After six years, I’ve decided to share the story of the moment my life changed forever. Through many surgeries years ago, I found something new in myself I didn’t think existed and it altered the rest of my journey through life.
Blown away by even just the first track of this record. I’ve been anxiously awaiting its release. If you were a child of the 80s, a fan of video game music, and just like tunes that make you feel good, this is your jam.
Crazy or crazy awesome? A week long business trip with no laptop...
I’m on a flight back to San Francisco after spending a week in New York on business. But something was different about this trip that I’ve never done for anything outside of vacation: I didn’t bring my laptop. Some of you might think that I’m positively insane for having done that, especially considering that it’s a business trip. But the conclusion of my experiment didn’t surprise me: I didn’t miss my laptop at all.
For this trip, along with my iPhone I brought my iPad mini with the matching Logitech keyboard case. My reasoning was simple: my laptop provides me with so much distraction and with the right apps, I can accomplish most everything I need to on my iPad or iPhone. Plus, there are many advantages to this setup.
Last Tuesday I flew Virgin America to JFK, using the WiFi the whole time and accomplishing a crazy amount of tasks, mostly email. The trip was a little less than five hours and I was using my iPad the entire time. Normally this would have crushed even the most lengthy laptop battery, but I landed with 58% battery still remaining so day one was a wild success.
Wednesday I presented my company Circa, at the paidContent Live conference. I didn’t have to have my laptop present as I just emailed my slides in prior, but even if I did need to present from my own machine, I already had the appropriate connectors for my iPad mini. There was one moment prior to the conference where I needed to make a change to my presentation and send it in. Even though I don’t have a fully fledged version of Keynote on my iPad mini, I was able to use Screens VNC and over LTE dial back to my computer at home. The changes were made remotely, uploaded to Dropbox, downloaded onto my iPad and then emailed in. Easy.
Thursday I was running around NYC a lot to different meetings, so the added portability that the iPad gave me was very welcomed. I have a small sling bag that it fits beautifully in along with all of the necessary accessories. But the big difference here is that it’s small, slim, and doesn’t get in the way while traveling around – and it’s amazingly light to boot. I’d consider this day a success too.
Friday was the Lerer Ventures CEO Summit (Circa is a portfolio company of theirs). During the presentations there were a few moments that I needed to get a bit of work done here and there. In any other scenario, if I pulled out my laptop it would be almost guaranteed that I’d get sucked in and barely pay attention to the presentations. But instead, the iPad granted me the ability to quickly open it up, get the tasks done, and close it all without any additional distraction. That way I could pay attention to some of the fantastic speakers Lerer brought in, like Newark Mayor Corey Booker and Statistician Nate Silver.
Saturday was going to be a bit more of a chill day. Even though I still had a few other meetings to take care of, I found a few times to just sit and hang out. In the morning, I shacked up at a coffee shop for a while and got a ton of work done. Then after those meetings and hanging out with a few friends, I killed sometime at a quiet bar, cranking out on email over a beer. I’m not sure that in that situation, I’d have felt at all comfortable just dragging out my MacBook Pro casually. Let alone lug it around all day.
Now I’m on a 7:30a flight back to San Francisco and I’m typing up this blog post in iA Writer which goes full screen with no menus or anything, allowing me to focus on the task at hand.
All in all, this whole week I never missed my laptop. Ever. Though I should mention it was also relieving to know that at any moment if I might need the capabilities of my MacBook it was only one remote connection away. It’s likely that I’ll conduct future trips in this manner, as the sacrifices I made by leaving my machine at home were greatly outweighed by the convenience the iPad brought me.
How did my Google Reader logo become the "default"?
Five years ago, I was wanting to install Google Reader on my desktop with Fluid but noticed I couldn’t find a good icon for it at all. So I made one, and posted it to Flickr. I didn’t have any expectation when I posted it to Flickr – just that other people that wanted to have it could use it. A while later I stopped using Google Reader and forgot about this whole thing altogether.
Fast forward to now and Google Reader is getting shut down.
Note: Google Reader does have an official logo, and it looks like this:
So the big question for me was, how did my icon become the “default” one? I’m seeing it in so many blog posts now that Google Reader is getting shut down, as well as the fact that it’s also on the Wikipedia page for Google Reader. Here’s how I stumbled upon my own image:
So the first image is some semi-fake looking logo, that is basically a combination of the official Google Reader logo, and the Google logo. What’s the second? My icon. What would most journalists probably grab? The slightly less fake-looking one.
Creative Commons, oh well?
What’s a bit of a bummer around all of this is that our remix culture has gotten ahold of this image and there’s basically no tracing it back to the original anymore. Even the Wikipedia page says that somehow it’s the “official” logo and copyright of Google. Now, I don’t particularly care but it should be noted that my original posting of this image was listed as Creative Commons: Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works. I only randomly happened upon seeing my own image elsewhere because of all of the big news around Google Reader. So what about all of the images that are out there, getting copied and derivative works made from every day? Something tells me this is going to be a really tough issue going forward.
UPDATE: I have since changed the original image’s Creative Commons license to CC-BY-SA.
For now, I’ll just be the unnamed creator behind the official unofficial Google Reader logo.
So far in my career in technology I’ve started three very different companies — Socialthing (social media management), SimpleGeo (geolocation infrastructure for developers), and Circa (mobile-first news). One of the most common questions that I get from other startup folks or press is usually around how different they are, and what ties them together.
