#btconf Berlin, Germany 11 - 12 Sep 2023

Josh Brewer

Designer, founder, investor, advisor, and occasional startup therapist – Josh is a design technologist turned entrepreneur and investor. He is an active Advisor and angel investor, working with companies like Highnote.fm, RunwayML, Flow Engineering, Balsa, and more. He was the cofounder and CEO of Abstract, the Executive Chairman of Awesome.ai, founder of the incubator Habitat Technologies, and Principal Designer at Twitter from 2010-2013. As well as co-authoring 52weeksofux.com with Joshua Porter, Josh Brewer has been a vocal advocate for Design Leadership, speaking about the challenges of building Design-led companies and products at scale.

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No One Else Can Walk Your Path

Ten years ago Josh took the stage at beyond tellerrand and took a big leap of faith, singing his entire talk to an improvised tune. That spontaneous act kicked off a decade of leaps into the unknown: deciding to leave Twitter, starting an incubator, spinning out two companies, becoming the CEO of a hyper-growth startup, selling the company, exploring the world of Venture Capital and Angel investing. All of this while raising a family and dealing with health illnesses, chronic stress, and starting therapy to work through trauma from his past. Throughout his journey, Josh has discovered some keys to living an authentic and present life, how to relate to identity, power, and fear, and the courage to walk your own path.


Hello, everyone.

All right.

Are you hot enough?


Too hot?




So, one rule during this talk.

Before we drink, you all have to say, woo.

So we're going to practice.


You ready?

Much better than I expected.

Thank you for that.

I wish I bought a warning.



Thank you all for being here at Beyond Tellerrand.

It is a real privilege to be back here with you all, with Mark.

I'm going to be really honest.

Haven't given a talk in a little while.

Turns out the pandemic kind of shut things like that down.

And there were a number of things in my life that kind of made it less desirable or easy to get up.

And so I super appreciate the energy and the attention because I can feel it.

And so with that, we're going to dive in and talk about no one else walking your path.

All right.

So as Mark alluded to, in 2013, I was invited to speak at Beyond Tellerrand in Dusseldorf.

And it was a two-day event, just like this one.

And I believe it was in the first day, another one of the speakers had a sizable amount of material that overlapped with what I was going to do.

It wasn't a big deal.

But then the end of the day came and the closing speaker was a gentleman named James Victoria.

You know, I hear what you're saying, you know, you're using your, you know, you're making things happen.

You know, what is that called?

You know, do it yourself, you know, he says, but I got rent to pay.

And I said, interesting.

What's your name?

He said, my name is Mark.

I said, Mark, here's your tombstone.

Here lies Mark.

He would have done great work, but he had to pay rent.

Fuck you and fuck your rent.

I'm not kidding.

When he said this, I felt everyone else in the room disappear.

And it was like James was talking directly to me, which was weird because I was the principal designer at Twitter at that time.

I had a great job.

We lived in San Francisco.

My wife and two kids were part of this adventure with me.

Things were overall pretty good, but something that James said in this, it resonated.

It hit me.

And I realized what he was calling out was this victim mentality.

This idea that I can't do whatever it is that I thought I wanted to do because of something, someone, something.

And it's them or they, the unknown forces that we can somehow just kind of put the responsibility on for our lives and our decisions.

And then James went on to say this.

Listen, you guys, if you're not hip and cool with your lives and your jobs and stuff, there's only one fucking person to blame.

And it's not your mom.

Ooh, all right.

Freud might disagree, but barring that, James was hitting it home.

And I'm not joking.

Aside from his love of the F word, he continued to drop just these pearls of wisdom.

But as I said, it was like, it was just James and I. And something about it was like calling me out, calling out the timidity, calling out the fear, honestly, really.

Like what it got down to was fear, fear of what other people are going to think, fear of not being accepted, fear of it causing greater ramifications.

And then your brain goes, or my brain goes down the road.

But what I took away from it was I'm responsible.

I'm the only person who's in charge of my life.

And I can either choose to step into that, or I can give that away to something else, someone else.

And there's something safe out of that.

It kind of like abdicate or abdicating that responsibility kind of feels safe, but it also ends up, I think, eating away at us over time.

