Shopping For Better Data

On Monday, grocery store shelves across the Northeast were cleared of all sustenance by desperate citizens in preparation for the great blizzard of 2015. As I sit hunkered down in Brooklyn, with a full refrigerator of treasures I fought the bearded and scarved hoards for yesterday, my thoughts turned to the future of how we shop. Truth be told, shopping across all categories is broken. There is a growing gap between the shopping public and the retailers who aim to serve them. And caught in the middle, brands are trying to find new ways to wrestle some control back. On the edge is an army of entrepreneurs claiming they’ll show us how to do it all better. With that stage set, I believe 2015 will be a big year for shopping. I’m not predicting record sales or the greatest black Friday on record. This is about what happens behind the shelves. What we’ll see this year is the surfacing of multiple disjointed issues deep inside the infrastructure of shopping itself.

Read my conclusions to this opportunity on Forbes

Is Hiring The New Status Symbol?

There is a decent chance that you've seen friends and connections sharing "the exciting news" that because of "how fast things are moving" they and their team "are proud to announce, We're Hiring!" (Yes, StockUp is hiring also) In the past two months, I have seen more "We're Hiring" posts than ever before and I spent some time digging into it last night on the train. There are three possible motivations behind these posts:

1) You're signaling that you're now in a position to make a hiring decision for your company.  Mommy wow, we're all big kids now.

2) You're reminding anyone reading that your company is in fact growing and moving forward. Any company that isn't currently hiring likely won't be in business a year from now.

3) You've joined the ranks of people baffled by the seeming contradiction in headlines of "Over 40% of Millennials and unemployed or underemployed" and "Companies of All Sizes Struggle to Retain Top Talent." (In a survey of top CEOs by INC Magazine last month, over 50% said that their biggest challenge right now is attracting and retaining a skilled employees.)

And that last one is the one that keeps sticking out to me.  When I look at the current head count of our team at StockUp, and where I expect us to be, both with our developer/design team and our sales/marketing team, in the next six months, I am a little bit overwhelmed. Sure, there is a lot of work that goes into finding, hiring, and onboarding any new hires, but it is much more than that.  Each one of the people that, for whatever reason, say "yes, I want to be a part of what you are building" are also saying "I trust you enough and believe in this company enough to say 'no' to everything else and chase down this big idea together." And when you're a part of a young growing company, that takes a lot more trust than when you're a well established company.

Simon Sinek, in the now most over quoted TED Talk in the history of TED Talks, says that you're not "looking for people who need a job, you're looking for people that believe what you believe."  That is our challenge, as those looking to attract and retain amazing people, drill down to the core of what we believe and be able to make a case for why saying 'yes' to our opportunity is worth the cost of saying 'no' to all other options that are out there.

So maybe, instead of "We're Hiring" the announcement should be "Open seat on a rocket ship, You're invited."

Caveman Inspired Trends

The speed of technology and innovation has never been faster. Everywhere we look, everything is different and being disrupted. Across industries, corporations, and countries, those that can't keep up and simply left behind as a warning to everyone else of what happens if you don't adapt to what is right now.  We are bombarded with more information than we can handle and all of it is apparently urgent. Our smartphones make sure that we are never more than three swipes away from a flood of content about anything and everything that happened, might have happened, and could happen everywhere in the world. And we're completely burnt out.

And the pendulum is swinging back the other direction.

And fast.

Right now, the hottest trends are being inspired by cavemen.

Not the Jetsons, the Flinestones.

  • After years of using state of the art equipment in perfectly lit and scented gyms, millions are flocking to previously abandoned warehouses to get their caveman work out on and push a tractor tire around for a hour.
  • Instead of rushing out to sample the latest in molecular gastronomy and high art cuisine, the current diet trend is based on the bench mark of what the paleolithic beings from 15,000 years ago might have consumed.
  • Apparently as it became easier and easier to communicate instantly, the thought and meaning of long form communication has gone the way of the dinosaurs and short form emoji-laden bursts of text have brought cave drawings back as the preferred standard of communication for the next generation.

 

So with our workouts, diet, and communication already reverting back to caveman inspired standards, what is next?

More Pain Killers, Less Vitamins

This week alone, three different people have told me "the industry we're trying to disrupt is the last frontier for innovation." And then, after hearing more about their company, idea, and solution, I end up feeling bad for the reputation that it appears the word "innovation" has developed. Just because you replicated an offline process online doesn't mean you innovated, it just means we're evolving. "Technology eating the world" is turning out to be really boring. There are incredibly smart and savvy entrepreneurs working on incredibly boring and, when considered in the context of the world as a whole, meaningless ideas.

They're working on vitamins instead of pain killers.

They're working on nice-to-haves that make things a little bit better.

They're not working on the must-haves that changes the entire trajectory of a situation.

People will forget to take their vitamins. But, when suffering, people will always look for a way to kill that pain.

All In

Maybe it was the scotch, maybe it was that I had the chip lead, or maybe there's just something in the air, but, last week during poker night, I realized something about the way I approach each hand that is dealt. And then next morning over coffee realized it is the same way I approach life. I'm always looking to go All-In.

Now, I don't mean on every hand, but I do mean, that my "tell" (sign that I've got something exciting) is that I bet. I have no problem sluffing cards that aren't quite good enough. There is definitely an opportunity cost to not staying in hands longer, like knowing you'd have had the winning hand after all the cards are dealt, but there is something to be said for knowing how you play and what you're willing to risk.

