Slacklining Beyond "Success"

The unconventional path around the polished profile

What formative career experiences aren’t on your resume?

So often FB, LinkedIn, and the like, present a polished, sanitized version of ourself. But often its the messy bits, the pentagon shaped pegs that don’t fit in the square holes of implicit and explicit expectations, that stick with you the longest.

In 2013, I quit my stable, respectable job crunching financial numbers for public infrastructure and among many adventures, launched a slackline brand at Santa Monica’s startup weekend with two of my oldest friends from childhood.

Needless to say, we were the only physical product amongst a see of software companies and stood out in many ways. (My friends are well over six foot and were giant lineman when we played football.) We setup a demo line right outside the coworking space as the culmination of our pitch.

(Slides available here: — the pitch recording might be available somewhere on Youtube. I forget.) <Invention credit: Kinematic industries which now makes amazing bikes that you can see here: >

Being young, dumb and inpatient, we launched a hyper-ambitious $50k crowdfunding campaign after what I’d still say was a pretty solid pitch. (The immodest intro comparing slacklining in 2013 to yoga in 1947 or surfing in 1962 was pretty great. Not prescient nor exactly humble but I still stand by the fact that it was a one-of-a-kind pitch 😛)

That crowdfunding failed and we went on our ways. I went back east to study how data science could improve cities. But the lessons I learned about how to build a product and in particular getting my knowledge worker bubble burst always stuck with me. I’m hugely appreciative I had the chance to hack together Slak Trak’s in my friend’s garage.

Little things like “use the right tool for the job” seems simple but gets drilled into your head when you’re rapidly prototyping designs. The importance of “respecting but not fearing the tool” stick with you when the physical forces and machines involved can easily make you lose a finger in a moment. I fondly remember surfing the dawn patrol, working all day, slacklining late at night and sleeping in the weird side closet attached to my buddies garage. Rinse and repeat.

In my last job at California Forward, I participated in many, many conversations about building the workforce needed for the energy transition and climate adaption. Pretty much exclusively, all of the voices were college educated and much of the dialogue was very abstract. For example, the policy work groups would discuss the jobs needed to implement a “community climate adaptation master plan.” Many of those would be people like planners, analysts and other college (and beyond) educated types. Lots of MPAs.

What’s far too often missing in those discussions on workforce development are the doers, the folks that roll up their sleeves to install heat pumps or retrofit buildings with water / energy efficiency upgrades or otherwise actually build the critical infrastructure that we need to decarbonize and adapt to climate change.

That’s absolutely mission critical because there’s acute workforce shortages in those areas that are slowing down projects. Tackling that challenge will require not just more whitepapers and policy work groups but also knowledge workers like myself acknowledging what we don’t know.

There is a lot that you can only learn through experience. There’s an acute need for more listening and learning from technicians, operators and other skilled field workers about how we can train the next generation of doers who will actually build the infrastructure we need.

For a long time, as a bit of a perfectionist, I struggled with the failures of the Slak Trak. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate those life lessons more and more. Little things that really remind me of the following quote from the phantom tollbooth:

“It has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault."

"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

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