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Quarantine Culture

This note is coming to you straight outta Kenwood, California. Decisions are still hard, product-crafting is still hard, building a company is still hard, and living with 3 people that you’re not related to remains hard. That said, a lot of things have made this journey quite a bit easier. Thought I’d take the time and share some of the off-beat and downright weird things that we’ve been consuming lately as we try to maintain some level of normalcy during quarantine. Below, in no particular order, you’ll find some oddities of quarantine culture.

Food

  • Takis & Sour Cream: This strange concoction was dreamed up by one Elijah Elazarov, who has one of the most over-the-top and often disgusting palettes I know. There’s nothing he won’t put Nutella on, and the man drinks Arnold Palmer like it was water. That said, he’s directly responsible for two culinary curiosities in the house: a newfound love for Tate’s cookies and the combination that is Takis and sour cream. Most of the house having spent some amount of time in a NYC bodega, we all love Takis. Dipping them in something dairy was a revelation.
  • Crystal Hot Sauce: I’m a hot sauce fanatic. Seriously, when living in Brooklyn, one of my favorite trips was to Heatonist in Williamsburg. Regularly. I have anywhere between 4–10 hot sauces in my fridge at all times, including during quarantine. But one of my biggest accomplishments during the we-mote period of Bunches has been introducing the team to Crystal. It’s a mild, classic Louisiana hot sauce that goes on everything. Seriously. It’s delicious on fish, french fries, rice, salad, a burger, the list goes on. It’s not quite as good on ice cream as Tabasco Chipotle, but it’s still quite good there too.
  • Safeway Soleil Sparkling Water: I felt extraordinarily judged, rightfully so, by one of our investors who commented “that’s a lot of water” to the 7 cases we were going through a week of La Croix. Not wanting it to be a line item on our P&L, we switched to the off-brand, and I’m honestly glad we did. The flavors are slightly more exotic and include pineapple, blood orange, and apple alongside the traditional lime, lemon, and grapefuit. Apple’s a house favorite. Plus, a caffeinated version is a great afternoon pick-me-up for an increasingly diet-conscious team that’s growing weary of all the sugar-free Red Bull that’s been fueling our product & brand development efforts.

Sports

  • Cowboy Channel: Just because the big 4 are off the TV right now doesn’t mean that I haven’t gotten my sports fix. At the last house, the satellite provider carried the Cowboy Channel, which was an absolute gem of a channel. Constant bull riding, steer wrestling, and some of the best Made for TV commercials you’ll ever see. Steer wrestling was a household-favorite. Seriously. Go watch some if you don’t believe us.
  • World Chase Tag: Rounds are over in less than 15 minutes, it’s easy to grasp and understand, and it’s essentially competitive parkour. Phenomenal. There aren’t any real stars yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this became a thing over the next few years.
  • Soapbox Derby: Red Bull sponsors a global tour of soapbox derby races, and each one is fantastically entertaining. Consisting of a performance score, a creativity score, and the actual race itself, it provides for 45 minutes or so of great content one way or another. Old men racing at 20+ miles per hour, the absolute catastrophic wrecks, and the absurdity of it all makes for a fun watch. Recommendation? Start with Japan. Always.

Tech

  • Apps Hardly Used Anymore: Google Maps. Lyft. Anything public transit related. Including scooters. OpenTable/Resy/Tock. Venmo/Cash App. Dark Sky.
  • Apps Used More: Pocket Casts. Sudoku. NYT Crosswords. Instapaper. Kindle. Marvin. AllTrails. TestFlight. Bunches.
Categories
Personal Random

Paying Down Debt

First let me be crystal clear: I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I’m employed for the foreseeable future, working on something I enjoy, with people I’m (mostly) fond of. I completely understand that most people do not have the luxury that I currently have, and that the circumstances surrounding the COVID–19 outbreak are not pretty for many people in the US and abroad. That said, I’m not only trying to be grateful for the circumstances I’m in but also to make the best of it. The Bunches team and my family are living together in a quarantine house in Napa Valley, CA. Yes, I know. Things could be worse. We’ve cut salaries across the board and moved in together in order to get our MVP out the door. But in the meantime, I’m taking the opportunity to pay down some debt.

Financial Debt

Of course, when most people think of debt they think of financial debt. Which certainly applies. In my younger years, I didn’t always make the best financial decisions…even when I had money. Early in my career, I wasn’t making that much which meant that when I started to make a bit more, I had no idea how to be responsible with it. No savings, too much discretionary spending, etc. I was completely irresponsible, and I’m certainly paying for those decisions now. Literally.

That said, I’ve been working quite hard over the past couple of years to pay down debt, and I’m getting close. From credit card payments to a moving loan to a car payment, we’re building our savings and slashing debt across the board which is a very good feeling. The current situation hasn’t changed that fact, and is one of the many things for which I’m very thankful. But I’m equally as excited about the paying down of informational debt as well.

Informational Debt

I’m an informational fiend. Honestly. Podcasts, blogs, books, Twitter, longform writing, newsletters, music. The list of mediums is long. If it’s value-driven content, I’m into it. Which is one of the many reasons I love building Bunches. But it also means that my Pocket Casts library is constantly full (and growing!), my Instapaper backlog can get out of control, and I’m constantly checking Feedbin for the latest posts from the 100 RSS feeds to which I’m subscribed. I know, it’s absurd. But I love it. It’s my hobby. Some people knit. Others devote their basements to model railroads. I consume and learn. Sue me.

But the past few weeks have meant that I’m paying down this debt as well.

I’m reading more books. I’m listening to more podcasts. I’ve reduced my Instapaper backlog to a single page. And I’m very thankful for being able to “pay down” this debt as well. I’m learning a ton, enjoying my time, and catching up on things that I’ve wanted to for some time. Without the distractions of “normal living”, it’s been much easier to do so. The trick will be keeping the debt down in the future.

Wish me luck.

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.