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The gift economy: Why I became a TWiST Producer

ThisWeekInStartupsWhen I decided to remove the shackles of the corporate cube and begin a career hustling software, my life changed forever. I worked for some great VC-backed companies for the next 13 years and became a denizen of the “friendly skies”, hotels and fast food. In October of 2002 I made a big decision, a decision that was made based upon the needs of my family more than my career aspirations.  I decided to buy a software company with a legacy product in south Florida where I was raised and focus on two things: 1). building a company in a niche industry and 2). spending more time with my family.

For many reasons, not the least of which is the special attention my son needs (A Life of Distraction), the decision to hang up my frequent flier wings was a good one. The impact on my career wasn’t apparent to me at the time, but as I look back at that inflection point I know in my heart it was the right decision. However it didn’t take long for me to become disconnected from the “techniverse”. My connections and knowledge of the industry began to atrophy.

My first blog post was in 2008, but it really wasn’t until Jan of 2010 that I decided to re-engage. I immersed myself in tech blogs and podcasts.  In March of that year I stumbled across Jason Calacanis and This Week in Start-ups (TWiST). My first listen was episode #46 whereby Jason interviewed David Heinemeier-Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and partner at 37Signals. Jason and David have very different approaches to funding and building start-ups, but the debate was brilliant as their passion and philosphies about business rang through with such clarity.

TWiST has had a profound effect on how I think about business. It helped drive me to co-found a company called DzineBox to build an online communication platform to help home and business owners connect with architects and designers. This lead to the incubation of a couple other socially-driven platforms that have viral characteristics. As for my “day job”, the ideas expressed on TWiST have helped me come up with many market driven changes that are transforming a business founded on a legacy based accounting system into a web and mobile consumer focused application for various recreation industries.

In a nut shell, TWiST has helped to re-energize my entrepreneurial spirit and broaden my thinking. Every episode is a jolt of intellectual energy.

In May of this year I became a TWiST Producer. I wanted to get closer to the action and contribute to the show in some way. Helping to produce the show and interacting with fellow Producers is a huge benefit. When I tell people that I pay a monthly fee to be a part of the so called TWiST List, I get some blank stares. “You mean you pay to work for the show?” or “you give them money and valuable feedback?”. These people completely miss the point about the value I receive in kind by being associated with such a dynamic production like TWiST and the talented people involved in this process. The “backchannel” as we call it of e-mails, discussion board threads and Producer conference calls are of great value to anyone who engages in the process. But at the end of the day it’s all about contribution. Like anything, postive outcomes require participation and engagement.

Simplify: My hero from Joplin

I heard a great story on NPR this morning. They interviewed a woman from Joplin, MO who’s house was completely destroyed by a tornado. Picking through the rubble with her insurance agent, they were trying to find anything that was salvageable. When asked how she was doing her comment was, “I’ve been very philosophical over the past couple of days”. She went on to explain that she had a sign in her basement that read “SIMPLIFY”. She’s been taking inspiration from that message over the years. She went on to explain that she had gone through a divorce, is a single parent and is a cancer survivor. This was another step in her journey to simplify her life. To remove the clutter and get back to what’s essential and important.

How profound! I’ve been going through this same trial in my mind over and over again. Simplify – sell stuff – get back to what’s important: FAMILY, your PASSION, HEALTH, GOD and SPIRITUAL AWAKENING!

I started the day off today on the wrong foot, wallowing in self pity, focusing on the destination and not the journey. Finding your passion is a lifelong quest. At least it is for me. If we can remain “in the moment” and stay focused on the “journey” things have a way of seeming less stressful, less burdensome. My heart goes out to those effected by the devastating tornadoes in the Midwest. The hell with this year’s American Idle or who makes the cover of INC this month. People like the tornado survivor from Joplin who can remain philosophical and stay focused on simplifying her life in the midst of utter chaos are truly an inspiration.

What’s the CD maker to do?

Nostalgia: We humans seem to be drawn to it. Most of us have a soft spot in our heart for the good old days. Remember when vinyl was in and you would sit around as a kid listening to your favorite bands, staring at the album cover, the inner liner, the record sleeve and so on?

CDs replaced vinyl records and the distribution of music on CDs reigned supreme in the 80s, 90s and first half of the 00s. Millions and millions of CDs were purchased each year by people of all ages in the $15 to $18 price range. The record (CD) labels actually took something away from us. Those of us in our 40s or older will remember the little 45 records we had when we were kids. The radio hit was on Side A and another less popular song was on Side B. In those days you were able to buy just two songs. The CD industry came along with a more profitable business model for themselves. Someone in a board room somewhere said, “we can’t make any money on two song CDs.” So choice was subverted for profits. The record industry bundled 10-15 songs on one disk and unabashedly charged us $15 to $18 per CD. You may have only wanted one or two songs but you were forced to buy 10 or 12. Great for the music companies, crappy for the consumers.

