Weekly Review #54: Gatecrashing the #AirbnbOpen, a snapshot of current tech, and respecting Tony Robbins

I gate-crashed the Airbnb Open this weekend, mostly by walking up confidently and saying I knew Chip Conley (which I do, but anybody could have said that). It was a very well-thrown event that covered how to be a better host, and offered an opportunity for user feedback as the company moves forward. I was struck by the fact that the average age of the attendees was 44 – makes sense given that most property owners are a bit older.

James Altucher’s interview with Tony Robbins on his new book made me respect the self-help guru, despite all his new-agey-ness. The man knows what he’s doing – and he really does want to help. Check out his story about doubling the Army’s pistol training success rate in half the training time, too.

  • ‘Generalizing other people is an easy way to avoid truly looking at yourself’
  • ‘People can take away what we have, but not what we have become’
  • ‘The system is not ever on your side – it’s always on the side of the entrenched power brokers. But you can learn the system and take advantage of it as well’

Keval Desai and Johnathan Rosenberg have compiled a huge document covering all aspects of the current tech landscape – while some of this info dates back to 2012, it’s all still very relevant. Take Wealthfront’s 2013 Silicon Valley Career Guide, for instance, which advocates working for a midsize startup with momentum as a new grad in order to build credibility, rather like Andrew Chen told me. They even have a handy tool helping you figure out how much equity to ask for. Or you could follow in the footsteps of this guy, who got an SV Product Management job in 5 weeks despite never having lived there. Or TechCrunch’s Lessons Learned from Billion Dollar companies – most are consumer tech, and the average founders’ age is 34. But there’s so much more! Check it out.

Cool Startup of the Week goes to Superfish, which finds similar items for sale based off of you taking pictures of stuff IRL. Kind of like what Google Goggles promised to be, but better – it may not always know that you just snapped a cat, for instance, but it can locate 7 cats just like it up for adoption nearby. Computer Vision for the win! Clover gets a runner-up award for letting you ‘order a date like a burrito’ – in other words, you say you’re available in the next two hours and ask some strangers for a drink. I don’t think it’l solve the New Friends Online problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Greg Mulholland has a great definition of hustlethe willingness and ability to identify problems, work with people (or appropriately ignore them), creatively approach these challenges, and deliver solutions without much guidance or many resources. And it’s way more important than IQ or EQ.

On Linkedin, the former Director of Online Marketing for Airbnb talks about why he left the rocket ship to focus on raising his daughter, in a poignant example of work life balancing. And Shane Parrish offers up a list of books with the most page for page wisdom - add my vote to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Lastly, Noah Kagan offers up another killer guide on how to get more traffic for every post – this guy has the Midas Touch.

Here’s Why You Can’t Make New Friends Online

Nowadays, every new college graduate enters a familiar cycle. They graduate, move to a new city to start a job, are excited to start a new life in a new place, and…..end up lonely. Most of them have never encountered a situation like this before – their last major shift was to college, where thousands of people their age live only a few dorm halls away. Now in the real world, they have no friends outside of work, and don’t know how to find any. They browse sites like Meetup.com and the Facebook calendars of local hotspots hoping to find friends, or give the bar scene a try and usually wind up disappointed. What do they do next?

In the past, they’d suck it up, grind it out over the next 18 months, and eventually find people they actually want to spend time with. At least, hat’s what my parents told me they had to do. But today, the members of the digital generation want better. Today, we say to ourselves ‘This is a simple problem, all we have to do is connect lonely new grads with others - there should be an app for that!

Existing options are imperfect:

  • Swarm lets you casually see who is up to hang out, but only among your existing friends.
  • Meetup does a good job of orienting communities around interests, but the events are structured weeks in advance, and hew closely to abstract interests like the outdoors, motherhood, or entrepreneurship.
  • Tinder and other dating apps do a great job of connecting you to vetted strangers, but only under romantic auspices, which means users can run into trouble using them as actual friend finding resources.
Excuse my hand-drawn Venn diagram

Excuse my hand-drawn Venn diagram

So they go around telling their friends about this great idea they have for an app that helps city transplants find new friends. I’ve had this idea, my buddies from college had this idea, and I still  hear about it from strangers at parties. Yet here we are, and I don’t see an app matching that description in the App Store. Why is that?

