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:

How I Relearned How To Walk And Almost Became A Professional Athlete

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Fred Rogers

We were in a white, 1985 Chrysler LeBaron convertible. It had red pinstripes, chrome door handles and a burgundy pleather interior. It was the height of 1980’s commuter cool.

(we were so cool in our LeBaron Convertible)

(we were so cool in our LeBaron Convertible)

The top was down on a warm evening in June, 1988 as we cruised Route 120 westbound toward McHenry, IL.

My left arm, broken during a backyard neighborhood-record attempt was plaster casted up to my left shoulder and hung in a sling resting on my left thigh.

My mother twisted her hair, I twirled two dollars in my free hand thinking about the cast coming off in a week, and my younger sister floated her hands in the wind while we listened to music.

The other driver and her passengers were also carefree, after drinking for six hours. They had just left the bar and were speeding along in her cream-with-faux-wood-panel station wagon.

At five o’clock, drunk and frustrated with rush hour traffic, the woman accelerated to 65 miles per hour and moved out from behind a box truck in a no-passing zone.

The car appeared right in front of us. My mother swerved but we were trapped.

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect the dots looking backward.” The dots of what happened next took years to connect.

The cars hit head on and spun to opposite sides of the road.

The seat belt shredded my organs as I folded over it.

The cast on my left arm flew up into my face, breaking my nose and snapping my left humerus near my shoulder.

My right arm punched the dashboard, breaking above the wrist into a ninety-degree angle.

Blood gushed from my nose onto my cast and pumped out from my broken bones, torn muscles and damaged organs into my body.

Steam spewed from the busted radiator; coolant and gasoline seeped from the engine as the cars came to a halt.

Before drifting into shock, I opened my eyes. My sister commanded our mother:

“Mom, sit down. Sit down, Mom, you’re bleeding.”

Her head was lacerated by the rearview mirror, but she checked the cars for flames anyway, more concerned about our safety than her own.

My sister’s pelvis screamed with pain and seemed broken, but she sat calmly scared after confirming Mom and I were alert.

A crowd gathered. A boy peered over my raised window asking if I was ok. My broken arm sat tweaked on my lap with nowhere to hide. He stared at it.

Unable to move, my casted left arm hung loose from the broken shoulder.

One person put paper towels to my mother’s head while another pried my door open with a crowbar. The Jaws of Life were en route but the paramedics didn’t think I had time to wait. I was fading out.

After hours of surgery I awoke in intensive care. I blurred in and out for three days, recalling muffled voices and only still-picture memories until a massive blood transfusion woke me up.

This began the longest recovery of my life with steep physical ups, downs and a mental battle with PTSD.

It was like a f%$^&*g dot machine spewing dots across my universe and I had no connections. Just pain, agony, fear and anxiety.

After five days I was released from intensive care and could start eating a little bit again, mostly liquids. I spent six weeks pronate, double-casted, in traction with sutures pulling half my upper body back together.

My world was 18 square feet in a double room: a bed, two pillows, a remote control and a window overlooking central Illinois wetlands dotted with oak trees and the Flight For Life helipad.

(this was once my home and where I relearned how to walk)

(this is where I relearned how to walk)

I crushed on the nurses. They held my food, helped me pee, wiped me and gave me baths via sponge. I was embarrassed at my helplessness and my infatuation. I cried quietly at night after my parents went home. I was in pain, mentally and physically, and could only wait. It was too much for a ten-year old.

(I was in love with all of my nurses. it was embarrassing)

(when I was 10 I thought my nurses looked like this and I was in love with them all; It was embarrassing)

But Mom and Dad were always there for me. Head stitched, she was with me in the ICU. Dad was in the emergency room standing over me after I arrived, waiting for surgery. Sometimes at night he brought me Oreos from the vending machine and chalky, boxed hospital milk. The snack tasted like golden angel tears and birthday cake and I felt normal for a minute.

I had a lot of time to watch old movies and think. I felt totally alone surrounded by people in Northern Illinois Medical Center, McHenry, Illinois, Room 736 Bed 2.

