What To Do When People Won't Help You

8.31.15


Not too long ago, I got an email that pissed me off.

You might have heard I'm writing a book. Actually, it's a series of eBooks, called It's All Nonsense. I'm doing the books to bring the kind of entrepreneurial skills that aren't being taught, related anecdotally and in an entertaining way, to anyone in any field. I'm trying to help people find growth, achievement, success, and happiness, in whatever they choose to do.

Seems like a good way to spend my free time, right?

Volume 1 was a modest hit, selling more than I thought it would and garnering solid reviews. Volume 2 comes out on Thursday.

So in promoting these books, I've sent mass emails and individual emails and made phone calls and visits in person and everything else I could do to get the word out before it hit the shelves. My ask was pretty simple and light -- read as much as you want, tell me if I'm crazy, and let me know if you can help or have any ideas to promote it.

It's the crappy part of doing this, but I'm giving it my best effort.

I did favors, I called in favors, I think I might have agreed to paint someone's fence -- but let me tell you, that dude was pret-ty high up in there in the Self-Published eBook Digital Media Guerrilla Marketing circles. Worth it.

Anyway, I got all kinds of responses back, from some generous offers to help to others that were flat-out like, “I don't get it. I love the effort. If I can help in some other way let me know.”

I'm equally grateful for each response. And the folks who didn't respond? We're still cool, yo. I've done that. I'm never proud of it when it happens, so I'm not gonna cast that first stone, you know?

Except one.

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Not Every Startup Is a Home Run

Why It's Perfectly OK To Hit a Triple

8.27.15


Last time out, I prefaced an article on the art of getting acquired by preemptively responding to the argument that selling your company is selling out the concept of startup.

As I told these startup purists—When you don't proactively consider acquisition, you naively leave yourself two options, going public or running a lifestyle business.

While these arguers were imaginary in my article (I do that a lot), they exist in real life, and you'll hear their advice a lot. God knows I did. It's the same startup elitism that says that every startup must be a home run. Swing for the fences! Go big or go home! Change the world one user a time!

Should I go on? Because there are about a million more.

Some of this I get. You should swing for the fences. All the time. You must go big or go home. Every day.

At the very least, you've got be invested in your startup—money, time, whatever. There has to be some risk involved. You have to make something and sell something. You have to be unique.

So if this isn't you, good on you, I'm pulling for you. But for this article, let's draw our definition lines there.

In that article, I argued that just because there was an acquisition doesn't mean there wasn't a home run. In fact, at this moment in startup history, quite a lot of acquisitions are home runs, and this is probably due to all the unicorns and IPO gating issues and lack of strength in public markets. If you want to grow, sometimes the only way to do that may be by being acquired, especially if you think that private market valuations get crazy at certain levels.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/not-every-startup-is-a-home-run


Don't Panic!

Why the Stock Market Is Just Like Real Life

8.25.15


As I was driving home from work yesterday, the day that the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped around 1100 points at the opening of the market and closed down a mere 588 and a half, I heard the moderator on my favorite financial show say something like:

"Today was the day the markets stared down into the abyss."

I get it, but that sure didn't help things any.

Actually, it kinda did, because it made me laugh, which put things into perspective.

Anyway, after all my talk about struggling with risk in the stock market and how I've been on the sidelines forever, I had finally made some moves. A couple weeks ago, I put myself about 40% into the market and bought some long-term holdings that I had been keeping an eye on and were selling at a bit of a discount.

This was before the China turmoil that started things on a quick spiral last week, and for a few days, I was actually up, and happy about my decisions. Then all hell broke loose and, as I'm writing this, I'm down a little over 10%.

Just like that.

There is a side of me that can't help checking the market, can't turn off the ticker, can't stop watching the losses pile up. It's a bloodletting. It's carnage. And while I will survive, there's something gut-wrenching about how it happened.

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Forget Participation Trophies, Let's Start Giving Expectation Trophies

Or: The Back To School Article

8.20.15


I might be the only parent in the world who is dreading the end of summer vacation like I was going back myself. I know this is not normal. The rest of you, I'm sure, have been gleefully counting down the days until the bickering and the whining and the boredom and the complaining stops. Am I right?

I'm even more dour than my kids, who can't wait to get back into it. God bless their little nerd hearts.

It's not like I'm some sort of extra-connected super dad. I work pretty much from 7:00 to 7:00, so I'm not suddenly losing that 7:45 - 2:45 time I haven't been spending with them anyway.

We had a pretty good run of a summer too. Vacation at the beach, we worked on a couple of fun projects together, including their summer startups, and the Summer Of Do For Yourself was a huge hit. So we hit both the fun and growth buttons pretty hard.

So why am I dreading back to school? I'm a grown man. That's just stupid. But I've always dreaded back to school. I liked school, but I never really dug the back to school thing. It was a social and cultural shock each time.

