Life is Good
Tara and I often reflect how blessed we are to be surrounded by such incredible family and friends. Through the years the special people in our lives have been with us as we have celebrated our successes, overcome our challenges, grown as individuals and bonded as a couple. We are all moving so fast that we often fail to slow down, breathe and take in just how blessed all of our lives really are.
Last night we invited a group of people to take one night to do just that. Thirty four of our close family and friends joined us in our backyard as the sun set over the lake at our very first dinner party.
We drew some inspiration from Outstanding in the Field, an incredible event that Tara and I attended in January. We created a single long table, hired chef Tony Adams of Big Wheel Provisions to create a selection of amazing natural foods, and had everyone bring a bottle of wine or craft beer. I lit the backyard with blue accents, and candles on each table provided a warm glow. Our guests were treated to smooth sounds of vocalist Asia Thompson (who I found using YouTube), great conversation and plenty of laughs.
This was a big production. It took us days to prepare and setup, but it had to be big. You see… this was no ordinary gathering of loved ones. It was the backdrop for a special announcement that Tara and I couldn’t be more excited about.
Tara is pregnant!
Before we sat down for our meal I led a champagne toast and shared the big news. Tara is due September 19th and we are overcome with joy (that…. and a little scared at the same time). This will be our first child of the human variety and the beginning of our own little family. We are truly blessed and are looking forward to becoming parents – we only hope we do as good of a job as our parents did.
We are all born different. Each of us has a unique mix of attributes that makes us who we are. Some of those attributes are advantages, and some of those are disadvantages. Some we can work on, others are hopeless. I don’t have the engineering prowess to become a rocket scientist. I don’t have the physique to become an olympic athlete. I don’t have the voice to become a rock star… and that is ok. I do have the attributes to become many other things and I leverage them to maximize my success.
Over my years in business I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet many successful people. The one thing that they all have in common is that they know themselves. They know their individual talents and areas of opportunity. They focus their efforts on their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses. They understand how their personal gifts can best be utilized and surround themselves with others who excel in the areas wherein they are deficient.
I’m No Bean Counter
When I first started down the path of raising money for IZEA I made a mistake. I thought that in order to raise money from Wall Street I had to be like many of the people on Wall Street. I put on my suit, polished my shoes and proceeded to give boring, data-centric presentations. I was deadly serious because I wanted to be taken seriously. I kept to my script because I didn’t want people to feel like I didn’t have the answers to everything.
It felt unnatural to me. I felt like I wasn’t playing off my strengths. It was like getting on stage and singing to a crowd of Grammy winning recording artists. It was the worst possible thing I could have done. They knew I wasn’t me… and so did I.
The best advice I got during my initial fundraising process was to “take advantage of your strengths and be yourself”. My advisors helped me realize that I didn’t need to be a bean counter to be successful in fund raising. “Let your CFO be the CFO. She can deal with the deep dive into numbers. You be the visionary. That is what you are best at.”
I ditched the suit for jeans and cowboy boots, put on my smile and haven’t looked back since.
What Are Your Gifts?
It is easy to look past the gifts we have been blessed with because they are naturally a part of us. Sometimes we even hide these gifts because we think our audience wants something else. Your areas of intellectual acuity, your artistic abilities, your personality, sense of humor and even your looks can all be used to your advantage. Don’t let these things go to waste, and don’t downplay them because they are innate to you.
Take every advantage of them, they are your competitive edge.
Despite my efforts to shrug the protests off, I continue to be irked by the #occupy movement. The image below is seared into my mind and while not representative of every protester’s thoughts it underscores some of the core message of “corporate greed” and “oppression of the 99%”.
I would like to share a different point of view. I believe America’s ultra rich and successful are one of the greatest assets our country has. Contrary to popular belief only 20% of millionaires inherit their money, the remaining 80% are self-made millionaires. These are the people creating jobs. These are the people who build the things we can’t live without. I believe people like Gates, Buffet and the late Steve Jobs are more valuable than any oil field or gold reserve.
In the U.S. our rich (and aspiring rich) create wealth not only for themselves, but everyone they touch. They are a unique natural resource created by our capitalist society. I don’t want to eat the rich, I want meet them, learn from them, leverage their financial resources and become one of them.
America needs the rich.
Think about the companies that lead the world in innovation. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, eBay. What do all these companies have in common? The entrepreneurs that created them were all backed by rich, successful people and the venture funds that they invest in. There is a tremendous trickle down effect that few people realize or acknowledge.
