Tag Archives: Startups

Matt Javitch on Networking in Boston and the Mathematics of Real Estate Investing

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

You know those people that everybody seems to like? They have charisma. They’re affable. Like Jeff Daniels on the Newsroom.

That’s Matt Javitch.

Matt has been taking a barbell-approach to investing in Boston real estate and startups. He’s my go-to resource for investment advice because, unlike some advisors who try to sell me their advice, he makes a living off his investment thesis. Also, he’s never tried to sell me a thing.

I invited Matt on the show to give me a deep dive into real estate investing fundamentals, quitting corporate life for startup investing and more.

We talk about

  • The networking scene in Boston
  • How to quit your job and start a business
  • The real estate investment market
  • How real estate investing is different and complementary to startup investing
  • How to get started in real estate investing
  • How to be successful in real estate investing

Please enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with Matt Javitch:

Notes

[00:00] How Justus and Matt met

[01:00] Networking in Boston

  • Events are becoming more and more niche-specific
  • You know what you’re getting when the event is very specific

[5:00] Matt’s background in finance

  • Financial advising and real estate investment

[7:00] Why small networking events can be super valuable

  • Most events are really hit or miss
  • Networking is a numbers game

[10:00] What Matt did to prepare to leave

  • Saved capital
  • Built a network
  • Honed a valuable skill set as a real estate investment analyst

[14:45] Specific numbers around how to leave your job and get into real estate investing

  • Matt had 3-4 months of living expenses saved
  • $300-400k pledged from investment partners

[16:30] To be successful in real estate investing

  • Have a long term vision
  • Understand the financial risks
  • Have a safety net or “plan B”

[19:00] What would Matt do different if he started over

  • Would have been more aggressive buying properties while at his job

[20:30] What is Matt doing to mitigate risk of negative macro economic conditions

  • Invest in “primary” markets (cities etc.)
  • Some factors can’t be controlled but should be understood

[23:45] The dumbbell strategy and Matt’s investment in startups

  • Real estate is somewhat predictable compared to startups

[27:00] Angel investing in Boston vs. Silicon Valley

  • Boston has a conservative social and financial culture

[30:00] How to get started real estate investing without any debt

  • It’s challenging.
  • Usually you make more money when you favor debt over equity
  • Start with as little as $150-250k
  • Start in a secondary, suburban market. Matt gets specific in greater Boston area
  • Renovate, then rent or sell
  • Can also experiment in other markets like San Antonio, Texas
  • Southern markets are usually less expensive

[34:00] Different geographic regions have different risk factors

[37:00] Have $250k, bought a property, need to renovate, where do I start?

  • Everything is quantified on a per foot basis
  • Market research is critical. Different locations have different /sq ft costs. Understand the local housing market
  • Look at last 6 months and what prices local homes have sold at vs. your prospective investment
  • Brokers and legal costs often add up to around 5%+ of the cost

[42:30] How much money do you budget for renovation?

  • Again: focus on cost per square foot
  • P = initial cost / sq ft
  • R = cost of renovation / sq ft
  • C = P + R
  • F = price you sell the property at / sq ft
  • PROFIT = F – C

[46:00] Working with many contractors and sub-contractors

[47:15] Selling the property

  • Matt often lists and sells the house himself if it’s local (saves 2.5% commission)
  • Real estate agents have less incentive to negotiate on your behalf than you (Freakonomics)

[50:00] The most challenging part of real estate investing for Matt

  • Inspectors vs contractor drama
  • Local politics often play a role in inspection

[56:00] A big part of Matt’s success can be attributed to his likability and how he incentivizes contractors to do quality work

  • EQ is valuable in this regard

[59:00] Final requests and contact info

  • Do your homework and know your risks
  • Matt is happy to talk to any aspiring investors (startup or real estate)
  • Axilon Capital Partners
  • 973.788.9333

What else?

If you enjoyed this episode subscribe to the show on iTunes and leave us a review 😀

Johnny Boursiquot on building a software agency from scratch, learning Go for Rubyists, and server-less software architectures.

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes today.

Sometimes you start a conversation with one intention, and digress into something completely different.

This happened to me recently, in a conversation with an old friend and mentor, Johnny Boursiquot.

Johnny and I were supposed to do a deep dive into Go Lang and Ruby in this hour long conversation. Instead we spent half an hour talking about Johnny’s experience building a technology agency from scratch.

Then we got around to talking tech XD.

Johnny is well-known as one of the pillars of BostonRB. He also helped to organize the Boston GoLang meetup before moving to Maryland where he founded Baltimore’s GoLang Meetup.

He was listed on New Relic’s list of 18 Go Experts to Follow Online.

In the episode we talk about:

  • Johnny’s lessons learned from founding and building a tech agency, lots of juicy business advice for consulting companies and agencies in the first half of this talk
  • The relative pros and cons of using ruby vs go in different domains
  • How to get started using a new language

  • A quick primer in serverless application architectures

  • How intermediate devs can 10x their workflow

And a lot more.

Enjoy.

Notes

[00:00] What brings Johnny to Maryland after living more than a decade in Boston

  • What brought him to Boston in the first place

[02:30] Major lessons learned from time in Boston running a technology company

  • Running a company means that you’re responsible for other people’s income
  • Many unexpected challenges: biz dev, legal, etc

[05:15] How did Johnny get started in technology business.

  • Started with entrepreneurship in high school

[08:00] Learning how to do business

  • Dealing with clients
  • Managing expectation
  • Touching on the difference between hacking and building a product

[11:00] #1 Lesson? The difference between a service business and product business

  • Agencies do not scale the same way a product scales
  • Most agencies do not end up producing a lot of reusable technology or internal products
  • It’s hard to do internal product development because your staff is busy with revenue generating service activities
  • It’s risky to invest in product development

[20:00] What would Johnny do differently if he could start over?

  • Start a product company: raise money.

[23:00] What about the reverse situation? Making a profitable, successful agency.