Maybe I hated change. I still kind of hate change. But nobody likes change. Anyone who tells you that they like change is talking about changing their socks. Put them in a new environment without the proper tools and they'll be as uncomfortable as anyone else. Usually the ones who say they love change are the biggest whiners when actual change happens.

It's human nature to react negatively to change. It's how you deal with it that matters.

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The Most Important Lesson In Office Space

It's How to Be Happy

8.17.15


If you've worked anywhere near the tech industry in the last 15 years, you've no doubt spit or at least heard multiple quotes from Office Space, preferably when your boss wasn't in earshot. It's the most oft-quoted movie in my own personal sphere, right up there with Anchorman.

"I'm kind of a big deal."

You quote Office Space because it's the quintessential workplace movie. Everyone, I mean everyone, has toiled in that environment at one point or another. Even the interns in our office who have never seen the movie or heard of Mike Judge know what a case of the Mondays is.

Office Space was our Silicon Valley before Silicon Valley was cool.

Which it totally is.

But look past the great dialogue and one-liners for a minute. The primary reason Office Space, which incidentally bombed at the box office, became a cult favorite and is still loved all these years later is that there are a ton of valuable lessons packed into that film.

Here's a lesson sampler just based on what I can remember:

• Lack of motivation kills innovation.
• There is no such thing as job security.
• Homogenization kills creativity.
• We weren't meant to sit in cubicles and stare at computers all day.
• Michael Bolton sucks.

Some of those are life lessons, others are cautionary tales, the last one is just common sense. All are played to their most hysterical extreme. But one drawback of a story filled with spot-on-target scenarios is that they tend to overshadow a deeper meaning.

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The Art Of Getting Acquired

8.13.15


Look, I'm not going to come right out swinging and make some kind of grand proclamation on this, but I think it might be time for the Triangle, or for that matter any startup hub that isn't Silicon Valley, to start seriously taking a look at acquisition as a legitimate exit from day one.

I know what some of the blowback is going to be from this modest proposal. Something along the lines of acquisition being a cop-out which ultimately hurts the startup community and the very idea of entrepreneurism itself.

I get that. Purism. Rock on.

But that's a view you get when you look at acquisition as a by-product of entrepreneurism and not as what it should be—a goal.

Not THE goal, but A goal.

If you never think about acquisition, you naively limit your options to either going public or creating a lifestyle company. Don't get me wrong. Both of those are valid paths. I've walked both several times.

But here, there and everywhere that isn't the Valley, the amount of money you need to raise to get to the public markets is nearly impossible to scrape together. Further, valuations are reaching astronomical levels, with Valley unicorns, those companies landing $1 billion-plus investments at multi-billion dollar valuations—Uber, AirBnB, Pinterest, SnapChat, etc.—increasing at an alarming rate.

How the hell do you get out? I'm not a wizard. I can't do that kind of math.

Let's settle down a bit and take the ridiculous out of the equation. The path to going public is still fraught with danger. It's unbelievably hard to get to $1 million in revenue. It's much, much harder to get to $10 million and nearly impossible to get to $100 million. Nevertheless, it's a good goal. It's a much better goal if capital is nearby, cheap and easy—or if you have a track record of big, successful exits.

What are two things we lack here, Alex?

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/the-art-of-getting-acquired-150813


Get Out Of the Echo Chamber

The First Rule of DIY Marketing

8.10.15


If I had to pick my favorite part of the creative process, it would be the moment when one of my ideas first emerges from my brain into a format someone can hold, view, and discuss.

It could be:

When an article I write is published (Boom! It's in your hands right now!)

When one of my books goes to pre-release (Check it! It'll be available this week!)

When my band finally records something worth sharing (It's coming! Get off my back!)

But that stuff is easy. The articles go to my blog, the books go to Amazon, and the music will be neat mp3s that, in the age of ubiquitous broadband, I can pass along as an email attachment.

In fact, Last week I had lunch with David Menconi, the News and Observer music guy since forever. I joked that he's probably thrown away more of my CDs than he remembers. He chuckled, probably because he remembers none of them.

So yes, I'm trying to get everyone in the world to read what I write, listen to what I play and, as an entrepreneur, buy what I sell. And like I said, spreading the word is cake. I spit links on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and I'm done.

I've actually gotten pretty good, not great, but pretty good at figuring out what to post, when to post, and how to manage all that.

It starts with the title of the content itself. I used to do clever titles, plays on words, show off my hip factor, that kind of thing. Now I just try to cram as much meaning into as few words as possible. People need to be compelled to click. No one is compelled by a cute title, I can assure you.

The post also has to have a great picture. The Ashley Madison and Hate Losing pictures said exactly what they needed to say. They also looked compelling. The Fantasy Football picture, while clever, was boring and kind of hard to figure out. Lesson learned.

