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Why ‘Stop Watching TV’ is Bad Time Management Advice
About the author: Robert Graham is a solo founder and maintains a blog about the experience. Robert has been working in software since 2005. He is a Ph.D. dropout who spent time working for Google. Someday he’d like to work for himself.

I don’t know if I have ever read an article about time management that didn’t have a collection of statistics about how much TV the average American watches followed by telling you that those hours are now free for you to use.

That advice isn’t really useful. Giving things up is hard. How do you quit TV? What if you don’t watch much? Isn’t quitting an addictive habit hard? What if you really enjoy watching TV? Read on, my friend.

I’m going to talk you through a few ways to better manage your time in order of efficacy.

It’s not the freshest idea in the list, but it may be the most critical. A saying that comes to mind is, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Writing down plans and goals for your time will force you to be realistic about how much time you have to spend and make you more aware of where you spend it. I use two planning tools for time management.

I write down a list of 6 things I want to accomplish every day. Often the list contains some easy wins, but the consistency of forward progress is the key. All those small wins are like compound interest. Not only did you get something accomplished, but it will usually grant you satisfaction that will build your momentum. I use a notepad and Google Tasks for my lists.

I also mentally track time estimates in my head for activities I do in the evening that are not producing. Here is an example:

Arrive home 5:30 pm
Dinner and Family Time 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Chores 7:30 – 8 pm
Watch Top Gear 8 – 9 pm
Work Time 9 – 11 pm

Some days have more time available and some less. Don’t plan to multitask. Focus. Your accuracy in accounting for an evening or day will improve over time. I know I’ve only got 2 hours in this evening for work before I arrive home. That means I best plan how to use it well.

I have a good friend that never buys a drink when we eat out. I often do. We make jokes about this distinction frequently. I don’t spend a lot of money, but I really enjoy a tea or a soda with certain meals. He doesn’t really care for either.

This friend spends most of his time in the wood shop he made in his garage and he turns my cokes and sweet teas into shapers, joiners, lathes, and a nice table saw. I like the idea of wood working, but I’m not much good for it in reality. I am happy with my choice to buy a drink because I get value from it. Make sure you get the same value from your time. You won’t choose the same things as others, but you need to be sure you get value for what you do choose.

You don’t have enough time to accomplish what you want to. Start there. What are the one or two major things that could 10x your business? What actions can you do today to get closer to those? It is probably not learning Photoshop and it’s usually not writing code. Pick the most critical high-level items according to your goals and then pare down the scope.

You should outsource what you can. Ruthlessly optimize the rest. Find 80% solutions to problems. Apply the MVP philosophy to design, marketing, and SEO.

Research shows that people will eat less if they use smaller plates. It also tells us that you will eat less candy or reconsider getting seconds if it is six or more feet away. This makes sense. Much of landing page design and conversion optimization on the web is aimed at reducing any possible friction points like these. No matter how minor the barrier, it will hurt your conversion rate.

Changing your environment is a lot easier than changing your behavior. More than that, it’s a much better strategy to change behavior. My wife and I haven’t had cable in years. About a year ago we moved our only TV into a spare bedroom of our house. Each time we add these minor barriers in our environment I think about television less, I turn it on less, and I watch less.

Group dates for teens is an example of parents changing the environment to change behavior. Many restaurants increase turnover with noisy, sense-overloading environments. The more you consider it, the more examples and uses you can come up with.

You do things in life that you don’t have to.

Buy timers for your sprinklers or get a sprinkler system. Subscribe to grocery staples on Amazon and save money and time. Automate your finances and bills. Pay others to take over tasks like lawn maintenance, car maintenance, draft writing, and even answering email. Get RescueTime and automate focusing on your work.

Remove any recurring tasks from your plate to add more time you can spend getting things done. If you’re writing code make sure you automate repetitive tasks as you go. I can spin up a new instance of my production server from backups using one command, and I have a checklist so I don’t have to think about the procedure when I do it.

I do some activities that burn me out and others that make me more apt to continue getting things done. I have only recently begun to isolate what tasks do this for me.

Many people assume that leisure activities like watching TV or playing games would let them relax and recharge, but I find that they leave you with less energy and make you more likely to continue being unproductive.

The type of task that gives me energy is productive in some sense, simple, mechanical, and repetitive. The best tasks for me are unloading the dishwasher, doing the dishes, cleaning up clutter behind my daughter (18 months old), and taking out the trash. These are easy to accomplish and usually gear me up to do work. Another good friend of mine prefers mowing the lawn or grilling. Pay attention and find the tasks that add energy for you.

You can stop watching TV if you are willing to change your environment. If you adopt each of these strategies you will be amazed what you have time for. Back to work! Right after this show…
Micropreneurship  Startups  from google
november 2011
How to Create Your Own Luck
[This was a guest post I did for TechCrunch this weekend]:

I’m in even worse trouble now. A few weeks ago I had to speak at Barry Ritholz’s conference but that turned out to be “only” a panel. It was a great panel but I knew I would only have ten minutes of time so not need to prepare much although even then I was worried. [Click above link for video, including my panel].

Now I’m speaking for ONE HOUR at Defrag in Boulder, Colorado next week on November 9 and I’m terrified. For one thing, all of the other speakers are smarter than me. Right before me is Roger Ehrenberg speaking about “big data”. I’m not even sure what “big data” is so right off he’s smarter than me. Then Paul Kedrosky is speaking later in the afternoon about god knows what. Paul has an excellent blog obsessed with everyone from economics to weather data. So despite my expertise in speaking I’m finding I’m a bit nervous.

(a painting based on the panicking guy in the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics in 1938)

I could open up with the same line I used on Barry’s panel, “When I was walking over here I had an erection. Not so easy for a 43 year old without any stimulation whatsoever.” This might not be the exact crowd for it.

Technically, the title of my talk is “Success is a Sexually Contagious Disease” but I only gave them that title because it sounded neat and it was the title of a blog post I then published. But I have no idea if that’s what I’m going to talk about or if that’s something people will be interested in.

The conference itself is about entrepreneurship.  But I always am plagued that I’ve gotten somewhat lucky on this issue. My first company happened during the internet boom and I happened to be one of the few people around (at the time) who knew how to make a website. The second company I had, where Yasser Arafat was an investor, went down in flames in the Bust. The third company I sold was a venture firm. We were only sold because our top investor was so disgusted with us he wanted to buy out our ten year contract. And the third company I sold was Stockpickr.com, which I sold to thestreet.com that I already had a great relationship with. Another company that I made a decent living off was trading for hedge funds and then starting a fund of hedge funds. Everything else I did (about 16 other attempts at businesses) failed.

So I guess right now I can see if it was luck or if I learned some lessons.

1) Luck is similar to “being at the right place at the right time”. So you can easily position yourself there. We know that the right place for right now is somewhere in social media. There are still many niches (plumbers, diamond wholesalers, etc) that aren’t properly using social media correctly. The big agencies are ignoring them and they are too small and focused to understand how to use direct marketing via social media. If I were starting a business right now I’d either do lead generation via social media for a small but focused niche (diamond wholesalers, small restaurants, etc) or I’d provide financing/lending for companies that are doing this and have established records of turning profits on money spent. I know several companies doing the above but it’s an incredibly wide open, gaping hole in the industry.

If I were a banker I’d look to buying companies all over the country in this space and then bringing the combined entity public in the IPO boom that’s about to start happening.

(investor in my second company)

2) My venture firm being sold I learned one thing: have at least one partner who is a great negotiatior. “Be bad” and someone will be willing to buy you usually doesn’t work. I was lucky there. Although, I will say, I had good, professional partners that knew how to negotiate very well. The one guy’s main technique was to act like we always had alternatives when we never did. And he would ignore the other party for a day or so while they got desperate. It’s a gutsy way to negotiate but it worked. Here’s part of the reason it didn’t work out for me as a big VC.

3) The mental health facility I sold I learned some very important things. Quantity, persistence,  and story-telling. You need to hit everyone and then call everyone back twice. We must’ve made 30 calls and then 30 follow-ups to make sure we spoke with the right person. And then with each person we pushed to have a phone call with the company. Then once we had a potential buyer on the phone we had to make sure we told at least three different stories: how the company doing (and was going to do ), the reasons why growth was a LOCK, and the reasons why management was incredible. Then we got the deal done.Which was a story unto itself. (Here’s my prior post on TechCrunch on how to best sell a company).

4) Stockpickr, as I mentioned before was a matter of being both proactive, and having friends in the right places. But it also was a matter of vigilance. I had a particular passion about how a financial community could develop with NO NEWS. I hate the news. It also was a matter of nourishing relationships built up over a five year period of non-stop work in the financial media space.

So here’s how you “Create your luck”:

A) As Wayne Gretzky says, “skate to where the puck is going”. Don’t start a soft drink company competing against Coca-Cola. Start a company in a fast growing industry that has a wide-gaping hole in it. It’s not hard to identify those industries and holes.

B) If you can’t create the company in that space, can you arrange financing for companies in that space through some of the techniques roughly described above. This still allows you to leverage in the growth of the sector.

C) Learn how to negotiate.

D) Quantity. You’re never going to win if you depend on one potential buyer or one potential customer. The first time I tried to sell my company, Reset, I tried to sell it to HBO. I had only one potential buyer. No good and it didn’t work out. But that god because the next time I tried I made sure I had ten potential buyers. Ever since then I almost get a reflux reaction in my stomach when I realize I’m back down to the one buyer-one customer model, which is never good.

E) Persistence. When we were selling the mental health facility there was one time we got a wrong number when we called a public company. We got switched to the wrong person in the company repeatedly. My business partner, Dan, kept calling until he finally convinced the operator she was connecting him to the wrong person. This was one of only 30 companies he was calling so he could’ve just left a message and given up. Instead he got her one the phone eventually and she was the one who coughed up $41.5 million in cash, three times the closest other offer.

F) Story-telling. Everyone is a little boy or girl at heart. We all want to sit on the floor and bounce a ball and watch Saturday morning cartoons. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Make sure your story is down pat when you are talking with anyone about your idea, your company, your self (on a date, for instance). It doesn’t have to be so “planned”. But make sure you are constantly improving your storytelling abilities. For instance, before I gave a talk last week in Arizona I watched 30 minutes of Ellen Degeneres and Jon Stewart. Comedians are excellent story-tellers with perfect timing.

G) Nourish relationships. The size of your network increases your luck exponentially. But relationships take Time to nourish. When I wrote here two weeks ago about “the 9 Skills for Becoming a Super Connector” I mentioned that I forgot what “Time” was for one my list. Now I know: over time relationships get nourished. A simple connection becomes a friend, becomes family, becomes someone who actively wants you to succeed. That takes weeks/months/years to happen. Important to note: expressing gratitude across your network is the surest way to strengthen it.

H) Passion. Luck will ALWAYS follow your passion. Warren Buffett was, of course, extremely luck that his passion was investing in 1950. But almost every passion can be used to make money if you have all of the above. Even if your passion is just “how do I meet the love of my life” and you apply all of the above you will “get lucky”, so to speak, and find success at your endeavor.

I’ve had a lot of bad things happen to me in the course of being an entrepreneur. And sometimes I get down about it and it’s hard to pull myself away from the nightmare alley where the light at the end just becomes a fire that pushes me back. But when I do get to the end of the nightmare, and I apply the above, luck comes shining through and I can see again.

Follow me on Twitter

Motivation  from google
november 2011
How do I sell a general-purpose tool?
(Powered by LaunchBit)

This is part of an ongoing startup advice series where I answer (anonymized!) questions from readers, like a written version of Smart Bear Live. To get your question answered, email me at asmartbear -at- shortmail -dot- com.
Frustrated Builder writes:

I have a general-purpose reporting tool that automatically creates reports from certain kinds of data sources.

But although I have six very happy customers, I’m having trouble finding more.

How do I get unstuck? I know people need this tool!

I’ve had to solve this problem before.

At Smart Bear people were always asking for reports, but everyone wanted a different report. One customer wanted detailed usage metrics per employee. Another wanted a prediction of how many bugs likely remained in each source file. Another wanted to see which source files were most risky. Another wanted audit trials. And so on.

So I made what I thought was a smart move. Rather than chase this insatiable, growing list of reports, we built a fully-customizable reporting system. The user could select from 50 columns of data, apply 50 filters, sort, group, and even take reporting data directly into a database query or another custom reporting tool for further analysis.

“Just like Salesforce.com,” I would say as the one-line spec. “They’ve shown the way.”

But in hindsight it was a failure, for the same reason that you’re hitting the wall. Which is:

People don’t want a custom reporting tool. They want a specific report, just like they were asking me for.

“But look,” I’d say in bewildering, frustrating support calls, “you can make that report! You just pick these seven columns, group by this thing, filter this out, and you’re 80% of the way there. If you really want to go all the way, use this feature to live-import into Microsoft Access and you can LITERALLY DO ANYTHING!”

It never worked. My brilliance was met with silence and then: “So….. can you build that report for us in Access?”

People don’t want a “tool.” They don’t want to “harness the power of a database with the simplicity of a blah blah blah.” They want an end result. People search for “saas business accounting model spreadsheet,” not “custom business intelligence analysis tool.”

Your tool is a means to an end, and you need to sell the end. The fact that it’s “fully customizable and flexible” is great because it means a customer can become more and more adept, and therefore more and more successful. Fabulous! But it’s not how you sell it.

So here’s what you do: Go through your existing six happy customers and pick out a single use-case in which you do an exceptionally good job and includes as many of those customers as possible, even if that number is “one.”

Then nail that sonofabitch. Make a landing page promising nothing but that one report. Split-test some prose and the call to action, put a great customer quote in there (by definition you have one!), get some traffic with paid search, then get some press around the customer’s story (not your story) where you drop your landing page as the way they solved the problem.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t define your company or your future. Well maybe it does — this might be repeatable! You might be able to build 10 or 100 of these over time, each a unique, independently optimize-able path to get customers, feeling out which niches and what marketing language works best. Sounds do-able!

Or maybe you will indeed end up like Crystal Reports or Microsoft Access or Business Objects or whatever, becoming known as a general-purpose tool after all.

It doesn’t matter (right now) how your future unfolds. For now you just need more customers, and this is a simple, direct path.

After all, if you can’t sell a table to someone who wants a table, you certainly can’t sell them a hammer, nails, and plywood without instructions!

Add your advice to the discussion section!
Sign up for AppSumo's daily deals specifically for web geeks & entrepreneurs.
Mailbag  from google
november 2011
When "minimal viable product" doesn't work
One of my favorite ideas in the new wave of programming is the notion of minimal viable product. The thought is that you should spec and build the smallest kernel of your core idea, put it in the world and see how people react to it, then improve from there.

For drill bits and other tools, this makes perfect sense. Put it out there, get it used, improve it. The definition of "minimal" is obvious.

Often, for software we use in public, this definition leads to failure. Why? Two reasons:

1. Marketing plays by different rules than engineering. Many products depend on community, on adoption within a tribe, on buzz--these products aren't viable when they first launch, precisely because they haven't been adopted. "Being used by my peers," is a key element of what makes something like a fax machine a viable product, and of course, your new tool isn't.

With enough patience and push and consistent enthusiasm, these products have a shot at crossing the threshhold. But if the mindset is "see what works and do it more," you'll often discover yourself giving up long before that happens.

2. There's a burst of energy and attention and effort that accompanies a launch, even a minimally viable one. If there's a delay in pick up from the community, though (see #1) it's easy to move on to the next thing, the next launch, the next hoopla, as opposed to doing the insanely hard work of sticking with that thing you already launched.

Inherent in the process of minimal viable product, then, is a trusting, large permission base that will eagerly listen to you, try your new work and let you know what they think. And you don't have the option of building that audience once the product is ready--that's too late.
from google
november 2011
“Communication With Purpose”
This is the new calling card I designed for gapingvoid. Note how the message is more communication-based, rather than art-based. Exactly. Also, the message is more about the team (Jason, Laura, Sammy and myself), as opposed to about just me and the drawings.

“Communication With Purpose”. Exactly.
Uncategorized  from google
november 2011
Firefox Designer Offers a Look at What Wasn’t
Alt. Firefox Nightly Icon
Mozilla’s Principal Designer on Firefox, Alex Faaborg, is leaving the company to “try out design work in an entirely different space.” Before he goes though, Faaborg is sharing some designs from the Mozilla cutting room floor — mockups and design ideas that never quite made it to Firefox.

Most Firefox users probably don’t know Faaborg by name, but he’s overseen the design of some of the browser’s bigger user interface changes over the years, including the Awesomebar, the move to tabs-on-top, the one-click bookmark system and the revamped icon that launched with Firefox 3.

Among the items from Mozilla’s cutting room floor are Faaborg’s nightly build icon which Mozilla felt looked too much like an exploding world, rather than the forming world Faaborg had intended to convey.

Another design mockup that has apparently been missing release targets since Firefox 2 is Faaborg’s “Stealth” theme for Firefox’s Private Browsing mode. The Stealth theme mockups show an all-black toolbar and browser chrome designed to provide “a constant indication of being in private browsing mode.”

The proposed Stealth theme for Private Browsing mode in Firefox 3

Other scrapped ideas include the more whimsical “Fluffy Pie Menu,” some attempts to bring the now defunct Ubiquity project into the Firefox URL bar and an alternate way to browse bookmarks via the URL bar.

None of these — save perhaps the Stealth theme — appears to have any chance of making it beyond where it is now, the scrap heap of Firefox history, but for Firefox aficionados Faaborg’s parting screenshot tour offers a glimpse of what could have been.

See Also:

Firefox to Keep Version Numbers After All
Firefox’s Private Browsing, AKA ‘Porn Mode’ Arrives
Mozilla Moves Tabs to the Top for Firefox 4
Browsers  firefox  from google
november 2011
250 lbs of M&Ms… GONE!
I’ve decided I’m going to try to start doing more video blogs. That means it’s not an actual goal, but more of a wishful thought. I think a few a month would be fun. What do you all think?

Anyway, those of you who were following along in the early-days here will remember all the talk about M&Ms. When SDL was still small, I thought it’d be funny to charge people bags of M&Ms to be on my blogroll. There were a few takers, and then in the coming months when the blog got a lot bigger, the pile got out of control and I had to put an end to it.

And so for the last several months, I’ve had 250 lbs of M&Ms (at one point over 300 lbs.) to figure out what to do with. As fate would have it, the perfect holiday showed up yesterday, and I decided to unload my treasure on all the kids of the neighborhood. Plus, I’d be uber popular for at least a night.

It was a freaking blast. And the best part… the reactions of the kids. They had me rollin’ on the floor between knocks on the door. I’ve pasted my favorite quotes from the night on the next page. BE SURE TO READ THEM. You’ll laugh your face off. So, anyway… my first vlog in a long, long time.

As more kids came pounding on the door, it became apparent that word was spreading. Some began trying to burst in to grab candy. Others immediately asked for the big stuff when I opened the door. The best were the kids who didn’t know what they were in for when they showed up.
Continue reading: 250 lbs of M&Ms… GONE!
Awesome_Videos  Humor  Random_&_Interesting  from google
november 2011
The #1 Most Effective Habit
[This was a guest post I did over the weekend at TechCrunch].

There was a girl at the party, Ona, who then started telling me how she met her current boyfriend. She just simply told him she liked him. I was insanely jealous right then of this guy. Here was this beautiful, hysterically funny girl who told a guy she liked him and now he was having regular sex with her.

That doesn’t happen, right? It never happened to me. I sat there nodding, not being able to say anything but thinking, what if she said, “I like you” to me right then. I would’ve been happy. Instead, I got depressed and went to sit on the stairs.

There was another girl there. She was crying.I tried to comfort her by telling her I was an artist. I then asked her why she was crying. Apparently the party was actually her birthday party! I had no idea. I didn’t even know who she was. And she was crying because her boyfriend didn’t show up.

Within a week we were living together. Ultimately it didn’t work out and I did my usual passive thing, which was to move to another city (in this case, NYC), to get out of the relationship.

In Stephen Covey’s Book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” his first habit is “Be Proactive.” I haven’t read the book. I saw the list on Wikipedia. I WILL NOT buy the book because at this moment it’s the #1 book on Amazon under Motivation on the Kindle and I am #2. How can he be #1 after 22 years? Beating the new, fresh, me! Stephen Covey, I’m coming after you!

But it makes me think – unfortunately he’s dead on. In fact, Being Proactive might be the only effective habit. I read the other six and they all seemed to be corollaries of the  first one.

-          When I started my first company, Reset, I showed my brother-in-law the Internet so he could start learning design for it. And then I hired Reset from my perch at HBO to do HBO’s website. I was insanely proactive in getting the company off of the ground. When I wanted to sell the company I didn’t wait for buyers. I proactively went after everyone who was buying companies in the space. And screw you, Razorfish, for ignoring me.

(Reset’s first version of the HBO website)

-          When I was trading for hedge funds I sent out about 20 emails every weekend to new potential investors. Altogether I probably sent out over 1000 emails. Most of them ignored me. Over the course of a year about 14 allocated money for me to trade.

-          When I started Stockpickr, I spec-ed out the site, had India mock up a few pages, and showed the  CEO of thestreet.com what I was working on. I had spent less than $1000 on it at that point. He wanted to be  involved and eventually it grew into a good business. If I had just said to him, “let’s do a social media business in Finance”, it would not have worked. I would’ve become a consultant rather than an entrepreneur. You have to DO things to succeed. Nobody is just going to give you money. This is why being as proactive as possible is important.

-          Ona was proactive in meeting her boyfriend. He was never going to ask her out. So she told him she liked him and they started going out. She was proactive.

-          Before I met Claudia, I was sending out probably 50 messages a day on dating services. That’s the sheer quantity I had to do in order to meet someone I liked and it worked. And I screwed it up so badly, as I’ve written before. She wrote to me that she was from Buenos Aires and I said, “oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil.” And she wrote back, “uhh, Buenos Aires is in Argentina!” Ugh, what an idiot I am!  I can’t believe she agreed to go on a date with me after that.  But if I hadn’t been sending out 50 messages a day I never would’ve met her. To top it off, I really was hoping Buenos Aires was in Brazil. I would save at least four hours on any plane rides. Oh well.

(Claudia looking very suspicious, minutes after we were married)

-          Whenever I want to guest post in another blog, I write the post first, and then I send it to them, and I ask them if they want to guest post it. It almost always works. Very few times has someone reached out to me and said, “can you write for us.” It’s almost always me proactively chasing it.

Here’s the proactive plan:


-          Proactively list what you want (a spouse, a new job, a new business, a new opportunity)

-          List what the next step is (sign up for dating services, take a yoga class, look at classifieds, spec out your business, decide how you will build your product, contact the people who will build it and get a price from them, ask people if you can work for them, etc.) Make sure the next step is very doable. So doable that you can (and will) do it TODAY.

(I do all my lists on waiter's pads. They are cheap and prevent extended prose).


-          Quickly determine what doesn’t work. For instance, if I went to 100 bars trying to meet women, none of them would work. Similarly, when I set up Stockpickr.com I set up 10 other websites at the same time. None of them got any traction and I stuck with the one that did.


-          If you want a new job, proactively go out and get another one. Preferably freelance : think about what you do best, and then do it for three paying customers. Contact 30 customers and ask what simple services you can do for them that they would be willing to pay for. Three of them will respond and now you can quit your job.

-          If you want to raise money: Contact 100 VCs or angels and share with them your business. If they all say “no” then build up for six months, send them all notes on your progress EVERY MONTH, and go out and raise money again six months later. If you have no progress then start a new business. It didn’t work.

Another example: when a book publisher once  rejected me, I wrote back to her saying that I fit perfectly with her list, describing how I could publicize the book with the different branches of her own company, I would make all changes she wanted, I would work with a co-author, etc and wouldn’t you know it – she published my book that she had rejected. It was an easy book to write (my co-author did a lot of the writing) and I got an advance and made money. It never would’ve happened if I hadn’t researched her and proactively chased her down.


-          If you want publicity, write your own publicity. Write a guest post for a popular blog. If you want to go on TV, contact the producers of shows and give them ten ideas of what you can talk about and why they should pick you to talk about them. Example: I have no credentials in politics but I wrote a post about a year or so ago for the Huffington Post on who the possible third party candidates could be. Next thing I was on five radio shows talking about it. Suddenly I was a political expert.

Another example: In 2002, I wrote Jim Cramer an email with the subject line: “10 ideas for articles you should write”. He liked the ideas I wrote in the email. But he said, “Why don’t YOU write them”. And that began my financial writing career.


-          If you want health, proactively get it. You know when you are putting bad stuff in your body, when you’re not sleeping enough, when you’re not exercising enough, when you’re letting short-term pleasures get in the way of longer-term gratification . Proactively make sure that when you’re 80 you’re not stooped over and suffering.

(don't forget to exercise)


-          Of course one way to make more money is to spend less. Cut out the biggest expenses in your life. Even rent or mortgage. It’s no crime or shame to move someplace else. I’ve done it repeatedly when I’ve needed to. That’s how you live happier and longer.


-          If someone is making you angry how do you be proactive? That’s easy. Ignore them! Don’t try to fight them. You’ll never win. Do you think you are going to win an argument against a friend, parent, or boss who hates you? Of course not. Ignore them until they stop hating you. Now that entire problem is gone.


-          So today, write down the five things you want and what the absolute very next step is to getting those things (if you want to start a business, for instance, write down some ideas for businesses and how you can realistically start them within the next month). If you’re at a loss, here are my suggestions and it goes along with the Daily Practice I recommend:

- write down 2 goals for what you Physically want out of life and then how you are going to get those things incrementally accomplished TODAY.

- write down 2 goals for what you Emotionally want out of life

- write down 2 goals what you Mentally or Creatively want out of life

- write down 2 goals for what you Spiritually want out of life and how you can go about getting those things

(I did beat out Covey for about 15 seconds. Click here if you want to buy it and get the promotion I describe).


You can come up with a lot of reasons for not proactively beginning something. Excuses are easy and I get it. But how about take a ten day diet from excuses. You can get back to your “I can’ts” 10 days from now. If I said, “I can’t start Stockpickr, I’m running a fund of hedge funds.” then I never would’ve started it and sold it nine months later. If I said, “I can’t self-publish – nobody will buy it” then I never would’ve had for 15 seconds the #1 best selling Motivational book on Amazon’s kindle store, BEATING OUT Stephen Covey’s crappy little book.

After I was dating Sue for two years (the girl whose birthday party it was in the beginning of this post), I went shopping for an engagement ring. My friend, Peter, went down to the main store in … [more]
Motivation  from google
october 2011
How to get a job with a small company
Most advice about job seeking is oriented around big companies. The notion of a standard resume, of mass mailings, of dealing with the HR department--even the idea of interviews--is all built around the Fortune 500.Alas, the Fortune 500 has been responsible for a net loss in jobs over the last twenty years. All the growth (and your best chance to get hired) is from companies you’ve probably never heard of. And when the hirer is also the owner, the rules are very different.1. Learn to sell. Everyone has sold something, some time, even if it’s just selling your mom on the need for a nap when you were three years old. A lot of people have decided that they don’t want to sell, can’t sell, won’t sell, but those same people need to understand that they’re probably not going to get a job doing anything but selling. Small businesses always need people who can sell, because selling pays for itself. It’s not an expense, it’s a profit center.2. Learn to write. Writing is a form of selling, one step removed. There’s more writing in business today than ever before, and if you can become a persuasive copywriter, you’re practically a salesperson, and even better, your work scales.3. Learn to produce extraordinary video and multimedia. This is just like writing, but for people who don’t like to read. Even better, be sure to mix this skill with significant tech skills. Yes, you can learn to code. The fact that you don't feel like it is one reason it's a scarce skill.Now that you’ve mastered these skills (all of which take time and guts but no money), understand the next thing about small businesses--they aren’t hiring to fill a slot. Unlike a big company with an org chart and pay levels, the very small business is an organism, not a grid. The owner is far more likely to bring in a freelancer or someone working on spec than she is to go run a classified help wanted ad.And many small businesses are extremely bad at taking initiative that feels like risk. They’d rather fill orders than take a chance and go out prospecting for a person who represents a risk. And that’s your opportunity.When you show up and offer to go prospecting on spec, offer to contribute a website or a sales letter or some sales calls--with no money on the table--many small business people will take you up on it, particularly if they are cash-strapped, profit-oriented and know you by reputation. (Please don't overlook that last one).

Hint: don't merely show up and expect a yes. It's something you earn over time...

The rest is easy. Once you demonstrate that you contribute far more than you cost, now it's merely a matter of figuring out a payment schedule.This is probably far more uncertainty and personal branding than most job seekers are comfortable with. Which is precisely why it works.

PS Nancy is hiring.
from google
october 2011
I Surrender
I was going to go out of business or get sued.

I had just started my fund of hedge funds and on our fourth month in business our main investor said, “I’m going out of business and I need my money back.” Apparently he had never told HIS investors that he was putting money in a fund of funds and he had promised them their money back right away.  I couldn’t give him his money back for at least a year. He had given me around $20 million.

I had to do something.

I couldn’t sleep at night. My lawyer said, “why don’t you just shut down” and I was screaming back, “this is my LIFE! I don’t want to shut down.” I would wake up and think to myself, “why am I here YET AGAIN!” I would wake up and feel a clenching in my chest and I would think, “can I ever protect my family? Can I just once be happy?”

We all decided to meet in my lawyer’s office. The investor had a tic that made his entire face crunch up every few seconds. Like a piece of paper you want to throw out because it’s a bill you can’t pay. The meeting with my lawyer ended up with the investor throwing a chair at the lawyer and then running out of the office.

He was scared. His CFO quit because he thought the investor was up to illegal activity. Let me tell you something: every hedge fund is  a crime. Of the 13 hedge funds I invested in maybe 12 were engaged in some sort of criminal activity when I look back on it.

But I was afraid to go out of business. I had a family to feed. I didn’t want this investor suing me, nor did I want to give him his money back since he had committed it for a year and it was now gone, invested in 13 other hedge funds that would not give me the money back for a year (that’s standard practice).

So, I kid you not, I bought a book, “The Tao of Star Wars”. And I re-watched all the Star Wars movies. I think I bought, in total, three books about “The Force”. I meditated every day.

I surrendered.

It’s hard to “surrender”. We’re not used to that. We go for the FRONTIER. We win wars! When I was a kid we were taught that “the US has never lost a war”. Somehow in 12 years of schooling, we never learned about Vietnam. We always seemed to run out of time by the end of the school year.

“Surrender” also has religious connotations. Most people  I know went to graduate school of some sort. Grad school warps your brain. There should be “un-Grad” schools that get your brain back into balance. Grad school intensifies your brain into a very specific area, whatever area it is, and that’s enforced by the fact that all the people around you are being warped as well. Thank god I got thrown out of graduate school.

But the word “surrender” makes people think of things that are very un-academic, even un-intelligent. Giving up with out a fight.

But I decided to surrender to this science fiction movie. Star Wars. “I can’t raise $20 million overnight,” I would say. “So I’ll do whatever you tell me to do and it will be ok. I give up.”

(Yoda was my guru)

Which doesn’t mean I just lied around in bed all day. I did everything I could to raise money. But I wasn’t going to stress on it. Every day I meditated and would conclude with, “I give up. I’m going to do all I can do. But I give it up to the Force to get me into the right situation.” And I felt better after saying it. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night anymore.

If you were one of my investors you probably didn’t know that I relied on a spiritual relic out of a movie made in 1977 to save my business.

But it worked. $3mm here. $2mm there. $10mm there. Bit by bit I got the $20mm. I paid this investor back. Rather than going to jail, he went on to start another successful business.

And you know what I did almost as soon as he as out?  I shut my fund of funds down. Everything smelled ugly. Every fund I was in, disgusted me (with 1 or 2 rare exceptions). There were suicides that looked like murders. There was money that got misallocated to Switzerland and was never recovered. There were at least two Ponzi schemes. There were kickbacks. There were lawsuits.

(one manager stole money for his numbered account in Switzerland)

Finally, I got an offer for my Fund of funds. Some bank thought it would fit in nicely with their business. They raised money for companies.  So if they also ran a fund of hedge funds that invested in companies they could somehow tie it all together. Good for them.

They made a very generous offer. But they wanted me to sign a six year employment agreement and if I ever left then I had to return ALL of the money. My lawyer said, “I thought slavery was banned a century or so ago?”

My business partner said, “We can’t take this offer.” I was sad. I wanted to get rid of the business and I wanted the money. I was pacing up and down the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel. “We have to take it,” I said. But Dan, my business partner, said, “If you sign this offer then a year from now you’re going to be standing on the top of the Empire State Building debating whether or not to jump off.”

He knew me pretty well.

