Dive In and Figure It Out


via Sean Pritchard

via Sean Pritchard

“Fuck Yeah, or No!” That was a life philosophy that I shared with you a few months ago. It’s served me well over the years and I hope you’ve gotten value from it. Today I’d like to share another life principle that I follow: Dive in and figure it out.

No, I’m not branding a slogan similar to Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.”  “Dive in and figure it out” refers to my attitude toward starting things when I’m scared and unsure.

Before I started my first company, I was terrified at starting things I didn’t know how to do. I would pretend to do a lot of research, convincing myself I was educating myself to properly prepare myself for the next step. The reality was, I was scared and I was delaying the start. This quote from “How I Met Your Mother” perfectly sums up my feelings toward starting a company five years ago.

via ted-mosby.com

via ted-mosby.com

But then a funny thing happened. I dived in…and I figured it out.

Taking that first step is so hard. I’ve seen people struggle with it. I’ve urged friends to go for it. Why? Because I know it’s worth it. Since I first dove in, starting things has gotten easier (but execution is still hard).

Five years ago, I would have never started a software company. I don’t know how to code or design. I’m not an expert at product development. Yet, here I am, the founder of a software company. I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m doing it. I’m learning along the way. Some lessons are more expensive than others, but I keep moving. I keep learning. I push myself to make it work, and I’m figuring it out.

The dirty secret that no one ever tells you is that no one really knows what they’re doing/talking about. Yes, even these experts you see on TV or speaking at big conferences. Listen to them. They’re just making prognostications based on their opinions. How many times are they actually right? Much lower than you might think. But why are they considered a thought leader? They dive in, even when they’re not ready.

I really believe that every successful person has started their ventures before they were truly ready. It’s just like parenthood, you’re never ready. You can only dive in, do your best, and figure it out. Guess what? There have been a ton of really wonderful people born to parents who “weren’t ready.”

My niece Aya

My niece Aya

Everyone suffers from self-doubt. We all have fears. But those who really succeed are much better at not letting their fears hold them back. They dive in. They figure it out.

Since I’ve learned to just dive in and figure it out, I’ve been much happier. Yes, there is still a lot of anxiety and delusional laughter, but I get through it. It may not always be pretty, but once you get over starting something, you can focus solving actual problems.

What are you scared of? What’s holding you back? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter to chat, or email me first name last name at gmail.

[First Image Courtesy of Sean Pritchard]

[Second Image Courtesy of Ted-Mosby.com]

Ideas Vs. Execution


via Donald Reese

via Donald Reese

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about what was more crucial to a startup, ideas or execution? At the time, I was a relatively young and inexperienced entrepreneur. My naiveté was none more evident than my insistence that ideas were NOT a time a dozen. Oh boy. What a difference three years make.

This is a direct quote from that post:

“Ideas are a dime a dozen.” 

I think this quote is bullshit.  I am a firm believer in a great idea.

Ha! Now to be fair, I did follow up with a little more rational thought:

No great companies were built on a mediocre idea. Great companies were built on great ideas that push the boundaries of the possible. Great ideas are what push technology and our society to greater feats of accomplishment. Everything starts with an idea and people confuse this quote because they associate it with shitty ideas.

You have to have an idea to start a company. Your idea has to be unique in some fashion. No one is going to join your team or invest in you if you have a run of the mill idea. Those who dare to dream and create new ideas are those who will change the world.

This still rings true to my ears today, to a certain extent. But during the time since I first wrote that blog post and today, a lot has happened to me. These events have caused me to shift my opinion.

Prepare.io

Software QA Notes

Software QA Notes

I have struggled the past few years to get my business idea off the ground. Since I’m non-technical, I mortgaged my future to get Prepare.io built. That’s because until I showed enough gumption to back my own idea and get it started, no one else would. It would remain an idea in my little idea notebook. The transition from idea to reality has been extremely tough and taught me many lessons.

I am still confident that I have a really solid product idea that will result in a profitable business. That’s why I haven’t given up on my idea and continue to work and pour money into it. But the execution of my ideas has been difficult. Simply mapping out design and getting it programmed doesn’t result in success. The “If you build it, they will come” mentality is so wrong. If you build it, they might come (which in happened to me), but that doesn’t mean they’ll use it.

Time and time again in this process, I’ve run into different problems. Each time I come up with solutions. But executing these solutions isn’t easy and has taken me a lot of time. Part of that is due to money constraints, but even still, throwing money at a problem only works if you have the right solution.  Aaand that’s why I now understand the difference between an idea and successfully executing the idea.

Mac and Cheese Invite

Mac and Cheese Invite #3 Spread

Mac and Cheese Invite #3 Spread

Another personal anecdote to illustrate the balance between idea and execution is my Mac and Cheese Invite.  The original idea for this event wasn’t even mine. I was at a diner at 2am with a table full of girls. It was these girls that really came up with the concept of the mac and cheese competition. Since I lived alone, I volunteered my apartment for the first party. Low and behold, I stumbled into something really popular.

