I feel like Scrooge.
Ebenezer Scrooge is famous for hating Christmas, holiday cheer, children, presents, and the list goes on and on.
No, I don’t hate children, presents, or happiness. But I find myself increasingly at odds with my employees and even my leadership team over holidays and weekends.
I don’t consider myself a workaholic – not because I don’t work enough to qualify –but because I honestly don’t feel like I’m working most of the time. To put it a different way, I love what I’m doing, am surrounded by amazing people, and every day brings new challenges and awesome opportunities. I wake up with a smile.
Except on holidays. Holidays are roadblocks to my world domination plan. They disrupt workflow and lead to schedule inconsistencies, product delays, and general pause in “mojo.”
I’m pretty sure my team looks forward to holidays. Like other “normal” people, they talk about their labor day, forth of July, and other holiday plans. They look forward to three day weekends. And they plan trips around these special days many months in advance.
I’ve been out of the country the past two Fourth of Julys and the past two Labor Days. This isn’t on purpose – I don’t hate holidays that much – but I’ve found that I truly love being able to be productive in a different part of the world, while the US is taking a break.
Bottom line, I need to feel like I’m moving my company forward at all times. Holidays (and even weekends) disrupt this. I know people need breaks (myself included) – but it’s a different need for entrepreneurs. When you don’t feel like you’re “working” then you don’t have the same need for breaks. I want to instill this same purpose and mission in my team, and insure they get up each day with a smile on their face. And I promise to not bug them on holidays… that much.
Back in January 2009 I got an email from my friend Eric Stotz raving about a trip he had just come back from. Eric explained that he went to Cancun for 2 days and was surrounded by 65 amazing entrepreneurs, including Mark Zuckerberg, Tony Hsieh, and Tim Ferris. He was emailing because the founders of “Summit Series” were in LA and he wanted to get a group together to meet up for drinks.
I went to the drinks and heard them talk up an upcoming ski trip. It sounded fun, but I was busy running my business, and it was expensive and sounded more like “play” than “work” – nothing wrong with that, but not where my head was at.
On January 7, 2010, my friend Michael Ritter sent me an intro to Summit Series, suggesting that I attend the next one. Then I got a call from a guy named Jeff Rosenthal. I explained to Jeff that while I was too busy to join another group, I would be happy to make them an app for their next conference.
Jeff was gracious. He told me to let him know when I was ready to join the conference, and in the mean time he’d make intros to help me in my business.
The next few days Jeff and later a few of his colleagues SPAM’d my inbox. But not in a bad way. In an insane – we’re gonna intro you to the world and blow up your business – way. They intro’d me to SHAPE magazine, a major league NFL team, a few major publishers, and it just kept going. I probably had 10 new client calls that month solely due to Summit Series – an organization I had largely ignored and never participated in!
I was pretty blown away. I had known these guys for a few weeks, and they had already been one of the single most voluminous sources of quality leads for my company. I was intrigued – but still not ready to take commit my time and come to the next Summit.
Then, on February 9, I got an unsolicited intro from a friend of a friend to another person at Summit. On March 4, the same thing – from a completely different set of friends. This became impossible to ignore, and when the Summit guys contacted me about putting together a panel on mobile, I took the plunge.
In May, I flew to Washington DC not knowing what to expect. We did the official iPhone and Android app for the conference and I was on a panel, so I knew it’d good exposure.
I found myself with old friends, meeting a ton of new friends, and hanging out with Ted Turner, Bill Clinton, and Marc Cuban, among others. The 48 hours I spent in DC at Summit Series were more impactful than the events I attended in all of 2009. And it got my attention to make sure I wouldn’t miss another Summit in the future.
I’m writing this having just come off Summit at Sea. After DC, the Summit guys decided to try and do the first ever “floating conference at sea.” They invited 1,000 of the world’s top influencers, musicians, magicians, non-profits, and entrepreneurs. I felt humbled to be surrounded by the likes of Richard Branson, Chris Sacca, Tim Ferris, Tony Hsieh, Quest Love / The Roots, Steve Cohen (the “millionaires magician”), Shai Agassi, Peter Thiel, Peter Diamandis, Russell Simmons, Chip Conley, and Swedish House Mafia.