Along came this digital music format called MP3. The music industry brushed it off as “geekdom” fodder because MP3s had no distribution. That is until Napster came along. One guy, with an interest in sharing his music collection and allowing others to share their music on his server changed the music industry forever. The model evolved into peer-to-peer networks in an attempt to alleviate the issue of illegally distributing copyrighted content.

The music industry, instead of embracing the Internet and the revolutionary way it was completely changing business upon business decided to litigate instead of innovate. They chose to sue companies developing music distribution software like Napster and Limewire, as well users of digital music too. The press had a field day with this, describing music execs raiding college dorms to apprehend the music pirates who were illegally sharing content.

This was the beginning of the end for the highly profitable CD. Apple, along with Amazon, Rhapsody, Yahoo! and others struck deals with the content providers to legally distribute songs for $0.99 each. They unbundled the CD and allowed fans to download just the songs they wanted. For the first time the artists (especially new ones) had a choice. It was no longer paramount to get a band “signed” with a label. Musicians who embraced this technology gave their fans “choice”. Forward thinkers like Radiohead and Linkin Park let fans decide what to pay for their music. New fans just experimenting with these bands can download samples for free. Serious fans have more selection than what stores made available as bands packaged music downloads with concert tickets, videos, books, clothing, etc.

Most people know this story. There are a similar stories unfolding in many other industries, not the least of which is the newspaper industry. The Internet allows anyone to create content and distribute it in ways that were never possible before. This blog post is a good example of that.

So what’s happening in your industry and your business? Are you a content creator? Are you a distributor? Do you sell goods and services? What can we learn from the demise of the CD, your local bookstore and newsstands across the country?

Can YouTube really increase sales?

I have a confession to make. I’ve been resisting the YouTube revolution. I know it’s hard to believe as some people think of me as the Social Media Guy. My son loves doing searches on YouTube for Pokemon episodes, and my wife searches for new recipes and cooking ideas on YouTube all the time. Maybe I am a Neanderthal in that when I search Google, I typically shy away from clicking on videos.

What I learned from YouTube expert Julie Perry of BLASTMedia, is that I am definitely missing the boat. Julie was a contributing author of Success Secrets of the Social Media Marketing Superstars. I recently attended a presentation she gave at the Marine Marketers of America meeting at the Miami Boat Show. Google paid $1.65B for YouTube for good reason. They’ve turned the most popular video sharing site into the second most popular search engine on the Internet behind their own flagship site. That’s larger than Yahoo!, Bing, AOL, and many others. Continue reading Can YouTube really increase sales?

Architectural Crowdsourcing: Is it the end of professional design?

There has been a lot of talk (and even more tweets) in the architecture community about “crowdsourcing” and how it may be the end of the architectural and design profession. In a nutshell, crowdsourcing is the concept of making connections between customers (people with a need) and suppliers (people who can fulfill that need) using the Internet. The “crowd” fulfilling the need for the customer typically post their solutions in a contest-like format. The customer then selects the solution that best fits their needs.

The professional design community, e.g. architects, interior designers and landscape architects appear to be divided on the topic as to whether crowdsourcing is good for the industry, or whether it “commoditizes the art form”.

For those that believe their design practices will be commoditized by crowdsourcing and the Internet, our message is simple: “This is not for you. DzineBox and sites like it is for designers who are ready to step into the future of designer-client relationships”.

Crowdsourcing gives home owners a place to purchase quality design for small to medium sized project. Crowdsourcing is not a good platform for designing a 100,000 square foot office park, but it’s a great platform for someone interested in remodeling their kitchen, adding an addition to their house, decorating their living room or landscaping their backyard.

Today, many people wouldn’t consider a professional designer for these projects. Crowdsourcing gives people with home improvement and remodeling projects access to professional designers. The designer can use crowdsourcing sites like DzineBox to supplement their income.

At DzineBox we only allow professional designers to join our design team. We spend time getting to know our designers and vetting the “real” designers from those who simply know how to use Photoshop and AutoCAD. Secondly, we let the home owner and designer choose how they want to interact with. A designer is free to bid on any project anywhere they want. However they are not required to provide a complete design as part of the bidding process. DzineBox helps home owners and designers get to know one another online without having to travel to the designer’s office or the customer’s home.

In the words of Seth Godin, “We can’t please everyone, in fact, we’re not even going to try. Pleasing everyone with our work is impossible. It wastes the time of our best customers and annoys our staff. Forgive us for focusing on those we’re trying to delight.”

