When The Founder Of Your Company Dies

(your path is beautiful and difficult)

“I have some bad news. Paul died last night” he said.

Paul was the founder of an early stage entertainment technology company. The call just started. I was supposed to share the final business plan: 5-year financial forecasts, profitability, cash flows, organizational structure and technical strategy I’d been working on.

The business was growing organically. We wanted to put on the afterburners. Investors were interested and this call was to approve the plan so we could build a deck* for them and raise $XMillion.**

But now the founder was dead.

We had been working closely for 3 months. It was Tuesday morning, September 24th 2013 and time stood still.

“What happened?”

I was in Baltimore, Maryland wearing a blue v-neck cotton t-shirt. I was sitting outside in the sun and remember sweat trickling down my back. I noticed the tree leaves holding onto their late summer green, lingering before changing into fall colors. I heard birds chirping and felt a slight warm breeze.

He began telling me what happened.

You know how it feels when the world stops?

 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. -Victor Frankl”



We see the fleeting nature of things. Life in Technicolor. Heightened for a second as we ponder the meaning and grasp the transient nature of life.

Like the last day of your vacation – soaking it in before departing to home.

Like the end of Christmas day when you’re a kid – the presents are open, everyone is sitting around feeling the chemical buildup dissipate as you realize it’s over.

I snapped back to his words on the other end of the line.

“…and then the housekeeper found him.”

Memories of Paul flashed through my head. His wide eyes excited about the possibilities and his passion for his mission in life. A friend gone at 66.

You knew Paul Darbee. At least, you knew his work:

Paul invented the Universal Remote Control in the 1980s, among other things. He cashed out of his company early. UEIC went through tough times and is today a $500M annual business traded as a public company.

His new company, DarbeeVision was his biggest dream. A company dedicated to making the picture on your tv or projector better using image processing via an HDMI-input device sitting between your incoming signal and your tv. It works really well. I thought I could help them put together strategy and get big fast.

But now he was gone leaving his business partner and I alone on the telephone talking about what to do next.

“Can you get to Denver by tomorrow?”

I flew to Denver. CEDIA is the show where all the home AV professionals demo their gadgets and distributors do deals for the next year. All the new hot stuff for your home.

I pressed flesh with the contacts I’d gained over 6 years at RealD and presented the plan to the majority shareholders and their advisors. Everyone was on board with the strategy and I think they were looking for a sense of hope. And a sense of security that the legacy would not die.

It felt like a memorial service: Paul’s last name in graphic design across the banners in the booth.  His widow and son bravely repeating the story of the company, the technology and Paul’s last days. Industry veterans stopping by to express condolences.

DarbeeVision is alive today and will likely keep going.

It can be sad to say goodbye.

It was a little over a year ago (1 year 5 days) that I said goodbye to RealD, went to Beirut for a celebration, moved out of my apartment in Boulder, proposed to someone I loved and had it fail, dated someone but it didn’t work out, drove 700 miles across the midwest to a magical weekend celebration, sold my first home in Portland, Oregon, put my stuff in storage, mourned Paul’s death, took a 9 day trail running trip to Maui, celebrated another birthday, and another Thanksgiving and another Christmas, welcomed a new niece into the world, got UL approval on a product, sold all my old stock options, and last week closed the first big deal of my new company then got hit with new hurdles. Among many other things.

Thankfully every day dies. Some days die quickly. Other days die a slow painful death, impossibly hard to let go of.

But then a new day is born.

People say let go of the past, but the truth is you must let go of the future, because the past happened and is gone. The only thing left of the past is evidence we interpret and emotions we carry. This impacts our thoughts, beliefs and shapes our future by influencing our reality.

When I let go of the future my life becomes magic and time stands still.

Things I never thought would happen become reality.

I was always scared to let go, because what then would I have left? And I only have one conclusion: faith. Faith that if I am healthy and I let go something new will show up to replace the space that’s made from what is gone. And it always happens.

Otherwise we keep missing the moment when all possibilities are endless. And when we miss that moment, we miss all possibilities.

Paul was someone who chose to make his own possibilities and inspired others.

But are you dead or are you alive? Are you missing each moment holding onto the past or are you healthy in your body, heart, mind and soul, with room for your dreams to become real?

I don’t know what works for you, but this is what works for me.  I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from friends both living and passed who continue to be proof that we are what we believe.

And faith that something is on its way is the only way I know of.

I hope you have faith, too.


*a deck is the presentation you give to potential investors
**I’m still under nondisclosure

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How I Helped Create Hollywood Blockbusters While Making $Millions Selling a $300 iPhone App

($300 for this?!)

($300 for this?!)

Warren Buffett says “price is what you pay, value is what you get”

But would you pay $300 for an iPhone app?

Jessica Livingston and Paul Graham are famous in the tech world. They were the first people  to start a tech “incubator” where investors put money into a lot of different startups at once and advise them through the early years. Today their incubator is worth an estimated $500MM and has produced companies like Reddit, Airbnb, Survey Monkey, Heroku and Dropbox.

