Hello friends… or true to form, with greetings from (at least a few places) where we’ve been this year:
Sain bain uu! (Mongolian, but they also say…)
Нохой хор! (“nokhoi khor!,” literally “hold the dog!”)
Hei, kuinka voit (Finnish)
Hallo hoe gaat het (Dutch)
Dia duit (Irish)
您好 (“ni hao” in Mandarin)
Plus of course the holas, buon giornos, saluts and guten tags you’d expect from places we’ve been before.
2014 has been a doozy. Our first year as Mr. & Mrs. — in this wonderful way, even better than we ever imagined. Our first (and so far only) year of both being almost completely independent professionally, with all the advantages and challenges that presents.
We delivered our first co-keynote speech, which was fabulous fun on all counts. April has a new website, and in a couple weeks, Jerry will be the first person on Earth to have his brain available to all in the App Store (no foolin’!). We ticked off many lifetime bucket-list items, like riding semi-wild horses across the Mongolian steppe and marveling at the beauty of British Columbia. Despite many firsts, however, it’s our umpteenth year feeling incredibly lucky, excited, joyful and in love with life.
So let’s get started with this year’s annual missive!
January 2014 feels like a lifetime ago. We began the year quietly, enjoying a week at Laguna Beach (Jerry taught and April tagged along) and then Jerry took off to Zurich shortly thereafter to teach a group of Swiss and Germans about the Relationship Economy (in English), hosted at a think tank called GDI. From there he went to Geneva to give this talk at LIFT. (What’ll it be? Stalk or serve?)
April ducked to Florida for a quick speech, but made it back in time for her birthday — which Jerry managed to celebrate like none other (including buying a mini version of our wedding cake, which had been eaten by guests before April managed to devour the icing on our special day)!
February was a busy month with one of the year’s biggest highlights: April’s cross-country Canada Sharing Economy Tour. Over the course of a week, April delivered 15 presentations and other events (yes, 15 in a week) on the sharing economy in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. She collaborated with SiG, the country’s social innovation organization (if only every country had one!) and Cities for People. It was a true delight to play the role of catalyst and guide, and underscored the kinds of things she loves to do — and made plans to do more of…
Jerry flew up to Vancouver for the final day, after which we spent an additional several days just enjoying the surrounding area. Favorites included the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, the Kitsilano neighborhood and maple-bacon donuts. We fell head over heels in love with Vancouver, and by the end we’d researched how to become a Canadian resident. Extra bonus of being in Canada during the Winter Olympics: we almost lost count of the gold medals, and we’ll never look at curling the same!
February wasn’t over: toward the end, Jerry hosted one of his REX group’s meetings, this time in a San Francisco “coliving” space called The Factory, which occupies several properties around Alamo Square. One of these, once the Archbishop’s mansion, they transformed into an over-the-top brainstorming and prototyping studio that spans three spacious floors.
As we winged our way into spring, we fit family travel into the picture as well. First stop: Amelia Island, Florida, to finally enjoy some quality time with April’s Italian family there. We’d forgotten how good it feels to just look at the beach with loved ones nearby. From there, we headed back to California and off to Yosemite National Park, where April gave a speech to local governments at the Ahwahnee Lodge. Definitely one of her more memorable venues! We took a few extra days to go hiking and stayed in a delightful Airbnb home complete with horses, park views and solitude. (This was also another banner Airbnb year; more on that below.) April also achieved a happy personal goal, when Stern Speakers bureau decided to represent her.
At the end of March, April took a trip to what would become another highlight of the year: Athens, Greece. She was invited to give a keynote on the sharing economy — practically speaking, the first time this happened in the country. It was all she could have hoped for and more; other highlights included jogging around the Agora and visiting outstanding new Acropolis Museum. It is true that the economic challenges of the country are severe (which is a big part of what’s so interesting for her: how can the sharing economy help economic recovery?), however the spirit and generosity of the people are even more inspiring.
Starting in March, IFTF brought Jerry in to help facilitate several water-related client workshops. Water is complicated (as April already knew).
Back in San Francisco, it was time for some changes. In late spring, April moved on from Collaborative Lab and began doing more work independently. She’s still focused on the sharing economy and especially what it means for cities, policy, travel & tourism, and international expansion. It’s a lovely match of what she’s built her entire career — building markets that work for more people, social impact, and investing for profit and purpose — applied to a new space. Things are constantly changing and evolving, which keeps her on her toes (and gives endless opportunities to try new things, enthusiastically!)