I post slightly different variations to each of the social networks. I get up early, so by 7:00 a.m. I've got the day mapped out on Social. And I'm done.

But none of that is going to help me get my message to the world. At all.

Because I'm preaching to the choir.

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Want To Win? Learn to Hate Losing

8.6.15


As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in a casino hotel room having come back up from losing a ton of money in just a couple hours. I feel like crap. If you were my friend I'd call you right now and whine for an hour.

But there's nothing I can do about it. My friends are all downstairs having a great time. Some are winning, some are losing. Nobody wants to hear my freaking sob story, and at this point, I'm the cooler. So I'm upstairs pounding away at my keyboard in hopes of turning this rage into something useful for you.

Consider this a very expensive article. But you deserve it.

I definitely don't have a gambling problem. In fact, I have the opposite of a gambling problem. I have risk aversion. I love numbers and I play the odds. I count cards in blackjack. I play the pass line and the come line in craps. I never touch roulette, slot machines, or basically anything else in the casino where there's a big house edge.

When I'm winning, I'm on top of the world, and I walk away up almost every time. When I'm down, which usually happens when I start losing right away and can't get even, I hate myself, I blame myself, and when my pre-determined stake for that session is gone, I walk away and go upstairs to sulk for a few hours.

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How to Find a Mentor

Everyone Should Have At Least One

8.3.15


Last week, I wrote this very well-received article for ExitEvent about how any startup community needs a deep bench of mentors. While that was my main point, I also got into what makes a mentor great and how to go about choosing one.

I made it clear that a great startup mentor doesn't necessarily have to have one or more large exits. They just need to have experience with -- and passion for -- what you're trying to do.

Their main goal is to impart to you what they did to get to where they got.

I got mostly these two questions back:

1. Can you mentor me? (Appreciate the thought, but no, I've got a few right now)

2. How do I go about finding a great mentor for me? (Uhhhh…)

Good question.

Here you go.

Now, I'm not talking about JUST startup mentoring here, I'm talking about success in any discipline. Yes, that mostly follows a startup or small business or career theme, because those are what you most need mentors for.

You want to get in great shape? You need a book (preferably my book) and/or the Internets. You don't need a mentor for that. If you have to have one, they charge about $50 an hour at your local gym. I don't recommend that, but whatever is going to get you off the couch. It's your money.

So this is about finding the right person to advise you on getting your business or your career or your life's passion in order. And for that last one, I'm not talking about your personal life. For that, you need a whole other thing. I like the church, but that's me. I went to Catholic school.

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The Triangle Needs More Great Startup Mentors

Here's How To Make That Happen

7.29.15


A couple weeks ago, I called out the need within the Triangle startup scene for more of our entrepreneurs to step up and lead. I'm not saying we're not doing it, but it's a big job and we can't wait for founders with gargantuan exits to turn the Triangle into the next big startup hub. We've got to work with what we've got. And furthermore, what we've got is more than enough.

One of the ways this theory applies is in mentoring and advising.

I recently took on a formal mentorship role after a long absence in any sort of mentoring or advising. I've been working with the brilliant Jamey Heit from EssayAssay, who is starting to get well-deserved buzz for an amazing technology that uses algorithms to grade papers.

Yes. Algorithms. Writing. Robot Teachers. Right in my wheelhouse.

And that fit is incredibly important, much more so than my resume or the size of my exits. I was lucky enough to have this mentorship opportunity presented to me by John Austin over at Groundwork Labs, where EssayAssay has just wrapped up their program. John knew that the technology fit was right, and he thought we'd get along.

It's been a great ride so far. I feel like I've already helped, and I'm sure Jamey would agree (because I've asked), and we'll more than likely remain friends once he outgrows my capability to mentor and advise. Which, if I do my job, won't be too long from now.

That experience has been enough for me to get back into the mentorship game and take on a couple more informal mentoring roles. And if I can do a few, I know dozens of other entrepreneurs who should be doing at least one. The Triangle, being what it is, needs a deep bench of mentors and advisors, and it doesn't matter if those mentors and advisors are massive successes, moderate successes, or even failures.

What matters most is the experience and the involvement.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/The-Triangle-Needs-More-Great-Startup-Mentors-150729


How Anyone Can Dominate a Fantasy Football Draft

The Best System Is No System At All

7.27.15


The thing about fantasy football is that everyone, no matter what they tell you, thinks they're an expert. This is especially true in August, when we're all undefeated and no one remembers who won the championship last season. Or cares. That's the beauty of the game. It's fleeting, exciting as hell, and deceptively easy. Anyone can win.

I get asked for fantasy football advice a lot. That's because I'm one of the guys responsible for those fantasy football draft report cards. Technically, I've graded millions of you. I've probably graded you, and I'm sorry about that D+. But come on. A tight end in the 3rd round? Classic panic move.