Paul also writes about startups and has a famous drawing he loves to shares with founders:

(small group of very urgent users)

(small group of very urgent users)

Finding small groups of users who urgently want or need a product to solve their problem is more important than making something that seems useful to a lot of people, but isn’t.

Microsoft started with a small group of customers urgently demanding their product (an Altair BASIC interpreter), Facebook started the same way, &c. Because once you have traction with those users, you may be able to scale, as Google did. His drawing points out that although it is tempting to think a site like a social network for pets sounds like a good idea, it is better to solve problems for a small group that throw “things” at large groups of people that won’t use them (Pet social networking).

(this sign is in 3D in the hills above LA)

(a 3D sign in the hills above LA)

2010 was the age of 3D, remember? No one could get enough. It was everywhere and our company went public that summer, at the height of the fervor.

I flew to New York for some business meetings and to attend an outdoor screening of “Monsters vs Aliens 3D” in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. I did a deal so our technology would be used in the first outdoor 3D movie screening of its type. 1,000 people were expected, 5,000 showed up including the mayor who gave a little “I like 3D, this is awesome” speech.

(unfortunately he wasn't there)

(unfortunately he wasn’t there)

Then I went to Tribeca Film Center and did a deal with Robert De Niro’s team. Everyone at TFC became my friends, as did 1/2 the studio and post production world in New York. And the New York Technical Institute, Brooklyn Academy of Music and all the screening rooms, even the private ones of famous directors and producers.  And I got to know everyone at SoHo House and did a deal for their screening room, too, so I’d be at SoHo every time I went to NY seeing all the famous people do the things they do.

I was hustling deals with every studio or production company I could find, and got the same feedback: 3D is hard to make. We need it to be easier. Our screening rooms need to show good content.

But did you ever stop to ask why 3D came back so strongly? It’s a very hard medium to work in, to film in, and to produce/post produce.

Shooting live 3D (like “Gravity” or “Avatar” or “Hugo”) is more expensive and time consuming. Using two cameras simultaneously is aggravating.

(it was powerful and saved $$$)

(powerful, interactive & solved a huge problem)

Companies were raising huge amounts of money to provide a 3D production service where they’d send vans full of engineers to sets and “assist” shooting. But they’d wing it. Most of the work still happened in post production and these vanloads of engineers would charge $hundredKs.

The public didn’t know and didn’t care about the difficulties. All everyone knew was 3D is huge and “the future.” We checked our stock price in the cab to the airport – $18 – $20 – $21 – it went up and we counted our money (even though we were locked up for 6 months).

The windows were down and the sticky New York air hugged us.

It was summer.

It all felt right. If I closed my eyes I heard “Empire State of Mind” in the background, distracting me from the smokey piss smell in the cab. There were challenges but we were riding the high tide and I kept my eyes open for more opportunities.

And in the middle of it I got a call from a friend who said “hey so I’m building this app and I wanted to see what you thought of it.” Of course I said “I’d love to see it.” It was early but he modeled the complex calculations and instructions of filming movies in 3D on an iOS platform – as an app. It was amazing.

(simplified complex calculations

(simplified complexity)

It wasn’t super pretty and clean yet but it was beta and its potential was clear:

An iPhone app that makes filming in 3D easier by giving Directors of Photography and Cinematographers the calculations they needed to properly shoot. It reduced setup time and improved shot quality, saving huge $.

I’ve been on tv and movie sets since I was a teenager. My oldest brother has made films and tv shows in Hollywood for almost 30 years and I’ve hung out with him at 3 of his 10+ shows, getting to know the organizational structure and watching filming take place. I found out what each person did.

Cinematographers and Directors of Photography make the important technical decisions for directors and producers.

(interactive virtual set)

(interactive virtual set)

So when my friend Ken Shafer of Innoventive Software showed me his idea we immediately partnered and a few months later launched “The RealD PRO Stereo 3D Calculator for iPhone”…then the iPad version.

We had what Jessica and Paul would call a “small, urgent group of users.” Because we were solving enormous problems for them. This app literally helped make some of the modern 3D blockbusters, which is partially why 3D took off so heavily, and made Cinematographers’ jobs easier. They could shoot and adjust real time.

We priced the app at $300. One of the top 10 most expensive iPhone apps ever. At that price, we didn’t need 10 million downloads to make som money. But the price was significantly below the value it brought to the users.

We sold thousands of them within months.

All the filmmakers and cinematographers bought it. 3D enthusiasts bought it. Braggarts bought it to show off.

Most of the 3D movies you saw in 2010-2012 used the app on-set. It saved them tens-of-thousands of dollars, sometimes that much daily, so $300 was a bargain. We probably could have charged more.

After a year or so we dropped the price to $69. Today you can get it in the app store for $54.99. We launched a lower featured consumer version for $29 which now sells for $9.99.

The app made over $1MM in revenue within the first 18 months, and is still selling.

