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Archive for March 2015

So … what’s up?

It’s been a while dear readers. How are you people doing?

The focus of this blog was always a bit unclear. A bit of programming, Magic: the Gathering, Bitcoin … but mainly as the title says “Stuff Ron Gross Finds Interesting”. So, here’s what’s been going on with my life lately.

I quit my last paying job at Commerce Sciences around July 2013, to focus on my first full-time startup, bitblu. After a few months of assessing the market, business model, and mainly regulation, my partner Yuval and I decided that this business was not viable at that time.

I sat at home depressed for a few weeks, because yet another startup I tried had failed. Then, I realized that the Mastercoin Foundation, of which I was a founding board member, needed leadership and direction. I accepted the position of Executive Director, and spent the next several months turning it from an extremely loose and chaotic organization, to something that at least resembles a traditional startup in terms of organization and operations (I can’t thank my CTO Craig for that enough – you rock Craig!). For the first time of my life, I was an “actual CEO” of a company with a real budget!

I gained invaluable experience and learned a ton, and appreciate the unique opportunity I was given. However, the stress of that period was, quite literally, enormous. I was managing a team of about 15+ people, spread out all around the world, most of them I hardly ever met except the occasional Bitcoin conference. Our budget, denominated in Bitcoin, initially rose with the Bitcoin bubble of Dec 2013 … but then quickly plunged as the bubble burst. We did not have the foresight to liquidate a significant amount into USD in time, and thus the Foundation was stuck with dwindling resources, when a lot of the dev work still remained. Also, unlike a traditional startup, there was simply no way to do another financing round. The financing structure, as decided in July 2013, was selling newly minted ‘MSC’ tokens to investors when the Foundation started, and we promised these investors that no new MSC will be issued, ever. The Foundation was a non-profit entity from its conception, and we struggled without success to find a viable for-profit business model to support the tremendous innovation that we were developing. Even though we pioneered the “Bitcoin 2.0” industry, emerging agile competitors emerged under every rock.

I was having major doubts both about the project’s apparent lack of a business model, and about my personal ability to lead it and inspire our team, and so finally, in August 2014 I decided to resign. It felt both absolutely horrible and joyful at the same time. Horrible, because I felt like I was abandoning the ship (shouldn’t the captain be the last one to leave, or drown with the ship?), and joyful because the tremendous pressure has finally lifted.

Until then, I had been literally working my ass off nonstop for more than a decade, and finally, I took a few precious months as vacation. I wish I could say I did something awesome with my time off like traveled, volunteered, or some amazing creative work … but frankly what I did most of the time was play Starcraft 2 (oh, and I got back to playing chess regularly after about 18 years away from the game!)

At this point, I was exhausted and confused. I didn’t really know what I wanted, whether I want to work on something productive, and stay at home and play computer games for the next five years. Being on vacation was harder than I thought (I kept blaming myself for not checking my inbox at all for a week at a time), but I was getting used to it and actually started to enjoy it. This vacation continued for a couple of months, until, bam! A flash of inspiration exploded in my mind, and I started ReverseFunder with a blaze of glory.

The idea was to solve the Mother of All Problems – how to accelerate the rate of human innovation. Tap into ideas from the hivemind, connect capable Makers with a drive to develop projects, and fuel this with funding from Kickstarter-like Backers. Add in some crowd-editing collaboration magic sauce, and you got a startup-generation machine. I found a great co-founder, and together we went out and talked to a billion different people. We analyzed the market, studied existing solutions, needs … and came to the sad conclusion that the market was overcrowded, and that our envisioned solution was just too complicated to ever work. We pivoted, but then, my personal life kicked in and turned the tables.

Yes, entrepreneurs are “allowed” to have a personal life.

See, about 2.5 years ago, I discovered Polyamory.

There I was, in a monogamous marriage … and suddenly discovered that I was Poly. In fact, the idea of monogamy just didn’t click for me anymore, at all. I think it’s something that’s always lurked behind the scenes, and now, having found out that there are actually people out there having multiple, consensual, honest romantic and sexual relationship, just hit me like a ton of bricks.

I won’t go into all the details for obvious reasons. It suffices to say that last November, shit finally hit the fans. I knew that I could not stay in a closed relationship, and my wife did not want to open our marriage (I fully support her on this – Polyamory is not for everyone!). I realized that staying together any longer and working on our problems is just us playing delay tactics, and will just cause more pain for us both long term. So I decided to jump yet another ship (I at least take comfort in the fact we were together for a whole nine years … a lot more than I held any job or position).

Long story short, I “found myself” in two lovely polyamorous relationships, learning how to work within that system as I go along. It’s complicated and there are new challenges, yet I find it to be a very rewarding, viable alternative to Monogamy. More on that later in a separate post?

Now, I’ll queue in the kicker. Together with everything else that was happening to me, I found myself stuck in a cycle of hypomania and depression. I self-diagnosed myself as bipolar (pending a formal diagnosis). What this means is that throughout the last few years, I’ve been having episodes of hypomania – a terrific state of mind where everything is clear, energetic, I almost don’t need any sleep (3 hours a night for a week), I have tons of ideas for new projects and activities, and I do a shitload of useful work. The other end of the stick is episodes of deep depression – staying in bed for days at a time, playing chess on my smartphone, and doing nothing, not seeing the point of getting up and going to work, of doing anything, of treating myself, of communicating with loved ones and family members.

These fluctuations have been my difficult routine for the last several months. I started seeing a psychologist (I feel very optimistic about the process when I’m manic, and I feel like he’s not contributing anything when I’m depressed), planning to see a psychiatrist for a formal diagnosis, trying to get my shit together. I’ll confess here that thoughts of suicide have crossed my mind several times.

I wanted to blog about my depression / bipolar episodes for a while, but didn’t have the energy to do it. When depressed, anything, even trivial tasks, seem enormous and impossible to accomplish. I do thank the support of friends and loved ones throughout what I’m going through. I feel blessed and loved and thankful.

These episodes of depression didn’t help my startup one bit. I had to quit ReverseFunder/Oxify, leaving Ortal to carry most of the burden, with me minimized to an advisory role. I wish I could do more, and I felt like a total failure so many times for QUITTING YET ANOTHER STARTUP OF MINE, but that was the reality. I just could not handle.

At present time I am left at a difficult crossroad. My skills as a developer have waned in the last two years, and it’s possible some of the passion and commitment I once had for programming had weakened (it’s hard to tell if it’s just the depression speaking or something deeper). I’m trying to understand what I want to do with my life, what I’m best qualified to do, where can my skills produce the most benefit to society, to the company or project I’ll work on, while giving me a satisfying experience and keeping me paid (I haven’t drawn a salary for a year and a half now).

I am dreading starting Yet Another Project I’ll March Enthusiastically Into Only to Quit A Month After. But I am hopeful. I’m not giving up. I realize the millions of reasons I have to be thankful and happy, and am working on remembering and experiencing that.

I do have a small project that has been tickling my fancy for some time now, but I don’t want to spill the beans about it just yet, not unless I actually dedicate enough chair time to get it off the ground. Thanks for reading so far, and for caring. Stay tuned!