Holiday letter 2015!

ආයුබෝවන් (Sinhalese) ~ chào bạn (Vietnamese) ~ g’day (Aussie) ~ halo (Bahasa Indonesian) ~ hej (Danish) ~ halló (Icelandic) ~ ciao (Italian) ~ tere (Estonian) ~ 안녕하세요 (Korean) ~ sveiki (Latvian) ~ guten Tag (German) ~ labas (Lithuanian) ~ هتاف للترحيب (Arabic) ~ salut (French) ~ grüß Gott (Swiss) ~ yo dude (Portland) ~ hello (Singapore, Canada, the UK & US) & happy holidays to our friends, family and loved ones!

Every year, we seem to say “Wow, this year eclipsed all others. How did all that happen?” 2015 is no exception, but we think it’s really really true this year. :)

Here’s the TL;DR version:

    • Stumptown serendipity: Fell head over heels for Portland, Oregon. Bought a lovely little loft there. Roots still in San Francisco but we’re shifting our center of gravity a bit northward in 2016.
  • Lots of sharing: April’s speaking and advisory work has grown nicely, along with the sharing economy. Combine the two, and: she traveled to 17 countries this year — including five (5!) new passport stamps — and was on the road 36 out of 52 weeks. A few too many air miles, but lots of reasons to be grateful.
  • More Brain, more REX: You can find Jerry’s face in the App Store! It’s called Jerry’s Brain. He also started a project with an Australian insurance company to make the Relationship Economy real.
  • Finding our groove: We stretched ourselves a lot — on several occasions we’d look at each other and say, “What are we doing? But it feels right…” and, in retrospect, it was. We started doing co-advisory work opportunistically. Discovered we love it and do it well. Keen to do so more, and more intentionally. We are both represented by the same speaker’s bureau, which we absolutely love. We’re grooving and it feels great.

Now for the full version… returning to January 2015, which feels like at least a decade ago!

We arrived in Portland on New Year’s Eve 2014, and little did we know how it would transform the next year. Our first visit was a combination of memory lane (April had lived there briefly many years ago, in the immediate aftermath of her parents’ accident) and co-advisory work. We liked Portland. It felt good, open, quirky, super-outdoorsy, eminently walkable. It functions better than almost any other city we’ve been to. We left wanting to come back.

So we departed long enough for another trip to Davos, where April spoke in five different sessions. It was distinctly less “wow” than the first time, but we were doubly honored to attend again — and still pinch ourselves at the tremendous community that the World Economic Forum has opened up for us. YGL remains among our biggest sources of joy, friendships and inspiration ever. April stayed on in Switzerland a couple of days to ski, which was more humbling than anything else — though magical to be stuck in an Alpine hut nursing a cup of cocoa, wondering how telemarking seemed so easy as a child.

jerrys-appJust before leaving for Davos, TheBrain, the company that makes the mind-mapping tool Jerry’s been using now for 18 years, shipped an iOS app called Jerry’s Brain. (It works on iPhones and iPads, though it works best on the larger screens. It’s beautiful on an iPad.) He loves that the app has his face on it, which is a rare thing in the App Store, where all the icons are stylized or cartoony. It was even more fun roving the floors at Davos sharing Brainy context with journalists, diplomats, CEOs and other attendees.

Come February, we returned for a second time to Portland (again for work, though tacking on twice as much time to explore). It dumped rain but we loved it even more: community gardens, a truly progressive local government, and little delights like an entire parking lot converted into 42 food trucks (so much better use of space than cars!). April made some low-key queries about real estate. Then we left, April went to DC to lead a sharing economy workshop — the first ever by an international development bank, as far as we know, and a lovely blending of her entire career path. Jerry went to Tuscaloosa to give a talk about the future of media, journalism, PR and more for the University of Alabama.

