Categories
Personal Random

An Update, Part II

My, how things change in just a month. According to my last update, we were supposed to be preparing for a move to Los Angeles right about now. Instead? We’re holed up with the rest of the Bunches team at a home in Napa Valley. This post was supposed to be a deep dive into Bunches (it’s still coming, I promise!), but instead it’s been sidetracked into an update on where we are due to COVID–19.

On Bunches

Bunches is my latest startup, and the first one that I’ve started from scratch myself. After years at larger companies, and after leading Exeq through an acquisition that culminated last year, I finally feel ready to lead my own from start to finish. Hopefully, this is the big one. What we’re building sounds quite simple, but also has the flexibility and opportunity to grow into something huge, which is exciting.

Simply put, we’re building the easiest way to create a paid group chat. With the rise of the Passion Economy, more and more people are looking for ways to directly monetize their audiences and creations, so we’re creating a way for them to do that.

We raised a pre-seed round last November, closed it in December, moved to the SF Bay Area in the beginning of January, and have been working with our investors since then. I’ll go into a bit more details in the next post.

Basing the company in Los Angeles makes a ton of sense for us, considering our target audience and preference for sun and a food scene. But then this little thing called a coronavirus happened.

On COVID–19

Thankfully, we saw the writing on the wall fairly early, and were in a position to make decisions freely. We decided to isolate as a team, and booked a house in Calistoga, CA. I’m not going to lie…it’s a dope house. Jacuzzi, pool, a grill, a yard, and plenty of space for everyone. After all, there are 8 of us living in one home. But we are still living together.

Right now, we’re making decisions to preserve four things:
1. Our health & neighbors’ health.
2. Our cash.
3. Our productivity.
4. Our vision.

As of this writing, we’re all healthy and asymptomatic (knock on wood!), we have enough runway for 18 months or so, we’re still cranking on the product, and we’re still excited about what we’re building. So far so good…we’re four-for-four.

What’s Next?

Frankly, I don’t know. As I wrote in the last post, we do plan on moving to Los Angeles, but with the pandemic throwing a wrench in those plans, who knows what the coming weeks hold. I do know that I’m with my family, building something of value in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. I couldn’t be more fortunate.

Stay tuned for the next update!

Categories
Personal Random

An Update, Part I

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. For those of you who enjoy following along, I’m sorry for the delay. In any case, here’s a brief update on what’s happened in the past year or so…and what’s happening now.

On Exeq

At the end of 2018, the writing was on the wall for Exeq. While we had solid product traction and usage, a couple of things were happening in the market that changed the investment landscape. Goldman Sachs was entering consumer fintech in a real way: they had just acquired Clarity Money (folding them into Marcus) and they were the banking partner behind Apple’s soon-to-be-launched Apple Card.

With Goldman and Apple both entering the fray, we knew that CAC was only going to rise, product differentiation would only get slimmer, and that to compete you needed bottomless pockets.

Serendipitously, we had recently brought on a pilot partner on the B2B side of our business. There was immediate alignment around what we were doing, and acquisition talks began in earnest November of 2018. We canceled our plans for raising another round of funding and pursued the acquisition with the full support of our board.

As anyone knows, acquisitions are rarely closed quickly (if at all!), but long story short, this one did close in Q1 of 2019.

On Flagship

Flagship was, and remains, a very exciting company in the hospitality and retail world. As an umbrella brand over solid brands in the Northeast, they’re building really engaging businesses around food, fitness, and wellness.

I joined Flagship initially as CTO, but we later realized a more appropriate title would be Chief Strategy Officer, primarily tasked with helping to guide decision-making, digitizing the business, and implementing an overarching strategy around the CEO’s vision.

While we both knew from the outset that the relationship was likely short-lived (having operated in and having come from two different worlds), I’m thankful for my time there. I’m grateful for the learnings and friendships made there, and can only hope that the impact that I and the Exeq team had there is even longer-lived than our tenure.

What’s Next?

Currently, the family and I are in back in the San Francisco Bay Area through the end of March before heading to a new city: the City of Angels, Los Angeles.

