Balance Your Life


In my opinion, there are three major components to everyone’s life. Personal. Professional. Health. To be truly successful, I think you need to balance your life and address all three. Maybe this is apparent to most, but it hasn’t always been apparent to me. Professional has always been my biggest concern, but I haven’t achieved what I’ve wanted to thus far (but I am going in the right direction). After a lot of thought, it’s my belief that I’m not excelling to my fullest extent professional because I don’t have enough balance in my life.

My most burning desire to is to build a successful and sustainable business. I want to create a culture that people love coming to every day. I hate when I hate work. I don’t want people to feel like that when they work for. I want to build a product that people love and can’t help but tell others about. That’s what I think professional success is. I’m working towards building that. I feel like I’ve been talking about Prepare.io for years. Maybe I have. While you can’t see it, I’ve been making strides to relaunch it. But, I’m not yet successful yet. And that wears on me.

I think that one of my greatest weaknesses is that I’m not living a balanced life. I don’t get out enough. I’ve pushed out friends over the years, because I have to stay in. Do I do work? A little. But not as much as I could. That’s because my mind is somewhere else. Maybe I should have just gone to that party, even if it’s for just a little bit. I’d venture a guess that I’d get more work done if I just let myself go out. When I’d get home, I’d be more focused on my tasks at hand. Instead, I let different thoughts weigh me down, accomplishing nothing.

Health is something I’ve written about before. It’s been a constant battle for me since I started my first company. I’ve gained a lot of weight and developed really unhealthy habits. All in the name of “my company.” Well, I actually think it’s done more good for my productivity than it has helped. Yet, I’m here five years later, still fighting these battles with my health. Over the past few weeks I’ve put a renewed effort towards my health (again). It’s a long battle, but I need to make it a priority. A better diet and more exercise will make me feel better and I’ll become more productive. Just one hour a day. I have time that.

I know I have the capabilities to reach my dreams. I’m making progress. I’m not just talking about it. But what I need to do is dedicate myself to balancing my life. I think that I’ll enjoy my life more, become more productive, and eventually reach my goals. If I don’t, I could be in danger of waking up one day, alone, out of shape, and still talking about a company that’s half built. That won’t be good for anyone.

TalkAnything – Interview with Justin Alexio


Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 12.20.36 AM

The TalkAnything is back after a holiday hiatus. My first guest of the new year is Justin Alexio. Justin is a stand up comedian in LA and another buddy from dodgeball.

Justin is a really interesting character. This interview was different than what I originally planned. I tried to hit as many talking points as I could, but talking with Justin had a different flow than other guests. So I just went with it.

We discuss how he got into stand up, his journey to LA, and the experiences he’s had in stand up and improv. Justin was also in a national Adobe commercial, so we get to hear his perspective on booking a national commercial (it wasn’t like previous guest, Jon Weinberg).

Subscribe to The Building Years Podcast and follow Justin Alexio on Twitter.

*I had technical difficulties with my new fancy mics, so I had to revert to old Snowball mic. The sound isn’t awful, but you miiight here a slight difference in sound volume. 

Why Messaging Apps Will Continue to Grow


IMG_4624You’d think by now that we’ve hit a saturation point with messaging apps. Messaging apps have been around for years. Consumer tech is usually a zero sum game, yet more and more messaging apps have popped up over the years. But this influx of messaging apps has yet to bring much innovation. The biggest innovator in my opinion has been Snapchat (sorry GroupMe) with its disappearing message. So why are we seeing more and more messenger apps pop up in the US? Will there be a clear winner? What’s the reason why messaging apps will continue to grow?

Why So Many New Apps?

The US has always been behind when it comes to mobile technology. Look at us when it came to smartphone adoption vs. Japan.  We may have invented the iPhone, but we were still slow on massive smartphone adoption. But that has changed and now smartphones are ubiquitous. Now that structural component has been taken care of, we’re going to see more ways to connect/communicate be build on top of this mobile architecture.

Despite its long history, messaging apps have always been fragmented. The reason why this fragmentation hasn’t hurt mobile messaging apps, like it has other industries, is because the very nature of messaging apps are 1:1. They don’t rely on the same network effects that social networks need in order to become popular.