Since that drunken 2am conversation, I’ve held three mac and cheese parties. Next month I’m going to host my fourth one, which will be ten times as large as the first. It’s grown to the point I’m renting a 3,000 square foot warehouse, securing sponsorships, and charging for tickets. All because a table of drunk girls had an idea and I was the one who followed through and made it happen.

I still stand by my original statement that great businesses are built on great ideas. I also think my closing statements three years ago are primarily true today, you need both (even though my analogy was terrible).

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich needs a perfect combination of each half to make a wonderful PB & J.  A successful startup is no different. Great ideas need execution and bad ideas executed well are still bad ideas. There must be a harmonious union of both idea and execution to create a successful startup. So instead of bantering more on the merits of the idea or the execution, let’s all go out there and execute the shit out of an amazing idea.

But my three years of experience since then tells me that even though you need both, execution is the more crucial element of the two. You can have an amazing idea but without execution, you have nothing. Even if you have a completely banal idea, like a hamburger joint, if you execute it properly, you can still have a profitable company.

However, if you have a great idea and combine that with great execution, then you can create something truly amazing.

[First Image Courtesy of Donald Reese]

ALS & Non-Profit Executive Pay


The #ALSIceBucket Challenge has been the talk of the summer. This viral marketing campaign has brought a whirlwind of attention to what was previously an unknown cause and organization. To date, the non-profit has raised over $100 million, up from $2.8 million, during the same time last year. This increased awareness has brought a wealth of positive attention to the cause, but that doesn’t come without some backlash. With the newly announced nine figure donation sum, there was been more scrutiny about the way the organization is run. Specifically, the pay of the executive staff that runs the ALS organization.

 

ALS Is Not Poorly Run

First of all, let’s clear the air about ALS. Yes, they do have a much greater responsibility with the vast increase in funds, but to date, the executive staff of the non-profit haven’t shown that they aren’t capable of doing so. The Internet is up in arms over the tax return filed by ALS, which indicates that several executive staff make well over six figures.

  • Jane H. Gilbert – President and CEO –$339,475.00
  • Daniel M. Reznikov – Chief Financial Officer – $201,260.00
  • Steve Gibson – Chief Public Policy Officer – $182,862.00
  • Kimberly Maginnis -Chief of Care Services Officer – $160,646.00
  • Lance Slaughter -Chief Chapter Relations and Development Officer – $152,692.00
  • Michelle Keegan – Chief Development Officer – $178,744.00
  • John Applegate – Association Finance Officer – $118.726.00
  • David Moses – Director of Planned Giving – $112,509.00
  • Carrie Munk – Chief Communications and Marketing Officer – $142,875.00
  • Patrick Wildman – Director of Public Policy – $112,358.00
  • Kathi Kromer – Director of State Advocacy – $110,661.00

Last year the organization brought in around $24 million in revenue (most of that’s donations). So it’s not an entirely small organization. Their administration costs were just about $2 million. That’s an appropriate percentage. (To put these executive salaries in perspective, I was once offered a MANAGER level position at a Fortune 500 company that would have paid me more than a third of that list.) Later on I’ll address the validity of the CEO’s salary.

The other the internet was up in arms about was the amount spent on actual ALS research. Last year it was 28%. The ALS Association is very upfront about this. They’re not hiding anything, because they have nothing to hide. You are ignorant if you think all donations go towards research. If a charity tells you that 100% of donations go towards research, they’re lying to you. Or they’re practicing shady accounting. If you look at the pie chart breakdown of ALS’ spending, they’re doing a responsible job. Considering they’ll more than 4x their donations this year, the research percentage will increase next year since expenses for the rest of the organization won’t change much.

via alsa.org

via alsa.org

 

Why Non-Profits’ Pay Executives Well

Let’s revisit Jane Gilbert’s pay. Jane is the CEO of ALSA and made about $340,000 last year. That’s not an exorbitant amount for a CEO.  If Jane was running a small business that had the same amount of revenue, you might even say she’s underpaid. I’m not sure if it’s because Jane is the CEO of a non-profit or because some people think $340,000 is a lot of money, but to say she’s overpaid is false.

I say this with 100% sincerity because management is tough. At any level, galvanizing your team and getting people to perform well is not an easy task. There’s an entire industry, management consulting, which helps companies get more productivity. So when you get people who are good at their job, you have to pay them well, especially at a non-profit.

Unlike executives at major corporations, non-profit executives don’t have a financial windfall in their future. They don’t have stock that’s accumulating worth or paying dividends. Nor do they have plush expense accounts. Their cash compensation is essentially all they’re getting. So in order to compete for top talent, they’re going to have to pay a good salary. It’s that simple.

“Why Should I Donate To Your Organization?”

via Pedro Catalao

via Pedro Catalao

The value of a non-profit executive might actually be higher than most other businesses. That’s because they’re at a disadvantage than most businesses…they don’t have something anyone needs. Non-profits don’t offer a faster, cheaper product than the one you’re currently using. With no actual product to sell, it’s important for the executive staff to be able to sell the mission of the non-profit to large corporate donors and grant organizations. That’s not an easy sell, because at the end of the day, no one gives a shit about your cause.