Kind of a wake up call for me.

And so the way this all intersects is I went back to my room that night and was thinking, I've got to respond.

It was like James touched a nerve, and I'm like, okay, well, if that talk is too similar, maybe I should, maybe I should ditch my slides.

They were pretty good slides.

I'll admit, I spent a lot of time on them and I thought they helped the narrative pretty well.

And I was like, okay, what if I just chucked the whole thing and I just made something up?

It's not very fair to the audience or to the organizers or to myself.

I thought, oh, maybe I'll sing it, which is ludicrous to have that thought, stand up in front of 450 strangers and sing the talk that you wrote.

Kind of weird.

The funny part was it was like something started chewing at me.

And what ended up happening is the next day I said to Mark, my ego jumped up and it was like, go ask for a guitar.

He's never going to get you one, but at least you were brave enough to go ask Mark for a guitar.

And I was like, hey, so you know how Megan's talk and mine kind of, they overlapped a little bit, but I'm thinking like I've got another way to maybe deliver it.

And he's like, okay.

And I said, can you get me a guitar?

Face gets quizzical.

I don't know.

I don't know.

Let me see.

Mark being Mark, right before lunch or right as we were going to lunch, and I was on after that, comes and taps me on the shoulder.

Follow me.

We go across the courtyard to an apartment complex where it turns out one of his friends happened to live who had an acoustic electric guitar.

And so what happened was I stood on this stage, Toby can attest, not this stage, a stage, and Toby was there watching me real quickly try to figure out what's the refrain I'm going to sing.

How in the hell am I going to do this?

Is this chord progression any good?

Am I going to lose my job over this?

You know, all these really awesome things.

The fun part was it went off.

It was wonderful.

It was a like absolute, I don't even know the words for it.

It was just an amazing, impromptu, in the moment risk.

And it paid off.

A lot of folks have said really kind things over the years.

And the reason I tell all of this is because it sets up the next 10 years of my life in a really profound way.

What nobody really knows is that I grew up in a very charismatic Christian environment that later in life I discovered was actually a cult.

And that's not something you want to tell a group of strangers most of the time.

It's also not the point of the talk.

I'm going to have to probably do a completely other thing on that.

But it intersects in that I spent a lot of my life playing a guitar, singing to a lot of people, often making things up in the moment on the fly.

So this was actually the most authentic thing I could have possibly done.

But you see, when I moved to San Francisco and had this realization that I had grown up in a cult, Church Josh needed to die, which meant I buried, suppressed, repressed, poured concrete on top of this whole chunk of who I was and what I had done in my life.

This was some part of that, which I still consider to be the like me piece of all that was poking its way through the surface of that concrete I had poured.

And it really came down to this, be willing to be foolish.

It's funny when I look back, I think if I'm proud of anything in that moment, it wasn't how it went.

It was that I was willing to be totally foolish in front of a group of people and trust that my risk would be received, even if it ended up not being great.

And there's something in that that it hit me when I was preparing for this talk.

It made me want to just say, I said yes to Mark to come talk to you guys because at the core of everything, I just want to tell you that you guys are awesome, that you're loved, that you're worthy, that whatever is going on in your life, you actually have more power than you realize.

And that I could just get off the stage at that, you know, right now, because that's the point.

That's the whole point.

It worked way better than I thought.

So I ended up writing an article on The Plain Home called To Hell With Fear, talked a lot about what went on for me in the process of this whole thing.

What I came to understand was that fear is always trying to tell us something.

And for me, I kind of uncovered that it was this reaction to something you believe to be true.

The sad part is belief is a lot different than knowledge.

And so our fear often can, if we look at it, it'll reveal some underlying belief, some unconscious program, something that you might not even be aware that you're thinking, but that belief is what the fear is all based on.

And so I've learned through a lot of different opportunities to practice this, that examining those things, looking at why am I afraid?

What is it trying to show me?

Instead of being caught up and identified with that fear was really the greatest way to start, you know, for lack of a better term, just like letting go, letting go of all the identity and all of the things that I'd built until this point.

Shortly after that, I went back to the United States and put in my notice.

I was the principal designer at Twitter.

