Emerging Encouraged

"We believe at a certain point, if we can retain enough of the talent that we've uncovered, we can build a community that makes Silicon Valley and New York less of a default."  This quote, and many others like it, seemed to be a theme in the conversations I had last night at the kick off party for the Hello Tomorrow conference I am speaking at here in Paris later today. I spoke with entrepreneurs and investors from here in France as well as those from Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, and Israel and they all seemed to have a similar sentiment. Each one of them, while aware of the attraction and pull of the larger tech hubs in Europe like London or Berlin, or ultimately San Francisco, believe that the geographical centralized nature of technology is on its way to the history books. My good friend and partner in Exopshere, Skinner Layne, wrote a wonderful piece on this them earlier this week: Burst It - Not The Bubble You Think.  "A hundred new entrepreneurship nodes would do far more good for the world than three new Silicon Valleys." We are seeing this play its out at Exosphere in Chile and in the communities that our Bootcamp members return to.

The barrier to entry to build a web based company is so much lower now than it used to be. This is both good and bad. The bad being that there are a lot of really bad ideas that are seeing the light of day because they no longer need the approval of any outside source before they are launched. The good being that no one needs the approval of anyone else to begin working on the idea you believe is the next big thing. And the same goes with the communities of entrepreneurship and innovation that are popping up around the world.

Each of these communities is unique to its location and the resources that are already in place. Some are being informally incubated around a system of universities and others are being pushed forward by the alumni of a technology company long since relevant. Some are built on the backs of entrepreneurs that left and made a name for themselves in a bigger hub but have returned to bring their experience, and in some case, investment dollars, back to their home town.

There will never be another Silicon Valley, and that is a great thing. But there can be "Silicon-Everywhere" and that is an even better thing.

Entrepreneur Bootcamp

A year ago, I wrote about Exosphere for the first time. We were just getting started recruiting team members, building out the scope of the idea, and finding a location to house our burgeoning entrepreneurial education community.  Since that time, we've taken over a palace in downtown Santiago, Chile, added team members from around the world, inked partnerships with other Latin American focused organizations, and co-hosted a conference for developers with Facebook and American Airlines. As we continue to build a community around the belief that education will be one of the most disrupted industries in the next decade, we are launching our first Entrepreneur Bootcamp beginning this fall.  (APPLY HERE) We will be bringing 30 aspiring entrepreneurs to Santiago (Why Chile?)  for a 3 month intensive program focusing on the skills critical to take an idea from the back of a napkin to a reality. I am incredibly proud of the mentors and workshop leaders that will be flying down to Chile throughout the fall to share their own experiences in design thinking, programming, and income generation.

Because this all inclusive program is intentionally capped at 30 participants, we know it will fill up quickly. If you've considered taking the leap into building something and diving into entrepreneurship, there are few places better than Exosphere to take those first steps. To read more about the Bootcamp and why spending three months in Chile this fall might be just the thing for you or someone you know, check out Exosphe.re or drop me a note and I'll be happy to tell you more about it.

Working Smarter

I recently played the best round of golf of my life. It was the first round of golf I'd played in 14 months. Heck, the first time that I'd swung a golf club in 14 months. I was also playing the Ocean Course at Kiawah Resort in South Carolina, the course that Tiger Woods called, "one of the more challenging courses I've ever played."  Did I also mention that I was playing with borrowed clubs? With all of these factors in mind, you can imagine how frustration it was for the other golfer I was paired with who plays twice a week to watch me play as well as I did. It actually appeared to make him play worse, like I was getting in his head on a Sunday round at the Masters.  I started feeling bad about it, but not enough to stop me from crushing my 3-Wood 280 yards down the fairway on the 18th hole approaching the club house.

Enough with my not-at-all-humble brags, what is the point of the story? Where is the ego fueled rant headed?  There are two things that factored into how well I played that day: What clubs I played with and who I played with.

What I played with: I mentioned I played with a borrowed seat of clubs but I didn't mention that they were brand new Titleists with the biggest sweet spots I've ever seen.  I grew up playing on a set of 1967 Wilson blades that I inherited from my 6-foot 5-inch Grandpa Anderson. They had longer shafts which was helpful for my height, but absolutely nothing but a bent piece of metal with grooves as the club face and therefore no forgiveness for my tendency to slice the ball. These Titleists were more forgiving than a soon to be retired priest.

Who I played with: I mentioned the avid golfer that I played with, but I didn't mention that part of the tradition at the Ocean Course is that ever group goes out with a caddy. My caddy was Brandon Hartzell, a semi-pro golfer who just missed the qualifier for this year's U.S. Open. I got to the course early and he accompanied me out to the driving range. At first, I was taken aback by how conversational he was while I was warming up, but what I later realized was that 15 swings into my warm up, he knew my swing better than I did.  He watched me go through my irons, then my fairway woods, and then my driver on the practice range and didn't let me pick a club the rest of the day. He knew exactly how far I could hit each club and how I should play each shot. His understanding of my all but hibernated golf game infused me with confidence that I had no business having.

I recently wrote a blog post about only having one gear on my bike and some of the virtue that I have found that raw experience to give me. A good friend and all together more accomplished cyclist, Adam McManus, tweeted back to me that he understood where I was coming from, but also for me to not discount what can happen by working smarter and some day growing up to a bike with gears for all kinds of routes, hills, and distances.

The same could be said for the precision that I used to cling to with my 1967 golf clubs. While both my one speed and ancient clubs require me to be ultimately much more intentional about the way I operate. But, at a certain point, graduating up to the next rung isn't just about raw skill but the honing of the foundation you've built and going deeper into the realms of possibilities by working smarter after having worked harder.

