Image source: http://www.partyswizzle.com/assets/images/S-DinnerChecklist.jpg
Ah, New Year’s Eve… how fitting to share reflections of 2014 today. Read: what a nice coincidence NYE falls on the day I normally post! So I’m sharing my accomplishments of 2014 as part of the 3-part series of reflections – today’s part 2. You can read Part 1 for the six reasons why I blog here. Today’s post starts with the question:

What was accomplished in 2014?

I learned how to code!

The beginning of 2014 started with a bit of a lull for me, and I took a weekend to learn Ruby on Rails through One Month. However, no way do I see that as where I checked off “Learn How To Code” mostly because I didn’t progress beyond a couple months with it. I didn’t find it sustaining. Nor am I counting my earlier knowledge in Visual Basic or SQL. None of those were actually harnessed into sustainable, marketable skills for mass consumption. I have a post about this, too – These 3 Questions Led Me to Stop Waiting and Start Programming.
Instead, it was the recent August-November months where I feel I truly learned how to code. That’s when I embarked on building Dee Duper in Apple’s Swift. The experience was up and down with a LOT of trial and error including YouTubing “How To” videos, figuring out how to properly Google help forums, etc. However, in December, I was able to get Dee Duper in App Store and released for the general public. Since it was so late in the year, I’m delaying marketing till the new year rolls around.
Till then, I’ve started working on another idea on iOS. I’ve made huge progress, and hope to wrap it up by the second week of January. Then, I’ll get it into testing before another App Store submission.

Body Boss was “zombified”.

In April, the Body Boss team decided it was best to let Body Boss continue to operate, but to not sink anymore resources into Marketing and Product Development. Well, kind of. We still do a little product development including moving and testing our skills with different services.
Body Boss today is a revenue-generating business, but is largely hands-off with some notable college and high school programs using it happily.
If traction continues to grow or my programming skills continue to develop (especially on Ruby on Rails and JavaScript), maybe I’ll revive the business beyond zombie-mode. For me, it’s still very much an idea I’m passionate about, and I see some amazing potential in it beyond the academic institutions but into the commercial and retail channels, healthcare, and yes, the consumer market.

Developed stronger business development skills.

This is really a more on-going thing, and probably not specific enough. However, along with Body Boss, I continued to refine my business development skills. After Body Boss’s announcement, I spent the summer consulting with a local startup with a new innovative marketing product.
I performed a lot of the day-to-day cold calls and performed demos, put together some marketing collateral including content for the site, and even helped put together some fund-raising materials including Pro Formas and pitch decks, etc.
Essentially, I did a lot of different things outside of programming. I’m still finding myself building on breadth rather than focusing on depth. Next year, I’ll probably need to work on the latter if I’m to find traction in or with a startup.
Outside of that, I’ve also connected with many great local startups and corporate executives from straight cold-emailing or tweeting, or random meets at Starbucks or conferences. I’ve definitely improved on my people skills and confidence in just walking up to others and finding ways to help which has led to other consulting arrangements.
Heck, I was introduced to the Jon Birdsong of Rivalry who allowed me to spend a few minutes in SalesForce – “3 Hours in SalesForce and I’m (Finally) an Expert”. I suppose that can be a check right there – “Get Working Knowledge of SalesForce/ some CRM”.

What was NOT accomplished?

Building a successful venture

Body Boss’s zombification pretty much marked one in the “failure” category. Then, I spent a few months doing various consulting projects and learning how to program. So nope, didn’t quite build a venture that would sustain a living for myself and one that I would want to grow into a business to provide job opportunities for others.

Benching 315

Okay, so this is less entrepreneurial, but it’s still a goal that was NOT met. Even though I’ve developed a lot of Strength & Conditioning acumen over the years, I’ve really lacked a good grasp of the science behind S&C. As such my strength for the barbell bench press has stalled a bit. I started adding more sets at high intensities to my workouts, and in effect, I’ve done nothing but increased injuries. I’ve tried to push myself too much, and actually decreased my strength.
During the latter part of 2014, I’ve decided to do more research and stick to the basic such as Prilepin’s table. With a smarter regimen, 315 can be an attainable goal next year.
Till then, I did accomplish bringing in a Leg Day (okay, 1.5 Leg Days actually) to the program. I’ve long held out adding a workout just for legs because I used to play soccer up to 4 days a week and mountain bike 1 day. The frequency I play at has slowed down considerably, so I’ve added this lower body day. I also added Squat Cleans into my regimen which was something I was mostly untrained and scared to do. Now, it’s one of my favorite exercises.
Oh, and I also got three plates on the dips.
3 plates? That’s nothin’. Let’s see 4 soon.

12AM on January 1st

Some of the above is a little hard to track and close (such as the Business Development Goal). Next year, I’m going to be more specific and discuss how I’m going to track the goals – I’ll detail this on part 3 of Reflections next week. Stay tuned and keep in touch!
What is just ONE goal you met and ONE goal you didn’t meet this year? Anything stick out to you like these did for me? Any thoughts on how you might ensure success next year? I’m thinking about mine…
I was tempted to use a mirro #selfie picture as a not-so-subtle play on “reflection”, but decided on a less cheesy route. You’re welcome. (Photo cred: http://splitshire.com/focus/)
Ready for the new year? Whether or not you are, it’s coming. I do “micro-reflections” at the end of each day about what I did well, what I could improve on, what’s on tap for tomorrow/ next week, etc. As it’s the end of the year, it’s time for a more “macro-reflection”.
Recently, I’ve been asked more than a few times why I blog, and asked to capture what was accomplished this past year and what I’m looking forward to next year. So for this macro-reflection post, I’m going to write a three-part series. Part 1 (today) will be…

Why do I blog?

First, it’s a challenge.

Writing was not a strong point for me growing up, and not one I enjoyed doing. However, I think it was largely about context. I didn’t find anything I was writing about compelling to me in school. 
Now, I write about startups and entrepreneurship with a sprinkling of leadership and psychology. I’ve already started writing about Finance (another weak point), and soon, I’ll be adding some technical posts to my repertoire. Each post has fed my passion in entrepreneurship.
Blogging has been a challenge for me to not only keep writing and improving my writing skills, but it’s been a great driver for me to continually read and learn.

Secondly, blogging plays a role in BRANDING.

As I said in my personal story, I realize that I’m a representation of many people who have influenced me either directly or indirectly. Blogging allows me to continually build and refine what my name means and who I am – my personal branding.
Even looking at my LinkedIn profile, my Facebook profile, or my resume, it’s largely a static image of myself till the next time I update it which can be infrequent. However, with a blog, I can give better context as to who I am as supplemental to a LinkedIn profile or resume.
Others can read a few of my posts and quickly see where my passions lay, what motivates me, etc. I try to keep my writing authentic to who I am, so I hope my personality comes through the words.

Thirdly, blogging introduces me to many others with a similar passion.

I got a chance to meet ​Tricia Whitlock, ​Editor of ​Hypepotamus, one of Atlanta’s major tech-blogs. I reached out because I enjoy the content she and her team provides not just from a quality standpoint, but also for the breadth and frequency. A key to their writing has been reaching out to others either for interviews or to showcase what new startups are up to. It’s been a great way for the publication’s staff to meet others, stay in tune with the startup scene locally and regionally, and continue to pump out fresh, relevant content.​ I’m seeing how Hypepotamus can become one of, if not THE, premier startup news aggregator here in the Southeast.
When I was blogging for Body Boss, we reached out to strength coaches to guest post with us. This situated us as a connector to coaches. But also, it gave us an opportunity to connect with those outside Body Boss, and we could connect coaches everywhere to one another. It became a powerful marketing tool for networking, inbound marketing, outbound marketing (newsletters), etc.

