St. Patrick’s Day and Prejudice in America

By | Universe

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

By | Life

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
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

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

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.

startup-593304_1920

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.