The Greatest Change to Communication and Relationships in History

As far as changes to the way people interact, how friends are made, how privacy is thought of; nothing over the entire course of the human species has made as significant of a change to human communication and relationships as social networks.

Looking through history at each of the technological advances to communication: the telephone, fax, email, post, word of mouth, and written language. None has enabled the human species to communicate to the world and receive information back passively, with such great efficiency, as online social networks. Consider a photo from a family vacation. Before online social networks, an email could be sent with an attachment to intended recipients. Before that this photo would have to be sent by fax or post. If recipients liked the photo, they couldn’t click a ‘like’ button, or leave a thumbs-up icon on your door. Some would send back a thank you note, or return a similar photo of their own loved ones in kind.

It is now possible to have a presence in the lives of hundreds of people without ever having to directly communicate with them. As my brother put it while describing the very early stages of the publicly accessible Facebook: “it allows you to create the illusion of staying in contact with people, without actually having to do so”. And so it is, those peers from high school, who we mostly wouldn’t have stayed out of touch with, now occasionally grace our feeds with a baby photo, opinion, or shared news clipping. The family members who before the Internet only crossed our desks with holiday cards, family dinners, and reunions, suddenly can keep track of our whereabouts, and tell us what they think of our lifestyles, without having to gossip with other family members.

The title “social network” is both very accurate, and a paradox. For while those networked by their social connections can now keep tabs on each other with almost no effort, each person is less connected to their friends and family than ever before. As it is no longer necessary to invest time to maintain individual relationships, the lack of having to stay in touch leaves every person with fewer personal moments shared with the people they care the most about.

On the one hand it’s great, we can all stay better informed, not lose touch, and are more likely to be able to recall a face to a name if we bump into each other by accident. We’re more likely to follow up and make plans, or wish each other happy birthday. The main net result is we have a certain amount of surface knowledge about each other, that we wouldn’t have had without our virtual ‘what I’m doing these days bulletin board’. Where in the past an update on what we are doing, where we are working, etc., would have required talking to a mutual connection, or directly communicating – now a short search on the internet, LinkedIn or Facebook will do.

The negative argument is this diminishes social expectations of relationships. As we – people existing and getting information from social networks – become more used to tracking our peers on Facebook and sharing moments in our lives on Facebook, we’re taking away the natural inclination to do so in the conventional way, the one where we choose who receives the update, and we send it out showing intention. Sharing news about your life on the internet certainly makes it possible to share your news with the world, but it doesn’t have a personal touch like a phone call, postcard, or even, yes, email might have. Perhaps the latter for many is also too impersonal, but at least a specific recipient had to be chosen in that case, which is not the same when it comes to Facebook.

Additionally reducing the quality of a communication on Facebook, the software logic which decides what appears in our so called ‘personalized’ news feed, dictates what we actually see in our feed. Multiple factors up-vote and down-vote the likelihood of a friends shared moment even appearing in our own feed.

So what can we do about this?

There is no going back, I’m afraid. No social revolution will take away this new way of staying connected. Though some dilution is inevitable; certainly as the number of Facebook registered users continues to climb, other social networks pop-up taking away entire generations, and still other camps find the Internet medium for sharing life events isn’t the right one for them – they deactivate or delete their account. Those people condemn themselves to a world where the only information others know about them, is that which others shared albeit the old fashioned way. But at least there is a more genuine nature and quality to the old fashioned way, one can know who they’ve kept in touch with, and one can focus on building relationships without the Internet, where things may be slower, harder, less informed, but at least you know who is making effort. Somehow this is even a strengthener, for while sharing, tagging, and ‘liking’ each others content online is some lightweight method of indicating interest, a physical or 1-to-1 gesture of direct communication now has more weight than ever before.

 

 

 

Who Invented the 30 Day Trial Anyhow?

This morning after posting a tweet, I noticed I had some new followers on Twitter. In this event I normally look at the new followers, decide if I want to follow them or directly message, or ignore completely.

But today the new followers notification sparked a curiosity about my stats in general as a Twitter user.

Ever since reading this post about tools for Social Media Managers I’ve created accounts with those social media account tools, and had a bunch of fun dashboards to look at and gain new insights from on my social media accounts with Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and more.

sproutsocial
So, today, instead of looking at the new followers I’d gotten I wanted to head over to Sprout Social, one of several social monitoring tools recommended in that post.

What I discovered when getting over to Sprout was, my 30 day free trial with them was over.

Trial is over

It was curious that the trial was already over, because I have probably looked at my Sprout Dashboard 3 times since I started the trial.

After opening the account I got some emails from them with customer success managers offering to help me and nudging me to learn more about their tool.

Your New Sprout Social Trial Getting Started tomhillard gmail.com Gmail

I declined the help, maybe after finding some useful stuff on my own, I might want a more thorough introduction was my thinking. Also, when I started the account it took 2–3 days for my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts that I connected to be analyzed. This waiting step is a big obstacle in gaining new users. I believe people have an expectation to be excited about a product when they start it. At least, in the generalist pool that’s the case. Specialists know better and probably already have much more information about what to expect when they get started with a new product. But for a guy like me who has had no recommendations to use this Sprout dashboard except from a blog post, I didn’t know what to expect, nor did I really want to wait three days to start using it. But I did anyways.