After six weeks, hundreds of cards, tens of bouquets, balloons, a 1988 LA Rams signed team football, countless visits from my brother and sister (who’s pelvis luckily was not fractured but horribly bruised), I was unshackled.

But I couldn’t sit up.

I couldn’t stand.

I could no longer walk.

My muscles atrophied. I was like an amoeba.

(amoebas are shapeless organisms that do not walk)

(I felt like an amoeba)

Learning to walk again changed my life. It changed how I learn and connected some dots.

The desire to move comes from the innate desire for freedom. Freedom is choosing our own path. Choosing our own path means having strength.

Sometimes getting stronger just hurts.

But you can’t really lose it all unless you give up. Never give up. There are always little things you can do to get stronger, or ways you can help build others’ strength.

The secret to learning how to walk, getting stronger and bolstering the breadth of choice in your life is this: short, brief, difficulty followed by recovery. This creates a foundation from which all else can build.

20 seconds of insane courage is all it takes to change your life for the better. It is the same for walking, or climbing, running 50 miles or getting off the couch and starting. We each have our own obstacles. All of life’s big goals and overcoming surly obstacles starts with short, difficult movements – mind and body.

First I sat up in bed, then laid back down. I repeated this for a day, then moved to a blue vinyl chair. I sat for a few hours, then went back to bed. We repeated to exhaustion. It hurt. I grew stronger.

In the beginning, forget the rest and focus on the small, really hard things. Practice those. Attack those. Pour your courage into those insanely hard efforts and the foundation will set.

After a day of sitting in the chair, I stood. I felt what a baby must feel: exuberance, hope..and almost fell over. Sit-stand, sit-stand, repeat. I did this for hours until I couldn’t. Short, hard work that slowly retrained my legs.

Once I could stand, wobbly, I stepped; just one step.

After a couple more days: two steps.

On the fifth day: across the room.

Then we ventured out around the nurse station, using visitors seats along the walls to rest. Twenty pounds of plaster made my muscles burn.

Once the base was built a little bit,  progress improved.

I was finally walking again. It only took short, fantastically hard effort and insane amounts of courage to face the pain.

The dots began connecting.

(3 weeks after I was released, my right cast was shortened and would be fully removed 2 weeks later)

(3 weeks after I was released, my right cast was shortened and was finally removed 2 weeks later)

All my future training endeavors were based around the lessons I learned when re-learning to walk. I created interval training programs that helped me become an elite athlete and almost a professional.

I became a semi-professional climber, ultra-marathon runner, XC mountain bike racer, triathlete and surfer. I logged over 300 SCUBA dives in two years, climbed the Three Sisters in Oregon with my friend Chuck in 19 hours, 42 minutes and the North Ridge of Mt Stuart in Washington in 24 hours, 32 minutes non-stop. I did things and pushed myself beyond my assumed capabilities.

(I took this picture of my friend Chuck on the 16th pitch of Mt Stuart, about 2,500 feet up)

(I took this picture of my friend Chuck on the 16th pitch of Mt Stuart, about 2,500 feet up)

But as we get older, we get busier. Careers, kids, relationships, life takes precedent and we lose our edge.

Whether I was training for climbing or running, I came up with a simple, hard, fast, secret interval system that builds strength and fitness based on how I relearned to walk.

If you want to stay on your couch and tell yourself you’ll get off next year – that’s fine, this will wait, but you can have it now. If you want to get stronger, look better and feel better, this secret is for you.  Do this for a couple months and your body, maybe your life, will change.

(the couch looks innocent, but it's eating you)

(the couch looks innocent, but it’s eating you)

The first thing you need is 20 seconds of courage. Then all you need is less than 15 minutes every day.

If you do this every day for 30 days you will notice a difference. You will get stronger, leaner and fitter. Your goals will get closer. Do it every day and you’ll become powerful.

Most of us have learned how to walk at least once. This is for those of us that want to take back our freedom – of choice (what we can do), of health (how we look and feel), and of power (what options we have), so we can walk our own path forever.

These small hard workouts you can do anywhere; just four exercises combined together.

