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listen to the music

Listening is a skill a lot of people surprisingly do not have but can certainly pick up and develop. It becomes increasingly important when you are dealing with partners and customers. It’s one of those traits that people believe they are great at but oftentimes…not. Like driving. Illusory superiority.

In business development, this was something I admittedly had to develop.

In the first call that I led with Alex when I was starting out, I remember getting straight to the point and not having a priming discussion. Alex immediately critiqued that because I had interacted with the potential partner via email, I wasn’t necessarily human to him. Going directly to the pitch without getting a feel for the person was a disservice for me as it turned me into a telemarketer than someone who was trying to help the other person. It wasn’t necessarily small, shallow talk, but it was more of getting an idea of what type of person I was talking to and how it was important for me to build a relationship over trying get a quick, robotic close. This meant I had to take the time to not only listen to their business needs but to ascertain as much as I could on the peripherals.

Additionally, at the end of a call, if somebody says, “These are the next steps for our decision-making process…” a common mistake I see from a lot of people is how they try to fight their way to the next steps that they themselves demand—on their terms. This sours everything that was worked up to until that point. It’s important to listen and be flexible. Conversely, if somebody says, “These are the reasons why I don’t want to continue,” it’s crucial not to ignore the person and repeat the same value adds with the same flashy, cliche terms you used just a few seconds prior to it. It’s important to listen, process, and understand where the person is coming from.

Listening allows you to sympathize and become more relatable. It’s a trait that can actively be trained without detracting from goals and metrics that need to be met.

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i need a dollar, dollar, a dollar is what i need

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While I was trying to break into the tech world, I absorbed anything and everything about tech and startups as possible. When I started my own independent, unofficial businesses as a teenager, I really didn’t think about the psychological effects of certain aspects of business such as pricing or marketing. I would just spit out numbers and write content as I saw fit—whatever made sense to me at the time and whatever people would be willing to pay.

But every decision deserves careful consideration. One of the reading materials I stumbled on a long time ago, and was immensely valuable in business development, was the Presenter’s Paradox. The general idea is that a product can be worth more by itself as opposed to packaging the product along with other freebies. Thought the cash value might increase, the buyer would not necessarily agree with its value; the value of the main, showcase product becomes diluted when it shares the same spotlight with lesser-valued products.

I think the concept doesn’t only apply to pricing but to other aspects like marketing as well. Adding extraneous details and peripherals around the marketed product and its primary value add muddles the impact of the product’s worth, risking devaluation of the product’s true worth.

The link is worth a read as it provides an interesting case study in how we consumers often think without truly realizing the process behind it.

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searching for fortune and fame

Shortly after joining Dwolla full time, I received inquiries on whether I would be interested in consulting a few companies. It was like scratching the proverbial belly of my ego. But from a more pragmatic perspective, I had to be honest with myself and turn those offers down. I was not skilled. I didn’t know nearly enough to consult even what type of bagels they should order for a gluten-free breakfast they were hosting at their office. Not only would it be wise for me to accept such offers, it would be somewhat destructive for someone such as myself to add my two cents on anything.

Recently, I’ve taken on a very selective number of companies to help out on my spare time. I’ve begun to speak to certain companies as a sounding board for some of their ideas and it’s been a very challenging yet thrilling experience. For someone who wants to eventually start their own tech company like me, it’s a very stimulating this to hear the perspectives of different founders and work to strategize and help them succeed.

I spoke with a company recently (from whom I’ve gotten permission to post about without naming them) that has entered the social media landscape with a considerable amount of transaction internationally (not necessarily in the US). They consist of an extremely talented team that stumbled on this side of the tech world almost accidentally; they’re not fundamentally a social media company. Yet to gain adoption, they realized they need to cater to this side of their business. They wanted influencers on their platform using their product and evangelizing it without having to pay them to do so. I agreed; they should pay someone to socialize on their platform—that reeks of gross inauthenticity.

The natural question to ask during this type of conversation is to find out what type of influencers they wanted. They didn’t have an answer. They didn’t have a demographic on what users were using their platform (other than location)—they didn’t have age, interests, time of day that they were using, etc. Without these facts, there was no way to really find which specific influencer they’d need to target; they needed to learn their audience—it was way too early for them to become an everything to everyone. This, seemingly rudimentary lesson, is important for everyone trying to start a business.

You can’t be an end all be all especially in the beginning. Facebook started off in colleges not as a marketing scheme but because they found a niche. Before any kind of mass adoption, the unicorns and the regular hornless horses of the tech world need to find a very targeted, specific group of people that are the early adopters, cater to them, capitalize on them before moving onto a wider audience.

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i’m back

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It’s been some time since I wrote a post on my blog. I started this because I was told that it was a good idea. I then continued because I was learning a lot by writing my own growth in the form of my blog. Shortly after, it became a conduit for conversation and networking—people actually read what I had to say, whether short or long; a very sobering and gratifying result of my spending 15 minutes to write two blog posts a week.