So we shut it down. Our investors were upset at us. They still are. The irony being we managed to save them from going through the entire housing crisis with us. If we had even shut down a few months later then they would’ve gotten 40 cents on the dollar. Instead, they all made money.

And then I surrendered again. My money was starting to run low. I needed something to happen. But I surrendered. I said, “I’m going to start ten web businesses. I’m going to pour my heart into them. But that’s all I can do. The rest is up to YOU.” Whoever YOU is.

(I Surrender!)

If I ever found myself stressed, I would surrender again. “YOU take care of it.”

Most of the websites I started didn’t work out. For instance, keauty.com. Or smartorstupid.com.  I made a contest site where people could make their own versions of “hotornot”. I made site after site. None of them got any traction.

But I started stockpickr.com and it took off. A million plus users a month. Thestreet.com then bought it and I think it’s still around but barely. It’s hard to really nourish a community while it grows. Thestreet didn’t know how to nourish properly.

Now, it’s a little over a year since I started this blog. I want this blog to be my life somehow. To be the thing I’m most proud of. But I don’t quite know how to do it. So I write every day. I syndicate as much as possible. I read every day. I study every day. I respond to emails and coments. I hold my Thursday Q&A on Twitter. I write books based on the ideas on this blog. I have a comic coming out soon based on this blog.

And I surrender.

Motivation  Personal_Stories  from google
october 2011
The paradox of expectations
Low expectations are often a self-fulfilling prophecy. We insulate ourselves from failure, don't try as hard, brace for the worst and often get it.

High expectations, on the other hand, will inevitably lead to disappointment. Keep raising what you expect and sooner or later (probably sooner) it's not going to happen. And we know that a good outcome that's less than the great one we hoped for actually feels like failure.

Perhaps it's worth considering no expectations. Intense effort followed by an acceptance of what you get in return. It doesn't make good TV, but it's a discipline that can turn you into a professional.
from google
october 2011
Questions for a new entrepreneur
A few things came up over coffee the other day. His idea is good, his funding is solid, there are many choices. Some of the questions that don't usually get asked:

Are you aware of your cash flow? The thing about a fish in the stream is that it doesn't care if the water is six inches deep or a foot deep. As long as it never (ever) goes to zero, it's fine. What's your zero point? What are you doing to ensure you get to keep swimming?

Are you trying to build profit or equity? A business that builds a brand, a footprint, a standard and an audience might end up being worth millions (witness Tumblr, which has many millions of value but zero profitabilty). On the other hand, a business with no exit value at all might spin off plenty of profit (consider the local doctor's office). It would be great if you could simultaneously maximize both the value of your company and the profit it produces (in the short run), but that's unlikely.

What's your role? Do you want to be a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a business owner? A business owner is the boss, but it's a job, a place that is stable and profitable. An entrepreneur is an artist of sorts, throwing herself into impossible situations and seeking out problems that require heart and guts to solve. Both are fine, but choose.

Are you trying to build a team? Some business owners want to minimize cost and hassle. Others are trying to forge a culture, to train and connect and lead.

Which kind of risk is okay with you? There's financial risk, emotional risk and brand risk (among others). Are you willing to put your chips on the table daily? How about your personal reputation?

And finally, and most important, why? Why are you doing this at all?
from google
october 2011
The road not taken
Every important (and not so important) decision will create a road not taken. All the alternatives that you didn’t take are the roads not taken.

You took a particular road as probably that was the best available option among al the alternatives. Sometimes constraints (like money, available time, family etc.) might have forced you to take a road. In most cases though – it was your CHOICE to take that road. You had an opportunity to take ANY of the available roads and you made a choice to take THIS road.

So, what’s the problem?
No problem if you give your heart and soul to the road that you took and be committed to it.

Most people lives are different. They are traveling on a road but their minds are traveling on all the roads that were not taken. Typically their mindshare on “roads not taken” increases every time they hit a roadblock on the current road. Does that sound familiar?

The vicious cycle
That is the start of a vicious cycle that goes like this:

1. You are at a crossroad
2. You evaluate all available options and choose a road
3. You keep thinking about roads not taken as you traverse the current road
4. You hit a roadblock
5. Your mindshare shifts more to roads not taken
6. You have less mindshare on removing the roadblock
7. Your mindshare shifts even more to the roads not taken
8. Go back to step 5

Very soon you start doubting your earlier decision of taking THIS road. The result: the increased stress and the opportunity cost.

What can you do?
Just being aware of this is a good start. Knowing that for every road you take, there are a dozen other roads you won’t take. It is part of life. If you want to make the most of the road taken, you need to put your heart and soul on THIS road – that means a large chunk of your mindshare has to be on THIS road and not on any of the roads that were not taken.

All the best for your current journey!

Photo Courtesy: L.L.Goeff on Flickr

Related Posts:The Chasm on the Road to DistinctionThings that make me smile #16 – Why did the chicken cross the road?I will teach you how you can get what I got without you having to pay the price I paid…Wachovia Advertisement: Want your gas money back?Mini Saga #39 – Decision
Main_Page  mindshare  road_not_taken  road_taken  stress  vicious_cycle  from google
october 2011
The AJATT 7-Step Victory Formula
0. Have no good intentions whatsoever. Just pick a good direction. No intentions.
1. Start off on the wrong foot.
2. Set your quitting time ahead of time (timeboxing)
3. Do a bad job. Quick. Dirty. Ugly.
4. Do only half the job (or less), using only what tools are immediately available.
5. Stop and switch games at quitting time, before quitting time or as soon as you get bored, whichever comes first.
6. Get more, better tools.
7. Return to step (1)
Immersion  SRS  from google
october 2011
Your agenda
Most of the time, if you ask someone about their agenda, it turns out that it involves doing what's on someone else's agenda.

I need to do this for my boss, this for my husband, that for the PTSA and this other thing for the kids. As soon as you turn over your agenda to others, you're giving up one of the biggest opportunities you have to contribute. Setting an agenda is often as important as checking the boxes.

Obviously, you can't be part of any system without engaging with other people and their agendas.

But perhaps we've absorbed that habit so completely that we've ceded all responsibility and in fact don't even have an agenda any longer...
from google
october 2011
Lead Bullets
Yet our best trained, best educated, best equipped, best prepared troops refuse to fight. As a matter of fact, it’s safe to say that they would rather switch than fight.
—Public Enemy (sampled from Thomas Todd), Fight the Power

Early in my tenure as product manager for the web servers at Netscape, we faced a terrible crisis. We just got our hands on Microsoft’s new web server, Internet Information Server (IIS), and benchmarked against our product. Microsoft’s IIS had every feature that we had, was five times faster and we knew that they were going to give it away for free. This might not sound so bad, but we had just gone public three months earlier with a story to Wall Street that said, “Don’t worry about Microsoft giving away the browser because we will make money selling servers.” Oh snap.

I immediately went to work trying to move the playing field and pivot the server product line to something that we could sell for money. The late, great Mike Homer and I worked furiously on a set of partnerships and acquisitions that would broaden the product line and surround the web server with enough functionality that we would be able survive the attack.

As I excitedly reviewed the plan with my engineering counterpart, Bill Turpin, he looked at me as though I was a little kid who had much to learn. Bill was a long-time veteran of battling Microsoft from his time at Borland and understood what I was trying to do, but remained unconvinced. He said: “Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that. No, we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.” Oh snap.

As a result of Bill’s words, we focused our engineering team on fixing the performance issues while working the other things in the background. We eventually beat Microsoft’s performance and grew the server line to become a $400M business and we would never have done it without those lead bullets.

I carried that lesson with me for many years. Six years later, when I was CEO of Opsware, our toughest competitor Bladelogic started to consistently beat us in large deals. We were a public company and the losses were all too visible. To make matters worse, we needed to win those deals in order to beat the Wall Street projections, so the company felt tremendous pressure. Many of the smartest people in my company came to me with ideas for avoiding the battle:

“Let’s build a light-weight version of the product and go down market.”
“Let’s acquire a company with a simpler architecture.”
“Let’s focus on service providers.”

The issue with their ideas was that we weren’t facing a market problem. The customers were buying; they just weren’t buying our product. This was not a time to pivot. So I said the same thing to every one of them: “There are no silver bullets for this, only lead bullets.” They did not want to hear that, but it made things clear: we had to build a better product. There was no other way out. No window, no hole, no escape hatch, no backdoor. We had to go through the front door and deal with the big, ugly guy blocking it. Lead bullets.

After nine months of hard work on an extremely rugged product cycle, we regained our product lead and eventually built a company that was worth $1.6B. Without the lead bullets, I suspect we would have ended at about 1/10th that value.

There may be nothing scarier in business than facing an existential threat. So scary that many in the organization will do anything to avoid it. They will look for any alternative, any way out, any excuse not to live or die in a single battle. I see this often in start up pitches. The conversations go something like this:

Entrepreneur: “We have the best product in the market by far. All the customers love it and prefer it to competitor X.”
Me: “Why does competitor X have five times your revenue?”
Entrepreneur: “We are using partners and OEMs, because we can’t build a direct channel like competitor X.”
Me: “Why not? If you have the better product, why not knuckle up and go to war?”
Entrepreneur: “Ummm.”
Me: “Stop looking for the silver bullet.”

There comes a time in every company’s life where it must fight for its life. If you find yourself running when you should be fighting, you need to ask yourself: “If our company isn’t good enough to win, then do we need to exist at all?”
People  Strategy  from google
october 2011
Memories of bitterness
"I don't like that guy," she said.

"Why not," I wondered...

It turns out that she had done some business with him years ago and it hadn't gone well. When pressed, though, she couldn't actually recall what the problem had been, or how much financial or project damage had been done. All she remembered was that she didn't like him.

That's the way it usually is. You read those letters to the complaint columns in the paper or online, and the actual facts are often pretty trivial. What we remember isn't the financial hit, we remember the injustice, the disrespect, the way we felt at the time.

Your accountant might care about the facts. You, the marketer, need to care about the conversations and the memories.
from google
october 2011
Shubh Diwali and digital lights
Diwali is a national holiday in many countries around the world. It is a celebration of light and family.

The digital connections we're now making are a different sort of a light and create a different sort of family. Knowing who is out there, what they need and what they can offer inevitably makes the world smaller, safer and more productive.

On a commercial level, when you know who your customers are, you can stop propositioning strangers and get down to the serious work of satisfying the needs and wants of those you know. A light goes on and you are no longer stumbling in the dark.

The digital light also transforms medicine. Alert readers have heard about the push to swab, to light up the truth of your DNA by swabbing your cheek and registering for a database. Painless and fast. Not merely on behalf of one person, but for everyone.

Bone marrow transplants are misnamed--they should be called bone marrow transfusions, because most of the time, that's exactly what they are. No organs, no surgery, little discomfort. The most difficult part is registering, the shedding of light, sharing information about yourself.

It's hard for me to remember how disconnected the world was 25 years ago when I started out on my own. It really was a dark ages--information, people, relationships--finding just about anything was most of the work. The world is lighting up, and just in time.

Happy Diwali.
from google
october 2011
QUOTE: And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved…
And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

—Jonathan Ive at the Steve Jobs Tribute on the Apple campus. His talk starts around 47:17 right after Tim Cook introduces him.
from google
october 2011
Questions to Ask of the People Who Make the Rules
What, exactly, are the rules?

Why do these rules exist?

By whose authority are these rules upheld?

What’s more important—the spirit or letter of these rules?

Has anyone ever found or been granted an exception to these rules?

Could these rules be bent, modified, overlooked, or otherwise changed?

Will someone be penalized for excelling under the rules?

What are the consequences for breaking the rules?

What are the people who made these rules really afraid of?


Feel free to add to this list if you’d like. I’m traveling this week and will post as many comments as I can from the road.

Image: TVD
Life  Non-Conformity  from google
october 2011
Form and function
When the form changes, so does the underlying business model, which of course changes the function as well.

Mail ---> email

Books ---> ebooks

DVD ---> YouTube/Netflix

1040 ---> Online taxes

Visa ---> Paypal

Open outcry ---> Electronic trading

Voice call centers ---> forums and online chat

Direct mail ---> permission marketing

In each case, the original players in the legacy industry decided that the new form could be bolted onto their existing business model. And in each case they were wrong. Speed and marginal cost and ubiquity and a dozen other elements of digitalness changed the interaction itself, and so the function changes too.

The question that gets asked about technology, the one that is almost always precisely the wrong question is, "How does this advance help our business?"

The correct question is, "how does this advance undermine our business model and require us/enable us to build a new one?"

There are projects that are possible with ebooks or Kickstarter or email that could never have worked in an analog universe. Most of the money made in the stock market today is via trading approaches that didn't even exist thirty years ago.

When a change in form comes to your industry, the first thing to discover is how it will change the function.
from google
october 2011
Procrastination Hack : change and to or
“When do you go running?”

“When the time is right.”

“When is the time right?”

“When it's a nice day, and I've finished my work, and I haven't just eaten, and I'm feeling energetic.”

“Repeat that last sentence, changing ‘and’ to ‘or’.”

“When it's a nice day, OR I've finished my work, OR I haven't just eaten, OR I'm feeling energetic.”

“That sounds like a better plan.”

Got a list of conditions you need satisfied before you do something?

Try changing and to or.
from google
october 2011
When is it okay to start worrying?
A friend was waiting to hear about the results of a job interview. He hadn't heard in a while and he asked me, "how long before I should start worrying?"

Of course, the answer is, "you should never start worrying."

Worrying is not a useful output. Worrying doesn't change outcomes. Worrying ruins your day. Worrying distracts you from the work at hand. You may have fooled yourself into thinking that it's useful or unavoidable, but it's not. Now you've got one more thing to worry about.
from google
october 2011
Every Thursday from 3:30-4:30 EST I do a Q&A about anything in the Universe. People ask me about stuff ranging from the economy, to dating, to stocks, to who is the best superhero, to why am I so amazingly handsome but never was a male supermodel? I take some of the questions and give more expanded answers on a post that I put up either the next day or on Saturday.

Next Thursday I have to give a talk in Scottsdale, AZ so will miss the Q&A but will be back in form the week after. As I mention at the end of this post, I’m really grateful to anyone who asks questions. It gives me stuff to think about, it makes my life better,  and I hope it’s a little bit helpful.


@billtheimpaler asks “What makes you so optimistic about the economy?”

ANSWER:  There’s really two answers to this: personal and public. The personal side is “why should you and I be optimistic right now about finding opportunity”.

Right now, with everyone so pessimistic, is the best time to be optimistic. There’s $1.6 trillion extra dollars lying around in the banks. Corporate America has an extra $2 trillion and there’s untold trillions in pension funds, retirement accounts, etc that are completely in cash. ALL of that money will eventually hit the economy. Any business started now that is halfway good will get their hands on that money.

“Getting that money” is the equivalent of “the Olympics”.

You can’t just hold your hand out and get an Olympic gold medal. You have to get in shape. You have to start coming up with ideas. You have to get rid of the crappy people in your life. You have to plan your exit from your corporate job which sucks 10 hours of life (and 50% of your money via taxes) out of you each day. You have to have gratitude for your health and for the loving people around you.

Then you have to start coming up with ideas. What do 76mm retiring baby boomers need? What do 750 million people on Facebook need? What do hundreds of thousands of returning veterans need? And so on. Find the demographic trend, any of them, and feed it. You will get paid for that.

(these baby boomers need our HELP!)

But on a more public level: what makes me an optimist?

-          Rail traffic is up! What does this mean? It means people are shipping commodities all over the country. Steel, oil, food, etc. Which means companies are about to start building things, which means companies are seeing demand pick up so they are getting ready to restock inventories, which are at lows. This indicator is almost never talked about in the media outlets. All they talk about is a beach resort in Europe called Greece which has nothing to do with us.

-          Hotel occupancy is up. What does this mean? It means business people are traveling again. They are traveling because they are selling something. They don’t travel to sell without companies asking for those sales, putting out proposal requests, etc. Things are moving.

-          Look at the statistics for fedex.com (using a site like compete.com). It’s up. It slipped a little when manufacturing dropped 15% in the summer in Japan because of the Earthquake but now it’s back up. This means things are being shipped. Goods are being sold. This doesn’t mean the economic statistics will be good for last quarter. It means it will be good for NEXT quarter.

-          Housing starts up huge. HUGE. The biggest since 2006. That means people will get hired again to BUILD houses. That’s a huge part of our economy.

-          Earnings are killing it. Intel is the bellwether for all technology. Technology has driven the market (for better or for worse) for fifteen years. Intel is killing it. This means people are buying computers and phones. Which means businesses are expanding. AAPL, one of the fastest growing companies, trades for just 8 times forward earnings and has $116 billion cash in the banks. These companies aren’t going bankrupt and demand is not going down for their products.

And let’s forget all about the basic economic statistics. Google is making cars that drive around on highways without drivers. MIT scientists are working on quantum computers. Every day there’s more evidence on how to diagnose and cure various cancers.

(this Google-made car has no driver)

We are a smart country, filled with innovators, and nobody comes even close. Sure, maybe China will get close to us by 2050 but that just means they will become our customers instead of just some random country selling us cheap goods.

Don’t be a pessimist and hold a sign up and get angry. The time for opportunity is here. Start planning for it.

You can say, “Well, what about the Eurozone?”

Let me tell you something about Greece:

Greece has only survived by the grace of its good friends since 40 BC. Julius Caesar supported it, other countries supported it, all the way through Ronald Reagan who supported it because of his terror of the Soviet Union. Since then, the Eurozone has supported it. So everyone since 40 BC has known that Greece is what it is: a beach resort on the Mediterranean. Nothing more, nothing less. They won’t make the next Google. And maybe they’ll pay down their debt, maybe not. And then China will support it. Who knows? But their issues, which have been known for 2000 years, will not bother us one bit.

Wow,that was a big answer. It’s almost a post by itself. I’m going to get some seaweed crackers before continuing onto the next questions.



@kjepeneter asks: After I fix myself, how do I find others who are also “fixed”?

ANSWER:  The question is really asking: I’m healthy – now I want to meet other people who are healthy. Healthy not just physically but emotionally and in other ways.

The  answer is that you don’t have worry: when you are the beacon of light in the gray storm, the other boats that have survived will naturally come to you. This is a law of the universe. Like attracts like is a cliché because it works.

I have “met” better friends through this blog than just about through any other means in my life. For me, I wasn’t ready to meet good friends until recently. Now I am. And when you are ready, things happen.

What about a girlfriend, does it hold for that also?

Yes it does. The way I was able to meet the love of my life was when I made a conscious decision to be emotionally healthy: not get obsessed over anyone, not try too quickly for sex, not drink alcohol, but find someone who I really liked/loved and thought would be a good partner for the rest of my life. Someone who I could not only kiss but eventually die with.

More seaweed crackers now. I’m obsessed with these things. I can even hear Claudia doing yoga upstairs. But I don’t think seaweed is heavy enough for disqualifying me from doing yoga. I’ll catch up to her later.


@GoldenStLiberty asks: Is it ever too late to escape from Corporate America? Even for a serious career change?

ANSWER: Absolutely not. In fact, if you are asking that question then you already know the answer.

Here’s the thing about “Corporate America”

-          Your boss usually sucks and someone eventually stabs you in the back. It’’s inevitable.

-          Fluorescent lights

(why are fluorescent lights so annoying?)

-          50% of your income is taxed

-          Between commuting and working its usually a 10-11 hour a day process

-          Your mind and creative abilities start to atrophy. And maybe you get out of shape.

-          And its NOT SAFE. We used to think that Corporate America met safe, rising jobs, promotions, salaries, life savings, etc. 2008 showed us that was all a lie. Heck, 100,000 people lost their life savings when GM went bust. GM was the most solid company in the world 20 years ago. So don’t count on any corporation to tuck you in bed at night and sing you a lullaby. Corporate America is not Mary Poppins, it’s the Exorcist.

So if you even have a semblance of desire to get out of it, you must start planning your exit. You don’t have to do it in a day. But set the forces in motion:

-          Start coming up with ideas about what else you can do. It might mean multiple streams of income  instead of just one. It might mean freelance. But get your idea muscle in motion. You need to exercise it because it ALREADY atrophied. 10 ideas a day for six months and write down what all the next steps of each idea are. Eventually you will be an idea machine. The corporation will get scared because they will see it on you. This has happened to me. They will keep promoting you and raising your salary because they will be afraid to lose you. But they have already lost you.

-          Wow, that was a big bullet point. I need another bullet point here just to point that out.

-          If you have to, get ready to downsize. You don’t need to live in NYC, forinstance, if you’re not going to be working at the big bank anymore. And cash is king. Don’t buy a house. Save your cash.

-          My own experience: I left corporate America working as a programmer at HBO in order to build a company making websites. It was brutal at first (see link). Then a few years later I had a job offer at a huge investment bank. NO WAY SUCKERS! I turned that down so I could have a miserable few years daytrading for hedge funds until I built Stockpickr.com. Not every day of “life on your own” will be a happy one. But the challenges will be different and you will be your own boss. And you might go broke. Who cares! At least you know you can do it again and again. Not everytime you have sex there are fireworks right over your house. But you still go back the next day and beg and plead for more (oh wait, maybe that’s just me).

[See also, "10 Reasons You Need to Quit Your Job Right Now"]


Ask_James  from google
october 2011
How the iPhone Got Tail Fins – Part 2 of 2
Read part 1 of this post for background.

By the early 1920’s General Motors realized that Ford, which was now selling the Model T for $290, had an unbeatable monopoly on low-cost automobile manufacturing. Other manufacturers had experimented with selling cars based on an image and brand. (The most notable was an ad by the Jordan Car company.) But General Motors was about to take consumer marketing of cars to an entirely new level.

Market Segmentation General Motors had turned the independent car companies acquired by its founder Billy Durant into product divisions. But in a stroke of genius GM transformed these divisions into a weapon that Ford couldn’t match. With the rallying cry “a car for every purse and purpose,” GM positioned its car divisions (Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac) so they would cover five price segments – from low-price to luxury. It targeted each of its brands (and models inside those brands) to a distinct economic segment of the population. Chevy was directly aimed at Ford – the volume car for the working masses. Pontiac came next, then Oldsmobile, then Buick. The top-of- the-line Cadillac offered luxury and prestige announcing you had finally arrived at the top of the conspicuous consumption heap. Consumers could announce their status and lives had improved by upgrading their brands.

GM had one more trick to make this happen. Within each brand, the top of the line was just a bit less expensive than the lowest priced model of the next expensive brand. The goal was to convince the consumer to spend a little more to trade up to a more prestigious brand.

Market segmentation by price was something no other automotive manufacturer had ever done. While other car companies could compete with one of GM’s divisions, few had GM’s capital and resources to compete simultaneously with the onslaught of car models from all five divisions.

Planned Obsolescence While market segmentation allowed GM to use its divisions to reach a wider market than Ford or Chrysler, this didn’t solve the problem of market saturation. By the late 1920’s, most everyone in the U.S. had a car. And cars lasted 6 to 8 years. Even worse, the market was now filled with used cars that provided even lower cost basic transportation. Sloan, the General Motors CEO, faced two seemingly unsolvable challenges:

How do you get consumers to abandon their perfectly fine cars and buy a new one?
How do you turn a product that competed on price and features into a need?

In another stroke of genius, GM invented the annual model change. Sloan borrowed this idea from fashion where styles changed every year and applied it to automobiles starting in the 1920s. General Motors would change the external appearance of cars every year. Sloan preferred to call it “dynamic obsolescence.”

Styling and design became an integral part of GM’s strategy. Sloan hired Harley Earl to set up GM’s in-house styling staff. Earl would run it from 1927 to 1958.

Before Earl, cars were designed by in-house body-engineers who focused on practical issues like function, costs, features, etc. Each exterior component was designed separately to be functional – radiator, bumpers, hood, passenger compartment, etc. Some companies used 3rd party bodymakers to set the style , but GM was the first to take car design away from the engineers and give it to the stylists.

The concept of yearly “improvements”, whether styling or incremental technology improvements, every model year gave GM an unbeatable edge in the market. (Henry Ford hated the idea. He had built Ford on economies of scale – the Ford Model T lasted for 19 years.) Smaller car makers could not afford the constant engineering and styling changes they had to make to keep competitive. GM would shut down all their manufacturing plants for a few months and literally rip out the tooling, jigs and dies in every plant and replace them with the equipment needed to make the next year’s model.

GM had figured out how to take a product which solved a problem – cheap transportation – and transform it into a need. It was marketing magic that wasn’t to be equaled until the next century.

By the mid-1950′s every other car company was struggling to keep up.

Mass Marketing Starting in the 1920’s and continuing for the next half century, automobile advertising hit its stride. Ads emphasized brand identification and appealed to consumers’ hunger for prestige and status. Advertising agencies created catchy slogans and jingles, and celebrities endorsed their favorite brands. General Motors turned market segmentation and the annual model year changeovers into national events. As the press speculated about new features, the company’s added to the mystique by guarding the new designs with military secrecy. Consumers counted the days until the new models were “unveiled” at their dealers.

For fifty years, until the Japanese imports of the 1970’s, Americans talked about the brand and model year of your car – was it a ’58 Chevy, ’65 Mustang, or 58 Eldorado?  Each had its particular cachet, status and admirers. People had heated arguments about who made the best brand.

The car had become part of your personal identity while it became a symbol of 20th Century America.

After Sloan took over General Motors its share of U.S cars sold skyrocketed from 12 per cent in 1920, until it passed Ford in 1930, and when Sloan retired as GM’s CEO in 1956 half the cars sold in the U.S. were made by GM. It would keep that 50% share for another 10 years. (Today GM’s share of cars total sold in the U.S. has declined to 19%.)

How the iPhone Got Tail Fins
Over the last five years Apple has adopted the GM playbook from the 1920′s – take a product, which originally solved a problem – cheap communication – and turn it into a need.

In doing so Apple did to Nokia and RIM what General Motors did to Ford. In both cases, innovation in marketing completely negated these firms’ strengths in reducing costs. The iPhone transformed the cell phone  from a device for cheap communication into a touchstone about the user’s image. Just like cars in the 20th century, the iPhone connected with its customers emotionally and viscerally as it became a symbol of who you are.


The desire to line up to buy the newest iPhone when your old one works just fine was just one more part of Steve Jobs’ genius – it’s how the iPhone got tail fins.

It’s one more reason why Steve Jobs will be remembered as the 21st century version of Alfred P. Sloan.

Filed under: Big Companies versus Startups: Durant versus Sloan, Technology
Big_Companies_versus_Startups:_Durant_versus_Sloan  Technology  from google
october 2011
Stupid and lazy
(Is it that you can't do it or perhaps you don't want to do the work?)

When I was in college, I took a ton of advanced math courses, three or four of them, until one day I hit the wall. Too many dimensions, transformations and toroids for me to keep in my head. I was too stupid to do really hard math so I stopped.

Was it that I was too stupid, or did I merely decide that with my priorities, it wasn't worth the work?

Isn't it amazing that we'd rather call ourselves stupid than lazy? At least laziness is easy to fix.

People say that they are not gifted/talented/smart enough to play the trumpet/learn to code/write a book. That's crazy. Sure, it may be that they don't possess world-class talent, the sort of stuff that is one in a million. But too stupid to do something that millions and millions of people can do?

I'm not buying it. Call it as it is and live with it (or not). I'm just not willing to believe we're as stupid as we pretend to be.
from google
october 2011
How to Really Listen
One morning, my wife Eleanor woke up, turned over, and said, "I am not looking forward to this day." I asked her why.

What came out is that we were at the start of the Jewish high holy day season, which means colder weather and three weeks of big social meals, long religious services, broken routines, and children out of school. Eleanor didn't grow up with these traditions, and they can be overwhelming.

Now, I run a management consulting company; problem solving is what I do. So it didn't take me long to jump in.

"Cold weather means ski season is about to start," I said. "You love skiing. And these holiday meals are fun and filled with people you love — they'll make you feel better. And I'll be with you; you won't be alone with the kids. Also, you know, Jesus was Jewish, so it's kind of your tradition too."

Even as I said it, I knew that last one was a reach. It became clear that I was making her feel worse and now she wasn't just sad, she was angry.

And when she got angry, I felt myself get angry too. And self-righteous. Here I am trying to help her and this is what I get?

But then I smartened up. Instead of giving in to my anger, which would have really blown things up, I shut up and listened. When I did, I began to hear the real stuff, the things that neither of us was actually saying.

What I discovered was that she was upset because the focus on mothers during the Jewish holidays taps into her insecurities about motherhood, not being a Jewish mom, and not having time to spend on her own work.

I also discovered that my own babbling wasn't so much to help her feel better as to help me feel better. I'm the reason she's in New York City, living through cold winters, and part of a Jewish family.

In other words, by trying to make her feel better, I was doing the opposite of making her feel better. I was arguing with her. In fact, most of the time when we try to make people feel better, we end up arguing with them because we're contradicting what they're feeling. Which, inevitably, makes them feel worse.

Listening, it turns out, is magic. Not only did it help me understand what was going on with both of us, but it helped Eleanor feel better, too. It made her feel that she wasn't alone in her feelings; I was with her.

All I had to do was listen.

But listening isn't easy. The more we listen to others, the more likely we will react — or overreact — to what they say. Listening, it turns out, is much harder than speaking. We have to allow things we might disagree with to hang in the air. We have to move over a little and create space for those things to linger.

That kind of listening takes tremendous courage.

But if we're interested in learning — about ourselves as well as others — then it's worth it. And if we're interested in being connected to others, showing them respect, helping them feel better, and solving problems between us, then it's more than worth it. It's essential.

Until people feel heard, they will fight to be heard. But once they are heard, there is little left to fight for, and then we can move on, not as "us vs. them" but simply as "us."

So how do you listen in a way that transforms conversations and relationships?

Actually listen. And only listen. That means don't multitask. I'm not just talking about doing email, surfing the web, or creating a grocery list. Thinking about what you're going to say next counts as multitasking. Simply focus on what the other person is saying.
Repeat back. This feels a little silly at first but works magic. If someone says she is angry about the decision you just made, you can say "you're angry about the decision I just made." I know, I know, she just said that. But it shows you're listening and it communicates to the other person that she's been heard. If you don't have the courage to try it with an adult, try it with a child. You'll see what a difference it makes and it will embolden you to try it with a colleague or your spouse.
Ask questions. Explore the other person's thoughts and feelings more deeply. And "You don't really believe that, do you?" does not count as a question. You are not using the Socratic method to prove your point; you are trying to better understand what's going on so you can better understand your partner in this conversation.Really listening can feel risky, which seems strange because listening doesn't materially change anything. But sometimes you'll hear things that are hard to hear.

Remember that listening is not the same thing as agreeing. And it will never force you to take any particular action. If anything, it will reduce the intensity of people's insistence that you take a specific action. Because in many cases what they're looking for is proof that you've heard them. So if they feel you've really heard them, their need for action diminishes.

As Eleanor spoke, I noticed my own resistance to various things she was saying. There's no question that it's hard to really listen. But once I relaxed into it, I heard her in a much deeper way. That made her feel better. Call me co-dependent, but it made me feel better too.

It turns out that sometimes, just listening is problem-solving.
Communication  Difficult_conversations  from google
october 2011
How to Draw
The Last Psychiatrist just released an article that beautifully articulates a point I’ve made weakly several times in my writing.

The point is essentially that we project so much of our own meaning onto the world that we forget to see what’s actually there.

… Edwards calls this the “tyranny of the symbol system” because it dictates to us, forces our hand to draw symbols rather than what we see.

But it isn’t simply that we draw using these symbols; we perceive using them as well. I don’t bother to see the actual shape of a head because it was never important to; in order to see it for what it really is, I need to practice my perception. It is easy for me to see a news story as a manufactured construct, but it never occurred to me I was seeing every day objects wrong. My tilted computer monitor isn’t a rectangle; it’s a trapezoid.

You’ll never make the huge breakthroughs you want in your life if you don’t teach yourself to see what’s really there.

How To Draw (This Is Not An Article About How To Draw) →

Click here to reply to How to Draw

Pete enables those ready to set themselves on fire with passion and purpose by clearing out their energetic gunk and realigning their mind with core principles so the gunk can't come back. You should follow him on twitter @PeteMichaud.