Maybe that’s a little more harsh that it needs to be, but there is truth to it. Everything has a cause and a charity behind it. Soon, all the sob stories get watered down and the difference between donating to Charity X and Charity Y becomes less significant. A corporation will get the tax benefit regardless of who they write the check to. So why do they donate to certain organizations? Because of personal relationships they have with executives at different charities.

The Non-Profit Myths

I’m going to end this rant about non-profits with one last bit of knowledge. People think because an organization is a non-profit, that they have to be poor (see NFL). Wrong. Non-profits need to be thought of as businesses. Their leaders must act accordingly. Hiring, firing, and business strategy should be the same as their corporate counterparts. If a non-profit is run like a business and not like a little charity begging for pennies, it’s going to be a whole lot more successful.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I want to make one last comment on non-profit spending. Public and professional education is 32% of ALS’ budget. I’ve read that people think this is too high. Every form of mass communication has a cost. Educating people takes money. That’s why there are marketing vendors on ALS’ tax return being paid six figures. In order to get the word out, whether it’s a commercial or something online, there is a cost. The genius of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge is that is circumvented this cost yet increased donations by nearly 3,500%.

If it’s not clear, I think non-profits play a really important role to different causes. I have no aspirations to run a non-profit full-time. But you need great talent to make these organizations work. I’m really happy for everyone involved with ALS. They did an incredible job this summer. I hope that you consider my points next time you (or someone you know) get discouraged by non-profit research budgets and executive pay.

(No links this week, this post was long enough)

[Photo courtesy of Pedro Catalao via 500px]

Wisconsin vs. LSU: Venting


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I don’t plan on writing about sports very often (unless its from an economics standpoint). But I’m still brooding over LSU’s victory Wisconsin the other night and I need to vent.

As a whole, it was a great game. Wisconsin came in as the underdogs and we put up a good fight. So good, it seemed like we would actually upset the Tigers. That’s probably what made this loss sting so much. If the Badgers had lost 28-24 and had been the team that fell behind early, Badger fans would probably be feeling ok. We replaced all but three of our starting defense and were breaking in a new quarterback. Losing by four to one of the nation’s top programs when you were the five- point underdog, it shouldn’t sting this badly. But we were fucking winning!

Having watched the game live and read every article pertaining to the game, there are five main pain points everyone has opinions about with the Badgers’ performance. These five points are the coaching, Melvin Gordon, Tanner McEvoy, the receiving corps, and the defensive injuries.

Defensive Injuries

The defensive unit was a question mark coming into the game. We lost all but three of our starters, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-American, Chris Borland. The announcers repeatedly referenced the lack of depth the Badgers had on the defensive line and the injuries to Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring didn’t help. When the Badgers were healthy, they looked good. When the Badgers were short on men and tired, they looked as you might expect. We’ll see how these two come back from injury. If they do, defensive line is less of a concern (especially because Caputo is a maniac on the field). If they’re out, it could be a long year.

Receivers

In short, we had no competent receivers. Many of McEvoy’s troubles are being blamed on the receivers’ lack of separation. Definitely some truth to that. It’s hard to separate when you’re up against superior SEC atheletes. But our star wide receiver the past few seasons was a walk-on with average athleticism. You have to make up for your lack of physical gifts with precise fundamentals and mental preparation. None of our receivers looked like they took any notes from Jared Abbrederis last season. They need to get better fast. Silver lining was Reggie Love, the man with the 45 yard TD run. He looked fast. If he improves his route running, he could be a real threat.

Tanner McEvoy

via YouTube screenshot Saturday Down South

via YouTube screenshot Saturday Down South

This was a complete surprise to me. I hadn’t paid attention to the quarterback situation because I thought Joel Stave had the job secured. He’s been a starter for the past year and a half and he led us to a 9-4 record last season. There are two reasons why he might not be the starter. One, McEvoy beat him out. Two, his shoulder still hasn’t healed from the Capital One Bowl. Judging by the commentators’ comments that he was throwing “knuckle balls,” I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.

Tanner McEvoy was a SAFETY for the Badgers last season. He transferred as a quarterback, but was moved to defense last season. And now he’s our starting quarterback? Rumor has it head coach Gary Anderson wants a more mobile quarterback. McEvoy definitely fits this model, but his passing was atrocious. He was throwing off the back of his foot and sending wounded ducks left and right. His timing was off with receivers on more than one occasion and he didn’t throw many catchable balls. I can only hope Tanner McEvoy is a stop-gap solution and not the future.

Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon is a beast. He’s one of the top three running back in the country. Gordon is being touted as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and future first round pick. Last year he rushed for over 1,600 yards and averaged 7.8 yards per carry. He should be the focal point of the Badger offense. For the first half and his first carry in the second half, he was. He rushed 15 times and 140 yards with a TD (for some reason, his stats differ from publication to publication). It was clear that LSU couldn’t contain him. Gordon is Wisconsin’s one athlete that is on par with LSU’s team. Yet, the Badgers inexplicably stopped feeding him the ball.

After Gordon ripped off a 63 yard run, early in the second half, he only received two more carries. Cory Clement is a fine young running back, but he is no way an equal to Melvin Gordon. So why did he take the majority of the second half snaps?

Multiple theories are being floated around. One is that Gordon voiced his displeasure at halftime to the coaches that Stave wasn’t the QB. Others think he said something on the sidelines after his long run. And some other fans suspects Gordon was injured… both he and Anderson refute. Which makes this even more confusing. We need Melvin Gordon touching the ball 25 times a game to win. Could you imagine if Ron Dayne had only gotten 15 carries in a big game?

Gary Anderson

Finally, we come to the head coach, Gary Anderson. I’m not a big Gary Anderson fan. I thought his hiring was a mistake. I can see why Barry Alvarez hired him. He seems smart and polished. No baggage. A safe Wisconsin hire. But I never saw him as someone who could take the program to the next level. He had status quo written all over him.

To date, Gary Anderson hasn’t done anything to make me feel like he is capable of turning Wisconsin into a perennial top 5 program, which is the next step for the Badgers. Rose Bowls are nice and top 10 finishes are great…but that’s starting to feel like the Badgers’ ceiling. Under Anderson, those finishes seem like a reach.

Last year I was at the Arizona State game. The Badgers should have won that game. But the Badgers mismanaged the end of the game and we lost. That comes down to coaching. As are our questionable personal moves against LSU.

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Watch Gary Anderson’s post-game press conference. He doesn’t seem like a coach who is in control. When asked about Gordon’s lack of playing time in the second half, he plead ignorance. It might be the position coach’s decision to play or not to play a player (I’m not sure, I never played football), but you’re the head coach! If your star player isn’t in the game, you should know why. Ignorance is not an alibi. His judgement is in question with the Tanner McEvoy situation. Either he sees something that no one else does or he knows something about Stave he’s not sharing. Regardless, Anderson comes off as incompetent or disingenuous. Neither are great qualities of a leader.

I have put way more time and effort into this post than I should have. I’m so chapped at how the game ended. But now my expectations for the season are greatly adjusted. Fortunately for this Badger team, we have a cake walk of a Big Ten schedule, so we should only be a three loss team this year. Otherwise, we’d be staring down a 6-6 record.

Fall TV Predictions


The other week I was trying to get over the flu. I turned on Hulu and they had all the trailers for new shows premiering this upcoming fall season. I love fall TV. To me, new fall TV shows are like startups. The development of a TV from its pilot to its current successful form, is much like a software MVP (minimum viable product) and a product that’s found product market fit. You start with a hypothesis, see what sticks, and iterate until you have something people want. So when I see the new fall TV lineup, I try to choose which shows are going to be picked up and which shows are going to be a hit.

I’ve often, in my head, I would say “Show X going to be great,” or “Show Y is not getting picked up.” But all in my head, so no one would believe me when I’d say, “I told you so.” This is going to be a fun experiment for me. I’m going to try my best to leave my personal taste out of my decisions (but that’s hard), but I will tell you that I don’t read TV websites, so I won’t be influenced by other opinions.

Now, I’m not up to date on what a good Nielson rating is so I’m going to create my own rating system. It’s not even a rating system, I lied. I’m going to say if the show is picked up and how many seasons I think it will get. Man, this is so nerdy, but I’m so excited for this. Alright, here we go.

NBC

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A to Z (Cristin Milioti, Ben Feldman)

This show seems adorable and very similar to (500) Days of Summer. That alone makes me want to watch it. I watched the pilot and it’s cute (yes, I said cute). But the show starts off by saying the relationship of the main couple lasts 8 months, so I don’t know how long the show can actually last? I don’t see this as a smash hit, but it hangs on because it’s cute enough. My guess is it hangs on for one season and squeezes out 2-3 seasons.

Bad Judge (Kate Walsh)

This show reminds me of Bad Teacher with Cameron Diaz. That’s not a good thing. Sexy judge who you’d expect be a standup citizen, but really has a wild side. Then she has to do a 180 and take care of a kid. Blah. I say one season, maybe two.

Marry Me (Casey Wilson, Ken Marino)

I really liked Happy Endings, created by David Caspe. Marry Me is his second show (or at least the second show I know of) and stars his wife (fiance?) Casey Wilson. This show looks like a 90s rom-com with no chemistry between the two main characters. I hope it doesn’t get more than one season.

The Mysteries of Laura (Debra Messing)

Debra Messing is back. Famous from Will and Grace, Messing now plays a no-nonsense NYPD detective…but also is a struggling single mom. It’s not my cup of tea, but I could see why America gets on board. This one is hard for me to guess, but I’ll throw a dart on the board and say two seasons.