Friends are a Threshold Need

I think it’s because friends are a threshold need. When you don’t have any, you really miss them. But once you have enough to keep you satisfied, you don’t spend any time looking for more. The market for new friends is small and transitory, because once somebody finds friends they’re happy with – they don’t want to spend time with strangers who might not be a good fit. With the limited hours per week your new job affords, you realize that you don’t need as expansive of a social circle as you did in college, and all you want somebody to accompany you on your favorite pastimes.

Exactly how many friends you need to reach this threshold depends on the person. For me, I might need an outgoing friend willing to accompany me out to bars, some nerdy friends to play board games with, and an adventurous buddy to go out mountain biking with. If I lack any one of those, I’ll go seek out someone to be my partner in crime, but once I have one, I’m not texting everyone I know asking who is free this weekend.

Once you reach that surprisingly low bar of friends, your desire to take chances on strangers from the internet drops considerably. You already know you like Matt – why go with some possible creeper from an app? You don’t bother.

Proof by Couchsurfing

I realized this firsthand as a member of the CouchSurfing community in Barcelona. Surfing in CS is a no-brainer; you get a place to sleep and a new friend in whichever city you end up in. But hosting is tough – you have to put up with strangers in the comfort of your own house, who you may not get along with.

In my first semester at Barcelona, I lived with four American ‘bros’ whose main pastimes were watching sports, smoking weed, and getting  drunk in the same bar repeatedly. I didn’t spend much time with them, and it turned out that spending time hosting CouchSurfers was a perfect replacement. They’d spend a few nights on our couch, leaving after they had told me all about their home country, but before we had tired of each others’ company. But in my second semester, I lived with four local Catalans, with whom I got along beautifully. They showed me the authentic local spots, taught me Spanish, and were young enough to share my style of fun.

The statistics speak for themselves – in my first semester, I had one or two surfers on my couch every single week. In my second, I didn’t host a single person. It wasn’t even a conscious decision – I was simply too busy having fun with my flatmates to spare time or energy on strangers. My need for new friends was above the threshold, so I didn’t go looking for more.

I think this same paradigm is why the ‘new grad social app’ has failed to manifest itself successfully. If you have just a few friends, you’re not longer in the market for more, since you’re too busy with the old ones. So the target market for such an app is essentially limited to new city transplants in the first few months of their arrival – and once they find friends they stop whining.

The Perfect App

That doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity here. The more adventurous of us still welcome new people in our lives, and there’s a constant stream of au pairs, foreign students, and new city transplants who are always looking to meet locals.

Such an app would need to orient itself around easily approachable events similar to bar trivia nights, but far more welcoming. Couchsurfing offered regular meetups outside of the hosting mechanic that I still attend, because we all have a love of Couchsurfing in common, which makes it easy to walk up to strangers and ask ‘Are you with Couchsurfing?’. Even if they weren’t, bam, we’re off and talking. There’s no reason why that can’t work for an app as well.

Any app looking to connect strangers will need to facilitate a similar cohesion around itself. It will need the casual vibe of Swarm, the universal accessibility of Meetup.com, and the vetted strangers aspect of dating apps like Tinder. And it will need to make the strangers compelling enough that someone with enough friends already will be interested in meeting them. It’s a tall order, but hey, the target demographic is full of college-educated people who want it – maybe next year’s batch can puzzle this one out.

Weekly Review #53: Bubble Soccer, Job Hacking, and Github for music

We rented from Bayareabubblesoccer.com to finally experience firsthand what those viral videos of europeans knocking each other over have been showing us for years. Gameplay quickly devolves into you either prioritizing the ball, or foregoing it completely in favor of knocking the closest player onto his back. Rest assured, it’s as fun as it looks, but your neck and upper arms hurt for days afterward….
  • Time is a tool just like money, and you’ve already won the time lottery – you have as much as everyone else. How are you going to use it?
  • ‘Things in excess become their opposite’ – look at billionaires who can’t take a week off for vacation due to business needs
  • You don’t want to optimize everything for efficiency – how do you optimize hours on a beach? (I take issue here – you can’t optimize the time on the beach, but you can optimize your day/life to facilitate said hours
  • ‘War is God’s war of teaching Americans geography’
  • When you’re bored, ‘walk until your day becomes interesting’.