  • Protect your margins
  • Be flexible with workflow; Agile doesn’t always work smoothly in an agency environment
  • “They want warez”
  • Your job is to tease out the specifics of what the client actually wants
  • “You’re not in control of your own product roadmap”

[27:30] How to mitigate risk of scope creep

  • Establish a relationship; a partnership to guarantee future work
  • Get a Master Services Agreement

[32:00] Segue to technical discussion. What is Ruby good for vs Golang?

  • Ruby for developing something fast. “Getting a web app out there as fast as possible”
  • GoLang is better for heavy lifting, whenever performance is a consideration

[37:45] What are Johnny’s tips for learning Go (or any language)

  • “Leave baggage at the door…appreciate the differences of Go”
  • There is a “Go Way” of doing things

[41:15] What kind of project should I try using GO in

  • Anything with heavy duty network requirements
  • Microservices (“Something you can throw away”)
  • “Gnarly, performance-critical jobs”
  • Concurrency in Go is super-awesome

[45:00] AWS Lambda and Serverless 101

  • Not actually “serverless”. That’s a marketing term. There is always a server somewhere.
  • Monolithic App > Microservices > Lambda functions
  • Everything is a discrete functional unit
  • Very cost-effective because the server only runs when you call the function

[51:30] What can an intermediate Rails developer to 10-20x their workflow

  • Look past the magic of the language (Ruby) or framework (Rails)
  • Learn the underlying properties of the WYSIWYG
  • Understand how SQL, HTTP, Databases, and CURL — fundamentals of the web — work
  • Learning the underlying complexity enables you to use the higher-level abstractions more rapidly

[59:00] Johnny’s relationship with the command line

  • Used to work in Windows, and mostly everything was a GUI
  • Put together command-line tools to build Flash experiences
  • Started using Ubuntu – understood that there are discrete tools to use and stitch together from the command line
  • Now uses a Mac. Everything can be done from the terminal

[1:05:45] Running swift on the server

[1:07:00] Johnny’s new life hack

  • Modified Pomodoro with a physical twist

[1:10:00] Johnny’s child-rearing hacks

    • Every child is different
    • Reward effort over innate qualities
    • Lots of people squander innate talent. Working hard never fails.

[1:14:00] Johnny’s new job at an education non-profit

  • Serving under-served school districts
  • Exposing diverse groups to the world of technology
  • Bring education equity to the communities that need it most
  • Mostly doing ops work these days
  • The biggest challenge is always dealing with people
  • Johnny loves pairing with more junior members

[1:20:00] Final requests to the audience and where to find Johnny

What now?

Go become a better programmer. And subscribe to the show on iTunes.

Industrial Design, Manufacturing Barbells, and B2B Sales with Chris Michaud

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

Building products from scratch is hard. Building a business is at least as difficult. A lot of young founders and entrepreneurs lose their minds trying to grapple with the interwoven complexities of these disciplines.

Chris Michaud has figured them both out.

Chris is a rising phenom in the world of industrial design and manufacturing. In 2015 he left a full-time gig and started First Summit Design, a product consulting group with a focus on industrial design for cool products. He’s since become involved with a number of other design-focused companies that we discuss in some depth.

We had a great conversation about hardware design and manufacturing, serial entrepreneurship and work/life balance.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with Chris Michaud

Notes

[01:30] Justus and Chris met when they came together to work on an IoT project for a somewhat obscure sport.

[04:30] What is industrial design?

[06:15] Why Chris focuses on the ideas behind design rather than influential design figures.

[07:30] How Chris designed his fiancee’s engagement ring.

  • Research first: materials then user
  • Sketching

[09:15] Is design easier for one person or for a group?

[11:00] How did Chris develop the skill of sketching products

  • Education helped

[12:30] Chris’s first big product and how he went about designing it

[14:00] Good barbells vs GREAT barbells

[16:40] Why kettlebells might be an easier place to start designing for fitness equipment than a barbell

[17:45] Where is materials research important?

[18:45] Discussion on steel quality and impacting variables

  • Tensile strength
  • Yield strength
    • The weight at which steel will permanently
  • Percent elongation

[23:12] Why it’s important to think about manufacturing and assembly concerns during the design phase of a product

  • Design for Manufacturing
  • Design for Assembly

[27:30] Domestic vs international manufacturing

  • It depends on the thing you’re manufacturing
  • Chris likes to design where he manufactures

[31:10] Chris goes to a wedding in China

[33:00] Different regions in China do different kinds of manufacturing

[35:00] How does Chris vet new manufacturing relationships

  • Start with ten vendors
  • Rate each vendor on various aspects (price, social responsibility, etc)

[36:00] How Chris got a local Chinese government to shut down a chrome plating facility for unsafe labor practices

[38:45] Chris is a partner in four businesses

[46:00] How does Chris get big clients

  • Know your stuff
  • Always be meeting people.
  • “Word of mouth should be good enough, if you’re good enough.”

[50:00] Chris describes his sales process

  • Get to know them, ask invasive questions
  • Never tell them what you’re gonna do for them, tell them what you’re about

[52:00] Chris tells a horror story from a pitch that went wrong

[57:30] The future of the cannabis industry in Massachusetts

  • Focus on auxilary market

[1:00:00] Chris reveals a cannabis product idea

[1:01:00] What does serial entrepreneurship mean to Chris

  • Chris has a financial interest in 14 companies
  • Diversity is fun and freeing
  • Learn something new every day

[1:02:00] How does Chris prioritize?

  • Stay organized
  • Have a strong support team.
  • What does that team look like?

[1:03:50] What does Chris’s next hire look like?

  • A controller
  • With culture fit
  • Humility

[1:07:30] What’s the biggest challenge Chris deals with on a daily basis

  • Working too long
  • How the fiancee deals with Chris working late

[1:09:00] Chris’s biggest lesson learned in the last two years building several companies

  • What he does in his free time

[1:11:00] Last requests and contact information

What Now?