Working smarter and working harder are not mutually exclusive and the best of the best understand how to do both in harmony.

(If you want to read more about the great time that Annie and I had in Kiawah, check out her post on National Geographic HERE)

Wave on Wave

Success often follows a pattern: right place, right time and you knew what to do next. Either a repeated pattern was identified or there were specific pain points that inspired the creation of a solution. This pattern identifying is similar to body surfing on shallow waves. While the shape and size of the waves might not be the same each time, there are most definitely some places off the shore that are better than others to spot and ride the breaks inland.

I recently went off the grid in Kiawah, South Carolina. The hard-packed beaches were incredible for bike riding and sandcastles. But the flatness of the shoreline gave way to breaks that aren't nearly as big. Most of the time. But, after spending a little bit of time watching the patterns and feeling out the sandbar beneath the surface, it became easier and easier to tell which waves were going to build into something with momentum and which were just good for show.

But, even after identifying the right place, it was still about knowing the right time. And even still about executing on the all out dive into the surf and paddling into the break that gave way for the most distance covered.  I only caught a couple of great ones my first few times out, but sometimes that is all it takes for you to get back out the next morning and start learning the patterns again.

Learning... Up In The Air

The more I travel, the more I realize I don't know. From my first trip involving a Passport stamp to Peru in 1998 to this past week's 4 cities in 3 days jaunt, I learn a lot on the when I'm on the road.  In 2010 and 2011, at the height of the Gowalla adventure, I did over 250,000 miles in the air (unfortunately not all on the same airline - start-up life.) In 2012, I was more grounded in NYC with my work. But already in 2013, I've been on the road for 15 days and hit 12 cities. When on the road, the circumstances lend themselves to learning. The disruption in the normal schedule lead to unexpected downtime and distance from the usual default time fillers.  When I leave for a trip I usually have at least two week's worth of Economist to catch up on and a book that remains only partial consumed because I am really good at falling asleep midparagraph when I try and read in the evenings at home.

I also learn from those that I meet will traveling that I wouldn't otherwise see in my New York bubble of interactions. Between airports and rental car counters and conference tables, life on the road puts you in close proximity to all kinds of people. And let's not even begin to dissect the irrational closeness of sleeping on a red-eye flight from SFO to JFK next to a big burly man in 26B.

As I look forward to the rest of 2013 and beyond, my work with Waze is going to keep my frequent flyer status feed and my carry-on packing skills sharp. But hopefully, it will also continue to lend itself to being the routine busting classroom that I have come to appreciate when I'm up in the air.

Home First, Then Abroad?

Did you watch the KONY2012 video, get mad, and then share it online a few weeks ago? Did you read the reports about Trayvon Martin and then feel a similar level of outrage and share it online this week? I woke up this morning and poured my first cup of coffee and came across two articles that gave me pause. The first a terrific read in The Atlantic about the "White Savior Industrial Complex" and how it is the fastest growing trend in the privileged communities in America. (Yes I am talking to all of us that made sure to get a picture of us with some cute kids in a third world country and use it as a Facebook Profile picture.) Taking aim at KONY2012, Nick Kristof, and Oprah, it is worth taking some time to read through this eloquent rant about the convenient approach that we take towards going good, as opposed to the inconvenient work that it takes to make real change.

The Atlantic: The White Savior Industrial Complex

There is a lot in there to chew on and think about any kind of work that we believe in and want to see done abroad. But then, as I poured my second cup of coffee, I came across a piece reminding me that the killing of the young and the innocent isn't just something that happens "over there." The death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of an over zealous neighborhood watchman who thought he "looked suspicious" is a tragedy on a lot of levels. What is even more tragic is that this kind of stereotyping still happens in our country. But what is the worst is that the same people that got ramped up and mobilized about innocent kids being killed across the ocean have been pretty quiet about it happening in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

White People, You'll Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin

I want to say that what KONY2012 has brought to light is a bigger story because it has been going on for years and that Trayvon Martin's murder is an isolated incident. What I want to say is that Invisible Children (an awesome organization by the way) has been building their audience for years and that is why they were able to bring such a voice to KONY2012 and there wasn't a group rallied to roll out the call for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. But I don't think those ideas are actually what I want to say at all.

As I pour my third cup of coffee, I'm realizing what I found myself asking this morning about these two points of view is this: is it sexier and easier to think about a problem that is half way around the world than it is to think about and doing something about a problem that we all know exists right here at home?

Infinite Pathways to Creative Success

On one of my favorite trips so far this year, I headed down under to Sydney and had the incredibly unique experience to speak at the Sydney Opera House as a part of XMediaLab Global Ideas conference. It was a wonderful experience and some of the most fun I've ever had giving a speech. Afterwards, I sat down with author Brad Howarth to talk creativity, success, and Gowalla. I cover a lot of different ways that Gowalla has worked with brands and where we see the location based world going. Would love to hear your thoughts our conversation.

Part One (8:04)


Part Two (5:22)



Somethings can only be learned when you're outside of your normal surroundings. Some experiences you'd never agree to do if you were home, but because you're the mindset of adventure you say yes.  When you meet people on the road, knowing they're also away from home, you're more likely to become friends. "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness & many people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men & things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." ~Mark Twain

This video was recently posted and is a part of a series based on "3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films..... = a trip of a lifetime."

And it is awesome.


To see the others, follow this link: http://vimeo.com/rickmereki/videos