On the morning of Wed., Feb. 13, Carl Sednaoui passed away suddenly while on safari in Kenya. The small plane crashed carrying Carl; his girlfriend, Melissa; Carl’s mother, Cynthia; and her companion, Svilard. No one survived.
There are no words to say how this feels. But the words flow endlessly to describe my business partner and co-founder of MailCharts.
Friendly. Caring. Compassionate. Energetic. Kind. Driven. Fun. Flexible. Thoughtful. Intelligent. Curious. Principled.
Carl loved to learn.
Quite literally, Carl’s idea of Happy Hour was spending time learning, exploring and discovering. Recently, Carl had enrolled in online courses through Georgia Tech working toward a degree in data analysis—he felt that this was a critical skill for the modern worker. I’d glance at our shared calendar and notice he’d blocked off study time on his Friday evenings. Yes, Friday evenings.
His drive wasn’t limited to professional pursuits.
Last year, Carl ran both the Chicago and New York marathons. This year he was training more seriously to run the New York marathon again and he had also added becoming a more skilled outdoorsman to his goals. Over the past several weeks, he had completed day-long orienteering and first-aid courses.
Here’s my personal fave: for a few months in 2017, I’d arrive at our office to delicious, freshly baked baguettes. Carl, ever the Frenchman, was learning to bake bread. My dude just walked into a bakery in Bushwick one day and asked the owner if he could help out in the mornings—he’d wake up before work, at 4 a.m., and learn the ins and outs of a proper baguette. Effectively, he was an unpaid intern at a bakery while also running a business.
In summer 2013 in New York City, Carl was accepted into a program called Hacker School (since renamed The Recurse Center).
From the description of the program, it’s not surprising Carl wanted to become a “Recurser:”
- What we do. The Recurse Center is a self-directed, community-driven educational retreat for programmers in New York City.
- Our philosophy. We believe people learn best when they take control of their own education and are free to explore what they’re interested in. RC is heavily influenced by unschooling.
- Never graduate. RC doesn’t end after you leave. We have a diverse, active, and engaged alumni community of over 1,400 smart, enthusiastic, helpful programmers all over the world.
That last part, “Never graduate,” became an important, guiding light for MailCharts.
I was a Recurser that summer, too. And on June 17, 2013 I helped Carl write some regular expressions for a CSS specificity library he was building. From that point forward, Carl and I worked together.
With our professional backgrounds—Carl the marketer, Tom the software engineer—we coalesced on our appreciation of email marketing.
RC explicitly says in its FAQ that it’s not a good program for those who want to start their own company. But that’s exactly what Carl and I did.
Hay que madrugar
Carl’s curiosity was rivaled by his drive.
At first, we moonlighted building MailCharts. Several mornings each week, I’d meet Carl at 7:30 a.m. in Pret-a-Manger on Hudson Street. From these early morning meetings originated one of our early catch-phrases, hay que madrugar. Carl and I believe that being great at something takes hard work and commitment.
In May 2015, Carl left his marketing job. This allowed us to work together side by side no longer moonlighting during off hours.
Carl and I would bristle at the terms “start-up” or “lifestyle” business. We believed more that we were creating the jobs we wanted for ourselves—enjoying waking up each morning to work hard with unequivocal support from one another.
As we started the business, we first aligned with what we wanted in life. It was pretty simple: flexibility in how we work, freedom in where we work and optimizing for spending time with loved ones, friends and family.
Poco a poco
Carl was methodical.
(About all the Spanish: Of all Carl’s gifts, perhaps his greatest was putting up with my Spanish speaking. Carl spoke three languages natively: French, English and Spanish. He preferred we speak English—after all, we were running MailCharts, not a language academy—but knew I enjoyed practicing Spanish. The result is that several of our core tenets as a company are simple Spanish phrases.)
We viewed the development of our company as the long game. MailCharts has never been a maniacal sprint to some fantasy finish line. Rather, we wanted to enjoy the journey as we achieved our personal and professional ambitions—poco a poco. Carl was always careful we bit off only that which we could chew.
Yes, it’s hard work meeting the high expectations we set for ourselves. The most critical priority was a solid relationship together.
People often asked if we were good friends before starting the company—nope. We’d reply steadfastly that we were really just business partners.
I can imagine how strange that must have sounded—when I think about the past six years, I guarantee we had more fun together than any “friends” ever could.
We loved eating pizza at Emmett’s. Happy hour (the actual kind, not studying) at Doma Na Rohu. Chocolate chip cookies from Birdbath. We explored Brooklyn. We toured the Burton factory in Burlington (even though neither of us is a snowboarder). We saw the Canadiens play hockey and 📷 ate bagels in Montreal. We 📷 danced at Fuerza Bruta in Buenos Aires on our first annual retreat together.
On the bike trip, I introduced Carl to my intimate friends and family. First 📷 with my parents in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and then riding through Nebraska with my dad. Finally, as we finished the ride in Minnesota, he met everyone from my hometown of Edina, Minn.
Here’s another lasting memory: Mom very much enjoyed having morning coffee but had this unnecessarily complex coffee maker, which I don’t really know how to operate even to this day. When he was visiting on that bike trip, Carl took time to patiently explain a technical part of the coffee maker to her. (Have I mentioned how smart this guy was?)
She told me later that each morning she had her coffee she remembered that little gesture from Carl. And she’d think about Carl and how lucky I was to have him as my business partner.
This is an important part of our story.
I mentioned previously that while starting the company we immediately committed to allowing each other family time. Carl’s family lived abroad, and we wanted to make sure he could visit them as frequently as possible.
While similar, my reasoning was a bit different. Shortly after starting the company together, my mother was re-diagnosed with breast cancer. Carl was a rock for me personally throughout Mom’s final months last spring. The importance of the unrelenting support he provided cannot be overstated.
I so, so, so, so, so appreciate you, Carl. We miss you immensely.
We will continue to honor Carl as we move forward. The values he and I established in the company are more important than ever.
MailCharts will never graduate but will strive to keep exploring as a company, and as individuals.
MailCharts will work as hard as ever for its customers, partners and teammates—hay que madrugar.
And we will fill this infinite void—not any time soon, but poco a poco.
Mon, Feb 18, 2019
Memorials & contributions
This post will be updated with additional events and ways to contribute to their memory. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Friends of Carl and Melissa will be holding an event in New York City on Sun, Apr 7 beginning at 5 p.m. Please RSVP here.
- Arrangements for Carl, Cynthia, and Svilard:
- Condolences on Thu, Feb 21—11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Église Saint-Maron, à Gemmayzé, Beirut, Lebanon
- Funeral Mass on Thu, Feb 21—4 p.m. at Église Saint-Maron, à Gemmayzé, Beirut, Lebanon
- Arrangements for Melissa:
- Visitation on Fri, Mar 8—12 noon to 8 p.m. at Rattermans Funeral Home, 12900 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, KY 40243
- Funeral Mass on Sat, Mar 9—11:00 a.m. at Holy Family Church, 3926 Poplar Level Road, Louisville, KY 40213
- Inurnment to follow at Resthaven Memorial Cemetery, 4400 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 4021
- Melissa Witt remembered as unique soul (Louisville Courier Journal)