We created a tool that virtually eliminated vanloads of engineers and ushered in the production of 3D content everywhere.

We could have leveraged the app and created other similar filmmaking or entertainment products to grow our user base but didn’t. That’s another story I probably won’t ever write about (and since I did this on behalf of a company I was not receiving the windfall from the sales of the app).

It proves you can throw out what anyone tells you about how to do something and focus on the value, not the price.

Find a product-market fit with a solution to a problem, serve those customers well, then scale.

Even starting with a $300 3D app for your iPhone.

Download it in the iTunes store here.

How A Garbage Man Became Your Broker

(this was not in the truck)

(Cosmo was not in the truck that day)

Raunchy porn magazines littered the dashboard. It smelled like rotting fruit, stale beer and dirty diapers.

“The other driver loves to keep the dirty stuff. He picks it out of people’s trash” he said. “I wouldn’t touch those without gloves on.”

We were 19 sitting in the sweltering cab of a recycling truck in suburban Chicago, in August. The grass was tall in the ditches next to the roads and the humidity held our sweat to our skin beneath our shirts. Something for the stench to cling.

He invited me “On The Route” so I went, now regretful, nose burning.

recycling_truck.jpg

(what goes around comes around)

My friend confessed “it’s a good job but I don’t want to be doing this my whole life. I just can’t go to school. It’s a waste of time. Who are these teachers? They just throw stuff at you. This is real education.”

(all the gold, guns and girls. is it ever gonna be enough?)

(all the gold, guns and girls. is it ever gonna be enough?)

My friend was the epitome of the James Dean type. Every girl ogled him but he was faithful to his girlfriend, contrarian, reckless but smart (once crashing his Dad’s new Mustang while driving underage, ditching it to avoid the police), questioning authority philosophically, appearing always like he stepped off the pages of a JCrew catalog (the most influential mail order of the time). I was not much like him, but we became best friends. I wanted to start a jazz club in Chicago called “Birdland.” We were obsessed with jazz. We had big plans. Always circling around how we’d leave our mark on the world, not sure how to start. Uncertain when our break would come, chasing.

We’d both dropped out of high school the same year. I tested into college and he went to work driving a recycling truck.

(we wanted to go back in time)

(we wanted to go back in time)

He drove the route every day while I tore through classes, tripling credit hours to graduate early.

But I didn’t have a job plan. I felt like I should. Anxiety was growing.

Sitting in the parlor of the house I shared with 4 girls and another guy, watching ticker symbols stream on CNBC two weeks before graduation, I had a flash: “can someone trade for a living?”

I graduated in December with two interviews at brokerage firms.

“Hey man I’m going downtown Monday to interview. You should come.”

“What are you talking about. I’m not going with you to your job interview.”

“Dude, it’s just an interview. You can introduce yourself and see if they have anything else. Seriously, no big deal. Come with.”

He agreed.

We took an early train from Barrington and met a guy in the office of Eurospread Associates, where some of my cousins un-coincidentally worked. “I didn’t expect two?” he said. We acted dumb and shrugged. He ushered us onto the trading floor. “People are gonna say shit. Just ignore them. Don’t take it personally.”

It was nothing we’d seen before: mass chaos, colored jackets, hands in the air, faces screaming, spitting and sweating. The floor was littered with paper.

Traders & clerks laughed and pointed at us chanting “fresh meat,” flipping trading cards our way like flat paper bullets.

We were overwhelmed by stimulus, captivated. You could feel the money.

“I didn’t know we were hiring two” one broker said.

My friend and I looked at each other “I guess you are” I said.

“Okay, fill out these forms. You can start January 3rd. I’ll put one of you in Yen and the other in the LIBOR pit. You’ll start as runners.” He got Yen, I got LIBOR.

We rolled out of the building laughing, high-fiving. “What just happened?!”

Two weeks later we walked onto the CME floor and started our future.

A year later I was hired at Michael Stoltzner’s Futrex Trading, training with Jeff Goldman (one of the largest EuroOptions traders) on weekends and went on to develop trading systems at Specialists DPM and Edge LLC until I left to pursue my dream on the West Coast.

People will tell you the better path is the path in pursuit of something they can see. The path that looks good on paper and reflects well when you tell your new girlfriend’s parents. They don’t like recycling trucks they like money and power and sophistication and houses in suburbs.

But when you climb the unfamiliar trail in front of you to the top of the first mountain, only then can you find the next mountain beyond.

16 years and witness to suicides, rehabs, parties, stories, more money than God, investigations, lawsuits, lies and fistfights, he’s a successful options broker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. He didn’t need a college degree to get educated but he had to have the guts to hang on.

(this place smells like the cab of a recycling truck on a hot day)

(this place smells like the cab of a recycling truck on a hot day)

And I’ll tell you the secret they don’t want you to know: it’s not the cab of a recycling truck but it’s still filled with raunchy porn, smells like stale beer, rotting fruit and dirty diapers. There’s just more money and more pixels, and looks better on TV.