If you enjoyed my conversation with Chris subscribe to Hacker Practice on iTunes and leave us a review.

Peter Dunbar: B2B Sales and the Art of Conversation

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes!

Sales is really hard.

Technical people often discount the value of the work done in sales and marketing. They discount the value until they have to sell themselves or their product. Then they learn that sales is hard.

If you’re looking to improve your sales abilities, this is the episode for you.

Peter Dunbar is one the most engaging conversationalists I know. He’s willing to talk at length with just about anybody. He is fearless and determined and brings big contracts into any firm that he works with.

He’s also and avid hacker, but that will have to wait until part two.

Enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with master salesman, Peter Dunbar.

Links:

known.creative

Core dna

Reach out to Peter:

Email: peter@knowncreative.co

Phone number after the jump*

Notes

[3.30] Peter describes how he has been able to get work through the art of conversation (without presenting a resume)

  • Peter uses conversation as a problem solving tool to “hack” an outcome or a goal

[4.45] What hacking means to Peter

  • Hacking is a “lifestyle”

[9.30] Peter describes how an unforgettable conversation with his thesis advisor changed the course of his career

[11.15] Peter describes the relationship between software and hardware when developing the Pavlok wearable

[15.45] Why resourcing is the biggest challenge in building a new hardware product

[17.30] Why running a crowdfunding campaign to launch a new product without any traction is a big mistake

[18.45] How the art of conversation has allowed Peter to transition from engineering to sales

[21.30] Why it’s important to adopt a sales mindset of helping the customer succeed along with you.

  • How a conversation with a support engineer was the catalyst for Peter being able to close a sales deal for one of the world’s largest e-commerce consumer brands
  • Peter was able to engage the CXO level by pointing out that their marketing strategy was being stonewalled by poor website architecture, preventing them from being able to develop a best practice ecommerce platform.

[27.50] How Peter called into a radio station to pitch to the GM of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) while he was being interviewed on air.

  • This opportunity bias helps Peter take advantage of such situations

[31.30] Why the feedback loop is so important in improving your sales process, especially in the face of rejection

[35.00] Peter discusses known.creative, a digital agency in Boston, Massachusetts where he now heads up sales.

  • How partnering with Core dna – an all-in-one SAAS Digital Platform has allowed known.creative to scale and offer global enterprise offerings to companies, at drastically reduced development and implementation costs

[37.50] Peter shares his thoughts on the marketing agency model

  • Why it is most important to be able to show how your solution will drive a positive ROI for your client. E.g. There is no point “selling” a $50k website if it won’t turn a positive ROI for your client
  • The importance of being frank about business relationships and focusing on making money.
  • Building and sustaining a long term relationship is critical in enabling both parties to make more money

[41.40] Why many ecommerce companies are naive about threats to their online platforms and IP

[46.30] Peter explains why security for the SMB/SME market is going to be a huge growth market

[48.40] How the legalisation of marijuana in Massachusetts is going to drive a new wave of tech/digital opportunities in the commercial landscape (outside of recreation)

[51.00] Why updating your website and making the effort to have a great digital presence, is so important, in building trust and engaging your customer base

[52.00] Why known.creative uses its own brand and website as a testing ground for solutions before engaging customers

[54.50] Reach out to Peter:

Email: peter@knowncreative.co

Cell: +1 (207) 649-5037 – only if you want to have a conversation!

What now?

Give Pete a call. Thank him for his time.

Then subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. And leave us a raving review 😀

Life at the Bleeding Edge of Technology (AI) and Education (MIT + Nuvu) with David Wang

Listen to Episode 7 of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

I met David Wang at a vegetarian restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was introduced to me by our mutual friend Naf Visser (episode 008). David and I sat outside in the sun. It was hot and I practically shotgunned my ginger turmeric smoothie.

I was working on a project and wanted his feedback. It was an artificial intelligence testing platform. David is one of the leading experts on autonomous systems, so who better to talk to?

The project never materialized, but I made a new friend.

We hit it off. David is a great listener with a kind demeanor. It’s probably apparent in our conversation here; David is as good with people as he is with technology. And he is very good with technology.

He has multiple degrees from MIT including a PhD in autonomous scheduling and planning. He worked on the F-35 fighter jet and his thesis code was used on the Mars Curiosity Rover. He’s worked everywhere from DARPA to Boeing to Pratt and Whitney. He knows as much about computer science and software development as anyone in the world.

Now he’s a co-founder at a school that’s redefining modern educational paradigms (Learn more about NuVu here). I’m so glad he had time for this conversation.

In today’s talk we go over:

  • AI – Past, present, and future.
  • How to learn complex topics quickly
  • Education and how David is fixing it.

Enjoy episode 7 of Hacker Practice with David Wang:


[2.45] David explains how we have come out of “Artificial Intelligence Winter” and why AI is about to take off

[5.10] AI ethics and morality and the end game

[5.45] David discusses how codifying algorithms lead him to forging a career in AI

[7.15] David discusses why following your hobby is a very important step in figuring out what you are on this planet to do:

  • David enjoyed building computers from scratch
  • Built a processor from logic gates in his spare time after studying

[13.30] David describes what it’s like working on research projects with DARPA – Advanced research project agency of the defence department. ARPA is most famous for creating the internet.

[14.45] Learning interesting topics – PHD automated planning and scheduling – AI subcategory

[16.45] David describes AI planning and scheduling in detail!

  • Ask how would we describe the world to a computer with true or false statements E.g. is the coffee cup on the table? True/false
  • We then have a language which we can use to describe the world as is and how we want it to be (known in the AI world as “the goal”)
  • Describe an action with a set of preconditioned statements that create a set of effects. Planning and scheduling involves sequencing these actions to get from your starting point to the goal.

[21.10] David describes planning system projects he worked on at MIT involving decision making algorithms to block malicious hacking tactics.