After three days, there really wasn’t much data to look at. I know I’m not the biggest tweeter out there, I only post a photo on Instagram ever week or so, and my facebook is really not a business tool, just friends family, and a photography page, so I don’t have many people liking, commenting, or sharing/retweeting my posts, but really, the data was little or not useful at all. There was a good reason for that though, Sprout like a lot of these social monitoring tools are useful for tracking events in time, and changes over time, there isn’t much you can do except get an overview of your follower count, and some demographic data on those followers like the gender breakdown. Honestly I’d explain more about what data they do give you, but I can’t access my account at the moment. (play sad trombone here)

This whole shut out at 30 day trial ending thing really got me thinking. It created a reaction in me.

In the past, this moment of 30-day-trial-ending-before-proper-analysis-is-achieved has just been a turn off. In that case, I walk away, unless one of the many “come back to us” emails I would get down the road was really convincing, I just didn’t bother to look again, I wasn’t terribly informed about the product, but if someone asked I probably say I didn’t find it useful.

If after the ending of a 30 day trial I really believe I might learn something but wasn’t ready to spend money yet, I could use a new email address to make a new trial account. The whole pressure to sign up now or stop, just doesn’t leave a good feeling.

It forces my opinion of the product to be captured at that pay now moment, and asks me to decide.

So naturally since I hadn’t really gotten attached, my decision and forced analysis was, “this product must not be for me because I don’t feel motivated to open my wallet so I can keep using it” when they expect me to.

This paradigm of the free trial customer acquisition is very common in SaaS (software as a service) products. Sampling before buying, goes back to the beginning of time as a business strategy. Think of merchants at a market offering a sample of their food before you go in on a real purchase. But in the modern software online world, somehow, a lot of companies think that 30 days is the typical duration necessary to evaluate a process.

I’ve signed up for so many of those online services with a free trial, I just assume it’s a 30 day trial, I would be really blown away to be told I got anything else at this point. But as SaaS Marketing Strategist Peter Cohen rightfully points out in his article here, there is no magic number, the duration largely depends on the complexity and economics of the product. So why is everybody going the 30 day route? Who invented this? I’ve read dozens of marketing strategy books, and several historical non-fiction novels about the origins of modern salesmanship, I haven’t seen the initial starting point of this concept told. To be safe, I did a Google search, and also posted a question on Quora. Since those are the two lazy ways of researching such a topic and I don’t have a publishers advance to write about about it, that’s probably as far as my search will go for now.

But if there is any return on writing investment I hope to gain from this post, it’s not to discover who the creator of the 30 day product trial, it’s that companies think more carefully about what is required to fully try out and evaluate a product, and offer customers time to reach whatever metric / milestone that is, instead of this totally dumb and non-sensical 30 day period business, it just makes no sense.

In my case with Sprout, I wrote to their sales department, told them I hadn’t had enough time to evaluate the product, and if they would extend my trial I would continue using it and would be more likely to pay for the subscription after having more time.

When “No” Really Means, “Maybe Later”

Have you ever tried to contact someone, for a job, to make plans etc., and gotten a cold response? Perhaps no response at all? And so you figured that meant no? Like “no, we don’t have a job for you”. Me too. But with many years of experience I’ve learned these cold responses, even the outright “sorry we can’t encourage you, we are not interested in exploring future employment opportunities with you” (paraphrasing a response I got from William Morris Agency in 2003), may in fact just mean “sorry not right now, but check back with us later”.

It’s funny, and maybe doesn’t even seem so strange. But that’s true. And “maybe later” doesn’t mean 6 months from now. Try 6 weeks.

Rewind.

Once upon a time I had an internship at a record label in New York. Martha Stewart’s Omni Media offices were just a couple floors above mine (pre-insider trading conviction). It was an exciting [unpaid] job for me. Naomi Campbell came into the office occasionally to visit the owner of the label. I was still in college and this was something I’d never experienced before.

My position was in the marketing department. I spent a lot of time preparing shipments, photocopying press kits, and organizing the CD closet. My big break came when I was asked to organize promotion of a Japanese metal band who was coming to the USA for a short tour. One of my first jobs was to contact the venues where the bands would be playing and ask the venue managers if we could organize a ticket giveaway to help promote the show.

As the email responses from the venue managers came in, I reported back to my marketing director. Some of the venues hadn’t replied. When I asked my boss what that meant, he said “it means ‘No’”.

Unfortunately for me, he was just not into the band and suspected most of the venues weren’t either. But I took his comment as a lesson and took it to heart. For a while afterwards, whenever I was pitching to someone, or trying to start a dialogue with a person not close to me, if I didn’t hear back I thought it was a sign to give up.

Fortunately, not too long afterwards I learned that repetition actually could be very effective. I gained this wisdom while watching Sex and the City. In the 6th season, while Charlotte York pursues a rabbi to learn the ways of her fiancées religion, she learns, that displaying dedication and temperament with repetitive attempts, despite outright rejection, eventually proved her devotion to the faith and won her the attention and ultimate support of the rabbi.

Pretty convoluted learning experience, I know, but it made sense to me, and so I let go of the words from my marketing director. Going forward when situations came up where I couldn’t succeed without getting the attention of someone too busy or important to talk with me, I just politely continued to poke them for a little bit of their time. It doesn’t always work, but more often than you expect, you can turn a “no” into a “maybe”, and once you have “maybe”, it’s much easier to get to “yes”.

