Dropping the Baby

There are two general priorities that I try - as best as I can - to dedicate my life to: 1) the practice of maximizing creativity in my day to day life 2) the practice of knowing the mind and trying to gently move it to tranquility and to what Buddhism calls ‘Big Mind’. This capacity for a wide view of reality is supposed to lead to the blossoming of great compassion, so the tradition holds.

My life teeters - perhaps incongruently - between venture capital (the creation side of me) and a palpable yearning to be a Buddhist monk (the ‘Big Mind’ side). I find that living in the crosscurrents of this duality is the most compelling version of self that I’ve managed to come up with in my now 60 years of life. Why do I find the seeming tension between these two parts of my personality to be compelling enough to dedicate my life to?

Let me give an example:

All summer long I have watched scores of Beta Technologies training planes gliding on the summer thermals over Lake Champlain and the hills of northern Vermont. Beta Technologies is an electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle company, (EVTOL), that is making electric air transport - miraculously - a reality. Beta was the first large investment ‘The Fund at Hula’ made four years ago, and has since become a 2B+ juggernaut. Everytime I hear the faint drone of the airplanes approaching, I feel a thrill that I’ve never really experienced in my life before. I think it is the thrill of endless possibilities, and also perhaps a bit of imposter syndrome - how lucky were we to be at the right place at the right time to participate in the birth of a truly world-changing company?

And to be clear, world-changing on both a personal and global level. I have heard a hundred investor origin stories about getting in early on one of the great investment rides of the past - the investors in the couch-surfing AirB&B founders, or the VCs that believed in the cerebral Google founders, etc. I’m not saying that Beta is an AirB&B or a Google - but it has the possibility for tremendous scale. Perhaps most importantly, it has the added bonus of being a company that can completely change the carbon footprint of an enormous industry, predominantly air freight - think: electrifying large swaths of the UPS, Amazon and FedEx air fleets.

The creative side of me imagines what life would be like for The Fund at Hula (our Vt. based investment vehicle that is part of the larger Hula business community ecosystem) to be part of a 10B or 20B or 100B market cap company. What paths would that take us down? How would this change our lives? How would Beta’s success change the state? How would we try to make sure that it changes Vermont - and ourselves - for the good, as much as possible?

The creative side of me imagines Leonardo’s notebooks and the drawings of all the crazy flying machines that he imagined in the renaissance. Kyle Clark, founder of Beta, has a tattoo of one of these sketches on his chest and it’s emblematic of the creative energy that I feel being a part of Beta.

On the Buddist side,the Beta planes have become a form of meditation for me, as strange as that might sound. Early mornings, afternoons, weekends, the sound of the planes sneaks up on me and I inevitably look up, and then that deep creative sense of accomplishment fills me. The planes are my prayer beads, and I am reminded of watching the monks from the Buddhist monasteries in Boudhanath, Nepal thumbing through them bead by bead, each bead reminding them of what they have dedicated their lives to.

The Buddha said it is always easiest to practice letting go in the monastery where there might not be any ‘chocolate cake’ to tempt you. In the world of Venture Capital there is so much hunger for wealth and status that it is the perfect place to practice radical detachment and equanimity. I think that this spaciousness is what ‘happiness’ is. I have known this for a while via my Buddhist practice - joy comes when the grasping ceases. Ironically, creativity, including company building and venture capital, involve so much grasping, so much looking toward the future, so much striving. And this is precisely what makes the tension between grasping and letting go so interesting to me - to be attached and simultaneously detached.

While the planes give me a sense of great satisfaction, how exactly does one stay detached from the future that we hope our companies will bring? This really brings you into the heart of the Buddhist teaching. The Buddha wanted to establish a set of teachings to share with the world (his creativity), yet he was completely detached from those teachings at the same time. Ghandi said he would never have led India to independence if he didn’t have a strong practice of detachment from ‘outcomes’. It is very hard to build your best company from a place of fear or stress, and we see this so much with founders, and VCs. It seems so antithetical - how can you try hard in life and push and work and work and work, and yet let go of outcomes at the same time? Building a company, or building wealth, or building a monastic order are about living in equanimity with these two antithetical realities at the same time.

I think detachment is actually the key to creativity; my friend and business partner Russ Scully calls it ‘dropping the baby’, and trusting that the bank of powered snow underneath will catch her, and she will laugh and motion for you to do it again! Dropping the baby is ironically the most important step in the creative process, because letting go allows access to the deepest, freest and most dynamic part of the human mind/spirit. It becomes the most critical dynamic feedback system on earth. It is the place, ironically, from which great companies - and lots of other world changing things - can be born.