Do What You Hate


Earlier this week, one of my friends came to town. He's a big deal at a mega-corporation and was visiting clients, so we got together for dinner one night and lunch the next day. At dinner we ran up an exorbitant tab that was picked up by the mega-corp, and the next day I gave him a tour of our office overlooking the ballpark, with its lounge area, various gaming tables, kegerator, and workdeck over center field. Then we had lunch at a restaurant with its own deck overlooking left field.

He was in a crisp white shirt and tie, pinstripe blue suit, and uncomfortable brown shoes. I was in a t-shirt and jeans.

At one point during lunch, he sighed, got that far off look, and told me he really wanted to do what I do.

"No, you don't."

"Absolutely, I do."

"What makes you think you want to do what I do?"

"Because you get to do what you want."

I spit something out. I think arugula. Don't judge, it was on my burger special of the day.

I get it. A lot of people hear startup, small business, and "be your own boss" and equate that to having the freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it.

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Why You Don't Need Top Technical Talent

When Learn To Code becomes just code


I've always been passionate about technology, but I've never been a student of programming. I took a course here and there—middle school, high school, the required junk in college. I'm still shaky on the roots, the bits and bytes that make up the cred of any programmer with a degree. I've forgotten more about coding than I know today, and I've never been that concerned about keeping my skills sharp.

But I've built a bunch of tech.

Last week I had a meeting with a company who was looking to bring Automated Insights technology to one of its customers. After some discovery, we realized that what we wanted to do would essentially be enhancing the Nth generation of a system I built for that customer at the turn of the century.

Crap, I'm old.

I built that system singlehandedly, for the first startup I ever worked for. And I built it six months after realizing that computers could make me a lot more money than my degree could. I learned how to program in my spare time.

I'm probably of the first generation to realize that technology will always evolve faster than those who program it. That was a while ago, and today there are two types of coders.

The purists—those who make the tech that the rest of us call tech to use to make other useful technical stuff—and, well, the other group is the rest of us.

I get the purists. I respect them to no end. At some point it's like knowing everything there is to know about how an automobile engine works. That knowledge is necessary, but if you don't have the computer that plugs in and tells you what's wrong with the car, you're kind of behind the curve.

I can go online and figure out how to change a fan belt.

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Ideas Are Cheap: Why You Should Be Themestorming

Because Brainstorming Only Gets You So Far


Themes, not ideas, are what ultimately make a startup successful. Great ideas are the engine, the seeds of entrepreneurism. But themes -- the hypothetical and nascent forms of undefined product, company, delivery, and market -- will determine whether or not those ideas have any chance in the real world.

Too many times, entrepreneurs will hit on a great idea and then get hell bent to execute. They don't think, they just do.

You see this a lot in overdone startup trends like the recent app boom. People got ideas for apps, they struggled to build their apps, they released their apps in the App Store, and then they spent months and a ton of money trying to figure out why people weren't buying their apps.

Product = App. Company = App maker. Delivery = App Store. Market = App users.

How could that NOT fail?

These kinds of definitions should be out on the table and tested early.

The concept of themestorming came to me over years of bringing my own ideas to reality. Ideas are easy, and I have a lot of them. But in most cases, especially when it comes something startup, those ideas fester for months, if not years, before they start to take form and become IDEAS.

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American Titans Alpha


Three months ago, we announced the final lineup and formation of American Titans. Today, we're releasing our very first hello to the world. And strangely enough, it isn't an album or a single and it isn't on iTunes or Spotify. It's an unpolished video, taken with a laptop, of an unpolished song, played during a regular rehearsal, but one that we live streamed to the entire world.

PLEASE share your feedback on the American Titans YouTube Channel or on Twitter @AmericanTitans

Welcome to the music business in 2015.

See, we'd been bouncing around ideas for next steps for the entire three months we've been together. Do we go out and get a show? Do we open or headline? Do clubs still hire rock bands these days? Do we record? Do we do it at a studio or in Garageband?

We all did some research. The highlight (or maybe lowlight), was when I had lunch with David Menconi, whom I've known for a while, and I ran our strategies by him. His reaction was something like -- “Sure. Do whatever you want.”