Ian Adams of the Senator Club got fired from his sales gig, and found a new one in 19 days. He’s shared exactly how, offering a fantastic model for any enterprising job seeker.

  • He used a digital assistant to find all the listings at companies that fit his criteria ‘SF startup with money raised’
  • He copied the listings into Wordsift to find the most desirable keywords, the updated his Linkedin to reflect them
  • Emailed everyone he know by exporting his Linkedin contacts
  • Role played phone interviews until he had them down cold, telling his personal story and converting into in person.
  • Landed gig at Yesware!

Some drone innovations – Skycatch lets you hire drones and their operators by the hour, rather like Uber, and DJI’s futuristic Inspire drone has legs that lift up for uninterrupted 360 degrees of video.

Splice is a clever idea – it’s a public repository of music tracks in the style of Github, doing to music production what the latter did for code. Open collaboration is a great idea – I could see some innovative remixes coming out of these tools.

Cameron Chardukian has a poorly formatted list of 32 personal development blogs, offering a good mix of established authors like Leo Babuta and lesser-known ones.

Custom Spaces is an SF based architecture firm with a beautiful website displaying the gorgeous offices of many tech giants like Github, Airbnb, and Eventbrite. Ogle away.

And for fun, put any words you’d like in the new Star Wars logo.

How to Network Unforgettably

I love networking. The practice gets a bad rap, since it conjures visions of slimy self promoters eager to hand you their business card before they even know your name, or professional events where nobody cares about each other. At certain events, this may be the case, but at the good ones, you’re just finding new friends who work in similar industries. Who can say no to that – someone who adds value both professionally and personally?

I love meeting people who I can discuss esoteric tech principles or marketing techniques. I love meeting exotic entrepreneurs from other countries who have come to Silicon Valley to make it big. I love meeting bloggers, authors, and artists who have stories about their creations and passions.

I may have to have dozens of dud conversations before I find someone I want to follow up with, but the return on investment on the Wins far outstrips the drudgery involved in finding them. Through networking and conferences, I’ve discovered sites like CollegeInfoGeek, PartTimeTraveller, and LifeLong-Learner.com, which are all great sites I enjoy. But more importantly, I count the people behind them as friends – friends who can help me along my own entrepreneurial path.

Anyways, after all this networking I’ve picked some mannerisms that help me do it better. I’m certainly no expert networker (or slimy self promoter), but here’s advice I would give to anybody:

Repping the red pants at SXSW 2014

Dress Remarkably

My default outfit always includes pair of bright red pants with a white contrasting belt. It’s just different enough as to be remarkable, without me looking ridiculous or overbearing. Anybody can walk up and comment on my pants to start a conversation – it’s one less hurdle between us talking. If you dress in a way that sets you apart, it’ll allow the more gregarious (or inebriated) of the crowd to start conversations easily, while ensuring people don’t forget you as easily.

This is a tactic that started in bars, where men ‘peacock’ by wearing outlandish costumes to stand out from the pack. No need to go overboard – Dave Kerpen accomplishes this through bright orange shoes. Just different enough to be memorable when you’re trying to remember him among the dozens of people and names you met at a conference.

Don’t Use Business Cards

Foisting your business card on someone too early in an exchange is a surefire turn off. Wait till the end, and only do it if it makes sense and you really want to follow up. Too often I’ll end a conference with pockets full of business cards I’ll never look at twice, since they felt obligated to give me one. Connect if it makes sense, and if not, it’s no big deal.