Starting Friday afternoon, and ending this morning, everyone on the ship ate and drank together, listened and participated in talks, kayak’d, tagged sharks, swam, gambled, danced, and got to know each other on a floating boat that spent most of its time in the Bahamas.
It wasn’t the beautiful weather, or the fact that we were on a boat. And it wasn’t a vacation - it was actually a pretty hectic few days with little downtime. It was, by far, the best group of people I’ve ever surrounded myself with, in a setting that put everyone at ease, brought everyone together, and made everyone accessible, done at a scale and in a style unlike any I’ve ever seen.
I have to admit I felt badly about myself after hearing Shai Agassi talk about how he’s going to get the world off of oil in 10 years, or Peter Diamandis talk of solving the world’s biggest challenges quickly through prizes, or Steve Cohen literally make playing cards float through glass in front of my eyes. I felt like I’m not doing enough in this world, that I’m not making a big enough impact, that my calling hasn’t yet been reached, and that I’m not leading my team enough in the way I already know how but haven’t yet done. The level of inadequacy that I felt on the boat is now replaced with intense reinvigoration, drive, and determination to build the best company in the mobile space, to lead my team with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence, and to give back to the world in a way I previously just passively watched others give. It feels like I’ve reset my psyche just enough to truly change my life and the people around me.
If you get invited to Summit Series, go. If you know someone that’s gone personally, ask them to get you on the list for the next one. It’s hard to describe words, but I’ve tried to use them to summarize an event that truly can’t be described, but needs to be experienced.
Verizon is terrified of it. Time Warner is trying to bundle their way out of it. Dish and DirecTV are desperate.
Carriers, cable companies, and satellite providers are all trying to stay relevant. They don’t want to just deliver data service to us. They want to provide content, additional services, apps, and anything else they can tack on to our monthly bill.
The question is, how long can they keep the charade up? All that matters is data. I don’t care if my iPhone is on Verizon or AT&T. And I could care less if I place calls over Skype or the cell phone network. All I care about is a fast, quality, reliable connection.
I don’t care if I watch a movie on Apple TV, Netflix, or HBO – I just want to be able to watch what I want, when I want it. And I could care less if the picture is delivered via cable, satellite, or the Internet.
The advent and increasing domination of VoIP (voice over IP) is making traditional phone companies and even wireless phone companies irrelevant. Skype requires only a data service to make a phone call to anywhere in the world. And Netflix is killing cable and satellite. Why pay $150/month for “cable” when you can pay $10/month for Netflix and watch whatever you want, on demand? Other services like Boxee, Hulu, Amazon, and Joost have great video content and only require an internet connection to work.
The first provider that wakes up and realizes it’s not so bad to be a dumb data pipe will win, because that’s where they’re all headed anyway. People want what they want, when they want it. And to have a great viewing, listening, or call experience, all that’s required today is a quality data connection. In short, with high speed, always on, available-anywhere data, you don’t need anything else other than the data itself, with independent services on top.
It wasn’t always this way. Providers used to add value, and it used to be huge business (anyone in the music industry eight years ago will remember how lucrative the ringtones business was). But it’s not anymore. Providers are scrambling to not become dumb pipes. And it’s the wrong strategy.
Here’s a new strategy. Embrace the dumb pipe. Become the best damn “dumb pipe” out there, with the most reliable connection, highest speed, and lowest cost. Work on making things like carrier billing efficient and inexpensive. Do that and you can replace physical credit cards. Build an ecosystem with 3rd party services on top (and reduce tension by not competing with them). Become more efficient by only providing a single thing – fast, quality, wireless data.
The future belongs to the fastest, most reliable, ubiquitous wireless pipe there is. That’s not dumb, that’s the future.
I attended the Grammys for the first time last night. It was an interesting experience.