Constantine (Matt Ryan)

Awful. NBC tries to jump on the dark comics bandwagon. So bad, I couldn’t even get through the trailer. No way this gets an entire season.

 

ABC

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 How to Get Away with Murder (Viola Davis)

All you have to know that Shonda Rhimes is behind the show. You know, the woman behind Gray’s Anatomy and Scandal? None of her shows have done poorly. Even Private Practice got 112 episodes. I say this one gets 6-7 seasons.

Black-ish (Anthony Anderson, Laurence Fishbourne)

I have a weird affinity toward Anthony Anderson. But none of the projects he works on ever do really well. This one looks similar to everything else he does. It might get a full season because Laurence Fishbourne is an executive producer, but I don’t see it getting a second season.

Forever (Ioan Gruffudd)

Forever has a really cryptic trailer. It’s more of a scene, so out of content, it doesn’t shed a lot of detail. But it seems interesting. It has the feeling of danger and the supernatural. I say three seasons.

*I watched the pilot episode for this show. I like it. But the weird, supernatural component makes me think it won’t catch on. Three seasons seems like a stretch to me now. But, I think you should give this one a shot.

Manhattan Love Story (Analeigh Tipton, Jake McDorman)

This seems like a weird rom-com. Except it’s loaded with voiceovers. Like a lot. It’s funny because you can hear what the characters actually think! Just kidding. One season, if that.

State of Affairs (Katherine Heigl)

This one is hard. It’s Katherine Heigls return to the small screen.  The fact Katherine Heigl is in it, makes me want to dismiss it already. But it’s an ABC drama, which tend to do well. I think the CIA angle is interesting enough to overcome the world’s displeasure of Heigl. I give it 3-4 seasons.

Cristela ( Cristela Alonzo)

This doesn’t look good. It’s a family sitcom that follows a Mexican family, lead by comedian Cristela Alonzo. I have zero interest in this show, but hey, the George Lopez show got 6 seasons, so maybe Cristela has a shot? But I still think this gets axed before season one finishes.

Fox

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Mulaney (John Mulaney, Nasim Pedrad)

This comedy is often compared to Seinfeld, for the simple fact John Mulaney does some standup on the show and the show is named after him. I want to like this show, but it doesn’t look good. It seems really cheesy. I think it gets one season for sure and a second just because people want to give John the benefit of the doubt that he can find his comedic rhythm.

 Red Band Society (Octavia Spencer)

I will not be watching this. It looks super depressing (but I’m sure it has it’s uplifting moments). I see roller coaster ratings for this show and it ultimately fails to find a steady audience. One season.

Gotham (Ben McKenzie, Jada Pickett Smith)

This reminds me of Smallville. The early years of a story we know. Except instead of focusing on a young Bruce Wayne, the story revolves around a young James Gordon (who goes on to be come Commissioner Gordon). It looks like a good show, I give it 5-6 seasons.

Utopia (Reality)

Ugh, this looks awful. But that’s because I never watch reality TV. But America loves it and this show seems like it has a lot of different variables at play. You have those who are power hungry, seems like there will be religious fighting, sex (of course), and some feminism. While I will never watch it, my guess is America will. 7 Seasons.

CW

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The Flash (Grant Gustin)

I know I won’t watch this, but this actually looks really cool. I’m not surprised it’s being created since super heros are in. It’s created by the same people who made Arrow, which just finished its 3rd season. So I’m going to say Flash gets 5 seasons.

Jane the Virgin (Gina Rodriguez)

This looks awful. A virgin who is accidentally inseminated by a frazzled doctor? I predict one season, if it actually gets picked up for the entire season.

Honestly, I’m not sure if these are all the new shows, but it’s what I saw on Hulu. But this has gone on long enough, so we’re just going to keep it to these.  Let me know your thoughts.

Weekly Links

The Personal Blog – Fred Wilson is one of my favorite bloggers. He writes a timely piece about personal blogging, shortly after I said that I was going to revisit this personal blog more regularly.

Uber’s Playbook for Sabotaging Lyft – I blogged about Uber and Lyft the other week, but it seems like the fight between the two is starting to intensify.

The Natural State – College football is starting up. As a Wisconsin alum, it’s interesting to read this profile on former Badger coach, Brett Bielema.

My New Sunday Blog Posts


via Davide D'Amico

via Davide D’Amico

I love this blog. I started it my final semester in college (2006). Aside from Facebook, I haven’t really stuck with anything that long. Despite my affection for this blog, I don’t get the chance to write in it very often. Part of that is because I’m busy, part of it is I’m lazy, and another part is I don’t know what to write about. None of those are really good excuses. Therefore, I’m making a pact with the internet to write ONE blog post a week.

I plan on publishing this weekly blog post on Sunday evenings. I plan on writing about anything that seems relevant.  I imagine it’s going to be my thoughts on a top tech story, my prognostication of something I know little about, or social commentary. I’ll finish each post with links to 3-5 of my favorite links from that week.