In May, we both had a chance to join IFTF’s Ten Year Forecast again, spending a few days immersed in 2024. April also presented at the Global Philanthropy Forum, which was a perfect opportunity to bridge her prior and current interests (even though philanthropy as a whole needs a massive transformation). She then returned to Paris for the 2nd OuiShare Fest, and Stockholm for a speech on the sharing and circular (zero waste) economies.
Meanwhile, Jerry gave a talk in Munich for a publisher of pharmacy journals, learning a thing or two about efficiency and class in event production. No sooner had Jerry and April gotten home (April also for the SHARE conference) than it was time for…
Jerry’s annual Retreat, again at the Marconi Center just north of San Francisco, and again full of memorable moments, including a big opening exercise that remixed all the topics that were bursting in Retreaters’ heads, a Retreater from Singapore giving a masters class to a handful of alpha geeks, a high school student telling us about her education and world view, and multiple deep conversations about how to fix education.
Immediately after the Retreat, Jerry headed almost directly south — literally — and arrived the next day in Chile, where he made his way to Viña del Mar, a small coastal town west of Santiago and just north of Valparaiso. There he spent a week as faculty with Exosphere in a unique boot camp that mixed literature with personal growth, lean startup culture and a pinch of Libertarianism. The friendships he made there are still growing. On his way home, Jerry presented some of his ideas in Santiago to Startup Chile, the heart of “Chilecon Valley.”
While Jerry was in Chile, April was gearing up for a fun, record-setting series of travels: between May and July, 7 trips in 8 weeks! (She fully admits she got herself into this situation, and on reflection admits it was a bit too much. But it sure was a fun sprint.) It started with a return visit to Vancouver for a social innovation bonanza, including also amazing jogs along the Stanley Park waterfront. The urge to move to Vancouver is ever-increasing (notes Jerry: the urge to move many places is ever-increasing). She also went to New York City and Dallas for a few days each, including special reunions in both places.
Tag teaming onstage
Then came one of the high points of the year, our first time presenting together. The setting was the keynote speech for the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego. The content was all about trust and mistrust, folding in the sharing economy with other movements like traffic calming. You can watch the whole talk below (click the image to find the video; go four minutes ahead to skip the commercial at the start).
Later in June, April returned to London for some meetings, and then made her way to Oxford to attend the inaugural YGL leadership course at Said Business School. The YGL community has become an anchor and source of constant joy and inspiration for April. What she didn’t expect was how profoundly that week would affect her — truly one of the year’s biggest highlights.
It wasn’t until she arrived that the realized the deeper symbolism of being there: in June 1994, April was studying at Oxford when she received a phone call from her sister Allison, telling her the tragic news of their parents’ deaths. Her life changed forever on that day. 20 years later (almost to the week!) she was back, to learn about leadership, be surrounded by inspiring people, take a trip down memory lane and reflect on her journey. She will forever be grateful for this.
From Oxford, April flew to Brussels where she presented on the sharing economy to the EU Commission. Hard to compare with what she’d just experienced, but both very special. Jerry, meanwhile, gave a talk in Mountain View at the Shift Summit, the debut of an interesting conference organized by a longtime friend of his.
We’re now halfway through the year. The second half is more interesting. Stand up, stretch, refill your coffee, and let’s keep going! :)
Jerry picked April up at SFO, and before she had the chance to say “jetlag” we were off again — to take a much-anticipated (and overdue) road trip to Oregon. We’d wanted to explore northern California and the Oregon coast together for a long time, and ironically despite its proximity, we’d never managed to do so. Time to fix that. For the next 10 days, we made our way through Redding, Ashland, Jacksonville, the Applegate Valley wine country, Roseburg, Eugene and then over to Florence, the stunning coastline, back into the redwoods and finishing at Eureka. It was even better than we’d expected (including delightful Airbnb places along the way, from “glamping” in a farm to an historic Tudor mansion.) The biggest highlight was visiting April’s aunt Paula and uncle Jim. Paula suffered a bad accident in 2013 which left her partially paralyzed, and it was a joy simply to hang out together. Jerry also helped her choose and set up a tablet with speech recognition, making it easier to Skype with her grandchildren too!
Back on the home front, we finally achieved a major success: our backyard garden. The project never should have taken so long, but better late than never, and we adore our landscape guru Balthazar. We now have lovely outdoor space in SF, complete with a planter box (kale, peppers, basil and much more is going wild) and wifi, so it can also double as an extra office in good weather. We spend as much time there as we can — along with our resident squirrel Ferdinand, who continues to visit.