[23.20] David discusses the two types of hackers that are most dangerous

[25.00] David describes his experiences of working on AI robotics projects for Boeing

  • Why programming frameworks haven’t innovated until now

[34.20] How video gaming was David’s gateway drug to programming. David also describes how we can take learnings from video game construction to the real world and contextual AI applications.

[38.20] David discusses the concept, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything”

[40.40] David describes personal hacks he has for learning

  • Start by asking why something is the way it is and understand the reasons behind something. Is there an intuition that is extractable that will allow you to remember why something is the way it is.

[42.45] David talks about working on Augmented Reality applications in smart homes

[44.30] Hacks to remember the names of people you meet

[49.00] David gives an example of how AR in the smart home context, could be used to help a non-technical person, solve a technical problem, without the need for a technician

[50.40] David gives his insights on Virtual Reality (VR) applications

[54.00] Discussion on learning and facing adversity

[56.40] David discusses his experiences working on the F-35 jet fighter

  • David would essentially imagine all the different ways the plane could fail and reverse engineer solutions to prevent failure
  • How David used the spiral development cycle to understand how the F-35 worked

[1.04.00] Complexity comes not necessarily from the technology but from the number of moving parts

  • David talks space exploration applications

[1.08.10] How David deals with the isolation of being at the top of a field

[1.10.20] Why it is so important to understand students underlying motivators to learn

[1.13.20] Why it is important to decide if college is the right medium for students. College shouldn’t be used as the only time to decide what you want to do with your life.

[1.16.45] David discusses why he started NuVu and shares his insights on teaching intuition

  • By realising that the projects that really piqued his interest during studies were all based on extracurricular activities, David went out to challenge the existing education model.

[1.20.30] What it’s like to run a school which has no classes, subjects or grades

  • Students need to come up with an idea they are super passionate about. They are then taught how to turn it into a great idea.
  • Students skills are then develop to turn this idea into a solution. The difference from formal learning here, is that they are invested in learning these skills because they are passionate, as opposed to being forced.
  • Encourage students to understand the fundamental concepts of human centred design thinking when ideating and developing their solution

[1.25.20] Justus gets David to deconstruct an idea using his teaching methodology. Spoiler: There is a lot of asking “why”

[1.31.30] How to not avoid losing sight of your original idea in the face of pivoting

[1.34.00] What someone could expect as a new student at NuVu

[1.37.10] How to start a school like NuVu on the cheap

  • NuVu is a private educational business that is not accredited. How important is accreditation? In the case of NuVu, it isn’t.
  • Ask, what does success look like for students leaving your school?
  • NuVu wants to create the innovators of the future. There is a strong emphasis on soft skills.

[1.43.30] The goal of working in a team is to create a giant brain

[1.46.30] David discusses a seasonal effective disorder (SED) project some of his students are working on

[1.48.20] What a parent who wants to send their child to NuVu need to know

[1.49.30] How David plans on scaling by helping existing schools adopt the NuVu education model

  • Use Maker Spaces more effectively

[1.53.20], David asks us to think about what success means to you and is college critical on that path to success?

What’s next?

If you enjoyed today’s episode, subscribe to Hacker Practice on iTunes (and leave a review please :D)

Diana Yuan, COO of Indico: Founding a High Tech Startup, Raising Money, and Courting Technical Partners

Listen to this episode on iTunes.

Diana Yuan is helping to lead the AI revolution. She is the COO of Boston’s scrappiest Machine Learning startup. Her, and her team of Olin Engineering dropouts, are democratizing machine learning tools for hackers all round the world.

Startup founders have an earned reputation for nonsensical over-confidence. Often, they’re impossible to spend time with due to a complete lack of self-awareness and social graces.

Diana is not one of those people.

As far as early-stage executives go, Diana has more self-awareness than most entrepreneurs twice her age. She’s bright and cheerful and a joy to be around. Having her on the show was a no-brainer for me.

This conversation was a lot of fun for me to produce. Thanks Diana :D.

This is the most important episode of Hacker Practice for aspiring non-technical startup founders. Diana Yuan’s role in the Indico origin story is instructive for any MBA-type/non-technical person looking for a technical partner. I have a feeling they’ll be telling her story in Babson business courses before long (if they aren’t already).

Enjoy this discussion on startups, fundraising, politics and technology with Indico’s Diana Yuan.

[4.30] Diana talks about the beginnings of Indico and beginning a machine learning startup

  • Indico aims to revolutionize software through powerful, developer-friendly machine learning

[5.50] How Indico closed contracts before becoming Incorporated

[8.30] How Diana got involved in Indico by accident!

  • Diana met Slater and Alec, Co-Founder of Indico by chance at the Affordable design and entrepreneurship class run by Olin College

[13.30] Being a non-technical co founder, Diana shares tips for joining forces and finding a technical partner

  • Don’t force it
  • Focus on the relationship you have with this person and ensure an aligned set of values and vision before getting caught up on technical capability
  • Why your job as a non technical co founder is to translate

[19.30] Why Indico pivoted from a B2C to B2B (enterprise) model?

[25.00] Diana explains her experience of applying for and getting into TechStars

  • Receiving funding from Rough Draft and having traction were helpful but networking was just as important
  • Diana recommends networking and actively discussing your application with those reviewing it (e.g. Diana hit up the founders of TechStars, including Semyon Dukach, who was also a member of the infamous MIT Blackjack team).

[28.50] Diana shares her biggest challenges of being accepted into TechStars

[31.30] On being the sole college graduate amongst her co-founders

[35.00] Why the world is your classroom

[37.30] Why Diana identifies as an introvert and why it’s important to know yourself in order to avoid burnout

[40.15] Diana discusses the challenges of raising capital and the emotional stakes at play

  • Don’t work with investors purely because they have money but because they will be a good fit for your team and offer a productive skillset

[46.40] Discusses the hiring process in a startup environment.

  • Save employee time by putting technical filters up front in the hiring process to screen potential candidates
  • It’s difficult to avoid hiring to keep up with growth but often startups have realisations and need to scale back. The important thing is to be conscious of it.