I’ve started a new company that I couldn’t be more excited about, one that has a genuine shot at being legacy-defining.

I’ll give the full story in the next post.

Categories
Random

Lazy Monday Links

Here’s a list of stuff that had my attention this past week. Maybe you’ll enjoy it as well. Check it out:

  • Philadelphia Bans Cashless Stores: In another episode of claim chowder, the first blow in the coming cashless war has been dealt. I’ve long said that I don’t know how long “going cashless” will be legal, though I was a little wrong here: I figured the federal government would be the first to intervene. Philadelphia claims it’s a social inclusion issue, which I buy (but there are actually technology solutions that can solve that problem). The real issue with stores going cashless in my mind is at the federal level: it can devalue USD and renders circulation moot. This will be a very interesting storyline to follow over the next decade. Especially as plastic becomes more expensive for retailers.
  • Cameras, apps: Noosh to showcase the future of restaurant tech: This is one of those things to file in the “creepy but cool” category. I mean the internet access points are whatever (seriously, if you’re going to a restaurant because of their internet bandwidth, WTF are you doing with your life?), but the integration of technology into the experience is something to watch. I think the AR piece is a marketing gimmick for now, but there will be a breakout application in AR commerce over the next 5-10 years. Don’t believe me?
  • Snapchat NYC Metro Card AR: Came across this on the interwebs this past week. Pretty cool implementation of Snap’s AR lenses. Download it here (you need an MTA card).
  • Star Wars: A New Hope Infographic: This thing is huge and very cool. Wish there was a horizontal version (print it out, put it on a wall).
  • How Chinese Novelists Are Reimagining Science Fiction: I wish the title of this article were a bit different (they’re not reimagining SF, they’re contributing to it from a different worldview than the typical Western author). In any case, I’ve fallen in love with Chinese SF. I recently picked up another Ken Liu anthology (the newly released Broken Stars), and one of the best things I’ve read this decade is Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series.
  • Game of Thrones Season 8 Trailer: It’s here. Finally here.
Categories
Random

Lazy Sunday Links

Here’s a list of stuff that had my attention this past week. Maybe you’ll enjoy it as well. Check it out:

  • Pete Buttigieg on Pod Save America: For those of you not following my Twitter, you may not know that Mayor Pete is someone I’m paying close attention to in the Democratic primary. I don’t agree with all of his policies, in fact I’m to the right of most of his platform items, but if you know me at all, you may know I don’t vote based on policy or party lines. I look for leadership capabilities, summarized in the three I’s: intuition, intelligence, integrity. At a glance, Mayor Pete has them in spades. Will be interesting to see how he rises in the national conversation. So far, strategically, he’s making the right moves: seeing him a lot more in the press and he’s been touring the battleground states of NH and IA, along with the more populated states like CA and NY. Take a look at the video above (a recording of a podcast interview) for a good look at how he thinks.
  • Aligning Business Models to Market: What a great read about not just the hospitality/commerce industry, but a look at the dynamics of looking at your business model as an extension of the market you’re in, even down to resources that are available to you. One of the most interesting things is seeing the “farm system” analogy extended to hospitality, as it’s one that I’ve utilized in my technology career (and even written about before!).
  • Maggie Rogers & Florence Welch on “Light On”: Are you kidding? These two women on stage together is incredible. Miranda and I had the pleasure of seeing Florence in the flesh at Barclay Center a while back, and I look forward to seeing Maggie as well. What a couple of phenomenal voices, and performers.
  • Pearls of Elixir: For the nerds following this blog, I’m an Elixir-fanatic. This is a pretty interesting look at some snippets from the more popular packages in the space, where the author zeroes in on some educational patterns utilized. I learned a couple of nifty tricks; maybe you will as well.
  • Bryce to Philly: I’m a Nats fan. And an Eagles fan. I think I’m OK with this, but not quite sure yet.
  • Revolut’s Destructive Culture: People act like cultures like this are abnormal and anomalies (see: Uber, etc.), but the reality is that it’s almost standard in the industry. While I fortunately haven’t been in environments quite like those reported on, personal and family health is rarely at the top of anyone’s list in Silicon Valley. It’s nothing new, and really isn’t new even with the technology industry or American capitalism. As long as market advantages are to be had, there will be work cultures like this.
  • Plastic Gets Costlier: This report from the WSJ is both sad and very intriguing. I recently had a conversation with a restauranteur who only accepted AmEx because of the fees that Visa and Mastercard were already charging. Will be very interesting to see how the economy (and small business owners in particular) react to this increase in fees. What an interesting time to be working on payments! Hint, hint.
  • How NYC Became a Tech Town: When I first moved to NYC, I got a lot of questions about how the NYC tech scene compared to SF and the Valley. My response was always that technology was the first space in which NYC had really been an underdog, but that I saw the NYC tech space catching up in 5 years. Seems like it took half that time.
Categories
Random