Me? I just like to watch.

Sell the Sizzle: How to Turn $500 into $Millions With Your Minimum Viable Product

(what $8000 looks like on the web)

(what $8,000 looks like)

I spent $8,000 developing a web based visual media platform in 2011. It’s cool, and it works, and it’s out there on the web behind a password protected portal but it’s wrong. It should be prettier, easier to use and mobile. I lost money and time. I overbuilt the product before I had traction. I didn’t apply the idea of The Minimum Viable Product properly.

(lean and mean)

(lean and mean)

The Minimum Viable Product is a concept written about in Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup. It’s now the de facto standard for startups. Before you waste money and time overbuilding an idea, you create something minimal first. The biggest problem with the concept of “The Minimum Viable Product” is what “Minimum” and “Viable” actually mean.

I’m working on a new product-based company and it has major traction. Starting this company cost $317. I had an idea for something I needed. I made 4 prototypes, each a different color. I posted some photos of it on social media and my friends said “Cool! I want one!”

But I didn’t believe them. You can’t trust your friends.*

So I took the prototypes to 5 stores. If 3 of 5 stores wanted it, I’d move forward with figuring out the details and getting them produced.

Four of the 5 stores wanted it NOW. Everyone said “Yes.” The product worked but wasn’t finished.

We figured out the details, took a few orders launched into 3 stores and sold out in 4 days. We refreshed the inventory and sold out again. Every new store we’ve opened sees a similar trend. We’re validated and now we’re going big.

We even developed a no-lose negotiation strategy that converts stores who say “no” to “yes” instantly and even makes them long-term customers.

We have revenue, demand and our idea is validated. Now we are confidently allocating more capital with a high expected return.

We’ve filed patents and invested in infrastructure. We’re refining our logo and branding. We’re getting better product photography and making promo clips. We’re begging media not to publish anything about us because we’re just a few steps away from being able to fill massive demand. We’re going to blow the doors off of a category that has been stale for 30 years or more.

We had revenue before we had a real product. That’s what matters. Now we can hunt without starving first.

(sell the sizzle)

(sell the sizzle)

The key to the MVP is one goal and one goal only: accelerate the sales cycle. The MVP should get you from concept to traction. If no traction move on immediately.

Don’t waste your time on infrastructure or paperwork or permission or overly ornate packaging or a business entity or lawyers or following “the rules” you think are required. Time is your greatest asset. You don’t even need a business plan. Whatever it takes to get to your customer saying “yes”, or better yet “holy crap I want that” is the point of the MVP. Any business can use the MVP philosophy.

Everything starts small.

Validate first, scale and grow later. Talk, date, marry, have kids.

Sell before you spend, promote before you develop, get users and customers before you dig a hole, don’t overdevelop your MVP. Don’t commit too much too early.

Sell the sizzle.

(lizanne falsetto started ThinkThin products in her kitchen. p.s. they're really good)

(lizanne falsetto started ThinkThin products in her kitchen. p.s. they’re really good)

Want to sell cookies? Bake a batch in your kitchen and sell them. Have a product idea? Prototype it cheaply and get orders with the prototype. Got a great beer recipe? Brew it and get restaurant or bar owners to try it. Mobile app? Design it in MS Word or Photoshop. Think of all the corners you can cut. It’s like speed dating for business. You talk, flirt and if there’s a fit you go on a date. You know very quickly whether or not you’re attracted in the first 6 seconds (aka “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell).

That’s the point of an MVP. If you can’t sell the sizzle, put it to bed and move on. Don’t lose your hard earned cash or your time.

Want more? Read my friend James’ guide to selling anything and the story of how he started stockpickr.com for $500 and sold it for $10mil.

This is how to make $millions with a minimum viable product.

So what’s your idea?

*Unless they are honest or have a solid history of being accurate in their opinions

Ideas Are Everything, Execution Is Meaningless

(is this execution?)

(is this execution?)

Patagonia has sales of over $500M annually but when Yvonne Chouinard started he was selling rugby shirts and hand-forged climbing gear to dirtbag climbers in Yosemite out of his car. Was he “executing”? He was chasing freedom from a job so he could afford another Summer climbing in The Valley and another winter surfing in Ventura.

(who would guess this was a $100M business?)

(this became a $100M business?)

Yakima car racks grew from a $5,000 purchase to over $50M in annual sales. The founders bought a kayak footpeg company. Their business struggled until a consultant told them “these patents for carrying stuff on car roofs that you bought with the footpegs are a better idea”. So they tried it because they thought it was a few thousand extra dollars in sales.  The owners sold Yakima in 2001 for $90M to Arcapita (formerly Crescent Capital). They had no idea it would ever become such a business. Were they “executing” in the beginning? They were just chasing ideas and some freedom from corporate life.