[53.50] The challenges of sponsoring candidates on a Visa

[56.50] Discussion on politics, America’s competitive advantage in entertainment and technology being eroded and technological libertarianism.

  • Take away thought – “what happened 250 years ago is what is allowing today’s events to unfold”

[1.01.40] Diana discusses why transfer learning is Indico’s secret sauce

  • Machine learning startups need to apply their expertise to specific market segments
  • Transfer learning is a methodology for taking an approach for a specific problem, adopting it as a standard for a certain type of problem group and being able to apply it to new problems, that fit within that type of problem group.

[1.05.30] On maintaining an IP competitive advantage and staying up to date with cutting edge industry trends

[1.08.15] Diana discusses the kind of money required for cloud based infrastructure in a machine learning startup

  • Diana discusses two innovative products offered by Indico, Crowd Label and Custom Collections, which help their end users label data and build custom models at speed and scale.

[1.14.00] How to protect IP and a business’s “secret sauce” in a highly competitive environment?

[1.16.45] The importance of choosing an investor and not feeling obliged to sign a term sheet just because one is put in front of you.

[1.17.30] What Indico does to prepare for a “black swan” event

  • Risk scales in proportion to number of customers and stakeholders involved

[1.21.10] Why customers should come to Indico for machine learning expertise

  • High quality unstructured text and video analysis. Free for first 10,000 API calls.

[1.22.50] ]How startups have capitalized on Indico’s unique product set at Hackathons to be able to build out MVPs in < 48hrs including a fake news detector

[1.25.00] You can find Diana on the Indico website because she runs the chat!

Now what?

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or leave me feedback as a comment here.

Andrew Dodson: How to build a Nuclear Power Plant in your Backyard (Make America Nuclear Again)(e005)

Listen to Hacker Practice on iTunes

Andrew Dodson is one of the smartest hackers I know. Our conversations typically happen over coffee and Go (the ancient board game). We talk about physics and simulation theory. In fact, he once loaned me Simulations by Jean Baudrillard and I never returned it (sorry Andrew!).

In episode 5 of Hacker Practice, I get started down a line of conversation I’ve been meaning to have for a long time.

I am deeply interested in sustainable technology. At the moment of writing I live on a small organic farm. My hands are literally dirty from playing in the greenhouse. No lie.

That’s why I spent most of this episode talking with Andrew about small-scale nuclear power. How can we do this on a farm or even neighborhood scale? Government regulation be damned!

Disclaimer: Andrew was calling in from a lab at MIT. There is a short interruption early in the episode that gives us a glimpse into a stealth nuclear startup at America’s best engineering school.

Learn the basics of nuclear power and more in today’s episode of Hacker Practice:

[2:45] Extreme Laser Tag – The greatest startup idea ever.

  • Graphene
  • Photodiodes
  • TENS Units
  • Extreme laser tag at low-orbit

[6:45] A welcome interruption from Dodson’s colleague, Matthias the super genius.

  • Postdoc gerbils
  • A brief peek inside a stealth nuclear startup…

[8:20] Andrew discusses boundaries necessary for working in startups

  • “People show who they are in their face”
  • “Startups can be… top heavy”
  • “These faces raise money… to get real people you need to be real people”

[10:30] Molten salt reactors

  • Ionic Compounds
  • Alternative to traditional light water reactors
  • Uranium fuel rods get hot, very hot.
  • How neutrons bouncing around cause nuclear chain reactions in enriched uranium fuel rods

[17:20] Components of a reactor

[18:20] Why higher temperatures are desirable

  • Why higher temperatures can be dangerous
  • “Spray a bunch of people with steam… coming out of a pressurized water reactor…that you can’t see… it’ll cut you in half.”
  • It’s all just a way to spin a pinwheel

[20:00] How to get started with nuclear engineering at home

[26:20] How could we put one of these nuclear reactors in your back yard

  • In the early days, small cores were all the rage
  • Highly enriched uranium is useful here (10-20 cm across)
  • High quality uranium fuel is a “political risk”
  • Where to find 99% enriched uranium
  • Building a vehicle-sized nuclear bomb

[29:20] What about Fukushima? Chernobyl Three Mile Island

  • They are blown out of proportion according to Dodson
  • Fossil fuels kill millions every year. Relatively, nuclear is extremely safe
  • Our generation (Y) needs to pursue this, NOW.

[31:25] Powering a farm with nuclear

  • Security concerns

[34:00] An ideal world where security is not a problem

  • Bury a cargo container with a reactor and turbine on the surface
  • Power my neighborhood for 40 years
  • Small reactors power aircraft carriers
  • Nuclear engineering secrets (hint: they’re military)

[36:30] Sources of fuel-quality Uranium

  • Downblending
  • Different grades of Uranium (civilian, weapons, etc)
  • How much Uranium costs per kilogram and where to get it

[38:30] Got the fuel, now what?

  • Shielding considerations
  • Burying the tank

[39:00] We built the reactor, what are my security precautions?

  • During operation
  • In case of a breach/leak
  • Radioactive worms
  • Basically: keep as much of it underground as you can
  • Worst-case scenario
  • Why you should eat plenty of spinach and fish

[51:15] Where to find Andrew (andrewmdodson@gmail.com)

  • Reach out to Andrew with the project you’re working on, it’s current status, and what your role is on the project.

Now What?

Go and design a miniature nuclear power plant! Then tell me about it!

If you enjoyed this episode of Hacker Practice, subscribe to the show  on iTunes.

Michael Alexis: International Investor and Philanthropist on Growth Hacking, Mastering Craigslist, and Surviving Chinese Parasites (e001)

Michael Alexis (left) and myself (right) in Georgetown in the Cayman Islands

My first ever podcast features investor and philanthropist Michael Alexis. I’m so glad to start with Michael because we are good friends and he is a master at making people feel at ease.