I call them PushSquats.

It will work out your whole body.  Whether you’re just starting or are a professional athlete, this system can help. It helps me every day.

My good friend Sylvie, a professional trainer and model, produced a few short videos of these techniques just for us.

First, The Upper Body (The Push) will get your arms, back and chest stronger.

Do as many of these as you can. AS MANY AS YOU CAN IN ONE REPETITION.

If you’re strong you can maybe do 25, but maybe you can only do 10 or 15. That’s fine.

If you can’t do a full push-up, that’s okay. Do it in the half push-up position. The idea is to challenge yourself enough and build strength.

Right now I can do 100 pushups in a row because of this program. I feel and look strong.

Next, The Lower Body (The Squats)

Jump Squats

Do three sets of 40 jumps resting 1 minute between sets.

Split Jumps

Do 3 sets of 40 jumps, resting 1 minute between sets.

Gunther Hops

Do 100 in a row

If you can’t do this all at once, cut it in half or less. Start small and build. Everything starts small. This is a first step that will make you stronger, you just need to start.

And if you did it, congratulations! You’ll feel these tomorrow. You can do Pushes and Squats in the same session or break it up and do pushes in the morning and squats at night or vice versa. Whatever works for you as long as you do it consistently and as long as you don’t get stressed about it. The goal is: no stress, start small, get strong.

Here’s the summary:

Pushes:

drop and do one set of as many pushups or half push-ups as you can

Squats:

120 jump squats (3×40 if you’re in decent shape) (3×20 if you’re in ok shape) (3×10 if you’re just starting out)

120 split jumps (3×40) (break it down same as above if you’re just starting out)

100 gunther hops (50 if you’re in ok shape) (30 if you’re just starting out)

=340 …or whatever you can do to get started

Feel easy? Make it harder:

1. Don’t sit down between each set

2. Add 20 more jumps to each rep

3. Reduce the rest time between reps

It sounds easy but it’s not.

I do this a lot when I get to my hotel room in the evening, or if I don’t have enough time (or am feeling tired or too anxious) to run.

Whenever I do this I think of the first day in 1988 when I stood up again for the first time and how lucky I am now to be doing the things I love. Twenty seconds of insane courage.

If you think this plan will help someone else, please share it.

It was a long, hard road back to health for me. I suffered physically and emotionally. But I made it. My PTSD was treated and I let go of the anxiety, became a stronger person, and almost became a professional climber. I experienced epic moments of a lifetime. It took a lot of helpers and a lot of 20-second courageous moments.  The dots make a lot more sense.

I wish you the best on your journey. Whether you’re recovering from an accident or starting a new phase of your life, it’s a new beginning. You’re not too late to get started and you’re not too early to get better.

Start now and tell me how you feel in the morning.

(thanks to Lacey Sadoff for editing this post, Sylvie Patrick for recording the short videos and Chuck Thomas for originally introducing me to jump squats)

How I Became a Bestselling Writer

It happened fast and I didn’t expect it.

I was on an airplane headed to Beirut in June, 2013 thinking about the last few years.

They’re a blur.

Image

(sometimes things are blurry)

A month before this trip I left my job as a VP of the technology company that invented the modern method of showing 3D in movie theaters. I started as their Director of Finance in 2007 building the financial infrastructure then spent five years doing deals and building new business opportunities outside the core business. I’ve always written – proposals, emails, business plans – but I’ve never been a “writer”.

Things happened, the company grew and initiated their IPO in 2010.

(the day we IPO’d on the NYSE)

It is a strange experience going from a small group of people in cramped offices working on a business that gets laughed at (“3D? I thought that was dead 20 years ago?!”), to listing on the NYSE with high visibility, press coverage, and broad brand awareness. We were a success.

In many ways it’s rewarding. I can only imagine how the founders of the company, and the original two employees, the CFO and the President, felt seeing some of their dreams realized.

It’s hard to be a founder. Your idea is worthless in the beginning, until you figure out how to convince someone that your idea is worth something, then prove it.