Read More:Fear Doesn’t Stop
Supernatural to Hypernatural
Brain_Bugs  Essays  Getting_your_Mind_Right  from google
october 2011
The Fastest Way to Level Up Your Business
Today’s guest contributor is Jonathan Mead. Jonathan is a coach, writer, and barefoot runner helping people quit their jobs and get paid to be who they are.
I always marvel at the way some people seem to rise from ground zero, to leading and dominating their market in a short amount of time. It seems as if their success is overnight, and almost supernatural.
Sadly, others spend years toiling away, working hard and their progress seems snail-like at best.
It makes me curious about what goes on behind the scenes of people that level up their business rapidly.
And I have to admit, sometimes I’ve looked at others rise to fame with feelings of envy when it seems like I’m doing all the same things, and making all the right moves, but getting radically different results.
These days I’ve gotten a lot better about not comparing my success to those of my peers. I realize that we’re all running our own race, and what matters is our competition with ourselves.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from the rapid evolution of others. I’ve become a kind of student, or mad scientist if you will, trying to find the common element that quickly elevates leaders to great heights.
Well, there’s one thing that I’ve found that may surprise you. It isn’t grit. It’s not genius, luck or even access to greater resources than average people.
Those that rise quickly to the upper stratospheres of their field are incredibly deliberate about the environments they place themselves in.
You may have heard before that it’s much easier to not eat cookies if you remove them from your cupboard (and replace them with healthier choices).
In the same way, it’s much easier to operate a higher level of genius, creativity and effectiveness when your environment makes it almost automatic.
If you surround yourself with world-class athletes, it will be hard for you to not become one.
If you go on a retreat where the only option is to create, it will be hard for you to not produce something groundbreaking.
If you wake up with a community of doers, leaders, and world-changers, it will be incredibly difficult for you to not embrace your own greatness.
So, what is it that you want to be the best in the world at? Do you want to create an empire, travel the world, or start a movement?
Deliberately surround yourself with people doing those things. Seek them out, befriend them. And above all, find ways that you can add value to what they are doing.
You may need to start small at first. It could just be drenching your twitter stream with leaders and high performers. Then you might start a weekly meeting with someone else doing what you want to do on Skype to conspire and encourage each other.
The next step might be moving to a place in the world where you’re surrounded with people that are in alignment with you are and who you want to become.
The more you do this, the more you’ll find that it’s impossible for you to not wake up and do great things.
This is the fastest way I know of to level up your work, and your life. If you want to become great, surround yourself with greatness. It’s the closest thing to making success inevitable that I know of.
As Jonathan likes to say, what do you think? What did I miss?
About the author: Jonathan Mead is a coach, writer, and barefoot runner helping people quit their jobs and get paid to be who they are. He’s creating a high level mastermind to help people rapidly rise to new heights of success in work and life.
Business_Strategy  Entrepreneurship  Motivation_&_Success  from google
october 2011
How the iPhone Got Tail Fins – Part 1 of 2
It was the most advanced consumer product of the century. The industry started with its innovators located in different cities over a wide region. But within 20 years it would be concentrated in a single entrepreneurial startup cluster. At first it was a craft business, then it was driven by relentless technology innovation and then a price war as economies of scale drove efficiencies in production. When the market was finally saturated the industry reinvented itself again – one company discovered how to turn commodity products into “needs.”

They opened retail outlets across the country and figured out how to convince consumers to flock to buy the newest “gotta have it” version and abandon the perfectly functional last year’s model.

No, it’s not Apple and the iPhone.

It was General Motors and the auto industry.

In the Beginning
At the beginning of the 20th century the auto industry was still a small hand-crafted manufacturing business. Cars were assembled from outsourced components by crews of skilled mechanics and unskilled helpers. They were sold at high prices and profits through nonexclusive distributors for cash on delivery. But by 1901, Ransom Olds invented the basic concept of the assembly line and in the next decade was quickly followed by other innovators who opened large scale manufacturing plants in Detroit – Henry Packard, Henry Leland’s Cadillac, and Henry Ford with the Model A.

The Detroit area quickly became the place to be if you were making cars, parts for cars, or were a skilled machinist. By 1913 Ford’s first conveyor belt-driven moving assembly line and standardized interchangeable parts forever cemented Detroit as the home of 20th century auto manufacturing.

Feature Wars
The automobile industry was founded and run by technologists: Henry Ford, James Packard, Charles Kettering, Henry Leland, the Dodge Brothers, Ransom Olds. The first twenty-five years of the century were a blur of technology innovation – moving assembly line, steel bodies, quick dry paint, electric starters, etc. These men built a product that solved a problem – private transportation first for the elite, and then (Ford’s inspiration) – transportation for the masses.

Market Saturation
Ford tried to escape the never-ending technology feature wars by becoming the low cost manufacturer. Fords River Rouge manufacturing complex – 93 buildings in a 1 by 1.5 mile manufacturing complex, with 100,000 workers – vertically integrated and optimized mass production.

By 1923, through a series of continuous process improvements, Ford had used the cost advantages of economies of scale to drive down the price of the Model T automobile to $290.

When the 1920’s began there were close to a 100 car manufacturers, but the relentless drive for low cost production forced most of them out of business as they lacked capital to scale. For a brief moment, half the cars in the world were now Fords. To make matters worse, the long service life of Ford and GM cars (8 years for Fords Model T, 6 years for everyone else) retarded sales of new cars. In 20 years, U.S. car ownership had risen from 0 to 80% of American families – the market was approaching saturation.

Now cars would have to be sold almost entirely to people who already owned a car.

The Crazy Entrepreneur
After success as a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages, Billy Durant was one of the few who saw the writing on the wall and got into the car business. Although he wasn’t a technologist, he was an entrepreneur with a great eye for acquiring car companies run by technologists. His keen insight was that several carmakers combined under one company umbrella would have more growth potential than one brand on its own. Like most founders, he was great at searching for a business model but terrible at in large company execution. When his board fired him, Durant bought a competing company called Chevrolet, built it larger than his last company, and used Chevy stock to buy out his old company – General Motors – and threw out the board. Yet a few years later under his brilliant but reckless leadership GM was again on the brink of financial disaster and his new board fired him. (Durant would die penniless managing a bowling alley.)

Durant’s ultimate replacement – an accountant named Alfred P. Sloan – would turn GM into the leading and most admired company in the U.S.

Over the next decade Sloan would implement a series of innovations which would last for over half a century. And catapult General Motors from the number 2 car company (with a ¼ of Ford’s sales) into the market leader for the next 100 years. Here’s what he did:

Distributed Accounting Unlike Ford, GM was originally a collection of separate companies. Distributed Accounting turned those fiefdoms into product divisions each of which, could be focused like Ford’s mass-produced lines. But Sloan went further. He figured out how to centralize financial oversight of decentralized product lines. His CFO created standardized division sales reports and flexible accounting, and allocated resources and bonuses to the GM divisions by a uniform set of rules. It allowed GM to be ruthlessly efficient internally as well with its dealers and suppliers. It got the division general managers to fall in line with corporate goals but allowed them to run their divisions freely. GM became the prototype of the modern multidivisional company.

Car Financing. Realizing that Ford would only accept cash for car purchases, in 1919 GM formed GMAC to provide new car buyers a way to finance their purchases through debt.

Consumer Research. Every since his days at Hyatt Roller Bearing, Sloan, and by extension GM, was relentless about getting out of the building – they had an entire department that studied consumers, dealers, suppliers. More importantly, Sloan led by example. He visited dealers and suppliers, listened to customers and was tied tightly to his head of R&D Charles Kettering.

All this would have made General Motors a well-run and well-managed company.  But what they did next would make them the dominant company in the U.S. and eventually put tail-fins on the iPhone.

Part 2 explains it all.

Filed under: Big Companies versus Startups: Durant versus Sloan, Technology
Big_Companies_versus_Startups:_Durant_versus_Sloan  Technology  from google
october 2011
The New Possibilities
You would never know
If you could ever be
If you never try
You would never see
—Lupe Fiasco, All Black Everything

A year ago I wrote about a very special entrepreneur, Christian Gheorghe, who escaped Communist Romania, migrated to America, and—after starting here with $27 as a limo driver and construction worker—eventually became a computer scientist and an entrepreneur. I indicated that just as he broke from an oppressive, totalitarian regime, he planned to free his customers from the oppression of enterprise software. Today Christian announces his new company Tidemark and I finally get to tell you how he will redefine and reinvent enterprise performance management and, more broadly, data analytics.

As we enter the age of the cloud/mobile platform, Tidemark provides a compelling example of why future applications will be far superior to the current generation. By properly using the bursting capabilities of the cloud, Tidemark benchmarks out at 1,000 times the performance of current solutions, which sometimes take 6 or 7 days to consolidate financials across a business. By using the iPad as the primary user interface target, Tidemark is highly accessible to business people and not just data analysts.

Both of these advances turn out to be critically important. If it takes a week to consolidate financial statements, then any scenario planning will be stale by a minimum of one week. In today’s real-time business environment, that’s ridiculous and certainly uncompetitive. Anybody who has been in business for any length of time knows that the data represents a portion, but not all of the business. In the same way that a map is not the terrain, the spreadsheet is not the business. As a result, having data analysts analyze data and the managers of the business attempt to make decisions on that basis is far from optimal. By making the data and its analysis directly available to the people with the knowledge, Tidemark transforms decision quality.

Beyond these platform advantages, Tidemark changes the nature of data analytics by ditching the two fundamental and problematic questions on which the existing industry is based:

What data do I have?
What reports do I want?

The trouble with these questions is that a) it is highly unlikely that you’ve gathered all of the relevant data in the right schema and format prior to needing it, b) businesses are not best represented in reports and c) the reports generally say very little that’s interesting about the future. As a result, companies that analyze their businesses with off-the-shelf products tend to do a far worse job than companies like Google who use data to achieve massive competitive advantage through teams of brilliant engineers.

Christian replaced these two ancient questions with far better ones:

How does our business work?
How do we want to measure it, understand it, and predict what will happen next?

Tidemark’s software begins by literally capturing a blueprint of the customer’s business. If you think of a business as a series of processes executed by a variety of people designed to create specific, measurable outcomes then you get the basic idea of how Tidemark defines a blueprint and aligns itself to the business. It’s a great alignment, because when you think about it, processes cover the import aspects of a business—product development process, sales process, financial planning process, etc. Tidemark enables companies to capture their process architecture and the related key performance indicators in software. Once Tidemark understands how a business works and how the company wants to measure and understand it, it can help the company forecast future results, scenario plan, and continuously improve.

For those of us who have been around this kind of software for years, Tidemark’s breakthroughs are breathtaking. It’s a product that delivers on a 30-year vision in the same way that the iPhone finally fulfilled the dream of the Newton.

Christian is the shining example of why an open and benevolent immigration policy for oppressed peoples is the right one. Before he is done, he will make thousands of U.S. businesses more competitive, employ many Americans, and lead the way for other companies to follow and improve their approach to software. And all we had to do was give him a chance.
People  Portfolio_Companies  from google
october 2011
Deep dive: Cancellation rate in SaaS business models
(Powered by LaunchBit)

I wanted to expand on the practical and mathematical implementations of the cancellation rate I referred to in last week’s post.

Why cancellation rate is so important
As a preamble to the metrics, it’s useful to know what you’re measuring and why it’s vital.

[Cancellation rate] = [product utility] + [service quality] + [acceptable price]

I put in these particular elements because I did a study of the reasons people cancel at WP Engine, and these are the main reasons for cancellation. We log every cancellation – spending time running after folks to wring out the cause — so we can deduce exactly what we can do to prevent it in future. (Of course you should do this too and get your own data.)

These three factors are, of course, critical to a healthy, growing startup, and yet individually they’re impossible to measure as precisely and easily as cancellation rate. (I’ve never seen a graph of “usefulness of the product.”) So although it’s a single number combining several factors, and we know that averaging can obfuscate, I think cancellation rate is a good overall measure of how well the company is servicing its customers, and with tools like our detailed log you can still break apart the single number into concrete, actionable influences.

Beyond the analytical breakdown, I have an emotional attachment to this number, because whenever someone cancels I think about what had to happen to get them to this point, and it kills me. Of course people cancel only after they’re already a customer, which means they’ve already gotten through the barriers preventing them from buying: finding your website, not bouncing off the home page, understanding what you offer, deciding it’s something they want, researching the competition, signing up, configuring settings, entering a credit card number, rolling through tech support, and maybe even announcing to some Facebook “friends” that they just found something cool.

Barely anyone on Earth will ever power through this gauntlet. I turn myself inside out just to get a thousand people to bounce off the home page, praying that one makes it through to the end, like a frog laying ten thousand eggs hoping three survive long enough to do the same.

And then, after all that… they cancel! Son of a bitch! I have to know why and I have to do something about it!

So we’re going to measure this bastard, and we’re going to compute another useful thing from it, but it turns out to be harder than it first appears.

The many kinds of cancellation rate
A “rate” is a ratio of “something divided by time,” and it’s unclear what the something is and over how much time.

Unfortunately, like the many moods of Binky, there are many kinds of so-called “cancellation rate,” each subtly but critically different.

All of the following definitions are meaningful, but each measures something different. It’s useful to describe each so you can decide which (or several!) make sense in your case:

Percentage of current customers who canceled in a given day/week/month. If this spikes, something just changed in how you’re behaving across the board. We had a spike in this metric in February at WP Engine when our Internet provider themselves had a datacenter-wide catastrophe which brought us down for twelve hours; of course not all spikes will have such obvious causes. We’ve also rolled out new initiatives designed to reduce this rate, and for the most part we’ve been successful. When selecting the duration component, it has to be long enough to get a stable number, but not so long that sharp changes in reality take weeks to register on the chart; I recommend using smallest possible time period without seeing the metric hit “0%.”
Percentage of new customers in a given month which end up canceling at any later date. This is often called “cohort analysis,” where the new customers in January are tracked together as one cohort, new customers from February as another, etc..  The idea is to compare the behavior of each cohort against subsequent cohorts, but comparing similar periods in those customers’ lifespans. For example, how many who started in Jan cancelled in Feb compared to how many who started in Feb cancelled in Mar, and so on. This determines not whether your service is improving across the board, but whether new customers are getting a better new experience. This is especially useful if — like most companies — you have a higher cancellation rate with new customers than with old ones, and you (think you) have taken steps to improve that situation, and want to measure that progress.
Absolute number of cancellations per week. This metric is supposed to increase over time at a growing SaaS company simply because there are more and more customers available to cancel. Still, you should also be getting better at preventing cancellations, or at least certain types of cancellations, such as crappy tech support or lacking a feature. Our cancellation log implicitly represents this metric because we review it weekly to look for trends. It’s not something we feel is also useful to graph because changes in the number aren’t necessarily actionable.
Percentage of all customers who’ve cancelled over the lifetime of the company to-date. This is another way of measuring an “in/out” ratio — plotting relative number of new customers arriving versus customers exiting. For a company laser-focussed on accelerating the number of active users, it might be actually worth having high cancellation rates if it meant an even higher acquisition rate. This metric measures this relative change, so long it’s decreasing (or not increasing), you might be happy even if you’re not watching or optimizing for the cancellation rate in isolation. For a quality-service company like WP Engine a high cancellation rate is a sign of terminal cancer even if acquisition rates are also increasing, so this metric isn’t useful to us. It’s also not particularly useful when, again like WP Engine, the monthly cancellation rate is nice and low while new customer acquisition is healthy, because in this case — by definition — this metric diminishes asymptotically. Whenever you know for certain what a metric will do, it’s not useful or actionable to measure it!
Cancellations as deactivations. For paid services like WP Engine, a “cancellation” is literally “the customer called to cancel, or clicked the ‘stop charging my card’ button.” For many consumer-Internet companies, most of your users aren’t paying, and therefore almost none will bother to take a cancel “action” even if they’re effectively cancelled. Rather, a lack of activity signifies an effective cancellation. In this case, you need to have a clear definition of an “active user” (e.g. “has logged in at least once in the past week”) and consider the user “cancelled” if they were active before but now are not.
Revisionist history. What happens when a customer cancels but then returns? This is relatively rare in a company like WP Engine but is common for those consumer-Internet companies where cancellation is identical to passive deactivation, because a user might be reinvigorated by a newsletter or a tweet. In that case, you can decide that user didn’t cancel after all and update historical data in your charts. That’s perfectly fine, just as it’s perfectly fine that a customer today might become a cancellation tomorrow but that’s not yet in the chart either.

Of all these techniques, the one that is perhaps most important and useful for us at WP Engine — and likely you too — is cancellation rate by age. I call this a “continuous version of cohort analysis.”

You take the number of cancellations in a given time period (we use months), broken out by age (e.g. younger than 30 days old versus older), and then compute the “cancellation rate” as a percentage of all customers in that age group who cancelled. Like many companies, we’ve found that people who cancel soon after sign-up do so for very different reasons than those who cancel after a year, and we care about those two groups differently, and we act on them differently.

For example, quick cancels are often due to situations things like “I decided I didn’t want a blog after all” or even “My son used my credit card to set up my website but I’m not going to pay for hosting.” We probably can’t affect these circumstances much, or at least it’s not worth our time to try. So we’ll never get the short-term cancellation rate lower than a certain number — a number we can actually compute by marking these in the cancellation log and totting them up separately.

This is useful, not only because it sets a sensible target “floor” for our activities that do reduce short-term cancellation, but because it calibrates our expectations on how much front-end sign-ups we need to achieve our growth targets. It’s an “automatic drag” that we can just factor in to our projections.

On the other end of the time spectrum, every time we lose a long-term customer — which is thankfully almost never, knock wood — it’s cause for us to sit up and do a post-mortem. That rate had better be very close to 0%. If it ever pops it would be a “tools-down, everyone get on that right now” sort of problem.

I do worry about this happening as we grow, as should any company. It’s common knowledge that expanding companies have a hard time maintaining the level of service which earned them that growth. You sign up customers faster than your ability to hire quality people, so either existing people are stretched thin or you make the more fatal error of lowering standards to fill chairs. It’s harder to train people and keep your culture going, and those founders who were brilliant at seeking market-fit and constructing the foundation of a startup might be ill-suited for scaling that organization. It appears some of our WP Engine competitors are experiencing … [more]
How-To  metrics  from google
october 2011
Serving at the Pleasure of the King
I enjoy my iPhone tremendously; I think it's the most important product Apple has ever created and one they were born to make. As a consumer who has waited far too long for the phone industry to get the swift kick in the ass it so richly deserved, I'm entirely on Apple's side here.

But as a software developer, I am deeply ambivalent about an Apple dominated future. Apple isn't shy about cultivating the experience around their new iOS products and the App Store. There are unusually strict, often mysterious rules around what software developers can and cannot do -- at least if they want entry into the App Store. And once you're in, the rules can and will change at any time. Apple has cracked down several times already:

Prohibiting applications that include external mechanisms for purchases
Prohibiting applications that have sexual connotations or innuendo
Prohibiting applications with controversial satire
Prohibiting applications that can potentially be used for unauthorized downloads

The developers involved are contractually prevented from even discussing specifically what happened to them by the terms of the app store. Those frustrating, inconsistent, opaque App Store experiences led developers to coin parodies such as Apple's Three Laws of Developers.

A developer may not injure Apple or, through inaction, allow Apple to come to harm.
A developer must obey any orders given to it by Apple, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A developer must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

It is absolutely clear who is in charge when you submit an application to the App Store. Apple developers serve at the pleasure of the king.

In Apple's defense, this is done in the name of protecting the consumers from malicious, slimy, or defective applications. Sort of like Nintendo's Seal of Approval, I guess.

The court of the king is a lucrative place to be, but equally dangerous. While upgrading my iPhone to iOS 5 – an excellent upgrade, by the way – I was surprised to discover the following blurb in the feature notes:

Safari Reader displays web articles sans ads or clutter so you can read without distractions. Reading List lets you save interesting articles to peruse later [like the popular Instapaper application], while iCloud keeps your list updated across all your devices.

Apple has since changed the page, but at the time I read it, there was a direct linked reference to Instapaper, the popular "save this webpage to read later" application which Reading List is a clone of. I distinctly remember this mention, because I was shocked that they would be so open and overt about replacing a beloved third-party application. Perhaps it made Apple uncomfortable too; maybe that's why they pulled the Instapaper text and link.

If Microsoft added a feature to Windows that duplicated a popular application's functionality, developers would be screaming bloody murder and rioting in the, er, blogs and web forums. But in the Mac world, if the king deems it necessary, then so it must be.

When iOS 5 and Lion ship, Apple will show a much larger percentage of iOS-device owners that saving web pages to read later is a useful workflow and can dramatically improve the way they read.

If Reading List gets widely adopted and millions of people start saving pages for later reading, a portion of those people will be interested in upgrading to a dedicated, deluxe app and service to serve their needs better. And they’ll quickly find Instapaper in the App Store.

I've met Marco Arment, the developer of Instapaper, and I like Marco. He's even been a guest on the Stack Exchange podcast. This is a nice, optimistic interpretation, but the reality is a little scarier. I'm struggling to understand why anyone would buy Instapaper when they can click a button in Safari and have that web page delivered to any of their Macs or iOS devices for later reading via iCloud.

Ah, but wait – what about offline support? Yes, that's something only Instapaper can deliver! Or can it?

A common scenario: an Instapaper customer is stocking up an iPad for a long flight. She syncs a bunch of movies and podcasts, downloads some magazines, and buys a few new games, leaving very little free space. Right before boarding, she remembers to download the newest issue of The Economist. This causes free space to fall below the threshold that triggers the [new iOS 5 space] cleaner, which — in the background, unbeknownst to her — deletes everything that was saved in Instapaper. Later in the flight, with no internet connectivity, she goes to launch Instapaper and finds it completely empty.

That's the problem with kings, you see. Their rule is absolute law, but they can be capricious, erratic, and impulsive. If you're lucky enough to live under the rule of a fair and generous king, then you'll do well. But historically speaking, monarchies have proven to be … unreliable.

I tend to agree with Marco that this is, in the big scheme of things, a minor technical problem. A private application cache not subject to iCloud syncing and space limitations would fix it. But it speaks volumes that Marco – a dedicated subject of the king – apparently had no idea this change was coming until it was on top of him. It's negatively impacting his Instapaper business and his customers. It's also concerning that this issue wasn't resolved or at least raised as a serious concern during the lengthy iOS 5 beta. Perhaps Apple's legendary secrecy is to blame. I honestly don't know.

As a consumer, I like that Apple is perfectly willing to throw its software developers under a bus to protect me (or, more cynically, Apple itself). But as a software developer, I'm not sure I can cope with that and I am unlikely to ever develop anything for an iOS device as a result. If you choose to deliver software in the Apple ecosystem, this is simply the tradeoff you've chosen to make. Apple developers serve at the pleasure of the king.

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from google
october 2011
When It's OK to Take a Pay Cut
The farmer is separating his farm from his parents' farm. To say this has been a summer full of drama would be a total understatement. I would say that the drama has gone from his larger family, to our little family, and now, to the economics of the farm.

This is probably where the drama should be: The Farmer is essentially starting a new business. I have always thought he would do a great job on his own and it's been fun to watch him.

He is experimenting, trying to figure out what he wants. This summer, for example, he let the pigs graze in our field of sweet corn after the season was done.

It's hard for me to understand how revolutionary this is. Knowing very little about pigs or sweet corn, it seems logical to me that the pigs are next to the field, so why not let them eat what they want? But the Farmer keeps telling me that other farmers would think he's crazy.

Then I think, "What? More crazy than you living out here with me and the kids?"

The Farmer will earn less money farming his smaller farm instead of combining it with his parents' farm. But it's a no-brainer. The pay cut is a small price to pay to get emotional independence.

To me and the Farmer it's obvious that he's making a good move for himself. Yet I see lots of other people in this situation: start over and take a pay cut or keep finances stable. The majority of people choose stability, even thought they shouldn't.

So this post is about when it's okay to take a pay cut.

If you want to change careers. Look, you are stopping doing something that you know how to do, and you are going to start doing something you have not done before. Why would you think you will not take a pay cut? Don't be a brat. Take the cut.

If you are over 40 years old. Pay peaks about age 40 for everyone except surgeons and lawyers. So if you are 40 and job hunting, take a pay cut. It's not going to kill you, but holding out for a raise might lead to fears of starvation.

If you have been unemployed for six months. Statistically speaking, you will have to take a pay cut to re-enter the workforce. So instead of holding out to be a superhero of job hunts, just take a job. So much of our self-worth comes from working that ditching unemployment far outweighs avoiding a pay cut.

If you're relocating back to family. Research from Nattavudh Powdthavee of the University of London shows that to make up for the decrease in happiness that you experience when you leave family and friends, you would need to make $133,000 more than you were earning before the relocation. So it stands to reason that you can take a substantial pay cut to move closer to family and still gain a net happiness benefit because close relationships are so important to one's happiness.

If you will get a great boss. When it comes to the job hunt, getting a boss who will be a great mentor matters more than the job you'll be doing for that boss. The number-one factor that determines your earning power is your schooling. The number-two factor is the quality of mentoring you get. Since most of you are out of school, mentoring should be your number-one concern, and you'll more than make up for a pay cut by gaining a good mentor.

If you are having mental health problems from not working. Work provides a lot of things:  a sense of belonging, sense of purpose, structure and balance to a day, as well as financial security. You can get all these things by short-circuiting your job hunt and taking a lower-paying job. Wondering if you are having problems big enough to qualify for this one? Are you gaining weight during unemployment? That's a sign that you're masking new emotional problems. Get a job.

If you need better insurance. Taking a pay cut to get better insurance is like buying peace of mind. And at a bargain rate, really. If all you need to do is take a pay cut to know that you will not go bankrupt from medical bills (the most common cause of bankruptcy, by the way) then it's worth it. Also, I often contemplate becoming a customer service rep at Microsoft so I can get to their amazing health coverage for kids with Autism. (Asperger's is genetic, and Microsoft knows their employee pool, you've gotta give them that.)

Okay. Look. Can you tell by now that a pay cut is always fine? Really, the only exception would be when you have a job you love. Because we are all looking for a career that provides stability, engagement and a way to support us financially, and often that comes in the form of a pay cut.

You are not your salary. You are not worth less in the world because you are paid less in your job. Get your self-worth from a wide range of things and a pay cut won't matter to you. Focus on the components of a good job: learning, personal growth, friends at work, and a good family life. All those things are worth a lot more than a pay cut.

Fulfillment  Job_Hunt  Money  from google
october 2011
What's Your One Big Theme?
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, the time when we think about our past year and plan for our next. What do I want to repeat? What do I want to do differently?

I usually start with everything I want to do differently. And the list is long.

I eat way too much — well past my point of being full — and leave almost every meal uncomfortable. I feel scattered in my day, focusing on too many things at once, switching rapidly from one thing to the next. I react to what's in front of me too often rather than making strategic choices about where to spend my time. I treat many of my relationships more as transactions than deep connections, appreciating people for what they do for me rather than who they are. In fact, I treat myself that way too, valuing myself for my performance more than my existence. My writing has felt more rushed lately as I produce more and enjoy less. I won't bore you with the rest, but I assure you there's more.

Normally, I would do what we usually do in the business world: develop a long list of things to do to correct these problems, a series of development plans to improve my performance in each area. I'd learn about new diets, tell myself to stop multitasking, create a plan for improving each one of my relationships, cordon off more time for writing, and so on.

But here's the problem with development plans: They're overwhelming and disconnected. By the end, I'd have ten different plans for ten different things I want to change, and I'd make little headway in each. It's just too much — too hard to act on and to easy to abandon.

As I looked at my list this year, I decided to approach it differently.

First, I took a deep breath and realized that I was neglecting what went well.

This year was not easy but, thank God, It's been good. I recently collected feedback from my CEO clients and it's clear that they feel the value I add is worth the fees they pay. My book 18 Minutes was published and is selling well. My health seems good, and I'm loving the time I spend with Eleanor and our kids and, just as importantly, they seem to be loving the time they're spending with me. As I appreciated how fortunate I am, I relaxed.

Then, fueled by a feeling of accomplishment, I looked at my list of things to change from a broader perspective, asking myself: What's this really about?

That's when I noticed the theme: I'm moving too fast.

I realized that pursuing an individual development plan for each thing I wanted to fix would only worsen the problem. I needed to reduce the complexity, not add to it.

So I came up with a single idea — a theme for the coming year — that would positively impact everything I wanted to change.

My theme? Slow down.

My thought was that if I focused only on that, everything else would improve.

And, so far, it has. When I started eating more slowly, my meals effortlessly shifted from three courses to one, and I'm enjoying the food more. Once I slowed down in my conversations, I found myself listening more, talking less, caring more deeply, and enjoying each person more fully.

And what I thought would be a downside has actually been a positive: Slowing down has meant that I can't get as much done. Which has forced me to make strategic choices about what to spend my time on and what to ignore. I'm more thoughtful, less scattered, and enjoying my work more fully. Counter-intuitively, I'm more productive.

What's nice about a single theme is that it's easy to implement, simple to remember, achievable and sustainable. It's just one thing.

So what's your one thing? After thinking about the best of who you are and what you've done, list the things you want to change. Then, stare at the list until it reveals the one thing that would impact it the most. Maybe, for you, it's being more aggressive. Or less. Maybe it's slowing down or speeding up or speaking out or being more gentle with yourself and others. If you're not sure, try something for a few weeks and see what changes.

If you are preparing for performance reviews, look for that one thing too. You'll see a greater performance improvement in yourself and your employees if you cut through the noise.

Then, each morning and at various moments throughout the day, remind yourself of your one thing. You won't need to make it your screen saver or write it on a post-it and place it on your mirror at home. It's only one thing. It will quickly become second nature as your results reinforce your commitment.

In the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, when observant Jews ask forgiveness for the sins of the past year and recommit to improving the next. My commitment is to slow down and treat each task, each person with my whole attention. And that, I'm confident, will mean I'll have fewer sins — or at least different ones — to atone for next year.
Managing_yourself  Time_management  from google
october 2011
7 Things Happen to You When You Are Completely Honest
I got a death threat last week from a guy who is a senior at Brown University who didn’t think I could track him down. More on that in a second. The first thing I want to deal with is the question asked me the other day, “how do you make a personal brand”. When I hear the words “personal brand” I think “someone is going to lie to me and then try to take all of my money.” Personal branding, I guess, is descended from the mockery called “corporate branding”.

The Coca-Cola company, for instance, loves the drug, Ecstasy. My favorite TV commercial is  not the 1984 Apple commercial (although that’s a close number two) but a commercial for Coke Zero (“Coke Zero Roller Girl”).  It takes a song that was originally writtten by  Paul Oakenfold. The original topic of the song was about how great it was to take the drug Ecstasy and go to a rave. Anything could happen.

(Coke Zero roller girl)

There would be pretty girls, great music, and at the end of the night, total communion with nature. In the commercial, though, there’s a girl roller-blading. She looks like she’s on the boardwalk in Santa Monica. The song is playing in the background. She’s not taking Ecstasy but drinking Coke Zero. She dances/roller-blades around her studly friends, her beautiful girlfriends, and it ends with everyone taking Coke Zero, the fizz going up like a group ejaculation into the sky. Coke Zero – the brand where you can find your own personal ecstasy.


Whenever I watch that commercial I feel like I want a life like that: free from worry, stress, free from thinking about money or petty jealousies. Surrounded by friends and beautiful people. Moving without effort, the ocean in the background. As they say in the song: “once again, I find myself with my friends.” Coke Zero tells me the dream is possible even though intellectually I know its a myth. Freedom isn’t found that way. But we’re willing, as a culture, to accept the lies that Coke tells us. And they are willing to use songs about drugs to help us accept those lies.

(from the 1971 commercial "I'd like Buy the World a Coke" - another personal favorite)

Perhaps Coke figured out that maybe this time they had gone too far. They pulled the commercial. Sometimes I can find it on YouTube. Sometimes I can’t. They try hard to make it disappear.

What they never explain is that coke zero is essentially brown-dyed water with about 16 teaspoons of fake sugar in it and add a little bit of CO2 and you make it fizz. That’s the secret formula that’s locked in a safe in some bank in Atlanta. I can make SuperJamesCola with that formula. But then I can’t license that music, get those sexy girls, and run that ad on the Super Bowl and a thousand other places. I can’t do corporate branding by myself.

(the "secret" formula)

But no matter – let’s move past the artificially safe confines of corporate America. That’s dead and if you haven’t planned your exit strategy yet you will have to soon enough.


So now I keep hearing about “personal branding” -  the idea that your career, your mind, your body, everything that makes up the superficial “you” can be packaged up into a brand just like Coke or Mcdonalds can. With the spectrum of pornography allowed by Facebook, twitter, linkedin, google+, etc etc etc a personal brand can evolve and grow like any superbowl ad. Kim Kardashian’s didn’t have an answer when Barbara Walters asked her, finally, “but aren’t you really just known for a sex tape?” when Kim initially tried to “re-brand” herself as a “businesswoman” in a very intimate interview.

So we start to arrive at the  truth of the matter: Branding is lying.

But personal branding is even worse because the joke is over. Now we’re talking about me and you. We’re talking about who YOU are. And let’s face it. It’s not pretty. You need to re-brand from birth.

People confuse “honesty” with a type of “happiness”. He can be honest because he is happy. But it’s not true. Life is a series of failures punctuated by brief successes. That’s honesty. Failure is not necessarily bad. It’s reality.

