The Simple Path to Purpose Has Not Changed in 2,500 Years

I had a great talk with a friend on a topic that keeps coming up post-COVID: What is my purpose? How do I have more meaning in my day to day? It is like trying to grab a wet bar of soap. The simple answer hasn’t changed in 2,500 years…

The Universe has an interesting way of stepping into our lives. At a basic level, there are those people that come into your life that you know, regardless of outcomes, will be in your heart, your soul, your mind and/or your life forever. These are those rare divine interventions into our lives we need to treasure & be grateful for.

“It was like, in that moment, the whole universe existed just to bring us together.”

Sara in Serendipity

In a larger way, the same goes for those callings, those ideas and those questions that tug at us, pull us and keep coming back. As David Whyte says:

“Questions that have no right to go away are those that have to do with the person we are about to become; they are conversations that will happen with or without our conscious participation.”

David Whyte

Our challenge is that we feel that our purpose or meaning needs to be something clearly before us and often feels grand, heavy and/or impactful. My coach, Phil Stutz, says “the big things come about from doing the small things day in, day out.” Ask 99% of people what their meaning or purpose is and they will likely say something vague around having a positive impact on the world. They feel this age old burden that they should be doing something purposeful or impactful but can’t specifically describe it. They expect to have an epiphanal moment, a lightning strike. Alas, it is much more subtle. Before enlightenment, you need to do the dishes😉

The path to meaning and purpose hasn’t changed in 2,500 years since Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Their wisdom has been recast by the Stoics, Maslow (Actualizing/Hierarchy), Flow, Positive Psychology, Brene Brown, Conscious Leadership, etc. Our purpose and sense of contentment & sustainable success are simple: every day, every moment, strive in small ways to close the gap between who we are and the highest version of ourselves (Arete). The latter is that inner voice that whispers to you from time to time. Fortunately, purpose seems to fall out of this all on its own. As you test & trial small things to build skills or discipline/habits or networks, the forward progress begins to show you clearer paths.

I fell into this trap years ago as I started to build out the underpinnings of FORGE. I knew that my calling had something to do with guiding entrepreneurs on their journey more holistically (but from the investment side). I couldn’t describe exactly what or how but I knew that it had to be different & more human-centric that traditional VC.

I was in my head about how daunting building out all of the human-centric frameworks so they would be practical and not philosophical. Every day, I thought, who am I to think I can do this? So many were better than I, and it was such a monumentally enormous feeling task. Also, I was a successful VC…if I jumped into this new model and failed, I would look like an ass in front of many people.

Jerry Colonna, Reboot founder, said at one key juncture: “Matt, stop trying to save the world. Save yourself and let everyone watch (eg figure it out for just me).

Drop by drop, a person becomes better (or worse) as Buddha says. Each moment, we have an opportunity to intentionally move a tiny bit from the current towards the best version of ourselves, to spend more time developing our GENIUS and less time on our obligations or things that we “should or have to do”. Maslow says we are either moving forward into growth & actualizing (+1) or backward into comfort/safety (-1). This could be as a great parent, a boss, a janitor, an athlete or a partner. The key is small steps forward. Eventually, as the pieces come together, you begin to see the bigger picture that has been awaiting you all along.

Phil Stutz calls these micro-transactions. What simple thing can you do this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Rinse and repeat. For me, with FORGE, first I felt ignorant and intimidated by all of the human-centric skills I would need to bring as a holistic “Sherpa” for entrepreneurs beyond my existing investment experience, strategic knowledge, and some tactical business skills. So, the first “micro-transaction” was signing up for a coaching program. Second, I attended the first class. Then the second. Then I began to reframe the methodologies of each class to apply to the specifics of a) Me (save myself!) and b) my entrepreneurs. After a while, I found one or two close entrepreneurs and worked with them using these. Then I saw gaps, did a second program and started to create modules, offsites & exercises. Rinse & repeat. Over 5 years, I amassed a pretty significant skill set and tools…all while working as a VC, at my existing firms, doing VC as before. This year, I began to put out capital from my own vehicles (FORGE) and blended capital with the new capabilities & growing platform.