(Since 1995 Amazon has convinced a lot of people that it's a good idea)

(Since 1995 Amazon has convinced a lot of people of it’s idea)

The best ideas are ideas that help people. Every great idea from Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Nikola Tesla, your local restaurant and the most popular social media site has one thing in common that makes it successful: it helps people.

The best ideas don’t take things away from people, they give things to people. Some ideas make people money. Other ideas make people look cool, help them feel better (release oxytocin), teach them valuable skills or knowledge and give them opportunities.

Think about it. Every really popular thing out there gives people something they want. When you add up what all the people are getting from good ideas, you’ll see that it is much larger as a whole than what the ideamaker gets back. The value ideamakers get is much less than the value they create, but even that small piece, financially, is often more than one could use in several lifetimes.

But some ideamakers don’t structure the communication of their ideas such that they benefit (sometimes the benefits take several more lifetimes before they’re recognized). Nikola Tesla, for example, died penniless even though his ideas are some of the most powerful ever created while Ford, Rockefeller, Ellison, Gates, Andreesen, Thiel, Musk and Zuckerberg figured out ways of holding onto some ownership in their ideas and profiting from them. They convinced others – communicated – the value of their ideas in such a way that it activated groups of people to take action and, like dominoes, the communication of the idea flew from person to person as each one tipped into believing.

(ironically Marconi built comm. equipment based on 17 of Tesla's patents but it wasn't until after Tesla's death that he was awarded judgment and would have been rich)

(ironically Marconi built communication equipment based on 17 of Tesla’s patents but it wasn’t until after Tesla’s death that he was awarded judgment for inventing modern communication that would have made him seriously wealthy)

Powerful communication spreads messages like genetics on a rabbit farm.

It’s the communication of the ideas that really matters. In this post I describe the most successful companies in the world, of which many are communication companies. Newspapers, books, magazines, websites, social media, conversation, smart devices, billboards, sign language, vision, hearing, sight, taste, smells, blogs; communication may be the most valuable thing of all time. Powerful, valuable messages are carried through time and space like particles; communication channels are accelerators.

Every day we communicate outward and receive incoming communications. Processing and responding. Creating or reacting to pivot points. The stimuli meshing into micro and macro instances. Perhaps the most powerful tool we have and use is communication, but good ideas, good communication and strategic management is really tough. Think about all the people you know that communicate horribly.

(graphene may make internet communication over a thousand times faster)

(graphene may make internet communication over a thousand times faster)

Sometimes there is too much communication. Sometimes I want to hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE and start over, but not recently. Not since I figured out how to build my own momentum, creating experiments in life and adjusting as the instances are generated.

It was about eighteen months ago that I CTRL-ALT-Deleted. I felt perturbed, as if there was more I was supposed to be doing; a purpose I hadn’t yet found but couldn’t put my finger on how to find it.

It wasn’t the first time I’d felt this way, but I came across some ideas that changed the direction of my life and led me to writing, increasing outbound communication – something I never thought I’d do since I’m a terrible writer.

I realized that there was a lot of time in my life spent as a drone. I’d work all day in my office, come home, maybe do something active, like run or surf. Then I’d eat dinner, sit down and “relax” by watching TV. I’d end up there for a couple hours until I was tired, go to bed and repeat the next day. It wasn’t  relaxing because my brain was bombarded with messages, stimuli and emotions from the box.

But I’m not against TV. Entertainment is good. I love watching well-developed stories and the art and effort that goes into producing a good show or movie and epic sports matchups. It’s not bad living having a great job, eating good food and sitting in a safe, comfortable apartment watching good TV. It is a very privileged life of security, entertainment, health and free time. But we all have keys to our own happiness and I’m never happy unless I’m building something, so I choose building over watching.

I started an experiment.

I don’t like grand change-your-life schemes or stressful commitments with static goals. Success vs Failure. Life is not that black and white. I do believe in success and failure, and I’m not a give-everyone-an-A-on-their-test-because-they-all-have-capabilities-that-come-out-differently type of person but any time something is stressful it usually will not work out in the long run. Stress is like rust. Over time things will corrode and fail under too much stress. It could be your health, relationships, job or happiness. All these things affect one another and build off of each other.

