many aid stations on the run course. Overall the course was decently lit. My only complaint is the lack of real Coke—the “cola” on offer tasted like medicine. The electrolyte drink seemed OK. There were some awesome bands/DJs along the way, which broke things up in a nice way.


Coming into the finish shoot I could not have been more excited. The race director was standing right in the middle with the microphone and the classic “You are an Ironman!” I held up three fingers signaling this was #3 and he said, “third Ironman!” which felt great. I crossed the finish line and headed into the tent where I sat down for a few minutes till I could get up and get some food. I had once again scratched the itch and the frustration and disappointment I had felt coming out of Tahoe #2 was gone, replaced by the exhilaration of completing another Ironman.


From there it was the long walk from finish to transition. Bag and bike pickup was quick and they were good with security. Bike in hand I headed back to my place. The next morning, it was up at 6 to pack. The bike mechanic showed up promptly at 6:45 and had the bike back in its box by 7:30. They kindly gave me a lift to the bus stop, where I hung out until the bus arrived at 8:20. Things could not have gone more smoothly and my bike arrived back in SF and appeared on the oversize bag conveyor belt a few minutes after I got though customs.

Notes for future races:
- It is worth all the hassle to bring my own bike. I had investigated renting a road bike for the race and was glad I didn’t. The Barcelona course is made for aerobars, especially with the wind. There is nothing like having your own bike for a long-form race.
- Bring water bottle and iPod to bike checkin
- Get new sandals for walking around, the flip flops I have scratch up my feet if there is sand
- Work on swim time
- Bring race belt

IM Barcelona was great. I really missed having all my friends and the big SF Tri Club group out on the course and cheering, but I am glad I got a race in while my training was still relatively fresh!


Oct 12, 2014

Dude, Where’s My Car?

Dear Ashton,

I’m looking forward to watching your movie, Dude, Where’s My Car?

Because, seriously, dude, where’s my car?! We just lived through a real-life version of the movie when your investment Getaround lost my girlfriend’s car—for a whole week!

Dude Where's My Car With Getaround Investor Ashton Kutcher

No, I’m not kidding. This isn’t a spoof on your movie. This is the real deal. Some “dude” rented her car and thought he had returned it.

According to him he was “so wasted,” that he parked the car in a lot near his house rather than back in its rightful parking spot, a mile and half away. When he finally remembered that he hadn’t returned it, he didn’t even remember where he parked it! I mean, where do we even start on that one?

But then there’s the fact that Getaround didn’t figure out her car wasn’t in its rightful parking spot—for a whole week! Shouldn’t they have used software + GPS technology to figure that out? She called Getaround when she got back from from visiting family over the holidays to ask, “Dude, where’s my car?”

The good news is, they found her car. And the dude even remembered that he still had the key. It took them more than 30 hours to get her car back to her. That was frustrating.

If it were me I would have sent over a cool MINI from the Getaround fleet to make up for the fact that a) her car was missing and b) she might actually need to use her car to go somewhere!

Ashton, like you, I’m a huge fan of Marketplaces 2.0, and I love the concept behind Getaround. I think it’s awesome that you’re an investor in the company. I just hope no one else has to experience your movie in real life like we did!

I have to say, now that we’ve lived through this we really want to watch your movie. I’m sure it will be funny.

Thank you and all the best.

Jan 13, 2014

Why I Write

While I was in China, one of the questions I got asked a lot was “Why did you write Big Data Demystified?” I talked about my own very personal experience with Big Data, how I used it to measure my progress every week when I was training for my first Ironman and how I wanted to share that with others. I talked about my desire to take everything I had learned about Big Data and put it in one place–to create a lasting work that encompassed the knowledge I had acquired so other people could share in the learnings.

But then later, while I was talking with my Dad I told him that what I really wanted to say was, “I wrote the book because I love to write!”

To his great credit, he said, “you should just say that!”

I have always enjoyed writing. In eighth grade, I took a course called Expository Writing with Mr. Stewart. I credit that class with teaching me almost everything I know about writing. One of my favorite exercises was writing a Dr. Seuss-like story. Mine was called Horace The Hippo. It was a story about a Hippo who lost everything because of his weight problem and what he did about it.

I love writing because it’s a way to clarify my thoughts. It’s a way to communicate. It’s a way to generate new ideas.