Traditional social media apps are pretty set at this point in time. I don’t see a MySpace-like dropoff with any of the Big Six (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest). Much of that can be attributed to the lack of value any new social network can add. What can a new social network offer that the other six can’t? Not much feature-wise. Plus you’re forcing everyone to start over and rebuild their network of friends. It’s way too much work for no apparent added-value. Which is why new social networks like Ello will fail.

(FWIW: I think Ello had the misfortune growing too quickly, before its product was ready. I also believe that they overestimated how much people at scale hate advertising. They were catering to the vocal minority. While advertising can be disruptive, they can also be effective.)

How Can So Many Messaging Apps Thrive?

messaging-apps-2

Messaging apps are not handicapped by network effects because of their 1:1 nature. While a social network sucks if only two of your friends are on it, a messaging app can offer high utility with only two friends. That’s why there are so many apps out there enjoying success.

A quick search of messaging apps will come up with a long list. Line, WhatsApp, Kik, Kakao, Voxer, Viber, Snapchat, FB Messanger, WeChat, iMessage, Skype, GroupMe, and Google Hangouts all make the list. Even apps like Path, Vine, and Instagram have messaging capabilities. Each having varying levels of success across the globe, but most have extremely vibrant communities of users. These communities aren’t exclusive to one messaging app either, they often overlap.

Go back to the 1:1 value they provide, that’s why each app can survive without having a monopoly of users. Here’s a personal anecdote about my usage of these apps.

My Personal Messaging Usage

IMG_6165Including Path, Vine, and Instagram, I’ve downloaded twelve of these apps at one point or another, for a significant amount of time (not just to test the app). The apps that have survived on my phone ended up having the most friends (so network effects do play a role in longevity, but not in individual value). But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have great experiences with the apps that I eventually deleted.

WhatsApp, Kik, Voxer, Viber, and Path have all been deleted from my phone. But there was a time where I used Viber and Voxer daily. On each app I only had one friend. But I specifically downloaded the app because of that friend. So I would use each app religiously to stay connected to that person. That’s an experience you can’t duplicate with a traditional social network.

Snapchat, FB Messanger, iMessage, Skype, Google Hangouts, Vine, and Instagram are still used on a weekly basis (but for my own use, I exclude Vine/IG as messaging services). Of the remaining five apps, Snapchat enjoys 55% of my use, iMessage 40%, and the remaining apps are used on a need to use basis. I wrote in November 2013 is about the time my Snapchat usage surpassed iMessage. It hasn’t slowed either as more of my friends are now on Snapchat.

What Does the Future Hold?

IMG_6164Believe it or not, we’re going to see more messaging apps in the US. More international apps are going to grab hold to the US market and more startups are going to be pitching messaging apps. But the most interesting thing, in my opinion, will be when we see an explosion of brands getting involved on messaging apps in the next two years. I am still bullish on Snapchat and think that they’re really going to dominate this method of communication.

The reason is because of their story, live event, and sponsored stories features. Each offers unique perspectives for communication. But I’m confident they’re going to be really effective methods of storytelling for brands.

Stories

Stories are the ability for individual users to post consecutive Snapchat posts into one, (possibly) cohesive story. Stories can range from one, 8 second story, to one that’s 500 seconds long. This is a great way to broadcast content to users, push call to actions, and interact with your audience. I’ve only seen in on a personal level, but I’m just waiting for brands to start.

Sponsored Stories

These are clearly marked stories that are ads. But unlike traditional advertising that disrupts, Snapchat’s Sponsored Stories are opt-in. You have to physically press the story to watch it. I can recall two or three of these ads in my feed thus far, but I’ve watched every single one. And I haven’t hated them. The one I most remember was the clip for Inherent Vice.

Live Events

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 6.51.11 PM

I think that this is Snapchat’s most valuable feature. The way this story works is that if you’re in a geo-targeted area, you can include your snap in the pool of available snaps for the live event’s story. For example, tonight’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony has a live feed. So we’re able to see candid experiences from PAs, to direct comments from the stars. Compiled into one story, you get a unique perspective of the event. For the college football playoff, you were able to see the roller coaster of emotions each school’s fan base (and players) experienced from pre-game to the trophy ceremony. Live is events will be huge for Snapchat and they haven’t even monetized it yet.

Messaging apps still have a lot of growth to experience. They especially have huge potential for companies of all sizes. It’s uncharted territory, similar to Facebook/Twitter around 2009-2009. We’re going to start seeing brands leverage these messaging tools to have even more intimate connection with their customers. Mark my words, you’re going to see a commercial asking people to “Add us on Snapchat!” in the next two years.