At the end of the month, April left for her first bonanza trip of the year: first stop Berlin, for a keynote on the sharing economy and tourism, then to St. Moritz for her first-ever cross-country ski marathon (the Engadin) with 20 other YGLs — truly magical setting and a genuine sense of accomplishment!

From the Alps it was time for a long-awaited visit to Estonia. April is an advisor to Jobbatical (a platform that is as cool as it sounds — at the intersection of talent mobility, P2P technologies and the future of travel), which is based in Tallinn. She finally got to spend f2f time with the team, completed her Estonian e-residency application (Jerry had already found his way to the little state office to apply in 2014) and fell in love with the people and the city. It turns out that Rinne is also an Estonian last name, and it’s entirely possible that she has some Estonian blood along with Finnish. Time for 23andme! From Tallinn, April spent a week in Latvia and Lithuania — marveling at the Art Nouveau architectural wonders of Riga, exploring Trakai Castle near Vilnius, and jogging along rivers and semi-renovated industrial parks. The Baltics are so much more than what we read in history books!

A few days after touching down in San Francisco, we were back in Portland. April was invited by the University of Portland to do a sharing economy deep-dive, which included a fun evening with the Mayor. As usual, we stayed a few extra days — and this time April looked at some real estate, in a sort of “well, why not?” way.

It’s noApril Iceland intervieww early April, and we’re preparing for an upcoming trip to Iceland, where both of us spoke at the inaugural Point Zero conference. What an amazing trip. We loved Reykjavik, spending time with our dear friend Hrund, seeing an air-cooled data center mining Bitcoins and April getting interviewed by Iceland’s Charlie Rose, Thóra Arnórsdóttir.

 

Budir from the cold outside
Budir from the (cold) outside

We also took a few days to explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and stayed at the truly-unlike-anywhere-ever Hotel Budir — on a volcanic lava field and straight out of a Hitchcock movie. Wow!us in iceland!

 

We never anticipated that two days before leaving for Iceland, we would become owners of a gorgeous, small loft in a converted lumber warehouse in the Pearl District of Portland, a few short blocks from where April lived before. But we did. Life karma shined on us in a big way. More on that below…

From Reykjavik we flew back to Austin, Texas, for Jerry’s semi-annual REX meeting, where the group experienced the cool “gameshifting” facilitation process, dove into Relationship Economy issues and visited the bats that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge. They were, however, too bashful (or chilly) to make an appearance. From Austin, we headed back to SF for a few brief days before our summer adventures began…

The Endless Summer

We’ve become avid Airbnb travelers, and we often host others in our home in San Francisco when we’re away. Earlier in the spring, we received an offer to rent our place for the entire summer. We looked at our calendars, realized that we would be gone 70% of the summer anyway, and thought: “wait, isn’t this a great opportunity for us to travel a bit more? Let’s experiment!” So in early May, we said goodbye to our San Francisco digs for four months… and proceeded to have probably the most interesting, rewarding, and peripatetic summer of our lives. :)

Istanbul screen shotFirst we headed to Philadelphia for Jerry’s Wharton reunion and our first time exploring that city together. Next, Jerry headed to Istanbul to give a talk at the Sustainable Brands conference there, followed by a workshop in San Diego for the same organization at their main annual event. (Iceland and Istanbul were both on Jerry’s bucket list: check, check!) While in Istanbul, Jerry stayed in three parts of the city: Sultanahmet (the historic center), the modern downtown north of the Golden Horn and the Asian side across the Bosphorus — the part everyone seems to forget. The contrast was wonderful, as was the food (try menemen for breakfast).

Meanwhile, April headed to Toronto for work with Canadian sharing economy stakeholders. We both also became advisors to Trov, a startup that’s fundamentally rethinking risk management (and enabling potentially unparalleled growth of the sharing economy). And The Harry Walker Agency began representing us (individually) as speakers. The HWA team is extraordinary and our HWA relationships have been a true highlight of this year, both professionally and personally. Needless to say, our gratitude buckets were overflowing by now.