But branding tries to reverse that. With a “personal brand”, you suddenly pretend to be super successful, a “businesswoman” in Kardashian’s case – failure is non-existent, and out of your mind comes the exact mathematical formulas that if someone drinks your Cola and snorts your Ecstasy then they too will  have the pretty girl, the success, the money, the accoutrements.


I know a stockbroker who sends a Christmas card every year to his clients. He wants to present an aura of success. Each time he’s in some other blue lagoon on some random part of the world, with a blonde girl (different each Christmas) with huge fake breasts and they are snorkeling or hugging in the water (blue blue aqua) or staring off into a beautiful mediterranean ancient city. He makes money. Lots of it.

And you can’t even look at him, the girl is so beautiful and her eyes are staring at him and she’s kissing him and it’s all over his facebook page. His status might even be “engaged” and she has an exotic name.

The only problem is, “and you can’t tell anyone because this is the beautiful part” he is telling me in his tell-all because he’s a good friend and knows I will never reveal his name: is that he’s gay. He picks up his boyfriends in dungeons. He’s been smothered in concrete until he was unable to move and holes would be poked through so he could breathe, and only then with a boy whipping him and arranging this unusual punishment, would his copulation come to completion.

Honesty is about the scars. it’s about the blemishes.  But it’s more than just bragging about failure, which could be a form of ego. It’s about truly helping people.

There’s 1 trillion websites competing against each other. The most honest website of all? Google. Google can’t help you with your problems. If you suspect you might have herpes after a particularly courageous night out on the town, going to Google will not help you (although you may feel a vague feeling of remorse when you see the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button).

Google has no content on it at all. But Google is honest about that. You just walked into their store and said, “Please, help me – do you have anything to prevent a potential outbreak of herpes” and Google will say, quite honestly, “i’m sorry, I can’t help you, but here are ten of my competitors who can potentially help you. And, by the way, here are three more of my competitors who MIGHT be able to help you but, in full disclosure, they are paying me to tell you this.” And then Google shrugs its shoulders. That’s all they can do for you.

But that’s honesty. That’s not branding. So you’ll come back to them. Because they are a straight shooter and the target was on your head. And when you need to know about that growth behind your ear, or what the best software is for keystroke logging, they will say the same thing: “sorry, we can’t help you – but we can direct you to at least ten of our competitors who seem pretty decent at it.”

With honesty they’ve set themselves free. Here’s the thing about a brand. It puts you in jail. You know who had the original patent that Larry Page tweaked into the PageRank that made Google (and separately, that Robin Li ALSO tweaked into the patent that became Baidu?) I’ll tell you: Dow Jones. The Wall Street Journal.[See, "10 Unusual Things About Google"]

They knew how to make Google years before Larry Page even thought of the idea. But they didn’t do it. Why? Because their brand says they don’t give out stuff for free. Their brand says that everything you need to know is trapped inside something with the Wall Street Journal or Dow Jones trademarks printed on it and if it’s not there then it’s not anywhere. Branding jails corporate America but honesty sets entrepreneurs free.



Forget personal branding. Start to dip your toes into personal honesty. Let me tell you what will happen. Your family might stop speaking to you.

I have experienced this not just from myself but all of the bloggers I consider “honest bloggers”. Some  of your friends will also stop speaking to you. Some of your colleagues will avoid you. Some investors will shun you. Your personal “network” will transform and shift.

My own personal motto is: honesty to a point. I will never harm anyone. I believe in what Buddha said to his son Rahula the day after he showed up after abandoning his son for 7 years:

before, during, and even AFTER you say something, make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone.

But even despite that rule, people will stop speaking to you because not every hurt you can control. Historical is hysterical for many people.


The next thing that will happen is people will ask “are you killing yourself?” Because every blog post almost seems like a suicide note. 


Then people will send emails to your friends, “is he as crazy as he sounds?” And that’s how I make friends now because introductions will be made and people will have to find out for themselves.


So they will call you names. Oh, that guy is just trying to be a “contrarian”, for instance. Or an “idiot”. Or worse. I’ve been called everything. I had to call the Brown University Public Safety office the other day because I got emailed a death threat and the guy didn’t think I could track him. The guy was a senior and had also apparently threatened the life of a librarian there.

They need to understand why you are telling the truth. Why you are being honest about what you really think. In meetings at the office everyone is quiet. You’re not supposed to speak up. So people will … [more]
Popular_Posts  from google
october 2011
Don’t Go Pre-Med: My Advice to a Yale Student Worried About Her Future
A Common Query

Earlier this fall I received an e-mail from a rising freshman at Yale. It read, in part:

As college draws nearer, I am growing increasingly concerned about what I’m going to do with my life.

Most of the people around me seem to think that the safest route for me is to go pre-med, because it is a well-defined path that leads to a stable career.

The thing is, I don’t really want to do pre-med. But I don’t know what else I want to do with my life. What should I do?

I get this question enough that I thought it worthwhile to share my response (put into bullet point format for readability). I’m hoping the new college students among you will find something relevant here…

My Response

Don’t go pre-med.
Instead: table the question of your future until the start of your sophomore year.
During your freshman year, take core courses and use your leftover electives to sample more exotic subjects. Try out a few activities to find out which seem interesting and, more importantly, which offer the most compelling opportunities to someone willing to pay it a lot of attention.
Then, at the start of your sophomore year, make some choices: Choose one major (not two, not three). Choose one or two extracurricular areas to focus on (not three, not four). Then attack these small number of things with a large amount of time and attention. Become excellent at them.
At this point, put aside any doubts about whether you made the right choices. Always move forward. Never look back and wonder.
As you know, I don’t believe in pre-existing passions. In my experience, there is no right or wrong major or activity waiting out there for you to discover. There are, however, right or wrong reasons for pursuing something.
Motivational psychology tells us that what matters in a pursuit is the loci of control. If you’re going after something because you sampled it and you found it interesting, that’s a good enough reason for your mind to get on board and provide the motivation and engagement you need for a good, successful student career.  If you’re going after something only because “most of the people” around you thought it sounded safe, that is, from a psychological point of view, a disastrous reason. You’re in for unhappiness at best and deep procrastination at worst.

To summarize: First take some time to see what’s out there, second make your own choices (but don’t sweat them), and then third go big without reservations.

(Photo by CanWeBowlPlease)
Patterns_of_Success_for_Students  from google
october 2011
First, make rice
Fledgling sushi chefs spend months (sometimes years) doing nothing but making the rice for the head chef.

If the rice isn't right, it really doesn't matter what else you do, you're not going to be able to serve great sushi.

Most of the blogging and writing that goes on about marketing assumes that you already know how to make the rice. It assumes you understand copywriting and graphic design, that you've got experience in measuring direct response rates, that you've made hundreds of sales calls, have an innate empathy for what your customers want and think and that you know how to make a compelling case for what you believe.

Too often, we quickly jump ahead to the new thing, failing to get good enough at the important thing.
from google
october 2011
My Years in the Wilderness
When I was living out of the back of my ’65 Chevy van, there was a kind of dude I used to run into from time to time. A hard-core road character, burnt brown by the sun, unbathed in months, living on dimes a day. I probably met and spent time with a dozen guysMore >>
Writing_Wednesdays  from google
october 2011
The Rands Test
It's hard to pick a single best work by Joel Spolsky, but if I was forced to, I'd pick The Joel Test. It's his own, highly irresponsible, sloppy test to rate the quality of software, and when anyone asks me what is wrong with their team I usually start by pointing the questioner at the test. Start here.

It's a test with 12 points and as Joel says, "A score of 12 is perfect, 11 is tolerable, but a 10 or lower and you've got serious problems". More important than the points, his test clearly documents what I consider to be healthy aspects of an engineering team, but there are other points to be made. So it is completely an homage to Joel that I offer The Rands Test.

I was employee #20 at the first start-up and the first engineering lead. Over the course of two years, the team and the company exploded to close to 200 employees. This is when I discovered that growing rapidly teaches you one thing well: how communication continually finds new and interesting ways to break down. The core issue being the folks who've been around longer who also tend to have more responsibility. As far as they're concerned, the ways they organically communicated before will remain as efficient and simple each time the group doubles in size.

They don't. A growing group needs to continually invest in new ways to figure out what it is collectively thinking so anyone anywhere can answer the question: "What the hell is going on?" This is the first question The Rands Test answers. As I'll explain shortly, the second question The Rands Test helps you answer is selfish. The second asks: "Where am I?"

12 Points

Let's start with bare bones versions of the questions and then I'll explain each one.

Do you have a 1:1?
Do you have a team meeting?
Do you have status reports?
Can you say No to your boss?
Can you explain the strategy of the company to a stranger?
Can you explain the current state of business?
Does the guy/gal in charge regularly stand up in front of everyone and tell you what he/she is thinking? Are you buying it?
Do you know what you want to do next? Does your boss?
Do you have time to be strategic?
Are you actively killing the Grapevine?

(Note: While I'll explain each point from the perspective of a leader or manager, these questions and their explanations apply equally to individuals.)

Do you have a consistent 1:1 where you talk about topics other than status? (+1)

I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would suggest 1:1s are a bad idea, but the 1:1 is usually the first meeting that gets rescheduled when it hits the fan. I'm of the opinion that when it hits the fan, the last thing you want to do is reschedule 1:1 time with the folks who are likely either responsible for it hitting the fan and/or are the most qualified to figure out how to prevent future fan hittage.

Furthermore, as I wrote about in The Update, The Vent, and The Disaster, conveyance of status is not the point of a 1:1; the point is to have a conversation about something of substance. Status can be an introduction, status can frame the conversation, but status is not the point. A healthy 1:1 needs to be strategic, not a rehashing of tactics and status that can easily be found elsewhere.

A 1:1 is a weekly investment in the individuals that make up your team. If you're irregularly doing 1:1s or not making them valuable conversations, all you're doing is reinforcing the myth that managers are out of touch.

Do you have a consistent team meeting? (+1)

The team meeting has all the requirements of the 1:1 -- consistency and a focus on topics of substance -- but don't give yourself a point just yet.

Status does have a bigger role in a team meeting. As we'll talk about shortly, the Grapevine is a powerful beast and a team meeting is a chance to kill it. I have a standing agenda item for all team meetings that reads "gossip, rumors, and lies" and when we hit that agenda item, it's a chance for everyone on the team to figure out what is the truth and what is a lie.

After that's done, my next measure of a team meeting is: did we make tangible progress on something? I don't know what you build, so I don't know what's broken on your team, but I do know that something is broken and a team meeting is a great place to not only identify the brokenness, but also to start to discuss how to fix it.

If you're killing lies and fixing what's broken in a team meeting, give yourself a point.

Are handwritten status reports delivered weekly via email? (-1)

If so, you lose a point. This checklist is partly about evaluating how information moves around the company and this item is the second one that can actually remove points from your score. Why do I hate status so much? I don't hate status; I hate status reports.

My belief is that email-based status reports are one of the clearest and best signs of managerial incompetence and laziness. There are always compelling reasons why you need to generate these weekly emails. We're big enough that we need to cross-pollinate. It's just 15 minutes of your time.

Bullshit. The presence of rigid, email-based status reports comes down to control, a lack of imagination, and a lack of trust in the organization.

I want you to count the number of collaboration tools you use on a daily basis to do your job -- not including email. If you're a software engineer, I'm guessing it's a combination of version control, bug tracking, wikis, CRM, and/or project management software. All of these tools already automatically generate a significant amount of status regarding what has tactically gone down each week.

When someone asks for a status report, my first thought is: "I'm already generating piles of status on these various tools, why not just ask those?"

Well, there's a lot of noise in those tools. Well, write a report that takes out the noise -- collaboration tools are built around reporting. The status information is out there. In what managerial textbook does it say it's a good idea to "Distribute the task of figuring out what is going on to the people who are performing the work?" That's, like, your job.

Well, what I really want is your high level assessment of the week. Three things that are working, three things that aren't, and what we're going to do about it. Ok, now we're talking. I can do a strategic assessment of the week, but why don't we just put that at the beginning of the 1:1? That way when you have questions (and you will), we can have a big fat debate.

But I'd like to have a record I can review later. Super, feel free to write down anything we talk about.

Yes, status reports are a hot button for me. I've written hundreds of them and each time I've begun one, I start by thinking, "Why in the world do I feel like I'm performing an unnecessary act?" Status reports usually show up because a distant executive feels out of touch with part of his or her organization and they believe getting everyone to efficiently document their week is going to help. It doesn't. Emailed status reports say one thing to 90% of the people who wrote them: "You don't value my time". This leads us to our next point...

Are you comfortable saying NO to your boss? (+1)

Perhaps a better way to phrase this point is: do you feel your 1:1 with your boss is somehow different than every other meeting you have during the week? Part of healthy communication structure is when information moves easily around the team, organization, and company, and if you walk into a meeting with your boss always on your best behavior and unwilling to speak your mind I say something is broken.

Yes, he or she is your boss and that means they write your annual review and can affect the trajectory of your career, but when they open their mouth and say something truly and legitimately stupid, your contractual obligation as a shareholder of the company is to raise your hand and say, "That's stupid. Here's why..."

Easier said than done, Rands.

Ok, don't say it's stupid.

Here's the deal. I believe that leaders who think they're infallible slowly go insane with power created by the lie that being wrong is a sign of weakness. I screw up -- likely regularly -- and I've been doing various forms of this gig for twenty years. While it still stings when I stumble upon or others point out my screw-ups, I'd sooner I admit I fucked up, because then I can figure out what I really did wrong faster, and that starts with someone saying "No".

Can you explain the strategy of your company to a stranger? (+1)

Moving away from communications, this point is about strategy and context. If I was to walk up to you in a bar and ask what your company did, could you easily and clearly explain the strategy?

This is the first point that demonstrates whether you have a clear map of the company in your head, and you might be underestimating the value of this map. If you're a leadership type, chances are you can draw this map easily. If you're an individual, you might think this map is someone else's responsibility and you'd be partially correct: it is someone else's job to define the map, but it's entirely your responsibility to understand it so you can measure it.

As we'll see with the following questions, The Rands Test isn't just about understanding communications, it's about understanding context and strategy. How do you think the employees of HP and Netflix feel given the strategy flip-flops over the past few months? Safe or suspicious? Let's keep going...

Can you tell me with some accuracy the state of the business? (Or could you go to someone / somewhere and figure it out right now?) (+1)

It's a brutal exaggeration, but I think you should independently judge your company the same way that Wall Street does: your company is either growing or dying. Have you ever watched the stock price of a publicly traded company the day after they announce that they are going to miss their earnings numbers? More often than not, no matter what spin the executives have, the stock is hammered. It's irrational, but what I infer when I see this happen is that … [more]
Management  from google
october 2011
Questions I ask when reviewing a design
I’ve been thinking more about how I review a design – both my own and someone else’s. So over the past couple days I’ve been writing down every question I’ve been asking when I look at a design-in-progress. Some of these I say out loud, some just go through my head, some are in person, others are posted to Basecamp or Campfire.

These are in no particular order, and I don’t ask all of them every time.

What does it say?
What does it mean?
Is what it says and what it means the same thing?
Do we want that?
Why do we need to say that here?
If you stopped reading here, what’s the message?
What’s the take away after 8 seconds?
How does this make you feel?
What’s down below?
How else can we say this?
What’s memorable about this?
What’s that for?
Who needs to know that?
Who needs to see that?
How does that change behavior?
What’s the payoff?
What does someone know now that they didn’t know before?
How does that work?
Why is that worth a click?
Is that worth scrolling?
What’s the simpler version of this?
Are we assuming too much?
Why that order?
Why would this make them choose that?
What does a more polished version of this look like?
Why would someone leave at this point?
What’s missing?
Why are we saying this twice?
Is it worth pulling attention away from that?
Does that make it clearer?
What’s the obvious next step?
How would someone know that?
Would it matter if someone missed that?
Does that make it easier or harder?
Would this be better as a sentence or a picture?
Where’s the verb?
Why is that there?
What matters here?
What would happen if we got rid of that?
Why isn’t that clear?
Why is this better?
How can we make this more obvious?
What happens when this expands?
If we got rid of this, does that still work?
Is it obvious what happens next?
What just happened?
Where’s the idea?
What problem is that solving?
How does this change someone’s mind?
What makes this a must have?
from google
october 2011
Why programs become territorial
“Can you ask Sam about that? Stacker is his domain”, “I’d rather let Josh look at the router, he wrote it”, “Jon is better versed in associations, send it to him”.

The natural progression of programs is towards the territorial. When a programmer has weaved an intricate web of considerable complexity, others are loathe to enter his lair and he is loathe for them to do so.

This is despite the fact that we all agree that it’s bad for programs to become territorial. When only one or a few people know how to work on something, you get bottlenecks where progress is stunted until the master is ready. You risk the hit-by-a-bus factor where nobody knows how the system works if the master leaves. You ensure the annoyance of stakeholders who can’t understand why another minion can’t fix his urgent problem.

But this problem can’t be solved with a slogan. You can proclaim that “we shouldn’t have territorial parts of our program” until you turn blue, but nothing is going to change until you accept the cost of avoidance.

The first step of acceptance is to recognize that sending someone fresh in to fix a single issue in a complex part of the code is expensive. It’s going to take Pratik five to ten times the effort to fix a single issue in Stacker that it’s going to take Sam. And the odds are that even that is not enough to appreciate the internal coherency of the system, which means that the fix is likely to be a butcher’s job, and Sam will have to rewrite it afterwards anyway.

To broaden the base of knowledge, you’re going to have to let someone else not only spend considerable effort getting up to speed. Then you’re going to have them deal with more than just a quick fix. Let them deal with a raft of issues and let them spend the time of the original creator to learn it all.

To do all that, they can’t do anything else at the same time. That feature you want do is now going to be pushed a few days or a a week out. Until you’re ready to delay things you really want done, it’s fruitless to bemoan that parts of the code base territorial.
from google
october 2011
Open conversations (or close them)
A guy walks into a shop that sells ties. He's opened the conversation by walking in.

Salesman says, "can I help you?"

The conversation is now closed. The prospect can politely say, "no thanks, just looking."

Consider the alternative: "That's a [insert adjective here] tie you're wearing, sir. Where did you buy it?"

Conversation is now open. Attention has been paid, a rapport can be built. They can talk about ties. And good taste.

Or consider a patron at a fancy restaurant. He was served an old piece of fish, something hardly worth the place's reputation. On the way out, he says to the chef,

"It must be hard to get great fish on Mondays. I'm afraid the filet I was served had turned."

If the chef says, "I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your meal..." then the conversation is over. The patron has been rebuffed, the feedback considered merely whining and a matter of personal perspective.

What if the chef said instead, "what kind of fish was it?" What if the chef invited the patron back into the kitchen to take a look at the process and was asked for feedback?

Open conversations generate loyalty, sales and most of all, learning... for both sides.
from google
october 2011
How to Use Gratitude to Get Rich
“Why am I totally dead broke again?” that’s what I thought the last time I had started a business that failed. I had no income. I had just lost a bunch of money investing in my own business. I was in danger of losing my home. I was in danger of losing a marriage I eventually lost. And I was bitter: “Why, once again, am I here?” I had made and lost millions. Couldn’t I have held onto one goddamn dime? Just once? How many times do I have to repeat this cycle?

People say, “oh go play with your kids. they will cheer you up.” No they won’t. Kids suck. I would look at my kids in these moments and think, “how the hell am I going to pay for them, let alone play with them.”


(Kids suck when you go broke)


It starts with the question: how did I get here in the first place? I know the answer, at least for me:

I wasn’t grateful for what I had. Else I would’ve treated these ephemeral things (money, love, health, happiness) with better respect and worked harder to hold onto them.

So to peel myself off the floor I have to do the exact  opposite of what made me lose everything. But its hard. It’s like when you don’t walk for a month. You can’t walk because your leg muscles just atrophied. Now you have to rebuild them again through agonizing physical therapy.

I had to rebuild my Gratitude Muscle. Each and every time. This is the spiritual leg of what I call “The Daily Practice” which I describe here and, in much greater detail, in my recent book.

I can see in my emails: people don’t want to hear it. They get the need for an idea muscle, the need to have an emotionally healthy life and a strong physical presence. Everyone wants to look like a rock star.  Nobody would deny that.

But then you say the word “spiritual” and everyone is like, “What? Are you talking about a god? Because that’s science fiction. Are you talking about crystals or kaballah or new age?”
But, UGH. “Spiritual”? What are “spirits” anyway?

People think it means an old man with a beard who created the world 5000 years ago and now we pray to him. Or they think it means new age magic and kaballah rubber bands or crystals or whatever.

(is this spirituality?)

This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m all about making money and being happy, or vice versa. I could care less if there is a god that created the world 5000 years ago.

Some people think it means “love”. I don’t really know what love means. I’ve said “love” a thousand times to a thousand different people. Almost none of them are even facebook friends now. Some of them are dead, long after I ever last spoke with them.

I have a neighbor who is constantly screaming in the middle of the night at her mother. The mother and the grandmother are constantly kicking out the granddaughter. I really dislike them. In fact, the other day I called the police on the granddaughter (pregnant, crying outside, honking her horn at 3 in the morning to provoke her mother) because she was so loud and Claudia, who is sick, couldn’t sleep. They were screaming at their loudest voices.

The next day, the grandmother, who I had never even heard speak before, said to me when I was passing her house, “Hey you! Mind your own fucking business.” Am I supposed to love her now?

There’s no way I’m going to love her.  Maybe Jesus would love her or Buddha or whoever but I’m not. Nor am I ever going to love people who stole from me. Doesn’t matter if they are friends or even family. Someone who prevents me from feeding my kids will not be loved.

So what is spiritual?


(and after this, see my suggestion on going on a Gratitude Diet)

List on a paper all the problems in your life:

for example:

          I lost my job with a bad boss
          I can’t get a job.
          Every creative act I do is rejected
           my girlfrend/boyfriend cheated
          My house is in foreclosure
          I’m working as a bartender even though I really want to be acting or writing a novel or working for a hedge fund.
          I work as a janitor when in my old country I used to be a doctor
          My neighbor is too loud!
          The IRS is after me

And so on.

(I would love this t-shirt)

You’re not going to  love these situations. That’s a false spirituality. That’s ego. As if you have the power to love (and control) something that you really, deep down, hate. And to try and fill those situations with love can damage the spiritual muscle rather than build it.

So let’s meet somewhere in the middle, somewhere where you can build that spiritual muscle. I love my wife and two daughters. That’s probably about it. I don’t love anything else in the entire world.


          List all the negative situations in your life. Think of at least one reason why you are grateful you are going through each experience. There’s always one reason or you are lying to yourself. For instance, you can be grateful that overcoming this challenge will make you a better person. If you can’t think of one good reason, then come back tomorrow and try again. At the very least you can say “thank god I’m alive and can try again.” I hate the fact that Claudia is sick from Lyme disease. But I’m grateful she’s  with me and so many kind people have given advice and ideas for treatment.
          List the good situations in your life, else you take them for granted. I’m very grateful for my children, for instance. (See, “is it bad I originally wanted my first daughter to be aborted“)
          Try this (hard): be grateful, all day, for everything you look at, no matter how small. They are all there with you right now. It’s ok to be thankful for the small things in life also. RESPECT!
          Try this: every day write 5 emails to people you are thankful for. Tell them why! This will always remind you to be grateful. Don’t forget! It feels good. And after five emails, at least for me, it feels GREAT.
          Try this: keep a gratitude journal. Write down throughout the day the things you are grateful for. The more you do things like this, the more the super-power inside of you will get unleashed. You won’t be able to stop it. You will completely transform whether you want to or not. Do it in a small pad so it’s easy to pull out and list things.

(this was my last big WIN. From 4.5 years ago!)


If all you do is hang out with criminals then eventually you’ll become a criminal. It’s natural. If all you do Is hang out with people who are wealthy, then eventually you will be wealthy.

What does this have to do with the spiritual muscle? The gratitude muscle?

It’s the same thing with thoughts. If all of your thoughts are about poverty and anger, then that’s where you will find yourself – there’s no way to avoid it. You’re subliminal wish for poverty will be automatically granted. This is not some “Law of Attraction” or “Secret”. Unless you win the lottery there’s no way to be rich if all you think about is your impending poverty and your anger towards it.

I’ve never met a successful wealthy person who was constantly angry and bitter about how poor they were. Never. Whenever I meet an older person who has built up their wealth and stayed that way, usually what they talk about are the people they are grateful for, grateful for the people who gave them a chance, grateful for the lifestyle they are now living, and so on. I have met MANY wealthy people who lost it all by not being grateful for what they had. They started cheating: on their wives, on the IRS, on their partners – and they trivially lost it all.

You won’t get rich if you are not grateful well before then:

Benefits of being grateful:

          You turn a negative thought into a positive thought. This “grateful alchemy” will save your life. Instead of being angry and poverty-stricken (e.g. “I can’t do this”, “I’m going to run out of money”) you will start to figure out how to execute on your positive thoughts.
          You actually release dopamine into your brain when you are feeling grateful. This makes you feel uplifted and acts as an anti-depressant.
          You’re able to see that your current problems are potential sources of creativity. If you are about to be unemployed and you are grateful for that then you will begin to be creative on where your next job can be. This is not to say you are happy about being unemployed. That would be stupid. But just thinking “I’m unemployed. Damnit!” will not find you a job. Being grateful for an opportunity for new experiences will force you to be creative.
          Your stomach will stop hurting. My stomach hurts whenever a situation doesn’t work out for me. Its gets tense. Its like when you roll a bowling bowl down the lane and your body twists almost the way you want the bowling bowl to go. It doesn’t work. When I want to control a situation, my stomach hurts. When I’m grateful for the situation I’m in, RIGHT NOW, this very second, my stomach stops hurting. My body stops twisting. I stop trying to control the world. When you let the world do what it wants to do, and you are grateful for that world this second, then the world will bend to your gratitude.
(I'd be grateful being this guy)

          Creative energy. You can’t control the world. Being grateful for what you have, this second, allows you to start planning the next step in a more creative way as opposed to languishing in depression.
          You’ll treat with better respect the positive things you do have.
          MOST IMPORTANT: All of the other legs in the “The Daily Practice” get UNLEASHED. It’s automatic. Don’t believe me on this. I’ve seen it for myself. … [more]
Motivation  Personal_Stories  from google
october 2011
Nokia as “He Who Must Not Be Named” and the Helsinki Spring
I was invited to Finland as part of Stanford’s Engineering Technology Venture Program partnership with Aalto University. (Thanks to Kristo Ovaska and team for the fabulous logistics!) I presented to 1,000’s of entrepreneurs, talked to 17 startups, gave 12 lectures, had 9 interviews, chatted with 8 VC’s, sat on 4 panels, talked policy with 2 government ministers, 2 members of parliament, 1 head of a public pension fund and was in 1 TV-documentary.  More details can be found at www.steveblank.fi

This is part 2 of 2 of what I found. Part 1 can be found here.

Toxic Business Press and Contradictory Government Incentives
Unique to Finland with its strong cultural emphasis on equality and the redistribution of wealth is a business press that doesn’t understand startups and is overtly hostile to their success. When MySQL was sold for $1B and the cleantech company the Switch got acquired for $250M, one would have expected the country to celebrate that they had built these world-class companies. Instead the business press dumped on the founders for “selling out.” In 2010 it got worse with an Act in parliament about the Monitoring of Foreigners’ Corporate Acquisitions. Many founders mentioned this as a reason not to incorporate or grow their companies in Finland.

While the government says they love startups, the first thing they did this year is raise the capital gains tax. While it might have been politically expedient, it was not a welcome sign for long-term investment. I suggested they consider an investment tax credit for pension funds that invest in Finnish based VC firms.

Nokia as “He Who Must Not Be Named”
I was in Finland three days before I realized that no one had mentioned the word “Nokia.”  After I brought it up in a meeting, you could have heard a pin drop.  Nokia was Finland’s symbol of national competence. Most Finns take their failure as a personal embarrassment. (Note to Finland – lighten up. Nokia was blind-sided in a classic disruptive innovation. 50% the fault of a Nokia management that didn’t see it coming, while 50% was due to brilliant Apple execution.) Ultimately, Nokia’s difficulties will turn out to be good news for Finnish entrepreneurs. They’ve stopped hiring the best talent, and startups are not looking so risky compared to large companies.

Nanny-Culture, Lack of Risk Taking, Not Sharing
What makes Finland such a wonderful place to live and raise a family may ultimately be what kills it as a startup hub. There’s a safety net in almost every part of one’s public and private life – health insurance, free college tuition, unions, collective bargaining, fixed work hours, etc. And what’s great for the mass of society – a government safety net verging on the ultimate nanny state – makes it impossible to fail. You find early stage employees expecting to work normal hours, to get paid a regular salary, and not asking or expecting equity. There isn’t much of a killer instinct among the masses.

It’s the rare region where risk equals experience. By nature Finns are not good at tolerating risk. This gets compounded by the cultural tendency not to share or talk in meetings, sometimes to the point of silence. This is a fundamental challenge in creating an entrepreneurial culture.  This extends to sharing among startups. The insular nature of the culture hasn’t yet created a “pay it forward” culture.

The young entrepreneurs I met are bringing impressive energy and intelligence to their goal of building one of Europe’s leading technology hubs in Helsinki. Finland itself has significant engineering talent, and is also attracting entrepreneurs from Russia and the former USSR. It will be fascinating to see if they can lead the cultural change and secure the political support (in a government run by an older generation) to support their vision.

Lessons Learned

Finland is trying to engineer an entrepreneurial cluster as a National policy to drive economic growth through entrepreneurial ventures
They’ve gotten off to a good start with a start around Aalto University with passionate students
Startup incubators, business angels and VCs are starting to emerge
The country needs to figure out a long term privatization strategy for Venture investing
Finnish culture makes risk-taking and sharing hard

Filed under: Business Model versus Business Plan, Customer Development, Teaching, Venture Capital
Business_Model_versus_Business_Plan  Customer_Development  Teaching  Venture_Capital  from google
october 2011
Creating a Business Plan
It’s true that you don’t need to create a formal business plan in order to start a business. You can kickstart a business very quickly without having to plan out every detail in advance.

That said, there can be tremendous value in planning. Thinking through a business in advance is hard work and requires deep concentration (if you want to do it well), but the payoff is a significant increase in clarity and a better shot at creating or expanding a successful enterprise.

I spent most of last week creating a new long-term plan for my business, which I just completed on Friday. I hadn’t done anything this thorough since 2005. It was incredibly tough mental work, and I put in many 12-16 hour days in a row, sometimes working so hard that I literally fell asleep at my desk. Then I’d wake up and work on it some more.

Since I’ve just been through this process, let me share some thoughts on creating a written plan for your own business.

Planning for Yourself vs. Planning for Investors

There’s a big difference between creating a business plan for your personal clarity vs. creating a plan to attract funding. Most of the business planning information I’ve seen in books or online is heavy on the latter side. If you don’t need outside funding, you can probably ignore 30-50% of the typical suggestions for what to include in a business plan.

There can be value in doing some of the work that it would take to impress an investor. Thinking through the financials is a good idea, but in practice a lot of what goes into an investor-based plan is actually persuasion as opposed to serious planning. Financial projections can be incredibly subjective, and you can’t predict with much accuracy what’s going to happen under real-world market conditions anyway. Overplanning is also a waste of time — you need to guard against filling your plan with irrelevant details that simply won’t matter one way or another.

I set financial goals for my business, but I don’t bother making predictions which are merely guesswork. Instead I spend more time planning how my business can adapt to whatever conditions may occur.

My business plan is created solely for me, and to a lesser extent, for those who work closely with me. I’ll never show it to an investor or banker because I’m confident I can continue to grow the business with a strategy that requires no outside financing.

Thinking Strategically
Business planning helps you think strategically about the road ahead. You only have so much time each day, month, and year to make decisions and take action. For many business owners those actions are chaotic and unfocused. They start projects they never finish. They miss opportunities by failing to act promptly. It’s very easy to hit a plateau and get stuck there for years.

A clear, committed strategy helps to cut through all of that. It sharpens your day to day choices. It provides an intelligent framework for action.

The problem, however, is that there are many valid strategies for growing a business. You will undoubtedly have more opportunities than you have time to pursue them. You can’t do everything well. If in the back of your mind, you’re oscillating between several different primary strategies, you’ll have a hard time growing your business if these strategies don’t mesh incredibly well.

I could grow my business in a variety of different ways. I could blog more often. I could write more books. I could expand into videos. I could expand my workshop offerings and begin doing them in different cities. I could invest in more marketing and PR. I could do guest blogging and accept more interview requests. I could get back into podcasting. I could start a membership site or paid subscription service. I could hire a few personal coaches and open a coaching program. I could turn my blog posts into products to sell. I could expand my social media presence. I could launch my own affiliate program (for workshops and future products). I could do more joint venture deals.

