Onward


I took a planned staycation this week. For those unfamiliar with the term, a staycation is much like a vacation, except instead of leaving for some exotic destination, you stay put. I suppose you're supposed to do things you wouldn't normally do in your own town, like hit up touristy spots and eat a lot of food, but I've already done all that (far too much of the latter, in fact), so my staycation has been about stress-relief, introspection, and planning.

On Wednesday afternoon after a nearly full day (!) unplugged from the Internet, text messages, and emails, I saw a LinkedIn message notification. It began, "Hi Mason. Very sorry to hear the news..."

Uh, what?

Apparently I missed the part where my manager had been desperately trying to get a hold of me all day, going against his normal firm refrain of "Mason, stop checking work messages while on PTO!" An all-hands meeting had been announced for that afternoon. In that meeting, employees learned that the doors were closing, and that we'd be paid through the end of the day. Shortly after, the official Twitter account and the Nebula homepage announced it to the world.

I spent the rest of the day smiling in disbelief. Laughing, really. Right up until the end, every person in the organization (engineers and QA especially) was working hard to deliver for our customers. We were closing bugs, cutting RCs, doing release testing. These were the herculean efforts typical before a release. Looking at the day to day, nothing seemed particularly out of sorts.

I commend leadership for keeping a cool head right up until that breaking point. Certainly, advance notice would have been nice (and they might have waited until after April Fools Day), but I can only assume that they were hopeful that we'd find a way out, right to the last minute; that we'd nail this release, land that customer, grab some runway. That's the only logical guess I can give for why the end was so sudden.

Think about the faith required to make that gamble. Imagine believing so firmly in the abilities of your team that you'd be willing to stake your reputation (to both them and your customers) on their ability to deliver. Pretty incredible. And I got to see that faith every day.

I was only with Nebula for the last ten months of its four year journey. I left Amazon to join a crew of folks who I saw as incredibly talented, and more than a little bit crazy. While sitting in an interview, after I heard all that Nebula had done and what it yet planned to do, I believe the word "hubris" crossed my lips. I had seen what it meant to build a "scalable cloud" while at Amazon. I've seen the challenges involved in building and running high-availability services. And here was this tiny little company, the size of which was smaller than some teams for a single service at Amazon, trying to do it all, and more.

Hubris! That word typically has a negative connotation, but it's that (excessive) pride and confidence in people that makes startups fun to work at.

It's what makes you believe that you can change the world. And believing it the first step to doing it.