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Rich

This One Thing in The Last Jedi Really Ruined It For Me

By | Universe | No Comments

I just saw Solo. I want a sequel.  But what I really want is rant about The Last Jedi right now.

There’s a saying I heard somewhere about that the only thing Star Wars fans hate more than Star Wars’ critics is Star Wars itself. Might be true for me as I reflect on The Last Jedi.

The more distance I get from The Last Jedi the more I am pissed off about the resolution of the Finn/Rose/Poe conspiracy. To be fair to the movie, I really enjoyed the Rey/Kylo/Luke story arc. But the more distance I get from The Last Jedi, the more this one thing really grinds my gears.

Let’s summarize:

  • Poe asks for information from his commanding officer
  • She deems it unwise to share with him, given his reckless behavior
  • Pissed off by the slight, he proves his recklessness by defying orders in two huge ways:
  1. He sends two people, a mechanic and an ex-Stormtrooper, on a crazy one-in-a-million-shot mission
  2. He mutinies and captures his commanding officers

Let’s pause here

The one-in-a-million mission was a failure. That’s fine. It’s actually pretty good and it’s nice to have some realism (for lack of a better word) play out, as opposed to a non-stop barrage of one-in-a-million things panning out all in the same movie.

I don’t have a problem with the mission itself. Even the entire casino planet being a pointless diversion except to maybe play out a freedom-from-oppression allegory and introduce us to the new character, DJ. That’s fine. Whatever.

And the plans fail. That’s great. Better yet, they get betrayed by the morally-absent new character, DJ. That was fantastic. In your heart of hearts, you were secretly excited for a “new Han.”  A scruffy, stuttering, hacking genius was there to tease us and to make us think we had a new Solo who was going to join up and save the rebels, flying out of the sun to blast the baddie at the last minute. Admit it, you thought it, you hoped it. I did.  But no, the tables turned on him and he turned on his new friends. That was a great twist.

Not only does DJ turn on the two misfits he brought on the ship, but he turns on the entire rebellion by helping The First Order track the loadlifter ships that were fleeing in secret. The First Order otherwise would have never noticed. That’s Crait salt in the blaster wound right there.

Fast forward a bit

  • Leia wakes up from her near-death and blaster-stuns Poe
  • The rebels begin their evacuation on the loadlifter ships
  • Holdo stays behind
  • First Order starts shooting down the evacuation ships
  • Holdo sacrifices herself to shred the mega-class Star Destroyer (fucking amazing BTW)
  • Finn, Rose & BB8 escape to join the rest of the rebels on Crait

It’s at this point that I’m starting to become the True Star Wars Fan. My transformation is nearly complete.

Poe, along with Finn & Rose are put right back into the rebel troops. And Poe still holds his position as an officer.

In what universe would a mutiny leader be left in a commanding role? Shouldn’t he have been spaced? (I’m crossing universes with that jargon, but you know what I mean.)

Not only did Poe lead a mutiny, but his actions along with those of Finn, Rose and BB8 led directly to the deaths of hundreds of the (already severely diminished) rebel fleet. The escape to Crait would have gone of perfectly smoothly, without the First Order ever noticing if Poe had just followed orders of a commander who was wiser and less self-absorbed. There would have never been a Battle of Crait, and there would be hundreds more alive, ready to continue the rebellion another day.

I’m not saying this because I think there shouldn’t have been a Battle of Crait. Quite the opposite.  The battle was awesome. Nor am I saying the plot line was bad. It wasn’t; it was fantastic. Everything coming together in the rebel’s last stand.

Missed opportunity

I’m saying this because there was an opportunity to enrich the plot by holding Poe, Finn, Rose, and even BB8 accountable for mutiny, treason, and the deaths of a hundred or more fellow rebels. Instead, they’re back in the ranks like nothing ever happened.

The character arc of “Poe learns his lesson” and decides at the last minute to call off the frontal assault against the battering cannon is pathetic. He mutinied! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths! That doesn’t phase him or anyone else, at all. Anywhere.

There’s a great chance to add some distention to the ranks, for the rebel alliance to have internal divisions to overcome. There’s an opportunity to turn from black/white characters and add some layers of complexity. Is BB8 a fun party droid, or a mutiny conspirator partially responsible for hundreds of deaths. Is Finn a reformed Stormtrooper, or mutiny conspirator partially responsible for hundreds of deaths. They are both. And that would make them better characters.