The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a step (Confucius). So, if your goal is to be a basketball star, start with extra wind sprints this afternoon or another 25 minutes working on 3 pt shooting. Compound a little each day and soon you’ll be surprised by your endurance or that your shooting percentage is 5-10% better. Same goes for any profession. What can you do today or tomorrow morning…smaller the better.

But do so only if this feels like your flow and it energizes you. You feel like you are chipping away the mud that has hidden you for so long. We all feel these tugs. If you keep getting them, you know that the universe is quietly calling you to purpose. Your job is simply to take a small step (a test) in that direction (with no idea where it will lead you) this afternoon or tomorrow. Then another and another. If you hit a block, move a little left or a little right.

Focus on “those questions (and people) that have no right to go away” and surprisingly, you may just happen to stumble upon the elusive purpose and meaning you’ve been waiting for and seeking (and it was there all along). To rephrase Serendipity above, Pablo Coelho wrote “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it (your Personal Legend)

My Journey to Launch FORGE

Today is the public reveal of FORGE Capital on the main stage at Denver Start-up Week. I have been developing a different approach and strategy for venture investing (and life in general) for almost a decade. In addition to investing at Pritzker and Crown, I have been evolving this new venture model with personal capital. Entrepreneurs (and humans in general) are given an oxygen mask and told that the Everest Summit is a day’s hike and are sent on their way. We have our strategic and everyday frameworks, tools, and experiences. We have patterns and behaviors set decades ago within our families and schools. However, within half a day, the first Everest storm hits hard, and we realize that we are missing the most important tools of all…the human ones. We wonder why the journey seems complex, uncertain, and draining.

Being a human centric design enthusiast, I wondered: What if a leadership/coaching platform had a child with a venture fund to help guide or Sherpa entrepreneurs, students and others on their journey? What if Jerry Colonna of Reboot was right when he said: “We believe that in our work lies the possibility of the full realization of human potential. Work doesn’t have to destroy us. Work can be the way we achieve our fullest selves.”

I also wondered what the end goal of life (and work) was. What is true success? I have spent the past eight years reading hundreds of books going back thousands of years on “the good life.” These ranged from Aristotle & Socrates to the Stoics (Aurelius, Seneca) to the Upanishads, Buddha, Confucius, and Tzu to, Emerson, Thoreau, Campbell, and Frankl. I added books on specific foundational areas like Sleep by Matthew Walker, Meditation by Chodron, Davidson, Habits by Duhigg, and Clear and nutrition by Pollan. I seeded a company that is the best I’ve found on “Blinkist-like summaries” of these great texts for everyone (get the Heroic app here). In the end, wisdom has not changed over the centuries, just the metaphors. If you read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (emperor of Rome and the most powerful man in the world), it reads like the challenges of a modern-day executive, parent, and spouse.

I wanted to create an essential guidepost to measure progress to simplify all of this. I wrapped it in what I call the Saint Peter test (you can replace this with whatever metaphor works for you…Eulogy test seemed too depressing!). If you got hit by a bus today and were in front of the proverbial Pearly Gates and had to describe how you had lived your last month or two, how would that go? Would you feel that you “owned every second that this world could give,” or were you stressed, drained, reacting, waiting for tomorrow to be your time? Did you appreciate and were grateful for all the people and wealth in your life, or were you heads down battling yet another drama?

In the end, I settled on three parts to the test: Energy, Impact, and Presence. ENERGY: life is simply energy…when we are energized, we are happy, and when we are drained, we are depressed. So, does what we do in business, family, and life increase or decrease our energy daily? IMPACT (campground): in his bestselling book, How Will You Measure Your Life, the iconic HBS professor Clayton Christensen posited that the ultimate measure is not money or houses or titles but How Many People’s Lives have you changed for the better while on earth? Today, did I leave the campground cleaner than when I arrived in the morning? PRESENCE: did we show up to our own movie today, or were we down some rabbit hole? My favorite coaching program (one of the top platforms in the Valley), CLG (Conscious Leadership Group), asks how intentional we are in living our daily lives (reactively/impulsively or proactively). Are we coming from a place of trust/abundance that life works for us OR below the line, from a place of fear/scarcity that life happens to us? Was I the architect of my life today? Said more elegantly by OneRepublic (click on the link below for their outstanding, award-winning music video on living life).