Me with Alexander the Great. Thessaloniki, Greece
Me with Alexander the Great. Thessaloniki, Greece

Present Day

This all ties back to a methodology I’ve had lately. Persistence. Seriously. Persistence. Reach for the moon. Find the CEO of a company. The Senior PR Director for a global brand. Whoever it is. Whatever you want. Approach, carefully, and thoughtfully. At first you might not succeed. But with patience, displayed thoughtfulness and planning, you can make contact, and even get what you’re after.

If you’re in sales this is a pitch meeting. If you’re looking for a coveted job, this is a meeting with someone who can get you an “in”. If you want to get a sponsorship or propose a new product idea it could be any number of people.

There are two things to keep in mind about this:

1. You might be reaching out to the wrong person

2. Follow up is key

Point Number 1 : Reaching Out to the Wrong Person

People scare easily. We don’t want to piss anyone off, or have a room full of people hating us. So naturally when we are trying to get in touch with a person, who more likely than not, is one of several people at a group, or company who could be the entry point of that organization, and we have no success, there is this fear that our one and only person to reach out to has nixed the request, and therefor no one else at the company is reachable either.

In reality what it probably means if one person doesn’t respond, or gives a really cold “go away” sort of email, is that that person just wasn’t the right person to reach out to.

What to do?

Why not reach out to someone else? Most companies are big, people talk, sure, but not that much, certainly not about you. Unless you did something really creepy or amazing, you were 4 seconds of someones day and they will not remember you from 20 other Joe Schmoe’s who also tried contacting the wrong person that week.

Other people aren’t always the same as the first person. You have to get creative and look around, try to learn who is who, and use your smarts. If someone says no, find someone more important, or closer to the department head of the team you’re trying to reach out to. If you’re trying to get a job and HR tell’s you there aren’t any positions available. Go directly to someone on the team you could potentially work for and see what they say. Hint: aim high. Team leaders are part of or responsible for hiring. Team members — not so much.

When no one replies or do, but say they aren’t interested… move on to point #2 — Follow up.

Me posing as a tourist in Belgrade, Serbia
Me posing as a tourist in Belgrade, Serbia

Follow Up

No one speaks better to follow up than Jason Sadler. Jason famously started the company “I Wear Your T-Shirt” which got sponsors to pay him to wear a t-shirt branded with their logo, and many other promotional opportunities around that idea. Since shutting down IWYS (after plenty of success), Jason has moved on to teaching others, which at one point included a email based course in getting sponsors. I was able to dig up one of his posts from the course here which embodies Lesson 5 of his Sponsorship Course “The Secret Art Of The Follow Up Email”.

Summarizing his points, follow up is huge for getting sponsorships. Which by the way is asking for money. If you think whatever you want is super in demand, and no one want’s to give it to you, try switching the subject of your pursuit to money. Now go out and ask people to give you money… you get the idea (I hope). If Jason could do it, then he probably has a thing or two to teach us all about asking people for stuff when they are used to saying “no” all day long.

Jason claims 75% of the sponsorships he got came after following up. Read: he did not get people to give him money after sending one email. Sometimes it took two, sometimes it took 4–6, but most of the time the 2nd or 3rd email was actually enough to get an in.

Why Does it Work?

Because most people don’t do it. Yep. So simple. Most truths in life are aren’t they? Most people just give up after the first email or more likely they forget. So by following up, you’re taking advantage of the fact that you will stand out by the amazing feat of sending not one, but two emails. Another great benefit of the 2nd and subsequent emails is the gift of memory. Since your name has already passed by your target’s inbox once before, you are no longer a complete stranger. Oddly enough, though you’re still a stranger to the person you’re contacting, just by having some existence and continuity in another person’s life, you’re creating familiarity. If you wait long enough, your name may have appeared more to that person than their best friend who never posts on Facebook anymore and disappeared after he had some kids.

How To Follow Up?

This is probably part of the secret sauce. I mean. If you just resend your email, the recipient will see that, and this action says you’re lazy. You didn’t take the time to give the recipient fresh info, you just hit the send button again. Which sort of says you don’t think that person is valuable. So don’t expect huge results from this.

Your recipient is thinking “great, I already ignored this person (told them to buzz off), now they’re sending the same email again, when will it stop…”

No.

Your follow up email should be a development. It should show that you know you’re following up, and that you’re re-requesting time from that person. But this time, it’s just a reminder of the first message you sent. A “refresh” or “bump back to the top of the inbox” if you will. And that’s all you really need to say. I wouldn’t load your second email with new stuff. Hopefully the first was clear, concise, and included your main value proposition. The followup is a reminder, to look at the first email, that’s it.

And in this follow up method, time is on your side. Just wait a little while and any number of things can change to benefit your cause. See, while the person you are reaching out to may seem impenetrable, the forces around them are anything but. Stuff changes constantly, an important project launches, or doesn’t. A position that was about to be filled falls through at the last minute. A new marketing strategy totally bombs and new talent is needed fast! Don’t under estimate the trillions of variables which can in lots of cases improve your chances of suddenly becoming the important solution to somebody’s problems.

And that’s about it, at least for now. If you have gotten this far and I haven’t convinced you to send a reminder to someone, or just start tracking the people you reach out to and occasionally send a “refresh” to the ones you never heard back from, or seek another gate keeper to try contacting, then I’ve failed. But hopefully that’s not the case. Hopefully, you have a huge head of optimism now, and you’re going to try to do that one thing you always felt was impossible, because now you realize, help isn’t so far away, it might even be just a few emails to the right group of people.