We believe this truly embodies our mission. We are design professionals ourselves. We are passionate about what we do. Our proverbial heads are not in the sand. We are going to upset some people. But we also hope to thrill our clients: both home owners and designers alike.

Fight for Air Climb

On Saturday I walked (as quickly as I could) up 30 flights of stairs in the 2011 American Lung Association Fight For Air Climb at the 110 Building in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I climbed with a number of hiking buddies of mine – our team name is “BlueBag”, which is code for lavatory if you were to go on a multi-day climb on one of the world’s famous peaks.

This was a fun event for a good cause. Hundreds of people did the climb. I was able to make the ascent in 4:15 which earned me the number 7 slot in the 40-49 age bracket. Our team also gained the #1 and #2 slots in the male 40-49, the #1 slot in male 50-59 and #1 in male 70-99. The results can be found here.

I am a cancer survivor, so the climb had special meaning for me. On top of that we just lost a dear friend, neighbor and mother of two young boys to breast cancer. Cancer sucks! I hope these types of events will continue to bring awareness and more especially generate funds for continued research. I often wonder if the funds are being spent appropriately but I am not up for chasing down that thread at the moment. I just want to continue fighting for air!

A life of distraction

On a Sunday afternoon my wife and I did something rather rare for us. We dropped the kids off at my mom’s and drove down to the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, FL to watch Distracted, a play by Lisa Loomer. We weren’t sure what to expect as we hadn’t seen a play in years. We had the sense that this play would have some personal meaning for us, but we did not know how it would manifest itself on stage.

Let’s just say that within the first 30 seconds of the play tears started welling up in our eyes. Why? Our oldest son who is nine has ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He is a brilliant, creative, funny and generally happy kid. Happy go lucky is really a good way to describe him. His tennis coach has to remind him to “run” not “skip” when going after a ball. Not a care in the world and purely free is his normal mode.

These are the positive attributes of ADHD. The negative attributes include impulsivity, hyper-activity (mostly found in males), lack of focus, little respect for others “space”, challenged socially, etc. In our post-industrial world, where the foundation for structure and compliance is built into the fabric of our society, people possessing ADHD are labeled misfits, undisciplined or impulsive.

I happen to think that ADHD is a blessing and a gift. I have mild ADD (the “Hyperactive” part tends to fade away with age) and as a child I was simply labeled “hyperactive”. There wasn’t a widely known diagnosis for ADD or ADHD in the Seventies. I can relate to my son’s actions – most of the time! However the impulsive vocalization (e.g. yelling) and bouncing off the walls drives me as crazy as anyone else.

So there we are at the theater, the curtain opens to a modern living room filled with all of the distractions in our world today, including cell phones, Tevo, video games, etc. The mother of this nine-year old boy is trying to have some meditation time when she hears her son screaming in the background, along with phone ringing and other distractions. The emotion hit me when I heard the kids voice because he was stressing over going to school. Why? Because they were going to have a fire drill that day and the sound of the alarm freaks this kid out. My son doesn’t have a phobia about fire drills, but we are so often challenged my the smallest things that he seems to obsess over.

Small things become mountains for those with ADHD. This is one of the strange paradoxes of the condition. It is challenging for people with ADHD to focus on the task at hand, but they have bursts of hyper-focus on certain things. No one knows exactly why. In his book Delivered from Distraction, Dr. Edward M. Hallow discusses a number of the strange paradoxes of this condition. This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning about the wonderful and confusing world of ADHD/ADD.

As the play unfolds, my wife and I saw our lives flash before our eyes. The parallels to our reality and what was unfolding on the screen was uncanny. It starts with complaints to the parents from those of authority about this restless and undisciplined child. The parents spend a fair amount of time in denial until after a number of psychological evaluations the diagnosis comes back “ADHD”. Then you go through the treatments.

The first comment parents usually make is “I am not drugging my kid”. So the family on stage went through many of the same homeopathic steps that we did in an attempt to normalize their nine-year old boy. The teacher continues to send home reports saying that he is disruptive, doesn’t give kids there space and the universal zinger “he has some much potential but can’t seem to apply himself”. Growing up I heard those words over and over again!

They finally give in and try the medication (the same medication my son takes periodically) and it works great! At least for the teacher. She now has a compliant, focused and quiet student. The kid now “fits into the system created by our Industrial Age past”. The parents are happy to – at least initially until the side effects begin to set in. These include symptoms such as a lack of appetite, nervous impulses (e.g. teeth gnashing, nail biting), a withdrawn state, no desire for physical activities and radical mood swings. The boy rebels “I don’t want to take my medicine today!” My wife and I have heard the exact same objection from our little nine-year old many times and it’s the reason we are in an on again, off again cycle with medication.