(the beginning of the future)

(the beginning of the future)

For thousands of years people tried flying but it was two brothers from Ohio that showed the world how to do it. Hundreds of prior attempts were perfectly executed: well engineered, well financed, well prepared, but the wrong idea. The Wright Brothers, underfinanced, working out of their bicycle shop, had the right idea. Was this execution? Their idea was still bad. Compared to modern wing designs and technologies their idea was remedial with poor execution. But the idea was still approximately correct and gave other engineers better and better ideas.

I worked at Watermark Paddlesports (later Yakima Products Inc) when it was owned by Arcapita. Yakima attempted to launch a ridiculous home organization product (I put one in my closet and hated it). They got a lot of press, had a lot of retailers carry the product, but it didn’t sell through. Consumers hated it. The company scrapped the idea and took a heavy write off in less than a year. You could argue they “executed” perfectly, but were exactly wrong.

Warren Buffett says “it is better to be approximately correct than exactly wrong.”

What is the value of “executing” if the idea is bad and noone buys it? $Negative.

Have you ever tried to make anything and sell it?

It’s hard.

I’m working on a new product. It’s not that complex, but we’re working with UL, sourcing components, finding quality suppliers and responding to customers.

Every day a new, unexpected challenge comes up.

My mantra every day has become “F* it. We’ll try again.” All expectations about the “plan” continuously change and the process of letting go is constant.

When everything changes, the creativity muscle flexes and sometimes fails under the weight of immediate decisions. Many times the decisions have hidden implications only visible after the decision is made.

It highlights how incredible some of the success stories are. There are so many opportunities for failure at the intersection of every decision. Navigating those decisions, consistently, is incredibly hard.

Ben Milne is a hero of mine and an example of the value of ideas. I’d call him a mentor, though he doesn’t know me.

He’s a straight-talking, f-bomb-dropping, corn fed Iowa kid. From what I can tell, he’s easily annoyed at the inconveniences of life, and doesn’t hide it. He’ll tell you if he thinks something is bullshit and he’s usually right.

(Ben, iterating)

(Ben, iterating)

But Ben doesn’t fit your normal geekapreneur profile. He’s not a royal. He didn’t come from money. He didn’t go to a fancy school. He didn’t roll with a group of vcs or geek out coding apps when he was 8. He’s just another kid from the Midwest who had ideas that are worth a $billion.

Ideas are the blood of life. Whatever you want starts with ideas.

From nothing comes something and the space in between is the idea. Like the spark of the big bang. Everything after that is meaningless unless it is fed a strict diet of ideas every day.

Because ideas are experiments. Experiments yield information which yield decisions which yield results that yield problems requiring more ideas. But the game doesn’t stop when someone “wins”. You can “exit” a business or idea, but as long as the business is alive, ideas must continue.

Which is exactly the problem with the statement “execution is everything ideas are meaningless”.

Execution for what and for whom? When they say “execution is everything ideas are meaningless” I want to puke.

There is no “execution” there is only “experimentation, adjustment and experimentation”, hopefully with enough time to figure out where there’s traction before you go broke. It’s the “Build-Measure-Learn” loop mentioned in “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.

The ideas are important and “execution” isn’t “execution” at all.

Execution is Ideas In Action:
1. persistence – going under, over, around or through barriers
2. flexibility – switching course and letting go of your “plan” when it’s not working; doubling up when it is; trying new ideas and recognizing assumptions about the market may be wrong
4. ideas – the foundation for everything: constant ideation to overcome hurdles
5. effort – drawing more than you may have in your energy reserve. you have to make that one more call. send that one more email and hear yet another “no”: “no, we can’t do this for you”, “you’re not our kind of customer”, “no, we won’t invest”, “no we don’t like the idea”, and keep going.
6. selling – because without sales, you have nothing

You’re never “done” it’s never “executed” unless you consider a sale or taking cash off the table the “execution”.

Dwolla handles billions of dollars in currency transactions, charging a straight fee no matter the size of the transaction. It’s the best deal out there and I’ve used it for everything from collecting payments from customers to paying software developers in Russia.

When Ben started, he heard nos from all angles. He didn’t have the background, or the connections, or the knowledge. He had a vision, but as he dug in, things changed and he had to be flexible. The recently released Dwolla apis for example. Dwolla needs new “ideas” to adapt their product to the market: iterate, test, launch, cancel.

When Yakima misstepped with gear organization they correctly cut their loss. They learned and iterated. We built new products that recreated categories and revenue poured in again. Flexing creativity and new ideas in the face of mistakes.

It happens all the time in startups: execution is good, but the idea is bad and it dies; investors lose their money.

The key to success are the ideas that get you through the challenges. You can call ideas “execution” but don’t call ideas “worthless”. They’re the most important thing you have and the one thing that costs you nothing in the beginning.

They’ll also save you after a failure. Or during depression. Or after your girlfriend breaks your heart. Ideas crack open the weight of the world and let light flow through.

So don’t dismiss your ideas with the overused but useless adage “ideas are meaningless, execution is everything”. Instead, go for it.