Instead, it’s brushed under the rug, and we all escape in the Falcon singing kumbaya without acknowledging that major mistakes were made, that a mutiny—no matter how well-intentioned—led directly to the deaths of hundreds of fellow rebels.
None of that got addressed. At least for now. Maybe it will get addressed in the next film. Maybe.

Until then, my transformation to True Star Wars Fan is complete.

What’s In There? Only What You Take With You.

By | Life | No Comments

Master Yoda

During the Dagobah scenes in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Master Yoda shares a lot of wisdom with Luke Skywalker. We all know the most famous, “Do or do not. There is no try.” It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture—especially startup culture—that it brings on ennui for me. It’s such a well-worn path that it hardly bears repeating.

There’s another interaction between Luke and Yoda that I prefer for its depth and multiple layers of meaning.

Scene: Luke stops deep in the jungle, and sensing darkness emanating from a nearby cave, he turns to Yoda.  

Luke: What’s in there?

Yoda: Only what you take with you.

Take a moment to reflect on that:

What’s in there?
Only what you take with you.

In literature and in Star Wars, the cave is a metaphor for a journey inward.

The Dark Side Cave

What’s In There?

Luke didn’t know what was in there, but he went in regardless. He brought in his fear and anger, and that is what he faced.

We go into every day not knowing what lays ahead. Sure, we have our calendars organized, and know where our lunch meeting is, and who to expect at the client meeting. And we know what we can reasonably expect when we go home. But we don’t really know what’s in there, be it on the road, in a meeting, or at home.

We don’t know, because “knowing”  implies certainty. We know precisely when the sun will rise for any particular point on the earth on any particular day. But we don’t know if our lunch meeting is going to happen, if the client meeting will go smoothly, nor if we will close that deal.

What’s in there? We don’t really know. But we go regardless.

Only What You Take With You

Luke was arguably not ready to face his dark side, but that cave—that challenge—was on the path of his training. What he found was what he took with him: his anger and his fear.

As we move through life, facing challenges, enjoying moments, getting excited, or being calm, how we are in that moment depends on what we take with us. Did you get blindsided by a difficult conversation? You faced it with only what you took with you. Did you prepare for the meeting? You faced it with only what you took with you. Each day we have new caves to enter with unknown challenges to face, and we do so with only what we take with us.

That is the unspoken layer of this dialog that I love so much: if the only thing in each cave—each challenge—is what we bring with us, then we should strive to bring the best with us at all times. This requires both self-awareness and training.

What You Have

In Star Wars, the ability to tap into the Force is innate; you either have it or you don’t. Luke brought his emotions and his abilities into the cave, just as we bring our emotions and abilities into each encounter. What do you bring to each challenge?

  • What’s in [today]?
    • Are you prepared for the day, coming in refreshed with a good mindset, or are you tired, frazzled and scattered?
    • Only what you take with you.
  • What’s in [your role at work]?
    • Are you adding value, moving things ahead, and keeping your mind & skills sharp?
    • Only what you take with you.
  • What’s in [your relationships]?
    • Are you bringing empathy and compassion into your relationship, or conflict and unresolved emotions?
    • Only what you take with you.

This ties into my Rule #6, “YOU are responsible for creating the world you want to live in.” Do you bring a lousy attitude, distrust, and anger into your world? Wondering why there’s only bad attitudes, distrust and anger facing you every day? It’s what you bring with you. What do you want the world to be? Bring that with you.

What You Can Train

Sometimes what we bring with us isn’t enough. Luke was in the Dagobah swamps to receive Jedi training from the only living master. We are fortunate we have many masters to learn from in our world. We need to train ourselves, or “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey says in his classic, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.”

For example, in a professional environment when there are difficult conversations I need to lead, I spend hours preparing, rehearsing, and getting comfortable with what I need to say and how I want to say it. When I go into that encounter, what I bring with me is a prepared and ready mind. I’ve trained to lead difficult conversations.

To take more with you into each challenge, you must train.

At SpringTime I have much to learn; a lot of training ahead of me. We’re fortunate to have a team with diverse and complimentary skill sets, and we can all learn from each other. In addition, I read blog posts, listen to podcasts, read books (on Audible), and reflect on the lessons.

As a new father, I have many, many years of training ahead of me. There are many challenges to face, some I’ll be prepared for, and most I probably won’t! I read, learn, and reflect to continue my training. With each challenge, what I take with me enables me to be the best possible father to my son and soon-to-be-born daughter.

If we didn’t learn, grow, and evolve as individuals, we would live in a world of screaming infants—whether you want to take that literally or metaphorically is up to you.

