Micah August 30th

A Left Turn at Albuquerque

Last year some time, perhaps around SXSW, I was introduced to a woman I had started to hear a lot about.

She was described as someone who had started a documentary, sort of on a whim, and had collected a number of really interesting interviews. Most of the equipment she had was donated, and much of the work she had done was amateur. But, the subject matter, “How technology has changed how we live our lives” was riveting and the perspective interesting.

As I got to know Melissa Pierce, I found out that we had many intersections of people, thoughts and ideas, and over the past year, we have become friends.

A couple of days ago, I saw the rough cut of her file, Life in Perpetual Beta, and while it leaned on the side of rough, its compelling, and will be worth the time (and hopefully money) to sit and watch and think.

Today, I was pointed to this video:

Which she talks about why she started the film. Watch it. Its pretty interesting (of course, my favorite part is about 5:30 in, when the camera almost gets dropped). Its pretty interesting in that there was a moment when Melissa realized that doing this film was important to her, and that regardless of the path, she was ready to start down it. A moment.

At Gnomedex this year, I had the immense pleasure to meet Jay Grandin and Leah Nelson of Giant Ant Media. When their presentation began, they talked about how they put together a video, which went viral on YouTube.

They began to explain how this video got them a gig with MySpace, and I quickly shoved my face back into my laptop. “Yay!” I thought to myself, “another viral video. Perhaps I will do a video about testicles (By the way – I didnt start that twitter account. Or this one. Or this one. Or this one. Thank God, they are all dead). Bet I could get 9 million views.”

But as their presentation progressed, they talked about how entering the social media realm. Strike that. This wasnt really social media, even though it was attached to MySpace, it was really the “social connection” realm, because Jay and Leah, then started a project where they went to Europe and asked their MySpace friends if they could crash on their couches. Which they did. And they filmed it.

Now before you jump into the standard American “WTF!?!? Strangers? IN EUROPE?!” Jay and Leah are Canadians living in Vancouver. So, the potential of them getting bitten and turning into werewolves, ala An American Werewolf in London, were pretty slim. (It wasnt called A Canadian Werewolf in London for a reason. They are just too nice to be werewolves.)

But, somewhere on their journey from standard menial jobs to viral videos to MySpace to roaming around Europe they, like Melissa, made a left at Albuquerque.

(Ok, time for a quick aside. My reference of a “left at Albuquerque” is a reference to a famous line uttered by Bugs Bunny whenever he travelled in a cartoon. For some reason, he continually got lost, and would pop out of the burrow he was making and exclaim, “I shoulda made a left at Alburquerque!”)

Jay and Leah began to get involved with a project that was inspired by another member of their team, Danya Fast, had just returned from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and spoke about some kids who lived on the street hustling and performing. They decided to get involved:

Over the course of six weeks in Dar, we facilitated a youth-led project to record a 6-track Bongo-Flava hip hop album. We compensated a group of 20 youth with a cash salary on work days, by setting up housing for one year, and with lots and lots of cigarettes.

At the conclusion of that year, they had the album (buy it here), a charity (check it here), and an amazing film (learn more here):

Amazing stuff, huh?

I often talk about how there are two types of entrepreneurs in the world, those that pack and plan their parachutes before jumping or those that jump trusting that they will figure it out on the way down.

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, says it a bit better than me (found on Fred Wilson’s tumblr):

“The whole entrepreneurial thing is that you kind of jump off a cliff and assemble your airplane on the way down. And financing, by the way, is a thermal draft, right? You’re a little further away, but the ground’s still coming at you if you can’t establish an airplane.”

– Reid Hoffman, as quoted by Jeff Bussgang in his new book, The VC Playbook

(While I would love to say that great minds think alike, Reid did found LinkedIn. C’mon, Reid, LinkedIn?!?! Sheeesh, I have work to do…)

Melissa, Jay and Leah all took the leap. They are trusting that they will figure it out on the way down. And, given what I know of them, they will. (Now, both are looking for help funding their projects. If they move you, give. If they dont move you, find someone it does move, and get them to give. Seriously.)