Fourth, blogging can inspire, motivate, and teach others.

I’ve met so many people who have stumbled on my site. They ask me questions about starting up their own ideas. Or, I’ve met others who have taken some of my lessons and applied them to their current startups which has helped them avoid pitfalls.
At the end of the day, it’s great to see others taking some of my experience and applying it to their own lives. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be entrepreneurial. I think the lessons and skills learned through entrepreneurship are highly adaptable and applicable to, yes, the large corporate jobs. Everything from customer discovery to rapid prototyping to user experience has been hugely beneficial in even consulting projects.

And then, blogging is therapeutic.

My mind can be a bit… frenetic. It runs 200 mph with ideas and questions that used to just marinate in my head. It kept me up at night or didn’t let me fall asleep in the first place. Conversations with friends would go in a million directions.
By writing, I have a release valve for me to share these questions and ideas. I can hone in on specific ideas or go full-bore with a multi-part series like this one. Plus, it gives me a way to share questions and ideas others have shared with me, too, and discuss with others.

And finally, it’s a challenge.

No, that’s no typo. I’m repeating it because this is the major reason for me to continue writing, much like why I love entrepreneurship. It’s the rush taking on the challenge and to compete against myself and in some ways, against others – me writing consistently where others might have faded away.
Blogging has forced me to be more comfortable with myself and push new ways of learning and expression… to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Up through undergrad, my personality tests would tell you I’m an introvert and my close friends would tell you how I was… more quiet and reserved. Since then, I’ve rewired my brain a bit aiming to be a better leader and more charismatic. Blogging has been a great catalyst of the change for me.
For example, blogging has forced me to be consistent in my actions and purposeful and comfortable knowing that my writing will NOT resonate with everyone. It took me a little while to get over that. Much like building a business, you have your target market you’re catering to. Respect those outside of your target market, but know that not everyone will appreciate who you are or what you’re doing/ selling.

So that’s why I blog…

It’s exciting when I run into people I haven’t seen in a while who tell me they’ve kept up-to-date on me through my blog, Entrepreneurial Ninja. They talk to me about how some post really resonated with them at their job, or how hilarious my story of the 4AM break-in was. That’s fun.
I’m on the Atlanta Tech Blog’s list! Scroll down alphabetically 42 spots as of 12/24!
As I’m sitting here, too, I’m grinning ear-to-ear because my blog was shared with Atlanta Tech Blogs who now have my blog as part of their feed. That’s incredibly flattering and exciting. Heck, some of you may have stumbled on this article from Atlanta Tech Blogs. (Thanks for stopping in.)
I’ve always wanted to be not just a leader of a company, but a leader of an industry, a community. To do that, I need to be a thought leader. David Cummings is a prime example of an extraordinary blogger, and has really cemented his leadership and influence on startups, especially those in Atlanta. With more consistency and longevity, I might actually get there, too.
Of course, I need to also get a good startup success… tune in for Part 2 next week.
Finance lessons part 2! Excited to share this, but also hoping I can transcribe what I’ve recently learned in a clear, concise way.
I was reading Bufferapp’s somewhat recent blog post about raising $3.5M at a $56.5M pre-money valuation – “We’re Raising $3.5m in Funding: Here is the Valuation, Term Sheet and Why We’re Doing It”. The startup is a “fully distributed team” meaning that they (the employees) operate anywhere and everywhere; though, they’re headquartered in San Francisco. Interesting company in how they operate in being highly values-first and built on “full transparency”. Like, everyone’s emails are open to one another, salaries are out in the open, etc. I wonder if they have unisex bathrooms, too. (That’s my attempt at a joke.)
Anyways, they’re looking to raise $3.5M and in the spirit of full transparency, they share with the digital world everything including why they’re raising, what they’re going to do with the money (including reserving $1M each to the two founders to put away), valuation, etc. Very unheard of to be that open, but very cool to read about and learn from.
It’s through Joel and Leo’s (the two founders) blog post where I realized I needed to expound on my Finance Lessons Part 1 post, especially around the concept of preferred vs. common stock. I’ll focus here since these types of details can really complicate VC deals.

Liquidation.

The first and fundamental concept today is Liquidation, and what I’ll build on beyond. This isn’t really a tough one, but liquidation happens largely in two ways – through acquisition or through bankruptcy.
  • Bad Company LLC goes bankrupt and is sold for parts at $10MM
  • Great Company LLC sells for $60M to Bigger Company Inc.

Liquidation can mean the sell-off of assets, acquisition by another company, etc.

Liquidation Preference.

Recall from Part 1 that preferred stock ensures shareholders the allocation of funds before common stock shareholders. Liquidation preference is a mechanism used to help protect investors on their initial investments while also being a means to “line up” in queue for claims to money.
Investors usually will have set a multiplier on their initial investments written into the contracts, too.
Let’s say Hugh invested $10M in each of Good But Not Great LLC and Great Company LLC initially at 40% equity each (each company had a value of $25M). The companies’ founders and employees owned the other 60%.
Scenario 1: Hugh had a 1X Liquidation Preference.
Good But Not Great LLC
Great Company LLC
Initial Investment by Hugh
$10M for 40% equity
$10M for 40% equity
Liquidation Preference
1X
1X
Company Sold For
$30M
$60M
Hugh Guaranteed
$10M (1 x $10M initial investment)
$10M (1 x $10M initial investment)
Founders and Employees Distribute (what’s left)
$20M
$50M
Scenario 2: Hugh had a 2X Liquidation Preference.
Good But Not Great LLC
Great Company LLC
Initial Investment by Hugh
$10M for 40% equity
$10M for 40% equity
Liquidation Preference
2X
2X
Company Sold For
$30M
$60M
Hugh Guaranteed
$20M (2 x $10M initial investment)
$20M (2 x $10M initial investment)
Founders and Employees Distribute (what’s left)
$10M
$30M

Participating vs. Non-Participating Preferred Stock.

Note in the scenarios above I didn’t say, “Hugh Receives”. I said, “Hugh Guaranteed”. That’s because there’s also this notion of participating vs. non-participating preferred stock. This part gets tricky so perk up!
Investors (namely VCs here) can negotiate for participating vs. non-participating preferred stock. Participating preferred stock allows the investors to participate in converting their preferred stock for common stock to realize gains. These gains can be added ON TOP OF the liquidation preference. Note that the conversion of preferred stock to common stock is dependent on some conversion ratio of preferred stock-to-common. The participating vs. non-participating election in addition to the Liquidation Preference give the investors a function to maximize returns. So let’s do a couple scenarios.
Scenario 3: Hugh negotiated for nonparticipating preferred stock with a 1X liquidation preference.
Good But Not Great LLC
Great Company LLC
Initial Investment by Hugh
$10M for 40% equity
$10M for 40% equity
Liquidation Preference
1X
1X
Company Sold For
$30M
$60M
Hugh Guaranteed
$10M (1 x $10M initial investment)
$10M (1 x $10M initial investment)
Hugh’s Pro Rata Preferred-to-Common Stock Conversion
$12M (40% equity x $30M liquidation)
$24M (40% equity x $60M liquidation)
Founders and Employees Distribute (what’s left)
$8M
$36M

What’s happening? Hugh would obviously choose to convert his stock in both options as he would be +$2M in the Good But Not Great sale (return of 20%) and +$14M (return of 140%) in the Great Company sale.