People often tell me they want to write a book but they just don’t think they can.

How do you write a book? One word at a time.

It sounds so simple, yet it can be so difficult. People ask me if I ever get writer’s block. I do get writer’s block–all the time. My solution is to write one sentence. I may throw that sentence out later, but if I can write one sentence, then I can write another and another and… before you know it there’s a whole chapter.

People also ask how long it takes to write a book. The research for Big Data Demystified took me more than nine months. That was after I had already been in technology for years and built two storage companies. So I felt like I had a very strong basis for understanding the space and I was really digging into the details. The actual writing took 10 weeks.

There is a great quote by the famous conductor Herbert von Karajan. A flutist asks him when he should come in and von Karajan says, “When you can’t stand it anymore!” That’s why I write. When there is so much content in my brain that I can’t stand it anymore–I write.


Jan 4, 2014

Announcing The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014

Announcing The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014

Registration for The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014 is now available at

The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014 brings together some of today’s leading independent Big Data companies with Silicon Valley’s most prominent Big Data and Cloud investors. The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014 will take place on Thursday January 23, 2014 at the new Hotel Zetta, San Francisco.

At the conference, David Feinleib, author of Big Data Demystified, will release the 2014 Edition of The Big Data Landscape. Feinleib’s Big Data Landscape and Big Data Trends presentation have together been viewed more than 150,000 times both in the US and abroad and are used as references by leading technology investors, buyers and vendors.

“Although more than 150,000 people have viewed The Big Data Landscape, it’s all too infrequent that investors and technology buyers get to interact with these companies directly,” said David Feinleib, Managing Director of The Big Data Group. “Our Big Data Landscape Conference offers direct, candid interaction with the CEOs and founders of the next breakout companies on The Big Data Landscape.”

The Big Data Landscape 2014 Edition includes mobile analytics firm Flurry and Big Data discovery firm Recommind, which are expected to go public this year. It also includes companies like Spunk, a leading operational intelligence vendor with a market capitulation above $7 billion.

“The companies at The Big Data Landscape 2014 Conference are meeting customer needs today and are backed by leading investors like Accel, Greylock, Lightspeed, Mohr Davidow and others,” says conference co-producer Bill Long of DISCERN Advisors.

The companies include Apigee, a pre-IPO provider of Big Data APIs and applications; Identified, backed by Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors; Qubole, founded by the former head of Big Data Analytics at Facebook; Splice Machine, founded by industry veteran Monte Zweben; Trifacta, founded by Joe Hellerstein, one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 smartest people; and Ufora, a transformational Big Data company for financial services.

The Big Data Landscape Conference is sponsored by The Big Data Group, Burr Pilger Mayer, DISCERN Advisors and Hotel Zetta.


About the Big Data Group

The Big Data Group provides advisory and strategic consulting services to technology buyers and vendors. The Big Data Landscape is a leading source for up-to-date Big Data market information and insights. The Big Data 100 is an annual listing of the top 100 Big Data Vendors.

For more information visit:
About Discern

Discern Advisors is a leading boutique investment bank focused on Big Data, Mobile applications, SaaS and Cloud Computing. We are entrepreneurs, investors and advisors with 25 years of connections to the world’s leading technology companies and investors. Discern’s analysts benefit from the collective knowledge of our entire team, powerful information analytics tools, and proprietary data streams.


Burr Pilger Mayer
Burr Pilger Mayer (BPM) provides meaningful, comprehensive financial and business counsel. We are experts in accounting, tax, and finance, and our people are distinguished by their knowledge, discipline, and unremitting commitment to the success of clients. As the largest California-based accounting and consulting firm, BPM has served the Bay Area’s emerging and mid-cap businesses as well as high net worth individuals for the past 26 years.


About Hotel Zetta

Hotel Zetta has re-imagined the corporate meeting space into a place that’s fresh, vibrant and highly productive—the perfect setting for your next corporate function, meeting, or private event. If you’re looking for a dynamic location to meet in the heart of downtown San Francisco, Hotel Zetta is for you.

Jan 3, 2014

The Everything Store

The Everything Store is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding Amazon and in growing their own business. Even if you don’t aspire to build a web site as large as Amazon, The Everything Store offers a fascinating history of Amazon and some insight into the operating principles and aspirations of the site’s founder, Jeff Bezos.