Your dreams might be waiting within your ideas, where everyone else is afraid to go.

inspiration:

Faith, Death And Pepperoni Pizza On Lake Michigan

(Jib also goes by the name Genoa sail, nicknamed Genny)

(Jib also goes by the name Genoa sail, nicknamed Genny. Our boat, Faith, is a sloop like this with a full keel)

The wall of black hit our boat.

Winds powered up from 5 to 70 knots. Waves grew from 1 to over 12 feet instantly, breaking upon themselves as frothy whitecaps collapsed down into black troughs and blew water pellets from the crest.

Our boat was bashed as our mother shoved the Genny down the forward hatch where my younger sister and I pulled the sail into the cabin directly on top of ourselves.

Dad held the tiller pointing the bow into the wind as my older brother reefed the mainsail.

(reefer madness. reefing the mainsail exposes less surface to reduce lift)

(reefer madness. reefing the mainsail reduces lift)

Waves came from all directions.

My older brother, Mom and Dad layered on rain gear as they were stung by the pellets like kamikaze wasps. Torrential rain whipped sideways as the boat was heaved about.

My younger sister and I huddled in the cabin, as directed, not scared but aware of urgency.

Temperatures dropped 20 then 30 degrees, soaking and chilling the crew.

The boom was chocked to center by the main sheets.

We were facing north but blowing in reverse at 4 knots. There was little to do except fight and anticipate the next big wave and try.to.hold.steady. Bobbing straight up, then back down and getting hit from the side by cross waves.

(it was like this that day)

(it was like this that day)

Until then it was a warm sunny day on Lake Michigan in 1986.

80 degrees with a light breeze. A boring sail up the West Coast of the Michigan shore. We lounged, making slow progress having left White Lake, Michigan hours earlier and only progressing about 6 miles.

We were convicted in our laziness, waiting for the next port to arrive while watching the shore slip by slowly. Minutes took hours, but it was summer so we didn’t mind. My brother, sister and I played the common deck games we invented while cruising the Lake every summer since birth. At 12, 8 and 6 our games were imaginative.

Off in the distance a wall of dark clouds came from the North, hanging low and moving quickly. We were too far to retreat. The shore offered only danger. We put our guard up and faced what became the worst storm we’d ever encountered on Lake Michigan.

“I think we should take down the Genny and prep the storm jib” Mom said.

She repeated the comment with more emotion, louder.

“Ok” said Dad, releasing the Genny (jib) halyard.

In 5 minutes the storm covered more than 5 miles, bearing down like a train. She ran to the bow and yanked the Genny down. The bow of the boat sprung straight up the first wave.

Mom climbed back to the cockpit, fighting to stay in the boat.

The boat tossed about. In the cabin we bounced like balls from a ping pong paddle.

Occasionally the aft cabin hatch slid open. Rain and a wet crew member poured in for a minute grabbing necessities and climbing back out.

This went on for hours into the darkness.

(been there done that)

(been there done that)

But before darkness it was daylight and we weren’t the only boat to get caught with our sheets out.

The VHF radio was turned up to listen to weather and ships calling for help. Mayday.

We couldn’t help. We were small, slow, distant, and at the mercy of the storm. We could hear and see the victims churning about: a sailboat who lost rudder control (likely a sheared pin), and another inexperienced crew pleading for assistance.

We viewed the boats tossing and drifting out of sight. Hoping that mercy would honor the floating fiberglass bobber. It was a game of time. Whichever ended first – the boats or the weather.

There is a saying, “if you can handle a boat on the Great Lakes, you can handle a boat anywhere.”

Most people make the deadly mistake of thinking Lake Michigan is incapable of harboring some of the worst storms of any sea. It’s a lake, after all.

But songs have been written about the storms that sank unsinkable freighters. Buoys and visible wrecks mark the more notable or dangerous while the most famous “Edmund Fitzgerald” is hidden 500 feet below.

Over 6,000 wrecks can be found throughout the Great Lakes; hundreds known on Lake Michigan.

(the Francisco Morazan is visible from the south end of South Manitou Island where she was bashed onto shore in a storm)

(the Francisco Morazan is visible from the south end of South Manitou Island in northern Lake Michigan where she was bashed ashore in a storm and sits rusting away)

What makes Great Lakes storms such killers?

The Great Lakes are not as large as oceans so the waves have less distance to form. They thus form short, steep waves like alleys between buildings.

The storms start swiftly. Ships are caught unprepared. Wet graves are dug.

(waves like this are the Great Lakes' killers)

(we were in waves like this – short, steep, from all directions)

Large freighters sink on the Great Lakes partly because of midline breaches: vessels caught bow on one peak and stern on the other, splitting in half. Smaller boats – yachts – of 45-60 feet – cannot transition wave to wave, so end up heading down one face as the next buries the bow in water, or swamps her entirely.

But our boat – Faith – was of both size and build fitting for a lake like Michigan.

25′-9″ long with a full leaded keel, perfect to ride steep waves up and down while remaining upright.