Disclaimer #1: I'm not going to give away what goes into coming up with those grades. It's intellectual property and that would be stupid. It's also not a good idea to lead you down that path to begin with. The success of your draft depends a lot on what the other people in your league do, and I can't predict that. If they draft like idiots, and you don't, you're going to get an A+.

Instead, I'm going to get generic and give you what amounts to basic strategy going into your draft. If you're a first timer, this will be really helpful without you having to learn “X-numbers” and “Value Against Replacement.” If you're a veteran, you know those terms are made up anyway, and I'm about to save you a weekend.

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I Can't Stop Laughing About Ashley Madison Being Hacked

So Much Stupid In One Story

7.22.15


As I'm reading a few different news articles about extra-martial affair broker Ashley Madison being hacked and the threat of the names of every member in the database (37 million!) being released unless the site shuts down, I'm chuckling.

Snickering, really.

It's not that I'm delighting in other people's misery, even if it's a clear-cut case of bad things happening to horrible people.

OK, maybe a little.

But even on top of that, this was coming for a long time and I'm surprised it hadn't happened sooner. Ashley Madison being hacked is the karma of cheating at massive scale — when everything is all springtime, roses, and rainbows until that painfully inevitable moment when the consequences come crashing down like a ton a bricks.

So yeah, that sound you just heard was 37 million people crapping their pants at once. Like the Death Star blowing up a Dantooine full of assholes.

I know that was over the top. I can't help myself.

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Why You Should (Probably) Follow Bloom County 2015

It's About Four Frames and a Punchline

7.20.15


First of all, I need to explain the impact that Bloom County had on my writing. Yeah, I'm admitting to you that a cartoon strip from the 1980s is a major influence on my art. Hope I didn't lose you there.

But if I did, you'll forgive me if that doesn't bother me. Bloom County taught me to stay true to what I'm doing despite how it doesn't fit into either mainstream cultural acceptance or the very machine that defines what a particular type of art should look like.

Here's how.

I had no interest in writing as a kid. Zero. By the time I was 16 I was already in a band, was well on my may to moderate regional rock stardom, and I was serious about it. Dead serious. My idea of art was verse-chorus-verse and coming up with as many ways of rhyming “self” and “shelf” that I could shoehorn into vague critiques of relationships gone wrong and people generally being mean to other people.

I discovered Bloom County late into its run. One summer in college I bought one of the books, then another, and another, until I had read everything that was out there to read. Then, as fate would have it, our college newspaper posted a flyer looking for new cartoonists for the fall semester.

Dude. Was I really going to be a cartoonist?

Hell yes. I was going to be the next Berke Breathed.

Except I couldn't draw.

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Why You Need to Keep It Short

A Little Writing 101

7.16.15


In a universe of unrelenting noise and rapidly decreasing attention spans, if you want to get your message across, you've got to use the right words and as few of them as possible.

I'm not talking about kthxbye. I mean the tenets of formal communication, whether that's a meeting request, a job application, a blog post, or whatever.

You need to stick to a single point. It should be the only thing you hit the reader with. Anything else is follow up.

You must structure -- meaning you need to expose your topic, justify your stand, explain your reasoning, and call to action. Anything else is filler.

You need to choose the right words. Write like you speak. Go back and change or cut long-winded turns of phrase. Then make sure it flows.

You need to be brief. Cut anything you don't need to drive home that singular point.

If you do this, people will read what you write. And what's more, they'll be grateful for your brevity and more likely to take you seriously.

Oh, if you're like me, and God knows I am, a tossed-off joke as a closer doesn't hurt.

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How Negative Are You?

TV Science Taught Me My Outlook Might Not Be So Sunny, And That's a Good Thing

7.13.15


Last night I caught the "Positive Thinking" episode of Brain Games, a really smart series that I watch with the kids before their bed time.

Like all the episodes before it, this one was filled with a dozen-or-so neat parlor-style tricks buffeted by scientific fact about how we operate. And like all episodes before it, I was about half-in on the practical application part of the science. Sure, positive thinking is great. It can make you a happier person. I'm a big fan.

Then two things happened that changed my outlook.

The first was a game where they lined up random people to take free throws. They set a baseline, X out of 10 made, and then they changed the environment. They brought in a crowd and blindfolded the shooter and had them take a couple more shots. For poor shooters, including a woman who missed all 10 on her baseline (and continued to miss blindfolded), the crowd cheered as if she had made the shot every time she shot with the blindfold.

The blindfold was removed, she was told she went 2 for 2, and then she was given another 10 shots with the same crowd now cheering her on. She went on to make 4 out of 10. And without fail, each poor shooter increased their makes once the crowd was brought in.

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