Michael got started in adult life as a lawyer, but quickly moved into startups and investing (but not investing in startups). Now he is a growth consultant for some of the highest performing startups and an international investor with stakes in places like China.

Michael and I worked together at an award-winning startup and have since built a relationship around challenging one another to do better everyday in life and business.

Our discussion revolves around investing, growth hacking, marketing, security, startups, business, ethics, life hacks, and risk mitigation while gallivanting in foreign countries (travel is a favorite past time for both of us).

You can hear our conversation here:

  • Michael helped Pavlok win the Shopify contest. (1:55)
    • Have a great team + a great product idea
    • Best Practices = Average Results. Test assumptions by challenging existing models
    • Michael discusses specific conversion results.
    • “Build the email list and prioritize getting people on it over prioritizing the sale right away.” – M.A.
    • Trade email address for price information on low-price consumer products.
    • Simple, single column websites can convert 3X better than “flashy” bootstrap-style websites.
  • Michael talks about his investment thesis [15:30]
    • Why he is an Investor / Philanthropist hybrid (hint: Building wealth is not the end-goal)
    • Why he invests in projects that pay dividends and NOT STARTUPS
    • Why he is willing to lose everything.
    • Michael’s ideal emergency fund lasts for years
    • Why Michael invests in competitive markets (because the model is proven)
    • Better Marketing + Better Service = Winning Strategy
    • Why startup employees should be open to equity compensation even though they likely won’t exit
  • Michael talks about the podcast he convinced me to start (31:30)
    • Risks are low
    • Networking opportunities are high
    • Are podcasts the new blogs?
  • What would you do to market Hacker Practice (36:20)
    • Write up guest posts based on the content. Try to get 8-10 posts out of each interview. [For this episode: Growth Hacking, Drastic Changes, Simplicity as a Philosophy]
    • Interview high profile people and retarget ads at their followers (on top of native promotion)
    • Think about SEO: use transcripts and notes etc to capture long tail [POTATO MARKETING]
    • Multiple Win Scenarios
    • Why you should start a podcast
  • Experiments I should try on the podcast [46:30]
    • Connect with someone for intentional practice. (PEN TESTING, NVC, DIFCON)
    • Make a sale on the podcast.
  • What Michael would ask Mr. Big Data, Jesse Anderson [50:00]
    • How did Jesse teach himself complex skills?
    • How did he acquire his big, impressive, clients?
  • What single critical system should I develop to make the Podcast awesome?
    • Have a great process for ensuring that you have an ongoing flow of guests.
  • What does Michael think of 2-factor authentication [54:50]?
    • Most people should use it. Especially for email + banking
    • Using 2 factor auth is difficult across many accounts
  • Other security measures everybody should do[56:45]
    • Make passwords difficult (long 8+ characters)
    • Diversify your passwords
    • Use a password manager (like LastPass, Michael and I both use this)
    • Encrypt your computer and external hard drives.
  • What’s the worst Black Swan event that’s happened to Michael? [59:45]
    • He picked up a vicious parasite in China
    • How to mitigate the risk of terrible sickness in China:
      • Don’t eat from sketchy street vendors (China is especially bad)
      • Look for hygiene markers
  • How does Michael manage Celiac disease that could kill him? [1:50:50]
    • Cook at home. Some restaurants that claim to be gluten-free aren’t concerned with cross contamination because they don’t take the risks of Celiac seriously.
    • Eat the same things every day.
    • Over-communicate the seriousness of your food allergy.
      • As a side note: Seems like there is no such thing as over-communication. Great teams talk more than you think they should.
  • How Michael makes money sleeping on great mattresses [1:08:15]
    • Good mattress = good sleep = high performance
    • Buy a Tempurpedic mattress on craigslist, negotiate the price down
    • Use the mattress
    • Sell the mattress on craigslist when you’re done at a higher price using superior sales writing and copywriting skills.
    • Negotiating heuristic for Craigslist: offer 20% off posted price, accept 10% off.
  • How Michael stole Groupon’s business model for fun and profit [1:14:30]
    • Steal models that are “hot”, resell them on Craigslist.
    • How he improved his programming skills and made money at the same time.
    • Repeat
  • Michael made a podcast because of the Mixergy podcast (see link below for Interviewing your heroes)
  • Michael talks what he learned working with Ramit Sethi [1:22:30]
    • Ethical Persuasion: If your target customer had all the information available, would the buy your product?
    • Reminds me of Simon Sinofsky’s great question: “Am I inspiring you to act, or manipulating you to act?”
    • Create a product that is totally aligned with your audience’s interests
  • Copywriting Resources and Tactics [1:28:10]
    • You should read George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (LINK BELOW)
    • Name dropping works. Soundbites work.
    • Read and re-read everything you plan to publish. Reconsider every single word.
    • Headlines should convey benefit and target market: “Learn Practical Copywriting Tactics from the Masters”
    • Subheader should say HOW you’ll deliver: “This 8-week video course includes ____”
    • WHY > WHO > HOW
  • Michael advises me on my blog strategy [1:38:55]
    • What’s the goal?
    • Systems for blog promotion
      • Syndicate the material everywhere: Medium, LinkedIn
      • Post to aggregators: Reddit, HackerNews, GrowthHacker
      • Post to social: FB, Twitter
  • How does Michael cultivate respect and relationships? [1:43:20]
    • Be authentic and honest with yourself.
    • Be truthful even when it’s to your detriment. In the end, it won’t be.
    • How I improve client relationships by applying honesty to my detriment
    • How I talk to girls by being honest
  • Michael says: interview people who do big things that most people have never heard of.

Links

 Conclusion

If you liked this episode, please subscribe on iTunes and leave us a review!

15 Negotiation Habits to Build Better Deals and Relationships

The last five years have seen my dollar per hour revenue skyrocket from about $10 / hr to now hovering just around $300 / hour on average, and as high as $500 / hour on some projects.