Scenario 4: Hugh negotiated for participating preferred stock with a 1X liquidation preference.
Good But Not Great LLC
Great Company LLC
Initial Investment by Hugh
$10M for 40% equity
$10M for 40% equity
Liquidation Preference
1X
1X
Company Sold For
$30M
$60M
Hugh Guaranteed
$10M (1 x $10M initial investment)
$10M (1 x $10M initial investment)
Hugh’s Pro Rata Preferred-to-Common Stock Conversion after Guarantee
$8M (40% equity x $20M liquidation ($20M = $30M less the $10M guarantee))
$20M (40% equity x $50M liquidation ($50M = $60M less the $10M guarantee))
Hugh Receives Total
$18M ($10M guarantee + $8M from conversion)
$30M ($10M guarantee + $20M from conversion)
Founders and Employees Distribute (what’s left)
$12M
$30M

What’s happening? Hugh’s making out like a bandit with 80% returns in the Good But Not Great sale with 60% of the total sale amount even though he owns only 40% of the company!

In the Great Company sale, Hugh takes home $30M representing 50% of the sale amount with the same 40% equity share.
As you can see, there are some BIG ramifications depending on how Hugh and the companies structured their investment contracts. Now, let’s take those same scenarios, and see what happens when there’s 2X liquidation preference.
Scenario 5: Hugh negotiated for nonparticipating preferred stock with a 2X liquidation preference.
Good But Not Great LLC
Great Company LLC
Initial Investment by Hugh
$10M for 40% equity
$10M for 40% equity
Liquidation Preference
2X
2X
Company Sold For
$30M
$60M
Hugh Guaranteed
$20M (2 x $10M initial investment)
$20M (2 x $10M initial investment)
Hugh’s Pro Rata Preferred-to-Common Stock Conversion
$12M (40% equity x $30M liquidation)
$24M (40% equity x $60M liquidation)
Founders and Employees Distribute (what’s left)
$10M
$6M

What’s happening? Hugh has a bit of a choice here in converting or take the liquidation preference for the two sales. In the Good But Not Great sale, Hugh would obviously choose the liquidation preference option which is +$8M over the conversion scenario.

In the Great Company sale, Hugh would likely choose to convert his preferred stock so he can realize the gains with a +$4M value over the liquidation preference.
Scenario 6: Hugh negotiated for participating preferred stock with a 2X liquidation preference.
Good But Not Great LLC
Great Company LLC
Initial Investment by Hugh
$10M for 40% equity
$10M for 40% equity
Liquidation Preference
2X
2X
Company Sold For
$30M
$60M
Hugh Guaranteed
$20M (2 x $10M initial investment)
$20M (2 x $10M initial investment)
Hugh’s Pro Rata Preferred-to-Common Stock Conversion after Guarantee
$4M (40% equity x $10M liquidation ($10M = $30M less the $20M guarantee))
$16M (40% equity x $40M liquidation ($40M = $60M less the $20M guarantee))
Hugh Receives Total
$24M ($20M guarantee + $4M from conversion)
$36M ($10M guarantee + $20M from conversion)
Founders and Employees Distribute (what’s left)
$6M
$24M

What’s happening? Seriously, Hugh’s killin’ it. In the Good But Not Great Sale, Hugh has a 140% return with 80% of the sale price with only 40% of the equity.

In the Great Company sale, Hugh gets to look at buying a plane and a helicopter to avoid Atlanta traffic as he receives a disbursement of $36M – a 360% return on his initial investment! This represents 60% of the sale of the company despite only 40% equity.
Notice what’s happening to the money left over to be disbursed to the rest of the shareholders to both companies in each of the scenarios. The liquidation preference and the participating vs. non-participating mechanisms can have DRAMATIC effects to the money left for the founders and employees. What happens if Good But Not Great has a sale of $20M when Hugh has a 2X liquidation preference on his initial $10M investment?
Good But Not Great LLC
Initial Investment by Hugh
$10M for 40% equity
Liquidation Preference
2X
Company Sold For
$20M
Hugh Guaranteed
$20M (2 x $10M initial investment)
Hugh’s Pro Rata Preferred-to-Common Stock Conversion
$8M (40% equity x $20M liquidation)
Founders and Employees Distribute (what’s left)
$0 ($20M sale – $20M to Hugh)

What’s happening? Hugh will likely take the liquidation preference at $20M as it maximizes his return. Though, maybe he’s nice, and will give some of it back.

It’s clear it’s important to consider the preferred stock options of investors in a startup whether you’re looking to raise or you’re joining a company. Depending on the terms, that hope of an exit to pay for a new life may not pan out.

Caps.

Okay, so some of the scenarios above look incredibly dismal. Is there anything that can be done outside of negotiating or anything to put in the investment terms to protect the startup? After all, the liquidation preference and participating vs. non-participating stock help protect and maximize value to the investor. There are a few mechanisms, but one of the more common ways is via a cap that limits the returns of what investors can achieve.
With caps, companies can protect their equity stakes and that of other shareholders including the employees. I’m not going to illustrate this, but if you want to investigate, check out the sources below. When you do, also look up “Zone of Indifference”. The zone of indifference is the region between acquisition values where the returns to the investor won’t change due to structures of the liquidation preferences, participatory vs. non, and caps.

Conclusion.

When I ended Part 1, I listed several finance terms and subjects I would talk about… whoops. I started reading about Buffer, and I had so many questions. After doing my research, this stuff was just too good to not share. Okay, so let’s repost the list from last month add a few subjects, and then I’ll shoot to research them and share in January.
  • Types of financing including equity vs. debt
  • Convertible
  • Earnings per share (EPS)
  • Pre-money vs. post-money
  • Dividend
  • Pro-rata
  • Etc.

Umm, I’ll also perhaps start the S-1 IPO filing reviews beginning next year… maybe. We’ll see how all this goes in addition to the technical posts having launched Dee Duper a couple weeks ago.
What are your thoughts about the concepts introduced and talked about here? What questions/ concepts are you wondering about that I can help do some research for you? What questions do you have about what I’ve shared above, or comments?

First foray into iOS and LEGIT programming, and it goes swimmingly well… even if it wasn’t as “simple” of a start as I could’ve made it.

Since August of this year, I’ve been expanding my horizons and challenging an area that terrifies me – learning how to program. Okay, well, I’ve got some experience in programming including JAVA (long, long ago), Ruby on Rails, etc., but nothing really spectacular and for “mass consumption” except for maybe some SQL and VBA from consulting work. My experience in Ruby on Rails goes just a little farther than the One Month Rails course I took back in January. However, it never really stuck with me.

I found that I needed to root myself with three foundational questions that would give me a reason for learning (my WHY), a vision to focus my learning and achieve sustainability (my WHAT), and a way to begin (my HOW). That’s where the following three questions guided me.