So do it. Go!

Turn a “no” into a “yes” today.

Photos of the Names

Today, we discovered this little popup photo memorial for the residents of Choriner Straße 82 who are remember with Stolpersteine.

A Stolperstein is a cobblestone sized memorial to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression, including the Holocaust. They are installed outside the home where once lived the victim they name.

If you’ve visited Berlin, Hamburg, or any of the 1,000 cities in Europe where one of the 48,000 Stolperstein are installed in the sidewalks, you’ve probably seen them or took fascination in them. Thinking about those people, or just letting their name bounce around in your thoughts. What you don’t see everyday are photographs of the people named.

This was really nice. I hope to someday meet the person who put it together.

Chorinerstr_82_Door Chorinerstr_82_photos_4 Chorinerstr_82_photos_3 Chorinerstr_82_photos_2 Chorinerstr_82_photos_1 Stolperstein_Chorinerstr_82

Solo Founders Should Focus on Building a Great Team, Then Figure Out the Idea

A frequently repeated mantra around the tech startup ecosystem is “it’s all about the team”. Perhaps that gives the wrong message though. Too many entrepreneurs believe they should first find a good idea and then build the team. Entrepreneurs should be motivated to find their partners first so they can hash out the idea together.

Dropbox founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi

We live in a society where it’s easier to make one founder the center of attention. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson. They all had partners from the very beginning. Don’t expect a person on the street to know the names of their partners or that they existed. But, if you read their biographies you can easily see the importance their partners played, and it’s hard to imagine things going well for any of these entrepreneurs if they didn’t have help from day one.

Solo = No Go

The truth is, without a co-founder most solo founders are dead in the water. Sure some build a prototype, and then get co-founders on board once they have proof of concept. But this, more often then not, is a waste of resources. Think about the consequences of building before you have the appropriate team to build the company from the ground up.

  • Sales focused founders who pay a freelancer or offshore company to build a prototype can sign up customers early on, but when a would be technical founder sees what they technically have to work with, they will want to rebuild it from scratch. That’s a huge turn off, the potential CTO will hardly be enthusiastic to pick up where someone with no passion for the product has left off.
  • Technical founders who lack the sales & marketing qualities necessary to evangelize their apps early on may overlook important features for the customer|market fits and build a product potential marketing & sales parters aren’t eager to sell. “Nice to meet you, I can’t sell your product!”
  • Investors will wonder why a solo founder didn’t have the foresight to find at least one partner. Is no one willing to work with this person? Does no one believe in his idea? Maybe the founder’s network is too small to find a partner. Maybe he doesn’t know how to leverage his network.

To all solo founders out there, take my word for it, do not contact investors until you have at least one co-founder on your team.

Birchbox founders Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp

Network Magnification and Credibility: As a solo founder you can only gain the support of your network. With a network of 300 people you can potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people to promote your startup. But through the power of 2nd and 3rd degree connections, just one additional partner can increase your network by many magnitudes reaching not a few hundred thousand, but probably over one million people, and you will need every last one when it’s time to start promoting and finding early adopters.

A co-founder adds vital creditability. Just like the investors who ponder the credibility of your one man show, people in your network who have to decide if they will shamelessly promote you, and will subconsciously wonder if they are telling their own trusted network about a new and great company a personal contact of theirs is building. Being able to talk about what “we’re” doing reassures them you’re officially a team, you can float up your partner’s credentials for bragging rights, this sounds better than just talking about yourself. Coming off as a team full of skills and past experience combined to take on the challenge drastically increases the chances of convincing others your company is an exciting adventure and they will feel important when you give them the chance to tell the world about it.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Collaboration: Having a partner protects against pursuing bad ideas. A solo entrepreneur has nobody around to agree to call it a day. Or to try harder when it feels like it’s time to give up. Larry Page and Sergey Brin openly joke about how they didn’t get along when they first met, they had strong opinions and disagreed. Would Google exist today if they hadn’t challenged each other ideas ideas back in 1995?

When people of more than one specialty and background work together, their synergy produces the creativity startups need to think through problems in new ways. It’s important to have devils advocate who isn’t afraid to second guess the logic behind an assumption.

Uber co-founder Garret Camp
Uber co-founder Garret Camp
Uber CEO & co-founder Travis Kalanick
Uber CEO & co-founder Travis Kalanick

Complementary Skills: The number of companies started by one person are extremely rare. In the few cases it has happened, the technology and opportunity was so huge, and the company was growing so fast, it didn’t take long to have the traction necessary to recruit other team members with necessary skills to scale the company. For the other 99.999% this wont be the case. From the very first days important skills will be needed to divide and conquer the onslaught of challenges that will come from every direction.

Steve Blank wrote a piece about what it takes to build great founding teams.

The goal of a founding team “is to take the original idea and search for a repeatable and scalable business model– first by finding product/market fit, then by testing all the parts of the business model (pricing, channel, acquisition/activation, partners, costs, etc.)” — Steve Blank

A solo founder is going to have a tough time doing all of that. Building, searching for scalable business model, finding product|market fit and iterating through various tests on assumptions for the business, it’s too much to do alone. Few people are so talented to understand all of these areas completely, and again. The expertise should be divided to achieve greater focus, which in turns leads to greater success.

