Will do, Traian!
Life feels a bit like a whirlwind for the Kleins right now. From running a fast-growing technology company, to my service as a Sierra College Trustee, to our work with the Ziway + Adami Tulu Project in Ethiopia, we are often in perpetual motion.
And then there are those times when life slows down and you think about momentous decisions. We recently made one of those.
Two years ago, we walked into a shelter for orphaned boys, ranging in age from 8 to 22.
It’s a painful place to visit, because you can feel the lack of hope within its gates. With very little funding, the staff care as best they can for this army of Peter Pans, but it is much more of a shelter than an orphanage. The aching question scrawled on the wall — “we don’t know why we came to the world” — still haunts me.
It was there, two years ago, that we met a little boy who we’ll call “T.” He was perhaps about nine years old and had recently arrived. His story is sad — he lost both of his parents, and was brought there by police — and we’ll leave the rest of the details out, because this is his story, not ours.
A year later, I returned to Ethiopia to visit the school project and visited the shelter yet again. We were specifically drawn to see T, connect with him again, and bring him the gift of a blanket made by the “Sewers and Rippers” group at our church, Auburn Grace.
T was doing well then. He has the most incredible smile. I showed him the photos of meeting him the year before, and he smiled all the wider. We took a few pictures together before I hugged him goodbye.
Ten months have passed since that time, and we have been quietly working to see if T was eligible for adoption ever since. Everything went silent this past March, and we had assumed the answer was no. And then, this past weekend, his paperwork arrived.
So that’s the momentous decision we made. If all goes well, T will become the newest part of our crazy and wild Korean-Ethiopian-American family in the second half of 2015.
We made this decision not because we are “good people.” We made it because, all of a sudden, our family felt like it had a T-sized hole in it. Children are made to grow up with their parents, and it’s a tragedy when that can’t happen. We feel confident that God made us to be his second parents.
It was a precious moment to share this news with our kids earlier this week. We thought long and hard about the issue of disrupting birth order, and all of the factors that would create.
Emma is very social but also very independent. She seemed quite delighted to have a new brother, and pinned his photo up over her bed. She does profess to be disappointed that he isn’t a girl, but such are the inconveniences of being a princess.
Spencer has a deep need for connection. To this day, he does not like to play alone or be alone, so we guessed correctly that having a brother to be his “buddy” would be a wonderful thing. He spent the evening beaming, but his initial response to the news was hilarious on so many levels.
First, he said “waaaait a minute…this means I won’t be the oldest.” And I said “yes, that’s true, but you will always be my first son, the one who made me a dad for the first time.”
Then he laughed and said “did Grammie tell you that I always wanted a brother?!?” And we had to laugh at that. No, Grammie didn’t twist our arm for you.
And then his third reaction: “waaaait a minute…does this mean he will get an iPhone before I do?” Yes, our iMessaging FaceTiming seven year old is already planning ahead to his first smartphone. :)
There will be a long process of paperwork and travel to bring T home, but it’s our hope that he will come home at age 12 and we will have a chance to invest in the last third of his childhood, and the rest of his life.
We can’t wait to see him again in October, when Cacey and I return to Ethiopia again.
Will do, Traian!
I do not fly 322 days of the year, but this is still one of my favorite movie scenes because I do this often enough. #UpInTheAir
Balaji Srinivasan recounted a powerful story on Twitter, reminding us why collectivism not only doesn’t work, but sentences people to the poverty of mediocrity.
1978: the farmers of Xiaogang gather in a mud hut to sign a secret contract. They thought it might get them executed. http://t.co/kjfCl7E7P7— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) June 18, 2014
Yen Jingchang: “Work hard, don’t work hard — everyone gets the same,” he says. “So people don’t want to work.”— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) June 18, 2014
"We all secretly competed," says Yen Jingchang. "Everyone wanted to produce more than the next person."— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) June 18, 2014
At the end of the season, they had an enormous harvest: more, Yen Hongchang says, than in the previous five years combined.— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) June 18, 2014
Same land, same tools, same people. Yet just by changing the economic rules — you get to keep some of what you grow — everything changed.— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) June 18, 2014
One of the very smart people we have in our industry is a friend by the name of Michael Kitces, an advisor, financial planner, blogger and speaker extraordinaire based out of the DC area.