I had a great job, but I was like eaten up by this idea that I had to go build something.

I had to go do something on my own.

It's weird when I look back, kind of the church structure and like how you move up in it is very weirdly similar to startup culture and how you move up in it.

And you just realize they're like power dynamics and very clear hierarchical structures.

And I didn't want to replicate that.

I didn't want to do the same thing.

I wanted to bring designers and developers together, give them space, but give them some constraints, you know, just the right amount to kind of push that productivity.

You know what the hardest part was?

That I had to come to grips with the fact that this was so deeply woven into my identity at this point.

This opened doors for me that I'm still grateful for to this day.

I met people because of this email address.

I helped solve problems because of this email address.

And leaving it meant I had to be okay with not being this anymore.

And there's this awesome quote.

It says, when we're thinking that we're competent or that we're hopeless, what are we basing it on?

Are we basing it on the thing that just happened?

Are we basing it on some story we might be telling ourselves?

We cling to this fixed idea of who we are and it cripples us.

And when I read this, it took me back to that moment of putting in the resignation, moving on and really coming to grips with letting go of a big chunk of identity.

And so, I want to remind all of us, our identities are not fixed.

They are absolutely within our control and they are a part of, I think, the process that we're all on.

So fast forward, I go, I try to start this thing.

It was called Dent.

It's like make a dent in the universe.

Great group of people that I initially was trying to recruit in.

Didn't quite work the way that I wanted at first.

Next thing you know, I've put it to bed.

It's not working.

And I'm wandering around the hills of San Francisco asking myself, what have I done?

Starting to panic.

I have a family to support.

I left.

I told the world I was going to go do something, which this is ludicrous.

I'm going to be really vulnerable for a hot second.

I literally was thinking about a tweet that I sent when I quit saying that I was going to start something new.

And I was walking around with this obligation to this vast unknown group of humans about this thing I said I was going to do.

Now in that is two really interesting things.

One, that was actually as much to myself as it was to anyone else.

So there was part of me that was like, I have to be authentic to what I said and do what I said.

So that was the challenge.

The other side was that like the fact that I cared what a bunch of people on Twitter thought about whether I did or didn't do that was ludicrous.

And that that would occupy my brain space and actually affect my decision making was terrifying to me.

And so I found this amazing quote.

We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, who we think we want to be, who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be.

We give it up and we just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are.

And I love the idea of looking at it with compassion and humor because otherwise I think it can get a little dark sometimes.

But when you just look at it and you let go of all this other stuff, you're like, oh, that's me.


And that honesty and that like willingness to look at who we are, I think is a big piece of what my journey ended up really driving home for me.

So this is not a guy that I would have ever hung out with when I was younger.

But I started doing yoga.

My wife bought these amazing pants that normally I would have been like hard thumbs down.

But instead I was like, fuck it.


What is the worst that's going to happen?

Someone makes fun of my pants.


And it was just like this shedding.

And I, you know, we had little kids at the time and sorry, let me go back to the little kids at the time.

So this is their blanket that we would eat dinner on sometimes.

Like, and it was just this like moment with the kids of, okay, I'm just going to try not to be something and just be with them.

This all coincides with the first investor I ever talked to about the idea asking me to do some consulting work.

His name is Michael Polanski.

He's a very dear friend of mine.

And he asked, why didn't you start the incubator?

I said, oh, this reason, that reason, yada, yada.

He's like, dude, you absolutely should do it.

Whether or not you end up building the next great internet product or not, what I know is you will attract great people.

And good talent is an asset.

I will write you the check.

And Habitat was born.

It was me, two other people at the very beginning.

We got up to about 12.

We built, I don't know, eight or nine different things.

The first few of them were ideas of mine that I ended up killing off, which that was another lesson.

It's not to be precious and like apply the same kind of rigor to your own ideas as you would to anyone else's.

But one of the companies that we spun out was called Awesome.

And Awesome was one of the first early Slack bots.

And actually, Slack was one of our investors.

Way too far ahead of its time, we were trying to do conversational summaries and a lot of stuff that AI finally, literally in the last year, is able to do.

So it was a good run, but it ended up shutting down.

And the other company that spun out that I ended up becoming the CEO, it was called Abstract.

