Advice to founders/startups during these times

I’m a bit pressed for time this morning but I thought I would share some of the advice I am giving to entrepreneurs as they deal with our crisis.

1/ Survive. This is the theme of our entire collective at the moment but in the startup world it is a central organizing principle. I have heard some investors suggest a broad/general overview that goes something like this:

-assume Q2 is a wipeout revenue-wise
-assume Q3 is 30% of your original plan
-assume Q4 is 50% of your original plan for the year.

This may not be appropriate for every startup but more likely than not it will be the closer to reality than we want to believe. Please note: no one is going to blame you for overreacting or having a poor 2020 year from a revenue standpoint. Everyone’s numbers will look horrible. You just need to get through the year.

2/ Be generous. Unfortunately many startups are only offering 2 weeks severance. For startups with challenging balance sheets, that might be the best they can do. But if you can do better, then do better. Also, significantly extend the employee stock options exercise window for laid off employees from the standard 90 days to something dramatically longer.

3/ Be healthy. I’m still hearing of CEOs and execs returning to the office to get stuff done. For the most part, I don’t think this is a wise or healthy choice. The better choice is to stay home, set a good example for your employees and focus on your employees well being,  your customers, your culture. You most likely do not need to go to the office right now. Eat healthy, get proper sleep, and get daily exercise. Grinding yourself 24×7 right now won’t scale. And this is definitely not a fucking sprint.

4/ Be kind. Your team, your board, your employees are all on hyper edge right now. They are seeing bad news throughout most of their day. We are all going through it. We need to cut each other a bunch of slack for a salty comment or honest mistakes. And most of all we need to be kind to ourselves.

Unfortunately all of this will get worse before it gets better. And it will take longer than we all desire. There is no simple playbook, or magic wand or silver bullet for these times. This is when we all dig in to the best of our abilities and show up.

We will get through this.

A special note to all the founders in the Spark family: I know I speak for all of my partners when I say we are beyond very grateful for your leadership, hard work and commitment. These are unprecedented times and my words can’t possibly express our gratitude and empathy right now.

Improving the home setup for video calls

Since I’m on a Zoom call most days, I’ve been taking steps to improve the video conferencing setup at our house.

(of course, none of this of course is essential, but the inner geek in me is enjoying this a bit under the circumstances)

I use my iPad Pro for pretty much everything but I am back to using our old 2016 iMac for Zoom calls. The front facing camera location on the iPad is positioned poorly for pretty much everything and that includes video conferencing. The iMac webcam is really poor but at least you can connect a 3rd party webcam to it. So I bought this Logitech model. Unfortunately they are sold out everywhere but I found mine on eBay at a serious markup.

The lighting in my home office isn’t ideal for video conferencing. I’m either side lit or back lit most of the day which creates a harsh silhouette effect. Then I remembered I have this portable LED for my photography. So it’s now on a desktop tripod, facing me during video calls. Much better. You don’t need a dedicated video LED. Any desk lamp that lights up your face will do just fine. I recommend getting one with a warm light and skip any florescent lighting. And turn off your ceiling lights.

I highly recommend using Krisp to make the audio quality a million times better for the other party. They won’t hear you banging away on your keyboard or if you have any street noise, etc. I believe Krisp is free for the first 120 minutes and then you can sign up for the monthly plan of $4/mo. It’s a massive improvement.

Get a microphone. Any external microphone (EarPods, AirPods, desktop mics, headphones with mics) will likely be much better than the mic on your computer. And you can talk in a more natural volume level. Your Zoom friends and your throat will thank you.

My three kids are also on Zoom most of the day as their school is online. I picked up these laptop stands to improve their posture. And I’ve got them wired up to the LAN with an Amazon USB-C to Ethernet adapter.

I’ve been using virtual desktops on Zoom for the last few weeks. They are super fun and lord knows we can use some more smiles these days.


I am so grateful for the frontline responders that are truly heros during this crisis. Please consider donating to this fund to support their efforts with much needed supplies and logistics.

On grief

The Harvard Business review has great piece on the subject of grief during this time

Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings.” If I feel sad and let that in, it’ll never go away. The gang of bad feelings will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going. ~ David Kessler

Highly recommend the entire article.

Zooming every day but miss the eye contact

Like so many people, I’m spending much of my day on a video conference for work or to catch up with loved ones.

I’m super grateful for Zoom for building an incredible video conferencing system. It is helping the world at such a critical time.

And while I have a bunch of feature requests that I’ll save for likely a future post, the biggest thing lacking with video conferencing is the lack of eye contact. I really miss the eye contact that we naturally experience with in physical, in person encounters.

Last year, Apple was testing a feature to “fix” this camera location issue in software but never launched it. It has some creepy implications for sure, but I hope this sort of thing becomes available as an option soon.

We are going to be sheltering in place for a long time and I could use some eye contact.

Please consider donating to the health care workers in NYC that need your help right now with meals and resources.

Persona Non Grata

Persona Non Grata, Bright Eyes

It’s been a long time, but the band is releasing a new album. First track dropped yesterday.

Paris – January, 2020

A few months ago, I made a short trip to Paris. When I look at these photographs, it truly feels like a lifetime ago.

(The color photographs were made with a Mamiya 7ii camera and Kodak Portra 400 film. The b&w images were made with a Leica MP and Kodak Tri-X 400. Developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab in California)


A new (old) hobby

I was in a few cover bands in high school and college. We played a live shows and it was super fun. After college, I picked up an acoustic guitar and took it everywhere. But soon life got busy and I was drawn to other things in my life.

These days, I found myself wanting to play again. I dusted off the guitar that was hiding in the attic, tuned it and started playing. But it’s one thing to play the same set in a cover band vs playing by yourself. So I’m trying to get better.

For now, I’ve been using Yousician on my iPad Pro for daily lessons and practice. The interface is dated and the songs aren’t my taste. But it’s fine for now.

I am hoping there are better iOS apps and/or YouTube channels out there. Send me a tweet @bijan or email me bsabet at gmail if you have any recommendations.

Many thanks!

PS: Please don’t forget all the people in your life that help you on a regular basis and are now likely out of work (ie person who cuts your hair, person who cleans your house, person who dry cleans your clothes, the lady at the coffee shop you used to visit every day….) find them and send them what you can to keep them going. Ideally it’s the same amount you used to pay them each week/month or just send them love and kindness with your words and show them that you care.