Take Back Control Over Your Life

Let’s face it: living in our world today is pretty awesome. Sure, there are significant political and social issues that we have to wrestle through together, and there is unfortunately significant inequality in the global society, but day-to-day life for many American millennials is great. We’re instantly connected to anyone in our social circles, we have the world’s information available in our pockets, we can take a ride in fully-electric vehicles, and holograms are just around the corner.

But this standard of living comes at a cost. The fast-paced nature of the digital age means that if we as people are not living intentionally, then our resources will quickly be claimed by other people and organizations…unbeknownst to ourselves. We lose hours to Instagram, dollars to in-app purchases, and mental energy to the person that is currently ghosting us. Simply put: by not being intentional about who controls our lives, we are de-facto relegating control to others.

While I can’t give the end-all, be-all guide to taking control of your life, I can certainly give some quick hits about the three resources I named above. How do we intentionally take control of our money? our time? our attention? My thoughts are below; I’d love a discussion about some tips & tricks that help you ensure control over these things as well.

Disclaimer: I’m not totally there yet. I know what to do, but just haven’t done it all yet. My money, my time, my attention are all currencies that are constantly in circulation for me. This post is just as much for me as it is for anyone else.

Your Money

  • One of the first things to realize about your money is that you’re trying to accomplish something with it. Before you create a budget, create a purpose. What do you want your dollars to do? Are you funneling economic resources into social good, which means donating to charity and perhaps traveling to places where you want to volunteer for a season? Are you in the phase of life where you want to find a significant other, and are therefore going out more often to mingle with others? Write down what you’re trying to accomplish and then it’s easy to plan how to better spend your money. I use Exeq to help me do this, but I’m a bit biased.
  • Follow the tried & true guide for financial responsibility: put aside an emergency fund, eliminate your debts, set aside 3–6 months of savings, and then invest well.
  • Your initial emergency fund should be anywhere from $1000–2000. This is not to be touched unless it’s an absolute emergency. Brunch is not an emergency, for the record.
  • Eliminate your debts. There’s no “right way” to do this. Some people choose to pay down the smallest balance first, then pay down the next smallest, etc. Others choose to pay down the highest interest rate first, then the next, etc. My advice? Pick a way and be disciplined about it until you’re debt free.
  • Set aside 3–6 months of your salary into savings. You can do this via an app like Stash or Qapital, or you can simply open a savings account at your bank and transfer the money yourself. Either way works. But do it.
  • Invest well. I’m not talking about day-trading like you’re the Wolf of Main Street. I’m talking about a long-term investment. No, bitcoin doesn’t count. Open a interest-bearing CD. Open a 401K or IRA. Open an investment account full of ETFs. I use Fidelity and Wealthfront for this, with a 60/40 split between domestic and foreign investments. Set aside 10–15% of your paycheck into your stable investment vehicle of choice and don’t touch it until you need to pay for education or retirement.