For those of you that don't know, it was version control software.

So kind of like helping teams manage all the work around the work and actually be able to collaborate together.

Because at this time, Figma barely worked at all.

And Sketch reigned supreme.

And no one could open files at the same time.

So we saw a real opportunity.

And as a result, we had an amazing ride.

Right around this time, we bought a cabin in the mountains, which was wild.

It was three hours away from San Francisco.

But I put this in here because this moment was critical, I think, in my long-term growth and in how I've ended up where I am today.

The cabin was out in the woods.

There was tons and tons of trees everywhere.

This giant sequoia park about 10 minutes away from our cabin.

And you can see my little family at this time.

These guys are much bigger now.

But this was an anchoring for me while all of this other stuff was going on.

At the same time I started abstract, I started therapy.

Turns out if you've got a lot of trauma from your childhood that you haven't acknowledged or processed, it tends to build up.

And you're wondering, why am I angry?

My wife is amazing.

My kids are great.

Like I have a pretty good life.

What is going on?

Your partner may also be wondering, what is going on?

Thank you.

A lot of numbing.

Something that we like to call the shame spiral.

I love this GIF.

Sorry about that.

I'll turn off the GIF real quick.

Shame spiral.

This was, I lost it.

Hang on.

First coined by Gershon Kaufman and then popularized by Brene Brown.

And when I read the like stages of this, I was like, oh, my God, I feel seen.

And really depressed at the same time.


So an event triggers feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, or inadequacy.

I'm sure y'all are not even familiar with these things.

So I'll go on.

Feelings like you can't do anything right or you're a failure.

Thoughts that everyone is judging you, upset with you, or dislikes you.

Gathering evidence, this is a great stage.

Gathering evidence that all of your thoughts are true.

Building a case for why I'm a failure, 101.

The urge to quit, isolate, withdraw, run away.

These are all wonderful coping strategies that I was pretty decent at.

And then anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.



What do we do about this?

When we live in an environment where, and I'm gonna read you a little quote, where you should make your job difficult, stretch yourself thin, stress yourself out, and eventually you too will be honored with executive approval.

If you desire the blessing of the mighty corporate fathers, work longer hours than is sensible, take on more responsibility than you probably should.

Make your job harder than it should be.

Do this and your sacrifice will be celebrated and your worth confirmed.

This seduction plays out in this old illusion that if we just work hard enough, if we work long enough, we will finally be found valuable, finally lovable, and find security.

This is from Gordon McKenzie who wrote a phenomenal book that I recommend called, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, best title.

I read that and it was like all of my life got this spotlight like this one just right on it.

And it was like, wow, how many of these things were you doing for you or were you doing because you were looking for approval for someone else?

You were looking for someone else to confirm your worthiness, your validity for, I don't know, even existing.

And I did not like that.

I didn't like that at all.

It didn't sit right with me.

And in the midst of starting a company, this was important to read because it set a foundation for how I and my co-founders wanted to build the company that we built.

The other thing that came out in therapy was like, oh, it turns out I have like a real strong system that was designed for external validation.

Again, going back to my background in my childhood.

And I understood this in the most profound way when I did this exercise from a book called The Crossroads of Should and Must by L. Luna, highly recommend it.

You get another chair.

I think she actually calls it the empty chair exercise.

You get two chairs, sit in one, and you talk to yourself in the other chair.

And my exercise was all about the shoulds.

You should be good.

You should do what you're told.

You should keep your mouth shut and go along.

You should, because if you don't, you're going to be alone, rejected, not good enough, not worthy.

You should be someone better.

You should be smarter than this.

You should have figured it all out by now.

The fuck?

You should be a better husband.

You should be a better dad.

You should have more control.

You should be wealthier by now.

You should be blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And every one of those was an external validation based on what someone else thought of me.

But I had made it a should have.

Just unrealistic expectations for myself.

And so, you know, the ego in there just like pushing, come on, harder, harder, more, you know, like there's never enough is what I finally discovered, which leads beautifully into this idea of perfection.

And I was really thankful.

We talked a lot about this, my therapist and I. And he said, Josh, I don't want to call you a perfectionist.