In August April took another neat work trip, this time to Colombia. She spent a week in Bogota working with the country’s social innovation organization and other local partners interested in the sharing economy. It was an incredibly interesting and inspiring visit, not least also experiencing the city’s urban renaissance through initiatives like Ciclovia (car-free days when the entire city center is open to bicyclists and pedestrians). A simple idea, yet truly extraordinary transformation!
April flew back from South America to Chicago, where she met up with Jerry and they enjoyed a couple of days exploring Bucktown and the lakefront. Oddly, neither of us had ever visited, and enjoyed the architectural bonanza. From there we went to rural Michigan for the woodland wedding of good friends. We also rediscovered an appreciation for the road trip culture of middle America: plate sized donuts and 50 kinds of fudge, anyone?
We returned to SF in mid-August and had about 10 days to finish preparing for our biggest adventure of the year: a month in Mongolia and China. It was a lifetime dream come true.
On the steppe
We flew into Beijing and overnighted at a traditional hutong hotel that Jerry miraculously found (April is still not sure how, as we were the only foreigners there — it was awesome in that “how did we end up here?!” kind of way). The following morning our epic journey began: we took the Trans-Siberian Railway to Ulaan Bataar. It was a magical, otherworldly 32 hour journey across the Gobi Desert and (what felt like) the backside of beyond. We had our own sleeper car, complete with faux mahogany panels and a samovar: straight out of a movie! (Well, almost.)
Halfway to UB, at the Chinese/Mongolian border, the train pulls into a huge work shed, they separate all the cars, jack them up high enough that a person can walk under them, and replace all the bogies (the wheel units) with bogies the right gauge (width) for the rest of the run. Needless to say, Jerry’s geek genes were aflame and he caught the exchange on video.
We arrived in UB and found our way to our lovely, enormous Airbnb (yes, it’s everywhere :)) flat in a neighborhood that we never would have stumbled upon otherwise. We spent a couple of days checking out the capital before embarking on the trip’s main event: a yurt-to-yurt trek on the Mongolian steppe.
We traveled by horse, camel and foot and saw spectacular scenery. Perhaps best of all, we stayed with nomadic families in their yurts (called gers in Mongolia) which gave us a true sense of their lives. We ate what they ate (from airag fermented mare’s milk to mutton, mutton and more mutton), saw extraordinary starscapes, hiked through terrain that reminded us of everywhere from Nevada to the African savannah, learned how to milk horses, and learned more about “the navel of the world” that has much to offer today’s civilization — we just need to wake up to it. Here are April’s pictures (yes, of course she did a yurt handstand!), and here are Jerry’s.
While in UB, we met a couple times with a YGL named Gan, who has big ideas for the future of Mongolia. It was a treat to do a mini mind meld with him, brainstorming ways that his vision might come to fruition.
Our last day in UB was gray, drizzly and cold: it was clear that winter was coming (indeed, within two weeks the temperature would drop from the mid-60s F when we were there, to below freezing). As we headed to the airport, we agreed that we’d love to come back, and that Mongolia is one of the few places left on this planet that may hold truths to sustainable management of common resources.
Arriving back in Beijing was a shock to the senses, but thankfully we made our way quickly to The Commune by the Great Wall and this year’s YGL summit. Both were truly extraordinary. April continues to find the YGL community as one of the best things that have ever happened to her, both professionally and personally. Jerry is now deeply connected with the community as well; he probably knows (and certainly has advised) more YGLs than April has! Between the two of us, we try to contribute as much as we can and make the most of the five official YGL years. We spent four magnificent days at the YGL summit, deep-diving into leadership and personal growth, and then went to Tianjin for the WEF summit where April spoke on the sharing economy, cities and the future of mobility.
One of the quickest (though probably not wise) ways to get over jetlag may be to hop on a plane again. April tested this hypothesis by getting on a plane 24 hours after returning from China: she went to Detroit to speak at Techonomy Cities. Another city she’d not visited before, it was fantastic to see what’s underway there — lofts that seemed lifted from Chelsea, amidst incredible mansions that are now derelict, and cranes everywhere. The Detroit Art Institute should be on every itinerary, and how it fared in bankruptcy is a tale in itself (and gives hope for the future of philanthropy).