Question 1: Why am I learning to program?
Like many idea-people, I have a long, long list of ideas of things to try/ build in terms of potential startup ideas. My list has started to get long in the tooth. Some of the ideas are similar to what some startups are now doing very well and/ or raising quite a bit of capital. As they say, ideas are worth nothing… it’s all about execution. However, with the market where it is being a highly developer world, it’s sometimes hard getting/ inspiring/ motivating developers to help build ideas without money, and I’m not a developer by trade. I’ve talked to a few other entrepreneurs and they share the same sentiment – good developers are highly valuable resources with no shortage of demand. 
I remember talking to one of the co-founders of Hired.com a few months ago, and he mentioned how he and a couple other great developers met one day to talk about possibly working together. After a couple meets they moved into a house near the Valley. They churned out projects weekly. They weren’t bottlenecks in their aspirations, but I was in mine. I don’t want to be limited in achieving what I want to. If I believe in myself and what I’m doing, then investing in some learning should be well worth it.
So, that’s what motivated me to really learn and become a developer — a reason for doing. I’m never going to be an extraordinary developer like the Body Boss guys (or designer), but I’ll know enough to be dangerous and launch ideas. If any of them stick, then great. I’ll then hopefully raise some capital to then find a more technically adept partner. Of course, there’s got to be some time to develop the ideas before churning out the next one. Anyways…
As an ancillary (but big) benefit, I’m hoping more experience with programming will make me a more adept entrepreneur and team member. I’m still figuring out my best skills and roles (product management, sales, marketing, general business development, PROGRAMMING?!, etc.). Right now, I like to be a generalist and my breadth of skills allows me to adapt quickly and effectively; however, I think strengthening my technical shortcomings will be valuable in an age of growing technology either by understanding customers’ needs, communicating with technical resources, or exploring new entrepreneurial opportunities.
Question 2: What am I starting?
Now with a purpose, I wasn’t sure what to begin or even what would keep my learning going. I needed to build something that resonated with me to give me short and long-term visions and goals.

After a brainstorming session in July, there was an interesting idea to help parents better buy and sell used kids goods. This was the inception of Dee Duper, the idea I’ve been building out since August. Though, to start, I wasn’t sure which way or where to start. Kick in some of my experience from the past, and I did customer discovery vis-à-vis a survey (using Google Docs) to answer some questions and test out some hypotheses.

Okay, you’re about to see some questions, responses, and charts from the survey – 48 parent respondents. Let me preface the results with this: I know, in retrospect, that the survey can be better structured, worded, and more MECE. I’m comfortable showing the results, however, knowing full well the responses are not “scientific”. The answers provide a good vane for the direction I should head, and as an entrepreneur, I don’t need exact measurements to get started. These examples should also serve as food-for-thought about how to make your own surveys more robust. Again, every iteration you do something, look to improve. I’ll write a post in the near future (Jan 2015?) on how I would improve my survey in retrospect.


Focused my survey on parents with 48 respondents.
Aside from “None; N/A” and “Other”, major problems of existing resale channels include Search and Trust.
One of my major hypotheses was that payment of goods between parents was a big headache. However, I learned that overwhelmingly, the major pain points revolved around search and trust. Okay, that changes my potential development roadmap, but where to start programming? A few more questions were needed via the survey…
The computer is still dominant for users followed by the iPhone. Though not focused on which device is used for online shopping, this still motivates me to build on iOS as the mobile app first.
Survey respondents were overwhelmingly users of the iPhone. So that’s where I was going to dig in for my first technical entrepreneurial foray – iOS! Yes, ‘Computer’ was actually the top device, but I knew/ wanted Dee Duper to reside mobile (native) first as an MVP (phase 0) especially given other outside research from Black Friday shopping, UPS datapoints, and my observations of target consumers on channels like the many “Mommy Exchanges” on Facebook. Phase 1 would include a web app, likely built on Ruby on Rails.
I have such limited experience in Apple’s Objective-C language, and with Apple’s announcement of its evolution in programming language, Swift, I decided to start with Swift. The syntax looks cleaner and if I went far back in my memory, it’s more similar to JAVA, I think.
User sentiments to the apps I was most interested in. In retrospect, I could have included other popular apps such as Pinterest
Through the customer discovery survey, I also learned what apps and platforms users used on a daily basis and their thoughts on the quality of the popular apps today. All this allowed me to go beyond just building on Swift but also help me think about design and usability as well as potential integrations. In my case, I’ve learned that removing barriers to sign up and get into an app is critical, so leveraging Facebook’s login was going to be my way forward.
Question 3: How did I start?

With limited experience in programming for the masses and a plethora of options and courses to learn programming, choosing where to begin and with who can be daunting. Luckily, when I started in August, Swift wasn’t talked about too much, yet, so I had limited options. I decided to get started with Treehouse.com. I ended up shelling out $99 for a Swift course. Treehouse did a good job of showing me the basics, and getting me used to the syntax. However, the course I took wasn’t a great one to learn how to build what I wanted to build.
Instead of spending more $$, I decided to explore free tutorials, and found some videos on YouTube by Brian Advent. This was actually really great because Brian also talked about not only Swift, but integrating a mobile back-end (with Facebook’s Parse). I hadn’t thought about what, where, and how to host the database to run Dee Duper, yet. He had some videos that explained how to build a Twitter-like app, so that’s where I would work alongside him through several videos, and then go off adapting what he taught to Dee Duper.

Starting from there was a lot of trial and error. I won’t hash this out because there’s quite a bit, but I’ll write posts in the very near future about my lessons. It’ll be on-going so stay tuned!

As a take-away for you, there are a TON of courses all over the internet including physical classes you can take if you so have the time and money to pursue. If you’re like me bootstrapping everything, there are plenty of free tutorials that will get you off and running quick.

Where I am and where I’m going…

Last Monday, December 1st, I actually received word that Dee Duper was approved for the Appstore! First time submission, first time approval. Pretty stellar stuff, I think. It took a while, but it’s come together pretty nicely.
Funny enough, while building Dee Duper, I’ve also picked up some part-time consulting to fill the coffers and get some mental stability, I’ve been thrust into building all sorts of models in VBA and even asked to do some SQL to build data cubes and algorithms. All of a sudden, I’m finding myself mixing up programming languages having taken on all sorts of technical roles. To the point above about why I wanted to pick up programming, I’ve definitely found myself much more marketable and able to swing into all sorts of different projects where others couldn’t. Plus, the added analytical side of programming has given me some creative ways of approaching other more strategic consulting projects.
Back to Dee Duper and my programming… Dee Duper just launched in the Appstore, but honestly, I haven’t marketed it at all. This is where a lot of work and effort will come into play. What I need to do now is find initial traction, and gather their input. I did my beta testing with some users throughout development, but now that the app is more widely available, learning will be critical.
You can now find Dee Duper in the Apple Appstore!
From the feedback, I hope to find what works, what doesn’t, and the missing elements of Dee Duper to achieve product-market fit. I’ve got a roadmap of what I want to integrate next with Dee Duper including geo-location, saved searches (alerting you if something is posted that you’re looking for), favorites, etc. For now, I’m eager to gather feedback of the MVP of Dee Duper before I go building a bunch of features nobody wants.
I’ll post some quick lessons since I started programming in the next month. I’ll also start sharing some technical posts including how I’ve implemented different features, headaches I’ve come across, etc. The Swift developer community is still very young, so the help library is sparse. Hopefully, I can help build that up.
What questions do you have about how I got started either with Dee Duper or programming? Are you someone who wants to code, but hasn’t stepped into it, yet? What’s holding you back? Or, if you did start coding but not a coder as a full-time gig, why/ what are you coding?
Couple weeks ago, I was invited by a buddy to attend a lunch session for Juice Analytics on “Turning Data into Dollars”. My bud just joined the company having always been a bit of data guy, and figured I’d appreciate the talk especially with my own interest in data and background in consulting. These days with the Cloud, the whole Big Data movement, and all the tools available to companies, it’s important to have a solid game plan regarding data, monetizing or otherwise.

