We’re reflecting on 2020 at Spark. Here, Jim Wiandt, Spark CEO, reviews the things that will stay with him from a year like no other.
What an upside-down, insane, challenging, heartbreaking, heartwarming year 2020 was. Sitting here at the merciful end of it, I find myself reflecting. It was like five years packed into one. I feel lucky, more empathetic, more connected, more thankful, more purposeful. So let’s make it fun and try to unpack all of that in one listicle of the top ten things I’ll never forget about 2020.
- It all started with the grand plan to launch an events business, a physical events business. Remember those? We planned the first big event, for December 2020 in New Orleans, with our launch party on March 18th. Barry Ritholtz blithely said he would take the under on my estimate of 50 attendees as troubling Covid news began to pile up. Rob Arnott’s event at Dana Point, CA the week before, which we’d planned to attend, had already been cancelled. I stayed the course, telling everyone the new price was “free” and quickly getting confirmed attendance up to 100, just to win my bet with Ritholtz. And then the world imploded. On March 12th, all flights were cancelled from Europe to the US (seems ironic now) meaning soon no flights would GO there either. So very suddenly, that Thursday, we scrambled to get back home to Spain (Conor and I) and got the last direct flight, as far as we know, from CA to Spain. It was oddly, eerily, empty. We arrived in marshall conditions in Spain and made it right into lockdown, the strictest in the world. We were confined to our house, aside from groceries and medical emergencies, (NO outdoor exercise, etc.) for basically 2 solid months. And those are 2 months for SURE we’ll never forget.
- Probably the best part of that lockdown was that it slowed time down and made us appreciate. For me the most memorable part of it all was the closeness we gained with our neighbors. In those two months, without a doubt, we became closer to the neighbors than we had in the previous 15 years here. Every night we met for a semi-illicit, though respectfully distanced, glass of wine at 7 each night, staying through the clapping for emergency workers at 8 until 9 or so each evening. Those were moments that will stay with us forever.
- Next was that tearing-down-of-the-Berlin-Wall-type-moment that happened when they first let the kids out of the house. There was just this wide-eyed almost unimaginable exuberance of being allowed to be out. This was multiplied by the intensity of the lockdown and the fact that Spanish people LIVE in the street. Sweet freedom. It was still an incredibly restricted time with adult exercise hours only 6-10 a.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. I remember Guillermo, our then 15 year old, coming back up after the first day of basketball downstairs saying it was the best day of his life. And the next day (I believe), there was police tape around the court.
- Next for me was the feeling of incredible economic and innovative volatility in the world. My first lesson occurred in watching how Brella (a company I am an investor in and board member of) responded to the pandemia. Seeing their revenues go to ZERO by the end of March, it battened down the hatches on expenses and worked twice as hard to rebuild its product set, from networking at physical events to a virtual events platform. Miraculously, in May they reached all-time record monthly bookings, and by the end of 2020, their run rate revenues had TRIPLED over their 2019 numbers. So it was high fives all around and then for us at Spark, shifting to see a world of opportunities and not limitations. Memorable indeed.
- So there are my big stories for 2020, and I’ll never forget them. Now here are the softer takeaways…those changes and realizations that Covid and a turbulent year engendered, realizations that feel like they will last. Here’s the first one: I love traveling, but I REALLY love not travelling. I believe many of us realized that we can do a lot, in terms of work and maintaining friendships, virtually. In fact contact with some folks on both the business and personal front seemed much closer/easier via internet communication. And oh yes, I’ll be back to New York, and London and San Francisco, with fervor, but I guarantee you I’ll travel less and enjoy my time at home more. And I’m not alone.
- Empathy. I find myself feeling more of it. Whether it is because of more time for reflection or really seeing people near me suffering economically, or watching the BLM protests, or reacting to crass indifference in the political sphere, I feel like something very human was switched on and switched up in 2020, a strong sense of empathy for others, and a desire to help make things better where I can.
- My health. I know there are lots of stories of people who have turned to overeating and overdrinking to cope with this year, but my reaction was the manic opposite. I was extremely focused on my good health and got in the best shape of my life right in the confines of my own apartment. I think it was a need to do SOMETHING and just an awareness of how fragile and precious your good health is.
- Focus. Along the same lines, I feel like I stripped out a lot of the dumb stuff, the distractions in life, in 2020 and became acutely aware of what really is important: family and friends, values, health, and human connection. This I take as the product of reflection brought on by isolation. I hope to keep as much of all this as I can.
- Awareness and aspiration. I think many of us gained a profound awareness that some basic things we take for granted: health, physical and political freedom, FOOD – could disappear in an instant. And at the same time being confronted by fear and profound incompetence around the Covid response, I feel like I developed an appreciation for being inspired. As we built Spark, working with all of these great musicians was a reminder that human aspiration and transcendence is happening every day. Seeing a spacecraft scoop a sample from an asteroid and watching the SpaceX Falcon launch and landing gave me the thought that whatever you think of Elon Musk, that’s where humanity ought to be. Between the pandemic and the insane political situation in the U.S., to me it was a wake-up call to take some responsibility and think about what I might be able to do to help protect what we value and aspire to more and better.
- And finally, for me, what I’ll really remember about 2020, is that BOY was it memorable, but I’m ready to be on the other side of it and hope to never have to be there again.