Moving into June, Jerry headed Down Under for the first time, for two weeks of getting acquainted with Suncorp, the 2nd-largest Australian insurance company, a connection that sprang from our relationship with Trov. On this trip Jerry learned about Suncorp’s excellent strategic innovation process (and team), and they got a feel for how his Relationship Economy ideas might affect Suncorp’s future. Those conversations turned into a consulting engagement that brought him back in October and will again in 2016.

Sydney is a beautiful city designed well around its magnificent harbor. On his second trip there, Jerry stayed in an Airbnb that was fortuitously located near a ferry stop. So instead of commuting downtown by rail, he enjoyed one of the world’s most beautiful commutes coming into Sydney’s downtown by boat for two weeks. That while exhausting the Southern Hemisphere’s supply of Post-Its working with the wonderful strategic innovation team at Suncorp.

While Jerry was in the southern hemisphere, April headed far north to Denmark (for work, though got a huge bonus in the form of a 5.5 hour, 17-course lunch at Noma!), then back to Los Angeles, then to Italy (including a visit to EXPO) and back to Estonia for more time with the Jobbatical team and to pick up her e-residency — all in three weeks. Midsummer in Tallinn is not to be missed.

2015 Family PortraitWe finally reunited in California towards the end of June. (We are in vehement agreement that while this year has been off-the-charts for travel, too much of it has not been together. We are fixing that for 2016.) We picked up our car and took a long-awaited road trip in segments: first to Salt Lake City for a family reunion, on to Aspen to visit April’s Italian sister Jessica who now lives there, and on to Denver to visit April’s older sister, brother-in-law and awesome nieces Ella and Amelia. We left Santiago (our car) in Denver for a couple weeks while we traveled elsewhere.

That brings us to the close of the first half of 2015. It was really neat. But we gotta say, it was mundane compared to the second half. Ready?

Old Faithful handstand
Handstand by Old Faithful

After a few days in Denver, April flew to Singapore and Jerry flew to Portland. April spent the next two weeks with the Singaporean government’s futures team — exploring how the sharing economy could affect the country’s economy, city-state and more — while Jerry closed on our little loft (wahoo!). April ducked to Bali for a several days of rice paddies and rose-petal massages (seriously!), then back to Denver, where we hopped in our trusty car once again and drove to Portland via Boulder (to visit dear YGL friend Sara), Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington state. Mandatory handstand at Old Faithful, charmed by Bozeman, inspired by the vastness of Big Sky Country, and who knew that Spokane had such lovely neighborhoods and a Japanese garden? We arrived in Portland with our eyes, hearts and minds open and happy and full of excitement for the coming days.

Lovejoy w Road SignWe spent all of August in Portland, living like monks (even today, an airbed and cardboard boxes pretty much sum up our furniture status there) and loving it, despite an unseasonable heat wave. Jerry would make daily discoveries about the city’s wonders, while April could take 15+ mile jogs through Forest Park from the back door. We have a running bet to think of anything we really need that’s not findable within 3 blocks (so far IKEA is lonely in this category).  The city government is in the midst of a 20-year planning strategy — something that we’ve only seen ambitious governments in Asia do, yet so crucially needed for long-term urban well-being — and our biggest challenge is probably not sounding too much like the tourist board. :)

We returned to SF at the end of August, and while it was nice to be back, it felt different. Jerry then headed East for a conference with telecom geeks that he’s attended often, then some time in New York City, including a talk at the very cool Civic Hall civic innovation space about his Brain (60-min. video here).

April's Sept-Oct 2015 travels - map copyShortly thereafter, April left on what turned out to be a 14-countries-in-14-weeks travel marathon, beginning in September and ending in mid-December. It started with speeches in Colorado and Milwaukee, then off to Seoul for the annual SmartCloud conference. She had a chance to meet with visionary Mayor Park Won Soon and many sharing economy entrepreneurs, as well as explore a traditional hanok village where she would have gladly moved in. Seoul’s Sharing City initiative is unparalleled in the world and a real inspiration for how cities worldwide can embrace the sharing economy in thoughtful, balanced ways.