Your weapons…

Your Weapons, You Will Not Need Them

Like Luke, I put on my weapon belt. But Master Yoda’s point is that it’s not about the tools on our belt, it’s about our mind and our preparedness. Regardless if I live by my Google calendar, keep all my to do’s in Trello, and take great notes in Evernote, none of it matters compared to what’s in my head.

I know that with each challenge, what I face it with is only what I take with me.

11,428 Startups

By | Universe | No Comments

Everyone talks about the dollars of investment that goes to the Big Three markets (Bay Area, NYC, Boston). According to the PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree™ Report of 2017, 67% of all investment dollars went to those three locations. Every week I read about another fund that is focused almost exclusively on the Big Three. Even in Jason Calacanis’ book Angel, the title of Chapter 5 is “Do You Really Need To Be In Silicon Valley To Be A Great Angel Investor?” The entire chapter consists of one word: “YES!!”

Everyone talks about that percent of dollars. But I find another number more fascinating: 11,428. That is the number of startups that received funding in 2017 not located in the Big Three. That’s 45% of the funded startups last year.

11,428 startups funded outside of the big three.

The corollary to that number is 15,124 — the number of startups funded in the Big Three. Corporations and VCs alike look at that and think, “I can reach 55% of the market by having offices in three cities.” And so they focus their efforts, and either ignore the Rest, or wait for the Rest to come to them. Frankly, many startups do, and I don’t begrudge either strategy. This concentration of efforts creates opportunity.

In what business can you ignore 45% of the market and hope to have a competitive edge?

All of the other markets — “the rest” — go largely ignored because reaching the other 45% is hard. Reaching a concentrated 55% is easier than a widely distributed 45%. Great businesses are built on solving hard problems. And so was Engage Here.

Imagine having scouts give you access to the best startups — the dark dealflow — from two dozen markets around the US. Imagine having access to that amazing robotics startup in Pittsburgh, the manufacturing systems startup in Charlotte, and the hottest blockchain startup in Austin. Yet, it goes beyond access. Sifting through 1,000 startups is hard, sifting through 11,000 is ridiculous.

Engage Here is a distributed scout network based on local relationships. Our secret sauce is the local community leader in each market. We partner with the boots-on-the-ground community builder who is out every day meeting startups. They see everything in their community because they’re the organizer and the consummate connector. If you were to move to their town, they would be the person that four other people would say, “have you met ______?” They are on our team, scouting startups, and sending the best our way.

Let’s be clear: Engage Here isn’t a technology platform; it isn’t a social network, it doesn’t require you to authenticate through your Google account and spam your contacts. Engage Here is built on the fundamental belief that relationships are the foundation of business. Relationships are at the core of everything we do.

To be competitive in this increasingly noisy and crowded space, you need an edge. You need to be able to reach down into the corners of the country, into the pockets of entrepreneurship rising up, and find the absolute best among from the crowd. We are a force-multiplier for your start efforts. We offer curated, dark dealflow from all pockets of the country.

The best part is that everyone stands to gain from your involvement:

  • Startups get access to the people and companies across geographies
  • Corporations get strategically-fitting introductions
  • VC’s get scouts in two dozen markets

Join us and tap the 45% of the market you’re missing.

Here’s a freebie: the Daily Dealflow newsletter, featuring one startup each workday sourced from our network, from every corner of the country. Sign up here: https://engagehere.co/daily-dealflow/

Are you a corporation or VC that wants access to dealflow? Drop us a note.

Are you a startup that wants to be featured: share your information here.

Ride the Wave to Shore

By | Life | No Comments

I should have been a surfer. In another life, I was born on the beach and grew up surfing, with a surfer’s philosophy ingrained into my being.

One of my rules is, “Ride the wave to shore.” I can remember when I first put this in writing, I was sending an email to someone on AOL—probably around 1999. I don’t remember the specific situation, but the context was about seeing something through and enjoying the journey along the way. I’ve ascribed to this philosophy for a long time.

Riding to Shore

On Thursday, my team and I were laid off, as well as nearly the entire organization that supported IBM’s Global Entrepreneur program. I got the news on Thursday morning, and then had calls to inform my team throughout the day. It may sound awful, but frankly, we knew it was coming; it was only a matter of when. One person even responded by saying, “oh that’s happening today? I thought it would be Monday.”

