Annual Reflection: 2020

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Peru, a baby, depression, company growth — but drawing a blank

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking 2020 feels like a lost year. A fog. What happened? When?

The damage from this year will last for years. Decades. A great collective trauma that continues to go unaddressed. Unmourned. It seems very American to ignore the deaths and move on. Just as America’s denialism has been the heartbeat of its racism, so too shall it be the heartbeat of its government failures.

It’s difficult to piece this together. I don’t think there’s any lessons. Just experience. Absorbing and fatiguing experiences.

Lennox Ajani

Lennox Ajani Dewar changed everything. Our first child. Our son. The sweetest little human I’ve met.

lenny pic

It hasn’t been easy personally or within our relationship. We went from knowing each other casually for over a year, to dating, a month later moving in together, a month later finding out she was pregnant, to a month later being forced to be around each other 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It’s a lot of change to go through in a short period of time in normal circumstances. The pandemic added another layer of frustration, fear and absurdity.

We didn’t have time to have conversations around living habits, parenting styles and approaches. We just did it. We definitely don’t always get it right.

What’s important with my son? Generational financial wealth. I didn’t and won’t inherit financial wealth. The first in my family to get a college education. The wealth I inherited was white privilege.

I’ve been asking myself repeatedly over the past few years — am I a good founder? Now I find myself asking — am I a good father?

And then I see him now, not even two months old. My super human. My super woman. Two of the strongest and bravest people I’ve ever met.

lenny pic 2

Peru

In late 2019 Britni and wanted to plan a trip. We originally decided on Japan in March for my birthday. As COVID-19 spread in early 2020, and flights in and around China were cancelled, we decided to find a country where there was no/minimal reported cases. Enough time to get a week’s vacation in.

Peru. When we left there was only 1 or 2 reported case.

We had a great first few days. We went up to Mancora (a remote beach town in the north), then flew to Cusco to stay in Skylodge (small cabins attached to the side of a cliff 400M above the valley) and get to Machu Piccu.

Here is the video of us climbing up the mountain to stay in Skylodge.

Peru Skylodge

While staying at Skylodge, the President of Peru announced that at 7pm the following night all land, sea and air borders would be closed and the country would enter strict lockdown. We were unable to get down from the mountain until the following morning and didn’t get back to Cusco, the nearest airport, until 2pm.

All flights were booked. The airport in Cusco already under armed guard. We had booked a rental car at the airport and we couldn’t enter as the card agency had closed.

We knew we had to get to Lima if we had any chance of getting a flight out of Peru. At 5pm Monday we booked the last rental car in Cusco outside of the airport and at 7pm we left for Lima.

We had to get there as quickly as possible as they were starting to put in roadblocks to stop inter-city travel. 28 hours of non-stop travel with around 4 hours of sleeping throughout. Through the mountains—through rain, wind, blizzard, mud.

We were in Lima for a week before getting out on a US government flight.

We documented everything and in the fog of 2020 haven’t edited the footage yet. Here’s some pics from the car trip. Looking back — it was incredible. We saw some incredible parts of the country.

Peru roadtrip 01 Peru roadtrip 02 Peru roadtrip 04 Peru roadtrip 05 Peru roadtrip 03

Paperchain

We have been able to pay $414k to creators for the streaming media months before they usually get paid. There are now more full-time team members than there are founders (a huge milestone as a company!). We generated $2.5k in revenue. We raised over $500k and are on our way to closing our full seed round.

We’re not talking theoretical. We’re doing it. Paperchain is actively closing the time-gap in media payments.

I had to make many critical decisions this year:

  • Made the decision to ask two founders to step back as work commitments couldn’t be met. Potentially could have sunk the company. I think we made the right hiring decisions to fill the gaps and we’re in our strongest position now.
  • There have been moments of reduced or no pay. All of us on this team made the same commitment to continue and push through.
  • With COVID-19 spreading, made the decision to offer health insurance to our full-time team members. Very rare for a pre-seed company to do this. Increased our burn but kept our employee retention at 100%.

What I’m getting better at? Leadership. Hard to define but I feel more confident in this general area.

What I’m not doing well KPI reporting, OKR planning.

What I want 2021 to be about Company growth (team, revenue).

Personal

Fundraising struggles has meant going into debt again after getting on top of it. Being financially underwater can cripple your entire being.