From Motown, April had just enough days at home to do laundry, then was off to Tinseltown. It was a huge honor to speak at CityLab on the sharing economy and cities. People are starting to notice: the sharing economy can have a huge social impact (think triple bottom line, expanded), help us rethink the needs of cities, create livelihood opportunities that never existed before, and enable us to “do more with what we’ve got.” It’s an incredibly exciting, inspiring space to work in. (For more on the cities angle, here’s a piece April wrote for Wired.)
Whew, we made it to October… and our first anniversary!! We both marveled at how quickly this year has gone (and wondered, again, why it took us so long to get hitched). We celebrated over four days, retracing some steps and making some new ones.
April stayed put (the proverbial calm before the storm; keep reading) other than a brief trip to Eugene, Oregon for more cities + sharing economy stuff, while Jerry winged his way to NYC, where he gave a talk in front of a roomful of designers, helping them see the moral choices they were participating in daily without knowing it as choices they might make consciously to reduce world suck (not the language he used, but…). Here’s the talk:
The home stretch
Enter November and the final push… for both of us. We kicked off the month with a few days’ getaway to Sonoma (Jerry facilitating a meeting of the Consortium for Service Innovation, April tagging along) and then held our breath, as the next several weeks were a blur. We both went to Europe — four countries each, seven cities for April and five for Jerry — yet not a single day of overlap!
April left first, on a Euro-tour much like her earlier trans-Canadian speaking tour. Her first stop was Greece. She gave a sharing economy presentation in Athens and spent Thanksgiving in Crete (!), where she had an amazing time with the AnyRoad team in Chania (and would return in a heartbeat; what a special place!). From there it was onward to Rome, Milan and Dublin for a series of sharing economy workshops and presentations, especially focused on cities and policy-makers. She loves this kind of work and making inroads that truly “grow the pie:” it’s kind of like her early days of microfinance, yet in some ways even better! :) From Ireland she hopped down to London for meetings, and spent a slice of time in Yorkshire (also doing sharing economy advisory work) before heading home just in time to wrap some holiday gifts.
Jerry, meanwhile, covered the northern flank and probably would have seen Santa if he stayed a bit longer. The trip’s motive and first stop was a workshop on the future of work (a very common topic these days) in Helsinki. From there he took the ferry across to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, expecting to meet an entrepreneur that he and April are beginning to advise. At the last minute, she had to fly to — you guessed it — San Francisco, so instead jerry dined with her husband, daughter and mother-in-law, right by the Christmas Market in Old Town Tallinn :). It was Jerry’s first time in Finland or Estonia, with many reasons to return. In fact, while in Tallinn, he went to the local customs/police office and applied for a newly available e-residency.
From Estonia Jerry flew to The Netherlands, where he met with a large Dutch bank and a small online university, driving through much of the country in the process and ending up in a beautiful, completely livable ecovillage in Culemborg, an hour south of Amsterdam. In Helsinki, Tallinn and Culemborg, Jerry stayed with Airbnb hosts, several of whom were memorable, particularly the last, a young “live-action painter” named DionV, who had decorated his flat in the most exuberant, warm, inspirational way. In an amusing contrast, the flat Jerry stayed in the next night, in Berlin, was straight out of an East German spy novel.
As we dive into 2015, we have more reason to be excited than probably ever before, and at the same time we have an even bigger yearning to achieve greater impact — both individually and together. We want to give greater clarity to our vision, and find more ways to collaborate as a couple (without becoming business partners, which we’re not up for yet).
April is leaning in ever more to the sharing economy, focusing on those opportunities with transformative potential and social impact — think cities, policy, travel and tourism, emerging markets and more. She’s also an advisor to awesome startups (yay!) and plans to do some angel investing in the new year. Jerry is set on “walking the walk and living REXily,” and we’re both keen to find more REXy places to travel and visit together. So far we’ve identified great people, interesting ideas and initiatives in Estonia, South Africa, Chile and England… and would love any other recommendations!
For now, we’ll ring in the new year in Portland and look forward to a trip down memory lane. We’ll return to Davos at the end of January — we’re beyond grateful to have this opportunity — and April will return to Switzerland again in March for the Engadin ski marathon with other YGLs. We’re booked for time in Berlin, Istanbul, Singapore and quite possibly a few months parked in another country… and we’re still looking for the perfect honeymoon spot. Then again, we kind of want to ride the honeymoon wave forever, so who’s in a rush?
As usual for the adventuresome, a retrospective on 2014 in Jerry’s Brain is here.
Beaming love and joy your way, grateful for our global community and “family of choice” and wishing you all a wonderful 2015!
April & Jerry