1. The award show is LONG. Because it’s produced for TV, every 15 minutes or so, it goes dark for 5-10 min. Meaning, you’re not doing much, except watching Grammy reruns on the big screens waiting for TV to catch up. We were in a box, but if you’re down on the floor, you aren’t allowed to get up during the live show.
2. The show is delayed for 3 hours on the west coast, despite being filmed live in LA. This is awkward, as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and news posts ruin the “surprise” of who won what, long before West Coaster’s even get to start watching. TV networks need to STOP delaying, as if the delay actually means something. If you have to show it at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern, it’s not the end of the world, and it embraces the way we consume media today.
3. They confiscated cameras as you walked into the Staples center, but let you keep your phones. I haven’t purchased a digital camera since I got my first iPhone in 2007, and my phone takes high res video as well as great photos (here’s a clip I took last night of Arcade Fire). It’s a futile attempt to block images and video from escaping the venue, aside from their own highly curated feed, and it’s very old school thinking. Just let the information flow, it will drive more interest the show.
4. My friend Shira Lazar did a great job interviewing celebs behind the scenes, tweeting about it, and driving interest in the show via social media; she was part of the Grammy’s social media efforts. This morning I read that the ratings were the highest that they’ve been in 10 years with ages 18-34. Social media is a huge part of it.
5. Arcade Fire, a more “indie” band from Canada rose to the top to win Album of the Year - the show’s highest honor - beating GaGa, Eminem, Jay Z, and others. They themselves seemed surprised at their win, and after their acceptance speech played an unscheduled additional song for everyone.
6. The Grammy’s feels like an “insiders” show - meaning only the very biggest artists perform and present, and it’s nearly impossible for newbies to make any noise. That being said, I had no idea who Esperanza Spalding was, who won Best New Artist, beating out Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence + The Machine, and Mumford & Sons. And Arcade Fire’s win certainly went against the grain.
Overall, the Grammy’s is really a massive concert, with every possible genre performing, with some awards in between the performances, put together in a highly controlled and curated three and a half hours. If you’re in the business of music, it’s also a great networking opportunity; before and after the show, everyone is in town at the same time, and during the show, the pre party, boxes, and after parties are the place to be.
Thanks to Nokia for the invite.
Here are some of my (mostly LA based) favorite startups for 2011.
Betterworks is bulk buying employee amenities like gym memberships and giving business owners a cohesive program to provide employee benefits at a reduced price. Co founded by one of my favorite people in the LA tech scene, and major LA angel turned entrepreneur @paigecraig, definitely keep an eye on this one.
Newspepper has a unique model of covering tech news - they hire college students on the cheap. But that doesn’t mean they sacrifice quality. British tech news queen @hermioneway has moved from the other side of the pond to bring this unique model to Silicon Valley and LA.
Gtrot is trying to be a “Tripit for college students” helping spring breaker’s everywhere coordinate, among other things. It’s led by one of my favorite young entrepreneurs, Brittany Laughlin. Follow her here: @br_ttany.
Beachmint is making it easy for girls everywhere to get trendy jewelry at a steal, and ended 2010 with partners like Kate Bosworth. The startup is leading the charge in a new wave of “social ecommerce.” It’s led by two ex-Slingshot labs execs and brilliant guys, Diego Berdakin and Josh Berman.
People love video, and Tinychat has quickly become the #1 video application on Facebook. It allows “many to many” video chat rooms, allowing stars to chat with their fans, and fans to chat with each other. The startup has managed to attract big names to their service and boasts over 5M of video chat minutes per day.
Partners Project was co founded by LA tech heiress @shiralazar and @damonberger and interviews new media stars. Shira has been everywhere in 2010, including a regular show on CBS. The Partners Project aims to become the “talk show” of YouTube. Watch out, Oprah.
Soundcloud is aiming to become the “Flickr” of music. It allows musicians everywhere to collaborate, and fans to share their thoughts. With over 1M members, VCs like Fred Wilson on board, and great execs like Alexander Ljung, 2011 will likely be a great year for this Berlin and San Francisco-based startup.