I really like reading about tech, business trends, venture capital, and media. So expect a lot posts around those topics. But this is an old fashioned personal blog, so don’t be surprised if I write about books, movies, travels, and food. Basically this is me telling you to expect me to publish my thoughts and opinions every Sunday evening.

I hope you get some value from my writing and it makes you think a little. But really, these posts are more for myself (selfish!). It allows me to get my thoughts on paper and help them become more concrete. It also allows me to be able to reference my opinions on trends months later, and gauge if I was correct or not.

I’m a perpetually curious person. This exercise of weekly blogging will help satisfy my desire to learn and think about things I might not know a lot about. It really could be a win-win for everyone. At the very least, I will be entertained.

Before I leave you with this week’s links, let me add one last note. I plan on using photos from 500px (under the Creative Commons, Attribution Non-Commercial License 3.0) on this blog. They might not relate to my blog post at all, but they’ll be fun to look at.

via Rick Schwartz

via Rick Schwartz

This Week’s Links:

The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last Hermit - A long, but great read about a hermit in Maine who survived in the woods alone and would break into homes to steal supplies for over 20 years.

Anthony Carbajal, The Real Face of ALS – The ALC Ice Bucket challenge is doing great things for ALS research. But sometimes it feels like it’s just fun for people to make a video, not really learn about ALS. That’s ok, because it still causes people to talk about ALS. But this video by Anthony Carbajal really drives home the point how much ALS sucks.

Startups Anonymous, How Anonymity Saved a Life – In an age where apps like Secret are being bashed for facilitating cyberbullying, it’s the same anonymity these apps offer that saved the life of one startup founder.

Image 1 Courtesy of Davide D’Amico

Image 2 Courtesy of Rick Schwartz

 

Thoughts on Ridesharing


I think ridesharing apps are amazing. Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar and leading an industry that has huge economic ramifications in the future. Venture capitalist (and Uber investor) Bill Gurley commented the other week on Uber’s future potential market. From what I’ve read, Mr. Gurley is an incredibly intelligent guy and he makes some great points regarding user experience, economics, and potential market-adjacent disruption. I recommend reading the entire post.

After reading the post, it prompted me to tweet an experience of mine that backed up on of his points; I was able to sell my car a year ago and live in Los Angeles comfortably because of the existence of ridesharing services like Uber.

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I am clearly an evangelist for ridesharing companies. Uber officially launched in Los Angeles March 8, 2012. I took my first Uber ride two months later.

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Since then, I’ve take hundreds of rides, varying in length, across all three companies, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. These are my observations and experiences from these rides and what I think this means for the future.

For sake of comparison, I’m primarily going to talk about Uber and Lyft. Sidecar rounds out the Big Three in ridesharing, but they are so, so far behind.

Uber

Uber-Driver

I personally have an affinity with Uber. But, that’s slowly changing. (More on that later)

I like Uber because I like how its slogan, “Everyone’s Private Driver” makes me feel. When I get picked up, I sit in the back. Sometimes the driver even gets out and opens the door for me. It’s nice and professional. I tell the driver where I’m going and that’s it. I don’t feel obligated to talk to the driver. I can sit on my phone and knock out email (or check Instagram). It’s a relaxing experience that I quite enjoy.

Lyft

Lyft on the other hand is more like your buddy is picking you up for a ride. You get in the front seat, give the driver a fist bump (this slowly seems to be a fading practice), and go on a car ride that’s much more friendly. That’s Lyft’s competitive advantage, its drivers are more friendly (for the most part) than Ubers. Lyft drivers are out of work actors or parents looking to make some extra cash, while Uber’s drivers seem to be cab drivers that are now working for small, taxi-like companies that lease out a Prius car to Uber drivers. While I don’t always enjoy the feeling that I need to talk to Lyft drivers, I have had many great conversations. Some have lead to communication outside of our car rides (emails, meetings, friends, etc).

Why Choose One Over The Other?

Lyft-Car

Let’s be honest. A great deal of my decisions are based on cost. I bounce back and forth between Uber and Lyft depending on who has dropped their prices most recently (I am the real winner of their price war, Sidecar is the massive loser). We’re at a point where the price differential is negligible between the two companies.  My daily morning commute is approximately $12 with either company. This slight price difference leaves two main reasons why I would choose one company over another.

1. Availability

Uber has had the advantage between the two companies with car density. For most of my time on the two apps, Uber has enjoyed at least a 2-1 advantage in cars on the road. This has lead to shorter wait times for a car, meaning I would default to Uber. But recently, the ratio is becoming more even. I would still give Uber a slight advantage (for now).

2. Surge Pricing

Surge pricing is the reason why I keep going back to Lyft, even thought I prefer Uber. Surge pricing is when there are high number of requests, with much fewer drivers on the road. Surge pricing is meant to incentivize drivers to come out. Uber’s surge pricing starts at 1.25x the original fare. The maximum I’ve paid is 3.75x. When you’re desperate, it’s worth it. But when it’s your daily commute, it’s a pain.