Through all of this was a cloud of deep depression. Inescapable and crushing. I was able to start therapy again and the sessions became more inward. Tracing through arcs of patterns and negative behavior.

Growing up and feeling at times not able to control my choices. Taking part in activities outside of my comfort zone. How does that show up today? I always want to be in control of things that impact me. How can that be negative? Sometimes I make unhealthy choices and don’t recognize them as such because I’m the one making the choice.

My family doesn’t communicate well. We don’t call or even text everyday (or even every week), despite living on other sides of the world. We’ve always been limited in our communication. How does that impact me today? I struggle to communicate. I get frustrated by that inability to communicate.

Therapy hasn’t magically solved anything. It’s been a vehicle for identifying behavior, good and bad, and being able to correct in real-time before damage can be done.

Consumed media

I draw blank when I think about this year. I’ve been unenthusiastically keeping a list. I didn’t keep track of dates when I watched. I consumed but mostly wasn’t paying attention.

You can view the full list here. Some select pieces below.

Something that became weirdly compulsive viewing were “reaction” videos on YouTube. It’s a way to listen to a song for the first time again. And a way to see how music I grew up listening to is parsed by younger generations.

In Rage Against the Machine’s “Down Rodeo”, when Zack de la Rocha says:

Now I’m rollin’ down Rodeo with a shotgun
These people ain’t seen a brown-skin man since their grandparents bought one

the reaction by listener’s today is shock. It’s still a jolt of energy hearing it today.

In “Wake Up”:

Networks at work, keeping people calm
You know they went after King when he spoke out on Vietnam
He gave the power to the have-nots, then came the shot

and

Networks at work, keeping people calm
You know they murdered X and tried to blame it on Islam
He gave the power to the have-nots, then came the shot

As one video says in reaction, “I can’t handle this. This man is stating too many facts.”

What’s also interesting is I often hear people asking “where is the protest music of today?” expecting to find it in rock music. Rage Against The Machine and At The Drive-In were the last great rock protest sounds.

The answer is that power lies in hip-hop. It always has, only now it’s the dominant culture and protest culture in the US. This is a correction to the historical narrative of protest music existing in white-dominant genres (folk, punk, rock). White people co-opting struggle narratives (civil rights, etc.) without actually being the victims and keeping whiteness in the center of protest narrative.

Literature

Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy, Matthew Stoller.

An exhaustive look at the mechanisms and dangers of corporate consolidation and how modern governments has failed its citizens through to legislate and govern in our interests. Became an avid supporter of the “break up Amazon/Google/Facebook” movement after reading.

The Revolt of the Black Athlete, Dr Harry Edwards.

A blueprint from 1968 but still frighteningly relevant now. When Kyrie Irving called for an NBA strike and the players to assemble their league, I assumed he was reading this the same time I was. Interesting to note that when the NBA players did not play as part of the George Floyd protests, they called it a “boycott”, not a “strike”. Seems like semantics but the implications on labor rights is huge.

Film / TV

Small Axe

Steve McQueen’s series of short films, Small Axe tells multiple stories of the West Indian experience in London. Mangrove is my highlight. Given it’s similar plot mechanisms, you can compare it to the work of a bad filmmaker (Sorkin/The Trial of the Chicago 7). But McQueen always knows how to center the deeper ideas of his story in front of the camera. Watch for his held shot while the jury reads out their verdict. An overwhelming moment captured with unflinching clarity.

And yes, Lover’s Rock contains that dance scene that stops the world for a moment.

Sylvie’s Love

A corrective to a history of Hollywood filmmaking. Sylvie’s Love is about the kind of films and stories Hollywood should have been making all along but actively sought to deny Black visions and Black voices from its canon.

I’m still thinking about: “US”. Jordan Peele’s film form 2019 still rattles around inside my head. A deep encapsulation of America and its failures againsts its Black citizens.

Music

I published a playlist of songs from what I thought were the best releases put out this year. You can stream the playlist below.

Dua Saleh stands out as my greatest discovery this year. Confident, bold and completely aware of their inspirations and aspirations. Music that is unafraid to declare itself.

Orion Sun is up there with Dua Saleh. “I hate it here without you” — Her lyrical vision was like a direct message to how I was feeling.

Deante’ Hitchcock. The “Mother God” portion of “Growing Up/Mother God” is a section of music that stops the world for a moment.

Live shows:

Nothing this year.