Golden Data Rule: He who controls the data, makes the rules.

One of the Juice Analytics co-founders spoke about how to leverage data to deliver more actionable visualizations that also tell a more compelling story, and of course, there were some nuggets of insight that I thought interesting enough to jot down in my little notebook and share with you. If you’re into data, need to make data-driven decisions, etc., these should resonate with you as they have with me.
  • You, Your Dashboard, Your Analytics… Together, You’re the Tour Guide. Like a tour guide you may follow visiting a national park, he/ she’s excited and knowledgeable, and rarely do they stray from the path. Your data visualizations should do the same in telling a story where you are knowledgeable of the data behind the scenes to give background and context should a tourist need more. Add context elements like call-outs to distill more complex data.
  • Plan for the “Extended Audience”. Rarely does a dashboard or PowerPoint deck go only one audience deep. It usually gets passed down the line, and if your reports aren’t clear and concise, it’s likely the message will be filtered and watered down so that the end-consumer isn’t getting the message you originally tried to convey. It’s like the Telephone (or Whisper) Game you might’ve played back in elementary or middle school (if you don’t remember, you probably still did it). With each successive person who passes the message, how does the message change? Will they need more context to relay the intended message?
  • Create Scores to Encourage Thought and Debates. The Juice guys (I really want to call them Juicers or say they’re “juicin’”) talked about how effective data companies will oftentimes create some “scientific” score to encourage others to debate and talk about their scores and methodologies. This can drive engagement and help position the organization as a thought leader. Think: ESPN’s Quarterback Rating (QBR).
Snagged this from ESPN on December 2nd. Darn… no Matt Ryan at the top. (http://espn.go.com/nfl/qbr)
  • Analysts Want the Raw Ingredients; Consumers Want the Snazzy Plate. That is to say, consumers don’t necessary care to see the raw ingredients of food. However, they want the final plate to be visually appealing, tasteful, etc. In the same way for data, consumers rarely want to see the eye charts that are data tables, but they want to see a compelling visualization to glean actionable insights. But as an analyst and data guy, I usually don’t care for the pivot tables and fancy charts. I want to see the data sources to do my own validation. In consulting, this is never more true. I always want to establish a baseline with raw data when starting a project, but as I start to draw conclusions, I need to prepare the plate (PowerPoint deck most of the time) that can be easily understood by the audience (easily digestible, too!).
Image sources (left): http://tinyurl.com/kuuw5vz; (right) from Epicure Atlanta Catering http://tinyurl.com/k3yadf8
  • Design For Action. Ah, I loved this part of presentation because it resonated so much with me after seeing so many terrible dashboards and metrics at various large companies over the years in consulting… effective, compelling visuals drive action. I’ve seen companies just overload SVPs with pages and pages of metrics and data tables. It was analysis paralysis, and nothing told a coherent story that motivated action (other than the action to cut down on the dashboards). Essentially, everyone was wasting their time either getting reports together or trying to decipher what the heck it all meant. Actionable visualizations should elicit a “I’ll get on it” response.
Next time you deliver a report, what’s the response of the audience?
Cool lunch session overall, and of course, there’s food so… yeah. Anyways, the session made me think a lot about what I’ve been doing in both consulting and in various startups. I’ve always been a big proponent on collecting and owning the data. With data, you can make data-driven decisions. If you don’t collect, however, it’s nearly impossible to get that back. In thinking about Body Boss, we’ve wanted to collect data to tell more compelling insight into athletes’ performance. Coaches don’t have the time to slice and dice every player on their roster to understand if players are over-exerting, if they’re not challenged, if they’re stagnant, etc. Body Boss was to deliver more actionable insights quickly and easily to both coaches and the athletes. In consulting, I’m oftentimes tasked to look at a lot of datapoints, and it’s my job to make sense of it all.
What are your thoughts on creating compelling, actionable visualizations for data? How are data collectors and providers challenged to deliver these reports?

A little more about Juice Analytics (from my view): Juice Analytics plays in a tough space in big data and effective reporting, oftentimes compared against the big player Tableau. However, Juice’s differentiator is being an application that can also be the engine that drives the analytics and visualizes the data in creative ways that tell a more compelling story. They can plug into all sorts of resources even a host of Excel files that can be repeated as part of business processes.
Thankful for a lot this Thanksgiving
Welp, it’s Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. No frills, pills, or chills with this post, but listing a few things I give thanks for this year.
  • Friends– I put friends first because I’ve had a couple really close friends who have been great supporters and motivators over the last year especially with Body Boss and Dee Duper. Everyone always seems highly engaged in what I’m working on, and offering some tremendous support including helping me learn how to program.
  • Family– Always able to be counted on, my family has largely been a great support system. Though, I do have family members who believe I’m bat-shit crazy for continuing on my low-income-pursuit-of-my-dreams. I know that in the end, they just want me to be happy and comfortable. We haven’t seen eye-to-eye in some other cases, but overall, they’ve been exemplary to lean on especially when I’m dying from food poisoning and bed-ridden. Yeah.
  • The Body Boss Fitness Team – Okay, so these guys are already pretty much captured in the above with Friends and Family (yes, they’re in both because that’s just how close we are). They’ve been a great team and are highly skilled at what they do. Everyone’s largely moved onto new paths, and it’s apparent the high quality these guys are with each joining some incredible startups even spearheaded by two of (who I call) the Atlanta Entrepreneurial All-Stars.  
  • Brookhaven Police Department – Shout out to the newly incorporated city of Brookhaven’s police department for responding to my 9-1-1 call back in May when I had a break-in at 4AM and woke with a stranger standing in front of me as I woke up — read “When a Break-In at 4AM Inspires 5 Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned“. The other night, I woke up thinking I heard something. False alarm, but it was enough for me to relive that night. Needless to say, I didn’t go back to sleep the rest of the night. Not going to lie – that night was scary, but glad the officers responded quickly and professionally.
Scene from “The Walking Dead”… the only picture I could really find of a legit guy hiding under the bed. This might’ve happened when I woke up to a break-in at 4AM
  • Atlanta’s Startup Community – I once read, “only entrepreneurs understand entrepreneurs.” True story. Not many people really understand the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, so it’s great to have a growing, vibrant startup community here in Atlanta that is tight-knit. I’ve met some great people ranging from startup employees, founders of all levels (early, growth, failed, successful sales), lawyers, etc. Most everyone has been happy to meet or introduce me to others. Very thankful for the connections.
  • Great Tools and Resources to Learn How to Code – I’ve only started programming in Apple’s Swift since August, and I feel I’ve been able to get up and running pretty… swiftly (get it?!). I’ve been able to pick up these new skills thanks to free YouTube channels, One Month [Rails], Stack Overflow, Parse, Facebook, etc. Especially for the platforms like Parse and Facebook, they’ve been very easy to integrate into.
  • Fantastic Professional Network From a Life Before (and kinda still) – Every once in a while, I need to fill up the coffers to keep my entrepreneurial journey going. Though to an even greater degree, I’ve wanted/ needed to know I’m still capable of doing great work, even if the startups haven’t quite reflected that. So, it’s been great to be able to pick up the phone and tell prior colleagues that I’m up for some consulting work, and every one of them has been eager to bring me on asking, “How many hours do you want? When can you start?” I’ve been fortunate through my prior life as a consultant to have formed some stellar relationships and built up good, adaptable skills.
There’s a number of others who I’m leaving out, and for that, apologies, but know you’ve been helpful on my journey. The ones I put above are those I’ve been thinking about for a while now, and many are likely to be staples to my Thanksgiving posts year in and year out. However, it’s good to call them out anyways, and thank them. Hopefully, this won’t be news to others if I’ve shown my appreciation throughout the last year.
And finally, THANK YOU! for reading my blog posts. If you have any questions or comments, I’m always up for hearing or connecting. Just give me a shout either via Twitter @TheDLuor email me at the.daryl.lu@gmail.com.
Who/ what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? How are you showing appreciation not just on this holiday, but in your interactions?
Okay, I’m going to admit something here. Publicly. I don’t know a lot of things when it comes to startups. *phew* That’s like a big weight off my shoulders. I’m sure you’re surprised. Well, let me be more specific – I don’t know much about the financepart of startups. Yes, I have one of those MBA degree things buried somewhere in my house, but I didn’t really grasp finance. Truth be told, my learning style was much different from the way my finance professor taught, and as it was the foundational course, I got very little out of it.
Starting with this month, I’m going to post an article or two about a subject I don’t know much about. I’m not sure what the structure’s going to be, but I’m going to start and just let it play out and course-adjust as I see things working out. It’s like a startup itself! Essentially, I’m hoping to disseminate my learning for you in, hopefully, an easily digestible blog post. Be sure to share at the end any concepts or questions you have, too.
Where to begin? I’ll start with a 3-5 questions or concepts that I and/ or a friend has wondered about and try to answer those through research. I expect some of the questions and answers will be simple for some of you, but for others, it’ll be useful information. Let’s get this finance party started!