Always Reinvent Yourself


“I’ve always thought that each person invented himself…that we are each a figment of our own imagination. And some people have a greater ability to imagine than others.” – David Geffen

 

David-Geffen-Quotes-3

It’s a new year, which means new beginnings. Last year when I published the post, “Enjoy the Journey,” I referenced the PBS documentary “Inventing David Geffen.” It’s worth repeating, it’s an unbelievable documentary that every aspiring entrepreneur should watch. One major narrative of the documentary is inventing yourself. The above quote was the opening line in the documentary and sets the tone for David Geffen’s career.

David Geffen was successful in nearly every business venture he entered in. He was a talent agent, manager, producer, record label executive, and finally a studio executive. He was constantly adapting. The reason why I love this so much is because I have seen my own career take these same turns.

I’ve never felt that I’ve mastered anything in my short career so far. I’m knowledgable is many things, expert in none. That’s because I’ve been constantly changing and growing as the years have gone by. I’ve gone from a blogger, to social media marketer, to entrepreneur and marketing executive, and now I’m adding product development and design to my career path. While I see college classmates at the same job, at the same company for more than eight years, here I am teaching myself new skill sets, a novice all over again. I couldn’t be happier.

I think it’s really important for individuals to reinvent themselves. It’s what keeps you fresh and innovative. It rounds out your perspective, and never puts you in jeopardy to be phased out of a job. Having the ability to reinvent yourself throughout your career might be the single most important trait you possess.

Take advantage of the new year, the fresh start. If you’ve been thinking about it, now is the time, reinvent yourself. Make the changes others wish they had the guts to do. You will be a better person and greater professional asset once you do. Good luck and let me know if I can help.

2015: Time to Take It Next Level


jesse-kickball

Last year around this time, I was down. I was like a heavyweight fighter who was struggling to get up after one too many hits. But I was determined and optimistic. I started 2014 by saying it was going to be a great year. It turned out to be a good year. After my terrible 2013 year, a good year was what I needed.

2014 was my year to rebuild. I wasn’t ready to take my life to the next level. I was recovering. Last year I set the foundation for 2015 and 2016. I’m better now. I’m setting myself up for a goood “Jesus Year.”

Look for big things to come with Prepare.io, TalkAnything, and my Mac and Cheese Invite. In my first post of 2015, I’ll outline my goals for the year.

 

 

Your First Company, Won’t Be Your Last


VA-in-the-Sky

Image Courtesy of Virgin America

 

When I started my first business, I envisioned an empire. I wanted to build my very own Virgin empire. Just like Richard Branson, I wanted different businesses under the Demeter brand. It was a classic dream I think a lot of entrepreneurs have (I recall Tony Hsieh mentioning it in his book). Well, it didn’t quite end that way.

I ended up selling my company for a tiny sum and the Demeter brand died. My grandiose vision for Demeter never came to fruition. There was no Demeter company with twenty companies within its umbrella. There was a mourning period after the sale, which may sound silly, but I went through a lot of personal growth with Demeter. The mourning ended when I realized I hadn’t actually failed.

I realized that many of the entrepreneurs I look up to aren’t on their first companies. In fact, their first few companies might have been complete flops or minor successes. There are very few entrepreneurs whose first companies are their last. Jeff Bezos is one of the few that comes to mind.

If you’re starting your first company, with a similar dream of multiple businesses under one roof, my goal isn’t to squash your dream. I’m writing this to remind you that success often doesn’t happen on the first try. Famous entrepreneurs, with large companies, often failed many times before reaching the pinnacle of their fields. Here are a few examples to remind you to keep going strong, even when things get tough.

Image Courtesy of Maurizio Pesce

Image Courtesy of Maurizio Pesce

 

Aaron Levie – The CEO of Box wasn’t always an enterprise software leader. He started out like many of us. In a bedroom, with a computer, and big idea. One of his early businesses was called Zizap, the “fastest search engine on the internet.” Clearly it wasn’t, but it was just one of the many small businesses Aaron started on his way to Box.com. (Which is now worth over $2 billion.)

Mark Zuckerberg – Zuckerberg is most famously known for being the founder of Facebook. But in high school, Zuckerberg created a music player called Synapse Media Player, under the company name Intelligent Media Group. The player used machine learning to understand listeners’ habits. Might the music and social networking world be different if SMP had become a huge hit?