Solve real problems
The role I’ve played in my companies has mostly revolved around being the product designer and leader. This basically means that I come up specific product ideas and find the right path to see them implemented. But how do I decide what the startups should do in the first place? It’s simple – I look for a problem in my life that seems to be burning for an answer. By nature these problems need to be pretty significant for me to feel like I should take on the responsibility of solving them for myself and others.
How many times have you heard a pitch similar to “we’re the X of Y”? Sometimes this gets the job done but I much prefer to ask the question: “what problem does your company address, and what is your take on how to solve it?” If there isn’t a succinct answer to this question, or an answer at all, then I personally don’t believe they’re often ideas worth pursuing. There are obvious exceptions to this rule – Twitter being one of them so I won’t claim that this is foolproof.
Here’s a few examples of the companies I’ve co-founded, the problem that existed, and why we felt like we could solve them:
Socialthing (2007-2008, acquired by AOL)
Problem: My social accounts were numerous, with content and friends spread across many websites. Remember: at the time Facebook and Twitter weren’t by any means *the dominant players.
Solution: Provide an interface where I could easily aggregate all of my own and my friends’ social accounts. This would make it easy to have a single dashboard to see all of the activity going on everywhere at once.
SimpleGeo (2009-2011, acquired by Urban Airship)
Problem: Handling, storing, parsing, and analyzing location data was very difficult with the tools that existed at the time.
Solution: Build a platform that makes it easy to do things like pass coordinates and identify all information about that location, scaleably store millions of location-based data points and search efficiently through them, as well as make it easy to have a single point-of-interest database without legal restrictions all through a simple API.
We’re actually solving two major problems with Circa, but conflated to a single product:
Problem 1: Reading long news articles to get caught up with recent events and top news while mobile tends to be time-consuming, too attention-intensive, and counter-intuitive to how people use smartphones.
Solution 1: Instead of creating longer articles that are intended to be read in print or on the web, then trickling down to mobile, we should write stories that are succinct, contain all of the facts and details, but specifically written to be read on a mobile device first.
Problem 2: Keeping up with news stories I care about is impossible without constantly searching for updates.
Solution 2: Instead of writing new articles each time a story arc continues to develop, write a single story that can evolve over time and notify readers that are interested in receiving updates.
What problem are you solving?
Think of some of your favorite startups, and imagine what problem they might be addressing. Some that come to my mind:
Dropbox: Synchronizing files across devices was too technical for average consumers to do it
Mailbox: Managing an overflowing inbox is difficult
Uber: Requesting and subsequently paying for transportation is commonly inefficient
All of these examples are tackling a difficult problem and addressing it to provide a clear solution for their users.
Solutions looking for a problem
In some cases I’ve seen companies that seemed to provide a product that didn’t seem to be solving any actual problem. This tends to make the whole product development process incredibly difficult, as well as the marketing of said product.
Ask yourself a question
One thing that we instituted when Socialthing was established years ago was to constantly critique what we were doing by asking a specific question for each new feature or service we created. This question was: “Will this make someone’s social networking easier?” Any time we developed something new, we would point to that question which was written on the board and make sure we were accomplishing that goal. If something didn’t aid in answering that question, we would table the feature.
If you’re a part of a company, you should go through the exercise of trying to identify the problem you’re trying to solve and the specific answer you’d give on how you’re solving it.
Ok so I’ll break it to you…Virgin America doesn’t have a “Baller Status.” But they should!
Just imagine hearing “Anyone with Baller Status is now free to board” or seeing “These seats reserved for individuals with Baller Status.”
Urban Dictionary refers to “baller status” as "someone who everyone recongnizes for their accomplishments and what they have." I hear people say they’ve got “baller status” plenty to joke about having a certain level of privilege, etc. — which is why someone should adopt it as an actual status level and reap the marketing gold it’d bring with it.
Now, I don’t know exactly what Baller Status would get you, but Virgin is certainly the best brand to pair the name with as they’re a young travel brand with a great attitude. Maybe it could be Virgin America’s version of United’s Global Services.
I’m telling you…marketing GOLD.
And if anyone ever implements this idea…the only recourse I ask is that I am granted Baller Status for life.
So many times throughout our lives we might be given criticism — some that we agree with, and some that is hard to hear. But giving criticism is equally important as receiving it and taking it to heart.
I recently took part in a meeting that was set up by a friend of mine with another startup founder. It was a great chat and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity, but afterwards my friend had a few words of criticism for me. They weren’t harsh, but spoken plainly and succinctly. His thoughts made sense and came across in such a way that I immediately accepted them, but it made me realize something that I don’t think enough of us do on a regular basis — telling colleagues, friends, family, and others what’s on our mind.
It’s my belief that the main hesitation we tend to have with giving some constructive criticism to someone we care about is that it might somehow hurt their feelings. But in reality, by not being vocal we’re more than likely setting them up for failure in the future. Instead, I think it might be better if we were more open with our opinions and gave transparent, thoughtful criticism to set people up for success. I for one will do my best to not bottle my opinions around my colleagues, friends, etc. going forward and speak my mind in a helpful way.
Don’t be afraid to deliver some helpful criticism, in reasonable amounts obviously, to those you care about. Sometimes it might not be easy to do, and to those on the receiving end it may not be easy to take, but it’s good for all parties at the end of the day.