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Brian Smiga, 65: Effecting Positive Change

Brian Smiga wants to have a positive impact on the world, and applies his incredibly diverse skillset — software designer, trained actor, fund manager, community leader — to doing just that. He tells us about founding TEDxAsburyPark to create a community of like-minded people, his plans for growing the top inclusive tech companies, and how he stays connected to friends across the world through sports.

He is a manifester, someone who makes stuff happen; it is his superpower, and he does it with a smile. Brian is deeply curious about an incredibly wide range of things, as many of us are. What makes Brian so special is he takes this curiosity and turns it into actions that are positively impactful on a personal, community, and organizational level. He is one of those people who will say, “That is very interesting. How about we make X happen right now?”, all done with the generous spirit and bountiful energy of someone having the time of their lives. Brian loves life — a lot — and it shows.

He founded TEDxAsburyPark, one of the largest TEDx events in the country. Why? Because he is very interested in people’s stories and their power to impact others. This is a big, time-consuming job, with all the financial, logistical, and creative tasks that it takes to pull off every year. But this is just one bullet point on his CV. Talking to Brian is like peeling an endless onion, the more we learn the more there is to ask about. Software designer, lifelong athlete, mentor, father, creative director, trained actor, fund manager, community leader. 

I am looking at a remarkable career path. Liberal Arts degree to software developer to entrepreneur CEO to now VC. Could you help me understand how someone with a degree in literature, who wins a poetry prize, goes on to all these very not-liberal-arts pursuits?

First, liberal arts is a great preparation for business, entrepreneurship, and life, as we are curious, multi-discipline observers. Second, I myself am voraciously curious. Third, a life balanced between economy and creativity is a challenge in which I remain a lifelong naif and amateur. 

“I started TEDxAsburyPark to meet the cool, open-minded people on the Jersey shore and to knit them together into a community”

Why did you start TEDxAsburyPark? What are you finding to be most satisfying for you about it?
I started TEDxAsburyPark to meet the cool, open-minded people on the Jersey shore and to knit them together into a community by bringing them world-class TED Talks and ideas. The 220 talented speakers and performers, who delivered TED Talks on our stage and have generated six million views, tell me their TED Talk catalyzed an important pivot in their lives. Every speaker, subscriber, listener, viewer, is now a warm connection.

What would be your top 5 pieces of advice to people our age who are puzzling over what to do with the rest of their lives?

  1. Never Retire. If not working, advise a school, non-profits, startups. 
  2. Find your tribe. Join social groups engaged in passionate activities. 
  3. Pick a sport or activity, compete or gamify your goals. Cycling is possibly the easiest.
  4. Get as green as you can via the outdoors and gardening. 
  5. Be intergenerational. If you don’t have teenagers or kids in your life, adopt your neighbors’.
  6. Yoga.

“I dropped 20 pounds with the 8-hour-a-day eating plan. It’s so simple and healthy”

You are looking very fit. What are you doing during Covid to stay in shape? Is your fitness level different than when we met a couple of years ago?
After 20 years of trying, I dropped 20 pounds with the 8-hour-a-day eating plan. It’s so simple and healthy. Start consuming calories at 11 or 12noon, and stop 8 hours later. 8 weeks later, you’ve dropped 10% body weight and then you can just maintain, which I have done. Resting the body from handling calories for 14-16 hours a day makes sense, like sleeping 7-8 hours every day. The body can then process the calorie and nutrition load and heal, manage, maintain, eliminate toxins and do other good stuff (make love!) when you’re not eating and drinking. Fasting 14-16 hours a day is my #1 recommendation to anyone over 40. 

Brian on a Surfski, Strait of Gibraltar

You mentioned you feel your fitness level is that of a typical 45-year-old. How do you measure your fitness?
Keep it simple: Get waist and weight back where they were at age 45, in my case 34 and 184. Get resting and sleeping heart rate to mid-50s. As a bonus, on my bike max HR at 170 and Functional Threshold Power above 250 watts.