Preferred Stock
I was working with a startup recently that was trying to raise capital, but the investors wanted shares in preferred stock. This was one part of the wrinkle in the fund-raising, but here’s our first subject – what’s preferred stock? Well, when it comes to stock, there’s largely two types – common and preferred. Common stock is what we normally trade on various exchanges.
Preferred stock represents some degree of ownership of a company, but as its denomination implies, preferred shareholders get a bit of “special treatment”. In the event of bankruptcy, assets are distributed amongst shareholders – creditors, bondholders, preferred shareholders, and THEN common stock holders. That means that common stockholders are last in the pecking order when it comes to receiving funds from a liquidation.
The other BIG area where preferred stock differs from common stock is in dividends. When companies have cash assets in the bank, the company can choose to pay out via dividends. With preferred stock, dividends are pretty much paid out on a fixed dividend like clockwork. Common stockholders, again, get dividends only after preferred shareholders are paid out. In the event dividends aren’t paid on some set date, then whenever dividends ARE paid out, preferred shareholders get their cuts first.
Note: different stocks can also have different CLASSES. Classes are set by the company to retain (diminish or empower) voting power to specific shareholders.

Dilution
You know the really concentrated orange juice you can buy from a store? If you drink the concentrate straight, it’d be wicked strong. You add some water to it (diluting) and it starts to be of a consistency you can handle without squeezing your eyes shut. However, there also comes a point where the more and more water you add, the less of an orange juice taste you get. You get more of it, sure, but it doesn’t quite pack that punch anymore.
Taking that terrible analogy (I can admit these things) to shares, we can look at dilution as a means of creating “more juice”; though, with less “punch” per cup you divvy out – a reduction of ownership percentage. Follow me. Dilution in the startup world typically occurs when holders of stock exercise their options (buy stock at some agreed upon strike price – more on that later) and especially if the company is raising a round of equity financing.
In a raise, startups may issue new stock to investors with some equity percentage. In this case, as more stock is created, the value of the company may rise (depending on valuation of the company), but the denominator (number of shares – “shares outstanding”) increases usually at a larger rate. Thus, each value of the stock decreases – gets watered down. And equally “thusly”, if you owned 100 shares before for 10% of the company (total shares outstanding = 10 * 100 = 1,000 shares), and the company issues 1,000 more shares (2,000 total shares outstanding), your ownership percentage just dropped as well to 5% (100 shares ÷ 2,000).
That’s not all bad, though. Even though your ownership has dropped, the value of the company will have most likely increased and the company could now be in a stronger financial position to do even better (or just survive… you know, whatever). So if you don’t look at it as a “percentage” deal and from a straight-value perspective, you’re looking better.

Vesting Period and Strike Price
If you’re joining a young startup in the growth stage or earlier, especially, you may be given the opportunity to get equity in addition to your salary. Everyone probably thinks this is where you can become millionaires. It could happen, but it’s rare – how often are these billion dollar unicorns popping up? I digress… When you read your offer, you’re likely seeing some number of shares (say 100) with a vesting period of Y (say 4 years) with some “strike price” of Z (say $20). “What the heck is going on?!” you ask. Let’s break it down.
  • Shares… see above. You’re likely getting common stock, b-t-dubs (“btw” (“by the way”))
  • Vesting period. The vesting period is some time horizon that the employer has guaranteed some rights to ownership (via the stock) to the employee. During this time, the employee accrues these rights per some vesting schedule (if any), the employee can choose to “exercise” his/ her options. This mechanism encourages the employee to stay with the company as well as to do well (since a great company is better to own than a good company).
  • Vesting schedule vs. the Cliff. In the offer letter details the time periods the employee can exercise options per a vesting schedule. Or, the offer letter may make mention of a “cliff”. The cliff is some period of time after the start date of the employee for which the vesting may begin. From the cliff onwards, vesting occurs typically monthly. The cliff is a mechanism founders and investors like to mitigate attrition in the first year.
  • Strike price. This is the agreed upon price of each company share the employee accrues over the vesting period.

Okay, so let’s pull this together with a couple examples from above. 100 shares, 4-year vesting period, and a strike price of $20. Let’s say the offer says the stock vests according to the following schedule: 25 units in the second year, 25 units in the third year, 25 units in the fourth, and 25 in the fifth. If the employee remains with the company till year 3, the employee has earned 50 shares at a price of $20 each, but has forfeited the 50 shares. If the employee stays the whole five years (and then some), he/ she will have earned all 100 shares at $20 each.
Same example, but let’s look at a 1-year cliff vs. the gradual schedule. Only at the anniversary of the employee’s start date will 20 shares be vested to the employee. From each month onwards, 1.67 shares are vested each month (100/60 months). A fractional share doesn’t really happen often, but I’ll let it slide for now. So if the same employee leaves after 36 months, he/ she’d have accrued 1.67 * 36 months = 60 shares at $20 each, forfeiting 40 shares. See the difference?
Should the company go big and IPO later, the employee can choose to exercise his options by selling at the market price (“spot price”)… if it’s $100, then the employee can sell all 100 shares at $100-20 = $80 per share = $8,000.
Now, there’s a wrinkle to all of this (as always with finance, darn you)… you can’t just carry off $8,000. You must understand the rules of the plan as some vesting options do not let you touch the money till some retirement age before making penalty-free withdrawals.

