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A Letter to City Council, and Dealing with Difficult Situations

By | Universe

 

Quickleft brewfest - Courtesy of 23rd Studios

On Sunday—a day I promised myself I’d do no work—I opened up Twitter and came across a link to an article, “A necessary education on Boulder’s startup community” written by Nicole Glaros, Rajat Bhargava and Jason Mendelson. I was shocked and appalled, and quite frankly, felt something must be done about it. I retweeted it. That didn’t feel like enough. I emailed the article to some fellow Boulder startup leaders & feeders. That didn’t feel like enough either. I needed to take another step.

I’m a big believer in confronting difficult situations head on. Two of the more common phrases around this idea are, “take the bull by the horns,” or “eat a frog first thing in the morning.” The one I prefer is, “lean into the pain.”

Lean into the pain.

I first heard it as attributed to Coach CEO, Lew Frankfurt, and it resonates with me. I don’t like conflict, and I think that’s a good thing, but I don’t shy away from it. The people I’ve met who seem to enjoy conflict are among the worst people I know in this world. For me, conflict is difficult (maybe painful), but necessary at times. I lean into the pain. I like the phrase because it reflects a certain necessary reluctance, while acknowledging that a challenge must be overcome.

That was forefront in my mind as I began writing an email to Macon Cowles and the Boulder City Council. I felt a personal obligation to say something on behalf of myself and the community I love. It was a “lean into the pain” situation. Did I want to put myself on the line in such a direct and forthright manner? Maybe. Is it scary to do so? Yes. But I  knew it was something I had to do. I felt if I didn’t say something, I would be letting myself down. I took the time to tweet it, then to email it out to friends and colleagues, I should take the time to express my thoughts directly to the person who started this chain of events.

I hovered my mouse over the Send button. I reread my email. I made minor modifications. I hesitated. Putting myself on the line, putting my thoughts out there, confronting someone directly: it’s all scary stuff. I leaned into the pain, and hit Send. And felt really good about it.

Within a few minutes, I received a response from Macon, apologizing for his statement, forwarding his note to Jason, and taking me up on my offer to meet me and get to know the startup community. I thanked him for this and we set a time to meet for coffee in a few weeks.

I feel good about taking a step to bridge a divide, and extending an invitation to someone to learn and participate. This is one of the core missions of Engage Colorado, the group Tim O’Shea and I formed to build bridges between entrepreneurial communities.  I leaned into the pain (hesitation, and fear in this case), took a step, and will look to bridge a divide.

When you find yourself at a difficult crossroads, lean into the pain. Take the difficult step that you don’t want to, but know in your heart is the right course. Look to make a difference, and you will.

Photos courtesy of 23rd Studios


 

What follows is the email I just sent to Macon Cowles and the Boulder City Council in response to Mr. Cowles remarks about the Boulder startup Community, and his response to me.

Dear, Mr. Cowles & the Boulder City Council,

I was disgusted, embarrassed, and upset to read the comments characterizing the startup community as a group of highly paid white men, and then putting the burden of increased housing costs squarely on our community’s shoulders. This is a terrible stereotype for a community that is actively inclusive.

I fully support the response from Nicole, Rajat, Jason, and others in their Daily Camera article.

The majority of members of this community are hard-working, middle class Americans who believe that they can have a positive impact on the world through their efforts. And I would venture to say most of whom would align with you on working to make housing more affordable in Boulder.

I challenge you to compare the Boulder startup community to the Boulder community at large. I wonder, are your stereotypes reflective of the city population as a whole? We, as a city, certainly suffer from a lack diversity, but it’s not from a lack of invitation or openness that the startup community here exemplifies.

By making such off-hand, unsupported comments you tear down what thousands have worked so hard, for decades, to achieve. We stand out as an icon for cities around the world. I have personally been contacted by startup leaders from Canada, Denmark, Tel Aviv, Singapore, Hong Kong, as well as dozens of cities throughout the US, all of whom look to Boulder when building their own startup communities.