I believe in riding a wave to shore. Sometimes it’s the wave I meant to catch, sometimes it’s a different one. Sometimes it’s everything I thought it would be (and more), and sometimes it’s a let down. Sometimes, I get thrown from the wave before I can take it all the way in. But no matter what, it’s the wave I’m on, and taking it all the way to shore is the best way to get the most out of the experience.

In 2012, I was a part of a startup that was in the SoftLayer Catalyst program, receiving credits for servers, plus mentorship and connections from Josh Krammes and his team. Later, I joined the  SoftLayer Catalyst team as a Community Manager in 2014, covering the Rockies region, and soon began covering everything from Portland to Pittsburgh. In 2015 I took over managing the US & Canada team. I hired a number of people, lost some good ones to attrition, and built out a well-rounded group. In 2016 we fully integrated into IBM and became the Global Entrepreneur program. And in 2017, the whole team was laid off.

I can truly say, I rode my wave right down to the shoreline. Now it’s time to paddle out and catch the next one.

Paddling Out

If you’ve never surfed, then you don’t know the least sexy, rarely shown, and most frustrating part of the sport: paddling out. Waves crash over you, you duck-dive under them, then frantically paddle with your arms and pathetically kick your feet, duck-dive another wave, paddle harder, and paddle and dive, and paddle and dive, and then look back, and it feels like you’ve barely moved at all. The hardest part is the very end where the waves start to break, the undertow is the strongest, and if feels like you’ll never get past it. You’re choking down seawater, barely holding on to your board, and then with one last dive… you’re through! Past the breaks, you can take a breath and float peacefully on the rolling waves of the sea.

Despite my longing to be a surfer, I have actually tried it a few times: in Bali, Indonesia and Ditch Plains, NY. In my brief experiences, I can tell you this: paddling out is hard work. There’s a reason you don’t see overweight surfers.

I rode this wave to shore, and now I get to decide if I want to paddle out in IBM’s waters again, or in someone else’s.

There is an opportunity to paddle out inside of IBM again, and it’s one that would enable me to continue to fulfill my personal mission: to transform the world through innovation and entrepreneurship. To make a move internally is not impossible, but it is work. It’s the unsexy sort of work that requires determination and a some convincing. Waves of doubt crash over you, as you paddle out through familiar, but different waters. Waves of fear crash over you as you put yourself on the line, opening yourself up to rejection.

Through it all, you have to keep your eyes on the prize (another one of my rules) and do the hard work that’s required to catch the next wave.

St. Patrick’s Day and Prejudice in America

By | Universe | No Comments

Ah, Saint Paddy’s day. In my wilder days, I will admit to throwing some great parties to celebrate. I vaguely recall nearly missing a Black 47 concert due too many car bombs (the drink, not the act of violence) the night before. I was living in New York City, the home of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and I’m Irish, after all. I had to represent my heritage with some pride! What I didn’t realize until later, was the history of the Irish in America, and the blatant racism my great grandparents faced. Or even that the St. Patrick’s Day parade was originally a show of solidarity by a repressed people.

As the waves of Irish immigrants landed on America’s shores from the Great Potato Famine, they were looked upon as a drunk, ignorant, and violent people, and ranked lower on the social scale than freed slaves. At a time when an entire race was being subjugated and oppressed through the horrors of slavery, the Irish were thought to be nearly as low.

This idea that the Irish were more than a lower class, that they were a separate race, has deep roots in England, and continued for decades in America. An Irish-Italian union was even considered an interracial marriage up until the mid-20th century.

NINA

No Irish Need Apply (NINA) signs were so common that there was popular Irish folk song of the same name. They were so prevalent, that recently even an eighth-grader could find detailed accounts of NINA postings, and published a research paper documenting their widespread use throughout America for decades.

The American Civil War was raging while the Irish were still fleeing their homeland, and they were recruited heavily into the Union ranks, mostly because they couldn’t get jobs elsewhere. In the army, they were often treated as cannon fodder.

The history of the anti-Irish sentiment stems from Medieval England, and is largely due to religious differences. The Irish held fast to their Roman Catholic beliefs while England turned towards Protestantism. This carried over into America, manifesting in everything from extreme prejudice to acts of violence such as burning down convents.

Modern Ties

The ties of the Irish plight to modern America are uncanny.

Can you imagine an entire country of immigrants being discriminated against so blatantly? Of course you can.

Can you imagine discriminating against people just based on religion? Of course you can.

The story of immigration in America is filled with stories like the Irish. Just ask African-Americans. Or Chinese. Or Polish. Or Indians. Or Mexicans. Or Muslims. Or any non-settler people who emigrated to the US.