Today, he tweeted one of his old blog posts about savings, which led to a great Twitter conversation that expanded to involve another very smart person, my pal Brian McLaughlin, who is CEO at Redtail Technology.
Michael boiled down his post to a tweet: “Controlling your long-term SPENDING is what matters. Savings is an outcome.”
And I have to say, even though I agree with Michael far more than I disagree with him, this was one of the times that I fundamentally disagreed.
To make my point, I’ll digress for a quick moment and zoom up to the 30,000 foot view of investing. Some of the smartest and best-intentioned folks in our industry tell average investors “stop thinking you’re smarter than the market! Quit watching CNBC! Quit making decisions to buy or sell based on what your statement says!”
Fundamentally, that advice is headed in the right direction. After all, if you invested at the worst possible time — the market high pre-2008 — and then capitulated and sold in early 2009 near the bottom, you lost half your money. Many, many people succumbed to fear and did just that.
On the other hand, if you invested at the worst possible time and simply did nothing as the greatest market crash since the 1930s happened, you’d be up 50% today — an annual return of 8.3%.
But here’s the problem. Human behavior does not lend itself to putting one’s head in the sand. We are wired to be alert to danger and take action to protect ourselves. In fact, the data shows that we are 2.5x more averse to losing what we already have than not gaining what we could have gained.
One of our core philosophies at Riskalyze is not to reject the reality of human behavior, but to empower advisors to help their clients thrive by harnessing human behavior. When you help a client capture their Risk Number, and build a portfolio they can stick with during normal downturns, they are far better prepared to trust their advisor when the big downturn comes.
Now, how does this apply to savings?
One of the best things we can do as humans is harness our natural tendencies to spend 100% of what we have. And we do that by playing a very simple trick on ourselves: hiding the money we need to save.
Do yourself a favor, jump into your online banking and set up a recurring transfer to savings that happens on the same day your paycheck deposits. You can make it for as little as $25. Wait for a couple of months and see if you actually notice that you have less money. Trust me: you won’t.
I do this transfer to my IRA, but you can use another savings account too. If you’re smart, you might even do it at another bank so you can’t even “see” the money in your online banking and it’s not quite as easy to transfer it right back.
When your next raise arrives, figure out the post-tax increase and steal a good chunk of it to boost your savings transfer. Or just set a reminder to escalate your transfer by $25 every month, and ease into it.
Either way, you’re tricking yourself into saving. Human behavior will drive you to splurge — a Starbucks here, an Uber there, an extra movie here or there. You will definitely continue to be likely to spend 100% of what you make. And yet, you’ll be accomplishing your savings goals at the same time!
Now, let me say: if you’re someone who struggles with spending 110% or 120% or 130% of what you make right now, you have a different problem. Making saving your first priority will not solve an overspending problem.
But these are two separate issues. You cannot solve an overspending problem by moving saving to the end of your priority list. You solve an overspending problem by choosing to live within your means. (More income can help, but chronic overspenders know it’s not a silver bullet).
Ultimately, that’s why I differ with my friend Michael and his idea that savings is an “outcome” of spending. Making savings the bottom part of the equation is the choice millions of Americans are making today and that’s why we have a low-to-negative savings rate at any given point.
Life is all about choices and priorities. Harness human behavior by saving first and spending 100% of what is left, and you’ll end up in far better shape than putting savings last in your financial equation.
I’ve been collecting business adages that most people think are true, but are actually patently false. “The customer is always right” and “don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution” are two of my favorites — they are just totally, completely wrong.
Another is “hire slow, fire fast.” It’s neither realistic nor correct for a tech company trying to take on the world. And we haven’t followed it.
The correct formulation for that adage might be “hire carefully, fire as soon as you know otherwise.”
Yesterday I tweeted that “there are many parts of my job that I love, but in truth, a few of them totally suck.” I know I’m usually a cheery optimist on Twitter, but it was truly how I felt at the end of a hard day when I had to use the second half of that adage.