What Boulder has built is a model that cities—around the world, large and small—look to for guidance. For a city council member to stereotype it, and tear it down, is embarrassing and counter-productive.

I would like to invite you to get involved in the startup community, to attend events, and meet the people who make this community the global icon that it is.

Personally, I am working with a friend to bring two new events to Boulder this year. The first one, NewCo will shine a spotlight on entrepreneurship and innovation in the city. I would like to personally extend an invitation to the entire city council to attend. If you are interested in getting to know the startup community, please reach out to me and I will give you a ticket, and do what I can to introduce you to the diverse, hard-working Americans who make our community amazing.


 

Dear Rich:

I apologize to you and agree that it unfairly stereotyped the startup community.

I offered my apology to the writers of the OpEd in the Camera, in the following email that I sent to them this morning:

“Jason, I am sorry for what I said and the offense it caused to you and the people you referenced in your OpEd this morning. My comment gave short shrift to contributions and energy that startups and other high tech entrepreneurs have brought to our community.

“I would appreciate it if you would forward this email to Nicole Glaros and Rajat Bhargava, as I do not have their email addresses.

“Not reported in the Camera was the context of my comments, which was the diversity of Boulder, and the recent release of Google’s numbers with respect to the demographics employees. http://tinyurl.com/kcbkelg

“I would like to find a time to meet with you, offer my apology in person, and get acquainted. I respect your accomplishments and would appreciate a chance to get our relationship on a different footing. Would you be interested in this?

“Thanks very much. And again, I offer my apology to you.”

Also, I accept your invitation to get involved in the startup community and would welcome to get the opportunity to get to know you and the startup community better.

Thanks very much for writing. The best number to contact me at is the -3062 number below.

 

NYC Tourist Guide from a former New Yorker, Part 1

By | Universe

Where does a former New Yorker go when he visits his old stomping ground?

In a few weeks I’m off to NYC for my bachelor party, and my best man asked me if there was anything I absolutely wanted to do, or any place where I must go to eat or drink while back in town. Around the same time, my future father-in-law pinged me because he and his wife are heading to NY for their 30th wedding anniversary, and I had offered them suggestions should they ever visit the greatest city on earth. Between those two requests, I figured it was time to sit down and write out my list.

What follows (in two parts) is the best advice I can offer to anyone visiting NYC. The caveat I’ll throw out there is that I’ve been out of New York for two and a half years, and things change there so fast that I’m certainly including a place or two that is past its prime, and definitely missing dozens of other places are sure to be incredible. New Yorker’s are natural foodies, so it’s no secret that the scene changes so quickly. If you have a friend who lives and works in NYC right now, hit them up. Otherwise, my list is the next best thing.

And for this post, I’m linking to Zagat reviews, not Yelp. Not to get off on too much of a tangent, but the reason I love Zagat is because they rate on three factors: Food, Decor, and Service. Each is an important part of a dining experience that can’t be captured by a simple star system. Maybe I’ll dive into why Zagat is far superior in another post, but for now, just enjoy the food. Oh, and understand that in Zagat ratings, a 30 is a perfect score, and anything over 20 is considered very good.

Eat

Chef at Momofuku

Chef at Momofuku, April 26, 2005

Big Wong is the quintessential Chinatown experience. The Zagat rating says it all: 22 for food, 6 for decor, and 12 for service. Go there for either the congee or my personal favorite, the roast pork over rice. It’s the real deal for Cantonese fast food. Which means the place is not the height of cleanliness, service is incredibly rushed, sometimes pushy, but damn that roast pork is delicious.

Joe’s Shanghai has something you must try: soup dumplings. Expect to be sat at communal tables with complete strangers, but don’t worry, they don’t care about you and don’t want to talk to you any more than you want to talk to them. Do read about how to eat a soup dumpling so you don’t absolutely destroy your mouth on the hot broth. And then proceed to burn off every tastebud anyway. But damn, it’s worth it.