Personal Ties

My wife is half Mexican, and so our son is one quarter Mexican, half Irish, and one quarter “American mutt.” I suppose that makes him 100% American Mutt. But some people don’t see their fellow Americans that way — they see differences instead of similarities.

What will his future be like? Will he be discriminated against because of his Irish heritage? I doubt that, as we’ve moved past that prejudice. Will he be discriminated against because of his Mexican heritage? Maybe. I certainly hope that as a country we can move on from that prejudice, as well as all others.

My incredible Grandmother, who turns 97 next month, used to say to me all the time, “we Irish need to stick together.” She was referring to the lingering bias she saw growing up, and a desire to unite Irish descendants under a common banner. When a group of people are being actively discriminated against, it makes sense to stick together based on those bonds. The original St. Patrick’s Day Parade in NYC was an example of this: a show of solidarity, showcasing the Irish presence in New York as a positive thing, not a negative.

Now that we no longer have to fight blatant prejudice and NINA posters, we Irish should stick together to welcome other ethnic groups, religions, and races. We should never promote prejudice, but instead reflect on what it felt like for our forefathers, and banish hatred from future generations. We should open our hearts to people who are different, so that we can “stick together” as one amazing, eclectic, and colorful mass of Americans.

 

Everyone Needs a GSD Day

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Time is Precious. Free stock photo from Harry Sandhu found on Negativespce.co

It’s Thursday night. My son is fast asleep. My wife and I are full from a delicious dinner. I feel totally relaxed, satisfied with a good day of work behind me, and ready for a strong close to the week tomorrow. I feel this way because Thursdays are my Get $#!t Done Days. And I did just that.

I have a recurring appointment in my calendar that blocks out every Thursday from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. I will take one in-person appointment, usually lunch—though today it was coffee—and that’s it. Otherwise, I don’t take any meetings, phone calls, or other appointments. I don’t schedule anything except time to stand at my desk and get. shit. done.

It takes more than just blocking off the time, though. Believe me, it is all too easy to simply accept calendar invites, or schedule meetings over top of the blocked time. I’ll admit to breaking my rule on occasion. Soon one call leads to two, two to three, and before I know it, my morning is gone in a blur of phone & video calls. By then it’s just another day, and I’m scrambling to stay ahead of the ever-mounting tide of work.

Respecting the blocked-off time is just as, if not more, important than blocking it.

With a full day of uninterrupted work ahead of me, it’s the perfect opportunity to tackle the things that require more than 20 minutes of attention. For example, today I spent one and a half hours working on a document for a big project. I was able to get into a flow state with my writing and analysis. If I was trying to hack at this throughout any other day, in between meetings, and in 20 to 40 minute chunks, it would have taken three times as long. Instead, I knew I had my GSD Day, so I kept a scratch pad of notes throughout the week and dove in deep today.

It felt great to knock out something important but not urgent.

Time-blocking is not revolutionary. You’ve probably heard it mentioned in one productivity course or another. I first learned it when I was starting out in sales at Robert Half Technology in 2004, and continue to practice it today. When things get crazy in the startup community, and my team is feeling overwhelmed, we talk about time blocking to ensure the work is getting done, and we’re staying sane.

I have other time blocks, too. Monday’s are my phone call days. I try to pack every single call into Monday; I’ve had many Monday’s with double-digit calls scheduled. Wednesday afternoons I block off to work from home so my wife can go to a yoga class she loves. I sit on the floor with our five-month-old son with my laptop open ready to hand him teething toys. But Thursday are the most important for my work and my sanity.

If you are in a job that pulls you in a lot of directions, schedule a GSD Day. Start time blocking to help yourself get ahead of the tide, and feel better about the quality of your work.

Analysis of Two Years of Investing on Kickfurther

By | Universe | No Comments
I originally wrote this as a review of Kickfurther for the site, Trustpilot. I’m sharing here for posterity’s sake. Kickfurther is a crowdsourced, inventory-backed investment marketplace. Non-accredited investors can put money into co-ops to support small businesses who need cash to order, produce, or manufacture products for their business. 
After reading all of the mixed reviews here, it’s time for someone to step up and share actual numbers, preferably from a depth of experience across multiple consignments. Being a former finance guy, a lifelong spreadsheet jockey, and an investor on Kickfurther since 2015, I suppose that falls on me.
I stepped into Kickfurther with the idea of taking a portfolio approach. I knew that some deals would go better than others, and so set aside money in my budget to begin investing as broadly on the platform as possible. One of the early mistakes I made was tying up too much capital in any one consignment. After that, I committed to invest smaller amounts, preferably around $100, in multiple campaigns.
I have invested in 17 consignments total. Five in 2015, ten in 2016, and two so far in 2017. What follows is my annual report.