When I look at a company like eBay I am amazed by the magnitude of the trickle down effect. In 1997 eBay received $6.7million in venture capital from Benchmark Captial. At the time the company had $4.7million in revenue. No bank would have loaned them that much and raising that kind of money from family and friends would have been impossible. Without some smart, wealthy investors willing to place a very risky bet eBay would have never happened.
Who cares? Well… 17,700 employees care, not to mention the millions of users who will conduct over $10 billion in transactions this year. eBay has created a wealth of jobs both directly and indirectly and I for one am happy that the rich were there to fund it and help it grow.
The very tools that are funding the #occupy uprising are a direct result of investments made by the rich. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook didn’t make a dime for years and would never have made it past their first couple of months without big money pouring in.
Yes, the rich get richer… but they take everyone else along for the ride.
The irony of the #occupywallstreet movement against “corporate greed” spreading across the country amazes me.
There are now thousands of people gathered together using their iPhones (APPL) to upload videos to YouTube (GOOG) on AT&T (ATT) and Verizon (VZ) networks, sipping Starbucks (SBUX) and taking bathroom breaks at McDonalds (MCD). They are dressed in clothes from GAP (GPS) and American Eagle (AEO), writing on paper signs from International Paper (IP) with markers and pens manufactured by BIC (BIC). People are demonstrating against the very companies that they depend on every day to provide them everything from food and clothing to communication and entertainment.
The idea of corporate greed is altogether wrong.
Corporations don’t have desires, people do. People are greedy. People want more. They want more service from companies for less money. They want higher paying jobs. They want cars and homes they can’t afford. They want a better lifestyle for themselves and their family. They want it not because they have earned it or because it makes fiscal sense, but because they feel they deserve it. Entitlement spans the entire gamut of society from the rich to the poor.
This is the real greed that is ruining our country.
We need to look no further than our government to see the collective greed of the people. We are $14.8 trillion dollars in debt and have an annual budget deficit of $1.3 Trillion. The government is hemorrhaging money and we continue to increase the debt ceiling to fuel the unrealistic demands of the general public. We all want more… we push our politicians to get more… and we are drowning in debt as a result.
We are in this situation because most of our politicians don’t have the strength to say, “NO”. Our system rewards the short term “YES” despite the consequences and long term fiscal health of our country. Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter. Politicians get reelected on platforms of increased allocations, not cuts…tax reductions, not revenue generation.
The exact opposite is true in the corporate world. CEOs are selected and rewarded based on their ability to grow the top line, manage the bottom line and make the hard cuts when needed. Most major public corporations are profitable. It is not because they are greedy, it is because they are fiscally responsible and have a duty to their shareholders. I am not going to say that their aren’t issues with corporate governance, but I wish our government was managed more like a corporation.
Every CEO would love to pay their employees more, offer more benefits, increase dividends, upgrade infrastructure and make huge investments in the future. The reality is that there is only so much money to go around and they can’t do it all. CEOs can’t print more money… but the government can and does because of us… because of the peoples greed.
Corporations are not our problem. We are our problem.
Redirect the Energy
The energy of this movement is exciting and intense; I just feel it is wasted and misguided. I believe unemployment is at the heart of the unrest, causing people to point fingers and look for a scapegoat. Protesting about corporate greed doesn’t create more jobs. If anything it freaks investors out, drives the markets down and devalues the very corporations that could be hiring. If the organizers of the movement really want to have an impact they should change the message to be one of job creation and entrepreneurism.
What if those thousands of people came together to create startups instead of protesting? What if we were able to harness all that negative energy, hate and resentment to turn the world into a better place? What if those gatherings created hundreds of new companies, with new lives and futures for people who are currently unemployed? What if the organizers actually welcomed corporations to sponsor the movement and provide seed capital to the new startups?
Instead of #occupywallstreet how about #startupwallstreet?
I believe that there are positive ways to approach any problem. America was built on optimism and capitalism, let’s not sit around complaining about corporations keeping us down… lets go out there and create a the next generation of corporations.
We need corporations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change the way they are run. If you think you can do it better go out there and start your own!
The unrest in the middle east has caused the price of oil to climb steadily over the past few weeks. That has spurred a wave of emails calling people to action against the oil companies. The idea behind these emails it to boycott the major oil companies, causing a reduction in demand and forcing them to lower prices. One of the emails says “The oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 – $1.75”.
Well…I have got news for you people… even at $2.50 gas is dirt cheap!
Oil is Non-Renewable.