You know the feeling… you’ve just been on a long flight, and are about to land. Aside from being in a new place, you’ve likely been disconnected from the world for hours (except for WiFi enabled flights in the US) and are clutching your phone. The plane touches down. If you’re like me, even before it fully lands, you’re already taking it out of ‘airplane mode’ (or the non-iPhone equivalent) and now waiting for incoming voicemails, texts, and emails. You try and bang out as many as you can while the plane is taxing to the gate, knowing that it’ll reduce your burden later.
I get more emails than one person can realistically handle. Or, I should say, handle, AND have a life apart from work. Every day I wake up and declare war on my email. On really good days, I leave the office with just a few unread emails, totally doable from home before bed. On bad days, I’m hundreds of emails behind, and have employees, major customers, partners, and more, waiting. “Unread emails” has become my task list.
I’ve tried different techniques ranging from checking email once or twice a day to even having others check and return email for me. I’ve even tried weaning myself off of that metric – the # of unread emails – as a barometer for my productivity. And yet, I keep coming back to the same gut feeling. Email is important, and psychologically you need to feel like you’re getting somewhere, and getting your email load under control, every day.
At USC business school, it was drilled into our head to be “on” your business not “in” your business. Meaning, one of the tell tales of an effective CEO is to build yourself out of a job. Delegate and assign responsibility, and put systems in place for redundancy and accountability. In a startup, this is usually more theory than reality as you build up the business around you. I think I’m maybe 50% there… but my business still needs me to be on call, 24/7.
Going back to a typical day, I get up around 630, sometimes earlier if I need to do calls with our European reps or office. I feel like a robot. I get up, look at my calendar, and start doing what it says. On “good” days there are only four or five meetings. On some days, there are more than a dozen meetings; I once did 10 meetings in a day in New York, and calls in-between. My assistant knows to arrange the calendar so that every minute can be used efficiently. The addresses and/or call in #s are clearly in the details of the calendar, so my iPhone recognizes them automatically and I can just tap to call in or get directions. I prefer taking public transportation in cities with good metros, and so my “from” and “to” stations along with the details are clearly inserted into my calendar. Time is at such a premium that I find myself not knowing what to do if I have downtime longer than a few minutes.
I’ve often wondered how healthy this is. If I’m letting myself be creative keeping such a packed schedule. If I’m too “American” about work. If I’m a workaholic. Then I look at 2010 and see the pace at which we’ve been able to grow the business, and remind myself that it must be worth it.
Unless you want to take a break. I’ve traveled a ton this year, and all for work. I’ve worked every single weekend. You see, when you’re an entrepreneur, work doesn’t feel like “work” and therefore you don’t need to take breaks as frequently as others do, because you’re not “working” as much.
I try and take a single week a year for myself – and it’s usually the week between Christmas and New Years, when the email volume dies down, when calls and meetings can’t really be scheduled at the same pace, and when I can safely – and without guilt – disconnect.
I landed in Colombia on Christmas day. When I turned my phone on, getting off the plane, I had two more emails than I had had when we took off. Even on vacations, I’ve gotten in the habit of enabling my international data services so I still get email, and taking calls that I receive to insure I’m not letting any part of the business down.
On the 26th I took a ride on the Medellin Metro – the only system of its kind in Colombia. It passes above ground so you can see the whole city, and then connects to the “metro cable” which is a Disneyland-like cable car that whisks you to incredible views of the entire city.
Except I found myself missing half of the scenery because I was checking my email, or Twitter, or whatever. And I knew that I didn’t need to – it was the day after Christmas, no one was working on that Sunday – and yet I still did, out of habit. Halfway up the mountain, I was getting upset with myself. Was I really this addicted? Was I really not able to fully relax?
We stumbled in on a small town square somewhere in a barrio (neighborhood) we probably shouldn’t have been in, and sat down and had a beer. After about 15 minutes, I felt like I was spending too much time in one place. Didn’t I have somewhere to be? Could I really just “waste” time like this?