John’s Pizzeria is a local chain of pizza joints, with the one in Times Square. Does that sound like a lose-lose situation? It’s not. It’s real-deal authentic New York style pizza. And it’s inside an old church. It’s not for a fancy night out, but it does make for a great meal if you’re in the area.

Marseille – While we’re in Hell’s Kitchen, which truly was my old stomping ground, if you’re in the mood for a French Brasserie, go hit Marseille for their seafood. You can also visit them for brunch and get the same level of food you’d get at Balthazar, but without the 3 hour wait.

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien – Forget Shake Shack. Well, maybe don’t ditch out on Shake Shack entirely, but if you only have time for one burger in NY, it should be Burger Joint. Just go during off-hours because the lines are insanely long.

MarkJoseph is where you should go for a steak. Forget all the steakhouses you’ve heard about before coming to NY. I’m not even going to list them. No doubt you’ve heard about a famous steakhouse or two in the city. Skip ’em. MarkJoseph is an authentic steakhouse experience, and is not known to tourists. Minimal decor, amazing service, and absolutely massive cuts of incredible meat. I highly recommend going with a big group and getting the porterhouse to share.

Blue Smoke is my top choice for BBQ in the big city. (Especially since learning that RUB closed!) Blue Smoke, being a Danny Meyer restaurant, has absolutely amazing service, and of course delicious food. And I wish I could recommend RUB to you, because it was an amazing BBQ joint, but unfortunately, they closed 🙁

Eataly – I wasn’t sure if I should put this on the Eat list or the Experience  list, because it’s both a place to eat and an experience to be had. Let’s stick with the Eat list for now. It’s a grocery store unlike anything you’ve seen. It’s also a series of restaurants, but each counter only serves one thing. There are counters for the different types of “restaurants” within the store for everything you’d expect: espresso, fish, meats & cheeses, pasta, pizza, and sandwiches. You can’t get pasta at the fish “restaurant” for example, so explore the whole place, decide what you want to eat, and stick with that. Because of this setup, it’s not good for big groups.

Lil’ Frankie’s is where to go for what we all think of as Italian food: spaghetti and meatballs or a Neapolitan pizza. It’s cash-only, and also super crowded because it is a mainstay of the east village.

Catch is the place you want to go if you want to hit the trendy Meatpacking district for an expensive meal. The food is incredible, and the scene is exactly what you’d expect from the area: see-and-be-seen.

Finally, a few other places are worth mentioning for some unique fare. City Bakery has pretzel croissants that are to die for. Luke’s Lobster Shack has the best damn lobster roll this side of Maine, and there are locations throughout the city. The Meatball Shop is exactly what it sounds like, and is amazing for it. And lastly, it’s worth every penny to get a $12 salad at any of the Chop’t locations, particularly for their dressings.

Drink

Disco ball in a Brooklyn bar

Disco ball in a Brooklyn bar, October 29, 2005

Surprisingly, I don’t have as much to offer on the drinking part of my old town. Partly, that’s due to the highly situational nature of going out in NY—some places you hit early in the night, some late, others only on off nights, and some could be the best place in the world one night but totally dead the next. And then there’s the fact that bars change over more than the restaurants do. For example, two great dive bars I would like to recommend are closed down. What follows are the best of what I feel comfortable recommending.

Dead Rabbit – This is top on my list since a recent visit to NY.  I was introduced to their drink menu so large it could be confused for a novel, then served an ass-kicking cocktail in a porcelain tea cup. There are two levels to this bar, be sure to go to the top floor for the full experience.

Swift’s Hibernian Lounge has live jam sessions on Tuesday nights (at least they used to a few years ago). In addition to that, they have a great beer selection.

Molly’s Shabeen is about as seriously Irish American as a bar gets. Don’t make a special trip for it, unless hunting down a perfect pint o’ the plain is your thing (as it is mine), but if you are in the neighborhood, I highly recommend checking it out.

PDT – OK, so you have to enter through an odd door inside of a hotdog shop (granted, it’s Crif’s, but still…) in order to pay for pricey drinks. But the drinks are well made and damn tasty.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment: experiences to have and traps to avoid.