Airbnb founders Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky, and Joe Gebbia

How to build your team: The take away of all this is solo entrepreneurs can explore ideas, and launch prototypes. But they should prioritize the activity of finding people who are interested in building a company. Founder dating, and networking events despite lots of suggestions on this subject are probably not the best place to start looking for co-founders. A better approach is reaching out into one’s network, being open with others about searching for a co-founder, and asking for introductions.

What your team should look like: Unfortunately most people won’t get to be picky when looking for the right co-founders, and yet finding a co-founder fit with complementary skills and the readiness to tackle very hard problems during periods of serious doubt, is critical. If the team cannot get through the worst times, many costly issues will stand in the way and waste valuable time. If differences arise far enough along, a founder will have to be bought out, or sit on the founders shares of the cap table, which could cause irreversible financial pains for the company.

Entrepreneur and VC Mark Suster has written specifically about this subject and gives a good punch list of qualities to look for while creating a team. He makes several good points worth keeping in mind in a team as well as an investors perspective on what matters in the team. Being well rounded in skills, having consultative sales people versus relationship management style sellers, structuring tech teams with strengths of “people process & technology”.

I’m a solo founder. What now?

  • Start contacting friends and telling them you’re interested in building a company, and would love an introduction to anyone that might make a good co-founder in your company.
  • Do your own recruiting, identify the skills you lack to build a company, and search through Linkedin, Twitter, and tech blogs for people who have those qualities, and are in an appropriate place to start something new. Hint: an employee at a startup that is about to go into the dead pool maybe looking for new opportunities. Consulting firms, business schools, and agencies are full of people who may be planning to leave and start their own business, but don’t know a partner to do it with. Find a way to get an introduction to them.
  • Use the web to tell the world about your interests. Tweet and blog about subjects that you find interesting and see opportunities. People who are also interested in these subjects will find you, some may be your potential partner or know someone else who is.
  • Don’t sweat the critics, there are many thought leaders who claim a co-founder can’t just be picked out, that there should be a deep history between team members. While the reasons for this are obvious, there are lots of founders who met from different circles and went on to form great companies. Don’t let the nay sayers talk you out of pursuing your dreams.

If you like this post, please help me out by recommending it on Medium, or share it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ (which ever you feel best about). Thank you! You can also send me an email. Or subscribe to this blog.

 

P.S.

So who were the solo founders? While writing this I started to wonder who some of the solo founders of tech companies have been. This is just off the top of my head, there are certainly more. Feel free to share with me off line or in the comments.

  • Ebay: Pierre Omidyar
  • Dell: Michael Dell
  • Amazon: Jeff Bezos
  • GoPro: Nick Woodman

The Good Old Days, and the Crazy Crazy Future

The year was 2003, and with the help of some dialup (in the United States) one could post an ad on Criaglist.org, for well, anything. This was useful because if one suddenly decided he wants to start a new company, it was an easy way to test the interest in the product or service he had to offer. After posting the ad, in the next 24-72 hours you could sit back and to see who would bite. For me this was a regular pastime, exploring possible business ideas. The ad’s ranged from web site development, landscaping and moving companies, to drives on request (hello Uber yes I had the idea first).

GMC_Craigslist

Compared to today, it was too easy. Back then, Craigslist was where people went for everything, buying and selling stuff, renting apartments, buying houses, hiring dog walkers, ride shares, dating, events, and job openings. But it wasn’t to last for long.

It didn’t happen overnight, but around 2008 the Craigslist user base had changed, the people became less reliable, more weird. Creepy even. It was on both sides too. As a user looking through ads some were WEIRD, I remember apartment listings that just had a picture of a cartoon dog, and a couple details about the apartment. And when receiving replies to ads I’d posted some people were normal, and others were obviously whack jobs.

Also by the end of the last decade, it wasn’t just the people on Craigslist (CL) that had changed, there were other places to go and spend time on the internet. Ebay had totally taken over the sell/buy space. Sites like Match.com started to peel away users of the personals section.

This also meant things were more difficult too. I remember a NYTimes post about one accountant who stopped paying for advertising because he got all his clients through CL. I doubt that guy still has the same story now. Services like accountants, web developers, painters, and repairmen, who used to get their new clients from the Services section on CL, lost traffic to paid advertising and highly competitive search engine ranking in Google search results. It didn’t happen overnight, but by 2010 Craigslist was only good for long shot job opportunities and sublets, it’s been a while since I checked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those are not useful anymore either.

Fast forward. It’s 2015.

The world changed so much in the last ten years. Getting peoples’ attention requires multi-tiered approach of social network engagement, Google page ranks, paid results in search, email campaigns, paid Facebook ads, quality scores, and so much more. There is no classifieds listings where you can post your capabilities and wait for interested people to connect, it would be a bad test.

Ideas aren’t so easy to test anymore.

unbounce-1
Unbounce.com’s landing page “rehab” program

 

geo-targeting-1
An old screenshoot of a Google Adwords Campaign

A recommended method to test an idea now, is to make a landing page, choose a set of keywords, and then create a Google Adwords campaign to send traffic to the page (since the page doesn’t have built in traffic like Craigslist did).