Max Levchin – A key member of the PayPal mafia, Levchin has gone on to great entrepreneurial success. He’s been a part of Slide, Yelp, Glow, and Affirm, as well as serving on the board of directors for Yahoo, Yelp, and Evernote. But prior to all this success, in college he started two little known companies, NetMeridian Software and SponsorNet New Media.

Elon Musk – It’s probably unfair to add Elon Musk to this list. None of us can possibly duplicate his career. But the Tesla Motors founder has built many companies in his career. He might be most known for his involvement with PayPal (his X.com merged with PayPal before it was really Paypal). But did you know Musk started a company called Zip2, which was a “city guide” for the newspaper publishing industry? Did you know it was sold to Compaq for more than $300 million?

Mark Cuban – Cuban might be most famous as a reality TV show star or the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Before his more mainstream success, he was the co-founder of Broadcast.com, which is what turned him into a billionaire. But long before that venture, he had several smaller ventures, including a bar, disco lessons, and a chain letter. Cuban made his first million by selling Microsolutions to CompuServe for $6 million in 1990.

All I can say, is good luck to you with your business venture. Work hard and treat people right. If you fail or have minor success, that’s ok. Because if your current company doesn’t become what you dream it can be, there is always another company to build down the road.

[Image of Mark Zuckerberg Courtesy of Maurizio Pesce]

TalkAnything – Interview with Jon Weinberg


Jon-Weinberg-Funeral-DayHere’s the fifth episode of the TalkAnything podcast, I talk with Jon Weinberg. Jon is an actor, producer, and director. Jon is my first guest with this new microphone set up. I bought two dynamic mics so that the sound from myself and guest is similar. Unfortunately, I’m still figuring out to set everything up, so it’s still not perfect. But better than last week! (Did I mention you can subscribe to TalkAnything on iTunes!?!?)

Jon and I discuss what his journey into the entertainment industry. How did he get his foot in the door? What it was like booking a national commercial for Microsoft and being featured on billboards?  What his experience has been getting his independent movie, Funeral Day cast, produced, financed, and distributed?

Jon is the co-producer, co-director, and lead actor in the movie Funeral Day.  It’s a darkly funny story of a man who skips his friend’s funeral in an attempt to start living life to the fullest. Along the way he quits his job, begs for a 2nd chance at love, attempts to look death in the face & of course gets his prostate milked all in the name of changing his life.

Let’s help Jon get his film fully funded. His crowdfunding campaign is almost complete, with just a few days left. Any little bit helps. Contribute here.

 

 

Thoughts on the On-Demand Service Economy Part III


webvanThis is the third and final installment in my On-Demand Service Economy series. You should read Part I and Part II before reading this post.

I previously discussed how these apps play a role in my everyday life and what the economics look like for the contract workers. But the real question is how sustainable are these businesses? Can the on-demand service economy survive beyond this current economic boom?

The Core Problem

In my opinion, the primary reason for my pessimistic outlook with these apps is the fact that none of these are “must-have” products. They are “nice-to-have” apps. Do I need an on-demand maid? Or massage? Can’t I get my lazy ass up and drive myself to the grocery store? Why do I need to pay someone to buy my groceries and deliver them to me? Easy answer: I don’t. So once the price gets too high, I am no longer willing to pay for the service.

There is no way I could afford to use these services as often as I do if there were priced any higher. And therein lies the problem. In order to reach critical mass, these companies need to keep prices so low that you don’t think too hard about justifying the cost. These apps really cater to the top earners in densely populated areas. And it’s really hard to grow and scale a business with such a small market and small margins.

We are seeing companies use their millions of dollars in venture capital to give huge discounts to acquire a new customer. All in the name of growth, which is the key to Silicon Valley success. More customers means more revenue in the future, even if that means you’re paying $1.50 to make $1.00 in the short-term. But what happens when the VC funding goes dry and the discounts become obsolete?

Why These Apps Work Today

9324022439_dd2a55e269_z

In the first dot com boom, HomeGrocer.com and Webvan were the poster-children for dot com greed and bust. The grocery delivery services raised over a billion dollars combined, with Webvan eventually buying HomeGrocer for stock (Webvan is now owned by Amazon). These companies spent millions on acquiring customers and building infrastructure, like warehouse and distribution channels. It’s easy to point to these reasons, along with the deficiencies in mobile technology, as to why the first iterations of on-demand businesses didn’t work out.