But, what of this concept of a “Left Turn at Albuquerque”? What compels people to make a major shift in their lives and careers to follow passion projects? My career and life have been pretty linear, with each “next” building off the “previous.” I am not surprised I am where I am today (maybe a bit disappointed in certain things, but certainly not surprised) because of the linear nature of my life and choices.

And, left turns dont have to be into non-profit or “world saving” activities. It just has to be drastic and a major life shift. Remember starting a company is difficult and hard, it could have large monetary awards, but its not a fundamental life shift.

Starting a company is not impressive. Changing your life’s path is awe inspiring.

If given the opportunity to take a Left Turn, dont let it pass you by. Jump. The parachute will figure itself out.

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Micah April 11th

Community is Big in Omaha

bigomahaWhat? Not another post about how awesome Boulder is?

About a year ago, I was meeting with David Cohen of Techstars and I remarked how there just had to be other blogs like ColoradoStartups and people like him who were passionate about their local tech communities.

“How cool would it be if there was a blog network of startup blogs?”

David mentioned Alex Muse down in Dallas who wrote the TexasStartupBlog, and a matter of days later we were all on the phone. Several months later, SpringStage was born. Both David (here) and Alex (here) write about it, and I am proud of my early help in getting it off the ground.

SpringStage is an example of a firm belief I have: That the true innovation in the US occurs BETWEEN the coasts, not ON the coasts. True innovation is where the problems are equally as difficult, but the resources are less.

I have seen it alive and well in Boulder. I have experienced it in other cities around the country, and with there being more than 35 bloggers in the SpringStage network, innovation clearly doesnt solely exist in San Francisco and New York.

At SXSW, I got to meet Jeff Slobotski of Silicon Prairie News and the organizer of the Big Omaha conference (May 7-8, 2009). I was blown away by his enthusiasm and love for Omaha. It is clear in the people he has gotten together to speak at Big Omaha, its almost like a mini-web 2.0 TED.

But whats more important is the recognition that entrepreneurship exists in every city in the United States, and we as entrepreneurs must foster that growth. Every time two people get together and figure out an interesting and unique way to solve a problem it should be celebrated.

I am looking forward to speaking at Big Omaha, partly because I am on a roster of my friends (current and yet to be), but mostly because I will be able to talk to local entrepreneurs and listen to their interesting take on how they are building the entrepreneurial community in Omaha.

If you are on the fence about attending, let me ask you: Are you a member of a entrepreneurial community? Is it doing everything you want it to do for you? Are you doing everything for your community you can?

At BigOmaha, I promised that we will explore ways you can do better by your community, and it can do better by you.

Or as Jeff says:

“The energy will be impossible to contain. We will begin building communities, companies and friendships. We will inspire new thoughts and completely new ways of thinking. We will develop visions: personal, shared, and civic.”

See you there?

By the way: Registration is only $199 until April 25. I would jump on it.

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(first of all, on a complete side note, ever since Pet Holdings–the parent company of the ICanHasCheezburger Network, which is run by my good friends Ben Huh and Scott Porad–added Lijit to their sites, I cant spell cheeseburger properly…)

kosher symbolsAt SXSW, I had the pleasure of meeting a young entrepreneur through mutual friends. I often find that interesting companies have really impressive founders behind them (mostly because the idea had to come from somewhere intriguing). This entrepreneur and I seemed to move in and out of the same circles, but never really crossed paths.

Why is this important? While most people probably dont believe this, the greatest gift I get from people is education. My favorite thing in the world is to find people that know more about something than I do, or participate in something I dont, or just flatly do something better than I do, and learn from them.

If you took a list of all my friends and made notations about what makes each one special, you would find a list of amazing talents, knowledge and activity that just by proximity can do nothing but impress.