I’ve been taking Lyft in the morning because Uber has been using their surge pricing around 8:30am. I don’t feel like paying 2x just to get to work. Lyft, for the most part, does not have their  “Prime Time” pricing on during this same time. But even in the rare occasions it does, I’ve only seen it at a 25-75% premium. Far below Uber’s surge pricing.

So while my default app is still Uber, the gap is between the two is closing. What was a 85-15% split, is now closer to 60/40.

My Decision To Go Carless

Jesse-Bryan-biking

 

As I mentioned in my earlier tweet, I haven’t had a car for more than a year. I sold my car so I could invest in my company’s development, but I wouldn’t have made this change had Uber/Lyft not been around. Because these ride sharing apps made getting around more affordable, it was quite easy to make the decision to sell my car.

Having a car in Los Angeles is expensive. I would venture a guess that my monthly fees are actually below what many Angelenos pay a month. But even still, I pay less per month without a car, and I don’t have the worry of my transportation being a fixed cost, which was helpful when I had a few months of no steady work. I can adjust my means of transportation as I see fit.

When I had a car, I drove a 2003 Honda Civic. It was financed and I had a ding on my driving record (stupid LA police trying to make their quota! I literally just pulled out of a parking garage without my lights on! Ugh, that’s a different story.) So my monthly car payment was about $200 and my monthly car insurance was $190 (I know, stupid high). I fortunately didn’t have a long commute, but I was still paying $100 a month in gas (It had been $200). Then add in parking (valet adds up), tickets (stupid quotas again), and maintenance; I’d estimate that’s about an extra $1500 a year barring any drastic damage to your car. Add it all up, that came out to ~$615 a month for me. Not as bad as many, but to me, a significant chuck of change.

Jesse-Bike

Now let’s look at my transportation now. I have three primary modes of transportation. My bike, the bus, and ride sharing. My bike costs me about $15 a month (tire maintenance) and I pay about $40 in bus fees a month. Depending on how lazy I feel, my ridesharing costs vary. But let’s say on the high end is $550 a month (for ~50 rides a month). That’s still only $605 a month. Yes, it’s only a $10 savings, but ride sharing offers me three primary benefits beyond cash.

1. Peace of mind. I never have to worry about an unexpected $400 bill for new tires or $900 for some weird engine part.

2. Increased productivity. I never have to exert mental or physical energy driving. LA traffic is a bitch, but it’s so much easier to deal with when you can just be productive on your phone. Let someone else deal with the traffic. Yes, I’m still in traffic, but I don’t have to pay attention, try to squeeze into a new lane, or find an alternative route.

3. Budget flexibility. I dictate my monthly spend. If I really wanted to, I could ride my bike or take the bus to work every morning. That right there drops my monthly expenditure $250. But I’d rather take a 25 minute Uber than spend an hour on the bus or have a sweaty 35 minute bike ride. In theory, I could save more money if I was committed to it. Regardless of how much I’m spending, it’s still not a fixed cost. Nothing was more stressful when I didn’t have a job and I always had to pay for a car I was barely using.

What Does This Mean For the Future?

There are lot of financial and social implications with the increase of ride sharing. Both positive and negative. Let’s start with the positives.

1. Job flexibility for a new crop of people. Cab drivers have seemingly been dominated by immigrants. But now being a Lyft driver is the new bartender. It gives people an opportunity to make extra cash, or a living wage, without them having to sacrifice their primary job/dream (See: aspiring actors).

2. Less pollution. I promise I’m not a tree hugger, but less pollution is a good thing. Now, with the arrival of sharing rides on Uber/Lyft, that means even less rides/pollution.

3. Less drunk driving. The argument can be made that taxis should prevent drunk driving. But they haven’t. High prices and inefficient reliability plague the taxi industry. This Uber study and this Washington Post indicates DUIs have decreased in cities that Uber operates in. 

Now the negatives:

1. Decreased public funds. Less cars means less parking tickets, speeding tickets, and car registrations. As much as I hate these things, our terribly under financed local governments need this revenue.

2. Less car production could have a worldwide impact. There’s a reason why the US government bailed out the car industries. There a lot of jobs at stake with car manufacturing, sales, maintenance, and advertising. Decrease car sales and that has a huge financial ripple effect.

3. Safety. There is a huge, ongoing debate about the safety of these ridesharing apps. Unlike taxis, where drivers have been vetted and carefully monitored, ride sharing drivers are independent contractors. They’re not on a set schedule, so there’s little accountability. There have been several horror stories, which you can read here and here.

Ridesharing is not perfect. There are plenty of worries still left (like who is liable in an accident), but I am still very bullish on companies like Uber and Lyft. They’ve been very important in my daily life and I have no intentions of getting a car anytime soon. It will be interesting to revisit this post a year from now, five years from now. I’ve never had a terrible experience with either company and I trust the drivers. If you’d like to ask me any specific questions about my experience, I’d be willing to elaborate on my experience.