I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

– OneRepublic, I Lived

I believe that entrepreneurship is a proxy for life. The future is opaque and we are faced with daily challenges that test our resilience, our talents and our values. These are just stations at the gym to grow. Ironically, venture capital has approached this highly human endeavor with a somewhat harsh, quantitative, and dehumanizing approach. This mirrors how many of us approach life. We have our responsibilities, our goals and our resources. But when the 8-10 year cycle of life (heck, just daily life) comes swinging through to clear out the brush (if not the forrest) like it is currently doing, we realize that we are missing many of the most important tools.

I was curious if this was just me, so we interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs and asked them one simple question: To help you most, how do you want your VC to show up? Ironically, few had ever been asked this question (I have to love the cobbler’s kids having no shoes). The top response was not to help with hiring or fundraising or strategy (though all are important) but rather, “Who can I turn to, and what can I do on a Sunday Night when the ghosts and demons are running through my thoughts and sleep?” The second response was, “Scaling from $1m to $10m to $50m to $100m is brutal. Can you help me become a Superhero/the highest version of myself? I am dog-paddling in the rapids and need to learn and grow into being a leader (or parent or spouse or…).” Both of these fall into the Human column, not the traditional buckets of Strategic or Tactical.

So the hedonic game plan seems to be breaking down in a big way…that happiness is the next blue ribbon, that vulnerability is a weakness, being right is a necessity, anxiety & fear win out every time. That life is dangerous & happens to us. I have spent years building out alternative tools, modules, and exercises. These are based on wisdom across thousands of years, are tested effective in the application (not just concept), and are self-sustaining (vs. the grinding anxiety models).

To be clear, I don’t have all the answers. My kids joke, “Dad, do you ever listen to your own advice?” However, I do know that the traditional models taught to us as kids and school are broken, and there are age-old, consistent wisdom and tools, as well as modern-day leadership platforms that work much better.

FORGE: personal growth and excellence are forged in the fires of entrepreneurship and life. Here’s to an energetic, impactful, and intentional next chapter!

The Lesson from Beau’s Final Walk

A year ago today, we put our beloved Bernese border collie rescue dog, Beau, down after 18 years with us. He was there to raise all three kids & see them through good and tough days. He was there to see all of use through career moves, market crashes, a divorce and junior high. On his final day and final walk, he had one last lesson to give me that I had forgotten during all of the craziness of the past years. He reminded me, despite whatever is going on in my life, to enjoy the moment…to enjoy the simple things and the loved ones around me. We all are feeling this whirlwind of distraction in our lives between COVID, market corrections, inflation and other reversals. As the Stoics always emphasized, be present and grateful as all you are promised is today: Momento Mori

I think we both knew that the vet was going to visit that afternoon to help him transition. He was holding on but struggling. As we left the building, we turned left and walked towards the main street as we always did. However, unlike normally when he made a quick move to the grass by the street, he stopped, leaned over and smelled the new colorful flower arrangement along the walkway. He had never done this before. But on this final day, he smelled the flowers for about a minute and looked up at me, almost with a smile, as if to say the proverbial “Matt, on your way to the grass (or meeting or deal or…), stop and smell the flowers and be present.” I remember like it was yesterday that moment where everything stopped and I felt him echoing the Seneca quote.

 It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it


We continued forward on our walk and he stopped about 100 feet further, closed his eyes and felt the breeze blow against his face. I could see the fur on his neck wave in the wind. After about 20 seconds, he looked up at me as if to say “You try it”. I did. I closed my eyes and I felt the breeze on my face and the sun on my skin. I could not remember the last time that I had stopped long enough between tasks and locations to feel the breeze on my face. I was struck by how the velocity of my life had stripped away the intentionality of it. In moving through A to B to C in the most efficient, impactful or profitable way, I was living reactively vs intentionally determining how I wanted to spend my time in ways that were important or energizing to me. As David Whyte said:

You increase your velocity and speed of work. But are afraid that if you stop  you won’t know who you are. You have no affection for what you’re doing but you have an abstract thought that this is what you must be doing in order to be liked. The key to getting out of the cycle and the rut that we often find ourselves then is to become sick of yourself and what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to and how you’re saying. Throw yourself away and shed the skin. As Nietzsche said, the snake that does not shed its skin must die

David Whyte

All of this is ironic since the key thing I focus entrepreneurs I coach on is Intentionality. Are they intentionally focusing their time and attention on things that matter…that energize them vs that drain them. Do we live out of our email which, in essence, is someone else’s to do list or do we intentionally structure our day to focus on things that are core to us. Deep work time blocks, family time blocks, romantic time blocks, fitness or sleep time blocks, etc. We are like the Steven Covey woodsman who doesn’t take time to sharpen his axe because he is too busy chopping…insuring that the dull blade will double the time to cut.