We could do any or all of these things, and many of them would be effective. But we can’t do all of them well. We might be able to do one or two of them well at any given time.

Thinking strategically requires deciding which fronts not to open. To create a practical and realistic business plan, I had to make some tough choices about which directions not to pursue. At first glance, almost everything looks golden. But with some deeper probing and a lot of analysis, I could discern which opportunities are truly the best relative to the others.

The Planning Process
Planning is an iterative process. In many areas you won’t know the best decision to make. At best you’ll be able to identify some options, but you won’t have much clarity about which possibilities make the most sense.

The way I resolve this is by taking a stab at each part. You can’t leave things in a wishy washy state, or you’ll end up with no workable plan at all. You have to keep pushing towards resolution and convergence. A good way to do this is to force a decision in a particular part of your plan. Then see how it fits. If it doesn’t feel right, yank it out, and try another possible solution. Repeat till you get it right.

Planning is an exploration of the potential solution space. To find the right combination of products, pricing, marketing strategies, staffing, and more, take some guesses and see what the big picture looks like. Then notice how those different elements mesh together.

It’s much like creating a song. Choose some notes and sequence them together. Then listen to the result. Does it sound harmonious? At first it probably won’t. But what’s creating the disharmony? Can you identify one misalignment? And can you fix that?

Then you keep tweaking and listening, tweaking and listening. Write out each new idea in great detail. Then read it back.

Sometimes you’ll get inspired ideas. Sometimes you’ll have to use a lot of perspiration, testing multiple ideas to find the right one.

My business plan is only 23 pages, but I probably wrote at least triple that to create it. For some parts of my business, intelligent solutions were fairly obvious. But in other areas, the right approach wasn’t obvious at all. My first stab produced a lot of text, but when I stepped back and read it within the context of the rest of the plan, it wasn’t harmonious. Perhaps my website would be delivering one message, but my products and pricing were likely to be incongruent with that message; the predicted consequence of that disharmony is that my business would end up attracting people who’d resist being customers — not a very sustainable approach.

This is a really important point to emphasize. To achieve convergence you can’t just sit and ponder until the right idea pops into your head. You have to take some guesses and run with them. Take a stab and fully document how it’s going to work, as if you’ve already made your final choice. Then look at it within the context of the rest of your plan. Does it seem harmonious? Does it support the other areas beautifully and elegantly?

My major rule here is that if it doesn’t feel elegant (or sound harmonious, or look beautiful — take your pick of modality analogies), it’s wrong. I know I have the right solution when a wave of awe washes over me, when I have to get up out of my chair and pace around so I can just be with that feeling for a while. Then I know I’ve figured out a key piece.

Deep Honesty
Deep honesty means being able to look at what you’ve planned and answer these questions:

Is this an intelligent approach?
Is this an honest approach?
Is this a loving approach?
Is this a strong plan, or am I caving to weakness and low standards?
Is this a harmonious plan? Is it elegant and beautiful?
Will this be a path of continued growth for me?
Is this a courageous path, or am I playing it safe?

This is akin to asking a musician after many days of hard work, What do you think of your finished song? Will you get a fair and honest assessment, or will the answer be overly biased by the musician’s personal investment in the song?

There’s a temptation, especially when you’re tired after working so hard, to capitulate to a flawed plan. At some point you’ll want to say, This is good enough. You’ll want to label weak as okay, okay as good, and good as great. You’ll want to turn in B-quality work hoping to get an A.

But if the plan isn’t harmonious and elegant… if it doesn’t knock you back in your chair… if it doesn’t quicken your pulse like a beautiful song… you’re not done. You mustn’t say “it’s good enough.”

Hold out for the truly elegant solution — not by waiting, but by continuing to diligently explore until you find it.

How do you know when you’ve found a beautiful solution? If you have to ask, you haven’t found it yet. When you find it, you’ll know. If you don’t know that you’ve found it, you haven’t.

Listen to your very favorite song, one that you’d consider a masterpiece. When you listen to it, ask how you know it’s beautiful. You probably can’t articulate exactly why. You know that it’s good by how it makes you feel. If you have to seriously ask yourself whether the song is beautiful, you already know that it isn’t. Beauty is recognized, not analyzed.

When Martin Gore wrote the song “It’s No Good,” he knew he’d created something good (ironic given the title). He called Depeche Mode bandmate Andy Fletcher and told him, “I think I’ve written a number one.” And in many countries, it did hit #1. (source: DM biography Stripped).

This is how it is with a good business plan. When it’s finally done, you’re compelled to take a deep breath and say something akin to, “I think I’ve written a number one.”

When you’ve created a song you know is amazing, you can’t wait to share it with people. Similarly, when you have a business plan that you truly love, you can’t wait to implement it. But if your song (or your plan) is … [more]
Business  Entrepreneurship  Planning  Self-Discipline  Success  from google
october 2011
Best Social Media Metrics: Conversation, Amplification, Applause, Economic Value
I am going to break one of my unspoken cardinal rules: Only write about real problems and measurement that is actually possible in the real world.

I am going to break the second part of the rule.

I am going to define a way for you to think about measuring social media, and you can't actually easily measure what I am going to recommend.

So why break the rule?

Social media is evolving at an incredible pace. Most of us have no idea how to participate optimally in this unique channel – we are doing TV on Twitter (breaks my heart). The impact on the data side of the ecosystem is that massive amounts of data is being generated and much of what goes for measurement in "social media tools" is profoundly sub optimal (I'm being polite). We have IT-minded people engaging in massive data puking (one report with 30 metrics anyone?) and Marketing-minded people who are using lousy measures of success ("I got 158,632 Fans! Hurray!").

I want to propose a framework you can use to measure success using metrics that matter for one simple reason: They actually measure if you are participating in the channel in an optimal fashion.

Isn't that revolutionary? Use data to incentivise our companies to do the right thing by measuring what matters, what makes this channel so unique.

No more embarrassing your brand on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube. And we build out a loyal cadre of followers / friends / subscribers to boot!

So what actually matters in Social Media?

Not the number of Friends / Followers / Subscribers. Not the number of posts / tweets. Not the ridiculous Followers to Following ratio. Not the… well there are so many horrible ones to choose from.

What matters is everything that happens after you post / tweet / participate!

Did you grab attention? Did you deliver delight? Did you cause people to want to share? Did you initiate a discussion? Did you cause people to take an action? Did your participation deliver economic value?

The "so what? " matters!

Oh, I totally forgot to say this…. the advice in this blog post is only for businesses and brands that participate in social media. Businesses as in Red Bull and T-Mobile and Johnson & Johnson. Brands (all of the aforementioned plus…) as in Mitch Joel and Stephen Colbert and Nancy Pelosi. If you don't fall into those two categories then this social media measurement framework might not apply to you.

I'm proposing four distinct social media metrics we should measure, (and this is so cool) independent of the social channel you participate in.

Excited? Let's go….

1. Conversation Rate.

When I say most brands do TV on social media what I mean is that we do the same uninformed shouting and pimping on social media that we do on TV.

We know little about who is on the other end of the TV set and the medium places limits to what we can do. So to make our marketing more efficient we shout more loudly, more frequently!

We don't have to do that. We can get a very good sense for who is following / friending / subscribing to us. We can measure if what we are saying connects to them (in near real time!). And unlike all others, this channel has the word social in it! Social as in talk and listen and discuss.

So why not measure that?

Conversation Rate = # of Audience Comments (or Replies) Per Post

One beautiful thing… you can measure this on every social channel on the planet. Blog. Twitter. Facebook. Google Plus. YouTube.

What to do with it?

A high conversation rate requires a deeper understanding of who your audience is, what your brand attributes are, what you are good at, what value you can add to your followers and the ecosystem you participate in.

That is why I love this metric. It forces you to do the right thing right away. And it is a lot of work.

So aim for a higher Conversation Rate. Build your own watering hole in the digital universe. Have meaningful conversations with your audience. That's Marketing money just can't buy.

You can always be provocative, say silly things and get a high Conversation Rate. Pick Sarah Palin for your topic. :) But that would not be accretive for your brand equity, would it?

Remember we do not measure to manipulate the metrics, we measure to know if we are adding business value.

How to measure it?

Individually this is not that hard to measure. But across channels there does not seem to be an option.

This is where I need your help. Do you know of a tool that measures conversation Rate easily as defined above across the main social media channels? Please share via comments and I'll add it here. Thanks!

Up next, our second delightful metric…

2. Amplification Rate.

Every channel has inherent limitations, often exhibited by the number of ads you can buy. On Google (paid search), on Facebook (display ads), on Radio (audio ads), and all other channels you can think of.

But social media has a profound advantage you can tap into.

Not only do you have a network, but every node in your network has a network of its own! If you follow my advice and post something "incredible, relevant, of value" to your audience then they can allow you to break free of the limitations of your network and spread your word around to a more massive audience!

Take me as an example. I have, as of today, 57k followers on Twitter and around 12k on Google Plus. That's the limit. Even if every single person who follows me reads every single thing I write, I can at most reach 57k people on Twitter.

But the size of my second level network (the unique people who follow the people who follow me) is 6.3 mil. My real "reach" it turns out is not 57k, it is 6.3 mil!

So measure Amplification, the rate at which your followers take your content and share it through their network.

On Twitter:

Amplification = # of Retweets Per Tweet

On Facebook, Google Plus:

Amplification = # of Shares Per Post

On a blog, YouTube:

Amplification = # of Share Clicks Per Post (or Video)

(Share clicks as in number of times your social media buttons were used to spread the content.)

What to do with it?

As you post and tweet and you rock and you roll… measure what pieces of content (type) cause amplification (allow your social contributions to spread to your 2nd, or even 3rd, level network). Understand times and geo locations and topics and things.

Then do more of the type that increase amplification. You'll get more sharing and spreading of your content. But this is very, very important: You'll be giving your audience content they consider to be of such incredible value that they want to share it (and hence you'll know what your audience wants / loves).

Oh, oh, oh and…. over time your 2nd level network becomes your 1st level network… because they discover that you rock!

Marketing, relationships and a reach that money, honestly, can't buy.

How to measure it?

I don't quite know how to do it easily across all the channels. Individually you can, see image above, pull out Excel and make magic!

Do you know of a tool that precisely measures Amplification across all channels as defined above? Please let me know via comments, and I'll add it here.

Now on to a metric that had us at "hello"…

3. Applause Rate.

I'm sure you've noticed my secret evil plan to force you to understand your audience (and not just pimp your agenda in Social Media).

One powerful, more immediate way, to understand them is to measure Applause.

One Twitter:

Applause Rate = # of Favorite Clicks Per Post

On Facebook:

Applause Rate = # of Likes Per Post

On Google Plus:

Applause Rate = # of +1s Per Post

On a Blog, YouTube:

Applause Rate = # of +1s and Likes Per Post (or video)

What to do with it?

Simple… you want to know what the audience likes (to use the Facebook terminology) and what they don't. You get a much deeper understanding of what your audience likes so much that it will +1 your content (or contribution) and allow for that to be then shown to others in their social graph.

And consider this…

If you +1 this blog post, you'll not help me understand its relative quality, but when someone in our extended social graph does a search on Google for Social Media Metrics your endorsement of this content will show up in the search results. That's reassuring to your social graph, and it is great for me because your endorsement makes this post stand out over others and I get a relevant visitor/customer.

Sweet, right? Your selfless social media contribution comes back to assist you in driving valuable business outcomes.

That's why you measure Applause. It matters in ways you can't imagine!

How to measure it?

Individually the numbers are available in most tools. Easy to find in Google+ (see example in the end). For Facebook the number is included in Facebook Insights, though it is not available as easily in a simple way (at least not as expansively as outlined above). For Twitter, sadly I could not find it anywhere (inside Twitter or other tools).

So help me. Do you use a tool that will allow us to measure Applause Rate? Please share via comments.

Finally the metric any company leader will adore…

4. Economic Value.

I am smiling. I know that the long time readers of my blog would know that I would never let you get away without measuring hard business bottom-line impact of any digital effort!

It is foolish to believe that just Conversation Rate, Amplification Rate, Applause Rate will get you the eternal love and gratification (and perhaps budget!) of your company's leadership. Yes they care a little bit about this "social media thing." But if you want their adoration (and let me repeat: budget!) you are going to have to quantify the economic value created via social media.

You don't participate in social media to only drive business outcomes. I cannot stress that enough. If that is your primary objective you are going to suck at it (and the above metrics will reflect very efficiently how much you suck).


A small percent of the people in your company / brand's social graph will come to your main digital outpost (usually your company … [more]
Advanced_Analytics  Marketing_Tips  Web_Metrics  actionable_web_analytics  key_performance_indicators  social_media_marketing  from google
october 2011
Dominoes and the Price of Admission
I really wanted to quit my job. I was too afraid of the domino effect to do it though. Quitting my job meant not being able to pay my mortgage and take care of my family.

We get stuck because we start thinking about the domino effect. The fear that the changes we want are going to cause a cascade of changes we don’t want.

The sticking point here is that we spend all this time thinking about the aspects of our lives we want to change, but when we can’t figure out how to change those things without affecting anything else, we give up.

“Fuck yeah, fuck my boss! He can take my gray little Dilbert cubicle and shove it right up his ass!” sounds great until your car payment is due.

Leaving your verbally abusive wife sounds good until you think about finding a new place to live, and the reality of your growing waistline in the face of having to go out and date again. You stop thinking about it because it feels too painful.

Don’t do that.

Here’s what you do instead: write down the consequences of the thing you want to do and work backward to eliminate them. Get rid of the bills you’re afraid you can’t pay. While you can still afford to live in the bigger place, move into a smaller place. While you can still afford two cars, sell them and buy two bikes instead, or a clunker. Now you’re free to stay or quit without the fear of the domino effect.

It helps to think like the worst has already happened. Sit and imagine you’ve just been fired. What do you do? Do you start looking for ways to cut back expenses? Do you take some time off to relax? Do you look for a different job? Do those things now, before you leave your job: cut expenses like you’re destitute, take some time off, look for a different job (you really are a masochist, aren’t you?). Now those dominoes have no power over you.

Tah-dah! You’re free to quit your job.

Caveat: Price of Admission
There are circumstances in which you endure one thing in order to hang onto another thing, and that can be okay. I call it the “price of admission.” You might have a boyfriend who you love dearly, and he might drive you up the wall by constantly leaving his clothes on the floor. You pick them up and wash them. Price of admission.

If you’re facing something that you think might be a deal breaker but you’re not sure, then:

Ask yourself: What is causing my pain? I pick up dirty clothes because I want a clean and my boyfriend leaves his shit everywhere.
Ask yourself: What do I get for my pain? In exchange for cleaning clothes on the floor and a small portion of my sanity, I get an intensely loving, sexy boyfriend.
Is what I get worth my pain? In other words, if someone proposed a deal to me to get the thing from question two in exchange for my pain, would I take the deal? Yes, I would take a kickass boyfriend in exchange for a life of uncertain laundry cleanliness.
No, the upside isn’t worth the downside. Then stop taking the deal: it’s a deal breaker.
Yes, the upside is worth the downside. Then you have two things to do. You must do the first. The second is up to your discretion and creativity:

Become 100% okay with whatever the bad thing is. Even if you wouldn’t generally choose to clean up clothes after a grown-ass man, you have chosen to clean up in this context. That word is important: cleaning the dirty clothes is now a choice that I made, not a situation that I’m victimized by. If you find it impossible to be okay with a situation, then stop kidding yourself: the upside really isn’t worth the downside, stop taking the deal.
Solve the problem in a different way. Hire a housekeeper. Problem solved.

Don’t let the domino effect stop you from making the changes you know you need to make for a life of passion and fire. Eliminate the power those dominoes have over you, or fully embrace the prices you deliberately choose to pay for the life you truly desire.

Click here to reply to Dominoes and the Price of Admission

Pete enables those ready to set themselves on fire with passion and purpose by clearing out their energetic gunk and realigning their mind with core principles so the gunk can't come back. You should follow him on twitter @PeteMichaud.

Read More:Ritual Creates Change
Stress is Dirty
Fear Doesn’t Stop
Essays  Getting_your_Mind_Right  Inspiration  Self_Sabotage  from google
october 2011
What I Learned From Steve Jobs
Many people have explained what one can learn from Steve Jobs. But few, if any, of these people have been inside the tent and experienced first hand what it was like to work with him. I don’t want any lessons to be lost or forgotten, so here is my list of the top twelve lessons that I learned from Steve Jobs.

Experts are clueless.

Experts—journalists, analysts, consultants, bankers, and gurus can’t “do” so they “advise.” They can tell you what is wrong with your product, but they cannot make a great one. They can tell you how to sell something, but they cannot sell it themselves. They can tell you how to create great teams, but they only manage a secretary. For example, the experts told us that the two biggest shortcomings of Macintosh in the mid 1980s was the lack of a daisy-wheel printer driver and Lotus 1-2-3; another advice gem from the experts was to buy Compaq. Hear what experts say, but don’t always listen to them.

Customers cannot tell you what they need.
“Apple market research” is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, “Better, faster, and cheaper”—that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can only describe their desires in terms of what they are already using—around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all people said they wanted was better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machines. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.

Jump to the next curve.
Big wins happen when you go beyond better sameness. The best daisy-wheel printer companies were introducing new fonts in more sizes. Apple introduced the next curve: laser printing. Think of ice harvesters, ice factories, and refrigerator companies. Ice 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Are you still harvesting ice during the winter from a frozen pond?
The biggest challenges beget best work.

I lived in fear that Steve would tell me that I, or my work, was crap. In public. This fear was a big challenge. Competing with IBM and then Microsoft was a big challenge. Changing the world was a big challenge. I, and Apple employees before me and after me, did their best work because we had to do our best work to meet the big challenges.

Design counts.
Steve drove people nuts with his design demands—some shades of black weren’t black enough. Mere mortals think that black is black, and that a trash can is a trash can. Steve was such a perfectionist—a perfectionist Beyond: Thunderdome—and lo and behold he was right: some people care about design and many people at least sense it. Maybe not everyone, but the important ones.

You can’t go wrong with big graphics and big fonts.
Take a look at Steve’s slides. The font is sixty points. There’s usually one big screenshot or graphic. Look at other tech speaker’s slides—even the ones who have seen Steve in action. The font is eight points, and there are no graphics. So many people say that Steve was the world’s greatest product introduction guy..don’t you wonder why more people don’t copy his style?

Changing your mind is a sign of intelligence.
When Apple first shipped the iPhone there was no such thing as apps. Apps, Steve decreed, were a bad thing because you never know what they could be doing to your phone. Safari web apps were the way to go until six months later when Steve decided, or someone convinced Steve, that apps were the way to go—but of course. Duh! Apple came a long way in a short time from Safari web apps to “there’s an app for that.”

“Value” is different from “price.”
Woe unto you if you decide everything based on price. Even more woe unto you if you compete solely on price. Price is not all that matters—what is important, at least to some people, is value. And value takes into account training, support, and the intrinsic joy of using the best tool that’s made. It’s pretty safe to say that no one buys Apple products because of their low price.

A players hire A+ players.
Actually, Steve believed that A players hire A players—that is people who are as good as they are. I refined this slightly—my theory is that A players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players. If you start hiring B players, expect what Steve called “the bozo explosion” to happen in your organization.

Real CEOs demo.
Steve Jobs could demo a pod, pad, phone, and Mac two to three times a year with millions of people watching, why is it that many CEOs call upon their vice-president of engineering to do a product demo? Maybe it’s to show that there’s a team effort in play. Maybe. It’s more likely that the CEO doesn’t understand what his/her company is making well enough to explain it. How pathetic is that?

Real CEOs ship.
For all his perfectionism, Steve could ship. Maybe the product wasn’t perfect every time, but it was almost always great enough to go. The lesson is that Steve wasn’t tinkering for the sake of tinkering—he had a goal: shipping and achieving worldwide domination of existing markets or creation of new markets. Apple is an engineering-centric company, not a research-centric one. Which would you rather be: Apple or Xerox PARC?

Marketing boils down to providing unique value. Think of a 2 x 2 matrix. The vertical axis measures how your product differs from the competition. The horizontal axis measures the value of your product. Bottom right: valuable but not unique—you’ll have to compete on price. Top left: unique but not valuable—you’ll own a market that doesn’t exist. Bottom left: not unique and not value—you’re a bozo. Top right: unique and valuable—this is where you make margin, money, and history. For example, the iPod was unique and valuable because it was the only way to legally, inexpensively, and easily download music from the six biggest record labels.

Bonus: Some things need to be believed to be seen. When you are jumping curves, defying/ignoring the experts, facing off against big challenges, obsessing about design, and focusing on unique value, you will need to convince people to believe in what you are doing in order to see your efforts come to fruition. People needed to believe in Macintosh to see it become real. Ditto for iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Not everyone will believe—that’s okay. But the starting point of changing the world is changing a few minds. This is the greatest lesson of all that I learned from Steve.
from google
october 2011
They say that comets crashed into the Earth a billion years ago and tiny microbacteria came from the comet and impregnated this Earth with water and life. From that combination, eventually, we humans rose out of it.


Sometimes I want to go home. Back to the comet and continue on its journey to the center of the Universe. Where, presumably, all of the answers can be found, where the prism for all life pulsates in the middle. It’s hard world to live in. We’re all suffering post-traumatic syndrome. Over what? Loss of  Jobs. Loss of jobs. 2008. 9/11, the loss of the hope in the 90s.Sometimes having someone  to talk to, even on Twitter, is a small way to heal from this post-traumatic stress. For me most of all!

Every Thursday, from 3:30 – 4:30 I have a Twitter Q&A where anyone can ask me about anything. From marriage, to money, to ancient cosmology. While this all stems from my goal (ever since I was seven years old) to be a “Dear Abby” I also have a lot of fun and I like tweeting with people. Then the next day, I’ll post a summary like this. Please join in next week.


@alyosha19 asks: What do you think is the best way to “give back” to society as an individual? If at all…

ANSWER: Everything comes from you. If you work at a charity but beat your kids at night then you have failed to give back to society. The best way to give back to society is to make sure you are healthy:

Physically: you can’t be sick and give back. You need to eat well, sleep well, exercise well. You can be your own superhero.

Emotionally: you can’t give back if you are always arguing with wife, parents, etc. You need to eliminate the people from your life who bring you down and surround yourself with uplifting people who inspire you

Mentally: your idea muscle needs to be in superhuman shape if you want to give back to society. This means coming up with creative ideas every single  day, good or bad.

Spiritually: this doesn’t mean praying to an old man with a beard but it does mean having a sense of surrender and gratitude. These are two different things. Surrender is when you say, “That’s it, I’ve done all I can. I need help now.” Where does the help come from? Is there a god? Who knows. Maybe it just comes from a creative force locked inside of you that is dying to come out and take over the world if you let it. But it does come from somewhere. And gratitude: as soon as you wake up, list the 10 things you are most grateful for.

Then, being fully in shape, you are able to walk through life and be a beacon to others. People will be attracted to you and they won’t know why. Opportunities will throw themselves at your feet. And, by being a force of nature unto yourself, you will give back to society without even directly knowing how you are doing it.


@bgn2end asks: Are you running for President? If so, when you are elected, would you abolish congress and eventually the presidency?

ANSWER: Ha, the problem with the Presidency is that at some point you have to decide that a little child is going to die at your hands (through war, military action, etc). But here’s what I would do if elected and had the power to do these things

A)     Abolish Congress and replace it with an internet voting system. The only reason Congress exists is because there was no means to communicate important issues around the country when the Founding Fathers existed. [See, July 4 is a Scam]

B)      Abolish the FDA. They make lethal substances legal: most chemicals are unregulated, alchohol and nicotine are lethal, and they keep drugs that cure people out of the hands of old people who need that one last chance to survive. [See, Eliminate the FDA]

C)      I’d abolish every cabinet position. What do we need a Department  of Education for? Education in the US has only gone down since that Department was created. What do we need a Housing Department for. We had a housing crisis and nobody helped. What do we need a State Department for? Rarely or treaties negotiated and we should stop giving all of our money to foreign countries anyway. What do we need a Department of Defense for? We haven’t legally declared war since 1941. If you go to Washington DC you see these long enormous buildings down every street that do nothing but bureaucracy.

D)     I’d appoint myself Vice-President. Someone has to go to funerals of kings.

E)      I’d sell off every federal asset: highways, the IRS, federal lands, trains, etc to raise money to pay down debt so that taxes can also be reduced.

F)      I’d abolish the Presidency [See, “Abolish the Presidency”]

A lot of people who are politically minded disagree with me on some of these things. But the reality is. If we had the bravery to do all of the above then life would be better. People still would obey Stop signs (there are local governments to handle this) and they still wouldn’t kill people and “our way of life” would stll be defended since our greatest offense is now global capitalism and innovation.


@EricRomer asks: Any thoughts on Eckhart Tolle?

ANSWER: Eckhart Tolle wrote the best seller “ThePower of Now” and was fortunate to spend some couch time with Oprah Winfrey to really propel his message to the masses. When he first wrote the book, he printed up 3000 copies and basically went door to door at all the bookstores and handed them out. It took him years to find success, which I truly appreciate. I also think much of the advice in “The Power of Now” is interesting to read. It’s a watered down version (he does not admit this) of the Hindu philosophy Advaita Venta (best exemplified by a teacher from 100 years ago, Ramana Maharshi) but Tolle does a good job translating that into every day language and I agree with his approach of not mentioning the roots of his philosophy.

The one thing I think limits Tolle is that he hasn’t raised a family, or failed at a business or a career, or has shared his own stories of sadness, depression, and pain. I think that ultimately limits his message. Many of have real careers that we are stressed about, family that drives us crazy, businesses that we fail at.

Many of us need to get off the floor after those failures and know that the hand that’s reaching out to us comes from someone who has been there before.


@goldfo100:  if you had a very intelligent child entering college today, what major and language skills would your recommend?

ANSWER: Here’s the problem with college, in a nutshell – you are going to be with the same people you spent the past 12 years with (demographically) and doing the same thing (spending most of the day reading books that have nothing to do with anything, and then fooling around with your friends without any supervision for the first time) and doing it on your parents (or the bank’s) dime.

(i wish I had done yoga instead of college)

So if you are fortunate to have that dime, how about do something that would be much more beneficial: don’t go to college. Spend a year learning to paint, or taking singing lessons, or learning yoga in India (getting in shape, meeting people from all over the world, learning Eastern philosophy) or any of 100 other things that will actually better your life, force you to meet new demographics, and do it for much cheaper than the cost of college.

Then, after a year or two of that, why not go to college then – if you still even want to?



@rballe33 asks: What would J Altucher do if he were 25 yrs old right now?

ANSWER: Not everyone could be a Mark Zuckerberg and start a new  business from scratch and watch it grow into billions. So the obvious answer, “start a business” doesn’t really apply. It’s hard, requires money, and requires you to know what people are missing in their lives. Also, a consumer-oriented business is the hardest sort of business to start but if you have no enterprise experience, then its also hard to start a business selling to the enterprise.

Believe it or not, here’s what I would recommend: work at a big company, learn everything about them (See, “10 things You Should Do if You Were Hired Today”), find out what they are missing, and after two years start a business supplying the things you find that they were missing. This, in fact is what I did (I was 26 and not 25) when I went to work for HBO. If you are vigilant, you will find many things they are missing and even if they don’t become your first client, if you build your network while you are on the job, you WILL find first clients for your service. (Be service-oriented, then transform to product-oriented. This way you are profitable right away).


@Unpacktherat asks: what’s the next BUBBLE?

ANSWER: This might be the wrong question. I don’t think there will be ANY next bubbles. Bubbles imply that an asset class goes up today simply because it went up yesterday (so more and more people flock into it for no reason).

BUT, the next asset classes to experience enormous returns: biotech and energy.

Biotech because we have 70 million baby boomers retiring. And they are all going to get sick and die horrible deaths. All of them. So whatever we can do to alleviate their pain and extend their lives we will do. There will be pressure on the FDA to relax their standards so drugs can get out thedoor. And more and more smallcap biotechs will find a new lease on life as their drugs are used to extend the lives of the retiring baby boomers.

Energy because it’s getting cheaper to drill for oil (in the US) using the technology called fracking, which gets oil that was previously hard and expensive to get. This will transform the US into a new Saudi Arabia and reduce our dependence on middle eastern oil.

Of course, I also think social media will do well: whatever the next Zynga, etc is.


@JorgeToullier asks: … [more]
Ask_James  from google
october 2011
The Helsinki Spring
I spent the month of September lecturing, and interacting with (literally) thousands of entrepreneurs in two emerging startup markets, Finland and Russia. This is the first of two posts about Finland and entrepreneurship.


I was invited to Finland as part of Stanford’s Engineering Technology Venture Program partnership with Aalto University. (Thanks to Kristo Ovaska and team for the fabulous logistics!) I presented to 1,000’s of entrepreneurs, talked to 17 startups, gave 12 lectures, had 9 interviews, chatted with 8 VC’s, sat on 4 panels, talked policy with 2 government ministers, 2 members of parliament, 1 head of a public pension fund and was in 1 TV-documentary.

What I found in Finland was:

a whole lot of smart, passionate entrepreneurs who want to build a startup hub in Helsinki
a government that’s trying to help, but gets in the way
a number of exciting startups, but most with a narrow, too-local view of the world
and the sense that, before too long, they may well get it right!

While a week is not enough time to understand a country this post – the first of two – looks at the Finnish entrepreneurial ecosystem and its strengths and weaknesses.

The Helsinki Spring
Entrepreneurship and innovation are bubbling around Helsinki and Aalto University. There are thousands of excited students, and Aalto university is working hard to become an outward facing institution. Having a critical mass of people who think startups are cool in the same location is a key indicator of whether a cluster can catch fire. Finnish startup successes on a global stage include MySQL, F-Secure, Rovio, Habbo, Playfish, The Switch, Tectia, Trulia and Linux. While it’s not clear yet whether the numbers of startups in Helsinki are sufficient to ignite, it feels like it’s getting there, (and given the risk-averse and paternal nature of Finland that by itself is a miracle.)

The good news is that for a 5 million person country, there’s an emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem that looks like something this:

Aalto University: Aalto Center for Entrepreneurship, Aalto Entrepreneurship Society
Startup Accelerators: Startup Sauna and Vigo which includes Lifeline Ventures, KoppiCatch, and Veturi
Startup Blog: Arctic Startup
Business Angels: FiBAn, Sitra
Venture Capital: FVCA, NextIt Ventures, Primus Ventures, Open Ocean Capital, Connor VC, and Inventure
Government Funding: Tekes, Sitra, Finnvera, Finnish Investment Industry

9-to-5 Venture Capital
Ironically one of the things that’s holding back the Finnish cluster is Tekes, the government organization for financing research, development and innovation in Finland. It’s hard enough to pick which existing companies with known business models to aid. Yet Tekes does that and is trying to act like a government-run Venture Capital firm. At Tekes, government employees (and their hired consultants) – with no equity, no risk or reward, no startup or venture capital experience – try to pick startup winners and losers.

Tekes has ended up competing with and stifling the nascent VC industry, indiscriminately handing out checks to entrepreneurs like an entitlement. (To be fair this is an extension of the government’s role in almost all parts of Finnish life.)

In addition to Tekes, Vigo, the government’s attempt at funding private business accelerators, started with good intentions and got hijacked by government bureaucrats. The accelerators I met with (the ones the government pointed to as their success stories) said they were leaving the program.

Tekes lacks a long-term plan of what the Finnish government’s role should be in funding startups. I suggested that they might want to consider putting themselves out of the public funding business by using public capital to kick-start private venture capital firms, incubators and accelerators. And they should give themselves a 5-10 year plan to do so.  Instead they seem to be stuck in the twilight zone of not having a long-term vision of their role. (There has been tons of reports on what to do, all seemingly ignored by an entrenched bureaucracy.)

Lack of Business Experience
Direct government funding of startups has also delayed the maturation of business experience of local angels and VC’s. Finnish private investors don’t yet have enough time-in-grade to have developed good pattern recognition skills, and most lack operating backgrounds. I have no doubt they’ll get there by themselves, but in wouldn’t take much imagination to attempt to recruit some seasoned overseas investors to add to the mix.

Even a more serious challenge is the lack of global business competence. The number of serial entrepreneurs is very low and until recently most of the talented sales and marketing professionals choose to work for Nokia.

Part 2 with more observations about Finland and the Lessons Learned will follow shortly.

Filed under: Business Model versus Business Plan, Customer Development, Teaching, Technology, Venture Capital
Business_Model_versus_Business_Plan  Customer_Development  Teaching  Technology  Venture_Capital  from google
october 2011
Management Quality Assurance
You’d better check yourself before you wreck yourself
—Ice Cube, Check Yo Self

Everyone in the technology industry seems to agree that people are paramount, yet nobody seems to be on the same page with what the people organization­—Human Resources—should look like.