Conclusion
Yowza, there’s a lot of good nuggets of information up there, so I’m going to stop at 3 today. This was fun to learn a bit about, and share with you, so I’m looking forward to keeping this train going. Next time, I’d like to touch on:
  • Types of financing including equity vs. debt
  • Convertible
  • Earnings per share (EPS)
  • Etc.

Next month, I’d like to also dive into some financial statements of a company or two, and share what I find interesting similar to David Cummings’ posts about companies’ S-1 filings – see “Notes from the New Relic S-1 IPO Filing”.

So before going, going to ask the same questions I usually do: what are your thoughts about finance in startups? What questions/ concepts are you wondering about that I can help do some research for you? What questions do you have about what I’ve shared above, or comments?
(Image source: jewschool.com)
My buddy (and the great Developer) Don sent me this link from HackerNews where a user posted the following question:

Founders whose startups have failed, where did life take you afterwards? (link)
I’ll just cut to the chase today because I read a ton of the responses… almost too many. I got through about 80% of comments, and I think I’ve got enough content in my notes to cull some of the interesting stories and take-aways.

“Hacker News is a social news website that caters to programmers and entrepreneurs, delivering content related to computer science and entrepreneurship. It is run by Paul Graham’s investment fund and startup incubator, Y Combinator.”Wikipedia
So here’s the list. Though, note that this is from the first 33 posts as of 9:30AM this morning (11/12) (not including replies to comments here, just first-level comments).
  • 8 founders I would qualify went into full-time gigs with seemingly non-startup companies including many at Apple and Google
  • Many cited regaining confidence and stability as a for joining a full-time role at a non-startup company. One described the failure experience as “traumatic” to the extent he questioned his skills and capabilities. He needed a place to rebuild his confidence.
  • 8 founders went immediately into some consulting or contract work. Many cited reasons including having flexible hours to the extent that they worked half-time. The other “half-time” was spent on side projects
  • A couple of the founders made note of the incredible stress the startup life took on their personal lives to the extent that their relationships ended either in divorce or otherwise. Interestingly, one of them got back together with his then girlfriend and married after the startup’s initial failure
  • Several founders mentioned the people involved as a reason for the failure of their startups from co-founders to employees. On the flipside, there were a number of founders who mentioned they would or have start a new company with their former co-founder
  • Cultural insight – one founder in Germany mentioned how difficult it was to regain some stability after his startup’s failure. In German culture, much weight is put on success and respect, and from failing in a startup, it was hard for customers, colleagues, etc. to accept this reality or trust him
  • Cultural insight – one founder in India mentioned how he was buried in debt to the extent that all profits were made to pay down interest to his lenders. In India when borrowing for business, many borrow from friends and family (close and distant). This can dramatically raise the interest with the number of borrows
  • HackerNews has a very much technical-heavy audience, but at least two of the founders mentioned their complete lack of technical know-how in their startup. Following the demise of their startups, these founders learned how to program to build MVPs including one founding a new startup as a technical co-founder
  • In trying to decipher what people were explicitly and implicitly saying, at least 23 of the founders said they would start or had already started another company; 4 founders I couldn’t figure out if they would (categorized these as maybes); and the remaining 5 founders as most probably not interested in starting another.

There’s a lot more to glean from the comments and posts, especially when you look beyond the first-level comments. It’s interesting to read about others’ failures to hopefully avoid those missteps. However, as several readers mentioned, it’s hard to avoid even when you know them. Experience should help prevent you from making those same mistakes, but there are blogs and established publication articles about lessons from failure including my own – 21 Rough Lessons Learned from Failure. As user nostrademons mentions, “The nice thing about having knowledge and experience is that oftentimes it shortens the time required to realize you’re making a mistake.”
Okay, so I’ll leave you with a few direct quotes that I thought were important…

“Someone may be a good developer, designer, or co-worker…but that doesn’t mean they will make a good co-founder. I learned this the hard way..and it was painful” – paulhauggis

“All I can say is: Know your founders. I’d go far as to focus on their personal situation, like their risk tolerance, their “philosophy”, their personal attachments, etc. The goal for a company is not to save the world, but to make money for you and your partners. If any personal attachment can get in the way, like “saving the world”, or “keeping control of the company”, it will. My major failure was not seeing this.” – bigpeopleareold

“A startup is a ship at sea in a storm, I wanted to experience a boat in harbour for a while.” – buro9

“The nice thing about having knowledge and experience is that oftentimes it shortens the time required to realize you’re making a mistake.” – nostrademons

“Focus on one thing , become incredibly good at it. […] Focus on customers and trust yourself on giving value , customer insight is better than customer need.” – appreneur

So what are your thoughts on the lives after failures for these entrepreneurs and others? How do you think failure has changed their trajectories had they either not pursued their own startup(s) or had been successful?

Image source: http://images.sussexpublishers.netdna-cdn.com/article-top/blogs/30297/2013/02/117159-115153.jpg
If you’ve been following me for a little while, you know of my interest in psychology as well as technology. Some may call the interest a passion. Others may call it an obsession… not many. Anyways, I was on Psychology Today the other day, and found a really interesting article – “The Human Psychology Behind Facebook’s Success”. I remember immediately being piqued about learning more on why I keep clicking on that damn site so many times a day.
The article starts by talking about how Facebook allows us to “not only connect with loved ones, but with our fundamental human needs”. Intriguing. Go on. Facebook is the “daily destination […] to meet our need for psychological fulfillment”. Okay, I’m in. Let’s get into the rest of the article.
The article breaks Facebook into addressing four key psychological needs.

Self-esteem

This is a strong determinant of our psychology well-being, and Facebook allows us to build our self-esteem via purposeful construction of our self-schema. “Self-schema?” you ask. Let me explain.
Our self-schema is how we model ourselves in terms of what we think about, care about, and spend our time and energy on. Essentially, it gives us the notion of what’s important to us, and what isn’t so that if we were to, say, be ranked lowly in an area we care little about, it doesn’t affect us (i.e. coming in the last quartile of a race we care little about running in).
Facebook profiles are reflections of our self-schema… reflections that we pick and choose what we want – pictures, hobbies, levels of education, etc. Thus, we boost our self-esteem by creating the profile representative of what we like most about ourselves. Meanwhile, we can mitigate negative hits to our self-esteem by limiting those who may otherwise “troll” our profiles.
Like what I wrote up about online dating profiles, our profiles are, unsurprisingly, carefully curated reflections of us – see “Practicing Biz Dev Whenever, Wherever… For Instance On Match.com”.
Kinda funny… kinda appropriate. Image source: http://harrissocialmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/facebook-meme-ecard.png

Impression management. 

Facebook allows users to have more control over what we say, show, and do. How often do we want to hit the “undo” or “rewind” button?
Facebook gives us the opportunity to manage what we say and what others see by preparing thoughtful status updates, wall posts, messages, etc. All the while, nonverbal behavior goes out the window online that may otherwise create negative impressions.
We can draw both explicit and implicit cues from user behavior, too, on Facebook. We can see explicitlymeasureable cues including number of friends, education level, etc. While implicitly, we infer things including how often a user posts and shares updates may point to levels of extroversion. Frequent relationship updates may point to a high degree of instability.
With Facebook, we influence our self-esteem with these impression management levers. Not only are we influencing how others may perceive us, but we also influence how we perceive OURSELVES. *mind blown*

Need to Belong. 