Our family was notorious for going out in hard conditions – cruising in seas of 6 ft waves and 20 knot winds wasn’t abnormal. My parents were trained by Great Lakes sailing legend Bill Morgan, once a deckhand on a pirate ship in the caribbean in the early 1900s, and since a master captain who solo-sailed around The Great Lakes for fun.

For a long time we did not have money, but we bought Bill’s boat and set out for two weeks each summer touring Lake Michigan as a family, earning our sea legs.

And there we were.

The battle finally subsided to 6ft seas and 30 knot winds.

Exhausted, we came about and ran south back to White Lake, arriving at nearly 2am.

(this is running with the wind)

(this is running)

We huddled into the yacht club restaurant which the manager held open serving hot drinks to harbor workers. The cooks gone, we ate 6″ pepperoni pizzas from the microwave. The taste of death averted, life given back.

(OMG!)

(OMG!)

Others were not so lucky.

Off Traverse City, Michigan at least one boat capsized. Four people drowned in the storm, other cruisers were washed ashore as they lost control. Damage was extensive to ports such as White Lake. Boats moored at the harbor were lifted onto docks and run aground on shore. Boats arrived by US Coast Guard tow all night, with harrowing tales of survival. Others had to be salvaged from beaches.

But we survived. Maybe it was the training by Mr. Morgan. Maybe it was the skill by which our parents sailed the boat. Maybe it was right-place-right-time. Maybe it was practice. Maybe it was the boat itself.

Sometimes it’s just your lucky day. And we were glad to take it.

(Faith at her current home in Everett, Washington)

(Faith at her current home in Everett, Washington)

7 Ways To Make Money NOW

(i rented a room in this house where i started my first business)

(i rented a room in this house where i started my first business)

When I was in college I was pretty broke so I started a business in Missoula, Montana in my tiny 75 square foot bedroom in a 6-bedroom house where I lived with 4 girls and 1 other guy.

I had no space and very little money but sometimes our constraints are advantages.

I was an outdoor athlete along with many others in Missoula, so I used my Dad’s company “Equipment Sales Company” (a company that built machines for the ceramic wire industry) to open accounts with outdoor gear companies. I posted handwritten signs around town “Wholesale Outdoor Gear 30-50% Off. Call 406-555-5555”

They would order the gear they wanted, save a ton of money on gear and I would get a 10% cut risk-free. It wasn’t huge but it paid rent. I’ve gone on to start 3 or 4 more businesses, help turn around a $50M company, help raise money and build a company into its IPO and I’ve got a few new projects I’m working on. I have a different perspective on things, but sometimes you need money NOW.

A lot of us are broke but the thought of starting a company is intimidating. We don’t know where to start or what to do. We’re afraid we might do something wrong or we need an accountant or an LLC, SCorp, CCorp, and so on. In short, we talk ourselves out of doing it because we’re afraid of the scary monsters in the lurky business forest.

But it’s not that scary. You just haven’t seen the forest during the day when the ferns and trillium are lit by sunlight. There are no monsters, just opportunities, and you’re standing there in the middle and I’m going to try to help.

(the forest seems scary at night)

(the forest seems scary at night…)

(...but it's not so scary afterall)

(…but it’s not so scary after all)

Before you start, this is what I recommend:

1. Write down ideas every day. What’s an idea? the idea and the next step it takes to start the idea.
2. Look around at your resources: somewhere to live, a talent, a car, bikes, boat, skills like cooking or drawing, maybe you know something unique, maybe extra space, a dock, a piece of land.
3. Be specific about how much money you need. Maybe it’s $50 for food or $1,000 to pay your mortgage.
4. See where you can cut expenses now so you can relieve some pressure. Give yourself some freedom.
5. Forget about the big details. Once you get traction (money coming in) worry about the rest. Maybe you never need a business structure and can just stick to nothing and file a Sole Proprietorship at the end of the year with your taxes.

With our smartphones and the web in full force, you have a powerful platform and tools to make money.

Here are 7 of the ways you can make money NOW:

(rent a place to crash on airbnb)

(rent a place to crash on airbnb)

1. Rent your space. Use Airbnb, Vacation Rental By Owner or Craiglist. I was in Maui and people were renting tents in their back yard in Hana for $45/night with sleeping bags, refreshments and breakfast. There are no boundaries anymore. Rent your couch, rent your deck, rent your sleeping bag. Turn a room into a pirate ship and rent it. Throw in an eye patch and hot buttered rum. Offer your space for storage-  use a small corner of the garage and rent it for $100/month. Maybe your shed. Anything you have – get creative. Rent the space that is just sitting there.

(rent your tools on craigslist)

(rent your tools on craigslist)

2. Rent tools. Growing up I was oblivious. We had a barn full of tools we hardly used: a wood splitter, a chipper, power tools, several lawn mowers. I could have put an ad in the paper and rented the tools and made a ton of cash (well, a ton for a kid anyway). Use Craigslist and rent your tools. Someone needs that tile saw in your basement.