Today’s on-demand apps enjoy two advantages. One is a fully mobile market. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, with GPS and internet capabilities. Plus everyone is more comfortable making purchases through their phone. During the original dot com era, online payments was in its infancy. Trust was still being built. But now, paying for something through your phone is ubiquitous behavior. Secondly, today’s delivery apps are less reliant on infrastructure.

The way apps like Instacart and TaskRabbit are set up, there is no need for warehouses full of product. Instead, they piggy back off the existing infrastructure of grocery stores. No longer do startups have to set up supply chain management and forecast how much product to buy. They simply hire contract workers, who walk into stores, buy the products, and deliver them. The combination of mobile usage, less infrastructure, and contract workers allows startups to start making more money, faster.

What’s to Come?

If you were to put a gun to my head today and I’ll tell you only two companies make it out alive. Amazon and Uber. I think that there’s going to be a great consolidation with these on-demand apps in the next few years. Both of these companies poised to dominate the on-demand in the future because they’re both well funded.

The Case For Uber

uber-freshDespite Uber’s PR nightmares, it’s still a well capitalized company. They have vast distribution channels with their legion of drivers all over the world. But I think Uber’s poised to dominate the on-demand economy because of one thing: driverless cars.

Uber wants to make their service so affordable that everyone can afford to give up their cars and just take Uber. What’s the one thing that not only costs Uber the most but gives them the most headache? Its human drivers. If you’re to remove drivers for driverless cars, you can drop the price of an Uber and eliminate the security concerns over a driver’s background. Plus, Uber would still make money per ride, than they currently do.

You can see the writing on the wall. Uber is testing out lunch deliveries. For $12, you can get a lunch delivered to your office within 10 minutes. Just as easy as getting a ride. I can see this service expanding beyond food. Again, you’ll see even more hyper-growth once Uber has a driverless fleet of cars.

The Case For Amazon

Amazon has an infrastructure that can support a vast on-demand economy. Their service, Amazon Fresh, is starting to roll out to more cities, outside of San Francisco. Because Amazon has a multi-billion dollar business to support it, as well as a huge existing customer base, they are able to do what companies like Webvan couldn’t. They can establish warehouses full of fresh food, ready for distribution.

Amazon’s Prime customer base might be their best asset. They have a subset of Amazon users who are pre-identified as power buyers. They use Prime to buy more items, with faster delivery. These customers are already paying a yearly fee of $99 for the Prime service. Amazon Fresh costs $299 a year and includes all Prime features. Existing Prime members get a pro-rated refund on their Prime membership when Fresh is purchased. The cost to acquire customers is dramatically lower than a startup starting from scratch.

Jeff Bezos is a long-term thinker with cash on hand. I wouldn’t bet against him in anything. He’s not afraid to dip into negative margins to gain market share. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re all getting our food from Amazon at some point down the road.

The on-demand service economy is here to stay. The only question is, what existing players will be around in five, ten, fifteen years? It’s my guess that we’re going to see a lot of growth in this industry in conjunction with the fall of many services. Companies like Uber and Amazon are going to win because they’ll be able to offer the same luxury that companies like Instacart and Postmates offer at a much lower cost. What do you think of the on-demand economy and its future?

[Image 1 Courtesy of TheNextWeb]

[Image 2 Courtesy of Richard Masoner]

[Image 3 Courtesy of Techcrunch Screenshot]

Talk Anything – Interview with Brittany Ashley


brittany-ashley-standupNew week, new podcast. This time I’m doing it between the sheets. As in my makeshift sound studio, made out of PVC pipe and bed sheets. It definitely helps reduce reverb, now I just have to perfect sound levels (Which might be as easy as how far away both people are from the shared mic).

In episode 4 of the Talk Anything podcast, I’m talking with Brittany Ashley, a young stand up comedian/writer in Los Angeles. You may recognize Brittany from your Facebook feed. She’s often featured in Buzzfeed’s video clips. If not, that’s ok. But you should get to know her for her stand up comedy and writing prowess.

Brittany and I talk about how writing in a college newspaper lead her down the path to comedy, going through Second City Chicago, and what it’s like being a young comedian in LA.

You can read Brittany’s blog at StraightLesbian.com. You can also follower her on Twitter or Instagram.