 

The Golden Rule for Speaking at Business Events

By | Universe

I was at an event this morning about traditional funding, crowdfunding, and investing excess cash. There were three speakers, one for each topic, and an informal Q&A. Two speakers really nailed it, but one totally missed the mark, making a mistake that is all too common when speaking at networking events: he only talked about his services.

The golden rule for speaking at networking events or meetups is this: ADD VALUE. Bring something to the table. You’re an expert in some area, so share some knowledge. It’s OK to give an introduction about who you are, what you do, and what your company does. But that’s it, and keep it short. After that, add value for the attendees.

When I was in tech staffing, I would sponsor meetup groups for the technologies where I did business. As the sponsor, I bought the pizza, salads, and soft drinks for the event, got my logo & link on their newsletter for that month, and got 5 minutes in front of the audience. I always used that as an opportunity to add value. I never pitched my services or told about why I was awesome. I would give a quick (15-30 second) intro about who I was, where I worked, and what I did. That’s it. Then I’d jump right into adding value.

I’ll give you some examples; here are some topics I covered in my years of doing this:

  • How to get your resume down to 2-3 pages
  • Working with recruiters 101
  • Why & How to use LinkedIn (this was 2006, btw)

The attendees of the NY/NJ .NET Users Group were not there to hear about job hunting, resumes, or networking, but those topics are relevant to everyone at some point in their careers. They were also my area of expertise, and so I used the opportunity to add value in an area where I could.  If necessary I would have a few slides, and would always keep my time under the 5 minutes given to the sponsors.

Photo from @themikelaszlo

Photo from @themikelaszlo

This morning, the event was sponsored by JP Morgan and Lazlo Law. I always meet new and interesting people at their events, and Mike Lazlo always adds value in his talks. He dropped a lot of knowledge about the different types of crowdfunding, the emerging markets for crowdfunding-for-equity, and the things you need to do before you get into any sort of crowdfunding.

The representative from JP Morgan Private Banking, Erica Carpenter, talked about what to do with excess cash, and had a lot to share about what options are out there, what the risks are, and what the potential returns are, too. The big take-away from her was cash from an initial investment can be put to work for your company, most importantly with limited risk. As a former finance guy, I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought about this myself—but then again, as an entrepreneur, I haven’t been in a situation where I have excess cash to invest!

It was the first speaker at this event who fell flat, though. I think he was supposed to talk about traditional funding routes such as SBA loans. I’m not entirely sure. What the audience got was a pitch about why his business is awesome. Even if his intention was to get up and pitch his business, it was all about features, there were no benefits. It was the equivilent of getting up and saying “me me me me me.” More importantly, there was no value to the attendees.

As I begin to plan our events for the fall (through our new company, Engage Here d/b/a Engage Colorado) I’ll be sure to coach our sponsors before they get up to talk to our attendees: ADD VALUE.

If you’re ever sponsoring an event, please follow that rule. And if you want help figuring out what you can do to add value in front of an audience, feel free to ping me, and I’ll be happy to help you.

Supplying the Pot Rush

By | Universe

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In a previous post I alluded to the three key business philosophies that I see as ideal business models. They aren’t necessarily startup related. In fact, in most cases business that embody these models aren’t tech related at all. They are simply three common business models I’ve seen to be hugely successful. They are:

  1. Middle a Transaction
  2. Sell a System
  3. Supply the Gold Rush

 

 

The Prop 64 Gold Rush

The third model, “Supply the Gold Rush”, came to mind this week when I had the pleasure of meeting two successful medical marijuana growers. Despite my twitter handle being @Stoneybaby, I don’t actually partake in the bud. But I am a curious sort of guy, and talked with them extensively about their business. It seems that everyone in their line of work is just scraping by on razor-thin margins, anxiously awaiting the regulations that will allow them to sell pot for recreational use.