From Seoul it was a quick pit-stop in Portland, then up to Vancouver for another sharing economy presentation, a pit-stop in San Francisco, and then departure for country/passport stamp #91: Sri Lanka! For many years this pear-shaped gem of an island had been on April’s travel wish list, but three decades of warfare had thwarted any plans of a quick hop-over from India. This time, she was invited by local tourism stakeholders to give an introduction on the sharing economy and what it means for sustainable tourism. After work was done in Colombo, she was then taken on a private “best-of” trip around the country. She rode shotgun in a six-seater plane across the island, and took her April Sri Lanka shotgun airplane!first sea plane trip, too. The (very bittersweet) silver lining of the civil war is that the country has pristine beaches, unspoilt monuments, and a culture of hospitality that is largely untarnished by mass tours. In other words, visit as soon as you can!


The next leg of the trip was one of our favorite shared memories of the year: we flew from opposite ends of the globe to Jakarta and spent the next week in Indonesia and

HCMC pano
Ho Chi Minh City skyline

Vietnam together. We had been brought in by a multinational company to help them with their bigger-picture innovation strategy, and this was a great opportunity to dive first-hand into the social enterprise ecosystems in these countries. We loved the work, were reminded of how much we like to travel together (and how well we do it :)). Our kind of business trip, including April doing a handstand at the Communist Party Palace HCMC scooter photoand getting a thumbs-up from the guards. Jerry took a couple of days at the end to explore Ho Chi Minh City further, including a moving visit to the War Remnants Museum (originally called the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes). There he saw the written constitution for a democratic Vietnam that Ho Chi Minh tried to present to several US Presidents, to no avail. (One of the HCMC banh mireasons the Vietnam War was completely avoidable.) All that added some gravity to the $1 banh mi he bought on the street afterward.

 

 

Jerry flew from Vietnam back to Sydney for a deep dive into the Relationship Economy with his Suncorp teammates (most of the core crew pictured on the right).

Jerry's Suncorp pals
Jerry’s Suncorp posse

They examined the “consumerization” of every sector of our society and the effects that has had on trust, society and more. They started an exploration of design from trust, and laid out plans for their work into 2016. They also consumed a great deal of coffee.

Sculpture on the beachThe end of Jerry’s Sydney time coincided with the marvelous Sculpture by the Sea exhibit, which starts at the famous Bondi Beach and heads south for 140 pieces of art, installed with love along the shore. Every city should aspire to an exhibit like this.


While Jerry was hanging with Aussies, April headed to the South Indian Ocean and a life bucket-list experience: a week in
The Maldives — an atoll of 1,200 islands, only a fraction of which are inhabited. Sri Lanka and The Maldives share the same visa, and her colleagues were all too happy to help arrange a trip. The Maldives gained fame for hosting their parliamentary session in a glass submarine a few years ago, to highlight the potential effects of climate change (the entire country will disappear). April’s experience was a bit more mainstream: a private water bungalow on stilts, encounters with incredible marine life, and — finally — she learned how to surf and do a handstand on a surfboard!

An extended summer in the tropics came to an end as April left the atoll and flew to London, where autumn had definitely arrived. She spent a week there, for CityLab (one of her all-time favorite conferences) and other meetings. Then back to San Francisco for a few days, then back to Toronto for more work with policymakers, then to Palm Springs for a keynote to credit unions (unsung heroes of the way finance should work), and ultimately back to Portland long enough to do laundry and be smitten with Stumptown all over again.