The same is true when evaluating options and making choices in life. I'm constantly finding that once I go "in" on a hand, I am quickly confident enough to go All-In. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing All-In.

Or said another way:

 

Know Thy Stride

Dr. Abraham Maslow put self-actualization at the top of his hierarchy of needs. Plato encouraged Socrates to "Know Thyself." In NYC, when crossing the street, it is should be "Know Thy Stride," that just might be the difference between getting to the other side of the street and being a NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission statistic.

I am tall. I'm even taller on days when I wear my cowboy boots (or said another way, everyday.) I live in NYC and therefore my expectation of the speed for walking would look like running to others. As a result, my stride is longer than most. This can be hazardous when I am walking with someone through the city that is more vertically challenged, especially if they're not used to the pace of the city that doesn't sleep.

Knowing my stride allows me to get across neighborhood streets and avenues quickly. Knowing my stride gives me confidence when stepping off the curb at 23rd Street and 6th Ave in the middle of pedestrian rush hour with the Walk/Don't Walk sign signaling that there is only 4 seconds left before aggressive cabbies stomp down on the gas and come flying through the crosswalk. Knowing my stride lets me take the risks that others with different strides might not.

The same can be said about life. Knowing your stride allows you to know how far you can stretch and how fast. It allows you to say yes to risks that you know you can outpace and say no with confidence to opportunities that you understand intuitively will end up with misaligned expectations and damage to everyone involved.

But, just like walking in NYC, you only learn the full extent of your stride by using it and pushing it to the limit.

 

Not Your Race

I am a competitive person. I abhor the idea of playing a game and not keeping score. If there is a way to win, I will find it. If there is even a way to CLAIM a win, I will attempt to. Which is why riding my bike the past few weekends has proven to be an interesting change of pace. When I ride my bike in NYC, I usually head over to the West Side Highway bike path and ride North along the Hudson River. The path there is just wide enough to pass slower bikers or joggers without scooting over into oncoming traffic. And when I ride, I tend to pass a lot of folks. Even more now that the CitiBikes are out and people who haven't ridden in NYC are doing so for the first time in a long time.

And sometimes, I get passed. Usually by guys in spandex with bikes that cost more than my first car. At first, being passed bothered me. They were beating me was my default thought process. They were going faster and they were winning. But then I considered, did the people that I passed think the same thing? Was me zooming past them in the realm of consideration that I was winning? Of course not. And neither were the guys zooming past me thinking that they were beating me. It wasn't a race. We were all out there for different reasons with different levels of equipment and training and health. Even though we were all doing the same activity, an activity that by its very nature showcases speed, strength, and distance, we were not riding with the same end game in mind.

I am in San Francisco this morning and I've been thinking a lot about the technology scene and industry and how it too isn't a race.  There are countless ways that you could think that someone was passing you or that you were falling behind, but that isn't a fair race to ride because we are all coming into it with different equipment, skills, and teams than everyone else.  And, if we are all smart, we are all riding for a different end game than everyone else. An end game that is ours and ours alone. I'm not talking about an exit or the cover of FastCompany or some other moment in time goal, those can't be the reason we are all riding as hard as we are. The reasons have to be bigger, otherwise you won't enjoy the downhill that comes after you powered through the grind to get to your momentary peak.

When it is all said and done, most of life isn't a race against anyone else but ourselves. Everything that we are building has to be worth it for our own definition of a win, not for anyone else's.

Steal My Idea, I Dare You

The "stolen" idea of Facebook and eternal legal battle between Zuckerberg and the twins is a well documented worst case scenario as to what happens when you share your idea with the wrong people. But what is the best case scenario? I was recently on 5By (check them out, amazing video conceirge style curation) and checking out their Venture Cap Channel. 5By served me up a pretty great video on finding a technical co-founder, a question I get all the time from the start-ups I work with that are lacking the Hacker to complete the Hipster, Hacker, Hustler trifecta. In this video, Ian Jeffrey of FounderFuel, says that the best way to attract the Hacker is to tell everyone about your idea, especially at events and meet ups where the Hacker types might hang out (look for neck beards and ironic t-shirts) He also addresses the "what if someone steals the idea" concern.

I've thought about this idea of people stealing my ideas before telling folks about projects that I think about on nights and weekends and during the first 10,000 feet of airline flights. When it all boils down to it, I could give someone all the details needed and a really good pitch about why some of my ideas are awesome but if they tried to steal them, they would be missing a very important piece of the reason it is a great idea: Me.

At this point in the innovation and start-up industry's life cycle, we are beyond the point were people are looking for the needle in the haystack of good ideas. Now people are trying to beat back the good ideas and find the great ones, and, most everyone is partial to their own. People don't have time to steal your ideas, they're trying to find enough time to do their own.

A great example of this kind of openness was the subject of my Forbes post this morning. John O'Nolan laid out his game plan for building Ghost last year and didn't hide much. But, it was because of this openness that he got over 100,000 unique views on that blog post and, in the past 24 hours, has doubled his Kickstarterr goal and is well on his way to blowing the doors off of this opportunity. If someone else had taken this idea and run with it without John, it would have failed. There is no one else that cared about it as much as he did. And because of that caring, he's attracted a team of rock stars to work with him.

So, get out there and share the big ideas. Get out there and find others they resonate with. Then go do them together. That's what this wild and crazy world is all about.