The Everything Store

There are a lot of great takeaways for every aspiring entrepreneur and every aspiring executive.

When You Have To Strike Out On Your Own

Bezos came up with the idea for Amazon while working at hedge fund D.E. Shaw. He felt he had to leave because he would’t be able to realize his vision or build the company the way he wanted to within the framework of D.E. Shaw. There are lots of blog posts on the struggle people face when they decide to leave their jobs. What is clear is that Bezos felt he had no choice. He had to create his own framework to realize his vision. And he took a lot of the principles he learned–about hiring, for example with him when he founded Amazon.

Find A Big Wave

Bezos found a big wave–the growth of the Internet–and rode it. The growth was just too incredible to ignore.

Please The Customer

Bezos has long been focused on pleasing the customer. That is, putting the customer first. This is easy to say, but hard to do. Founders and executives alike would do well to remember this key business principle.  In its early days, Amazon often ran out of product and had to send employees around to traditional retail stores like Toys R Us to buy items in order to fulfill orders that customers placed on the web site!

Huge Ambition

It’s not enough to sell books, Amazon has to sell everything. It’s not enough to provide two-day shipping, Amazon has to get to the point where it can deliver in 30 minutes. Like many great entrepreneurs, Bezos is on a quest to make the seemingly impossible possible. From Bezos’s point of view, current technologies and economic constraints are meant to be disrupted. They shouldn’t stand in the way of realizing the vision.

Sweat The Details

At the same time that Bezos looks to realize his big vision for Amazon, he also sweats the details. From branding to packaging, from the web site experience to product deliver, every detail matters.

Surround Yourself With Great People

In the book, Bezos is portrayed as a rather cold-hearted manager. Bezos brought in a lot of talented people. He hired from competitors to fill in gaps in his organization. He kept those who worked out and let go those who didn’t. The reality is that startups are fluid organizations. Not every hire works out. The key is to make hiring a top priority and surround yourself with great people. It’s clear that Bezos did that repeatedly.


There are many more lessons to be learned from The Everything Store. The book is provocatively written, fast-paced and a great read. It’s as much about Jeff Bezos as it is about Amazon, which is what makes it such a compelling read. If you don’t get distracted by the author’s flair for drama and rather see it for what it is–a device intended to keep readers engaged and sell more books–you’ll find yourself with more than a few insightful takeaways you can apply yourself.




Dec 31, 2013

You Don’t Hire The Best Salespeople, They Hire You

If you haven’t read Mark Suster’s post How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle and Avoid Wasting Time, you should. But first I want to fill you in on three little-known secrets of startup sales hiring.


You Don’t Hire The Best Salespeople, They Hire You

What do I mean by this? When it comes to selling your product, the very best salespeople already know how to sell your product. They’ve researched it, they’ve sold another product like it, or they could envision selling your product into a set of clients they already know.

These are the salespeople who don’t spend their careers looking for sales jobs. They spend their careers looking for great products they know they can sell. And then they sell those products and sell, sell, sell some more. In effect, they’re hiring you, because they know you’ve got a product that’s a match for what they can sell.

I’m not saying that you can’t train people to sell your product. You definitely can. But the very best sales people will seek out your product because they already know how to sell it.

Great Clients Make Great Salespeople

At Speechpad, clients and partners contact us asking how they can refer or resell our video transcription product. Many of these people already know and love our product because they are users of it themselves. These clients would get high Net Promoter Scores or NPS, a measure of how likely your existing clients are to refer your product to new clients.

Like great sales people who already know they can sell your product, clients and partners who want to refer your product to other potential clients make great sales people.

Of course, there are companies we reach out to and partner with. But there are many more who contact us looking to partner or resell. We don’t hire them–they hire us and refer or resell our product to their own clients, partners and friends. We love clients like these because they are one of our best sources of new business.

To Sell To The Top, You Have To Sell From The Top

If you as a founder are not out selling every single day, how can you expect other people in your organization to sell your product? I’m not saying you’re going to have the world’s best sales technique, process or approach. But if you look at leaders like Aaron Levie of Box and Elon Musk of Tesla, SpaceX and Paypal fame, these founders are out selling every single day.

