Monday, April 8

My friend, Allen Stern, is - was and always will be -- a mensch

Sunday, my friend Dean Collins sent me a Facebook message informing me of Allen's passing.  I was in the midst of cleaning up -- and the news put me on my back foot.

Allen and I knew each other as he was building up CenterNetworks (I always loved putting it with the Camel case) and we would spend days talking about the challenges of creating the NY Tech scene and the challenges he faced with handling PR embargoes, the difficulty in monetizing his blog when the NY Tech scene was not as mature as the Silicon Valley one was, the frustration in writing content that was fresh and compelling.

But while he liked to bitch (and name a good MOT that doesn't), he was also a very warm hearted individual.  In the outpouring of grief and sadness these past few days, I have heard of some of the other generous things Allen did for others.  His gift of an iPod to an unfamiliar reader; his selfless efforts at the NYTech Meetup where he would do video for no money -- outside of trying to get visibility for CN; heck -- he even picked me up from the Austin airport in 2011 when I was flying in for SxSW and he wanted to catch up.

When I was in a career funk, he would help me with chances to increase my visibility by becoming a contributor to CN (and letting me be his press person at various events).  He was there when I went through pain in public and helped me build myself up with my efforts for making Cooper Union more entrepreneurial and helping Tony and I with our efforts in NYC coworking.

Allen is, was, and always will be a mensch.

For those who are not MOTs, I use Guy Kawasaki's post on How to Be a Mensch to clarify:
Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, defines mensch this way:
Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous. 
Here is my humble attempt to help you achieve menschdom.
  • Help people who cannot help you. A mensch helps people who cannot ever return the favor. He doesn't care if the recipient is rich, famous, or powerful. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't help rich, famous, or powerful people (indeed, they may need the most help), but you shouldn't help only rich, famous, and powerful people.
  • Help without the expectation of return. A mensch helps people without the expectation of return--at least in this life. What's the payoff? Not that there has to be a payoff, but the payoff is the pure satisfaction of helping others. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Help many people. Menschdom is a numbers game: you should help many people, so you don't hide your generosity under a bushel. (Of course, not even a mensch can help everyone. To try to do so would mean failing to help anyone.)
  • Do the right thing the right way. A mensch always does the right thing the right way. She would never cop an attitude like, “We're not as bad as Enron.” There is a bright, clear line between right and wrong, and a mensch never crosses that line.
  • Pay back society. A mensch realizes that he's blessed. For example, entrepreneurs are blessed with vision and passion plus the ability to recruit, raise money, and change the world. These blessings come with the obligation to pay back society. The baseline is that we owe something to society--we're not a doing a favor by paying back society.
Allen - you are in Singapore Airlines First Class.  And you are remembered fondly.