With some traffic going to the page, you can see how your keywords convert in Google’s Adwords dashboard, watch how many bounces the landing page gets, and most importantly how many conversions you can create. But that process is more complex than the Craigslist post I described above from 10 years ago. Your keywords can be wrong, you location & demographic settings may not be optimized for your target market. Perhaps you’re not bidding enough on the campaign. Your landing page content may be all wrong. And if the landing page isn’t convincing, say, maybe it looks a bit fake, like dummy landing page, people can tell, and if they smell a fake, they close the page as soon as it opens, and then your whole test is a waste. A waste that, let’s not forget, needed to be paid for. Again, unlike the Craigslist test.

More so, there is a feeling that without a website you aren’t legitimate. Without a Facebook page, it’s just a personal side project. Without a good chunk of followers on your instagram or twitter account or “page likes” on your Facebook page your business isn’t legitimate or too young to be trusted.

Imagine how it would feel for an Law Practice with 25 years of experience that cannot get more then 36 likes on their Facebook page. A popularity vote on a platform that has barely existed for 5 years, with a company that barely existed 10 years ago. That’s got to be hard to swallow. All the rules are changing, and it’s making a fool out of everyone. Don’t worry, we’re all in the same boat.

What a lot of people think they need to do when they start a company, or put their business on the internet, is that they should buy a domain name. Unfortunately, the days of just getting a “.com” or “.net” (also known as TLDs) are long gone folks. There are now over 1,000 different TLDs to choose from, with .travel, .book, .biker, .ninja (I puke a little at that one) domain extensions (TLD), there is a universe of possibilities, meanwhile most of the people in the world are still just figuring out the difference between email and the internet. Some still don’t really get setting up their smart phones.

If many people are still just trying to get the hang of a smart phone, will the average person even know that “http://johndoe.restaurant” can be a real website URL now? Think twice before buying that domain name folks, I think the verdict is out on that one. Let’s wait for CNN to do a special on it first to be safe 😉

I digress.

The increase of complexity grows at a rate near Moore’s law with no end in sight.

As a 33 year old, I feel lucky to have both witnessed a time before Microsoft Windows (MS-DOS), when there was only a telephone to communicate, and getting to experience first hand the wave of people using Friendster, then Myspace, then Facebook, and now lots of niche networks to boot. But I meet teenagers and see how they use technology, and think about how much things will change in the next ten years, and nothing seems more overwhelming than this, except perhaps an echo chamber with a never ending loud speaker going off, creating nth degree echoes upon echoes.

In the next 20 years, a time frame anyone reading this can probably expect to live (I’m rooting for you!), the complexity will grow way more than it has in the last 10 years. So basically, a likely startup in the year 2026, could be offering a service with a promo like:

“Internet Simplified”

“Our service takes over your communications, searches, blog reading and all so you don’t have a brain aneurysm. We will call you at the end of the day with a simple summary for you!”

her-movie-still-17Perhaps such a service will be an add on to our personal OS – à la “Her”. Perhaps by then, shopping will be in it’s own division, a “sub-net” of the internet. News/Content/Blogs will be in a subnet. Social & communication will have it’s own subnet. Things will have gotten so complex, the new innovators will just be making ways to compartmentalize.

Until then we’re all the guinea pigs. And those who want to continue to compete for the next big innovation have keep an eye on the changes, while the others sit back and continue to be dumbfounded by all the rapid changes.

 

Turn Off Your Autofocus

Photographers, I challenge you to turn off your autofocus.

So much of our lives are now dictated by software, don’t let the focus algorithm take control of your photography style too.

Focus is perspective. The detail in your photos is a choice to make. When you submit to autofocus, you give up one of your liberties as a photographer. You are in fact letting the camera take your picture, instead of you.

You don’t let the camera select the aperture, ISO, or shutter speed. So why are you giving away the right to choose the focus?

The ability to decide how your image should look, what should be in focus and what should not, isn’t a function with a simple problem to solve. And yet, that is all the autofocus software is doing. Hundreds of software engineers together with product managers, photography designers, and consumer focus group experts created that feature. They have made a collaborative decision what it means to focus the image, and they pass that choice onto your picture taking experience, it is hardcoded into the camera autofocus. So when you take a picture and use autofocus, your focus is not perfect, you are simply outsourcing the style and detail in your photo to a long line of programmers, and photography experts, allowing them to choose how your photo should look.

Certainly if you have bad vision, no patience for finding a focus you like, a cell phone camera, a point and shoot without the ability to focus, or any of these other cases, then the feature is useful if not mandatory. But at least know why it is there and what you lose when you use it.

 

Everything you do in life, is an investment

I want to be wealthy.

scrooge-mcduck-swimming_300px

I want to be super filthy, Scrooge McDuck, swimming in money rich.

Only, it’s not money that I want.

Money alone clearly doesn’t add value to a person’s life. Don’t believe me? Google: “lottery winners lives ruined”, enough said. And if that seems like a cop out to you, just look around for stories of the complicated lives of billionaires. Sure money can help. Private jets are awesome (at least skipping TSA and baggage claim sounds nice). But wealth is not the happiness and great life in a jar it can be objectified as.

No. I want to be rich in what I’ll call “life assets”.

The life assets I want are: skills, stories, friends, family, memories, great meals, and health. You get the idea. I also believe that when you’re rich in those things, you will be successful in life. After all, happiness is probably the greatest measure of success in my book. If you are gaining all those things in your life, you’re bound to be happy.