They are out there promoting their vision, their view on the future of the world. If you want to call high at your customers, the highest people at your company have to be directly involved with sales. That means both actual deal selling as well as visionary selling. Deal selling means helping to close new customers.

Visionary selling means creating space in the ecosystem for your company to exist by getting out there and being visible. Often, these two forms of selling go hand-in-hand.

Look no further than at two of the very best salespeople in the world, entrepreneurs Aaron Levie and Elon Musk. These entrepreneurs aren’t just selling their products, they’re selling their vision. They’re selling the dream. They’re selling it to anyone and everyone who will listen. They’re selling to potential customers, to potential salespeople, and to future investors (and current ones too).

No doubt there are days they’d rather just be working on the product. But they are out making room in the world for their products to exist. They are selling from the top.


You may be thinking to yourself that you’d rather code than sell. That you’d rather send an email than meet face to face with a person. When I first taught myself to program at age 12, I found the long hours of coding relaxing, mentally challenging and fulfilling. I still love to stay up till two or three in the morning working on the product.

I shipped my first ShareWare application at a time when I had to send out diskettes to people in the mail. There were times when I thought that was tedious, especially when I was sending out hundreds of diskettes a week. Fixing a tough bug or creating a new feature could be a lot more enjoyable than shipping another disk.

But I came to realize, as James Altucher put it in his recent post, that I have been selling, selling, selling ever since then. So when it comes to selling:

- You don’t hire the best sales people, they hire you

- Great clients make great sales people

- To sell to the top, you have to sell from the top

Now, get out there and sell!

Dec 29, 2013

5 Posts Every Entrepreneur Must Read

Starting a new venture? Here are 5 recent posts you absolutely have to read.

Image source:

5. If you want to know how Jeff Bezos and team mint money, read no further than Eugene Wei’s Amazon and the “Profitless Business Model” Fallacy.

4. Want to start the next billion dollar company? Aileen Lee’s Welcome To The Unicorn Club: Learning From Billion-Dollar Startups is for you.

3. Learn about the three key elements required to Be a Great Product Leader from Airbnb’s Adam Nash.

2. From Eleganthack: Users Don’t Hate Change, They Hate You.

1. Lessons on how to stand out in a very noisy world from social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk.


Nov 5, 2013

Ironman Tahoe and the Power of BHAGs

This fall I completed my third full Ironman distance event. Ironman Tahoe (IMT) stands out as one of the hardest goals I have ever set for myself and achieved. If I have one takeaway it is that if you set goals that are far outside your perceived limits, you are surprisingly likely to achieve them.

Ironman Tahoe Bike Course (photo courtesy Mike Stimmler)

Reports have it that a record-setting 25% of participants did not finish (DNF’d). That has given IMT the reputation of being the hardest Ironman out there. And for good reason.

Ironman Tahoe took place at an elevation of 6000 feet. The elevation alone made it difficult. But the freezing cold weather—there was literally ice on our bicycle seats when we started the ride portion of the race—was what put things over the top.

For days after the event I felt like I was looking at the world through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Everything seemed far away and appeared to be moving in slow motion.

I never considered myself an athlete. In high school I was that kid that always lagged at the back of the cross country running team. In grade school my Mom would call in on hot days to remind them that I needed to stay hydrated because I tended to sweat a lot. And as my friends from spin class can attest, my Mom was probably right!

One summer I was out of camp for two full weeks because I had leg pains from flat feet. The doctors took all kinds of X-rays and gave me a pair of crutches. It turned out that some simple shoe inserts cured the problem.

But all of that disruptive activity—the mental activity associated with going to the doctor, the implied limitations about my physical ability—had convinced me that I wasn’t an athlete. So it was news to me that I could complete an Ironman distance event, let alone three of them.

Personal BHAGs

BHAG is short for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It is not a term people often talk about when setting their own personal goals. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the concept in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. They were talking about organizations:

“A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”

Before my first Ironman, a friend of mine from the SF Triathlon Club told me two things I will never forget. First, that nutrition was the fourth and perhaps most important sport of triathlon. It wouldn’t matter how much training I did if I didn’t hydrate properly and take in enough calories to get me through the day. But he also said that people had been able to come back and finish races after bonking—a term for running out of energy mid-race.