One interesting tidbit I picked up was that the price of pot fell from $4000/lb to $1800/lb. This drastic drop in price took place from the time that medicinal marijuana was legalized in Colorado until now. Simply put, too many people saw the opportunity to sell pot legally, saturated a market capped by law, and drove down prices.

When the recreational regulations are finalized and passed, there will be a second gold (green?) rush. Prices will initially skyrocket as supply can’t match demand, which will invite a new wave of growers who will eventually saturate the market, and eventually drive prices back to down to equilibrium. It’s Economics 101, but it’s not the business I want to be in.

Levi Strauss & Waste Farmers

When I think of gold rush, the second thing I think of is Levi Strauss. His family already had a dry-goods business in St. Louis, and seeing an opportunity, he moved to San Francisco to open a branch to serve the growing market. Moving to a growth market is a smart business move in any era.

In our era, I see a business like Waste Farmers as being the next Levi Strauss. Waste Farmers takes food waste from restaurants in the Denver area, composts it, and makes some damn fine soil. If there was any business to supply the coming Colorado marijuana gold rush, it’s the soil business.

And so while I wish my new-found grower friends all the success in the world, I don’t want to be in the pot growing/selling business; it’s just another gold rush. The business I want to be in is the one supplying the goods and services to the growers.

Why compete in what’s sure to be an overly-zealous and quickly-crowded market? That’s the modern equivalent of panning for gold. Instead, I say sell jeans to the miners, or soil to the growers. Supply the Gold/Pot Rush.

The 4-Hour Work-Weak

By | Universe

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When I first read Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week I was in between jobs and looking for my “next big thing.” The book should have been inspirational, or at least motivated me to find my own way to work less and earn more. Instead, what I got out of the book were two very important lessons:

  1. In order to work a 4-hour work week, the author first put in multiple years of 80-hour work weeks
  2. By purchasing the book, the only one who was getting a 4-hour work week was the author

The first point is a no-brainer to anyone who’s worked hard during their career, but the second point is the real kick-in-the-pants.

Seminars

While I was in high school, a family member went to a seminar that was supposedly focused on helping people start their own home-based business. That family member came back from this event with a few items they purchased there and were supposed to be ideas to help them get started. I remember thinking, “the business I want to be in is the one where people pay to hear me talk, and then pay again to buy my crappy products.” Even at that young age, I could see that the seminar was only earning extra income for one person: the organizer.

Fast forward to 2008, when I read The 4-Hour Work Week, and those thoughts were so overpowering I couldn’t even finish the book. I was so disgusted by the sham I bought into–one that I could see so clearly as a 12-year old, but was now wasting money on as a 30-something–that I put the book down and never picked it up again.

This week, when one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Gitomer, wrote a post bashing the 4-Hour Work Week, I couldn’t help but laugh and applaud. I couldn’t agree more:

…all you have to do to get the deep-dark secret they want to share with you is give them some of your money, so THEY can work less and earn more. Funny – in a pathetic kind of way.

Sell a System

I have a few key business philosophies; things that I believe make for great businesses. After I read The 4-Hour Work Week, I added “selling a system” as my second key business philosophy. (The first being “middle a transaction” which I’ll get into at another time.)

The irony of Gitomer’s rant is that he, Ferriss, and this seminar host of my childhood, all do the same thing. They all sell a system. Some are better at it than others–I wonder where that seminar guy is now–and some have better advice than others–which is why I love Gitomer’s work and feel dirty when I see Ferriss’ book. But at the core, they sell a system.

There plenty of examples out there of people who sell a system. Kathy Smith pioneered the home workout video: she sells a system, a great system that is constantly changing and adapting to market conditions. Tony Robbins… well I think it goes without saying that he sells a system. Steve Kamb at NerdFitness sells a system.

In fact, Steve at NerdFitness idolizes Tim Ferriss, and might be the best example of someone who has taken the true message of the 4-Hour Work Week, embodied it, and mastered it.

What is that message?

It’s not that you can work 4 hours per week and be wildly successful, it’s this:

if you have a smart system for doing what you love, and you work your butt off selling it, you can be wildly successful.