Mostly because I don't like labeling people, but also because I think you just have perfectionist tendencies.

And I was like, ooh, I like that.


Occasionally, I want perfection.

The reality was it was not occasionally.

It was hardwired in.

And it made me think about us as humans.

And I kept asking myself, what does a perfect human look like?

I don't know.

I look at a whole room full of perfect humans from where I'm standing.

But we get this weird story, this narrative.

And I really think it's used to honest, if I'm being really honest, to kind of manipulate and steer us as people.

Because we want to strive, we want to achieve.

And we're really just looking for that thing that says like, oh my God, I'm okay.

I belong.

And I look at a room like this.

And I'm thinking to myself, all of these people came from all over the place to be here together.

Common energy, common desire.

I know common industries, all those things.

But like, we're really here looking for belonging.

And so perfection, the Latin means to finish or whole and complete.

And ever since I read this, I have had a totally different perspective on what perfect means.

It's just right now.

It can't be anything other than what it is.

I'm standing on the stage.

You're sitting in these chairs.

I'm saying these words.

You're listening.

We can't make it be anything other than what it is.

It's perfect.

Isn't that fucking cool?

And it's subtle little shifts like that, that for me have made the difference in navigating the world that we increasingly find ourselves in.

I have to go way faster.

So we're going to start moving through a few things.


This is a big one for me.

Don't like failing.

Based on a way that I framed it.

And then I found this quote from Pablo Picasso.

I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I might learn how to do it.

And I thought to myself, that's my whole life.

For better or for worse, I learn really well by doing.

And that means throwing yourself in the deep end, not knowing what the fuck you're doing, hoping nobody else notices just how much you don't know and gives you a little bit of room to maybe figure the next step out.

But it's how we learn.

It's how we grow.

It's how we process.

It's how all life has emerged, is learning from these moments that we call failure.

I started referring to some of these as pre-epiphany moments.

I thought that was pretty good.

It was like, oh, because it presupposes I'm going to have that breakthrough.

I'm going to have the idea.

I'm going to know what I need to do.

I'm going to figure it out.

I'm not there yet.

That was a powerful one.

So moving forward, 2016, we start building abstract.

Timelines are hilarious.

We did not meet any of those, but it still went really well.

Fast forward, it's April, 2016.

I go to lunch with one of my colleagues.

We both get food poisoning.

He's back to work the next day.

I'm on the couch for a week, unable to eat anything.

I lost 15 kilos.

Just super unwell.

No idea why.

Every doctor was like, eh?

If you guys have ever seen a show called House MD, there was one appointment I had where my doctor said, hey, can I invite these other guys?

They want to see this.

I was like, hell no.

I am not a house episode.


So you know what ended up happening?

I started over.

I cut everything out.

I cut out alcohol, caffeine, sugar, gluten, dairy, fun, all of it.

Out the door.

I started meditating every single morning.

I started walking to work instead of biking in San Francisco, which nearly got me killed a couple times.

I started eating better.

I was meditating at our cabin.

Again, thank you, cabin.

And through this practice, my therapist helped me understand that this was basically how I lived all the time.

That kerning is very much intentional.

Because what I needed was this in all of my being, not just in my brain, not just in my conversations, but in how I was operating in the world.

I needed to give myself a little bit of room.

And so I read this quote at the time, stress is not caused by what happens to us.

It's caused by the stories we tell ourselves about what happens to us.

And I had some really not awesome stories about dying and about why it was happening and all these things.

And a good friend of mine named Jeff Brown sat me down one day and he showed me this coin that he had that said, memento mori on it.

And I didn't really, I'd heard it before, but didn't get it.

In Latin, it means, remember, you will die.

Which being sick and like having lost all the weight and wondering what the hell's going on was not the most awesome thing.

Until he started explaining, that's, remember, that's going to happen.

So like be here right now.

What are you doing?

Are you like passively drifting or like, are you the one driving?

Are you in control?

Abstract goes on.

We raise a series A, we launch, it goes crazy.

We make a lot of money really fast.

People want to give us more money.

Team starts growing.

We get the opportunity to do things like this.

You're a designer.

You know what it's like.

The presentation is in two minutes.

