Sam Gimbel

Tech, Beer, and Strange Thoughts.

My Year In Review

Predicting the future is something I'm learning to do -or to admit I cannot do-as a co-founder of a startup. I spend much less time thinking about the past, but as this year comes to a close I am struck by how many noteworthy events contributed to personal growth and change. I am beyond excited for 2016, but let's spend a moment talking about last year.

In 2015...


###### I ran 600 miles. And I ran my first 10k and half marathon. Running is my meditation, my metaphor for the journey of life, and I credit it with being my therapist during some of the hardest times I've experienced in a decade. Plus, I lost 15 pounds, and the health benefits will last forever.

Running is the best investment I've ever made in myself and my future.

I watched and mourned the injustice that still overwhelmingly affects women and people of color.

The number of deaths by police in the United States in 2015 is almost incomprehensible. There are the names we know, like Freddie Gray and Michael Brown. But there are a thousand others, the majority of whom were male and of color. And then there are the mass killings, one for every day of the last year. Women fared a more insidious violence in 2015 in the form of terrorism cast as mental illness and the slow progress of equality compared to other developed nations.

I'm committed to supporting equality and an end to police and white violence in 2016. If you have causes that do great work and need support, let me know.

I experienced my first startup exit.

Technically, DramaFever sold to Softbank in October 2014, but close enough. Going through the sale with a handful of options was illuminating and provided me with the first financial windfall I've ever had. This gave me the courage to break out of my comfort zone without fear of financial ruin. The sudden receipt of funds has made it very easy for me to continually count my blessings.

Never take for granted the financial context that allows you to thrive.

I left a company that set me up to fail.

I joined DigitalOcean as their first product hire just as they were crossing the 100 employee mark. By the time I left, they were at 150 and I was the only product person for an engineering team nearing 50 people. I was tasked with building predictability and repeatability across multiple product verticals without a cohesive product vision or the blessing of the CPO or executive team. In short, it would have been a challenge for a team of great product people, and as a single person I was quickly overwhelmed and subsequently asked to leave after only eight months. In the aftermath I was freed from the daily stress and slow progress to reconsider my values and think about what I wanted out of my career. I decided to start a company, which I never would have done had I not left DO.

Being fired from DigitalOcean was the best gift I received in 2015.

I found my confidence again.

Getting fired was rough, and the way it was handled left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Without feedback or objective criticism about my performance I began to feel like I was worthless, a bad product manager, and a bad leader. The feeling permeated my being and affected my judgment. Nothing saps your energy like low self-esteem. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy resulting in repeated, but thankfully minor failures. I was ready to give up. Luckily, I had the good fortune to meet some fantastic, fascinating people this year who helped me back on my feet through a mixture of tough love and pure inspiration. To everyone who's counseled me over the last year, thank you.

Without you, I'd be nothing.

I took part in a summer fellowship.

In June of 2015 I started at Blue Ridge Labs as a product fellow in a user-centric design program dedicated to solving problems that affect low-income New Yorkers using technology. Over the summer I met my co-founder and many new friends. They, along with the dozens of interviews and focus groups I did with low-income New Yorkers, have taught me to be more open-minded and focus on outcomes as well as inputs. My perspective is broader and my resolve to do something that matters is stronger than ever.

Always be trying new things to broaden your horizons and find new avenues to explore.

I started a company that shares my values.

We've continually evolved our thinking at Populace and are likely to continue doing so. Amazingly, every step we've taken has been in line with my desire to build a sustainable business that enables people to improve their own lives. Rather than see our customers as consumers, we see them as agents of change who can lend resilience, economic diversity, and innovation to their communities.

I'm building something I love that will change lives.

I read a life-changing book.

The most recent novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me made me cry and kept me up at night. As a white person with much privilege I was touched and changed forever by the candid explanation of what it's like to be a man of color and be constantly afraid. The writing is lucid, beautiful, and moving. The take-away for me was to be mindful and aware of the experiences of others and to help out wherever appropriate.

Reading has always been a source of strength, and this year has been a source of positive change.

I leveled up my brewing game with the help of friends.

In 2015 I brewed 60 gallons of beer. That's way off the high mark of 200 in 2013, but this year was much more rewarding. With the help of my future brewery co-founder Drew I was able to nail the fundamentals and pour pint after pint of consistently delicious beer. We've reached proficiency and are now pouring out of a gorgeous 2-tap keezer named Keggory Peck (thanks to Taylor for the name!)

A photo posted by samgimbel (@samgimbel) on

I resolved not to get in my own way.

I am a dreamer. I want to make a mark on the world, be in a band (again), and write the stories that bounce around in my head. I love tinkering and experimenting and exploring, but I frequently let my anxiety and need to be "productive" get in my way. In the latter half of 2015 I recognized that the struggle is just as much an opportunity to innovate as the dreams are themselves. In 2016 I will get out of my own way. I will not hide from love, from friends, from myself, or from success. I'll seek creativity and fun in every moment and not let seriousness get in the way of discovery.

In 2016 I will be a better friend to myself and others and cultivate mindfulness in every action.


These are just the highlights. 2015 was hot, cold, wet, wild, confusing, clarifying, and uplifting for so many reasons. As a rule, whenever we recall an event we are curating the moments that are most meaningful to us. In this retrospectice I've done the same on a macro scale, leaving out events not because they're not important but because I have yet to understand them. Here's to a more holistic understanding of more of life's great mysteries in 2016. Happy new year, everyone.