Secondly, he told me if I could finish an Ironman, I could do anything. He was right. There is a certain confidence that comes from completing a physically challenging goal you have set out for yourself.

What I really learned was that your limits are in very large part determined by the size of the goals you set. Each time you accomplish a bigger goal, you realize you can accomplish an even bigger goal. Suddenly, “I could never do that” becomes “I could some day do that” and ultimately “I will do that.” That is the power of truly big BHAGs.

When it comes to setting goals, I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and train for an Ironman. It is time consuming and requires many tradeoffs in other areas of your life. And yet I have found that such training also causes me to become more disciplined, more focused and more willing to set bigger goals.

The biggest lesson of Ironman training is that if you set goals within your limits, you will only achieve goals within your limits. If you set goals that are far outside your perceived limits, you are surprisingly likely to achieve them.


Oct 20, 2013

Is Getaround Lost?

Getaround is a great idea. That’s what makes it so painful that the current experience leaves so much to be desired. I expect a lot more from Getaround, especially considering they just raised $13.9M in funding last year.

Recently, I referred a friend of mine to Getaround. She has a relatively new model car she drives only occasionally and it‘s at a great location in San Francisco. It’s nearly perfect for Getaround.

Unfortunately, Getaround has not been perfect for her.

To participate in Getaround Instant, which lets a renter access a car without having to meet the owner for a key exchange, some specially installed electronics are required. Unfortunately these electronics don’t work well inside my friend’s parking garage, which Getaround discovered only after trying to install them.

To work around this, the company proposed attaching a lockbox to her car. They asked my friend to measure the size of her car key “down to the millimeter!” Instead they should have offered to have someone go meet her to measure the key.

Once she did send them the measurements, they found out their lockbox wasn’t big enough. They had to call a meeting to discuss options. Over the course of this process (which has lasted more than a month), there has been at least one time where the company has not gotten back to her for a week. So add poor communication to an already bad experience.

My friend did have one successful rental. Someone rented her car for a weekend and it worked out great. But to cap things off, while she was out for an hour and a half, more recently someone else tried to rent her car. There was no advance notice, and because the Getaround Instant still isn’t in place, there’s no way for the person to rent the car. That’s an entire weekend rental lost. My friend wants to rent her car out but can’t.

I love the concept of Getaround and I’m excited that big name investors like Marissa Mayer and Menlo Ventures have the vision and foresight to invest in a company with such incredible potential to disrupt the future of transportation. I just hope the company can get its act together when it comes to turning that vision into reality.

Oct 18, 2013

The Quantified Self: Big Data Isn’t A Substitute for Self-Motivation

I read Danny Sullivan’s post on the Quantified Self and Big Data with great interest. His terrific article is entitled How my body rejected activity trackers and the ‘quantified self’.

As someone fascinated by the intersection of Big Data in our business and personal lives, I am fascinated by others’ experiences with the application of Big Data in their own lives. I especially liked Danny’s comment about the importance of “little data,” data that can come from wrist-based tools for tracking daily activities.

For me, motivation does not come from data. Motivation comes from personal desire. Back in my grade school days I was that kid whose mom always asked the school to put at the front of the water-fountain line so I wouldn’t be dehydrated. I lagged at the back of the pack during cross-country runs. Never did I imagine I would be able to run marathons or complete an Ironman, both of which I have been fortunate to do.

Motivation comes from the support of friends, from competition, from interest, from need, or from the desire to please or help others.

Motivation comes from many areas but most importantly it comes from you.

When it comes to finishing an Ironman or for finishing anything for that matter–a college degree, a blog post, or the incorporation documents to start your own company–the most important factor in motivating is you.

No device, however savvy, whether it be a stand-alone mobile device or the latest app for your iPhone, can motivate you. These devices and applications can supply you with the data you need to gauge your progress, to measure yourself, or to see how you compare with others, as in the case of services like Strava.

All that data can be input into your personal motivation toolkit. Amidst all the numbers, the calorie counts, the heart rate measurements and the other numeric fanciness, it is easy to lose track of what really drives motivation.

When it comes to motivating, the only mobile device we really need to worry about is that ancient, often fickle, and frequently self-doubt inducing yet remarkably effective one we already have–our own brain.

David Feinleib is the author of Big Data Demystified and producer of The Big Data Landscape.

Sep 15, 2013