You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.

Marcus Aurelius

We came home and later that day and the vet administered the injection. Beau was there in form with me and my son, Nicholas, but gradually he faded away. He was there and then he wasn’t…Momento Mori. We sat there in my barely furnished new apartment crying, realizing that he had given us his most powerful lesson and act of love ever during his last walk. Stop living from fear, stop protecting your heart, stop pushing others away. Hug your kids, tell your partner how much you love him/her, stand in discomfort, feel gratitude for the small things, connect with your good friends and remember to stop to feel the breeze of life on your face.

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

Question: If you lose your fear, do you lose your drive?  It’s a question many entrepreneurs ask themselves.  They seem to have bought into the idea that you can either be content or you can be driven, but those two states cannot coexist. But that idea is flawed.

In reality, we are the stories we tell ourselves, becoming the characters (hero or villain, creator or victim, etc) that we believe and repeat. Once set, these identities and these stories rule our lives. For the same conditions or situation, they determine whether we are thriving or surviving, growing or just getting by, content or disatisfied.  And yet, we often make this selection sub-consciously.

One of the leading experts on peak performance, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, coined the term “Flow” in his seminal research on top performers. We sometimes call it being “in the zone,” performing at the top of our game and enjoying a sense of mastery and ease rather than enduring the “fear and angst” that can accompany performance.

Mihaly defines Flow as:

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.“

How do we get into it and why do we fall out of it? It’s all about what’s driving you.  Is your motivation internal/intrinsic or external/extrinsic motivation? This is the heart of my blog and my framework below.

At a high level summary, the key to enjoying sustainable success rests on Arete.  This is the Greek concept around striving to become the “highest version” of ourselves as defined by us (intrinsic) and not as defined by others (extrinsic). This is motivation driven by moving towards something aspirational versus moving away from fear.

IDENTITY is at the heart of all of this. If we define our core Identity in empowering ways, we set ourselves up for Flow. If we define ourselves in ego-centric, inflexible ways, we set ourselves up for terrible suffering. Identity has a host of components ranging from core values, narratives, identity statements, behaviors, life segments, etc. We have a core identity and then layers that we use to define ourselves i.e. Mother, wife, boss, coach, athlete, daughter, friend. 

EXPECTATIONS flow from the Identities we choose. These are often subconscious but dictate our lives. When reality shows up differently from our expectations, we begin to feel anxious and suffer. Being conscious around the Identities we chose and understanding the Expectations that arise from this is half the game.

There is a Cherokee story of a chief talking to his grandson. He describes that he has Two Wolves battling inside of him. One is full of ego, greed, anger and pride. The Other is full of truth, hope, empathy and service. When the boy asks “which wolf wins?”, the chief responds “The one that you feed.”

In selecting our identities and in embracing specific narratives about our lives, we feed one of the wolves. Do you work for personal glory or in service to something greater? How critical is external validation to your happiness? Is your inner voice on fire or can you find windows of inner calm?

For example, belieiving that life is a zero sum game and defining yourself as a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t fail can set you up for misery. Things won’t go your way on a daily basis. Setbacks confirm the harshness of your reality and this identity will light up your ego and your fear. Anxiety sets in. “This shouldn’t or can’t be happening.”  “What will people think?”  You might project negative scenarios causing the voice of your inner critic to get louder.  Why? Because you defined yourself and your Identity in a way that plays to ego, requires external validation and has limited flexibility.

However, if you view experience as driving growth, then challenges/setbacks become a means to grow and improve. If you identify as “a resilient & creative entrepreneur who uses persistence in confronting challenges “, your expectations and your interpretations change. In a perfect world, you would welcome these challenges to sharpen your craft and skills. Your value isn’t reflected in what others think of you but rather how you grow and improve your mastery. This is a simplistic example but it shows you the importance of answering: Which wolf do you feed?