The problem is that when it comes to HR, most CEOs don’t really know what they want. In theory, they want a well-managed company with a great culture. Instinctively they know that an HR organization probably can’t deliver that. As a result, CEOs usually punt on the issue and implement something that’s sub-optimal if not worthless.

Interestingly, one of the first things that you learn when you run an engineering organization is that a good Quality Assurance organization cannot build a high quality product, but it can tell you when the development team builds a low quality product. Similarly, a high quality Human Resources organization cannot make you a well-managed company with a great culture, but it can tell you when you and your managers are not getting the job done.

The Employee Lifecycle
The best way to approach management quality assurance is through the lens of the employee lifecycle. From hire to retire, how good is your company? Is your management team world-class in all phases? How do you know?

A great HR organization will support, measure and help improve your management team. Some of the questions that they will help you answer:

Recruiting and hiring

Do you sharply understand the skills and talents required to succeed in every open position?
Are your interviewers well prepared?
Do your managers and employees do an effective job of selling your company to prospective employees?
Do interviewers arrive on time?
Do managers and recruiters follow up with candidates in a timely fashion?
Do you compete effectively for talent against the best companies?


Do your benefits make sense for your company demographics?
How do your salary and stock option packages compare to the companies that you compete with for talent?
How well do your performance rankings correspond to your compensation practices?

Training and Integration

When you hire an employee how long does it take them to become productive from the perspective of the employee, her peers, and her manager?
Shortly after joining, how well does an employee understand what’s expected of her?

Performance management

Do your managers give consistent, clear feedback to their employees?
What is the quality of your company’s written performance reviews?
Did all of your employees receive their reviews on time?
Do you effectively manage out poor performers?


Are you employees excited to come to work?
Do your employees believe in the mission of the company?
Do they enjoy coming to work every day?
Do you have any employees who are actively disengaged?
Do your employees clearly understand what’s expected of them?
Do employees stay a long time or do they quit faster than normal?
Why do employees quit?

Requirements to be great at running HR
What kind of person should you look for to comprehensively and continuously understand the quality of your management team? Here are some key requirements:

World-class process design skills—Much like the head of quality assurance, the head of HR must be a masterful process designer. One key to accurately measuring critical management processes is excellent process design and control.
A true diplomat—Nobody likes a tattle tale and there is no way for an HR organization to be effective if the management team doesn’t implicitly trust it. Managers must believe that HR is there to help them improve rather than police them. Great HR leaders genuinely want to help the managers and could care less about getting credit for identifying problems. They will work directly with the managers to get quality up and only escalate to the CEO when necessary. If an HR leader hoards knowledge, makes power plays, or plays politics, he will be useless.
Industry knowledge—Compensation, benefits, best recruiting practices, et al are all fast moving targets. The head of HR must be deeply networked in the industry and stay abreast of all the latest developments.
Intellectual heft to be the CEO’s trusted advisor—None of the other skills matter if the CEO does not fully back the head of HR in holding the managers to a high quality standard. In order for this to happen, the CEO must trust the HR leader’s thinking and judgment.
Understanding of things unspoken—When management quality starts to break down in a company, nobody says anything about it, but super perceptive people can tell that the company is slipping. You need one of those.

I would like to give a very special thanks to my head of human resources, Shannon Callahan, who taught me everything that I know about this subject.
Management  People  from google
october 2011
You Are Underestimating the Future
I do this talk called "The Engineer, The Designer, and The Dictator", and it's a talk about the things I love. It's a little bit about the nature of engineers and why I think we might have more power than we deserve. I talk about designers, the creators of art, and how I want the engineers and designers to party together more. Lastly, I talk about the importance of dictators -- forces of nature whose vision is terrifyingly clear and whom we willingly follow even though we're a little scared of them. I explain how a dictator mediates the battle between art and science with a curious mind, an iron fist, and taste.

Yeah, it's about Steve.

My first thought as I stared long and hard at Apple's home page yesterday wasn't a specific Steve story or one of his many insightful quotes. The thought was...

You are underestimating the future. You are fretting about the now; worrying about little things that don't matter. You are wasting precious energy obsessing over irrelevant details. You don't believe that a better future is out there and can be built, that it can exceed people's expectations, because you're spending so much time considering the truth of the present and the seemingly important lessons of the past.

You are underestimating the future because you believe you cannot see it, but you can - you've seen it done before.

My favorite video of Steve was shortly after his return to Apple. He wasn't CEO yet; he was still consulting and was speaking on the last day of 1997's WWDC. It wasn't a prepared speech; it was Q&A, an open microphone where anyone could apparently ask Steve Jobs anything. (Steve starts at 2:12)

I've watched this video a few times, and what consistently impressed me wasn't just his ability to elegantly answer random and sometimes hostile questions from an audience, it was the fact that it was abundantly clear what he wanted Apple to be. Again: 1997.

I was an Apple employee for eight and half years and I didn't see the video until after I'd left the company. For those who worked there and for those who have watched Apple's success, what resonates from this crackly old video is that it was clear that Steve could see the future. He may have given features, products, and strategies different names at the time, but so much of what Apple has become is described in a video from almost 14 years ago.

Steve didn't underestimate the future; he could see it, and, more importantly, he built it.
Apple  from google
october 2011
Radiance and Fascination: The Zander Effect
Yesterday, I sat in an airplane hanger with 4,000 CEOs and thought leaders from around the world, listening to a line-up of world-class speakers. The event was the HSM World Business Forum. And I’ve had the privilege of “covering” it for the last 3 years as a blogger.
Every year, I leave inspired beyond word. Not just by the ideas and conversations, but the quality of the speakers. As someone who aspires to speak to larger and larger audiences on larger and larger stages, I love to see how the best in the business do it.
But then, there are always those moments during the two-day event where extraordinary ideas converge with a radiant personal energy to create magic.
For me, Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor, teacher and speaker, Ben Zander, was that moment.
He was alive, literally floating through the audience. In fact, he started in the audience fluttering, skipping, dancing and prancing up and down the aisles. And, with the exception of running up to the stage to play piano in short bursts, he stayed in the audience for nearly two hours.
Minutes in he had 4,000 stuffed shirts singing happy birthday at the top of their lungs, gesticulating with their arms, animating their faces, laughing. Even more conservative genius marketing types like Derek Halpern (who happened to be sitting next to me) joined in. Not out of some awkward sense of being forced into a contrived experience (I’ve been to those, too), but because Zander swept us all away. Resistance was futile.
His life-force was infectious. Utterly immersive. Radiant.
Zander was so clearly and deeply in love with what he does and so utterly passionate about his message (embracing music and possibility), and who he was sharing it with (he hugged and kissed half the front row after speaking) that he literally could’ve said anything and we would have been human putty.
And this is even more astonishing, Zander’s energy at the end was indistinguishable from his energy at the beginning. I’m betting he could’ve gone another two hours without flagging. I’ve no doubt this comes in part from learning that, when he conducts, often for hours, every person in the orchestra will feed off the energy he radiates. If he starts high, then slowly empties, so will his musicians…and so will the audience. So, it’s his job to be radiant.
But, you can’t go to that place where you literally glow on a level that makes people say “I want THAT!” if it’s just your J.O.B. It’s got to be an organic extension of your very being. Zander isn’t a conductor, a teacher or a speaker, he is music, light and energy embodied. Raw, transparent, fully-aligned with what makes him come alive.
Stuart Wilde said if you want to make more money, raise your personal energy. When you do that, more people will show up, when they do, bill ‘em!
We spend so much of our lives trying to learn how to market better, make better products, build better companies, train in operations, sales, marketing, process and innovation. But, it’s all for nothing if we don’t also spend equal, if not far greater time and energy, exploring, then building around the people, the activities and the experiences that allow us the opportunity to fully align our actions with what makes us come alive.
Because when you do that, you begin to radiate energy. People want to be around you. They become enchanted. They want to follow, lead and support you. And, you’re not supposed to say this out loud, but they want to be you. Or more accurately, they want to have that same inner glow.
Being in the room with Zander brought this home like never before. And it very likely inspired some deeper thought about where I’m going with my career and life.
But, Zander also shared a window into the mindset that allows him to go to the place I aspire to first visit more often, then inhabit. Beyond passion, beyond alignment with what makes him come alive, he creates very deliberate filters that allow him to view occasions that shut most people down as opportunities for wonder.
When you commit time, money or energy to something and it falls short of your hopes and expectations, most people call that a mistake and say, “man, that sucks.”
Not Zander. His response…
“How fascinating.”
Have you picked up your copy of Uncertainty yet? It’s out and the reviews are rocking my world.
Innovation  Inspiration  Leadership  Motivation_&_Success  from google
october 2011
When You Should Ignore Your “Customers”
I do a lot of sales through email marketing — to folks who specifically requested that I email ‘em.

I don’t email all that much; most months, I don’t email at all.

For the past month, I’ve been sending 1-2 emails a week. Not just “buy my shit” emails, but free samples from the class, free advice, true life stories of the lessons I’ve learned. (Plus fat discounts for my 30×500 Product Launch Class.)

In other words: good shit. Good news. Stuff people want.

OMG! A European Is Angry on the Internet!

And yesterday this email appeared in my inbox:

Amy, I really like you and your blog. Really, I mean it. However
you’re getting in touch more often than my mum. I’m not sure if it’s
how it works in the US, but in Europe people rather get pissed off. I
have plenty of e-mails already. I like to read some of your stuff if
it’s time to time. I will unsubscribe if you’ll be sending so many
e-mails.No hard feelings, just saying.

Action Required!! …Or is it?

What would you do, if you got this email?

Probably try to stop annoying people, right? After all, you don’t to piss off a bunch of Europeans, do you?

Well… yes. You really, really do.

Pissing people off is actually great for your business. Not just great — but required.

Why I’m Happy to Piss People Off

Here’s what I wrote back:

And that, my friend, is why so many Europeans fail at their businesses.They think that some imaginary social boundaries are more important than doing what’s necessary — and more important than doing what helps the most people.The folks who stay on my list are the ones who want to hear from me… and they buy. The folks who unsubscribe are the ones who don’t buy. Why would I waste my effort & potential income & dilute my message in order to please people who won’t buy? Being successful means doing what works over & over & over again. And that’s just what I’m doing.

Overly didactic? Snarky? Maybe. But truth.

The folks who are invested are staying on my list — overwhelmingly. Over 90% of them stick around.

You know, I almost don’t even care if those people buy what I’m selling. The invested people who stick around are infinitely more likely to be people I can help. Who’ll take my free advice and put it to use.

Which furthers my mission to create more happy, healthy, thriving indie biz.

Irritated people don’t invest. They don’t listen — even when it’s free. And if they don’t listen, what’s the chance that they’ll implement it?

I can’t help them.

So I’m happy when they get fed up and leave.

The Bottom Line: Aphorisms Edition

The empty can rattles the most. And our immediate, instinctive urge is to try to please them. We want to please people.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. But it shouldn’t — not when that wheel’s never gonna roll the direction you want.

But we’ve gotta save up our precious energy & focus for our customers who are already pretty happy.

There’s no reward in listening to people who want to change everything about you, your business, or your products.

What do you do?

Do you have a great pissed-off-non-customer story? Have you caved to the loud minority before? (I have — it’s an almost irresistible urge.) Do you have an “action plan” for handling emails like that?

And if you want to get free advice, free goodies, free lessons from my always-sold-out 30×500 Product Launch Class… click here and sign up for the email list

Related posts:When Customers Bitch About Your Price (Biz Book Friday)
Writing the Charm Sales Letter: Backwards Time Lapse Video
“I Half-Expect a Kitten with a Top Hat…” – Why I Do What I Do
Customers  Marketing  from google
october 2011
My favorite blog posts from the last 6 years
My kids Rosie and Josh have grown with my blog. Photo by Lewis Stewart, otherwise known as grandpa.

Six years ago today, I hit “publish” on my very first blog post.

I was on maternity leave from my consulting business and was taking care of my son Josh, who was seven months old. I took a class from Suzanne Falter-Barns about how to get known online, and one of the assignments was to start a blog. I struggled for a few months to come up with a name, but then it finally hit me: Escape from Cubicle Nation.

What a magical mystery tour it has been.

What struck me after reading the very first post I wrote was how utterly unaware I was at that time how writing Escape from Cubicle Nation would change my life. How many dear friends it would bring into my circle. How many amazing conversations and stories I would hear from people all over the world. How many visits to cities far and wide it would inspire. How it would lead to a hard copy, printed book from a New York publisher.

The following are my favorite posts. They did not all get tons of traffic or comments, but they express specific parts of myself and my philosophy about life and work.

Are you trapped in Cubicle Nation?
This is my very first post. What I like about it is that it captures a moment of time when I had a very big flash of inspiration. Little did I know what a sticky idea it would be!
Open letter to CXOs across the corporate world
This is certainly my most well-known post. It was written as I was pushing my son Josh around the neighborhood in a stroller, and I was reflecting on the ten years I had spent as a consultant to large corporations. I imagined what I would say to a large group of  executives in a keynote speech, if I did not worry about editing my feelings. I sent it to Guy Kawasaki, he posted about it on his blog, and the floodgates to my blog readership were opened. To this day, I refer to Guy as my “link sugar daddy.”
The grace in falling apart
A very difficult and delicate part of the work I do with clients is helping them navigate the no-mans land between a well-defined corporate career and a new life as an entrepreneur. This is not always easy, and this post explains why.
Unicorns, rainbows and work-life balance
I have been lucky enough to raise two kids while writing this blog and growing a business. Very often, people ask me “How do you do it all?,” implying that I actually have things all figured out. I don’t, and that’s ok.
Avatars, ecosystems and watering holes
I refer my clients to this post all the time, and it became a central part of my digital course Ethical Selling That Works. If you base your marketing in this framework, it will be so much easier, and effective.
Double your learning speed, cut your mistakes in half
As you can tell from most of my blog post titles, I am not much for “Top 5″ or “Make money now” types of posts. But I do believe in being effective and efficient, and this post outlines my very best strategy for learning new things while growing a business.
How to strike a balance between giving content away for free and earning a living
This post came from a talk I gave at PodcampAZ. I wanted to lay out the steps in using content to build a business, in a way that people could easily understand. I asked my son Jeffery to create some original art for the presentation. I love the result of his drawings and my ideas together.
Blow up traditional careers in favor of bodies of work
This sums up what I feel about the new world of work, and frames the ideas and assistance I want to provide to my market in the next decade. There is no more job security, and that is just fine.
You, less than
This is a guest post I wrote for my friend Hugh McLeod on his blog Gaping Void. It was extremely personal, especially since I talked about a painful part of my family’s history. And I wrote about my Dad, who reads every post I write. It was cathartic to write, and it touched a nerve.
Are you acting like a celebrity sheep with your marketing plans?
I can’t stand mindless conformity. Yet so many new entrepreneurs feel they have to follow expert advice for growing a business, or risk living in a van down by the river. They don’t.
Come see the wonderful things my people accomplished this year
This type of post has now become an annual tradition, but the first one was published in 2009. It is round up of all the great things my clients were proud to share that they accomplished in that year. Putting it together, I was amazed by the diversity of ideas, and astounded by the talent and creativity of the people I am lucky enough to work with every day.

Thanks to all of you who take your valuable time to read my posts. They say a writer’s pleasure comes from having written. I disagree — a writer’s pleasure comes from being read.

To writing, and reading! <clinking glasses>

For my long-time readers, did I miss any of your favorite posts?

Uncategorized  from google
october 2011
Failures and the dip
Jorge wrote in to ask about the contradiction (it seems) between Poke the Box, which argues that you must consistently ship innovations to the market (and frequently fail), and The Dip, which argues that quitting a project in the middle is dumb, that the real success comes after the quitters have left the building.

I don't see a conflict.

The failures I'm talking about in Poke the Box are initial interactions with the market, about the ability and willingness to appear stupid in front of others.In the Dip, I'm arguing that big successes happen when people with good taste see the failures, evolve and keep pushing anyway. The good taste comes when you know the difference between failures that are better off forgotten and failures that are merely successes that haven't grow up yet.A single blog post is an example of poking the box.

Sticking with a blog for seven years is pushing through the Dip.

[Related: a reader asks if "Go, make something happen," is sufficient. After all, there's a lot of junk in the world, a lot of misguided, wasteful, mediocre junk. My argument is that the hard part is deciding to do something, anything. Once you've decided to move, at least you're going. Might as well make it worth the trip. People who care (and who are wiling to fail) will likely turn that effort into something worthwhile.]
from google
october 2011
“That’s What I Want to Do”
One of the great joys of being a writer is that, through your books, you get to meet some pretty amazing people. One of those in my world is Hermes (Ioannis) Melissanidis from Greece.
Hermes won a gold medal in gymnastics at the Atlanta Olympics. Here’s the video if you’ve never seen it. I met HermesMore >>
Writing_Wednesdays  from google
october 2011
6 Things I Learned from Charles Bukowski
Bukowski was disgusting, his actual real fiction is awful, he’s been called a misogynist, overly simplistic, the worst narcissist, (and probably all of the above are true to an extent) and whenever there’s a collection of “Greatest American Writers” he’s never included.

And yet… he’s probably the greatest American writer ever. Whether you’ve read him or not, and most have not, there’s 6 things worthy of learning from an artist like Bukoswski.


I consider “Ham on Rye” by Bukowski probably the greatest American novel ever written.  It’s an autobiographical novel (as are all his novels except “Pulp” which is so awful it’s unreadable) about his childhood, being beaten by his parents, avoiding war, and beginning his life of destitution, hardship, alcoholism, and the beginnings of his education as a writer.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit he’s an influence. Many people hate him and I’m much more afraid of being judged than he ever was.

1)      Honesty. His first four novels are extremely autobiographical. He details the suffering he had as a child (putting his parents in a very bad light but he didn’t care), he details his experiences with prostitutes, his lack of interest in holding down a job, his horrible experiences and lack of real respect for the women he was in relationships with, and on and on.  His fiction and poetry document thoroughly the people he hates, the authors he despises, the establishment he could care less about (and he hated the anti-establishment just as much. One quote about a potential plan the hippie movement was going to do: “Run a pig for president? What the fuck is that? It excited them. It bored me.”)


(my favorite comic book artist, R. Crumb, often illustrated Bukowski's poems and stories)

Most fiction writers do what fiction writers do: they make stuff up. They tell stories that come from their imagination. Bukowski wasn’t really able to do that. Whenever he attempted fiction (his last novel being a great example) it fell flat. Even his poetry is non-fiction.

There’s one story he wrote (I forget the name) where he’s sitting in a bar and he wants to be alone and some random guy starts talking to him: “its horrible about all those girls who were burned” and Bukowski says (I’m getting the words a little off. Doing this from memory), “I don’t know.” And the guy and everyone else in the bar starts yelling, “This guy doesn’t care that all those little girls burned to death”. But Bukowski was honest, “It was a newspaper headline. If it happened in front of me I’d probably feel different about it.” And he refused to back down and stayed in the bar until closing time.


(Matt Dillon playing a young Bukowski in "Factotum")

He had very few boundaries as to how far his honesty could go. He never wrote about his daughter after she reached a certain age. That’s about the only boundary I can find. Every other writer has so many things they can’t write about: family, spouses, exes, children, jobs, bosses, colleagues, friends. That’s why they make stuff up. Bukowski didn’t let himself get hampered by that so we see real raw honest, a real anthropological survey of being down and out for 60+ years without anything being held back. No other writer before or since has done that. For a particular example, see his novel, “Women” which detailed every sexual nuance of every woman who dared to sleep with him after he achieved some success. Most of these women were horrified after the book came out.

I try as hard as possible to remove all boundaries. But it’s a challenge with each post I do.

2)      Persistence. Bukowski got two stories published when he was young (24 and 26 years old) but almost all of his stories were rejected by publishers. So he quit writing for ten years. Then, in the mid 1950s he started up again. He submitted tons of poems and stories everywhere he could. It took him years to get published. It took him even more years to get really noticed. And it finally took him about 15 years of writing every day and writing thousands of poems and stories before he finally started making a living as a writer. He wrote his first novel at the age of 49 and it was financially successful. After 25 years of plugging away at it he was finally a successful writer.

25 years!

Most people give up much earlier, much younger. Both my grandfather and father wanted to be musicians, for instance. Both gave up in their 20s and 30s and took what they thought was the safer route. (The safer route being, in my opinion, what ultimately killed both of them).

And this persistence was while he was going through three marriages, dozens of jobs, and non-stop alcoholism. Some of this is documented (poorly) in the move “Barfly” but I think a better movie about Bukowski is the indie that Matt Dillon did about his novel, “Factotum” which details the 10 years he was going from job to job, woman to woman, just trying to survive as an alcoholic in a world that kept beating him down.

He wrote his first novel in 19 days. Michael Hemmingson who I write about below, wrote me and said Bukowski had to finish that novel so fast because he was desperately afraid he was going to be a failure at being a successful writer and didn’t want to disappoint John Martin, who had essentially given him an advance for the novel.


(a tattoo of the epitaph on Bukowski's tombstone)

3)      Survival. When I think “constant alcoholic” I usually equate that with being a homeless bum. Bukowski, at some deep level, realized that he needed to survive. He couldn’t just be a homeless bum and kill himself, no matter how many disappointments he had. He worked countless factory jobs (the basis of the non-fiction novel, “Factotun”) but even that wasn’t stable enough for him. Finally, he took a job working for the US Government (you can’t get more stable) working in the post office for 11 years. He didn’t miss child support payments (although he constantly wrote about how ugly the mother of his child was), and as far as I know he was never homeless or totally down and out from his early 30s ’til the time he started having success as a writer.

And despite writing about the overwhelming poverty he had, he did have a small inheritance from his father, a savings account he built up, and a steady paycheck. The post office job is documented, in full, in his first “novel”  called, appropriately, “Post Office”. Many people think that’s his best novel but I put it third or fourth behind “Ham on Rye” and “Factotum” and possibly “Women”.  He also wrote a novel, “Hollywood” about the blow-by-blow experience of doing the movie “Barfly”. All the names are changed (hence its claim to be fiction) but once you figure out who everyone is, its totally non-fiction. Like all of his other novels (not counting “Pulp”, which was the worst American novel ever written and published).

[See, 33 Unusual Ways to Be a Better Writer - many tips I got from reading his books.]

4)      Discipline. Imagine working a brutal 10 hour shift at the Post Office, coming home and arguing with your wife or girlfriend, or half-girlfriend, half-prostitute that was living with you, finishing off three or four six-packs of beer and then…writing. He did it every day. Most people want to write that novel, or finish that painting, or start that business, but have zero discipline to actually sit down and do it. If there was any talent that Bukowski had that I can’t actually figure out how he got it, its that discipline.

When he was younger (early 20s, late teens) he spent almost every day in the library, falling in love with all the great writers. The love must have been so great it superseded almost everything else in his life. He had to write like them or he really felt like he would die. He had to “put down a good line” as he would say. And every day he would try. And good, bad, or ugly, he probably ultimately ended up publishing (many posthumously) everything he ever wrote. I try to match that discipline. Even when I don’t post a blog post I write seven days a week, every morning. At least 1000 words and a completed post. I used to do this in my 20s when I was trying to write fiction. My minimum then was 3000 words. I did that for five years.

It adds up. The average book is 60,000 words. If you can write 1000 words a day then you’ll have 6 books by the end of the year. Because poetry books are much smaller, Bukowski probably had around 80 or so books published by the time he was dead and I bet there are more coming.

(his first novel at age 49. You're never too old).

5)      His “literary map”. He was inspired by several writers and he inspired many more. Some of my favorite writers come from both categories. He was probably most inspired by three writers: Celine, Knut Hamsun, and John Fante. I highly recommend Celine’s “Journey to the End of the Night”.  Celine is almost a more raw version of Bukowski. He was constantly angry and trying to survive and do whatever it took to survive. The thing about Bukowski, as opposed to many other writers, is he didn’t concern himself with flowery images or beautiful sunsets. He totally wrote as if he were speaking to you and Celine does that to an extreme but he’s so raw and smart that the way he “speaks” is like an insane person trying to spew out as much venom as possible. 600 pages later his first book is a masterpiece and I often use it in my pre-writing hour every morning when I read stuff to inspire myself to write.

John Fante wrote the underappreciated “Ask the Dust” which was completely forgotten until Bukowski’s publisher republished it and all of Fante’s books. (I also recommend the movie  with Colin Farrell and a naked Salma Hayek).


(maybe Hayek's best role)

Bukowski was almost afraid to admit how much Fante directly influenced him. He wrote in one “short story”, “I realized that admitting John Bante … [more]
Uncategorized  from google
october 2011
What Is Commitment?
Put your head underwater and keep it there for a while.

You’ll soon realize that you’re 100% committed to breathing.

Notice that you don’t make excuses not to breathe. Notice that you don’t worry about motivating yourself to breathe. Notice that you don’t need to justify your desire to breathe.

You just breathe.

Commitment is action.

No excuses. No debate. No lengthy analysis. No whining about how hard it is. No worrying about what others might think. No cowardly delays.

Just go.

What if something gets in the way of your commitment?

What would you do if someone tried to prevent you from breathing?

Read related articles:Are You a Lightworker or a Darkworker?Stay the CourseVisualization-Meditation Exercise: Go To Your RoomForming IntentionsCommitted RelationshipsFeeble ExcusesWhat’s Your Motivation Threshold?

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Getting_Things_Done  Goals_&_Goal_Setting  Motivation  from google
october 2011
The 10x Product Launch
You’ve painstakingly defined and built an MVP through 100+ customer interviews. You’ve collected thousands of emails from potential prospects through a teaser page. You’re ready to launch. But…

The engineer in you is worried about some real technical risks. You’re pushing the envelope using a new type of database – is the database partitioned correctly, will it scale, should you wait and run more tests first?

The marketer in you is worried about your pricing and positioning – can you justify charging for your MVP, are you delivering enough value, have you picked the right price, maybe you should wait to add a few more features, or defer charging to later?

A popular solution is launching as a “private beta” – allowing you to incrementally rollout your product, keep early customer expectations at bay, and defer the pricing question under the guise of gaining more learning first. While this approach certainly appeases our inner fears, it is often the cop-out approach.

The purpose of the MVP is getting your product in front of customers to start the process of learning but not all learning is equal. You need to prioritize learning around the riskiest parts of your product first.

For most products, technical risk ain’t what’s riskiest.

Launching a new product can be daunting because you have to simultaneously juggle multiple product, customer, and market risks. I’ve been fielding some of these tradeoffs lately with the upcoming launch of a new SaaS product – USERcycle, and devised the following 10x launch plan.

The 10x Product Launch Plan
Here’s the general idea:

Like the “private-beta”, the 10x launch uses a staged rollout. But unlike the private beta, it completely avoids any connotations around “being in beta”. You have to both demonstrate strong product conviction and be ready to rigorously test those convictions from day one.

Additionally, the staged rollouts use a logarithmic step function (10x) that affords the right prioritization of risk at each stage.

What is the right prioritization of risk?
The Lean Canvas below charts the path I use for systematically tackling the 3 types of risks:

Product Risk – Getting the product right
1. First make sure you have a problem worth solving.
2. Then define the smallest possible solution (MVP).
3. Build and validate your MVP at small scale (demonstrate UVP).
4. Then verify it at large scale.

Customer Risk – Building a path to customers
1. First identify who has the pain.
2. Then narrow down to early adopters who really want your product now.
3. It’s okay to start with outbound channels.
4. But gradually build/develop scalable inbound channels – the earlier the better.

Market Risk – Building a viable business
1. Identify competition through existing alternatives and pick a price for your solution.
2. Test pricing first by measuring what customers say (verbal commitments).
3. Then by what they do.
4. Optimize your cost structure to make the business model work.

Putting 10x in Action
Stage 1: Use interviews to recruit 10 early adopter customers

Use problem interviews to find a problem worth solving and identify your prototypical early adopter.

Put up a “problem focussed” teaser page and start collecting email addresses.
Use solution interviews to define your MVP and recruit your first 10 “early adopter” customers (not users) – they pay you from day one. If you nail the right problem, this shouldn’t be difficult. Make a bold promise, keep pricing simple, and back it up with a high-touch concierge MVP model and/or money-back guarantee.

Build your MVP and validate that is delivers on your Unique Value Proposition.

What’s happening here?

The first objective is finding motivated early adopters not on-the-fence users.

Early adopters are as visionary as you but from the problem perspective.

Customer interviews are a great way for qualifying early adopters.

Plan on talking to 100 prospects to find the right 10 early adopters.

Starting with just 10 customers defers technical risk for testing market risk.

First key metrics: activation, retention (and revenue).

Stage 2: Use email list to find next 100 customers

Use your 10 early adopters to help find the next batch of customers (they pay you too).

Supplement the rest by setting up more solution interviews using your email list.

Collect customer testimonials / case-studies.

Start building a marketing website.

What’s happening here?

Exercise full AARRR user lifecycle (adding referral) to validate compelling UVP.

Test early channels for user acquisition.

Use refined positioning and social proof to build a compelling marketing website.

Plan on 1,000 person email list to yield 100 customers.

Stage 3: Use marketing website to acquire next 1,000 customers

Use your marketing website to sign-up users.

Use your learning to define multiple pricing plans including a freemium option if one makes sense.
Manage the full user lifecycle from visitor to sign-up to paid.

What’s happening here?

Strong early adopter testimonials should help drive latter stage customers.

Usage patterns of existing customers help define optimal pricing plans.

Move towards a more automated self-serve model.

Start tackling scaling risks.

Stage 4: Build your engine of growth for next 10,000 customers

Start testing other customer acquisition channels.

Optimize cost structure.

Optimize AARRR funnel.

What’s happening here?

Product/Market Fit

Shift from finding a plan that works to accelerating that plan

Why 10x works?
Maximize learning (about what’s riskiest) per unit time.

You don’t need a lot of users to learn. Just a few good customers.

If you can’t convert a prospect in a 20 minute face-to-face meeting, it’s much harder to convert an unaware visitor in 8 seconds on your landing page.

Pricing is not only part of the product but defines your customers.

Start building a path to customers from day one – start direct to maximize learning before automating.

This 10x Product Launch strategy is only partially implemented at this stage with the USERcycle launch. USERcycle is a B2B SaaS product but I believe this launch strategy should work as well for a B2C product as long as you stay on the left-hand side for a while i.e. acquire users in steps of 100, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000, 1,000,000, etc.

Whatever comes out of this experiment, I will share my learning along the way. In the meantime, please share your comments below…
Uncategorized  from google
october 2011
Building Serendipity
Blake looks tired. He's sitting in the food court at O'Hare Terminal 1. He's halfway through a beer and the jokes are coming out, but they're a little labored. Blake is tired.

Blake's tired because Blake goes to a lot of conferences. Earlier in the conversation, he was explaining the next month of travel and I lost track of the number of conferences he was attending somewhere between Peru and Brazil. I feel like I attend a decent number of conferences over the course of the year, but Blake's list quickly demonstrates that I'm a conference rookie.

Still, I know why Blake is tired.

That One Person

I have exactly one goal when I attend a conference. Through some bizarre and unpredictable sequence of events, I'm going to meet that one person I absolutely need to know. Who they are, what they're building, or what they've done -- it's mind-blowing shit that, once identified, forever alters my perspective. In hindsight, after each conference is complete, it's obvious who this person is because I can't stop fucking talking about them. Before the conference this person is a mystery and there is no reliable way to predict who they might be.

My evolving experiences with conferences over the past two decades both conveniently enable documenting the three types of conferences out there, as well as my strategy for building the possibility of serendipitously meeting that person who will rock my world.

The Everybody Conference

Comdex was my introduction to both conferences and Las Vegas. In my late teens, my Dad was making a tidy profit building clone PCs, and Comdex was the place to see the latest developers in the PC world. I remember when Bill Gates got up on stage and showed a new feature in Microsoft Word that allowed you to visually draw tables in a document. Times were simpler then.

The Everybody Conferences are defined by their hugeness. Present day WWDC, SXSW, and JavaOne are similar beasts where each and every one of the faithful gathers to drink deeply of the Kool-aid. The food sucks, presentation quality varies wildly, and you seem to constantly be in line, but everyone is there and how often do you get an opportunity to hang with everyone?

For me, the Everybody Conference is a stressful affair. I am uncomfortable in large crowds and standing in lines drives me insane. However, I appreciate that both lines and crowds are significant opportunities for serendipity, so where's the middle ground?