2015

In 2015, I invested $850 which returned $917 for a 7.9% return. The APR’s on individual investments varied from 27.9% to 6.6%. The weighted average APR across all five was 15.3%.
One investment was refunded in whole by Kickfurther after they discovered fraud by the consignee. On another consignment, Kickfurther took possession of the inventory, and I opted to receive one item of inventory as partial repayment. The value of that inventory (at cost) is included in these calculations.

2016

In 2016 I invested in 10 consignments, putting in a total of $948. When I am repaid on all ten consignments it will net an 11% return.

Three consignments have completed, returning $332 on $300 invested. The APR’s for these were: 12.9%, 17.8%, 65.5%. Or a weighted average APR of 32%.

Seven consignments are still outstanding. Two are significantly behind in repayment, but both are communicating and repaying, even small amounts, as quickly as they are able. Four have begun repayments. Of those, three are on track, and one came up short on their first payment. The final one is not scheduled to start repaying until May.
I have $837 in active investments from 2016 & 2017 combined, of which $215 has been repaid, leaving $622 in outstanding inventory.

Projections

Let’s assume four are delayed in 2016, that they are all delayed significantly (i.e., 540 days or more), and that the others deliver as promised. Even with delays, I’m looking at a 17.1% APR equivalent.

Analysis

The hardest part of this is the fear of losing everything you put into a consignment. This has yet to happen to me after 17 consignments, including two that did actually go belly-up.
By diversifying and being patient, investing in Kickfurther has been excellent.
I certainly can’t say I pick great consignments. But I can say I will continue to invest on Kickfurther, and continue to diversify my portfolio through numerous, small investments. I like beating the stock market and supporting good businesses with my money.

Spreadsheet & Disclaimer

Supporting documentation in a Google Sheet. This review is not investment advice. Investing in anything, including Kickfurther, is risky and you should evaluate the risks yourself before taking any action to invest.

Six Bold Predictions for Game of Thrones Season Six

By | Everything | No Comments

If you aren’t caught up on HBO’s Game of Thrones yet, then I really don’t have much to say to you. Other than 1) go watch it, and 2) come back after to read this post. If you are caught up, then read on, because with just over two months to go, the time is right for some bold predictions.

1. Jon Is Resurrected by Melisandre

Carice van Houten as Melisandre – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

Carice van Houten as Melisandre – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

The red witch’s arrival at Castle Black was no mere coincidence. She shows up at the gate a defeated and broken woman, questioning her faith in the Lord of Light. Very shortly after her arrival, Jon Snow is stabbed and left for dead. Jon is a man with royal blood (more on that below below), and she is drawn to that like a moth to a flame.

With or without royal blood, one thing we know about priests and priestess of the Lord of Light is that they can resurrect people—even if their own faith is broken. Recall Season 3 when Thoros of Myr tells Arya  how he has resurrected Beric Dondarrion multiple times. Melisandre looked down on Thoros, thinking him less of a worthwhile servant of the light, and wondered how he came to behold such power from their religion. Now it’s her turn. A broken woman with shaken faith comes in to save Jon Snow.

2. Jon Snow is Royalty

This is more of a long-term prediction, as we might not get around to this reveal until later in the series. But, with Jon now resurrected and free of this bond to the Night’s Watch (“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.”), his plotline opens up to the whole of Westeros. At some point his mother will be reveled, and my belief is that he’s the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Eddard’s sister Lyanna Stark. I’m not the only one to think this one may be possible.

3. Daenerys Wins Over the Dothraki

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Let’s not speak about the unspeakable things that will probably happen to Dany as the Dothraki khalasar takes her captive. One thing that GoT is exceptionally good at is unspeakable crimes against humanity—especially against women. Yet here we are, in Season 6, hoping beyond hope that our favorite queen does not get harmed.

Regardless of what happens to her, the arc of her storyline seems to be about her conquering Essos piece by piece, in her quest to get back to Westeros.  After her capture, she’ll eventually win over this particular horde, uniting them and the cities of Slaver’s Bay under one rule: hers. A united Essos, plus a queen with dragons and designs on the iron throne means big battles in the next season.