April - map of NovDec2015A few days later, April was on her way to Paris where she gave a keynote at Airbnb Open, Airbnb’s annual host gathering. It was a phenomenal experience with 6,000 hosts from 110 countries — and huge honor to speak there — all of which was tragically cut short by the terrorist attacks. Thankfully April was not harmed (nor amazingly was anyone affiliated with Open), though she was uncomfortably close to the action. It’s hard to put feelings into words for times like this; Paris will always be the City of Lights, but unfortunately it will never be the same.

Leaving Paris with the entire French National Guard on duty, April made her way to meet Jerry in New York City, where he had gone to attend two nearly opposite events. The first, with the unlikely title Platform Cooperativism, explored the dark side of software platforms that are “eating the world.” The second, run by a hedge fund manager friend, sought opportunities in the current wave of change. We spent a fun few days in NYC, especially with the HWA team and planning for the future. We also enjoyed reconnecting with our dear YGL friends Valerie and Max and took our first jog along the East River Promenade. From there, we finally landed back in Portland together… only briefly, but we’ll take what we can get.

A few days later, April was off for her final extended trip of the year, while Jerry set to getting things ready for our Portland 2016, part of which involves renting out our SF place.

April’s first whistle stop was Copenhagen, where she keynoted a conference on the sharing economy and cities. Copenhagen is such an inspiring city, even though the sunshine factor was 180 degrees different than her summer visit. From Denmark she hopped down to Italy, where she met with policymakers, tourism and sharing economy stakeholders in Rome and Florence. Then an unexpected stopover in Bergamo (to catch a flight) collided with serendipity: thanks to Airbnb, she ended up staying in a flat (with frescoes from the 1400s, no less) literally next door to family-of-choice members whom she has known for years!

morocco master storyteller at Volubilis
Master storyteller at Volubilis

Bergamo’s good karma was the perfect send-off for the trip’s final leg: a storytelling course in Morocco. April has wanted to learn about storytelling for her public speaking, as well as exploring her personal journey (and how to reach others with this message). This was a perfect opportunity to do so. She and ten other writers, artists and neat people spent 9 days with “master storytellers” in the souqs and cafes of Marrakech, Fez and Moulay Idriss (Morocco’s holy city — apparently six trips to Moulay Idriss equals one trip to Mecca). She also finally started to slow down work-wise; both happiness and exhaustion set in.

We reunited back in Portland, as Jerry drove a small U-Haul up with our bicycles, clothes and a few sentimental items. We gave each other a big hug and high fived, and then hopped on a plane to Colorado where we spent a fluffy white Christmas with family. Our awesome nieces Ella and Amelia are growing way too fast for either of us to admit, and we are grateful for every moment with them. We’ll be back in Portland to ring in the new year… and reflect on how our lives has transformed since New Year’s Eve last year! (As usual for the adventurous, here’s Jerry’s summary of the year, in his Brain.)

As we look towards 2016, we are filled with awe and contentment. If even 10% of this manifests next year, we will be on cloud nine. We know already that April will be in Singapore in January, Jerry will be in Australia in February, and we’ll both be in Cuba in April (business + bucket list = double happy!) and Japan in October. A big highlight will be a long-anticipated family trip to Ecuador with Allison, Stefan, Ella and Amelia in July, which we are now co-planning with our nieces (with unabashed wishes to help them become avid globetrotters too). We’re both focused on continuing to build our business portfolios and doing more strategic collaborations together. And last but not least, we can’t wait to spend as much time as possible in Portland: getting to know the city, its neighborhoods and people; sampling as much coffee and microbrews as we can; decorating our flat (creative design tips for small space are welcome!); and figuring out how best we can contribute to make it even awesomer.

We wish you peace, love, joy and a wonderful year ahead!

9 thoughts on “Holiday letter 2015!”