I've refined the compromise strategy after many years at SXSW: find a conveniently located bar near where everyone is stumbling, invite two close friends and buy them a lot of booze, and then tell anyone who might care where you are. This event comfortably starts with just the three of you and becomes even more comfortable as the booze begins to flow. Serendipity is encouraged both by being in a public location where folks randomly show up as well as via your invite to those who might care.

At SXSW, I rarely attend sponsored events (lines), I rarely attend talks (panels? really?), and while I might wander the conference hallway a few times, my strategy of hiding in plain sight allows me to balance avoiding the hugeness while still encouraging serendipity.

The Specific Agenda Conference

The Specific Agenda conference is a smaller affair and has a specific theme, whether it is technology or audience. There is delightfully less pomp and circumstance with the Specific Agenda conference, but more importantly, there are fewer people. Whew.

A smaller conference is more palatable to me not only because the horde isn't there, but because the conference can be comprehended. I can get both the entire theme and audience in my head, which, as a nerd, gives me the illusion of predictability and knowability. However, the decrease in population size means more aggressive steps are necessary to encourage serendipity. I can't hide in a bar and tweet my location: I need to be proactive.

The strategy at the Specific Agenda Conference is: attend everything. After I've arrived, checked in, and am sitting in the hotel room reviewing the conference, I invariably find an event and think "lame". I still go. Yeah, I don't need a job, but I'll check out the job fair. Yeah, there's an awkward corporate speaker whose presentation is more advertising than content -- I go to that as well. I might walk out after three minutes, but I still show up because at a smaller conference I want to know the Story.

Because of its size, the Specific Agenda conference builds a discernible shared story. It starts when the keynote speaker is simply awful and you lean over to a stranger and ask, "Is he that bad?" In a moment, the stranger becomes slightly less strange when she nods, "Yes, he's really awful. And he's my boyfriend."


There is now one less stranger at the conference and the first page of the Story, which is titled, "Wherein I make a new friend by ripping on their boyfriend's crap keynote" and it's a great story that everyone has a version of because they're all sitting there with their own experience of the horrific keynote.

By including myself in the majority of the Specific Agenda Conference, I see what everyone else sees, and we collectively build a Story that introduces and intertwines us. I can think back to every Specific Agenda conference and feel the Story that was built. There was that one in Montreal where at 2am we ended up in a line in subzero weather waiting to eat poutine. Yeah, I was in a line. You know why? Because I knew I was in the middle of a great Story and great Stories are great fodder for serendipity.

The Welcome to Our Home Conference

The final conference is just a variant of the Specific Agenda conference, but I'm calling it out because this conference is one built with serendipity in mind. To date, I've only attended two Welcome to Our Home conferences: Webstock (three times) and Funconf (twice).

This conference is what it's called: an invitation into someone's home. It has some technology, design, or open source theme of some sort, but that's just there to get your attention. The real intent of this conference is building serendipity, and they do in three increasingly important ways:

Quality of speakers. Each year, Wellington, New Zealand's Webstock shocks me with their speakers. Go look now. Yeah, you'd go for just half of those folks. Dublin, Ireland's Funconf is less forthcoming with their speakers, but that's because they sell out tickets simply on the strength of word-of-mouth from the first conference, which included a bevy of fascinating speakers.

The Venue. Webstock is held in Wellington's town hall, which looks like this:

This Funconf was held in a castle and that looks like this:

The venues for both conferences go out of their way to make you feel like you're not at a conference, but rather hanging with your friends, well, in a castle. More on this aspect in a moment.

The Organizers. In my opinion, the defining characteristic of the Welcome to Our Home conference is the organizers. Whether it's Webstock's Natasha Lampard and Mike Brown or Funconf's Paul Campbell and Eamon Leonard, each conference is a reflection of the care of these organizers. I just returned from my second Funconf and I know that it was held in a castle because of Paul, and I know there was a clown, a DeLorean, a llama, and a donkey in the courtyard thanks to Eamon. You're right -- it doesn't make sense -- but that's because you weren't there and you weren't a part of the Story.

There is very little strategy in play when it comes to the conference. They tend to be small enough that I don't hide and there is rarely an event I'm not tripping over myself to attend. The Story builds itself with little effort on my part and there's serendipity everywhere.

Welcome to Our Home

I'm eating an awful ham and cheese sandwich and drinking a Sam Adams when I ask Blake what his favorite part of Funconf was, and he gives the same answer everybody does about any conference: "Well, it's the people, right?"

Blake knows what I know. Whether it's Everybody, A Specific Agenda, or A Home, a conference is defined by the people. And that's why I'm a little a jealous of Blake. I know why he's tired. He was up until 6am drinking with the CTO of Amazon in front of the fire... in a castle.

And that's a great story.
Tech_Life  from google
october 2011
Why lifestyle design will make you miserable
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking in the blogosphere or the book store – Lifestyle advice is all around you. Build a business to support your dreams! Yay!

Lifestyle is the new black. Minimalism rules and pundits are trying to find the new definition of “enough”. It seems that any self respecting entrepreneur is supposed to build a micro-internet business to support their ambitions. Those ambitions usually revolve around tropical retirements and/or working from your PJs while homeschooling your kids.

Sounds great right?

Yet the psychology of these “lifestyle” entrepreneurs indicates they’re more unfulfilled, fatigued and miserable than ever before. 

In New Zealand, land of sparkly waterfalls and lush rainforest, there is a thing known as a “Lifestyle Block”. This is essentially a hobby farm, a couple of acres stocked with all the barnyard animals and organic vegetables that a single nuclear family can ably take care of.

Moving to a Lifestyle Block is the solution to the urban existential crisis – when yet another day in the office seems like it’ll kill you. People swap expensive metropolitan rents, move to the sticks to bask in rural serenity as they nourish their body and spirt on self-sufficient produce.

At least, that’s what is supposed to happen.

The reality is much different. They also talk about the “Death-style Block” phenomenon in New Zealand That’s when moving to a lifestyle farm results in, practically speaking, the end of your life.

City slickers who want to grow tomatoes, keep bees and have a few pigs running around… don’t have a clue. They don’t realize the kind of work that is required. They naively believe they’ll be sitting out on their porch, snacking on roast pork, night after blissful night.

In reality, lifestyle farmers are up to their elbows in pig shit. Not once, but often – because any farmyard task that needs doing now will also need doing again. Soon.

The truth is, running a Lifestyle Block is damn hard work. It’s a never ending cycle of repetitive dirty work, with only the shifts in season providing any kind of variation… and even the seasons get repetitive after a while.

When people get seduced by the lifestyle farming dream, what they’re really looking for is what you get after you successfully farm. They’re pursuing a fantasy of end-of-season apples, fresh laid eggs and dripping honeycomb. No bee-stings, thank you.

The parallels should be immediately obvious. Entrepreneurs who dream the “lifestyle” dream are the same. In fact, all entrepreneurs can get sucked into this.

Wannabe writers want to “have written” not actually write.

Start-up dreamers want to “get funded” but not actually build a business.

Most of all, the home-business folk who want to sell info products, an e-course and some kind of consulting service… they don’t know what they want!

Trying to build a business to fuel your lifestyle design is attempting to do something part time that entrepreneurs with serious street-cred almost kill themselves over.

You’re lusting after the milk and honey, without thinking about the bee stings. You’ve probably never even seen (or smelt) a cowshed.

Think about it. Imagine overnight success, then multiply it by a decade. Imagine your online dog trainer coaching school (or whatever) being booked solid… year after year, after year.

Three years in, would you still be enjoying the “lifestyle” this business creates for you?

Imagine doing whatever you’re doing now (or want to be doing)… then imagine what it would feel like to do that, round the clock, for years.

Still sound like fun?

The idea of building a business so that you can do something else is a dangerous one. Most businesses fail. The ones that succeed require the kind of work that few people apply to their full time office jobs.

The only successful (and happy) lifestyle farmers are those who wake up pumped. Pumped to muck out the pigs, shovel fertilizer and do other uncomfortable and squishy things.

If you naively allow yourself to be seduced by the lifestyle dream, you’ll expose yourself to all kinds of mental self sabotage. Your unconscious mind knows you don’t really want to spend your time training dogs or whatever – especially if you’re only doing that to pay for your exotic vacations. Your unconscious self, in it’s infinite wisdom, will work hard to make sure you spend as little time possible on your business.

Eventually it will “save” you from having to run your lifestyle-business all together! Other people will call this “failure”.

Your business is your lifestyle. If it isn’t, you’re not really an entrepreneur. You’re just someone looking for a better job to do, to pay for your playtime.

The only successful (and happy) entrepreneurs are those who enjoy every step of their entrepreneurial journey, from day one to year twenty. And every day in between.
Bits_and_Pieces  Careers_that_Count  from google
october 2011
How to Deal With Crappy Bosses
My boss wanted to publicly humiliate me. He came into my office with a bunch of my colleagues. I was very busy playing chess online but I could see he was serious so I clicked away that window and stood up.

“Did you release the newest version product to the client last night?” he asked. The client was Pfizer. The product was software that automatically translated Pfizer technical manuals from English to about five other languages. I wrote the code.

“Yeah,” I said, “like you said I had to or we would be late on our delivery.”

“Well, the client called,” he said, “and they found a bug.”

My colleagues were nodding their heads. One of them must have been called by the client who then proceeded to take out his life’s troubles on her by screaming at her on the phone so she then complained to my boss who was about to take out the fact that he really wanted to beat his wife but I was a convenient second place.

“Ok,” I said.

“So you released a product to the client that had a bug in it,” he said.

“Uhh, yeah, I guess,” I said.

“Let get this straight. You mean to tell me you released this without triple-checking every possibility?” he said.

“Well, I double-checked but I did not triple-check,” I said.

(don't be bullied)

“Are you making a joke? This is a very serious issue. You NEVER EVER RELEASE A PRODUCT WITHOUT TRIPLE CHECKING.” His face was red. Everyone was watching.

“Ok,” I said.

“Ok what?” he said.

“Ok,” I said. “I QUIT.”

Which felt great because just 10 minutes earlier I had gotten off the phone with Rob Martin at HBO who had offered me a job with almost a 50% salary increase (from $28k to $40k) plus $2k in moving expenses.

“Well,” the boss (now “Chris” because he was no longer my boss), “you don’t have to quit. It was just a mistake.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t like being yelled at. You shouldn’t do that to people. I quit.”

Chris looked at me for a second. I think all of my colleagues had their jaws slack and wide open in that Monica Lewinsky way where the whole world could just explode any moment.

“C’mon man,” Chris said, “I was just concerned about the client. But I’m more concerned about whether or not you are happy in the workplace. No hard feelings.”

“That’s ok,” I said, “I don’t ever like being yelled at. So when people yell at me, I quit. You know as well as I do that every bug can’t be checked. You should treat people better. Now,” and I shrugged my shoulders for affect, “I give two weeks notice.”

I never told him I just had gotten an offer. A few months later he had a question about my code and he called about it and I told him I forgot the code completely and couldn’t help him. About six years later when I was running a venture capital firm he called, “hey buddy,” he said and he said he had a business to pitch me. I called him back and left a message. “Super excited to hear about your business. Send me a detailed business plan with description, bios, projections for the next ten years, a passcode to unlock an online demo, you know, all the usual things.” And he did. He put a lot of work into it.

I never called him back. He left repeated messages for about two months. He called my secretary and said he would stay on the phone until I picked up but I never did. I was really immature back then.

Bosses suck. I’ve had some real good bosses (hi Tom!) but mostly really bad bosses. Fortunately, before you finally quit there’s some good ways to deal with them and train them.

Remember BAD BOSSES ARE DOGS and needed to be treated that way.

Here’s very important advice on dealing with a DOG that happens to be your BOSS.

A) never kiss ass – then your DOG knows he can keep stretching the boundaries until you’re on the leash and not him. Never stop by his office just to chat. Never do any brown-nosing. This is the rule from “How to Deal with Crappy People”. If your boss is a crappy person then you want to engage as little as possible. Only work stuff. Never joking around. Never anything that builds a meaningful dialogue that he will twist later. Don’t make friends with an animal. This is  not every boss. Just crappy bosses.

(unless you're Dane Cook and your boss is Charlize Theron. Note: if you can't see these images check out jamesaltucher.com)

B) never talk badly behind his back – he will eventually hear. He will also sense it. DOGS are psychic. When you don’t talk badly behind his back his natural suspicions will lessen about you and he will treat you better. Talking badly behind his back  is a passive way of engaging with him and this goes against rule “A” above.

C) always give him credit for everything – DOGS like to be loved. When you do work and give him the full credit then the result could be: promotions for him, which leads to promotions and salary increases for you. Never begrudge when he takes credit for something you did. Everybody already knows it was you. I once had a boss who was promoted to a high level position. Everyone stopped by my desk to congratulate me because they knew what the reasons my boss were promoted for.

D) write a cover-your-ass memo every day describing what you are up to and who you are dealing with -  You need to do this every day: what you do, who you spoke to, etc: so that all blame gets deflected off you. Nothing can stick. When I was running Reset (which made websites and software for Fortune 500 companies) every project manager working for me had to do a cover-your-ass summary to the client of everything they did the day before. Every detail had to be tracked.

(always CYA)

E) build relationships with his network of colleagues and contacts – Eventually your boss is going to try to screw with you. But he can’t get away with it if your network includes his entire network. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. If your boss deals with someone then it’s not hard to ask them for coffee so you can “learn more about their job so you can help them better.” Nobody will say “no” to that and everyone will be grateful when you start helping them.

F) help other employees of your boss with their jobs (without acknowledging at all your feelings about the boss). They are going to want to vent to you. Remember rule “B” above. Don’t let them vent to you. It’s none of your business what their work problems are. This is very important. But help them with their jobs so that when it comes time for everyone to start pointing the finger then you’re the last person they point to.

G) Overdeliver. On anything he asks you to do provide an extra touch. This is how he gets promoted. When you are more creative than him, overdeliver for him, and he gets full credit. Then he gets promoted. Then you get promoted.

(I have no reason for putting this image here)

H) What’s your market value? You know that BS phrase “Always be selling?” It’s sort of true: Always be Selling Yourself! Always be applying for new jobs for two reasons. The job market is like any other market: prices are ruled by supply and demand. So you always want to know your market value. Information is power. The second reason is that it gives you a good plan B if you need to leave. Ideally you leave before you leave. i.e. freelance and generate multiple streams of income so you know you can afford to quit.

G) Then quit.

 Here are “10 Reasons You Need to Quit Your Job Right Now”

And finally, here are “10 Things You Need to Do if You Were Hired Today”

Corporate America is almost by definition an exploitative environment. They pay you less then they make from your services. So you have to make sure that if you are going to let them get away with it then they can’t take advantage of you and that if they treat you badly you have other options.

I have more about this in my recent book “I WAS BLIND BUT NOW I CAN SEE”

Please tell me your worst boss stories in the comments below!

And follow me on Twitter.
Uncategorized  from google
october 2011
What to do next
This is the most important decision in your career (or even your day).

It didn't used to be. What next used to be a question answered by your boss or your clients.

With so many opportunities and so many constraints, successfully picking what to do next is your moment of highest leverage. It deserves more time and attention than most people give it.

If you're not willing to face the abyss of choice, you will almost certainly not spend enough time dancing with opportunity.
from google
october 2011
The Most Popular Way People Get to My Blog! Yay!
The single most popular way people have arrived at my blog who have no idea who I am (so this eliminates all social media) is by typing in the words “I Want to Die” into a search engine.

4,722 people did that this last month.

Specifically that phrase: “I Want to Die”. In Google. A smaller percentage typed: “how can I die?” Then they got to this post.

(my favorite comic char: Death from theSandman comics. if you cant see images go to jamesaltucher.com)


And it’s sort of obvious why.

They’ve lost money. We associate money with not only net worth but self worth. When we have less money we tend to get sick, stressed, depressed, and we lose touch with family and friends. It’s harder to be a good parent. It’s harder to be a good husband. We feel like a zero. Like a less than zero. Money doesn’t solve all  of our problems but it solves our money problems. Whenever I’ve lost money, or been down to zero, it’s been very hard for me to function.

People, as a society, stopped making money in 2007. Think about it – they always made money beforehand.

(Rosie the Riveter doubled the income of post-WW II homes)

In the 1950s for the first time ever we had dual income homes. That gave us extra spending money. Then a booming stock market in the 60s. Then inflation in the 70s boosted our incomes artificially. Then we had the 80s junk bond boom. Then we had the 90s Internet boom. Then the 00s housing boom. Then…


The government said, “don’t worry about it, we’ll step in.” So they printed up $1.6 trillion. Guess what? The banks now have an extra $1.6 trillion in the bank.

Someone forgot to give us the money!

55 years of spending fueled by double-income jobs, inflation, debt, stocks, and more debt. And now…nothing.

So what do people do? They type “I want to die” into Google and hit my blog. It was the most popular search term after “altucher”.

The second most popular search term for people hitting my blog. “live sex”. Because, naturally, people don’t want to watch “dead sex”.

(nobody wants this)

Suicide is a form of pornography. It’s frowned on upon society. It’s taboo to talk about it. In fact, if you talk about it too much everyone will think you need to consult a therapist. Most people won’t admit they’ve ever experienced suicidal thoughts. And with good reason, pornography and suicide are often associated with crazy weirdos.

There’s no real advice for people who want to die. You can’t say, “cheer up, bud, things get better.” Sometimes they don’t. You can check out this post to do a double-check and make sure that it’s not you that want to die but some feeling or situation inside of you.

I can’t give advice on this other than the above post. But just ask yours, what would happen if you changed everything?:

A)     Change your job

B)      Change your wife/relationship (but always take care of your kids)

C)      Change your friends (or double the time you spend with friends). Or make a new friend each day. Or contact an old friend.

D)     Never drink, smoke, do drugs

E)      Stop junk food

F)      Sell your house, move, downsize (anyone who is going to talk behind your back about you downsizing should die. Not you).

G)     Take up two hobbies you spend at least 2 hours a week each on. For me, I started taking chess lessons. And I’m still determined to do standup at some point. Or I want to take singing lessons.  I started my “idea muscle” by thinking up jokes for a standup routine and then calling  a friend in California who was a sitcom write and running them by him. One in ten were “decent” !

H)     Stop talking to anyone who brings you down, even if it’s your family. Just stop. Don’t show up for family gatherings. Don’t show up for friend gatherings if they bring you down. Doesn’t have to be forever.Just a break. If they get upset then its their problem. But completely stop. Block them on facebook if you have to. (See my post, How Deal with Crappy People. I also have an upcoming post: How to Deal With a Crappy Boss]

I)        Read funny books. Don’t read depressing stuff, like the news.

J)       Once a day read a spiritual text. Like the Bible. Or the Tao Te Ching. Or a book by the Dalai  Lama. It doesn’t matter.

K)      Say to yourself, “I’m going to save a life every day.” Sometimes that means you just smile at someone who didn’t expect it. Or you say, “you look good,” to a girl lost in their dreams walking on the sidewalk next to you

L)       Shower ever day. Guess what: in the shower there’s no phone, there’s no email, twitter, facebook, nobody wants you, and a side benefit: you get clean and you can daydream for awhile.

M)   Take the  stairs instead of an elevator. Easy exercise.

N)     Write a diary. Don’t write a to-do list. That’s stressful. Why be so ambitious. You want to kill yourself. That sucks. Write about everything you actually did today. Every little detail. You did a lot more than you think. Write it as a facebook note even. Let your friends know what you did today. They will be impressed and inspired.

O)     If you think, “everything would be better off if I were dead” then think, “that’s really cool. Now I can do anything I want but I can postpone this thought for awhile, maybe even a few months.” Because what does it matter now? The planet might not even be around in a few months. Who knows what could happen with all these solar flares. You know the ones I’m talking about.

P)      Do the “ ‘NO’ TRICK”. If you find yourself thinking of that special someone who is causing you some grief then whisper in your mind, “no”. Then, everytime  you think again of that person, whisper “no” a little louder. You may end up shouting “NO!” and everyone will think you’re crazy but that’s ok – you are crazy. You just typed “I want to die” into a search engine. That’s pretty crazy. This comes from the 70s pop psychology classic,”Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No”:

Q)     Sleep 8-9 hours a day. Even if you have to take medication to do it. For 15 years I woke up at 2am, anxious every day because of being an entrepreneur (that’s what entrepreneurs do). I had to take medication to sleep 7-8 straight hours.

R)    Tell someone every day that you love them (as long as they love you back, else DON’Ttell them).Doesn’t have  to be romantic love. Can be friendly love.

S)  Don’t have sex with someone you don’t love.

Anyway, this isn’t advice for the 4,722 people this past month who typed “I want to die” into Google and ended up on my blog. Maybe some of them need real help from a therapist or doctor.

But this is what I did when I wanted to die. Every one of these things. And here I am. I am still alive.

 Follow me Twitter

Buy my book, “I Was Blind But Now I See”  – How to stop the brainwashing and learn to be happy.

Uncategorized  altucher  death  suicide  writing  from google
september 2011
The technique-power-speed method of growing a business
When I first started my blog and coaching business six years ago, I didn’t know anything about online marketing. In fact, I didn’t even know what a blog was before I had to create one as an assignment for a class.

Every single piece of technology involved a huge learning curve.

I would try to change the header on my original Typepad blog and would end up screwing up the formatting for the entire page. I would try to add something to the sidebar like a list of recommended books, and I would spend hours figuring out how to do it.

I would have ideas for blog posts in my head, but it was awkward to know the right headline to choose, or the appropriate mix of topics for my audience.

But slowly, as I worked on it day by day, my knowledge grew.

I kept plugging away slowly at growing my blog content and subscribers.

And for six years, I have used my blog as a consistent way to build my reputation, build my brand and build my business. Now I don’t think twice about writing a post. The technology doesn’t trip me up. My writing has gotten more clear.

And I think this is  because I have been unconsciously practicing the technique-power-speed method of learning a business skill.

In my Mixed Martial Arts class the other night, my instructor Mr. Fiori told us exactly how we should train our kickboxing combinations.

“First, focus on technique.Do the movements very slowly so that you get a good feel for the technique.

Then, when you feel confident in the technique, add power. Pay attention to the force that comes through your body, and direct it to your target.

Finally, add speed. The technique, power and speed together is what will make you a great fighter.”

This is where so many business owners get stuck.

When doing a marketing activity for the first time, like writing a sales page, they have the expectation that they will get power (conversion) and speed (lots of buyers) from the initial effort.

When in reality, the very first time you do it, it is a big accomplishment just to get a mediocre sales page live on the web.

As you go through time, you improve your page by focusing on power activities — more persuasive writing, clearer offers, fresh design and compelling testimonials.

And the more you work on this, your speed picks up — more people buy and spread the word about how great your product is, which attracts more people to the page and feeds the speed of sale.

Technique training is tiring!
A student in my Power Teaching class taught her first class last night. She said:

“It was exhausting! I wrote a ten page script for the first class to make sure I covered everything. When you teach a class, you make it seem so easy!”

I replied:

“That is because I have taught over one hundred classes.”

I have repeatedly worked on the technique of designing a class, have honed my power by zeroing in on specific teaching and speaking methodologies, and I have taught thousands of people. But if I had not started with my first awkward class that was a pain to create, I would never have gotten to a place of ease and comfort with this activity.

We abandon our marketing efforts too early
There is so much focus on quick, easy marketing techniques that we forget true deep, authentic, meaningful and lasting business competence comes from technique, power and speed training.

In my recent survey to blog readers and clients, the majority of the 500 respondents said their business goals for 2012 were improve their marketing and sales competency. This will work only if they stop trying individual marketing techniques once, then abandoning them for the next shiny marketing-technique-du-jour.

Here is my challenge:

Choose an important marketing or sales activity you completed in the last 30 days.
Identify how well you executed the technique the first time.
Identify the power activities that will increase your competency and improve your results the next time.
Invest in your power activities. Get expert input. Rewrite clunky areas. Get feedback from your target audience. Read books. Watch videos. Look at case studies of successful examples.
Do the marketing activity again.
Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4
Do the marketing activity again.
Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4
Repeat the entire process for the next year.
Send me a big check, because I know you will be KILLING your business results at the end of 2012.

Do you have a personal story of how you got great results from focusing on technique, power and speed in your marketing activities? I want to hear it!
Uncategorized  from google
september 2011
8 Steps to Getting What You Want… Without Formal Credentials
(Photo: ElMarto)

Michael Ellsberg has been a good friend since 2000. 

In the last few years, he has made a study of self-study. How do the best in business do what they do? Using his findings, he has:

- Overcome a debilitating case of bipolar II (here’s how).
- Landed one of the most powerful literary agents in the world.
- Published not one but two books from major New York publishers, the second scoring a 6-figure advance.
- Found the woman of his dreams and married her.
- Built a well-followed blog on Forbes.com with zero prior blogging experience.

Most recently, Michael has interviewed the likes of fashion magnate Russell Simmons, Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, Facebook founding president Sean Parker, WordPress lead developer Matt Mullenweg, and Pink Floyd songwriter and lead guitarist David Gilmour. Dozens of iconic figures pepper his list of case subjects.

Why? Because none of them graduated from college, and he wanted to learn how they educated themselves. His findings were then encapsulated in “The Education of Millionaires.”

In this post, Michael will discuss how uber-successful people leapfrog their peers without any formal credentials. By the end of this post, you’ll have a roadmap for hacking “job requirements,” degrees, and the lot…

In the words of Alfonso Bedoya in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:

“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”

There is a surprise ending to this post. Don’t miss it.

Enter Michael Ellsberg
A phrase you’ll see a lot if you search for a job these days is “BA required, MA preferred.” A recent New York Times article was entitled “The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s,” and ended with the following question:

Given how many people are now getting master’s to stand out from those with bachelor’s, “Will the Ph.D. become the new master’s?”

This anxiety around educational credentials has launched a million self-criticisms across the nation…

“Well, if I don’t have my BA, I better not even think about getting that ‘BA required’ job!” Or, for those who have a BA: “Well, that’s just like having a high school diploma these days. I better go back to school so I can spend two years and another fifty-to-hundred grand getting an MA. That way, I can stand out from all those BAs and compete with the MAs on an even playing field.”

The purpose of this article is to even the playing field for you, without the BA, MA, or MBA, and without the student debt. You can get those degrees for other reasons (if you feel they will enrich your life, for instance). But never again should you feel that they’ll give you a massive advantage in job searches or economic opportunity. For your typical job search, those advantages are massively overhyped. They can be sidestepped, outsmarted, and overcome.1

Forget the Formal Job Market—Focus on the Informal Job Market
At age 25, Eben Pagan had a resume that consisted of dropping out of community college after one semester, touring in a Christian rock band, and various stints at manual labor. Most people would say this resume qualified Eben for a life of asking “Would you like fries with that?”

Thinking that he might get into real estate, Eben signed up for a course by a real estate marketing and sales trainer named Joe Stumpf.

“I immediately recognized I had to somehow work for this guy and soak up his knowledge. But I didn’t know how I was going to do that. Here he was, leading big group workshops all over the country, and I was barely scraping by.”

Most likely, had Stumpf’s organization been advertising open positions (which it wasn’t), those positions would have had all kinds of job requirements attached to them. Eben, with his lackluster resume, wouldn’t have made the cut.

This, however, is where Eben began “hacking” the concept of job requirements and credentials.

“I started calling up his outbound telemarketers. These guys are trying to sell you on something, so they’ll talk to anyone! I told them about my experience at the workshop and became friendly with them. I found out they were all fans of Tony Robbins. Once, I found this set of Tony Robbins tapes at Goodwill for ten bucks, so I packed the tapes up and sent them to them. Things like that.

“One day, they sent me some audiotapes of Joe. I called them up and said, ‘The audio on this program is not good.’ I had a background in sound from my band days. So I talked to the general manager of the company, and I went to work for them, first doing audiovisual for their live seminars. I worked there for three years, rising up the ranks.”

The skills Eben learned in those three years, studying from a world-class master of marketing and sales, set him up for the massive business success he’s had in the rest of his career. Shortly after, Eben began selling info-products (mainly e-books, membership communities, Web-based trainings, and in-person weekend workshops) on the Internet. Today, Eben’s company, Hot Topic Media, now brings in around $30 million a year in revenue and employs about 70 people around the globe. He founded it himself, and grew it over a decade with no investors. He is a self-made multimillionaire, and would never have to work another day in his life if he didn’t want to. He runs his business off his MacBook, and spends his time either working from his home office in New York (which has a majestic view of the Empire State Building), or his beach-side home office in Miami.

The story of how Eben got this all-important first job demonstrates a distinction that will be crucial for you in seeking opportunities throughout your life, no matter the status of your formal credentials.

It’s the distinction between the formal job market and the informal job market.

The informal job market comprises all jobs that are not filled through someone responding to a job advertisement. Usually, these are jobs that are filled through relationships. Either there is a position at the firm that needs to be filled, and an employee at the firm knows someone who’s qualified. Or, the firm wants to bring a specific person they know to join the team, and they create a position for that person out of thin air.

If you do some Googling on the informal job market, you’ll learn something shocking: according to various estimates (on CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and NPR) somewhere around 80% of jobs get filled informally. In other words, only 20% of jobs get filled through people responding to job ads (the primary method of job seeking most people do).2

So, how does the 80% of hiring that occurs in the informal job market actually happen? The way Eben did it: by building up a professional relationship with people within the organization doing the hiring, long before the hire is made.

Connections. Referrals. Knowing people who know people.

This means that, in the vastly larger informal job market, human relationships and a solid network are far more important than GPA figures on a resume.

Yet, nearly all the educational and career advice you’ll get (focused on making your resume perfect for recruiters) optimizes you for competing on the much smaller and tougher formal segment of the job market, rather than on the informal job market. Seems a bit ridiculous, given that the informal job market is much larger and easier to “hack” into.

Employers Require Skills, Not Degrees
What’s the relevance of the course content for a BA or MA program to a typical corporate job? In most cases, absolutely zippo. What employers actually mean when they say, “BA required, MA preferred,” is that they want prospects with a certain set of skills, character traits, and attitudes. Specifically, they’re looking for organizational skills, the ability to follow instructions and make deadlines, critical thinking skills, writing and communication skills, research skills, and so forth. Plus, they want applicants with the general maturity, stability, perseverance, respect for authority, and work ethic required to get through a multi-year academic program.

In the formal job market, there’s no easy way for employers to rapidly assess all of those traits without some kind of objective screening tool. Educational attainment has become that screening tool.

So let’s get clear about one thing. Saying that a BA and MA is “required” to do a certain job is BS. These degrees are not actually required to do the job well. Rather, they serve as convenient screening tools for recruiters needing to wade through piles of cold resumes on the formal job market. That’s it, nothing more.

Your entire multi-year, six-figure education is reduced to a simple check-mark used to get past impatient screeners on the other end of a Craigslist ad.

For a person seeking a job or economic opportunity, this whole system of job screening is wildly inefficient.

What if instead, you focused on the informal job market, which is vastly larger and more accessible (especially if you learn some basic networking skills)?

The screening process in the informal job market does not happen through cookie-cutter grades, degrees, scores, numbers, or letters. It doesn’t happen through educational checkboxes and punchcards.

Rather, the screening process is embedded within human relationships: whom do you know, and who knows you? It happens through the layers of trust, credibility, and reputation that occur naturally within flesh-and-blood, offline social networks.3

Thus, in seeking opportunity within the informal job market, your networking, connecting, and relationship-forging skills are far more important than your academic test-taking skills. (I’ll be giving you some specific pointers on how to begin learning these real world skills in a moment.)

Formal credentials are not irrelevant in the unadvertised job market. All else equal, it’s still better to have more educational attainment than less. But that “all else equal” is the kicker, because within that is buried … [more]
Entrepreneurship  from google
september 2011
The forever recession (and the coming revolution)
There are actually two recessions:

The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes. There's plenty of evidence that intervention can shorten it, and also indications that overdoing a response to it is a waste or even harmful.

The other recession, though, the one with the loss of "good factory jobs" and systemic unemployment--I fear that this recession is here forever.

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created.

There's a race to the bottom, one where communities fight to suspend labor and environmental rules in order to become the world's cheapest supplier. The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win...

Factories were at the center of the industrial age. Buildings where workers came together to efficiently craft cars, pottery, insurance policies and organ transplants--these are job-centric activities, places where local inefficiencies are trumped by the gains from mass production and interchangeable parts. If local labor costs the industrialist more, he has to pay it, because what choice does he have?

No longer. If it can be systemized, it will be. If the pressured middleman can find a cheaper source, she will. If the unaffiliated consumer can save a nickel by clicking over here or over there, then that's what's going to happen.

It was the inefficiency caused by geography that permitted local workers to earn a better wage, and it was the inefficiency of imperfect communication that allowed companies to charge higher prices.

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

This represents a significant discontinuity, a life-changing disappointment for hard-working people who are hoping for stability but are unlikely to get it. It's a recession, the recession of a hundred years of the growth of the industrial complex.