Challenge: What is your current Identity and Narrative and how can you define what a “Higher Version” looks like to incorporate more intrinsic motivation and Flow?

My Venture Covenant With Entrepreneurs

There is a false dogma around the VC/Entrepreneurship relationship…supported by bad behaviors on both sides. You feel a need to manage your investors & board, to not show weakness and present to us. We fail to fully listen, dictate desires or fears and financially optimize our investments. Trust and open communication are our most precious assets which we squander away as a result. In reality, we are on the journey together with a common enemy (Darwin). We must hang to together or “surely, we will all hang separately.” We need to optimize our chances for success, row together, remove unnecessary drama and minimize self-inflicted wounds (the majority cause of pre-mature death). Over the years, I’ve seen both the good and the awful with this relationship. So, here is my rough draft of a Covenant with My Entrepreneurs

Be committed to your personal & the company’s success Be self-aware and embrace your blind spots
Respect that this is your company but provide guardrails & accelerants Don’t self-optimize. Your employees and I depend on you
Show up rationally, empathetically and, “first, do no harm” Don’t let fear or ego dictate how you manage and lead
Be open and frank in my communication Be open and honest in your communications
Seek homework from you to knock down barriers & accelerate growth Say “no thanks” when I’m not helpful
Respect your boundaries Acknowledge when you need help or don’t know
Honor confidentiality Embrace this as a partnership, not as a necessary Evil
Encourage experimentation, quick iterations and respect failure Don’t feel obligated to carry the world on your shoulders

Multiples vs IRR

One of my most popular posts from VC Confidential…

“You Can’t Eat IRR.” — anonymous

I was at a business school today helping judge several business plans. As group after group presented, I saw each make the same mistake as the previous. When they tried to justify the investment from the perspective of the VC, they kept telling us that this was a 40% IRR deal or a 25% IRR as if we had magical IRR thresholds.

The reality is that the venture world is all about multiples and the IRR’s are the results. I don’t know what the original legacy behind this was, but from a practical perspective, it is driven mostly by the fact that we live in a boolean world. Some is also based upon the high net worth legacy of our business. Originally, because pension law did not permit the large institutional investors in, our business was funded by family offices, endowments and foundations. Multi-generational families, while they want high IRR’s, are really looking to double or triple their invested capital.

From a portfolio perspective, if we invest in 10 deals, 4 are tube shots, 2 we fight to get our money back on, 2-3 we get 2-5x on and the 10th deal drives the return (hopefully north of 10x). If we doubled our money in 1 year (100% IRR) but lost all our money on the next deal over 6 years, we aren’t happy (net gain is $0). We don’t care that we made 2x in 1 versus 3 years or lost all of our money over 6 years versus 4 years (this impacts IRR), because we earned 1x on the capital.

We often see complex financial models with discounted cash flows, hurdle rates and such. These are useless. I have never seen a set of financials in an early stage company that ever reflect what Darwin will allow to happen in reality. So, you start your modeling with unreliable numbers. Secondly, what is the beta for an early stage biotech deal, a semi-conductor start-up, etc? Can you assess the risk associated with a given management team? How about a new market space?

Perhaps we are too lazy to try and figure this out, but after decades of effort, the only method that seems to work in the venture world is to target 10x on each early stage deal (3-5x on later stage plays). They all look like the next Microsoft, but eventually, the portfolio of these settles down to the profile above. In the early stage world, if you target, say a 40% IRR, through assuming a number of 5x wins in a compressed period of time, you will likely be out of the business. Your 5x wins, while possibly generating high IRR’s, don’t return enough multiple to pay for the 4 tube shots and 2 break-even deals. Your winners need to deliver 10x.

So, next time you are trying to convince a VC about the merits of your firm, show them how they can make 10x capital on a realistic exit scenario (not how to get a 40% IRR).

The 15 Year Tech Cycle: Reloading for Another Tour

“If you can see it, it isn’t the revolution.” — Steve Jurvetson

I wrote the following post in Nov, 2008. It demonstrated two things. 1) Tech and the stock market have a little dance they do…tech has roughly a 15 year cycle and the stock market has roughly a 7-8 year one and 2) tech is non-linear…just as FB/social was about to take off, many thought cleantech was going to be the next bellweather sector. If you can see it, it isn’t the revolution. It is possible that we are going to skip through this current cycle into a second one that goes to 2021 or 2022 due to the continuing decline in interest rates.