In other words, rock is dead.

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Content Startups Are Making a Comeback

And This Time, There's Help


I've spent a good portion of my startup career pushing content. The first time I ever went out totally on my own, I founded Intrepid Media, the first social network for writers. It was a modestly successful venture that would go on to win a ton of awards, send me all over the country, and produce a handful of New York Times Best Selling Authors.

Oh, and it made a bunch of money.

While Intrepid financially and technically paved the way for almost everything I did later, I never exited. I also never raised a single dollar to get it off the ground.

Both of those opportunities were never taken because they were never there. In the early 2000s after the dot-com crash, no one was going to give me a dime to prove that people actually still cared about content on the web. And as Intrepid revenue finally started drying up in the early 2010s, the offers that were made for the IP and the brand were never tempting. People still love Intrepid, to this day, and I love that fact. So it sits there, zombie-like, creating a lot of love.

The sad story of Intrepid Media is that, on the way up and as growth flattened out, no one knew what to do with it, including me.

The main source of revenue was paid membership, which would spike and then plateau in the late-2000s. I sold ads, but I immediately knew that wasn't the answer and it was soon going away. I spun out books, eBooks, and mixed-media releases, but that wasn't scalable.

If all of that sounds familiar that's because it's what every single content/media company tried to do with the onset of the Internet. I watched all of that happen having already proven it wouldn't work. Frustrating.

Finally, I gave up the ghost. In 2011, I sliced off a version of the Intrepid content management framework to build ExitEvent, which was a huge win but for different reasons. I also took all of the algorithm and content development experience I had learned from Intrepid and built the content design engine for Automated Insights, which we've now evolved into the first fully automated content engine. Boom.

Personally and professionally, Intrepid was a huge success. But I always think about what could have been.

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Why You Need 30 Minutes Of Play


Last night, I taught my boy how execute a (perfect) baseball slide and then we played catch for a while in the front yard. The night before, all three of my kids and I gathered for a riveting game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit DVD Edition that they found at a consignment sale for $4.

I dominated. Even though I'm sketchy on the prequels.

The night before that, I played poker. And lost. Again.

I had time for none of it.

I made time.

You have to be an intense time manager if you want to maintain balance. This isn't news to anyone. On any given weekday, I work 10 to 12 hours a day, go over my kids' homework, eat dinner with my wife (we haven't made it to daily family dinner yet), and do a number of other things that aren't work, aren't family, but aren't necessarily fun. This can be anything from taking out the trash to writing a column.

I'm lying to you. Writing a column is always fun. Taking out the trash can also be fun if you prop the bin open and throw the bag from 20 feet away. This can also be a disaster. Risk/reward.

At a minimum, you need to do all of the above. You have to categorize your day into work, family, and all the in-between crap. You should also exercise daily. You generally blow about a half hour with the whole waking up, showering, and dressing thing. You've got to eat. Then there's sleep.

You're probably doing all of this as best as you can. And I'm proud of you.

But there's one more thing.

You've got to play. Every day. 30 minutes minimum. Every day.

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The Ballad Of the Company Man

Startup Is For Everyone, So Why Doesn't Everyone Think So


Last Wednesday, I was at the outdoor patio of a local bar in the middle of our area's startup hub, enjoying a few beers with an entrepreneur I'm advising. Kind of ground zero for startup talk.

We were preparing for his second fundraising cycle, so we were slinging around startupy terms, but after a couple beers and playing off the excitement we were both feeling around what he was building, the conversation became less numeric and more fun.

That's when the dude two stools over spoke up.

“Hey, I don't mean to be eavesdropping on your conversation, but I just want to say the way you guys are talking is pretty cool. I wish I was a part of something like that.”

Or it was something close to that (beers). My first reaction was kind of a warm glow -- that guy just made my day. Then my annoying side kicked in and I responded.

“So… Why aren't you a part of something like that?”

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Where Did I Go Wrong?

The Hardest Question That Nobody Ever Asks


When Amy Huffman interviewed me for this very nice article in ExitEvent about the release of It's All Nonsense Volume 2, she of course asked me how well Volume 1 sold.

