Sorry I haven't posted in awhile.  On October 23rd, my mother passed away from complications from breast cancer.  The original cancer diagnosis was good and the chemotherapy was to be as minor as it gets, which is why her sudden death came as such a shock to us.

My purpose with this post isn't to share the intimate details about her life, seek anyone's condolences, discuss the outpouring of support from hundreds of people my parents' community of Brandon, Mississippi, or share my feelings about my mother.  I've saved most of that with family and close friends — which I've learned I have far more of than I thought.  Rather, the purpose of this post is to address an issue that is rarely discussed or even faced in a startup — the death of a team member or the loved one of a team member.  And I'll talk a little about the lessons I've learned.

This is the fourth time I've encountered death in a startup.  It's never been even remotely easy — not that unexpected death is something that is generally easy to deal with.  I think what's different about a startup is the fact that it's much more than just a company in many ways.  Early-stage startups are often more a hybrid of a family and a business.  Early you are usually confined in a small office or the same coffee shop every day.  There is shared struggle as a result of limited resources.  You're all in it together.  And you get to know each other really well — probably too well.  Think "Little House on the Prairie", but with cell phones and without the strange diseases.

Because folks are so close, I think it's that much more tragic.  If you've lost a team member, you'll have a void that you just won't be able to replace.  Every person makes his/her mark on the business regardless of position, rank, or role — and losing someone even if the startup has grown is devastating.  You lose a personality, a friend, a colleague, and likely some great stories and camaraderie.  If a team member loses a family member or loved one, it's as if you've lost an extended member of your family.

I've learned a few things from my mother's passing.  One, if your team members have lost a loved one and are grieving, they'll just need time to get back into the flow of work.  My colleagues at Notice Technologies were very understanding with me as I dealt with family issues.  They really stepped up in a big way and made things work with my occasional participation in our business for a week or two.  I was proud of that and I think our company grew up a bit in the process.  But my colleagues are all class and although I knew that, it's really good to KNOW that if you know what I mean.

The second thing I learned is something that has gradually sunk in with me over the last year or two — a sense of perspective that perhaps comes with maturity or perhaps comes with personality traits my mother left me.  My mother couldn't be put down in any way.  You could give her the worst news ever and she always believed that everything would be OK as long as she was true to herself & did what she needed to do.  I've noticed this personality trait in me during this startup — (not to be confused with catatonic relaxation, but) I've come to appreciate a good balance between intensity when it is needed and "not sweating the small stuff".  I guess you have to understand when to pull out what skill & how to use that skill effectively.

Finally, my mother treated people well and selflessly.  She didn't judge people based on who they were.  Instead, she saw each person for their values, their skills, their true intentions, and their potential.  In the startup world, we can often times get too caught up in what people have done instead of who they are as people.  We can all get perhaps too caught up in "pedigree" or brushing elbows with people who have been very successful at risk to our integrity.  But past success is all too often a lousy indicator of the quality of a person and/or a measure of a person's character.  I've never gotten too caught up in this particular phenomenon, but I have at times harshly criticized people who have tried but not yet found their huge entrepreneurial success.  At risk of sounding "soft", I do recognize that it's wrong and my mother certainly didn't raise me to be quite that judgmental.  Nor did she raise me to regard past success as the measure of a man or woman.  I know better than that.

So rest in peace, Mom.  You did a great job of raising me & my sisters.  You were a great wife and friend to a lot of people.  The best way I know to honor you is to occasionally consider how you'd deal with difficult situations.  And I'll take with me the confidence you instilled in me that I truly can do anything.  I buried my mother after all, and I can't fathom anything I'll face in the business world could be quite as difficult as that.