I won’t share my diagnosis of the problem, largely because the person involved is a genuinely good person, with serious talents and a great career ahead of him. He will be a great asset to the right company.
But three things have to come together for a hire to work: it has to be a fit for that person, for that company, at that time.
When you figure out that’s not the case, I believe you owe it to your team and to that individual to move quickly and make a change. These things are not like fine wine — they do not improve with age.
On the one hand, if you let it ride and avoid the hard discussion, your team starts wondering if you’re blind. “Does he not see that this isn’t working? Or does he just not want to admit that he made a mistake?”
And on the other hand, it is far worse for that individual to get deeply invested and committed into a job that isn’t the right fit and they won’t thrive in. Especially when there is so much raw talent that you can see.
So when you know otherwise, that’s when it’s time to move quickly.
That was the source of my tough day. Not the end of the world. 96.1% of our hiring decisions have turned out right so far. We’re going to get some wrong, because we have to move fast even though we hire carefully.
And that means that I’ll have more days like yesterday. This is the price you have to pay for having the greatest job in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
In well run organizations, people can focus on their work (as opposed to politics and bureaucratic procedures) and have confidence that if they get their work done, good things will happen both for the company and for them personally.
By contrast, in a poorly run organization, people spend much of their time fighting organizational boundaries and broken processes.
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things
There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.
Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.
You’re thinking about that gift you need to give to your child’s teacher. Or that family member. Or your dad who has everything.
Here’s an opportunity to give them a gift of meaning that will make them smile…guaranteed.
For every $20 you donate in their honor to our school project in Ethiopia, we’ll send you this beautiful hand-crafted card that you can give them to let them know that a child in Ethiopia received the gift of education in their name.
And remember…100% of your donation goes to the field. Not a penny is held back for US administrators.
It’s been a few weeks since I returned from Ethiopia, and I know many of you have been wondering about the next phase of growth for our school project there.
Today, we’re excited to launch the fundraising for that next phase of expansion. These three school campuses have grown to 970 students. We have the Ziway schools built out to Eighth Grade, and the Adami Tulu school built out to Fourth Grade.
Our vision for these schools is to build a transformation factory that can produce 140 new leaders every year — business leaders, political leaders, government leaders, spiritual leaders and family leaders — who can transform Ethiopia and Africa from the inside out. Because that transformation will never occur via foreign aid to governments. It will happen when people are equipped to change their own country.
So the next step is Ziway High School. After all, the Class of 2017 is just a few years away!
We have preliminary estimates for the high school construction, which includes classrooms, labs for chemistry, biology, physics and computer science, a library, athletic fields, cafeteria, faculty offices and the necessary safety fences around the facility. All told, the Ziway High School should cost $745,000 or less to secure the land, build the buildings and equip them for instruction.
That’s right — an entire high school for $745,000. It takes tens of millions to do something like that here in the US!
It’s entirely possible that number might shrink as we go. In fact, during our last construction project, which many of you were so generous to donate to, we ended up deciding not to build the building for staff housing and administrative offices. It turned out we didn’t need it, so we saved that cost instead.
So the exciting news is that we get to apply that extra $100,000 to the high school project. In addition, other donors connected with the on-ground administrators have already stepped up to cover $150,000. So that leaves our team with a fundraising goal of $495,000.
Our goal between now and December 31 is to raise $250,000 of that. That will allow us to begin breaking ground as soon as January or February. Next year, we’ll work to raise the other half, which probably needs to be concluded by the end of 2014.
Plan “A” is to open a small part of the high school in Fall 2014 just to house our first class of ninth graders. (Don’t worry, we have a Plan B, C, D and so on.) It will take about a year to construct the entire high school campus and we expect to open the campus more broadly to ninth and tenth graders in the Fall of 2015.
When I look in the faces of these smiling future leaders, I’m filled with hope for the future of a renewed and transformed Africa. Where governments serve their people. Where disease and poverty are the exception, not the rule. Where every child is a wanted child, and the orphanages are empty.
© 2013 Aaron Klein. All Rights Reserved. Contact Me