(sell your cookies!)

(sell your cookies!)

3. Sell your food. My aunt won Illinois State Fair awards for her chocolate chip cookies. Her recipe could be bigger than Famous Amos. In grad school I built her the front page of a website called “Aunt Bee’s Bakery.” It had bees buzzing around a chocolate chip cookie and the chips were each a different menu option that popped up on scroll over. She hasn’t done it but maybe you can. Sell food in parking lots in front of busy stores, rent a small space and start a little tail gate restaurant at a food truck lot. Offer to cook for parties. Sell at Farmer’s Markets or other events. Dave’s Killer Bread started this way and is huge today. Grow something (no, not that) – trees, flowers, vegetables, anything, and sell it to local stores or florists or nurseries.

(build stuff people want)

(build stuff people want…)

(the bubble tea collar from the  pet product company i cofounded)

(…like the bubble tea collar from ii inu)

4. Build stuff. In 2004 I cofounded a company called ii inu (ee-ee-new; Japanese for “Good Dog”). It was a designer pet products company started when my partner created a cool looking collar for her dog. People stopped her to ask where they could buy. First we built them ourselves, then I outsourced manufacturing to a company in Seattle. Within 6 months we were in stores in 36 states and 12 countries. Our cost was $2.40-$4.30 and they sold for $42-$60 retail. It was a good business. What can you make that someone else can buy? Sell it on Etsy.com, eBay,  get a Shopify web store or in local stores. No local stores? Find other stores and call them or send a free sample.

(do this, but not creepy like this guy)

(do this, but not creepy like this guy)

5. Offer other services. If you’re a student you should launder peoples clothes for $7.50/basket. 100 loads is $750/month. Maybe it’s 1,000 loads. Offer to create facebook pages and twitter accounts for $20/month for businesses. Get 10 businesses and you’re making $200/month for just a little effort. Get 100 businesses and you’ve got $2K/month. Would that change your game? Do yardwork, mow lawns, serve elderly or handicapped by running errands, offer a coffee delivery service to offices near you. Drive someone – sign up with Lyft or Uber and user your car as a service. People in cities are making $50K/year doing this. Think of a service you can offer right now to people in need. One idea I think would be a great business is helping other people convert their extra space to being Airbnb ready or driving people to airports at 1/2 the cost of a town car. Decorate Christmas trees, power wash decks, string lights or shovel driveways.

(entertain people)

(entertain people)

6. Entertain people. Can you play music, edit video or do some other fun thing? Offer to perform at parties or services for local active events. Teach music or sports or tutor kids in those activities. Belly dance. I know one girl who teaches belly dancing and practically owns the market for belly dancing costumes.

7. Help local businesses make money. What local business can you help? Approach restaurants, stores, anyone and offer to help them advertise or run special events. Take a % of the money from each event or that day’s sales. Help a different businesses every weekend and observe to find more services they need or opportunities to extend the money you make.

But there’s just one catch. In any of these ideas, do it differently. Be remarkable. Give people more than they expect:
-if you’re mowing lawns, dress up like a clown. Be “Clown Mowing”. Every time a car passes they will be like “hey there’s a clown mowing a lawn!” When they need their lawn mowed, they will want you. Maybe they’ll start using you every week just for laughs
-if you’re renting a space on Airbnb throw in more than the guest expects. If they rent your couch, throw in dinner or a free Netflix movie. Surprise them to the upside so they give rave reviews or come back again
-if you’re cooking something throw in a sample of something else you cook or give them a recipe for anything they’re interested in. Help them learn to cook themselves

Being remarkable will do two things: 1. It will get you a lot of attention. Imagine how many people would share “Clown Mowing” on facebook, twitter and Instagram. 2. It will make you more money. More people will want to have that experience and they’ll be willing to pay more for it.

Colonel Sanders started KFC by selling chicken at his gas station. Ray Croc wasn’t too good to flip burgers. Conrad Hilton started with one crappy hotel, built a business, lost it and rebuilt it. You’re not too good for whatever idea you have. Just do the work.

When I feel uninspired or unmotivated I remind myself that everything, EVERYTHING, starts small. Microsoft was just a few guys in a room. Facebook was one kid in his dorm. Famous Amos cookies was an eccentric guy and a recipe. McDonald’s was a single diner. One thing is all it takes.

Right now I am working on at least 3 projects. I’ll share the details when it’s time. Some of it won’t work out, hopefully some of it will. No matter what, I’m not going to stop, because everything I want is just ahead.

And when I feel like stopping, I go to Wikipedia and read about Colonel Sanders, Conrad Hilton and others who started from nothing.

Sometimes I wonder what is missing in the world today because so many other people quit just before they became a huge success.

If you feel like quitting, read these stories and don’t give up. I believe in you:

Colonel Sanders

Ray Croc

Conrad Hilton

Sarah Blakely

John Paul DeJoria

Howard Schultz

Nick Woodman

(inspiration)

(inspiration)