The markets in 2008 were very different. The banks were overexposed with bad real estate debt. Their current balance sheets are relatively clean. It is only when the banks get into trouble that the economy truly contracts as they pull in credit.  I wrote in June 2008 that I thought the venture/market cycle was coming to an end and this one in Nov 2008. Today, lot of people are going to cash and getting nervous about the market this year. Fortune 500’s are cutting ad spending for Q1 (some significantly) and I recently spoke to two elder ladies in a hotel lobby who were “short the market”. Also, more VC money was invested in 2014 than any year since 2000. So, while I believe in the 15 year tech cycle (e.g. things go boom in the night in the coming year), with this many people looking for it, it seldom hits. That said, probably not a good time to aggressively put money out and a good time to get your house in order. I’ll revisit as the year progresses…the IPO market vs. last private round valuations is a key metric to monitor.

From Nov, 2008:

“As the bad news keeps pouring in, a lot of people are wondering what we can expect in the coming years. Additionally, everyone is trying to figure out what hope exists. Well, I’ll give two thoughts on this (briefly).

First, the world of technology is driven by two factors: the laws of exponentials and the Black Swan. Progress does not occur linearly but exponentially. We can expect to see changes the magnitude of the past 100 years in just the next 20 years. This means a lot of people are going to a) be really busy and b) be dramatically better off. These changes will come from places you can’t predict (Black Swans). Market crashes and negative developments are not the only unexpected six sigma events.

Second, markets run in roughly 7 years cycles and technology in 15 year waves. Vacuum tubes to main frames to mini-computers (DEC) to PC’s (Apple/Microsoft) to the Internet. The next wave, then, should start in 2010-11 and hit full force in 2015-16. Many in the business (us, Kleiner, etc) feel this will be in Cleantech. The energy market is 10-20x the IT market. We are not talking about billion dollar markets but trillion dollar ones. There will be a lot of casualties but some enormous wins.

So, there us no doubt that life is really brutal today. But, prepare and get ready for enormous, explosive market opportunities. It’s going to be mindblowing.

So, I stick my neck out again typing on my small iPhone. I declared the old venture cycle dead last June. I am declaring the the next cycle, even bigger than the former, will kick in during 2010 with foundations forming by the end of next year. I also believe we will see 30-40% of remaining venture firms will not survive to see this through (food for another post)…

The Key Israeli Story: StartUp Nation

Larger Post coming…without appreciating the context (yesterday’s post), it is hard to fully grasp the origin nor significance of the tech renaissance that is taking place in Israel.  One has to see it to fully appreciate it. Much like Boston and Silicon Valley had its origins in military R&D and culture, Israel’s tech ecosystem also comes out of this. It has had innovation after innovation emerge from its advanced defense work. For example, ICQ (not AOL messenger) launched instant messaging onto the world and originally came from te Israeli Defense Force’s internal uses. Same with voicemail and many other innovations. Israel has some of the world’s best minds in Big Data, IT security software, messenging, telecom infrastructure, etc.  A lot of this is described in the book, Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Some of the numbers are eye-popping…one start-up per 2,000 people in the country for example. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Equally important is the Israeli resilience & tolerance for risk.  This is at the heart of the entrepreneurship.  When living in the charged environment discussed yesterday, you can’t help but to grow up with a DNA that accepts risk/change’s role in life and embraces the necessity of innovation.

I have to run to Tel Aviv’s accelerator, SOSA (their equivalent to Chicago’s 1871). More to come.