What I didnt know about this entrepreneur is that he both keeps kosher and observes the sabbath. For most entrepreneurs, limiting your diet (“What if a potential investor/partner wants to eat out?!?!?”) and work week to 6 days (“C’mon! No startup is successful when the founder works only 6 days a week!”) is just unheard of.

Yet, his company is growing, they have secured funding from really high profile investors, and he successfully drives product direction and promotion.

Which got me thinking.

I have several friends who have made specific choices about how they live their lives and what is a priority for them. Sometimes the filter is of religious origin, sometimes is a lifestyle decision, or a geographic choice.

Many people would look at these decisions as limiting. What happens if an important phone call has to be made on a Saturday? Will it just go unanswered? Does something like following kosher laws and observing a sabbath create an artificial barrier for success?

Now, it would be easy to find many folks that have been successful in spite of self-limiting behavior or activities. (Face it, any decision to not do something is self-limiting by definition). Instead, lets discuss why I decided to participate in those self-limited behaviors.

Life is about choice. It is often said that the greatest gift given man was free will. (Of course, the evangelicals will say it was Jesus, but this isnt about a religious debate.) Some have said its man’s greatest burden as well.

(Ok, the religious stuff is over, I swear to Christ.)

I have spent most of my life immersed in free will. I tend to make decisions based on the exact previous activity. I dont think more than a day ahead. My therapist often says that the worst thing my parents did was not provide and enforce clear and distinct boundaries. I lived a life full of free will.

True Free Will often comes with a lack of order.

And I, in order to make the changes I want to make in my life, need structure and order. I want, for the first time in my life, to think…and then…do.

So, I was inspired by the entrepreneur I met at SXSW. If he could continue to be as successful as he is sticking to the choices he has made, then perhaps if I do the same, I would provide sufficient structure and order to help me be more successful.

With that, about two weeks ago, I decided to follow the kosher laws.

Wellllllll, thats a lie. I decided to follow a version of the kosher laws.

Quickly: What are the kosher laws? A set of dietary restrictions that many Jewish people conform to. If you want to read more about them, this is a pretty good resource on kosher. Kosher comes from the Hebrew word “kasher” meaning fit. Non-kosher food is known as “treif” meaning torn. Literally meaning torn by another animal, killed with a dull blade (feels pain), or has a defect that disallows it from being slaughtered.

Here are the basic tenants (as I understand them):

  • * meat is ok. But, it has to come from an animal that chews its cud and has cloven hooves;
  • * pigs are out, because even though they have cloven hooves, they dont chew their cud.
  • * birds are ok, but have to fit certain criteria. For example, they have an established tradition of being kosher or be really close to a bird that is kosher. Chickens are ok; falcons are not.
  • * fish is ok, but it has to have scales and fins. No shellfish. (dammit!)
  • * insects are not kosher (thank god)
  • * fruits, vegetables, nuts are all pretty much kosher, as long as they dont have insects (see above)
  • * dairy is kosher – pretty much
  • * meat and dairy cant be mixed. (you and me, cheeseburger, we are through)

There are a few other rules (like certain foods have to be prepared by other Jews. Like cheese and wine.)

Here are the ones Im following:

  • * meat and fowl have to be bought from a kosher deli.
  • * fish is fine, shellfish are out.
  • * pork is out (which is ok. I havent eaten pork in almost 20 years)
  • * no mixing meat and diary.
  • * fruits, vegetables, diary are ok.
  • * chicken wings are always kosher. (what? I love chicken wings!)

Here is the payoff. Before every meal, I have to think about what I am going to eat. I have to think about where I am going to eat. If I go to the supermarket, I have to think about what to buy.

I have to think…then act. I have to apply some level of structure and order to my meals.

Its not much, but its a start on learning to temper my free willing ways.

Anyone know a good kosher deli in Boulder?

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