If you’ve never used Uber or Lyft, I encourage you to sign up. Use my referral code and you get free credit!

Uber: 39yg0

Enjoy The Journey


“Happy is harder than money. Anybody who thinks money will make you happy hasn’t got money.”   David Geffen

Geffen

David Geffen

 

The other week I ran into a successful entrepreneur at dinner. We had a brief, but lovely conversation. As I was leaving, he left me with one piece of advice.

“Enjoy the journey.” 

As I was walking home, I thought about how easy it was for him to tell me this. He made his money, he’s comfortable, and can do what he wants. But then I realized he missed it. He missed the struggle and the challenges you face when you’re working your way up.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for four years now. I’ve had some mild success and a ton of failures. I’ve failed so badly that I went out and got a real job. But I’m still an entrepreneur with dreams and goals, and I’m not going to stop until they’ve been met.

For me, it’s hard to “enjoy the journey” because I’m in the part of the journey where your teeth get kicked in. I’ve struggled with my bills, my self-worth, my identity, and much more as I’ve worked towards upwards mobility. I’m currently rebuilding my company’s entire software system because I fucked up version 1.0 so badly. But when I really sit back and think about it, I am enjoying the journey.

Geffen-Quote

I’ve learned an incredible amount in the past four years. My knowledge in business, marketing, and technology has increased to the point where people come to me for advice. I’m by no means an expert, or where I want to be, but that’s a huge leap from four years ago. I may be rebuilding my software product from scratch, but it’s with so much more knowledge than the first iteration. I’m much more confident that I’ll be able to get customers with the new product. That’s exciting! I feel like I’m on the cusp of hitting my stride and really clicking on all cylinders.

Despite all my difficulties, I’ve fought through it and I’m happy. Finding happiness has been an extremely difficult journey. I used to think (and maybe still a little) that money would make me happy. Yet, here I am, one missed paycheck away from poverty, and happy. I have a career, I have my health (I must be getting old if I list that), my family, and I have friends. I have amazing friends. I have lifelong friends all over the country and good friends here in LA. It’s these friendships, of varying closeness, that have really elevated my happiness.

Below is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s called, “Inventing David Geffen” and it’s amazing. It’s brilliant. David Geffen is a powerhouse. I absolutely loved learning about his journey. I see similarities in his journey and mine. I saw how he struggled with self-identity and happiness just like everyone else. This documentary is incredibly empowering. A must see.

Between my chance encounter at dinner and watching this documentary, one thing is abundantly clear; money and happiness are not mutually exclusive. Enjoy the journey. No matter how difficult it is, when it’s over, you’ll miss it.

You Fooled Me Blue Apron


Blue-Apron

Oh Blue Apron, you fooled me. You got me good. I don’t blame you, I’m totally at fault, but damn, you got me good.

What am I talking about? Well, if you’re not familiar with Blue Apron, look them up. Blue Apron is a service that sends you recipes and the corresponding ingredients to cook these recipes. Sounds great? Absolutely. That’s why I signed up. Exceeept for one tiny detail. It’s not as easy as I had originally thought.

I originally thought Blue Apron sent you pre-made meals. Further research proved me wrong. But even after reading up on it, I was under the assumption I’d be given properly measured out ingredients so I just had to mix things up in a bowl and cook it. Then I got my first box.

Blue Apron is essentially a grocery delivery system. You select your meal plan, along with when and where you want your box of food to be delivered. Then they send you a big box of food. Sure, your ingredients are individually packaged, but they’re not ready for cooking. You have to cut everything up, husk/skin your food, prep it like a sous chef. Not exactly what I had envisioned.

Blue-Apron-1

My first week of Blue Apron meals.

I signed up for Blue Apron because I don’t have much time to cook. But I want to eat healthier than I do. So this seemed like the right solution. Nope. It took me three hours to cook my three meals. Not including all the time it took me to clean the copious amounts of dishes. The food was ok, not great. Certainly not worth the time it took me to make it all.

The concept of Blue Apron is great. I love it. It probably does work for many people. But for me, it doesn’t do me any good. It’s no more than a glorified Instacart to me. I’ll be looking into alternative options because Blue Apron just doesn’t fit this single guy’s busy lifestyle.

One of the Best Interviews You’ll Watch


When I hear “Life Coach” I think bullshit. I can’t help it. It just sounds like a made up job where people with no real education/training charge you and tell you what to do with your life. Years ago I even did a introductory call with one and it really felt like I was paying a cheerleader who would help me stay on task. Jerry Colonna is a totally different story.

I had heard of Jerry over a year ago through Fred Wilson’s blog. They’ve done business together and appear to be close friends. But it wasn’t until I saw this interview Jerry did with Jason Calacanis did I really see his undeniable value.

It’s a long interview, but it won’t seem long. If you’re an entrepreneur, Jerry’s words will resonate with you. The 90 minutes will fly by. If you are looking for a life or business coach. I’d definitely watch this video and compare any coach you’re considering against it.

 

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