Up Close & Personal with Middle East Conflict

Today was one of the most memorable days of my life. Things in the Middle East got very real today. We spent the entire day on copters flying South to Gaza with the Israeli Defense Force and then North to Golan/Syria and Lebanon with Israel's "Wolf Blitzer".  We were 10 seconds away from Gaza's Hamas mortar batteries as well as 200 yards from Hezbollah's missile arsenals in Lebanon. We also looked out over Syria's massive civil war from the Golan Heights.
Region on Fire: My summary takeaway is that there is seismic change going on in the Middle East across nearly every country. Most of the countries in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, etc) were created arbitrarily by the British and French who took nomad (and warring) tribes and drew nation-state boundries around them (a concept foreign to them).  Each is now in the process of splintering apart into its Shiite, Sunni, Christian, etc sub-factions. The only thing that held these entities together were brutal dictators who used force/terror to bottle the 1700 year old genie (when Sunni & Shiites first split). Syria is splintering, Lebanon is getting bold, Gaza re-arms, Iraq is fracturing, the Palastinians are slow rolling and Iran races to go nuclear (while funding many of Shiite terrorist activities around). Israel sits in the middle, growing more resolute to take action while Europe prepares to impose its will on Israel and the US sits bewildered. It feels like something is going to go bang in the night coming up.
Breakfast w/the General: We started the day with bfast with Major General Amos Yadlin, the former head of the Israeli intelligence operations. He commented that much of the conflict is being driven by Sunnis vs Shiites vs secularists, especially their extreme branches. As a result, unnatural alliances are forming. Arabs vs Arabs, Arabs vs Israelis, Arabs with the west and against the west. Billionaires in Saudi Arabia funded initial ISIS activities but now, as ISIS has grown more radical, they have pulled back as ISIS condemns the Saudi secular rule. Hamas is in Gaza and Egypt is at war with fellow Arabs and allied with Israel. Hezbollah fights ISIS in Syria (terror organization vs terror organization). 
He commented that the region is struggling to find a form of government that both is consistent with its history/culture and yet brings it economic strength & political stability. It has tried monarchies, dictatorships, socialism, capitalism and now, the extreme factions are pulling it towards religious Islamic rule (unfortunately back into the dark ages).
Iron Dome Command Visit: We drove down to Palmachim military air base & the Iron Dome battery to see what few get to: inside the Cube which controls and launches the anti-missile systems (Iron Dome, David, Arrow, etc) protecting Israel from the South. We sat 20 ft from the control room in the bunker.
Israel has three levels of defense:
Iron Dome for short range…2-10 sec to respond to rockets usually from Gaza
   – this summer: 7,000 rockets fired, 7 casualties, 1-3 shelter trips per day in Tel Aviv
Arrow 2: 10-60 sec to respond, midrange missiles from Iran, Syria, etc
Arrow 3/Patriot: long range ballistic missiles with 2-10 min warning
Gaza/Hamas Mortars in the South: Egypt and Israel are allied in fighting Hamas both in Gaza and the Egyptian border. Our copters landed outside Ashood which is 10 secs from Gaza mortar and rocket launches. This is where the underground tunnels under the security border from Gaza emerged into Israel that were destroyed over the summer. Hamas spent $50-100m building these 32 cement encased tunnels. Weapons came through these which were up to 90 feet down. They took two years to build, some 2 miles long and up to $3m each. In the Eqyptian side, Egypt claims it destroyed over 600 smuggling tunnels into Gaza. Some are so large that vehicles can drive through.
Gaza is a tragedy.  It has the potential to become a key economic center for the Palastinians…it has a port, sits on both the Egyptian and Israeli borders and had plans to build a regional airport. However, it lacks a middle class, with almost 2m fifth generation Palastinian refugees there. As a result, it suffers economically and Hamas has stepped in (funded by Iran & others) to provide key resources like schools, shelters, food, etc.  In exchange, Hamas uses these same homes & schools as origination for tunnels into Israel.  Additionally, it fires its rockets & mortars from these urban centers.  As you can see from this photo, Israel sits with its Security wall (upper right) and much of the border & parts of the interior Gaza lay in rubble from counter strikes (left).
Jerusalem the current flash point given the Palestinian driver attack and his subsequent killing by the police. When the security wall left 300,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side and milliins economically shut off from Israel on the other side. I found out today that the Palestinian's funeral was the night we were in Jerusalem and many were watching to see if anything erupted. Today, there are clashes as Palestinians on the Temple Mount throw rocks down at the Wailing wall attendees.
New Canvas: We then flew North by copter to the Golan Heights/Syria and Lebenon border). I had the good fortune to sit next to Alon Ben-David, Israel's "Wolf Blitzer". He had a surprising optimism for the potential of the region. He pointed out that every 100 years, you have a chance at a new canvas. With Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Kurds/Turkey and such all in flux, there was opportunity to bring parties to the table. The Palastinian issue seems to be a distant second to the Shiite/Sunni conflict across all countries.  The hope would be that with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Eqypt, PLA all united by the Shiite/ISIS threat, they combined with the US/Europe could be a force of positive redesign of Middle East. That said, with the Egyptian peace talks likely stalled, Hamas rebuilds its tunnels, Israel digs in and Arab/Israeli relations in Jerusalem grow more tense.
Me with Alon (Wolf) on the copter:
Syria Is Splintering up North: Looking down from the Golan Heights, we could see the battle lines of the massive civil war in Syria (could drag out for 10 more years). The Asad regime has surpressed the Sunni/Shiite tensions underneath a brutal dictatorship. There are a dizzing array of factors battling each other in Syria..Shiite Hezbollah (Iran supported), Syrian Shiites and minority groups like Christians support Asad. Meanwhile, Sunni forces take various forms, ranging from Free Syria Army (supposedly a moderate consortia),  Jabhat al-Nustra (Syria's Al-Queda…middle) and ISIS (extreme Sunni) and 10 various rebel Sunni groups.  These extreme groups feel empowered with the overthrow of Mubarak & Huseein. Here is the Syrian panorama from Golan:
Let Syria Burn…for many in the Middle East, Syria at war works well for them. Hezbollah is dragged into this, Syria is not a unified threat to Israel and ISIS shows itself to be barbaric. 
Lebanon Waking Dragon: In the last two weeks, Lebanon has begun to stir after 7 years of quiet. After the 2006/7 war where Israel drove all the way to Beruit and destroyed Hezbollah's buildings, it has kept its head relatively low. However, recently, it blew up an Israeli jeep using an IAD.  This renewed confidence is troubling. Hezbollah is backed by Iran through Syria. In the picture below (only 200 yards away), there are large houses built by Hezbollah for civilians.  There are over 100,000+ missiles, all larger, more accurate than those from Hamas, stored or even have built in firing silos. Iran has armed Lebanon as a deterent to Israel bombing its nuclear bomb efforts. Syria is critical to Lebanon as it is the direct route to Iran for weapons. If these missiles launch, they will do significant damage to Israel. 
We returned back to Tel Aviv for dinner with the IDF 8200 Elite Intelligence unit…the best of the best. Quite a day.

