A year ago today, my friend Jim Gilliam drew his last breath.
It was a labored breath, through second-hand lungs that had extended his life for over a decade.
He almost didn’t get them. So when he did, the only thing that mattered to him was making it worth it, paying back the debt he felt he owed to the people who had sacrificed so much to keep him alive.
People who knew him as a child say that he was always an incredibly impatient person. But after he got his lungs, he was not messing around. Every day, every minute mattered. He couldn’t bear to waste a single second; he had to make every breath count.
He got his lungs on February 1, 2007, launched White House 2 in November 2008, and on October 31, 2009 he wrote the first line of code for what would become NationBuilder. Less than a year and a half later, the software was in the wild, and people far and wide were using it including, famously, the Scottish National Party, who won a historic victory in the May 2011 Scottish Parliament election. Just a few years later, NationBuilder was the world’s most used software for politics. But it went far beyond that, of course. Stories came in every day about someone, somewhere who’d found NationBuilder and was using it to create something that wouldn’t have been possible before. Teachers, gelato shop owners, comedians, tiny nonprofits—they were all using NationBuilder to build what they cared about. Nothing delighted Jim more.
NationBuilder’s 10th birthday was three weeks ago. I still can’t believe he wasn’t here to see it. I can imagine him throwing up his impossibly long arms and waving them around in a moment of celebration, and then immediately slamming them back down, returning his fingers to his keyboard. Wasting no time in building what was next.
I miss him every day.
The truth, of course, is that he’s always present—in the code, in a turn of phrase, in the way we show up for each other. It catches me off guard sometimes, watching his legacy living out right in front of me. And I know how proud he’d be, seeing the beauty and ferocity of our team—not wasting a single second as we carry out his vision.