How do you keep engaged and aware of what is happening in the world today?
I’m lucky in that my growth equity firm ALPHA connects with VC firms 1200 times a year, which lets people smarter than us share their views on new tech, trends, and the economy. Being a networker, I mostly rely on asking the right questions of smart people. Daily, I read pocket.com, TED.com, NYT, and WSJ

What does your teenage son teach you?
Empathy and patience. You’re only as old as your youngest child, so he keeps me young and updated, too. 

We walk or bike every day 30 minutes to 3 hours and play board games together. I ask him to teach me his favorite concepts and projects from his STEM high school. He likes to teach his dad stuff. 

 

Brian’s favorite wild berries collected in his bike glove.

You have been using the Strava app and you have been connecting to old friends via it. How does that work?
Strava is Facebook for your athletic friend network, wired into your Apple Watch and smart devices so you can auto-share to your friends and followers your daily exercise, whether yoga, running, weights, skiing, paddling, cycling, etc. And you see and kudo your friends as well with imagery and data. My Strava network spans the globe with teammates from the Apple Computer Cycling team we started in the ’90s, Swarthmore alumni, my venture and investor network, and many loved ones combined with new friends. Exercising with friends and tribes has always been half the reward, and the majority motivation for daily exercise. It’s the best tool and I wish I had invested in Strava. 

Do you have a background in athletics?
Yes. Football, wrestling, lacrosse were my sweating and bonding tribes since age 13. I switched to running and theater at age 20, then to cycle racing at age 34, and then to race surf-ski paddling since my son was born when I turned 50. 

Spirituality

How do you explore your curiosity around the origins of belief, faith and being?
We all do, every day, by being, by showing up, in this miracle of intelligent, temperate, cultured life on planet earth. I just recognize the majesty and magic of this rare miracle we all enjoy. I try to get everyone to see it. 

I know you are a very busy person, and I see that you recently joined the Roothbert Fund as a director. What do they do and how are you working with them?
The Roothbert is unique in all the world, a small endowment for graduate students whose daily actions express spiritual motives. The Roothbert propelled me to Ireland when I graduated from Swarthmore and deepened my lifelong quest to make the world a better place and to solve problems for others. 

Acting to Software

I recently watched your performance in Walk in The Woods. You are a fantastic actor. I had no idea. Where did that come from?
At age 20 I switched from wrestling and lacrosse to theater at Swarthmore. With John Schreiber, jschreiber@njpac.org of NJPAC, I helped establish the Haverford Summer Theater, and then while teaching English earned my AEA and SAG membership in my 20s, and studied Meisner, and did 30 experimental films and plays. But I was not up for commercials or soap operas so at 31, working at Booz Allen, not able to choose between going into debt for an MBA or MFA in directing, I just started creating software. And I did that in Brooklyn, the Bay Area and the Jersey shore for 25 years as a serial founder. 

Brian’s Surfski

What have you been reading lately that you could recommend to us?
In August, I’ll complete a lifelong quest to cycle the Swiss & Italian Alps with 20 Team B buddies, 30,000 feet of climbing in 5 days, so my bedtime shelf supports Wheelmen – The Greatest Sports Conspiracy about Lance’s fall from grace, and Peter Walker’s How Cycling Can Save the World. Both books scratch the cycling as well as the impact itch for me. 

Next 5 Years

What are your personal goals for the next 5 years?
Three things:

Having produced the TEDxAsburyPark events for 8 years, I’m now starting a series called “1act.1idea” where we explore and develop original short plays that express an idea worth sharing. More at tedxasburypark.com 

At the growth equity fund I co-founded, Alphapartners.com, we’re raising several funds to act as “opportunity funds” for the 1400 early stage VC funds in North America. 

With help from my expert network, I will eventually figure out how to apply everything I have learned to expand and grow the top inclusive and impact tech companies in the world. I believe we’re in a pivotal decade where inclusive products and services can tip the global system into equity and equilibrium, which also makes excellent economic and security sense. I hope people, partners, and institutions will join me in that quest. 

As you sit at a unique intersection of technology, finance and culture, what would you say we all need to pay more attention to, that we are not doing now?
Each other. The rareness and value of intelligent life in this vast, cold universe. Love. Passion. Truth. 

 

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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