I took a (long) break because of various factors, which I hope to discuss in the coming posts over a span of a few months as some were personal and others were for professional development. I learned a lot and chose not to chronicle them for a several reasons. But I’m back now and hope to be more consistent and disciplined with it as well as my blog on Huffington Post that boasts a meager three posts.

It was through the encouragement of people I’d never met or people I’ve recently met that referenced specific blog posts I’d written to connect with me that really brought me back. Happy to write again :).

Tags: writing
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so the fcc won’t let me be or let me be me so let me see

Today is Net Neutrality Day. You will see this loading icon on many of your favorite sites from Netflix to Tumblr to Google to Dwolla.

I don’t write this because I have a huge blog following in the tens of thousands. I don’t write this because I have a breadth of wisdom that can add to the discussion around Net Neutrality. I write this because I know for a fact that many people who read my blog are not necessarily of the tech world. And today you are more important than anyone else.

On a very basic level, we live in a world where all of the Internet is treated on a level plane and all websites are downloaded in the same speed. There is a proposal that the FCC is actually contemplating where Internet Service Providers will be allowed to charge companies more money to get preferential treatment on the web. If my explanation sucked, check out John Oliver’s ridiculously amazing explanation of what is actually going on here

Let’s be clear here. Net Neutrality Day is not just about faster website load times. Net Neutrality Day has to do with corruption in the FCC and the current powers that be. Net Neutrality Day has to do with the world we live in today, where the Internet provides a world where you don’t need thousands of dollars to start a business.

This is not the first time the government sided with monopolies. Bell Atlantic, for example, ran wild for an entire generation and did whatever they wanted—but that period was also a time where innovation was squashed and hoarded and kept from the public.

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fight4future:

Hey there,

Exciting news! The Internet Slowdown net neutrality protest planned for September 10th is really taking off. This morning, a dozen of the world’s largest websites announced that they’re joining in a big way. Sites you know and love like Etsy, Kickstarter, Wordpress, Vimeo,…

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against all odds, up in the studio

I’ve written a ton about how I view my blog and why I keep one (I’m too lazy to provide hyperlinks at this moment). But I’ve always loved writing. To craft something as transcendent as emotions and knowledge into tangible words, effectually constructing a picture through words is an art I’d always admired.

Recently I’ve been extremely inconsistent in my writing. I would make it a point to write a minimum of two posts every week and send it over to Alex for just general advice before publishing them. Now I’m sitting on a couch past 3 am at a friend’s house in Georgia typing away randomly while simultaneously switching tabs to read ESPN articles and looking up to blank out on the random movie playing at the moment.

To keep my mind sharp, I’ve been learning how to do new things. Rock climbing. Surfing (okay, but like once though). Coding. I’m heading to a point where I am filling my mind with noise by keeping too busy and not just sitting down to let my brain sort itself out. I know that literally running on an average of less than four hours of sleep a night and constantly allowing my mind to race and thoughts to jump from point A to point C without any routing through point B aren’t sustainable activities I can continue to allow in my day to day.

I don’t know to which direction I would be taking my blog in the coming weeks (I really don’t want to delay anything I aim for for more than a month; writing it will hopefully keep me accountable here). I was going to release one that I coded from scratch a few months ago but I hated how ugly it was (Bootstrap) and how I organized it (three different journal types ranging from travel to tech) that I actually scrapped the entire coding.

I still think writing is important and had it not been for Alex selflessly annoying me to annoy him to proof my posts, I wouldn’t have kept a repository of my thoughts and gleanings from the tech world. I wouldn’t have ended up as an editor on Rap Genius. I wouldn’t have had my own blog on Huffington Post. I just have a difficult time seeing it as a consistent part of my life anymore and something that I find hard to get excited about anymore. 

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the most common trait of highly successful people

Before I write what I want to write, I want to acknowledge that this post includes my most intentionally link-bait-y title ever. When you compare a small sample of different objects, you can find similar characteristics and prove *any* kind of point.

Since being determined to break into the tech scene since 2012, I relentlessly hunted people scattered all over New York bent on getting to know whoever would meet with me, whoever was already in active pursuit of where I wanted to be professionally. If people from SF were stopping by NY, I would try to schedule something with them as well. There are a ton of things that many of these people had in common but once I developed relationships with them, there was something that stood out above the rest.

They embraced failure.

Not in the sense of the whole “Fail Fast” cliche. But they weren’t afraid to admit when they had made a mistake or had failed in something that was important to them. They weren’t afraid to be caught with their pants down.

They didn’t glorify failure.

It’s not as though they enjoyed failure by itself, they acknowledged it as an unnecessary evil wherein they would learn valuable lessons. They also didn’t hesitate to admit when they couldn’t learn from certain mistakes, resulting in their humbly asking those closest around them for help in dissecting *why* X, Y, and Z went wrong.