4. Cersei Goes Berserk

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister – photo Helen Sloan/HBO

And the start of Season 5 she was just an evil, power-hungry, scheming drunkard, by the end of it she was a broken woman with a glint in her eye that can only mean one thing: revenge. After her imprisonment and humiliation (shame… ding ding) Cersei’s world gets a lot smaller. Her uncle shows only contempt for her, her former sycophantic follower, Pycelle, returns the cold hatred she always showed him, and her son the king did nothing to save her. She still has to endure a trial at the hands of the High Sparrow, and to top it all off, Jamie returns with a dead Myrcella from what was supposed to be a rescue mission.

Her world, which previously revolved around power games and her children, has been stripped bare. There’s nothing left of her. She’ll go beyond simple cold-blooded revenge and sink deep into madness. A madness that will be executed by her new champion, the reincarnated Gregor Clegane and his creator, Qyburn. Look for Cersei to take it to a new level of insanity this season.

5. A Main Character Dies

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Conleth Hill as Varys – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Conleth Hill as Varys – photo Macall B. Polay/HBO

Bold! I’m only half-joking. Of course lots of main characters get offed throughout the seasons, and usually in the most shocking ways possible. It’s not really a matter of someone dying, it’s a matter of whom and how many. My lovely wife—who makes a great Daenerys—has made the bold prediction that none other than, Daenerys herself gets killed this season. That’s bold.

I’m of the belief that Varis meets his maker. Someone has to die in the Essos storyline, and I like Tyrion too much and can’t bring myself to predict his demise—which actually makes him far more likely a candidate. That leaves Missandei, Grey Worm, and Varis. We’re starting to like Varis, which means he’s as good as dead this season. Maybe Tyrion and Varis both get killed. Maybe they kill each other!

6. Littlefinger Gets Hunted

We’ve watched the full series through twice, and it’s amazing to see the intrigue and subterfuge that Petyr Baelish weaves throughout the whole story. He is the architect of nearly all the conflict. Without his doing, Jon Arryn would not have died, Eddard Stark would have stayed in Winterfell, and the War of the Five Kings would have never taken place. And that’s just the start of his scheming. We might already hate him for marrying Sansa Stark off to Ramsay Bolton, but my prediction is that he gets found out in the show as the schemer that he is, and hunted down.

Bonus Prediction: Legolas Tracks Down Daenerys

“Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.”

When Dany dropped her ring at the end of Season 6, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Sure, it worked for Pippin and Merry, but it took an elf to spot the leaf. I don’t see any elves around, so the only logical conclusion is that Legolas, Prince of the Woodland Realm, arrives on the scene to find the dropped ring, and join the search. And if Legolas is there, that must mean that Essos is the actually the Undying Lands! Look for Elrond on the Small Council in Season 7. You heard it here first.

Why your startup team should always be pitching

By | Startups | No Comments

Originally posted on the IBM Global Entrepreneur Blog on February 5, 2016.

Product. Team. Customers. Funding. The essential elements of a startup. But one more essential piece is missing: Pitch.

The Pitch is arguably the most important non-business piece of your startup. From your elevator pitch, to your public pitch, to your investor pitch, the more successful you are, the more integral these will become to your business and your life. Because of its importance, you should take absolutely every opportunity to pitch, especially in the early stages.

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The first and biggest benefit from the always pitching mindset is practice. Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong, is the modus operandi of true professionals in every walk of life. This needs to be your motto. Living room pitch practice only takes you so far; get out in front of the public and practice your pitch.

Now that you’re out in the public, you’ll benefit from the next most important thing: feedback. The Lean startup methodology is build, measure, learn. When you have built something, whether mockups, a fully functioning product, or anything in between, pitching becomes a part of the measure stage, and the feedback you receive is part of learning. This accelerates the Lean process for your startup, and gets you closer to product-market-fit, faster. Listen closely to the questions, and aggregate the feedback across many pitches to find the common threads. Use this to iterate for your next pitch and your next build.

Another benefit of always pitching is that you get to show lines not dots. The winner of IBM Smartcamp Boulder, Lawbooth, went on to win the regional and semi-final rounds of Smartcamp because they could show lines–progress and traction across a longer timeframe. The judges in Boulder had seen them pitch many times, and because of this, specifically commented on their growth over the past year. Being out in the community, pitching your startup over and over, while showing growth shows grit and dedication–two things investors love to see.