Your Time

A glance at my task management system.
  • Invest in a task-management system that works for you. There are plenty of digital solutions out there, including Google’s tasks for those of you already using gMail or Apple’s Reminders for those of you already using iOS & MacOS. I use Things, and have enjoyed OmniFocus and Todoist before. You can also just keep sticky notes or a small notebook on you at all times and write tasks down as they come up. I also have a Hobonichi Weeks that I carry with me at all times to make notes throughout the day. Get in the habit of marking them done, reviewing tasks, etc. It’s easy to let things slip through the cracks, and then it costs you more time to make up than it would have if you had just performed the task on-time to begin with.
  • A lot of people will talk about time-management in terms of tasks. And that’s super important, as noted above. But that said, something that’s even more important than managing your tasks is managing your priorities. Again, if you don’t control your life, someone or something else will. Write down your to-dos/tasks, sure, but also write down your priorities. If something arises during the day that would distract from your priorities….don’t do it! Or delay it. Or be honest with the other party that it’s not a priority at the moment. As many have said, don’t just do the next thing….do what’s best…next.
  • Say no more often. There’s a party coming up. An after-hours lecture you’re interested in. An invite for drinks. Your parents neeeeed you to come home. Taking control of your life means taking control of your life. By saying no more often you’re taking ownership of your time and not letting other people own it on your behalf. You have permission to decline event invitations. You have permission to say no, which will allow you to say yes to higher-priority items.
  • This one may be the most controversial or eyebrow-raising thing I write in this article: think of your own death more often than you do. What’s the point of this? To be morbid? Absolutely not. It’s to realize that time, like your bank account, is finite. It runs out. Like money, you have to budget time. If we’re lucky, we get 70+ years to enjoy life. If we’re not prioritizing, if we’re not managing our tasks well, if we’re not saying no to good things in favor of great things, we’re essentially over-spending our most precious resource. Realizing that time is finite and that, unlike money, can’t be earned back is one way of forcing yourself to be more disciplined about how you spend it.

Your Attention

My iPhone Home Screen. No Instagram. No Facebook. No LinkedIn. Made room for Instapaper, NYTimes, and Pocket Casts. Wallpaper is a picture I took standing on our balcony during a recent cruise.
  • Attention is the currency of the digital age. It’s very related to time in the sense that it’s finite and can’t be taken back once it’s given, but budgeting attention is more than just how you spend your time. It’s also about regulating the inputs into your mind that determine your worldview, how you think, and where your focus is placed. We’re inundated with things vying for our attention: notifications, advertisements, media, etc. The list goes on and on. Realizing that your attention is being fought for is the first step in retaining control over it.
  • Do a notification audit on your phone. What apps have notifications turned on just because you clicked through their onboarding? Do you really want notifications from every activity in a random game you play during your commute? Do you need to know when your friend liked your other friend’s status about dinner? Maybe the answer is yes, and that’s fine. But be thoughtful about it. With the exception of Twitter, I’ve also removed social media from my phone altogether. No FB. No LinkedIn. No Instagram. I don’t miss it.
  • What are you learning? What are you reading? What do you listen to? What are you watching? Seriously ask yourself these questions. You’re always consuming information. Consider the sources and if it’s things that you want to be learning. Think through what you could be reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming instead. Make conscious choices over the things that you are mentally ingesting.
  • Establish rituals. Eat lunch alone. Coffee in the morning before work or class. An evening bath. Whatever it is, establish habitual time for you to think and create. This gives you a blocked-off amount of time to pay attention to whatever it is that you want to pay attention to, instead of the things that demand your attention throughout the day.
  • Get away regularly. Grab an Airbnb in the wilderness. Check out Getaway if you’re in one of the markets they serve. Go camping. On a regular basis (quarterly?) get out of the grind that you’re in day-to-day, and get an overview of your life. What’s going well? What’s not? Utilize the time to not just be in your life, but to work on your life.

Conclusion

There are plenty of resources out there for taking control of your money, your time, and your attention. Leverage them! At the same time, there comes a point where you have to simply act. Sure, you may not get it right on day one. You may change methods over and over. I know I do, often penduluming between analog and digital solutions. But, you can spend so much time, money, and focus on gaining control that you never actually do it. I’d encourage you to experiment: try some things that you think may work and iterate from there to see what works for you!