The parents in an attempt to try anything begin to experiment with more radical holistic approaches which include a boarding school for children with ADHD. This also includes some radical diet modification. The list of things the boy can’t eat mirrors the diet my son is on: no wheat, no corn, no soy, no dairy, no fish, no turkey, no peanut butter. Do you know how hard it is to find something a kid will eat with all of those “NOs”? Every starch he consumes now is made of rice or potatoes. The only meat the kid can eat is chicken, beef and pork.

Dr. Hallowell and CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD) believe that effective treatment in children and teens requires a comprehensive approach. The best outcomes are achieved when multiple interventions work together as a comprehensive treatment. The play didn’t offer any answers because there is no cure. But the message was clear that love and attention are what children with ADHD really need, because its an attention deficit that their life lacks in our world of hyper-distraction.

Threads of interruption: How to keep your day from spinning out of control

I will admit that I am easily distracted. Staying focused on the “task at hand” has always been a challenge for me. Some people call it ADD others call it a “creative mind” with a lack of “attention to detail”. I imagine if I grew up in the agrarian age I would have a better go of this. If it were my job to plant 10 acres on a given day, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of distractions (no e-mail, no cell phone). Assuming the neighboring tribe wasn’t on the warpath.

In today’s information age we are barraged with interruptions. Besides this blog, how many other interruptions are staring you in the face? You’ve got e-mail, instant messages, Skype calls, Twitter messages coming from tools like TweetDeck, Facebook alerts, LinkedIn requests, etc, etc. And that’s just your computer. We haven’t gotten to your “smartphone” that has apps for all of the above, your office phone and lastly the constant communication (interruptions) from employees and co-workers.

With this “hostile” environment as the backdrop, you must be armed with a plan each and every day. At DockMaster (Exuma Technologies) we developed a strategy called the EX-PROCESS. This process was inspired by two of the greatest writers on task management (note I didn’t say “time management”) that I’ve run across: Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Work Week). Here’s how it goes:

First a Covey-ism. You must begin each year, each quarter, each week and each day with the end in mind. If you do not have a plan when you walk into your office, you are already a target for interruptions. Covey developed a prioritization technique called the 4-Quadrants. This will give you a framework for deciding what is important. Take your “quadrant 2” tasks and assign them to various roles you play throughout the week (e.g. father, husband, manager, soccer coach, etc). Click here for an Excel 2003 version of my Weekly Worksheet. This process will give you a framework for deciding what is important. I like planning tasks by the week. Go through this exercise either on Sunday night or Monday morning and ask yourself: “What are the most important tasks I must accomplish this week” and commit them to writing. (one-page only).

Next, you must follow a set of rules to keep interruptions to a minimum. This is what our EX-PROCESS looks like.


The best tip I can give you is to NOT check e-mail when you first walk into the office in the morning. If you plan to be in the office all day, start the day by tackling a project. Stay heads down on the project for 1 to 2 hours before you start checking e-mail, talking to staff and taking phone calls. This one idea alone will change your life!

Quick Tips:

1. Turn OFF the “tray icon” notification each time you receive an e-mail
2. Do not schedule meetings too far in advance, keep your schedule open as much as possible so that you can evaluate how important a meeting is with a 24-48 hour window.
3. Don’t dwell on projects with deadlines far off in the future (this will be the subject of my next blog)

Boating: The Good Old Days

I was listening to a presentation by Halsey Herreshoff at the ABBRA Newport Summer Social on August 3rd. Halsey is the President of Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame. Halsey was a four-time America’s Cup winner and the grandson of legendary yacht designer Nathanael Herreshoff.

Halsey was reflecting on the economy and the boating lifestyle in general that he has personally watched evolve over the past 70 years. He believes, and I agree, that boating needs to become simple again. Boating has become too complex, we have far too many systems on-board and the amenities that we think we need on our boats mimic what we have in our homes.

Why do we need granite counter tops, audio/visual systems that rival home theaters, and a host of other electronic and mechanical systems that attempt to replicate the creature comforts found in our homes? What we wind up doing is spending more time maintaining these systems rather than enjoying our boats with our family. While the family sits at the dock, gear in hand ready to disembark, dad is below deck trying to figure out where the beeping noise is coming from.

Halsey argues that in the “good ole days” boating was more akin to camping . The systems were simpler, there were fewer things that required maintenance therefore fewer things could break down. Our technology is far superior than it was years ago which is a good thing. But this has lead many manufacturers to cram as much technology into a boat that they can fit.

Boats in general have become much larger, faster and more luxurious in the last five to ten years. If we re-focus our efforts on boating being an alternative to life on “terra firma”, which in essence is the true appeal of boating in the first place, maybe we can get more people interested in boating again.