Antonio, where are your final designs?

Flex talk, final SFV, final final.

Final final without icons?

Is that the one?

Wait, no, this looks like the version Darren was just working on.

Wait, Darren, you were working on the final design file.

Why were you doing that?

Which one were you editing?

Because this one has icons now.

I was making edits on it.

Darren, you said that you were going to pass it off to Antonio, who's going to give it to Ari before the final review.

Yeah, DS stands for Darren's stuff.

Got it.

Darren, what is...

So, it was awesome.

Thank you guys.

Getting to make things like that with a team, it was just, I mean, honestly, it was exceptional.

I look back on it now and I'm just so grateful for the team and for having had the opportunity to do that.

Values at Abstract was a thing that we took really seriously and we spent a lot of time thinking about it.

This little animation is one of the best explanations I've ever found for what we were trying to do.

We were trying to help the whole company understand that no one has the whole picture.

Not even me.

I don't have the picture.

You don't have it.

But together, we see all of these different perspectives.

Someone coming from the customer's perspective, someone's coming from engineering, bringing all these views together.

And then beyond the actual work itself, how we interacted, how we communicated, the things that we valued.

And so, the leadership team, we did this awesome offsite and like, look at some of these things that we were writing down.

We have Tom, which is not an acronym.

It's an actual person.

This was Tom Moore, who was our first engineer at Abstract and really kind of embodied a lot of what we meant when we talked about our values.

This was something that was really core to what we were doing.

And this quote from Pema Chodron hammered it home for me.

Training with kindness results in someone who is flexible, confident, and doesn't become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure.

And the last time I checked, that's literally startups.

Everything is unpredictable.

Everything is insecure.

And how you manage that ambiguity determines your success in a lot of ways.

And so, we came up with these values.

Kind humans, willing and curious, working together deliberately to earn the love of our customers.

This was the core of how we operated, how we built the company that we built, and something that today I'm still super proud of because in this is a big chunk of my heart, big chunk of my co-founder Kevin's heart, so many of the early team there.

This is like, this was the DNA.

This wasn't hard.

This wasn't manufactured.

This was actually us.

And one of the things I said all the time was the only failure is a failure to learn.

We are going to make mistakes, period.

There's no way around it.

The only failure is if we don't learn from it and we can't grow and adapt.

Another thing that we learned because we're kind humans, we had to kind of get explicit about what we mean.

And what we meant was clarity is kindness.

Clarity in my language, clarity in my intention, clarity in the questions I'm asking.

Another one was that it's never too late to take responsibility.

Maybe you should have taken responsibility for something sooner.

Maybe there was a mistake and it was your fault and you knew it.


Owning it at any point is absolutely acceptable and actually repairs and builds trust in a deep, deep way.

And honestly, this was like my mantra at the end of every All Hands we did was just please be kind to yourself, which it turns out my childhood was more affected by this.

Be excellent to each other.

Party on, dude.

Oh, that could have been better.

All right.

So I have to admit, be excellent to each other was like the unspoken motto at our company.

What it really led to, though, was this idea of resilience and how we could build a team and build an organization that was resilient, that would plan for breakage, would plan for problems and disagreements and would have a way to be able to absorb it and transmute it really into something productive.

And it took me a while to understand where this came from for me.

So childhood, Bill and Ted, the other half of that equation is this is me doing a big fat melancholy over a huge gap when I was about 15.

I spent my childhood skateboarding.

And if there's anything that illustrates resilience, it's skateboarding.

Over and over and over.

You could call this failure.

You could call them mistakes.

But every single time they're learning something, their body is making subtle adjustments.

And eventually the right combination comes together and you land that trick.

So you look at someone like this amazing young lady from Brazil.

I think if I remember right, she was maybe eight or nine in this video.

Just absolutely killing it.

Even if you don't know anything about skateboarding, watching this should just blow your mind.

She's just phenomenal.

Rocking it in that butterfly dress.

I was like, yes, it's everything.

This is her this last year winning the gold at the X Games.

Like huge.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.

She's not.

She knew what she wanted to do.

She probably knew that like deep down she was born to do that.

And she was going to push herself every day to get a little bit better, a little bit better.