We often think we can handle failure. We often think of failure as a minor setback in theory but when failure arises, it’s the lingering feeling of nails on a chalkboard. Failure is the worst. And failure often gets too much credit. But the ability to acknowledge failure and take on that responsibility to turn it into something beautiful is what honestly separates the few from the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong- those few don’t necessarily become the next Elon Musk, they don’t become the next founder of the greatest rocket ship of the 21st century. But they do inspire. They all leave a legacy, whether to a crowd of millions or their own children. But they affect generations. They are a highly successful people.

Tags: failure
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but first let me take a selfie

Last week, a story about an Irish bar’s accepting applications only via Snapchat made the rounds. While it received a lot of negative comments, I thought it was a decent idea for people trying to make an impression. I do think the idea needs a bit more fleshing out but it’s a good concept in the hiring industry considering recruiters primarily look at a given resume for an average of six seconds.

Creating an America’s Got Talent-esque level to move the CV and resume portion of the recruitment process to level two would be a tremendous benefit to the company. There are a few things you cannot get from an interview. You can definitely try your best as a recruiter to gather information but at the end of the day, determining whether the person will get the job done and whether the person will fit the culture are, in large part, gambles. An application involving a Snapchat won’t quite solve that problem but it would certainly help filter a lot of noise around that.

Having just a few short seconds or even a snapshot would require creativity, a sense of humor, and the ability to communicate concisely and effectively. It would reduce the amount of people spraying off template resumes and increase the level of thought for a simple shot at an interview.

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the sport of startups

It was May 2006 when I went to the IZOD Center to watch the Nets play the Heat at home. It was towards the end of the season but the Nets were on fire with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson leading the team, while the Heat was on the hunt for redemption from the previous season’s loss in the playoffs. There were a ton of dunks and showmanship. There was a time when Dwyane Wade passed the ball to the ref to set up an inbounds play but the ball ended up hitting the ref in the nuts, causing the entire arena to chuckle. I was just a few rows behind Jay-Z and Beyonce, as tickets to the IZOD Center were significantly cheaper than Knicks tickets and my sister scored a deal on two tickets. I went with my best friend at the time.

But then there was one play where Vince Carter had the rebound and sprinted to the other side of the court with no one on him for a fast break. Everyone held their breaths for a magnificent slam dunk in which only Vinsanity would be capable of doing, only to be let down by a weak and safe layup. The home crowd naturally booed him. He went on to score over 40 points but his team lost to a Heat team with greater depth under head coach Pat Riley.

I’m pretty sure that was the first time I began to think (in my naiveté) about how boring it must be for athletes to execute on some of the more showy moves for the sake of the audience. Even if they are judged primarily on that, they are missing out on being able to watch it themselves and enjoy it as they are too busy thinking of all the technical details to make sure everything is going smoothly.

When I ran shows in college, I didn’t have the sense of whether a show went well or not. I’d have to hear it from others and take their word for it as I was too busy running around making sure everything was going the way they were supposed to be going. Directing and communicating with everyone involved didn’t allow me to watch the show through the eyes of everyone else.

Every time I watched sports, particularly the X Games, I had trouble appreciating the show because I tried to empathize with the athletes trying to put on a show for the audience; doing their best to make the moves appear as seamless as possible, when it required much strength and finesse to execute.

A few weeks ago, my coworker, Jordan Lampe, whom I’d known since before officially joining Dwolla but never had a chance to actually hang out with, took me surfing—something that I’d wanted to learn for quite a bit, more so this year than ever before. Jordan, admittedly, is not an expert in it yet; he’s still a novice. The waves were pitiful, and my performance was even worse. Yet an hour that consisted of mainly lying on a board floating in the water quickly passed by and though I stood less than a handful of times, learning the science of it was the most fascinating part. Constantly trying to read the waves and understand how to ride it while trying to balance on a piece of wood was actually the fun of it.

The exhilarating feeling of trying to surf stuck with me and I can’t wait to find the time to get back on the board again. But it was that feeling that really changed my mind about athletes. The adrenaline you get from making the most of those few short seconds to execute something beautiful is the thrill of it. It’s more exciting for the athlete than the audience. Sure it’s extremely difficult and requires a ridiculous amount of hard work. But those few seemingly short-lived moments between the artist and her instrument become a profound secret between the two that no one else can take away.

This is why startup people glorify their work. At least the people I know. There’s a thrill in not just executing but executing the right way. Creating something is great. But the process of creating in the most optimal way possible is what’s worth obsessing over. The most genuine and the smartest people in startups are completely aware that most startups fail. Yet they are the first ones to run into problems and tear down roadblocks. There is no appreciation in the final work without going through the execution. Otherwise it’s just a fun app or an interesting product. Nothing more. Producing what is needed and adding a brick to construct a vision into reality is what allows people to do the fun stuff and the dirt work.

It’s only through deep immersion in the work that makes the artist able to stand back and see the final result as appreciable, beautiful, and personal.