The article cites a study performed in 1995 by Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary. They argue that “the need to belong is a fundamental human need to form and maintain at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and (significant) interpersonal relationships. Satisfying this need requires (a) frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals, and (b) engaging in these interactions within a long-term framework…” In today’s world, social networks like Facebook fills this need.
Facebook even leverages existing word associations to trigger deeper emotional ties. For example, the use of the word “friends” to link users on Facebook builds on our earlier understanding of the word and feeling of belonging. It’s a term with a strong cognitive, emotionally-charged association. We even joke at times that we’re not really friends till its official on Facebook. (We = some of us…)
Another example: “photo album”. Pre-Facebook, photo albums were largely compiled by families and close friends. With Facebook, photo albums are building on this association of “belonging” and “closeness”.

Facebook Enables Our Personality Traits. 

Facebook gives us the ability to vent and share our needs and obsessions without fear of repercussions that would otherwise “violate” social norms. Take the example from the article – an extrovert who loves to share pictures. In real-life, it would be unacceptable for him to pull out pictures and ask everyone to look at them. However, on Facebook, it’s perfectly acceptable to post the pictures online and let everyone look at them. It’s normal here.
Heck, it allows gawkers to… well… gawk at other individuals without getting evil eyes. If that isn’t weird to think about already…

So where am I going with all this?

Well, for one, this was an interesting read. I enjoyed the psychology aspects and how it’s layered in Facebook (and many other social networks). For me, the most interesting piece of the Psychology Today article is the notion of the self-schema.
I wrote an article a while ago about “Your Personal Brand: You’re a Walking, Talking Billboard”. Everything about what you wear, what you say, etc. is an advertisement for yourself in addition to any brands you’re actually wearing. Whether you’re conscious of the content you share or how you’re “managing impressions” on Facebook, you may want to. We’ve heard it long ago how recruiters will check Facebook accounts for any red flags. But that’s just from a professional setting. There’s the impact from a social setting amongst your family, friends, etc. as well.
The other aspect that is interesting to this article was how Facebook leveraged ingrained associations in its product. Whether Zuckerberg and Co. overtly used the words based on the psychological aspect or not, it’s turned out for better. TechCrunchpublished an article on the viral dating app Tinder– “Tinder and Evolutionary Psychology” – which talks about what psychological aspects Tinder, too, leverages to build its success.
As we enter a world with more and more data, everyone’s fighting for our attentions and our hard earned dollars. It’s becoming more critical to build campaigns, technologies, etc. to the masses on a personal level. To do that, ingraining psychological levers seems like a smart way to go.
What are your thoughts of what’s made Facebook so viral? How have other techs built on psychological cues to influence your engagement?

Last week, I wrote up a situation of a friend of mine who was enduring gender discrimination and harassment in “Is Your Culture Fostering or Mitigating Gender Harassment?” The company she works at is not a startup, but coming from my point of view, it’s important to start culture early to prevent gender discrimination later.

Last week’s article was largely the set-up, where today, I’d like to share what’s worked for various companies as well as share some points from my former business school professor taking a look at the grander subject of discrimination with some focus on the gender bias.

To get some more professional insight, I wrote to one of my former business school professors, Brandon Smith, who specializes in workplace dysfunction. In fact, he runs The Workplace Therapist. He provided a couple points to look out for when joining a company.

  • Recruit People With High EQ. Per Brandon Smith, EQ directly translates to greater cultural and gender awareness and sensitivity. Not to mention, people with high EQ can “sense” when people are growing in discomfort. The higher the level of “analytical” ability necessary for the job, the higher the probability of recruiting a group with low EQ. Note, it is not impossible to have both high analytical ability and high EQ, it is just more uncommon. As a result, bad environments re: sexual harassment include (but are not limited to): Engineering, construction, IT, finance / IB, medical offices, and my favorite for the irony, law offices.
  • Recruit People With Diverse Backgrounds – age, gender, ethnicity, etc… Brandon Smith has seen this as a solid strategy that causes smaller blips as people try to navigate working with different people (small accidental offenses), but it will prevent a culture of certain behavior being “o.k.” (Ex: if you recruit all frat boys, you’ll get a norm of frat boy behavior, etc…).
  • Hiring Who We Are… Creates a Dangerously Homogenous Workplace. Ray Hennessey wrote in Entrepreneur.comWhen Company Culture Becomes Discrimination” about a lunch he had with a midwest financial-services firm where the execs were all physically fit. “Health is a big part of our culture,” the CEO told Ray. “If you don’t work out outside the office, you won’t work out inside our office.” When you do hire like this, though, you obviously start to not only weed out those upfront, but your culture is then self-sustaining — good and bad. Ray also talked about the importance of hiring diversity not just in the way to satisfy laws, but also to promote diversity in ideas and innovation. This is largely a generic case of discrimination/ bias in the workplace rather than gender-specific, but it can foster an exclusivity club (like the “boys club” at my friend’s workplace).
  • Champion for Flexible Policies and Encouraging Workplaces. Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, champions better staffing/ recruiting efforts that not only find the right candidate for the role, but the right company culture for the candidate — see her article in thestaffingstream.com. Parsons believes candidates (especially women) should look join companies with flexible work policies and encourage qualified women to stay in the workforce. 
  • Finding the Right Mentor/ Mentee Relationship. To say “create an open, inviting environment for safe communication” would be easy, but a little hard to implement… mostly because of trust and the ability for a mentee to truly open up. This is why a strong mentor/ mentee relationship can be a great way for women, for example, to openly communicate about what is happening at work, good or bad. However, the right mentor should be someone high up the corporate ladder, so if there’s a problem, action can be taken. In a Harvard Business Review article “Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women“, HBR dives into how men form more bonds with senior execs, whereas women tend to build relationships with middle management. And of course, come promotion time, those with higher ties get the more frequent bumps… and the cycle continues.
  • At the End of the Day, It’s About Balance. The Fiscal Times has an article on how men and women are different in the workplace — “How Men and Women Differ in the Workplace” (pretty straight forward, right?). Biologically, we think differently from male to female and vice versa. For example, New York research group Catalyst found that women leaders are typically judged as more supportive and rewarding, whereas men are judged better at behaviors such as delegating and managing up. The theme of the Fiscal Times article was that men and women create balance in the workplace with complementary skill sets and ideologies. For a proper working company, there should be balance in the workplace through complements.
I was/ still am a consultant with focus in supply chains. That, is a very male-dominated industry, and following my post last week, I spoke to one of my former bosses about the topic. He was intrigued because it’s definitely an area he and the company are trying to address in not only recruiting talented women, but also retaining them. I wouldn’t say it’s an ongoing struggle as much as it is an ongoing initiative. As much as culture is a largely sustainable machine, it needs to constantly undergo refinement and adapt to the needs of the organization. 
Corporate culture can indeed be a sticky area where gender, age, race discrimination is left untouched and ignored. So it’s important to start instituting the right policies early as a startup before the culture of the company is so large and ingrained it’s difficult to make drastic changes.
What are your thoughts on discrimination and bias in the workplace? What policies, steps would you implement in the company culture to prevent discrimination?