This transitions to something for me that was really powerful in the middle of this whole journey with abstract and all the stuff that was going on.

Companies growing.

We have a remote team.

We have international business.

Music had more or less died for me.

Like the singing at Beyond Teller on 10 years ago was like the only little moment of music since I left my former life.

And all of a sudden little drum beats would pop into my head.

Little bass lines would start running around.

And I thought, oh my God, is it back?

Because it felt like it was dead or gone for a long time.

And this became me alone in the garage.

Maybe I subconsciously was channeling Toby here, but I would just play some of my own things.

I would grab some lubes.

I would just start making music.

And honestly, it took me a long time to realize I was just making it for me.

I was making it so I could hear it and I could respond to it.

I was writing lyrics again for the first time in a long time.

And as I've gone back and read some of these, I'm like, oh my God, I was writing to myself.

This is kind of awesome.

So we raised a really big series C.

The company is about 10 million in revenue every year, 120 people, just huge.

And then Figma happens and basically reset the entire market.

One of my investors said, I've never seen a market shift faster in my entire career as an investor.

And I was like, awesome.


So there was a transition and it was a big one because if I was going to go back and start figuring out what the next thing we were going to build was, I needed someone who could help operate the company.

I brought in an amazing woman named Kelly Watkins.

She took over as CEO.

We kind of restructured the company a little bit and we ended up building a new product.

It was called Notebooks.

Notebooks was effectively like the spiritual successor to the original abstract in that it wasn't traditional version control, but it was really one place to be able to track changes and decisions and understand, you know, why did we do X, Y, and Z and who approved it and giving stakeholders like actual insight into the type of work, the amount of it and all this stuff.

It was really great.

It was decently received when it came out, but it was a little late in the game for us.

At the same time, I also ended up doing a podcast, which was a privilege.

I've never gotten to do that before.

Learned a bunch of new skills, got to talk to some amazing people.

Unfortunately, health issues came up again.

I suddenly broke out with some really gnarly rashes all over my body.

This is just one section.

You don't need to see it anymore.

I would get a stye in my eye on a regular basis.

And I found out that I had a nice long list of stuff going on.

I had Lyme disease, Bartonella and Borrelia, which are also tick-borne co-infections, Epstein-Barr virus, SIBO.

And then later in the year, as if that wasn't enough, my thyroid went wild on me and I found out I had skin cancer.

So fuck 2021.

Oh, I'm sorry.

Down with 2021.

It was a hard year.

I'm kind of making light of it and I'm not going into the depth that it was, but suffice to say that it was...

Like if the first time I got sick in 2016, I had to confront my mortality, this was like for real deal.

And a level of like chronic illness that I'd never even considered or even allowed myself to consider.

And then on top of all of it, we were selling our company.

We had an acquirer that was interested.

We worked with them for a few months.

We were supposed to have the letter of intent.

And the day that they were supposed to deliver that, they were like, just kidding.



And our runway was already getting short enough.

We had been able to keep on a bunch of folks that we were really hoping to be able to continue working with.

We were really fortunate.

We had some connections at Adobe.

We ended up selling the company to...

Well, we sold the new product to Adobe with the team.

And then we sold the original version control business to another small company.

And for me, it was amazing that we actually sold the company, that we returned some of the money.

We got folks some really great jobs.

And for me, what ended up happening though was a lot of this.

And what I discovered is what Jim Carrey here had to say, which is your depression is effectively your body saying, fuck you.

I don't want to be this character anymore.

And for me, that meant designer Josh needs to die, which was not true.

But in that moment, I had so identified with being a designer and being a designer CEO and being the designer CEO of a design company, building design software for designers to design software.

And I was wrapped up in that madness.

This book, if I could, I would just give this to all of you.

One of the most profound things I've sat down and read, it's a small book.

It is the kindest, gentlest way I can imagine to really sit with things that might be going on in your life that you're having a hard time looking at.

You don't know how you're going to resolve.

It was amazing.

I had a getaway to my cabin and the silent retreat.

And one of the things that came away was I needed to tell myself I was doing a good job.

And then this one down here, what are you afraid of?