I'm not a pessimist, though, because the new revolution, the revolution of connection, creates all sorts of new productivity and new opportunities. Not for repetitive factory work, though, not for the sort of thing ADP measures. Most of the wealth created by this revolution doesn't look like a job, not a full time one anyway.

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a 'real' job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn't a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

Gears are going to be shifted regardless. In one direction is lowered expectations and plenty of burger flipping... in the other is a race to the top, in which individuals who are awaiting instructions begin to give them instead.

The future feels a lot more like marketing--it's impromptu, it's based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people--and a lot less like factory work, in which you do what you did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.

This means we may need to change our expectations, change our training and change how we engage with the future. Still, it's better than fighting for a status quo that is no longer. The good news is clear: every forever recession is followed by a lifetime of growth from the next thing...

Job creation is a false idol. The future is about gigs and assets and art and an ever-shifting series of partnerships and projects. It will change the fabric of our society along the way. No one is demanding that we like the change, but the sooner we see it and set out to become an irreplaceable linchpin, the faster the pain will fade, as we get down to the work that needs to be (and now can be) done.

This revolution is at least as big as the last one, and the last one changed everything.
from google
september 2011
Atul Gawande Thinks You’re Not As Good As You Think You Are
In Search of Excellence

By any reasonable measure, Atul Gawande is an expert surgeon. He trained at some of the country’s most elite medical institutions and has performed over two thousand operations.

But he could be better.

As Gawande notes in his latest New Yorker feature, he recently brought a coach into his operating room to find places where he could improve. The coach turned up no shortage of suggestions.

“One twenty-minute discussion [with my coach] gave me more to consider and work on than I’d had in the past five years,” he admits.

The premise of Gawande’s article — the idea that brought him to the extreme step of hiring his own surgical coach — is that most of us are lousy at becoming excellent.

Athletes and musicians know that deliberate practice is the foundation for excellence, and that this style of practice requires a ruthless focus on your shortcomings, which in turn requires coaching. The rest of us, however, tend to flee the discomfort of such directed criticism as soon as we’ve acquired the bare minimum of credentials that allows us to adopt the moniker of “expert.” We wield any foundation of skill — even if skimpy — like a shield against the discomfort required to acquire more.

To Gawande’s reasoning, this is a problem. In many fields, from teaching, to programming, to marketing, we could be a lot better than we are — if only we were willing to let down our guard and embrace guidance on where we still need work.

“This is tricky,” admits Gawande. “Human beings resist exposure and critique; our brains are well defended”

In the context our our ongoing Career Craftsman discussion, this article piqued my interest. The idea of hiring a coach for a knowledge worker position sounds radical.  But what if the positive results were equally momentous?

I’m pondering…

(Photo by the ALA)
Patterns_of_Success_for_the_Working_World  from google
september 2011
API design for humans
One of the things about working with data at 37signals is that I end up interacting with a lot of different APIs—I’ve used at least ten third-party APIs in the last few months, as well as all of our public APIs and a variety of internal interfaces. I’ve used wrappers in a couple different languages, and written a few of my own. It’s fair to say I’ve developed some strong opinions about API design and documentation from a data consumer’s perspective.

From my experience, there are a few things that really end up mattering from an API usability perspective (I’ll leave arguments about what is truly REST, or whether XML or JSON is actually better technically to someone else).

Tell me more: documentation is king

I have some preferences for actual API design (see below), but I will completely trade them for clear documentation. Clear documentation includes:

Examples that show the full request. This can be a full example using curl like we provide in our API documentation, or just a clear statement of the request like Campaign Monitor does for each of their methods.

Examples that show what the expected response is. One of the most frustrating things when reading API documentation is not knowing what I’m going to get back when I utilize the API—showing mock data goes along way towards this. Really good API documentation like this would let you write an entire wrapper without ever making a single request to the API. Campaign Monitor and MailChimp both have good, but very different takes on this.

A listing of error codes, what they mean, and what the most common cause of receiving them is. I’m generally not the biggest fan of the Adwords API in many ways, but they are a great example of exhaustively documenting every single response code they return.

A searchable HTML interface. Whether it’s visually appealing doesn’t really matter much, and Google indexing it is plenty of search. What doesn’t work for me is when the API documentation is in PDF, or I have to authenticate to get access to it.

Communication of versioning and deprecation schedules. There’s some debate about whether versioning is better than gradual evolution, but regardless, anytime you’re changing something in a way that might break someone’s existing code, fair warning is required, and it should be on your documentation site. Sometimes you have to make a change for security reasons that don’t allow much advance notice, but wherever possible, providing a couple of weeks notice goes a long way. The Github API clearly shows what will be removed when and shows the differences between versions clearly.

from google
september 2011
Shadow Novels
Some of the most popular posts in this space have been those in the “Artist and Addict” series. One point those posts made was that there’s not that big a difference between an artist and an addict. Many artists are addicts, and vice versa. Many are artists in one breath and addicts in another. They’reMore >>
Writing_Wednesdays  from google
september 2011
Run your own race
The rear view mirror is one of the most effective motivational tools ever created.

There's no doubt that many people speed up in the face of competition. We ask, "how'd the rest of the class do?" We listen for someone breathing down our necks. And we discover that competition sometimes brings out our best.

There's a downside, though. Years ago, during my last long-distance swim (across Long Island Sound... cold water, jellyfish, the whole nine yards), the competitiveness was pretty thick. On the boat to the starting line, there were hundreds of swimmers, stretching, bragging, prancing and working themselves up. By the time we hit the water, everyone was swimming someone else's race. The start was an explosion of ego and adrenaline. Twenty minutes later, half the field was exhausted, with three hours left to go.

If you're going to count on the competition to bring out your best work, you've surrendered control over your most important asset. Real achievement comes from racing ahead when no one else sees a path--and holding back when the rush isn't going where you want to go.

If you're dependent on competition then you're counting on the quality of those that show up to determine how well you'll do. Worse, you've signed up for a career of faux death matches as the only way to do your best work.

Self motivation is and always will be the most important form of motivation. Driving with your eyes on the rear view mirror is exhausting. It's easier than ever to measure your performance against others, but if it's not helping you with your mission, stop.
from google
september 2011
Why I Quit Algorithmic Trading to Do Web Startups
I spent the better part of six years, from roughly 1999 to 2004 and again in 2008, pursuing the chimeric fortunes of automated / algorithmic trading and while I never actually reached the promised land of a wildly successful trading system, along the...
from google
september 2011
Why many smart people come across as selfish
You have seen many smart people and after one conversation with them you get a feeling that they seem too selfish. The conversation was all about them and what they are working on and how they are going to do what they are going to do. Sometimes, you felt odd to even continue the conversation. It seemed like you are part of an audience in a speech. Finally, you give up and just wait for the conversation to end.

The question remains - why do so many smart people come across as selfish?

[ Remember that the focus here is on those people that appear to be selfish. There are a bunch of smart people who ARE selfish and we don't want to deal with them.]

The following image will provide one explanation.

The image represents the what’s in the mindspace right now for a smart person.

1. The green circle represents what the smart person is thinking as the possibilities in the foreseeable future. He or she knows that some things there take time and they are not ready for them yet. These are their dreams.

2. The blue circle is smaller than the green circle and it represents what’s possible NOW. With the right resources, the smart person knows that he or she can get to all the items in this circle. These are their possibilities.

3. The yellow circle is even smaller than the blue circle and this represents all the projects that the smart person is working on. These are their projects.

4. The grey circle represents that actual capacity of the smart person. This circle represents what the smart person can really accomplish with his or her current capacity. As you can see what the person is working on is way beyond the capacity. [Just a side note - It's not always a bad thing to stretch a bit as that's part of the growth but blindly doing it will hurt.]

The conversation focus will be what’s on the smart person’s mind and it will navigate between the three outer circles – current projects, current possibilities and future dreams. While there is a conversation happening externally, there is an internal conversation happening inside the mind of the smart person that’s all about the implementation details of the current and future projects – what needs to happen when to move the needle.

Obviously, with so many internal dialogues going through the smart person’s mind, one can feel that the smart person is totally occupied with things related to himself or herself. Stretching this a bit, it can come across as selfish.

What can you do to come out of this?

As people who have done brain and mind research will tell you – you can’t simply remove something from your mind. You can, of course, replace it with something else.

That’s something you can do to escape from this trap – at least here’s one idea to consider.

If you are the smart person in question, you can do this by simply setting an agenda for the conversation and focus completely on what’s on the agenda. The moment you make measurable progress on what’s on the table, you can go back to your projects, possibilities and dreams. Even if you have a strong urge to go back to your projects, possibilities and dreams, resist it and get the focus back on to what’s on the agenda.

If you are on the receiving end, again you set an agenda beforehand and once you make measurable progress on what’s on the table, give an opportunity for the other person to discuss projects, possibilities and dreams.

Remember, you signed up to have a conversation so it’s your responsibility to clear mindspace to pay attention to the conversation and to the person on the other side of the table. Just being conscious and aware of this would solve half the problem.


Related Posts:7 Reasons Why Some Smart People Criticize OthersWhy Many Smart People Fail to Make a Good First ImpressionWhy many smart people are taken for granted?7 reasons Why MANY smart people have trouble communicating their ideasWhy some smart people are reluctant to share?
Main_Page  agenda  conversations  selfish  smart_people  from google
september 2011
The Ten Commandments of James-Ism (or insert your own name)
I just published a brand new book and I’m really pleased with it.

The book has original material (not just blog posts), had a professional designer work on it, solves a problem we all face in life, and I think I do it with a good amount of storytelling. In another post I will list the differences between this book and the one before it (and my blog posts). Here’s an image of the cover and if you click on it it takes you to the book page on Amazon. Right now it’s a paperback. It takes Amazon 2-4 weeks to make it kindle-ready: (Here’s also a link to the book)

The idea behind the book will be made clear in the excerpt but in a nutshell: we’ve all been brainwashed, here’s how, here’s how to overcome it and, in doing so, get what we want  – whether it’s happiness, success, or just some peace and quiet. In America we’ve lost sight of the frontier because we fooled ourselves (as a society) into thinking we conquered it all. But we lost track of the frontier inside of ourselves.


(click on image to get to the book)

Excerpt from the book (I made slight changes to fit the blog):

The Ten Commandments of [Insert your name here]-ISM:
A)    Acknowledge that every day of your life the Zombie Recruitment Machine is trying to brainwash you.  Just like when we were kids we believed in Santa Claus and how George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, now as adults we’ve been trained to believe in much more dangerous and insidious ideas. Being aware that you need to question everything is commandment number one, including, by the way, questioning what I’m saying to you right now.

And then on top of the brainwashing we suffered in schools, from our parents, from our friends, from society, there’s the 10,000 ad impressions each day that hit the periphery of our eyes and further tries to tell us what little intricacies of life will deliver goodness and happiness to us. We can’t even begin to be happy until we at least acknowledge that SOME brainwashing has occurred.

B)    Who brainwashed you? Parents, friends, teachers, government, media, entertainment, advertising, the education system, the banking system, and organized religion. In that order although they are all interrelated.

It’s not their fault. And there’s no reason to be angry at them. They were brainwashed also. Everyone is just trying to survive the best way they know how. And there’s been generations of mental programming combined with now trillions of dollars of advertising dollars that keep everyone in line. It’s a massive recruiting machine that tries to keep us from our true happiness by redefining happiness in various ways that are inaccurate and even harmful.

C)    What can you do about it? Take one belief at a time, turn it upside down. Learn how to break down your beliefs. Be your own rebel. Take, for instance, the belief that “going to college leads to a better life”. Try to understand why you believe that. Who told you that was true? What happens if someone told you the opposite “that NOT going to college would lead to a better life?” Does that thought disturb you? Why does it disturb you?

Some of these beliefs are so sacred inside of us that it really feels like punishable blasphemy to believe the opposite. I know this because I’ve had death threats and angry emails over almost every belief I’ve ever challenged on my blog (examples will follow later).

The goal is not necessarily to believe the opposite of all the things we’ve been programmed to believe, but to separate out who we are from our beliefs, so that we can truly examine them, scrutinize their roots, and be able to look at them from all 360 degrees instead of just the acute sharp angles that have been shoved at us almost since birth.

Let’s shed our labels. People want to be “environmentalists” or “democrats” or “republicans” or “a homeowner” or a “graduate”. Let’s shed all labels for a little bit while we inspect them. Maybe they are all good labels to have. But there’s nothing wrong with re-examining them under a new lens.

It’s understandable that we want to be part of the pack, the herd. The flock feels protective. But we’ve learned now that it is most likely a bag full of false protections.

D)    Happiness is the ONLY goal. We don’t have to know what happiness is yet. But we know this: we don’t want to be sad or fearful anymore. We don’t want to be anxious. We don’t want to do things that cause us to feel guilt. That’s a start.

Think about it, when you say you want to have more money, why is that? You may answer that you want it so that you would be able to travel some more, or have more time for your children. And why is that? You may say because then you would see the world and write that novel you always wanted to write, or teach your kid to throw ball.  And why is that? And you may say, because then I will be happy.  So why not go for “happy” in the first place?   Why the long route when there is a shortcut? Certainly money buys some degree of freedom. So getting more money is a reasonable goal. And we’ll get it. But let’s cut out as many intermediaries to happiness as possible.

E)     The obstacles of Happiness are sickness, inertia, doubts, laziness, carelessness, vacillating, lack of progress, delusions, and falling backwards. Each of those allows us to fall back into our brainwashing and stop ourselves from challenging the world around us so we can break down our thoughts and see things as they truly are.

F)     The path to happiness involves being as healthy as we can: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

G)    Physically: We can exercise, we can try to eat healthy, we can sleep eight hours, we can avoid alcohol and other foods or liquids that are either hard to digest or will later inhibit the brain cells we desperately need to enjoy quality of life in our elder years. This is hard. I’m not advocating being a vegan, or a weight lifter, or a yogi. Just being aware. When I was younger I could eat five Big Macs a day. Now if I eat more than two meals a day it becomes much harder for me to digest and clean my system. I’m 43. It’s important for me to make sure when I’m 83 I’m still healthy and able to explore the things that make me really happy. The root of almost all physical ailments as we age is what we put into our intestines (and lungs). Throughout this section and the following I provide modifications to the Daily Practice I introduce in my prior book.

H)    Emotionally. I’m a pretty angry guy. I feel a lot of people have wronged me and, it’s not just a feeling – a lot of people have wronged me. I also have a lot of regrets. A lot of things have happened to me that are my fault that still make me sad. But dwelling on this does neither me nor them any good. You can’t be healthy if you obsess on the crappy people or events in your life. You can’t achieve The Force if you are constantly anxious and upset.

I)       Mentally. Your mind needs to be as sharp and creative as possible. You need this for two reasons. One is so you are creative enough to achieve the success and money that will allow you to pursue and purchase your freedom away from slavery. Two so that you can train the analytical parts of your mind to break down all the myths that we hold true every day. I have several chapters on this.

J)       Spiritually. This word has a bad connotation. It sort of smells “new age-y”. Or like organized religion, which many people despise and have rebelled against. But what I really mean is “Surrender”. If you wanted the Earth to move out of it’s orbit from the Sun, you would give up. You can’t do it. You would try (somehow, I don’t even know how you would try) and then finally you’d say, “I give up. I can’t do it.” In general, life is like that. We have dreams, most of them don’t work out, and we can either continue to force those dreams into place, or we can give up. Giving up doesn’t have to be a sad thing. It’s a transition. It’s a little death (a term often used to describe an orgasm).

Sometimes you’re just on the floor, failure has slashed you again, and all you can do is look up at the sky and say, “You win. I give up. Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.” And you hand yourself over.

To who? Not to God. Not to an old man with a beard living up in the sky. But deep inside you there is a creative force that desperately wants you to succeed, wants you to make a lot of money, wants you to fall in love and be happy, wants you to do these things not so you can live in exotic mansions and travel the world fifty times over, but so that you are free from the constraints of a normal job and can pursue the real exploration of what and where is the happiness around you.

Follow these ten ideas with discipline (described more throughout the book) and you will make more money than you know what to do with. This world is filled with money. The global economy is over $50 trillion dollars. You only need a tiny speck of that to have the freedom to quit your nine to five job where you are totally exploited, so that you can then take a breather, live a long healthy life, and pursue the things that really make you happy.

If you are just a little more creative, emotionally healthy, and physically healthy, than your competition and you avoid the nine obstacles, then that freedom is eventually yours. It stems from the fabric of your core beliefs. Smart and strong subtle beliefs lead to the clarity and efficiency that can make riches manifest.

Follow these ten ideas and you will start to have the relationships that bring you up instead of down. You will have the creativity to bounce from idea to idea to explore what’s real in your brainwashing and what isn’t. Ultimately, you’ll change from being robot to a human, from a zombie to truly alive.

[Excerpt over]

The rest of the book translates my own personal experiences into how I used these… [more]
Uncategorized  from google
september 2011
ASK JAMES: Threesomes, Success, Can 60 year old women be pedofiles? and more!
We all keep our unhappiness to ourselves as much as possible. Why kid ourselves about that? We try to have sex with people and then maybe we can unload some of that unhappiness for a few moments. We say, “you look pretty today” and we feel good to make someone happy. But then life kicks in again and we’re unhappy until we find the next trick.We get older. And with age we get uglier. We get more worried about money. About ambition. About the world. Until one day, we’re relieved. It’s about to be over! In between these moments of unhappiness we boast we’ve found a cure. But the cure only lasts for so long.

We get brainwashed by the government, by our teachers, by the economists on Wall Street, each with their agendas, each trying to teach us happiness even though more unhappiness is the only result.

I’ve created a laboratory of my unhappiness. I scrape off cultures from my brain and put them in test tubes and watch them grow. What makes the unhappiness worse? What makes it better? I share some of this in my latest book.

I also like to share on Thursdays between 3:30 and 4:30. People can ask questions about anything and I will attempt to answer. Sometimes people just need to ask and that’s the catharsis. Sometimes they need to know someone thinks the same way they do and this is a safe environment for that. And sometimes they need to be turned upside down in order to be set straight. Every Saturday I’ll do a recap of some of the things discussed via twitter on those Thursdays. Here it is:



@TALENTED_BLONDE asks: “How do you define Success”

My twitter answer: I define success by whatever it takes to secure freedom, both externally and in my mind (which has its myriad traps)

Expanded Answer:

A friend of mine had breakfast with a well-known billionaire. All the billionaire kept doing throughout the entire  breakfast was complain about how Larry Page has $18 billion and he “only has $2 billion”.

Most people set goals and when they’ve achieved those goals they think two things: “Wow, I’m successful!” and then…”Wait a second. I want more!”

I think we’ve been, as a society, brainwashed into thinking that the trappings of success (money, fame, promotions at a job) will get us to happiness. See my post, “Success is a Sexually Contagious Disease”

I agree that they will HELP us get to happiness, but that happiness and true success aren’t related to the achievement of those goals we set for ourselves.

Success ultimately boils down to the questions we ask ourselves which are related to THE DAILY PRACTICE I recommend:

1)      Are we healthy?
2)      Are we emotionally healthy? Do we surround ourselves with people we love and who love us and avoid “the dance” with the people who bring us down?
3)      Are we mentally healthy? i.e. do we generate good ideas and use those ideas to benefit ourselves and others?
4)      Are we spiritually healthy? i.e. do we have a good sense of “surrender” and use that sense to walk through life with humility, gratitude and reverence.

External success allows us the freedom to pursue these internal successes. That’s real success! And we never achieve it but always continuously strive for it.

(Anna Nicole - Success in the wrong direction leads to this)



@djmainevent  asks: what would be your strategy to get wealthy?

My answer: the only strategy. build a business that starts with a paying customer. then get 2 customers. repeat. then wealth

Expanded Answer:

I think a lot of people get lucky on the road to wealth. They build some company in a hot space, and  they sell for an ungodly high number. Think Bebo, which got bought by AOL for a billion and then sold for $10 million a year or so later. Those founders got fabulously wealthy.

But for the rest of us that won’t happen.

The real way to get wealth is to find a customer and perform a service for that customer. Then repeat. My first company found a customer (a company that needed a website) and built the website for that customer. Then we found another customer and built that website. And word of mouth spread and before you knew it we were making websites for dozens of companies. I also always made sure I delivered at least one extra feature that the company didn’t ask for.

One way to get a customer is to help other companies get customers and you charge for that service. If you live by a bunch of gyms, put up facebook ads for those gyms and then charge them for every customer that walks through the door, for instance.

But, you must get the idea muscle in shape. The idea muscle is like any other muscle. Within 2-3 weeks of no use it atrophies. If you don’t use your legs for two weeks you won’t be able to work. Same thing here.

So every day, get to work. Come up with ideas. For yourself, for others, for other companies. Give it a few weeks before you suspect that you might be in shape. Then a few months before you’re ready to start sharing your ideas. At this point your ideas will be good enough to help other people make money. When you make other people make money, then you will make money. Then you repeat that and it’s a business.

Here’s a link to my post describing my first experience as an entrepreneur:  The Easiest Way To Succeed as an Enterpreneur


(more JSG Boggs. Wealth comes from the inside. Outerwealth is a reflection of that. Not pieces of paper).


@bear23 asks: what’s the easiest way to get into a threesome.

My answer: go to a yoga class or a tango class.

Expanded Answer: Not having been in one, I assume the easiest way (now that I think about it) is to use Craigslist and just put an ad up. Shouldn’t be too hard.

BUT, that said, if you’re a guy and want to meet women IN BULK, who want to meet men and who have the full spectrum of tastes and desires then, as Wayne Gretzky says, you have to skate to where the puck is going.

If you hang out at the local chess club you’re not going to meet women.

If you hang out at cooking class you’re going to meet women who want to get married.

But if you go to yoga class and tango class then you’re going to meet beautiful, sexy, women who are physically healthy, stretch the boundaries of what they are willing to attempt physically, and perhaps most importantly, they want to meet men. Not everyone, of course (if that were the case then there would be more men in these classes than women) but some definitely. So stop watching football on a Sunday afternoon (i.e. no women) and go to the nearest tango class (lot of women).

For me personally, I like one on one and falling in love. My guy friends always think I’m like a girl. The second I have sex with a girl I fall in love. Which means I then get in trouble. I can’t imagine getting in trouble with two girls. And on top it, performance anxiety with one girl is enough, I don’t need the headaches of two.

SHOULD a 60 Year Old SEXT a 14 YEAR OLD?

@parmchar asks the above;

Expanded answer:

Sexting refers to texting sexual messages. It’s a flirtation. It’s an intrigue. In general, I think people should be honest with their feelings and not do too much intrigue. It’s not the cold war anymore. It’s time to come out from the cold.

That said, its illegal for a sixty year old to have sex with a 14 year old. But it’s not illegal to flirt. The 60 year old feels young again in this example. And the 14 year old, for perhaps the first time in his life, feels flattered and builds confidence. So with the qualification that I think all intrigue should be avoided, I think this can be healthy behavior.


I wish Julie Newmar had sexted me when i was 14.


@Affinityps asks: Who is the biggest cheat on Wall Street.

Expanded answer: you are. Why does the average retail investor do 25 months of redemption from domestic equities? And then why do they buy every other product Wall Street peddles them.

I was once pitching an ETF. Here’s the ETF: we’d buy 100 stocks owned by super investors: Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, etc. It would be “The Superinvestor ETF”. What a load of bullshit. Many years these investors are 30 or 40% behind the market. They are already rich. They can care less about you or me.

But the guys I was pitching to said, “YES! This is brilliant. Let’s do it.”  They wanted to put up the first $100 million for it” But I didn’t do it. Nobody needs yet another schlocky wall street product to peddle to grandma and grandpa who worked hard for the little packets of pennies hidden in the mattress.

So who is the biggest cheat? Really the middleman. Everything he says, everything he sells, every number he shows you to show how great his product is, is a lie. Stay away.


liewmomo asks: @jaltucher Or rather, how do you do things you hate but HAVE to do?
Expanded Answer: There’s a couple of answers now that I think more of it.
A) Each day limit the things you do that you hate. If you hate talkng to your boss, for instance, then either talk less to your boss (no social chit-chat, no extra brown-nosing chats, etc) or Quit Your Job. If you don’t want to go to a wedding then just don’t go.
B) If you absolutely have to do something then learn something from it. Sergey Brin says he can tell in a few seconds of an interview if he is going to hire someone. But he can’t just leave the interview. So he makes sure he learns at least one thing. I often don’t want to go into NYC for meetings. But I always make sure there’s at least one adventure along the way.
C) Stop Hating so much? There’s two sides to the equation: there’s the thing you ‘have to do’ and there’s the thing you ‘hate’. In the above two items we deal with how you can change what you do. But can we also change what you Hate? Why do you hate it? For everything you hate, can you list some positives? I hate going on a plane. But the positive is that i’ll have an adventure in a new place. I hate … [more]
Uncategorized  from google
september 2011
How to Create a Million-Dollar Business This Weekend (Examples: AppSumo, Mint, Chihuahuas)
Noah Kagan built two multi-million dollar online businesses before turning 28. He also looks great in orange. (Photo: Laughing Squid)

I first met Noah Kagan over rain and strong espressos at Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View, CA. It was 2007. We were both in hoodies, had a shared penchant for the F-bomb and burritos, all of which led to a caffeine-infused mindmeld.

It would be the first of many.

The matchmaker then introducing us was the prophetic and profane Dave McClure, General Partner of 500 Start-ups, which is now headquartered just down the street from Red Rock.

Mr. Noah has quite the start-up resume.

He was employee #30 at Facebook, #4 at Mint, had previously worked for Intel (where he frequently took naps under his desk), and had turned down a six-figure offer from Yahoo. Since we first met, Noah’s helped create Gambit, an online gaming payment platform and a multi-million dollar business; and AppSumo, loved by entrepreneurs and moms everywhere. He also helped pour fire on both the 4-Hour Workweek and 4-Hour Body launches.

The purpose of this post is simple: to teach you how to get a $1,000,000 business idea off the ground in one weekend, full of specific tools and tricks that Noah has used himself.

He will be your guide…

Enter Noah
For some reason, people love to make excuses about why they haven’t created their dream business or even gotten started. This is the “wantrepreneur” epidemic, where people prevent themselves from ever actually doing the side-project they always talk about over beers. The truth of the matter is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time building the foundation for a successful business. In most cases, it shouldn’t take you more than a couple days.

We made the original product for Gambit in a weekend. “WTF?!” Yes, a weekend. In just 48 hours, some friends and I created a simple product that grew to a $1,000,000+ business within a year.

Same deal for AppSumo. We were able to build the core product in one weekend, using an outsourced team in Pakistan, for a grand total of $60.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not opposed to you trying to build a world-changing product that requires months of fine-tuning. All I’m going to suggest is that you start with a much simpler essence of your product over the course of a weekend, rather than wasting time building something for weeks… only to discover no one wants it.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yes, Noah, you are SO amazing (and handsome), but what can I do this weekend to start my own success story?”

Here are the steps you can take right now to get started on your million dollar company:

Step 1: Find your (profitable) idea.
At this stage, you are simply looking for something that people are willing to spend money on. So grab a seat and write down a list of ideas that you think might be profitable. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, try using the methods below to speed the research process along:

Review top sellers on Amazon. Find products that already have guaranteed customers, then build something complementary. A good example of this is Dodo making a gorgeous $60 case to buy for your iPad (which costs over $500, and over 5 million sold).

Think of all the things you do on a daily basis. Anything done more than once has potential for a product or service to improve the process. For me, one of those products was a mirror I could hang in the shower. It saves me tons of time while shaving, and now I don’t know how I ever lived without it.

Be cognizant of products you use and frequently complain about. Before Gambit, we were constantly asking our payment tool partners for certain features, yet our requests were always rejected. That was the impetus for us to create Gambit for our own games.

Check completed listings on eBay. This allows you to see how well certain products are selling. It’s also an easy way to measure sale prices of items and gauge the overall percentage of the market that’s receiving bids (i.e. in demand).

Look for frequent requests on Craigslist gigs. These listings are from people actively searching for someone to give their money to in exchange for particular services. Try searching for certain keywords (e.g. marketing, computers, health) and keep track of the total number of results displayed. Evaluate the most popular keywords and see if you can create a product or service around those requests.

Browse the Q&A on LinkedIn. On average, LinkedIn users are worth $134, so there is a good chance they’ll have money for you if you can provide solutions to their problems.

Step 2: Find $1,000,000 worth of customers.
Now that you’ve found an idea, it’s time to assess whether there’s a big enough pool of prospective buyers. In this step, you’ll also want to ensure your market isn’t shrinking, and that it fares well compared to similar markets.

I use Google Trends, Google Insights, and Facebook ads when I’m in this part of the process. They’re great tools that help me evaluate the growth potential of my target market.

For example, let’s say you decide to build information products for owners of Chihuahuas (remember “Yo quiero Taco Bell”?). Here’s how I would check to see if there are enough customers:

1. Search Google Trends for the term “chihuahua” and other similar words (e.g. poodle, dogs) for comparison:

(Click image to expand)

We can see that the word “chihuahua” has a decent search volume (relative to “dogs”), and that “poodle” isn’t as popular. It also looks like the number of searches for “chihuahua” has been relatively stable for the last few years.

2. Double-check on Google insights:

Google Insights is great, because it breaks down the search data by location (i.e. what regions the searches are coming from), by date, and what they’re searching for (news, images, products). Click here to see the full report for the above chart.

3. Look at the total number of people available on Facebook for dogs:

3.1 million. Not bad, not bad.

And for Chihuahuas:

84,260 people. Score.

You can also see if there is a large property that you can piggyback on.

Paypal did this with eBay, AirBnb is doing it with Craigslist home listings, and AppSumo looks to the 100 million LinkedIn users. If you can find a comparable site with a large number of potential customers, you’ll be in good shape.

What helped me with finding $1,000,000 worth of customers for AppSumo was studying my successful competitors; specifically, Macheist. Their site did a Mac-only deal that generated more than $800,000. Macheist shares their sales revenue publicly, but you can use your own business acumen on the CrunchBase list to see which business you want to replicate. For instance, you might research Airbnb.com, discover that they have a profitable and growing marketplace, then decide to create a similar service for alternative verticals.

I like to create a Google Spreadsheet of the key numbers for my competitors’ businesses. Below is an example of what that might look like for Macheist in their Mac bundles. [Warning to the haters: This may not be accurate, but I used these numbers just to get a rough idea of the business’ potential.]

Step 3: Assess your customer’s value.
Once you’ve found your idea and a big pool of potential customers, you’ll need to calculate the value of those customers. For our example above, we’ll need to estimate how much a Chihuahua owner (i.e. our customer) is worth to us. This will help us determine the likelihood of them actually buying our product, and will also help with pricing. Here’s how we do that:

1. Find out how much it costs, on average, to buy a Chihuahua (about $650). This is the base cost.

2. See how much it costs to maintain a Chihuahua each year (i.e. recurring costs). Looks like it’s between $500-3,000. For this example, we’ll call it $1,000.

3. Look up their life expectancy, which is roughly 15 years. This is the number of times they’ll have to pay those recurring costs.

Therefore, a Chihuahua’s average total cost of ownership is:

[$650 + ($1,000*15)] = $15,650

Damn… you could buy a lot of burritos with that kind of cash. Silly dog owners.

In any case, these owners are already committing to spend a LOT of money on their dogs (i.e. they are valuable). After putting down $650 on the dog itself and an average of $80/month on maintenance (a.k.a. food), spending $50 on an information product that could help them train their Chihuahua–or save money, or create a better relationship between them, etc.–does not seem unreasonable. Of course, the product doesn’t have to cost $50, but we now have some perspective for later deciding on a price.

Now we need to utilize the TAM formula (a.k.a. Total Available Market formula), which will help us see our product’s potential to generate a million dollars.

Here’s the TAM formula for estimating your idea’s potential:

(Number of available customers) x (Value of each customer) = TAM

If TAM > $1,000,000, then you can start your business.

Let’s plug in some basic numbers to see the TAM for our Chihuahua information product:

(84,260 available customers) x ($50 information product) = $4,213,000

We have a winner!

Okay, obviously you are not going to reach 100% market penetration, but consider the following…

1. This is only through Facebook traffic.

2. This does not include the 5,000,000 monthly searches for “Chihuahua” on Google:

3. This is only for one breed of dog. If you find success with Chihuahuas, you can easily repeat the process many times with other dog breeds.

4. This is only for one product. It’s far easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to acquire new ones, so once we’ve built up a decent customer base, we can make even more products to sell to them.

By all measures, it appears that we have a million dollar idea on our hands. Now we can move on to the final step!

Step 4: Validate your idea.
By now, you have successfully verified that your idea has that special million-… [more]
Entrepreneurship  from google
september 2011
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