Charging this amount allows me to focus half of my working hours on personal development. It also allows me to live nomadically, taking on passion projects as I see fit. I spent the last four months working this way: travelling around Europe and the Caribbean, studying art and architecture, working on 2-3 projects part-time for clients I really like.

I don’t believe success comes as a result of one single skill. However, there are “first order” skills that will consistently be useful in personal and professional settings.

Negotiation is a first order skill, useful in all walks of life.

I’ve spent last week working on a thorough review of 2016. In doing so, I’ve reviewed goals, notes, and materials I have from as far back as 2014.

In this review, I found my 2014 notes from Professor Deepak Malhotra’s video on negotiating a job offer.

14 of the following points come from that video. I’ve expanded on them based on my real-world practice.

Here are my notes on negotiation, summarized into a handy list of 15 points.

1. They need to like you.

AND YOU NEED TO LIKE THEM.

This is a no-brainer. The most important failed negotiation of my career was the result of several parties deciding that they simply did not like the opposition.

They had righteous cause for their assessment, but that does not matter. There needs to be an implicit desire to work together on both sides of the table or else the negotiation will be lose-lose.

2. They need to believe you deserve it.

Simple. I practice this by selling only to referral business. I do not do outbound sales because convincing an non-believer is much more difficult than doing great work with people who are already 100% on board.

3. You need to be able to do the work.

Duh. I never promise someone: “I can deliver you an MVP”. Because it’s impossible to know if I can build a minimally viable product in a given domain without giving it the old college try. I can promise a prototype. Prototypes are contained. Prototypes have a binary spec sheet. Either the prototype is or is not completed. The prototype either fulfills the spec or it doesn’t. The spec is either feasible or it isn’t.

Promising someone a market response is false prophecy.

4. You should be flexible regarding currency.

What do I want out of a job? Well, it’s mostly the same as three years ago:

  1. The work should be morally compatible with my worldview.
  2. Cash.
  3. Equity / Profit-share
  4. Respect.
  5. Learning.
  6. Mobility.

These are all forms of currency that I consider when looking at a job. When I’m considering a job, these are all on the table as compensation. I’ll take $100 / hour job if it means I get equity in an awesome product I can work on from anywhere with a great team I can respect and learn from.

On the flip side, there is no money in the world that would convince me to work on something that has demonstrable harm to human life or the environment with people I don’t like.

5. They have to believe they can get you.

If I quote too high a number, the other side might walk away thinking there is no way they could afford me. This is why it’s important to discuss the above issue of currency openly so they know that there are levers they can pull to help me engage in the project happily.

6. Do not negotiate for the sake of negotiating.

If they offer you precisely what you want, don’t negotiate just to get a bit more. Sure, you’ll see financial upside. But you’ll get it by taking advantage of the other party. I’ve killed client deals by getting greedy. I should’ve stuck it out and seen about long-term upside with a more positive relationship outcome.

7. You have to understand them.

Think in terms of the other person’s interests. I have to work at this every day in a variety of contexts. It’s an exhausting, laborious mental effort. And it’s worth it every single time.

8. Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously. (Don’t waste anyone’s time).

This should be obvious. A lot of novice negotiators take some terms of a deal for granted. It’s best to get everything you can nailed down the first time. Otherwise you’ll find difficult and distracting negotiations right around the corner.

9. Ask why the answer is “No”.

This helps you understand the other person (see #7) and counter objections. It’s something I need to remind myself of all the time. You’ll also learn a lot about your market by frequently asking “Why?”

10. Stay at the table.

Sometimes negotiations get exhausting. Don’t walk away from deals because of fatigue, anger, or boredom. Take breaks but always set a time to reconvene. Emphasize the importance of resolution to the other party so they take the matter seriously.

11. Prepare for the most difficult questions.

You already know the honest responses to easy questions. It’s the difficult questions that you should prepare for. Prep for negotiations by considering their interests and extrapolating which questions might arise that will make you squeamish. Lean into that discomfort and prepare honest responses that leave you authentic and confident.

12. Everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the face.

I write scripts for just about every single important meeting or conversation I walk into. I do this as an exercise in rehearsal. I don’t expect the conversation to go the way I scripted. The real difficult questions will come up that you did not predict. The other person’s interests will be different than you thought.

Do not rely on your powers of foresight to have a positive outcome. Rely on optionality to capture upside because you can never be certain that you have a useful informational asymmetry.

13. The person who needs it the least, usually wins.

Tim Ferriss talks about this a lot. I used to enter a lot of negotiations where I needed a “Yes” more than the other party. It was a constant uphill battle. It wasn’t until my abilities lined up with my expectations that I started going to negotiations that were simply “nice-to-have”.

In other words, if your basic needs are covered, then winning the deal is “nice-to-have”. Any deal should be gravy on the steak of life.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring passion to the table. I don’t even show up if I’m not super excited about the deal. Why would I?

Like Derek Sivers says: “If it isn’t a hell-yes, it’s a hell-no!”

14. Ask yourself why they’re asking the question they’re asking.

Again: this will help you understand the other person and their interests.

One time, I sat at the table with three executives and the CEO of a startup. The negotiation had a bad ending and after the fact I said to the three (former) executives: “I would have done the same thing in his position.”

In that case, I recognized the CEO’s interests after the fact. If I had more carefully considered them before the negotiation, I wouldn’t have wasted my time sitting at the table to begin with.

15. Avoid making ultimatums (and ignore them if they come from the other party)

I’ve fortunately never dealt with such a situation in a business environment. If you follow rule #1, then this shouldn’t become a problem.

Ultimatums do, however, rear their ugly head in all sorts of personal situations. In this case, ignoring the ultimatum will serve you well. Just move forward, because people who try to coerce you via ultimatum are generally not worth being in a relationship with.

A new year of negotiation

Already this year I’ve been lucky enough to sit at the table with TWO potential clients I would be excited to work with. I’m glad to say I’ve followed most of these rules and can expect positive outcomes and relationships from these folks no matter the result of current negotiations.