Stunning Day in Jerusalem…Day 1

Quite the first day…cultural day in Jerusalem (minus our guide saying “all schools have cancelled trips to Jerusalem given events this week…”).   Landed at 8:30am and off to the races. We visited the Old City where we walked through the four quarters, touched the marble Jesus was supposedly laid on (post Cross) and the cave he was supposedly laid, all encompassed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While being in the heart of all the unrest you see on CNN, you feel amazingly safe…more so than parts of many major US cities.  Crossing streets being the most risky times 🙂
Intriguing dinner with two of Israel’s top journalists who gave us their take on the region & country while we stared out the patio at the old City. The context was almost surreal as we spoke and I was literally looking out at the infamous Security Wall and the intersection of four cultures in the Old City. You could feel the energy of all this history and intersection. Pretty wild.
After dinner blew me away. We went to see the City of David's tunnels…wasn’t certain what to expect. I assumed this would be the minor part of the trip and looked forward to the Wailing Wall.  I was wrong.  We toured the excavations of the City of David that were just discovered in the past 5 years (used to be under a parking garage of all places).  Sitting underneath parked cars had sat 3,800 years worth of layered remains from 18 different civilizations stacked on top of each other (Persian, Roman, Jewish, etc).  They also found letters with seals from actual messengers mentioned in the Old Testament (Jeremiah). This is significant because it foots with the Bible, indicating that the Israeli’s did live in Palestine first (however, doubt will solve the Mideast crisis 🙂   They then took us down to tunnels from 560 bc that ran up from the City to the “Temple Mount” at the top of the Hill.  It still had pottery and ash marks from when the Romans drove the last Israelis out in 70 AD and people literally took their belongings and fled. Romans smoked the tunnels as they tried to escape.
We ended the night at the Wailing Wall. I have one of these in my office when dealing with portfolio companies!
The Former "Parking Garage"…3,800 years/18 different civilizations stacked on top of each other…!