Alex's Tech Thoughts

Being Present


We live in a world where almost everyone is digitally connected at all times. Being present is hard. I definitely struggle with it. Every single day. It affects my relationship with my wife, my family, my friends. I don’t think it is going to get better on its own. I need to actively work on it.

I already have a few things (three below) that I’m doing to be more present. I’d love help adding to the list:

1) Never use my phone at meals when I’m eating with others. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nothing worse than someone on the phone at a meal. Be present.

2) I’m Jewish and observe the Sabbath so I don’t touch electronics from Friday sundown to Saturday sunset. This allows me to spend all the time with my wife, family, and friends basically eating, going to the park, and sleeping over 24 hours. You should take off a digital sabbath; it is glorious.

3) Date night once a week. Every Tuesday night my wife and I have date night. We usually go to dinner. No electronics allowed.

What do you do to be more present?

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Present Work Life Balance
Stop Making Excuses

I remember hitting “peak excuse-making” at the age of 13. It was my bar-mitzvah trip and I went to Israel with my father for a few days. We traveled all around Israel doing activities. I think I complained and made excuse after excuse about why I didn’t want to do this and that. I was a whiner. I’m surprised my father didn’t drop me off at the side of some road and leave me there.

Then again in high school when I played basketball during my sophomore year I used to get hacked down low (I was an undersized Center) and would complain to my coach that they were scratching me and making me bleed. I’m surprised I wasn’t benched (actually we were not a deep team, so I’m not that surprised).

Anyways, the reason I shared these two stories is that somewhere along the way, particularly in the past few years, I’ve made a deliberate effort to stop making excuses. When you decide to stop making excuses about your situation, whatever it may be, the world opens up. Life and any idea or dream you may have can become a reality. You need to believe in yourself.

My wife and I have this ongoing thing we tell each other when we begin to doubt ourselves. The doubter says something like:

"I don’t think X is going to work out. I think I’m going to give up."

Then the other says “I believe X will work out, do you believe it will? Because that’s the only way it is going to happen.”

Somehow magically that usually solves the problem, at least for me, and I get back at it. And guess what, it usually does work out.

So stop making excuses. Get back at it and make whatever you want to happen happen, because believing in yourself and working your tail off is the only way to possibly make your dreams come true.

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Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy

In life you will encounter challenges. Some of them will have easy fixes, others will be very difficult. I haven’t been alive for very long (only a quarter of a century), but I’ve noticed that nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy.

I joined Dwolla about 9 months ago. There are many reasons I joined, but one of the biggest was that I saw Dwolla as a huge challenge. Building a payment network virtually from scratch. What an opportunity!

Before accepting the job, I sat down with Chris Paik from Thrive (he originally introduced me to Ben Milne, CEO of Dwolla). I distinctly remember Chris saying that I should be aware before I joined that Dwolla was going to be a roller-coaster. There would be ups and downs and it was not going to be easy. We’d have a lot of incumbents and they’d be protecting their war-chests by any means possible.

This conversation stuck with me, and Chris has been 100% right. There are days that seem like we are poised for world domination. There are also days where it seems like we are climbing a hill that keeps growing and there are people throwing arrows down to block our path.

All in all, life is good and while I experience daily challenges, I remind myself that nothing worthwhile is easy.

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The Different Life Cycles Of Risk

I recently had lunch with an incoming NYU senior. He is going to be graduating in December and figuring out what to do. I told him that at this point in his life, he should take as much of a risk as possible. He doesn’t have a wife, kids, a mortgage, etc. It is his time to shoot for the moon.

This had me thinking about various cycles of risk that people experience in their lifetime. A majority of people are risk-adverse. Others love and thrive on risk. I believe a good portion of the population will entertain risk if it is calculated. 

For me, the calculation of risk is that at a young age, when you have little responsibility, you should be taking the most risk. Once you graduate school, you will probably take less personal risk, but still have chance to join a risky opportunity (i.e. a startup) with a substantial amount of reward. As you get older and have more responsibilities and dependants, your risk-taking goes way down. 

This is all pretty obvious. The point I am trying to make is that if you are currently in school, you should dream big, take risks, and shoot for the moon. You may not reach the moon but you’ll definitely get to the stratosphere.

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What You Are Good At + What You Love

I think work life is about balancing what you are truly good at with what you love to do. I see this often with regards to athletes. They are really good at their craft but don’t seem to really love what they do. It’s a shame. I also see this a lot with young kids who are super talented and have overbearing stage parents force them to do something they don’t love.

There is a chance that you may come to love what you do if you are really good at it. There is also a chance that you may come to get really good at what you love to do. 

Life is short. You might get hit by a car tomorrow. You just don’t know when your time is up. Loving what you do is probably the most important idea of our generation. There are very few reasons why you shouldn’t be doing what you love every day.

If you wake up every morning and don’t love what you are doing please take action to fix that. If I know you (or even if I don’t) and can help in any way- please don’t hesitate to email me at Let’s change that :)

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Startup MBAs: What Are They Good For? Absolutely Something

There is a lot written about startup MBAs. How they are worthless. How they are not worthless. More recently, Ben Horowitz wrote about how it might be time for startups to hire MBAs.

I think startup MBAs make sense for a few specific use cases and for others it would be a waste of time and money. 

When MBAs make sense:

  • You’ve worked 5 years or more in any industry that you now want to move from
  • You are looking to be tied to a ivy league school network (think Harvard, Columbia, Wharton, Stanford)
  • You want to have a senior management position at a bigger startup (50-100+ people)

When MBAs don’t make sense:

  • You want to work in early-stage companies and you want experience 
  • You can’t afford it without going into crazy debt
  • You have only worked 2-3 years in an industry that you don’t love and want to move to an early-stage company
  • It’s not a Tier 1 business school (sorry, but it’s true)

Talking about having (or getting) an MBA can be a sensitive subject in the startup world. Often people who haven’t gotten their MBA go off on current MBA students about how stupid they are for spending the money on an MBA (to their face actually; which I may or may not have participated in at one time in my life).

There are definitely benefits to having an MBA; the problem is that if you plan on staying in your industry you will be taking yourself out of the game for 2 years. That can be industry suicide. 

Bottom line: I think the best situation is if you do a part-time MBA. NYU and Columbia have pretty good programs in NYC. This way you stay in the game and get the MBA you want/need. But even the part-time MBA is sort of irrelevant for a large chunk of startup people.

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MBAs Thoughts entrepreneurship early-stage school jobs life
Living The Dream

If you are doing something you love to do, you are living the dream.

If you wake up every morning and are excited to go to work, you are living the dream.

If you work at night and on the weekends because you WANT to, you are living the dream.

Unfortunately, most people are not living the dream. This is sad, because life is so short, you might as well do something you love to do.

If you do happen to be “living the dream,” make sure you reflect and enjoy it to the fullest. 

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