Attributes in life as assets

So then, entertain this concept; if you can be rich with life assets, then can’t we say there is some unit of measure for those things? Perhaps no unit we’ll all agree on like we agree on the unit of $1, but at least, the idea that one can have many friends, or very few. If I speak three languages and you only speak two, would you then agree that I have a greater wealth in language than you? Or perhaps, you, on average, spend several hours a week with various friends, while I barely have time to see one. Maybe in that case I am lacking in friendship wealth, at least time with friends, compared to you.

Your life assets as investments

If that all still makes sense, I now propose one more concept to branch off the last. If you can have a surplus of these life assets, can’t you also invest in them? That’s easy to agree on, right? You can learn to cook a new meal, make a new friend at work. Get married! These are all investments in your life assets. Hell! They are investments in your life! And if you keep track of them, and watch them grow. Continue to feed them, just like a monetary asset, they will get greater and greater and pay dividends.

Investing in life assets as a way of life

I want to propose that we use this concept of investing in life assets, as a way of making good decisions. When trying to decide what to do with your time, be it work, sleep, exercise, eating, catch up with friends, consider each of them as assets. Think about which ones are lacking in the distribution of time you can give them that will in turn keep them healthy and make them grow. I think this method will make it easy to choose what is better, to go for a walk or call a relative, instead of say… watching TV 😉

Final thought: strong life assets tend to also mean longer life

You’ve probably heard of centenarians; people who live past 100 years old. National Geographic did a great profile of the three poster child communities. In Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda, California. If you look at the attributes of the people from those groups, they all share some commonalities; community and or close family. Daily exercise. Great diets (read: not dieting –they simply eat healthy food regularly, rather than as a way to lose weight). And they all have a sense of purpose (described as having a life worth living). These people all invest in their life assets daily, they maintain low levels of stress. They use their bodies and minds, and they have great nutrition. And that keeps their organs healthy and functioning.

From a different perspective, but not a different side of the coin. When a palliative nurse heard the thoughts of people on their death beds, their thoughts were eerily connected to this subject. They wished they’d focused more on being happy, worked less, spent more time with friends, and had more courage.

So, even if you aren’t the Warren Buffet among your peers. You probably have many valuable assets, that can make and give you happiness. That can give you more time with the people you love. Invest in those assets, they are probably a lot less volatile than the financial markets.

Eggs

As a child I remember spending nights at my grandparents. In the morning I’d wake up very early to be at the kitchen counter to watch my Grandpa John make scrambled eggs with breakfast sausage. While the whites and yolks bonded together in the butter and sausage grease turning into a nice yellow color, and the aroma filled the kitchen air, Grandpa John would tell me stories of growing up during the depression;about working in the CCC’s, how he learned to box in barn houses as a teenager with other boys while growing up too quickly in Long Island during a scary time. Listening to his stories was better than the movies about those times, it was his life and I learned about it while being mesmerized over the frying pan.

Countless times I sat listening to his stories and watched him fry the eggs and sausage, practically drooling over them. Few memories of my grandparents are so profound. Mostly now, my love of eggs is not about these memories, and my personal dish is a bit more complex than Grandpa’s were.

Nearly every day I eat eggs for breakfast. Usually I throw in sautéed spinach/kale/chard or some other leafy green, olive oil (with the greens), butter, fresh ground black pepper, sea salt, salsa, black beans, hot sauce, and / or whatever other random mix in. That all makes things sound complex, forget them for now. I’m here to talk about eggs, and why I will probably eat at least one egg per day, 5-6 days a week for the rest of my life, except in extreme circumstances while traveling.

And just for clarification. I only eat “happy eggs” none of this hens house avian flu stuff. I expect the chickens producing my eggs to have walked around eating off the land throughout their life. I hope they watched the sun rise, and felt the breeze, and ate natural organic food living in a lot of ways, as I do. This life ensures their eggs contain all the nutrients and proteins I expect to get from them. When shopping for eggs, never buy anything less, the happy kind are much more expensive, but the extra $2-3 is the price you pay to be healthy and know your chickens are just as happy as you are. Anything less if basically an investment in an unsustainable world – a horrible life for chickens and eggs – which aren’t as good for you as they can be. Think happy eggs – happy egg eater 🙂

For more information on how to know what kind of life was lived by the chickens who laid your eggs visit this page on the Humane Society’s website.

Back to eating eggs… as I was saying I think they are perfect food, here’s why:

Name anything that should be in your diet, especially in the first meal of your day, and eggs probably contain some of it. And it’s all in the right portion of one egg. Not too big, not too little, and not too much of anything.

For starters they are full of nutrients including:

  • Vitamin A
  • Folate
  • Vitamin B5
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B2
  • Phosphorus
  • Selenium (anyone worried about eating too much Kale benefits from this)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin B6
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Trace Minerals

For protein, all essential eight can be found, in fact eggs have over 40 different proteins. Many of which end up helping your body to produce antioxidants.

As for fat, and whether you believe it or not, fat is important in your diet, and eggs contain all the right fat: poly and mono-unsaturated, along with and saturated fat all inside that little shell.

If you’re going low-carb, you can’t get much lower than an egg, you’ll have to eat some bread or drink some OJ should you want them, because a typical egg is about 1% carb (<2grams).