Instead of being dead honest with myself and writing down the things that I really at like the core of my being was afraid of, because this was the other insight that came to me was that there's nothing to fear because everything is just new information you can use to update your reality.

Hey, in this situation, you tend to be a little impatient.

That's not a like, oh my God, Josh is horrible.

But sometimes that's how I would read that.

What it really is, is like, oh, I need to do a little bit of work to understand why this specific scenario triggers something in me that's causing me to respond that way.

Again, I have power.

I have agency.

I'm able to choose how I respond, which led me to the understanding that no one else, oh, I already said that one, that no one else can walk your path.

Literally no one else can live the life that you're living.

You are the only person living that life and what a gift it is to the rest of us.

And the more we can, I think, embrace this and lean into it, I think the more we can find joy, the more we can find appreciation in our relationships, the more we can be there for one another, being vulnerable, being open, being willing and curious.

And real quickly, this idea of radical acceptance came from a book, Tara Brock, the way out of our cage begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives.

I'm not gonna lie, that took a while to really process and digest.

It means accepting all of it.

The bad, bad, see, even the fact that I label and judge it as bad, the stuff that I don't want to talk about, the stuff that I'm ashamed of or that I'm afraid of or whatever it is, that's me too.

And I'm here to tell you that this was kind of one of those pivotal moments and just like discovering what it's like to feel peaceful.

It was like, oh, I think I'm, I don't get it yet, but I think I'm starting to get it.

Holy cow, what is, the noise dies down, the pressure releases.

And you're like, yep, it's just this guy.

It's just me for better and for worse.

And man, I'm so thankful that all of you are listening, that all of you are giving your attention, that your care is directed to me.

And all I want to do is flip it around right back to you.

Because I had to write this on a sticky note and stick it on my monitor and stare at it every day for two years until I fucking believed it.

I am just as I am.

All of me is enough.

And that brings me to presence, which is this idea of actually being in the moment, being here, being present.

I spent a lot of my life below this line.

So this is presence and awareness.

This is unconscious or subconscious.

And I think a lot of us spend more of our life than we'd like to here.

But I keep finding that that radical acceptance piece, it pops me up here way more often than I would have imagined.

And it allows me to see where I'm operating out of unconscious or subconscious things.

It means I am responsible.

I'm able to respond.

I'm going to skip this one.

I'm going to do this.

This was me in November of last year with my wife and my sister.

And this was a picture that my wife took of me.

And I'm not kidding.

The first time I looked at myself and was like, holy shit, I'm happy.

I was genuinely, truly happy.

I was also having a like hardcore identity crisis literally that weekend, but I was so happy with where I was and who I was.

And so as a way to kind of wrap this up.

All right.

One of the things that I alluded to was I started making music.

And you guys are literally like other than my family, the first people to know about this.

Blissful Jedi is the name of my music project.

I won't give you the whole background on it, but suffice to say the tie into Star Wars was unintentional, but super fucking cool.

This is a image of us being plugged into the universe.

And so what I want to do is close with this.


Sunshine, starlight, wavelength, heartbeat in your chest.

Breath, nothing left empty, open, hoping, expanding the desires of your heart.

Where do we start?

Every moment is the process and every breath of reminder how far we've come and no attachment to the destination.

Where do I end and you begin?

Why did we buy into this deception of original sin?

What if all we need is within and all we have to do is do it again?

To allow the disillusion of our illusions, to heal the confusion, the destructive pattern of dominance, we all need a dose of confidence.

Treat each other as we'd like to be treated.

That fundamental mechanic repeated will relieve the suffering.

Can it be enough for me?

I see we keep clinging, holding on tight as if there's not enough to go around.

But what if abundance was like the sun?

Every day it's found.

How do we dismantle systems that don't want to let go?

How do we rebuild religion without the mind control?

A safe space for each human being to explore the depth and breadth, the magnificence of being each and every one born under the same sun, vibrating at a specific harmonic frequency.

Harmony is what we were meant to be.

Peace, light, and prosperity interdependent like the cells in our system, like the stars in the sky.

You can't miss them.

This is the mission.

To live life abundantly, loving, fully, deeply, fiercely, so I leave it better for those who come after me.

Thank you all.

Thank you.