I prefer experiments. Experiments are more flexible and start with hypotheses that can be adjusted with feedback.

Experiments grow into larger things if they go well, or can be killed if they don’t respond the way you hope them to. The key is staying agile, or lean, by taking it one pivot point at a time, considering the direction and adjusting. Ideally, this method helps avoid waste (time, energy, money, relationships, etc).

My experiment was asking the question “What would happen if I cut out the things in my life that make me less creative, productive, helpful, loving and happy? Eliminate the things that hold me back and block the conduit. What if I got rid of them?”

My hypothesis was that I’d have more ideas, better relationships, higher energy and get more done.

So I measured the things in my life that took up my time and hypnotized me, disabling my creativity and relationship cultivation.

In an average week I was watching twenty-eight hours of television/entertainment. I didn’t think this was bad since about seven hours (25%) was news. Then I asked why news was better and I realized news was one of the biggest drains, actually worse, than regular entertainment. News is scary. People are dying. Lies are spreading. Crimes are happening. Disasters are imminent. Revolution is brewing. Governments are failing. Security is evaporating! There are no jobs! Money is devaluing!! Your house is worthless!!! There is nothing you can do…except watch so you know when the next bad thing happens so you can escape to the future settlement on the moon or the compound in the mountains. A lot of bad communication.

Uggh. I’d rather watch South Park and Louis C.K. At least they make me laugh – give me some oxytocin for goodness sake. But it was all hypnotizing. Blocking my ideas and thoughts. I needed silence.

So I started with News then cancelled cable and got rid of my 73” 3D TV.

(I got tired of worshiping the tv gods)

(I got tired of worshiping the tv gods)

This meant no news at all and no television programming except by demand via online portals. No newspapers, CNN, news magazines, nothing. Most importantly, no more distraction.

It’s scary. media is like a thick down comforter hugging you so tightly that you are padded from yourself. When you drop the thick cushy blanket you realize you’ve been naked the whole time and your thoughts silenced, inundated with content produced by Hollywood.

I looked at relationships. How much time was I spending nurturing unhealthy relationships with negative people? How much time was I spending hoping for people to return feelings they didn’t share with me? Why was I spending time with pits in my stomach and hopes in my head?

I leaned away from negative, needy, selfish people and leaned towards creative, motivated, thoughtful people cultivating their own experiments, and towards those who care for me as I care for them. In the short run there will be pain and withdrawal, but in the long run this strategy works. Ask yourself the question “if this thing happening to me  were happening to someone I love unconditionally, what would I want for that person?”  You are who you hang out with, and I could see my life improve immediately. My energy redirected towards creating, communicating and ideating.

The first thing that happens when you get rid of the negative is brain diarrhea. I was scared. Lonely convulsing thoughts running out of my head and depositing fear all over the place. Like a cleanse, this was natural. My brain was jailed and now it wasn’t. Like Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption”, I was institutionalized and now I was free and freaking out. With so much freedom, what does one do first? Once your brain is free, you can get busy living.

(get busy living)

(get busy living)

So I focused on my job and in my free time read a lot and got obsessed with ideas. I started writing down ideas every day. About anything. Mostly the company I worked for, and then new ideas to consider someday like things I want to build, people I’d like to meet or help. I’d throw all of those ideas out a few weeks after writing them down. Most were terrible. Something funny happens when you write down ideas: once they hit the paper it’s like there’s more room in your brain and ideas just start gushing out.

Many of my ideas are business ideas. There is nothing better than creating something and putting it out into the world for people to use. Money is great. We all need it. Seeing creations come to life while getting paid for them is an indescribable feeling, but it’s rare because that’s not how we’re taught. We’re taught to work for the people with ideas, not create them ourselves.

Ideas are hard to start when you aren’t sure what to do with them or where to go next, so I started doing something else.

I sought out people I thought had the secrets to the future. These people were the rare ideamakers. Many were wealthy, had started companies, went from nothing to something, were covered heavily by media and their stories were well known. They, I was sure, could tell the stories of how they did it and maybe I could steal their methods.