I wish you the best possible 2017 as you go about your career and personal lives. If you can think of additional negotiations tips and tactics I’d love to hear about them.

The five kinds of friends and how they will impact your business.

To change your social habits in 2017, try out the 2017 ONE CAL wall calendar that I made specifically to help with habit tracking in my own life.

These are some of my best friends.

The average angel-backed startup is running on one thing: Trust.

They’re mostly comprised of 20-somethings. They don’t have wives or kids. They have friends. They live with them, they hire them, they eat their breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them. Their co-founders are their oldest friends. They share studio apartments paid for up-front on maxed-out Amex’s. They invest in each other’s companies and they cover each other’s bar tabs.

Now that I work with startups around the clock, I’ve seen how friendships can affect business: How college roommates can become effective leaders in the private sector. How starting up with your family can tank the company in six months. The nature of the relationship makes all the difference.

There are 5 kinds of friends when you’re involved with a startup. They can exist within your organization or come from other places. They can be family members, mentors, or some combination.

They are, in no particular order:

1. Bad Friends
2. Good Friends
3. Best Friends
4. Imaginary Friends
5. Demons

The differences lie in the costs and benefits as well as the corporeal existence of the entity in question.

Bad Friends (Waste time, waste energy)

Bad friends are toxic. They take up time and energy. They have bad habits. They are bad friends to you, and to themselves. They make you feel judged. They are not in alignment with your goals. They have expectations that can’t be managed. If you don’t spend time together, they stop being friends.

You should stop spending time with these people. They consume your time and your energy. There’s a compound effect for every toxic relationship you maintain.

Sometimes, bad friends are extravagant. They convince you to spend precious time and money on toxic behaviors. They want to party. You want to work. They want to eat fancy, you want to eat healthy.

They’re fun, but they’re bad for you.

If you’re wondering if a specific person is a bad friend, they probably are.

Drop these people from the team. Simply stop communicating with them. With they text, ignore them. When they call, ignore them. When they email, ignore them.

Some people will say you’re a being a bad friend. I contend that you’re saving everybody time and energy and being a good friend to yourself.

Good Friends (Spend time, gain energy)

You might spend most of your free time stressing about the things you’re not getting done. Good friends get you to forget about the to-do list for a while. The best entrepreneurs are present in the moment and soak up this time together.

You should get energy and insight from your friends. This is what separates the good friends from the bad. They both take up time. Good friends give you something in return: energy.

Good friends have different goals from you. They are working towards a different end.

Good friends are good people. They feed your soul. They don’t cost you any money. They barely cost you any time. They are supportive, understanding, and considerate. You have to spend time on good friends. You have to keep in touch and hang out together. If you weren’t regularly in contact, you’d drift apart. This is a sad but necessary fact of friendships. Drifting apart doesn’t have to be painful. A good friendship can be rekindled without hard feelings as long the mutual energy transaction is still present.

Best Friends (Save time,  gain energy)

The best friends take up no time at all. Every moment spent with your best friends is a moment spent on the cause. They are working towards the same goal you are. These are the people you found companies with. People who you partner with for 10 years to achieve the moonshot that is your life’s work. They come around once or twice in your lifetime if you’re lucky.

These relationships are not strategically planned. They are serendipitous.

You gain energy from these people. You save time by knowing them. They are the ultimate force-multiplier. They are your secret weapon, your competitive advantage.

Imaginary Friends (Save time, spend energy)

In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill suggests the formation of a personal cabinet. This is a set of imaginary friends that you consult regularly to get advice. These are usually role models and icons that live in your head and help you think from the perspective of a genius you admire. Here are mine:

1. Jesus
2. Gandhi
3. Elon Musk
4. Tim Ferriss
5. Steve Jobs
6. My future self

I go to these people with different issues. Jesus reminds me to love my fellow man. Gandhi reminds me that the truth will set me free and that I have to be the change I want to see in the world. Elon reminds me to focus on big problems. Tim asks me if I’m working on the right things. Steve keeps me focused on quality, because if it isn’t quality it’s shit.

My future self is on the cabinet as a reminder to check in. How am I treating myself 12 months from now? How about 12 years? How am I treating the person I should (ostensibly) care the most about?

Maybe you haven’t put together an imaginary cabinet.

That’s fine, I’m kind of a freak.

But, you certainly have mental schemas and representations about people in your head. One of my portfolio CEO’ssays, “I just ask myself what my mother would think of what I’m doing”.

That’s the same thing. Those mental representations require energy, but they can save you a ton of time by giving you an outside perspective.

Demons (Waste time, lose energy)

Demons are your internal saboteurs. Positive Intelligence lists the ten saboteurs as follows:

  1. The Avoider
  2. The Controller
  3. The Hyper-Achiever
  4. The Hyper-Rationalizer
  5. The Hyper-Vigilant
  6. The Pleaser
  7. The Restless
  8. The Stickler
  9. The Victim
  10. The Judge

These have been described in depth in Positive Intelligence (which, yes, you should read). They all affect us in some capacity at different times.

I’m certainly a victim of my own demons. I tend to judge others harshly. I tend to be restless, bouncing from task to task. I frequently wonder if the task at hand is the most important task I could be doing. A regular mindfulness practice has helped me be aware of and address these tendencies in a constructive way.

Demons waste our time and our energy. Whenever you catch yourself engaging with your demons, you should consult with your cabinet instead.

Understanding your friends, real and imaginary.
The real Tim Ferriss once said that if he could put anything on a billboard, anywhere, he would put it on the campus of the country’s biggest college. It would read: “You are the average of the five people with whom you associate the most.”

This a popular concept and really potent one. It’s critical to professional and personal growth to accept that our social circle is individually formative.

I include our good and bad imaginary friends on this list to emphasize that time spent in reflection is at least as important as the time spent in action.

High performers are good at asking: “What am I spending my time doing?”

The question I’m suggesting we ask is: “Who am I spending my time with?”