Let’s put all the environmental, political and humanitarian issues aside for a second. The simple fact is that the oil we pull from the ground was created over the course of millions of years. It is non-renewable and we are sucking it down at a rate that is not sustainable. Eventually there will be no oil to speak of, but in the near term we will certainly see the end of “cheap oil”.
You Pay More for Your Starbucks
A Venti (24oz) iced coffee at Starbucks costs around $4.00, that is $0.16 per fluid ounce. The average cost for a gallon of gas in the U.S. as of today is $3.52, that is $0.0275 a fluid ounce. To put that in context if you paid the same price for a gallon of gas as you do for a gallon of Starbucks it would cost you $20.48 per gallon. That in itself is a pretty amazing fact, but when you start to look at the numbers in terms of raw energy it is even more amazing.
The price for a barrel of crude oil is right around $100.00 today, that is 5,376 fluid ounces or $0.0186 per fluid ounce. That same barrel filled with Starbucks would cost you $860.16! I am not complaining about Starbucks. I love Starbucks… but let’s just put everything in perspective when it comes to price. Yes… even your Dunkin’ Donuts cost more than a gas ounce for ounce.
Gas Should be More Expensive
Did you know that the 1 barrel of oil equates to 25,000 hours of human labor (12.5 years at 40 hours per week). The energy density of oil is simply amazing and our thirst for energy is causing us to consume more oil than the earth has to give. Many scientists believe that we have already reached peak oil production and we will begin to see a downhill slope over the coming years.
As we deplete this incredible resource we should not only expect the price to go up, our government should inflate the price of gas to ween us off this terrible addiction faster, before the oil is completely gone. I would personally love to see gas at $20.00 per gallon within the next 10-15 years, with a clear plan that outlines exactly how and when the prices will be raised in advance so the public knows what is coming. In my opinion, all tax revenue generated from the increase should be invested directly in research and development of alternative energy projects.
I’m No Angel
Sure, I have switched out my light bulbs. I try to turn off the power. But let’s face it… I drive a truck. I have a boat and jet skiis. I don’t carpool. However, I think more and more about my personal gas-guzzler vehicles every day. I would buy an electric F-150 tomorrow. Same with the jet-skiis and the boat (my dad is working on a mass-production electric boat if anyone is interested). If gas was at $20.00 a gallon right now I think alternative modes of transportation, whether electric vehicles or mass transit would be a bigger priority for our government and the private sector. I am really happy that the Chevy Volt is finally here, but in my opinion it has taken far too long.
An Ugly Future
If we keep running at this rate with no intervention to slow consumption we will eventually come to a point of unavoidable crisis. Everyone will wake up and realize that the resource we depend so heavily on for everything from cheap gas to cosmetics to clothing is no longer bountiful.
Think about it… we will have a bunch of unkempt, naked people riding around on bicycles.
Nobody wants that : )
Tara and I recently returned from Maui. One of our goals for the trip was to see some waterfalls. We stopped at twin falls, one of the highlights along the road to Hana. We jumped out of our Jeep, grabbed our stuff and made a quick trek up to the waterfall just off the road. When we got there we were disappointed. Maui has been in a draught this year and there wasn’t really much of a waterfall. Water was barely trickling down the mountainside and the pool it flowed into was cloudy.
Just as we were about to head back to the Jeep a group of adventurous tourists appeared out of nowhere. They were covered in mud and out of breath. “There is another waterfall up this path,” one of them said. “You’ll get dirty but it is worth it”. Tara and I looked at each other, then back at the people who had just come down the mountain, then back at each other. “Let’s get muddy,” I said. Tara agreed and we started up the path.
Neither of us understood what we were getting into. Not only was the path covered in overgrowth, rocky and extremely slippery, it lead us to a 30 foot tall bridge that had a 2 foot wide path and no guard rails. I am not afraid of heights, but I didn’t like this bridge at all.
In the end it was definitely worth it. The waterfall was gorgeous. It was clear, cool and so remote it felt like our own special treasure.
Don’t Be Afraid of a Little Mud
Life is full of opportunities. The best opportunities often lie at the end of a trail that will leave you muddy, winded and a bit beaten up. Some people avoid the mud all together. Some people jump in and celebrate every dirty step forward. Life is simply too short to always play it safe.
Go on… it is time to get dirty.
A few months ago I made a pit stop at 7-11 to buy some little treats for my team members at IZEA. As the cashier was ringing me up I noticed that he missed a few items. When he presented my total I explained to him that he neglected to scan everything. He responded defensively, and insisted that everything was accounted for.