You see, when you spend the entire year getting wound up so tight that if you lose five minutes it’s a problem, it’s then challenging to do the reverse – “waste” time, or in other words, take a break so that time doesn’t matter. Unwind. Relax. And put the wires away.
And that’s exactly what I’m determined to do. Technology has brought great things to the world; I’m building a business around the latest in mobile technology. But as smartphones proliferate it also requires us to be disciplined in a way we never had to try to be before. It requires us to be unavailable. To unplug. To not check our email. To make an effort to relax. It’s hard. Maybe it’s the equivalent of quitting smoking, or drinking. And I’m determined to do it, starting right now.
People spend a hundred thousand dollars getting an MBA to know how to do business. Others get a “stable corporate job” to get their feet wet and get ahead in the business world. There are also endless networking events, business groups and clubs, and books that teach you how to “network.”
Yet business is truly stupid simple. As Karl Rove famously said, it’s about who wants to go have a beer with you. Business is not that far from politics in that respect. If people like who you are, they will help you. Simple as that. And everyone needs help in business, especially when you are starting out.
Business is all about who you know, and who your contacts know, and who their contacts know, etc. It’s not a fair, democratic game. It’s an unfair game of people who like each other doing favors for one another. I don’t mean favors as in giving you business simply because they’re you’re friend. I mean linking you up with the people you need to get to, to get what you need to get done, done.
It’s all about connections. If people like you, they’ll want to help you, intro you to people they know, and become a promoter of your business. If you like others, hopefully you’ll do the same. And thus the business world goes round and round.
By the way, you need to have a quality product or service. No matter how much people like you, if you’re not reliable, or don’t have a truly valuable business proposition, it won’t matter.
You can get an MBA, join 10 business clubs, and read every business book there is, but if you’re not personable, if you don’t help others, if people don’t like you (notice I didn’t say your product or service), you will struggle in the business world. Especially as an entrepreneur, this personal touch is so important as you grow your personal brand and your businesses. So put down the MBA books, pick up a beer, and go connect with real people that can help you along your way.
I didn’t expect to start my new blog with a rant on America. But having just spent 4 straight weeks in Europe, I’m both saddened by my country and worried that we’ve lost our way.
I think that transportation can define a society. In Germany, the transport is efficient, clean, and rigid. In Italy, a little rougher around the edges with a little less predictability. In London, it’s regal (the Heathrow express plays classical music on your journey to Paddington Station). In Paris, you’re “on your own” – rarely are the metro stops announced.
But one thing that has constantly amazed me is how GOOD European public transport is. Every major airport has an express train right into the city. The Eurostar from London to Paris is a miracle, taking a little over two hours to go from the center of London to the center of Paris. Bullet trains, efficient metros, and great connections are at the center of European life, and make doing business and getting around a joy, on a (startup) budget.
Fast forward to China. China is spending $30 billion a year for 10 years building out what will be the world’s fastest, newest, most efficient high speed train system. It will be faster than Japan (which started it all) or Europe.
The United States, for all its current economic woes, still represents a staggering 25% of the world’s economy. Yet it feels like we’ve fallen behind. Our trains are a joke. Especially in my hometown of Los Angeles, public transport means a series of traffic-clogged busses and freeways. We are just getting around to exploring a true metro system, and it’s going to take us 20 years to build it. Why can China cover their entire country (which isn’t that much smaller than the US) in 10 years, and LA can’t even deploy a proper public transport system over the next 20? Why is the US government’s entire high speed train budget a measly $8 billion this year?
I’m a capitalist, and a big believer in the free market. But, I have to say I am jealous of European welfare systems, especially when it comes to healthcare. Europeans by and large believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. In France, healthcare is free. In the UK, their beloved “NHS” (National Health Service) takes care of its population. For all of the “reform” we just passed in the US, we lag behind European countries in terms of providing for the masses. The wealthy get the best care in the world, and the rest of the public may get care, if they have insurance. Where are our priorities?