On an pure nutritional facts label basis, depending on the size of your egg, you can expect to find that all together one egg (lets say a 100 gram egg) contains round about 150 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates, 13 grams of protein, and 11 grams of those aforementioned healthy fats.

As for high cholesterol, some people may be stuck on the past, but the days of fearing the cholesterol in eggs are long gone. If you have high cholesterol, many studies have shown eating up to two eggs per day reduces your cholesterol, not increase. Remember that’s because there is good and bad cholesterol, eggs contain the good kind…

If you suffer from Type 2 Diabetes or burning fat / weight loss is on your agenda, eggs help with this too. A study found up to 4 eggs per week helped reduced risk of T2D.  This is in part because eggs help your liver to metabolize glucose, thus producing less storage fat cells from the food you’re eating.

And with a satiaty index of 150%, eggs leave you feeling more full than yogurt, that means you will be less hungry after eating eggs compared to other common breakfast meals and eggs contain fewer calories. Kind of like having your egg and eating it too 😉

Last but not least, for avoiding the common cold and the harmful effects of free radicals, eggs offer a helping hand. A number of antioxidants can be sourced to the common chicken egg. A recent study even has found two specific nutrients Lutein and Zeaxanthin found in eggs will reduce risk of and counteract macular degeneration and cataracts.

A word of advice too, though some have turned to the slightly more convenient (and I can barely avoid cringing when I saying that) liquid eggs, steer back to the original version. Tests have proven some of these benefits are lost when the egg has been processed ahead of time. Eat the whole egg, from the shell!

Eggs also typically come in a cardboard carton, completely recyclable in most places of the world these days, and the shells are totally biodegradable. The same probably can’t be said for the plastic that most other breakfasts come in.

So there you have it, all of that, and we’re really just looking at the highlights. But isn’t it enough? Yes everything is best in moderation. I skip my daily eggs from time to time. But I always go back. You can buy them anywhere in the world, they are not expensive, even the happy kind. You can mix them into any number of other dishes for lunch, dinner, or dessert.

Give eggs a try, or try going back. You’ll feel better, you’ll be healthier. And they are nearly as easy to prepare as anything else.

 

 

Is Kale Killing You?

Kale is everywhere these days, and I make sure to have some just about any place that I am staying at long enough to prepare a meal.

If you cruise health blogs on the inter-webs you have seen the craze for the wild stiff leafy green that has been heralded a superfood. While in LA last month, I noticed nearly every restaurant offered a kale salad, that is new, and not normal in other cities! But truth be told, kale is old news, in case you hadn’t noticed. Google trends shows a world wide spike mid 2014, and since then it’s popularity has fallen back 10% to mid 2013 levels. I suspect it could just be a decline in popularity for kale chips.

But since I eat kale almost daily, and have an addictive personality, if it’s possible to overdue kale, I’m probably on the speedway for kale poisoning. So I figured it was time to look this up and see if the dark days of kale have come.

As an idea of where the world stands with kale, there are presently 7.9 million web pages (according to google) mentioning “kale” and “kale benefits” (in 2012 it was 2.3 million). In 2013 and 2014 farmers and kale seed distributors claimed there would be a kale shortage. But when it comes to the dark side of kale, just 395,000 search results appear related to “Dangers of Kale” appear. While that is no scientific survey, it gives you a glimpse into that state of kale.

Looking into the nay sayers of kale; quite easily I discovered that since the hay day when kale could do no wrong circa December 2013, around January 2014 just in time to catch the wave of kale love, Dr Oz and the New York Times came out with an argument for why too much kale can become a bad thing. Apparently some studies found if you have an iodine deficiency, too much Kale or just about any leafy green and other foods can lead to production of goitrin which blocks thyroid hormone synthesis.

Of course you can find a study to make just about any claim you like. And if Dr Oz or NYT were trying to catch a popular keyword at the right time with some controversial news like “your kale juice is going to kill you” they certainly knew when to strike. But if nothing else it is just a small warning that even kale along with many other veggies can cause issues when you don’t change up your greens from time to time. So, I guess it’s time to learn to like a beet salad occasionally, or some sautéed zucchini. Lesson learned.

If you are worried about too much kale or iodine deficiency, the solutions are simple, though it’s still probably a good idea to mix up your meals from time to time (I can definitely work on that). To counter act the deficiency simply eat some iodine rich foods such as seaweed. Also the selenium in  brazil nuts can support proper iodine levels.

And now that I’ve taken advantage of my own fear mongering, I wanted to just re-earn some kale karma, if you will. During my research of kale I didn’t actually see a complete description of what is so great about kale. So here is my own improvement on that.

So what does kale have? How about protein and omega 3 fatty acids? It contains vitamins A,C, and K, minerals phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and zinc. When consumed raw it’s is considered to be a precursor of glutathione (the mother of antioxidants). It fills you up and is loaded with fiber and iron helping your blood and digestion. It wont hurt your low carb or low fat diet, it certainly isn’t going to add many calories if counting is your game. You can eat it raw, cook it, juice it, chop it up fine and add some sauce. Kale’s health benefits may prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Is that enough?

If you ask me, while there are many foods out there in the veggie family with similar benefits, kale takes first prize for availability, cost, and health benefits. Sure I’ll have to cut down to a few meals a week instead of a salad every day. But kale isn’t going anywhere for me. I’ll just make sure to eat some brazil nuts with it. 😉