I paused for a few seconds, part of me just wanted to pay and get out of there, but my conscience took over and I couldn’t. I proceeded to get into an argument with the cashier, eventually he agreed to go through the receipt item by item with me. He added the extra things he missed to my bill and I walked out the door.
When I got into my car I sat there wondering… what the hell just happened? Did I actually get into an argument so I could pay more!?!? Who does that?
The answer is my dad. My family calls my dad the boyscout. Throughout his life he has always tried to teach his kids to do the right thing, even if the right thing doesn’t always make sense. When I realized I had just gotten into that stupid argument because of his influence I couldn’t help but smile.
My Biggest Influence
After our engagement Tara and I started talking about who would be in our wedding party. When she asked me who my best man would be it set me down a path of happy memories and introspection. I have been blessed by relationships with so many people in my life, but no other person has impacted my life like my father.
My father has given me the spirit to become an entrepreneur, the freedom to express myself, the courage to overcome adversity and the wit to make life an enjoyable experience. He has been by my side to celebrate victories and push through challenges… even when he hasn’t been physically there.
I can think of no other man more responsible for where I am in life. No other man more suited to stand by my side when I get married. I am honored to have my dad as my best man.
Parents Make a Difference
I want to give a shout out to all the parents out there. I know it must be incredibly difficult to raise children these days. I was a pain in the ass as a child and teenager. I acted out, said and did some stupid things and didn’t give my parents the appreciation that they truly deserved. Today’s world is even more complicated and time intensive, I don’t know how some of you do it.
I want you to know that you are making a big difference in your child’s life. It may not be apparent today, but every lesson you teach and every nugget of knowledge you share will impact your child for years to come.
You do make a difference and your child will appreciate all the time, sacrifice and love one day.
This morning I proposed to Tara, the love of my life for nearly 7 years. I got down on one knee after (barely) finishing the Maui Marathon. I made a video of the entire day which you can see below. Needless to say we are both very excited and can’t wait for the next stage of our lives together.
I have a confession. I have a lot of gray hair. I mean A LOT. I get my hair cut every two weeks so that gray wires don’t stick out from the side of my head. In the morning when I have some fresh product in my hair it is disguised, but towards the end of the work day those little bastards always make an appearance. I have no doubt that my life as an entrepreneur has accelerated this process.
It is stressful running a company. There are constant ups and downs. Team members, clients and luck come and go. I never stop thinking about work. Ever.
I could probably have an easier life. I could probably punch a clock at some big organization, flying under the radar and collecting a paycheck. I could probably have long brown hair, sleep 8 hours a day and take up origami. But I don’t.
I Love My Job
I don’t know how to make a paper unicorn because despite all the challenges I love my job. I love the brilliant, zany, completely unpredictable people I work with. I love creating solutions to problems. I love putting smiles on customer’s faces. I love the constantly changing technology landscape. Yes, it is stressful. But it is stressful because I care so much. I care about the people. I care about the products. I want everything to be perfect. I think about it constantly because I am so excited by the potential.
You Gotta Love It Too
A few months ago I did something pretty radical. I gathered every IZEA team member in a room and made a simple proposition – If your heart isn’t at IZEA and your not going to bust your butt for your fellow team members I will cut you a check and you can graciously bow out. A few team members took the offer. While I was sad to see them go I believe it was a good move for each of us. We left on good terms, and while were weren’t a perfect match long term, they cared enough to wrap things up in the right way. I wish them the best, I want them to find the job that truly inspires and excites them each day.
That was the start of my love it or leave it management policy. From hiring to retention I am trying to surround myself with people that are passionate about the organization and their role in it. They may not like every aspect of their job throughout the day, but at the end of the day they need to love what they do. They need to see the vision, care about their fellow team mates and bend over backwards to satisfy customers. It should be personal. It should mean something beyond a paycheck.
Life is Too Short
This is as much about life as it is about business. Yes, people that are passionate about their jobs tend to perform those jobs better. From a management perspective it makes sense. But on a higher level I believe everyone should seek what they truly enjoy. If you collect a big paycheck but feel no passion what is the point? You will never reach your true potential if you are motivated by money alone.
Your job should pull at your heart strings. It should make you want to do better, to be a better person. It should keep you up at night with excitement (and concern when appropriate). It should bother you when you screw something up. If it doesn’t you should step back, evaluate, and see what is missing. You may be able to find or rekindle that passion at your current organization. Perhaps your boss or another co-worker can help you make the connection.
…or maybe not.
If not you should do yourself, your co-workers and your company a favor and graciously move on. Life is too short for all of us.