In most European countries, education is free, up through college. The schools are so good in Italy that people actually want to go to a public school. When was the last time in the US, that someone who had the economic freedom to choose, chose public? Europe seems to have created an education system that doesn’t fail its young, that recognizes that only by providing children with a quality education do we maintain a society that gives a level playing field to all children who can then prosper based on their interests and talents.
Summing it up
I’m feeling sad for the US. I feel like we’re wasting our money on war and government inefficiencies. I feel like we are the laughing stock of the world with public transport. I feel like we’re failing the disadvantaged with what should be a given right: education and healthcare. And I feel like our government has (and continues to) run up such a large debt fighting war that the quality of life that I knew growing up may be a distant memory for my children.
I like to think of myself as an optimist. The US is still the most entrepreneurial country in the world. Millions (if not billions) of people still dream of coming to this country for a better life. And I love my country. But I want us to wake up and reprioritize before it’s too late.
Let’s raise taxes a little bit and fix our roads, schools, and healthcare. Let’s balance the budget, even if it requires cuts to military spending. Let’s show our brilliant American ingenuity and build a world class bullet train system (imagine going to San Francisco in 2 hours from LA, or Chicago in 6… it’s possible with today’s technology). Let’s act like the superpower we are, and use our resources wisely. I don’t want to feel like my country is a second rate power traveling anymore, and typing this on a TGV train, that’s exactly how I feel.
Mobile Roadie Japan!
This year I’ve spoken at more than a dozen conferences, and attended a few more. Speaking at conferences can be fantastic exposure for you and your business, but it’s important to discriminate on speaking invitations you accept; it’s also critical to take full advantage of the ones you do accept.
Here are a few tips:
1. Know the audience. Are you speaking to potential customers/partners/vendors? Or are you talking to people that are unlikely to need your product/service? I always ask the conference for demographics on the audience before agreeing to speak, and turn down ones that have little relevance to my business. Scanning the other speakers and sponsoring companies is also a good barometer.
2. Network. Once you know you’re speaking, check out the speakers list and reach out to speakers that are potential partners/customers. Speaking at the same conference is a great context to do business. This year, I’ve met some incredible partners and customers at speakers’ dinners and panel prep meetings.
3. Mind the farm. Make sure that while you are traveling, your team back at the office has leadership. It’s easy to get caught up at a conference – another time zone, another language, another world – but it’s your team at home that is building your business. Make sure they are supported and that you’re not leaving a leadership vacuum when you travel.
4. Share. I post videos of all of my talks on our internal Yammer and my Twitter account. It helps to give your team context on what you’re doing when you travel. It’s also a great value add for attendees and other speakers to share your presentation. I use slideshare.com – a great, free service.
5. Have something special. I rarely just attend a conference anymore; usually I’m speaking, or Mobile Roadie did the official conference app, or we’re sponsoring. Have a hook – don’t just be an attendee – to get even more value.
6. Be picky. Your time is your most valuable commodity. Even if they’re flying you business class, even if the hotel is nice, even if it’s exotic to be in a different country, it’s not worth it unless it moves your business forward.
Here are a few reasons why I find conferences so valuable:
1. People are focused. When you get people outside of their day-to-day, in a different environment, they are focused on meeting new people and doing business. It’s a different context than meeting someone in their office, and it can be a quick way to build camaraderie and relationships. I’ve met many LA CEOs at conferences outside of LA that I would not have known were it not for the conference bringing us together.
2. Conferences are filters. The more difficult a conference is to attend (either cost of a ticket, location in the world, or invite-only), the higher probability that you’re going to meet serious people. For example, MIDEM, a music conference in Cannes, France, is one of the best conferences I’ve been to. Cannes isn’t easy to get to, and as a result there are mainly C-level attendees.
3. Everyone in one place at one time. It’s hard to get industry influencers, or CEOs of potential partners, etc. in the same place at the same time. Conferences do just this, and as a result you can make a big dent in a small amount of time.