“Very well,” I answered. “Beat my expectations and the reviews were awesome.”

Then she asked how many copies I sold, and I hedged.

“Look,” I said, hearkening back to all the times I've been asked quantity questions, be it amount of product sold, amount of money raised, annual revenue, acquisition price, etc. “I'd rather not give you a number. I don't want to act like I'm hiding anything, because it sold a bunch. But it didn't sell -- I don't know -- a million copies. So if I give you a number, it'll be impressive to me or maybe anyone who has struggled with independent publishing, but to anyone else, it'd be like, ‘Yeah, who cares?'”

Amy was kind enough to drop it. And I could have let it go at that and not mentioned it ever again, certainly not in public like I'm doing right now. And then you'd all be under the impression that Volume 1 sold a million copies.


The awful truth is, Volume 1 didn't sell a million copies. Oddly enough, neither did Volume 2. Now, I don't have a million-copy reach, so I can console myself with that. But I do have an audience -- and I assume you're a part of that audience as you're reading this right now.

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How To Make Great Decisions

Step 1: Everything Is An Experiment


One of the most difficult skills for anyone to get their head around, let alone master, is solid decision making. But it's one of the key elements for success in any pursuit. Some skills you can fake, like leadership (not kidding, you can fake this all the way up to the end). Others you can farm out, like coding.

Decision making? You've got to have it, and you've got to be good at it. No, you've got to be great at it. It's one of the few metrics that directly correlates to success, where you can look back on your decisions and, to dumb it down completely, if you made nine good decisions out of 10, you're probably at 90% of where you want to be.

Probably. There are caveats to everything.

The problem is there's no good way to learn, practice, or measure the process of making good decisions. It's not something you can read in a book to learn (uh-oh), complete a series of exercises or quizzes to practice, and there's no scale by which you can quantitatively measure the results.

Although I could create that. The Procopio Decision Matrix. You got a Q out of 13! I'm calling the patent on that right now.

In all seriousness, the most difficult part of decision making is being honest with the criteria and honest with the post-mortem. We rarely tell the truth to ourselves and about ourselves at either end. No one likes to admit that fear and emotion play a huge part in the criteria, and no one likes to dwell on their failures. It's not even healthy to do that.

Then there's the question of what makes a good decision a good decision in the first place. There are all kinds of conventional philosophical cautionary tales here -- “Damned if you do, damned if you don't,” “Rock and a hard place,” “Should I stay or should I go,” and “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

If that last one sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it's the only discernable or memorable lyric from Rush's Freewill, and it's probably copped from Ayn Rand or Camus or something very deep and intellectual.

But take a breath. It's not as convoluted as it sounds. There are maybe five or six steps to consider when you want to make good decisions. Those include identifying and mitigating all the little risks, defining success and failure and at which point you should throw in the towel, and learning to live with and recover from failure.

However, the first step is by far the most important. It's also how you get started, so I want to focus directly on that.

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The Most Honest Way I Can Think Of To Launch a Book

It's All Nonsense Volume 2 Released Today


The book comes out today. When you do a project of this magnitude, you always think of one or two things after the fact that you wish you had done. This is one of those things. I say thanks at the end of the book, of course, but I feel like it wasn't enough.

Thanks to all the people who encouraged me to restart my blog and their ideas to build upon the new direction that I wanted to take. Thanks to everyone who sent emails, gave me likes and retweets and comments and all the other support I got for each post I wrote. Thanks to the folks who talked me into converting the blog posts into a book, even when I thought it was a stupid idea.

Thanks to all of you who bought Volume 1 and a HUGE thanks to everyone who wrote the awesome reviews on the Amazon site. Thanks to all of you who I've pestered and cajoled and begged to read the drafts of Volume 2 and thanks for your feedback, good and bad. And thanks to all of you on the newsletter who I didn't have to ask, you just showed up because you were interested in it. That's a big deal.

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What To Do When People Won't Help You


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


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.

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Don't Panic!

Why the Stock Market Is Just Like Real Life


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


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


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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