Personally I don’t ever use business cards – if I want to connect I’ll add them on Linkedin right there on my mobile. Or they can take a picture of me holding up my wallet, which has a business card of sorts on it, with my name, website, and contact info. That way I 1) stand out from the hordes with business cards 2) don’t waste paper with an easily deletable photo, and 3) tie my face to the information. But that’s just me.

Present Yourself Strategically

Look for groups of people with odd numbers, so that you can easily slide yourself into the conversation without drawing them away from each other. Single people wandering around or playing with their phone are also easy prey. If you have to join an even numbered group, do so directly, by entering from a direction where everyone can see you, maintaining eye contact, and introducing yourself when the conversation lulls or it seems awkward that you’re there. Of course you have to read the body language, but it’s easier than you think.

Once you’re in, remember that many of the people you meet will never see you again – you’re looking for those who share interests or business opportunities with. So present yourself strategically, by selecting the parts of your story that help them figure out where you could fit in to their future. I introduce myself as a content marketer and blogger, citing my startup marketing past  and self-published book as proof. (Oftentimes I’ll have the book with me, as a sort of instant wow-resume.) That gets the conversation oriented around what I can bring to the table, or just around topics I care about.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Too often conversations get mired in boring work talk. Find the good stuff that one or both of you are interested in, and talk about that. Start with open ended casual questions like ‘What do you want to take away from this event?’, ‘So, what’s your story?’, ‘How can I help you?’, or ‘What are you passionate about?’. Then they can take the discussion in almost any direction, and it spares them from immediately relating what their job is or where they’re from over and over.

Take it easy!

It’s not networking – it’s just talking with friends you haven’t met yet! Listen as much as you talk, maintain eye contact without being aggressive, and feel free to end conversations you think aren’t going anywhere – most people understand a simple ‘It was great talking to you, I’m going to go [get a drink, check out upstairs, whatever] now’. If I’m tired I’ll often find a couch with one other person on it and recharge with light conversation instead of serious discussion.  The night is up to you – there’s no need to make it an ordeal.

Weekly Review #52: Quantified athletics, robot job poaching, and the best tacos on the peninsula

I attended an Andreesen Horowitz book event with Mark McClusky, the author of Faster Higher Stronger, a treatise examining recent athletic advances. Some thought provoking factoids:

  • Sleep is so important that top athletes travel with their own pillows, because it has a material effect on their performance.
  • There’s a new trend towards ‘random practice’, where practices simulate game environments. For example, basketball players practice 3 pointers after doing sprints, just like in a game
  • The athletic version of the significant/happy question: would you take a drug that guarantees you an olympic medal but will kill you in 5 years? Many athletes would.
  • Quantified self is reaching the athletic world – australian rugby players have sensors in their jerseys that track vital stats in real time. Looks bleak for the weak team members….

Reid Hoffman says we have moved from the Information Age to The Networked Age, noting that people now look to their network for answers, rather than Google. Take job hunting or venture capital, for example. I fully agree with him, in that there’s too much information out there nowadays and the only trusted curators of it are your network.

Marc Andreesen doesn’t think robots will eat all the jobs. He admits they will eat the jobs of today, but notes that once all needs are taken care of, humans can focus on art and science at leisure, in a consumer utopia where are good are cheaply made by robots. Plus, robots aren’t even close to being able to doing everything we want them to do.

Jason Shen waxes on Lessons learned at an Enterprise SaaS company - it’s harder to adopt new software, documentation is king, and marketing serves sales. His take on blogging to increase your luck surface area is intriguing as well – luck is proportional to your passion and how many people you share it with.

Startups/tools: Starry is like Rapportive for web browsing – you can see startup stats and competitors all from their homepage. Assistant to aims to fix personal scheduling by allowing you to select mutually compatible times from within Gmail, and Wordsift brings up the most used words in a passage within a word cloud. Also, Boxouse is a really cool story about an Oakland couple living carbon neutral out of a shipping container, and they’re aiming to sell the units soon.

Fun stuff: All the Taquerias of Redwood City is an exhaustively researched guide to the best mexican on the peninsula, and this homeless guy who looks for one night stands just to get a bed has me shaking my head in equal parts awe and disgust.