  1. Wow. I will never “complain” about my travel schedule again! Big, big smile to hear from you both. You are fascinating and an inspiration for all of the right reasons. A few points of intersection (e.g. credit unions, Latvia/Baltics, and food supply chain). As you know, Justin has relocated to New Orleans with his family. I think it’s all working for him. The Vitranos are splitting time between New Orleans and Boulder (heeded the call of the natural food industry and the mountains). It would be wonderful to have a proper catch up over microbrews and handstands! Ever grateful for our brief time together in Las Vegas. All the best into 2016 and wherever the road takes you.
    Robbie

  2. Dear April and Jerry,
    Again, and I know it gets tiresome to hear, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve thought of you this year. As always, it is great to hear from you with your annual epic travelogue. What really blew me away is that you went to Tallinn, the birthplace of my grandmother. I still have relatives there. Maybe we’re related? Your move to Portland is awesome. We will miss you. Know that we love you and wish we could travel as you do. But given our age, it isn’t likely. We will be taking a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest this May. After that, who knows. Much love. We ,it’s you.
    Ann and Bob

  3. April, Always knew you’d accomplish great things, but I never could have imagined anything like this! Wow, we only wish we were young enough to start over again. We travel, but your schedule and number of countries make us look bed-ridden! Gwyn & Gary

  4. April, did this b/4 but apparently it did’t go?
    Anyway, always knew you would accomplish great things, but WOW! This is incredible. We travel, but your schedule makes us look like babies in training.
    Soooo good to hear from you. We’d love to get together w/ you two, Allison, Stefan and kids. Stay in touch. We’re also due for another trip to LA where dtr. Gillian is and then up the coast to British Columbia. We like Portland a lot and can sure see why you’d want to spend time there. Gwyn and Gary

  5. April,

    Candy and I are astonished at the amount of ground you two can cover in 365 days. Not to mention the business opportunities, the networking, the speaking engagements, the consulting, the creativity and so forth. I do love Portland (have great friends in Eugene who are teachers, producers, actors, directors, artists and professors). And of course, they love Oregon. You two keep moving around, traveling, learning, teaching and we will live vicariously through you, WHEW.

    Love you,

    Bob & Candy

  6. April and Jerry,
    We too are impressed by your multiple travels; if 2016 brings you to Boston, we’d love to see you. We are glad to see that you returned to (what must have been) Bergamo’s via Porta Dipinta, as well as so much time in other exotic locales. We had hoped to see you in San Francisco in 2016-17 when we will be at Stanford for a sabbatical, but we have cousins and friends in Portland, too, so your presence there (if we are lucky enough to catch you there) will be an additional reason to visit the Pacific Northwest.
    best wishes for 2016, and keep up those handstands!

    Chris, Laura, Margaret, and Peter

  7. Dear April! Dear Jerry!
    To study your letter is not only fun, but also inspiration and I got some very exiting start ups and companies, which are worth to follow. I really admire your constitution: How do your bodies take your journies!
    Next time you are close to Vienna and in Europe, please let me know – it would be great to see you again. I continue to recomend both of you as speakers, maybe this is a possibility to get you to Vienna!
    A happy new year and thank you so much for sharing!
    Yours
    Werner

  8. Wonderful, as always! And you don’t look a day older than last year (when I could have said the same about the year before that, etc…ad infinitum). Portland is great – there used to be a fantastic bookstore but maybe it’s gone the way of a lot of nice bookstores…hope not.

    We did a tiny version of your globetrotting, with a three-month sabbatical in Berkeley, which we all LOVED, then Maui, with great surfing and swimming, followed by Honolulu, Seattle, Copenhagen, and southern Sweden (the Baltic is lovely lovely lovely). No doubt we’ll be back to the SF/Pacific NW once we’ve saved enough money for another sabbatical, so hope to see you there! Or in London, of course.

    xoJen, Richard and Meg

  9. April and Jerry

    Best wishes for 2016! Great to receive your holiday letter. Of course any move that brings you closer to the 49th parallel can only be a very good thing ;-)

    Looking forward to crossing paths this year,

    xo
    Tim & Berh

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