So I started connecting. I’d send notes, comment on blogs, ask mutual friends for introductions or send an honest message on LinkedIn asking to connect.

Once connected, I’d tell them what I was doing and ask for a short conversation – no more than ten minutes – during which I had three questions in the area of ideas and innovation that I’d like to ask.

I was shocked to find that people actually care. They want to give and help. The secret they know, is if they are a conduit to others, giving to those that are creative, unselfish, proactive (my friend Casey calls them Doers) and sincere, that they would get back many times what they gave. Like Kevin Systrom giving us Instagram, a platform that helps our horrible photos look better so we can more easily share them, we gave him billions of photos per day, hundreds of millions of users, that brought him a $billion along with respect and fame in the developer community. This is the power of ideas. They start small, like experiments, and if they go well, they grow out of their petri dishes until they cover the earth like oxygen.

I connected with CEOs, VCs, entrepreneurs, investors, ideamakers, creatives, writers, connectors, influencers and filmmakers among others.

And that led to more clarity and ideas and inspiration and excitement. I found that my relationships were getting better, my thoughts clearer and my energy higher. Like a snowball.

Since I was spending time connecting with people, cultivating my health and creativity, the snowball was getting big and there was more to share. I got more deals done at work and had more financial security.

It’s hard when we’re just getting by, or even doing well, not to be selfish and concerned about what we’re going to get out of a deal, conversation, job or any effort that we put forth; we are concerned with our own hunger. When we have a lot, we let others have a taste of our kill, but when we’re just getting by it’s hard not to hold onto every little morsel.

When I started to realize that for every idea I gave away or helped someone else with, I would have 10 more ideas, I got excited, even giddy, about giving away ideas. I was full and since I was full, I could give without worry about receiving.

But getting started was the trick. So I connected with James Altucher on his blog and wrote a comment.

James recently published “Choose Yourself:  be happy, make millions, live the dream”.

I preordered it and it arrived just prior to my flight to Beirut. I was over Switzerland when I turned the page and saw this:

(I hope this technique works for you)

(I hope this technique works for you)

James had included my comment in his book because it’s a technique that works.

His book is now a Wall Street Journal bestseller and I became a bestselling writer. People all over the world are benefitting from the technique I wrote, and I’m happy if it helps them. Maybe it will help you? It helps me every day.

(James' book made me a bestselling writer)

(James’ book made me a bestselling writer)

James continues to give me advice on building things, and I’m grateful for his time and effort.

It’s been 18 months since I took back control of my life and filtered in the right people. Somehow I still know most of what’s going on in the world and am wayyyy more productive.

I’ve converted 28 hours per week from hypnosis to 28 hours of productive energy and experimentation. I launched two ideas (with more on the way) and the free browser app www.noppl.com, invested in a disruptive Chicago-based startup while advising three more companies on strategy and direction.

And I’ve also failed. I tried to launch other things that fell flat. I lost at a relationship with someone who didn’t reciprocate the same feelings and I had to step away. I wanted to help someone else who didn’t want help and it’s hard to see them struggle. I pitched at least 5 ideas to the company I worked for and they didn’t do them. I sent other companies at least 20 ideas and they all said “these are great ideas” but haven’t called me back. Those things hurt but being grateful is the basis I use to stay positive and happy through the ups and downs.

I’m not sure what will happen next. There are too many things I want to do and I’m not good at saying no, but the best people know how to say no. I’m working on it. I’d like to run 21 miles of trail every month in a new destination around the world, share ideas with people that need them and build something really great that matters. Spend more time with my family, find love, listen to great music, watch amazing sunsets, design cool things and hopefully keep myself financially secure. We all have dreams.

But it starts with silence so the ideas can shine through. And ideas start with saying no to distractions. And saying yes to the possibilities that are out there waiting, just outside of that numb comforter around you, preventing you from feeling the warmth and opportunities of life.

I used my technique and met my friend Kash. I’d love to know what you’re doing to create your own freedom in your life, or as Kash says, what you’re doing to #besomebody.