You can perfect your pitch through IBM SmartCamp and there are plenty of opportunities to pitch in your community too. You can look for some of the more common ones such as 1 Million Cups, events at startup weeks, or pitch competitions at local co-working spaces. Galvanize Pitches & Pitchers is one such example.

IBM’s Smartcamp is one part pitch competition, networking opportunity and a chance at competing for a spot in an incubator with investment in thirty cities globally. The top ten companies from this year’s competition got invited to LAUNCH Scale in October, and are soon to attend LAUNCH Festival in March. Along the way they got personal pitch coaching from one of the top angel investors in the world, Jason Calacanis, and had the opportunity to present in front of thousands of people at both LAUNCH Scale and soon, LAUNCH Festival.

If you’re interested in perfecting your pitch through IBM SmartCamp, you can click here to learn more about the program and enter your email address to receive details about the 2016 IBM SmartCamp.

Sales Primer for Non-Sales Startup Founders

By | Startups | No Comments

Originally posted on the SoftLayer blog on January 27, 2016.

The founder of one of the startups in our Global Entrepreneur Program reached out to me this week. He is ready to start selling his company’s product, but he’s never done sales before.

Often, startups consist of a hacker and a hustler—where the tech person is the hacker and the non-tech person is the hustler. In the aforementioned company, there are three hackers. Despite the founder being deeply technical, he is the closest thing they have to a hustler. I’m sure he’ll do fine getting in front of customers, but the fact remains that he’s never done sales.

So where do you begin as a startup founder if you’ve never sold before?

Free vs. Paid
His business is B2B, focusing on car dealers. He’s worried about facing a few problems, including working with business owners who don’t normally work with startups. He wants to give the product away for free to a few customers to get some momentum, but is worried that after giving it away, he won’t be able to convert them to paying customers.

Getting that first customer is incredibly important, but there needs to be a value exchange. Giving products away for free presents two challenges:

  1. By giving something away, you devalue your product in the eyes of the customer.
  2. The customer has no skin in the game—no incentive to use it or try to make it work.

Occasionally, founders have a very close relationship with a potential customer (e.g., a former manager or a trusted ex-colleague) where they can be assured the product will get used. In those cases, it might be appropriate to give it away, but only for a defined time.

The goal is sales. Paying customers reduce burn and show traction.

Price your product, go to market, and start conversations. Be willing to negotiate to get that first sale. If you do feel strongly about giving it away for free, put milestones and limitations in place for how and when that customer will convert to paid. For example, agree to a three-month free trial that becomes a paid fee in the fourth month. Or tie specific milestones to the payment, such as delivering new product features or achieving objectives for the client.

Build Credibility
When putting a new product in the market, especially one in an industry not enamored with startups and where phrases like “beta access” will net you funny looks, it helps to build credibility. This can be done incrementally. If you don’t have customers, start with the conversations you’re having: “We’re currently in conversations with over a dozen companies.”

If you get asked about customers, don’t lie. Don’t even fudge it. I recommend being honest, and framing it by saying, “We’re deciding who we want to work with first. We want to find the right customer who is willing to work closely with us at the early stage. It’s the opportunity to have a deep impact on the future of the product. We’re building this for you, after all.”

When you have interest and are in negotiations, you can then mention to other prospective customers that you’re in negotiations with several companies. Be respectful of the companies you’re in negotiations with; I wouldn’t recommend mentioning names unless you have explicit permission to do so.

As you gain customers, get their permission to put them on your website. Get quotes from them about the product, and put those on your site and marketing materials. You can even put these in your sales contracts.

Following this method, you can build credibility in the market, show outside interest in your product, and maintain an ethical standing.

Get to No
A common phrase when I was first learning to sell was, “get to the ‘no’.” It has a double meaning: expect that someone is going to say “no” so be ready for it, and keep asking until you get a “no.” For example, if “Are you interested in my product?” gets you a “yes,” then ask, “Would you like to sign up today?”

When you get to no, the next step is to uncover why they said no. At this point, you’re not selling; you’re just trying to understand why the person you’re talking to is saying no. It could be they don’t have the decision-making authority, they don’t have the budget, they need to see more, or the product is missing something important. The point is, you don’t know, and your goal here is to get to the next step in their process. And you don’t know what that is unless you ask.

Interested in learning more? Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO of Hubspot and creator of the community OnStartups, authored a post with 10 Ideas For Those Critical Early Startup Sales that is well worth reading.

As a founder, you’re the most passionate person about your business and therefore the most qualified to get out and sell. You don’t have to be “salesy” to sell; you just need to get out and start conversations.