February 28, 2014

On leaving San Francisco

My life the last few months has been a series of unfortunate events. I caught a nasty virus in Mexico in early December, which took me down as it has many travelers before. Then I was encouraged to treat it with antibiotics, which I did, and felt a tiny bit better, for a short period of time. Then, I had a nasty relapse a month after the issues started — lost of control over my body one night, and woke up the next day losing everything in my system all over again. I was again encouraged to try antibiotics, this time significantly stronger pills. I’ve been in recovery ever since.

As most of you will recognize, treating a virus with antibiotics is a bad idea. Both are simultaneously trying to kill everything inside you, but neither will kill the other. Alas, that’s the treatment you get from a walk-in clinic when you’re uninsured (I thought my Covered CA coverage was supposed to begin Jan 1, so I cancelled my more modest “emergency only” plan, but they were backed up so it didn’t start til Feb 1). Thankfully, once covered, I was able to see a gastro who diagnosed my issues, told me the worst is likely over, and said I’ll hopefully feel better in a few months if I take it easy.

A few months?

A few months of being a blob might not sound so bad to folks who could use a vacation, but to someone whose life revolves around building something epic before the ticking clock of bankruptcy expires, a few months is a death sentence. (#firstworldproblems, sure, but running out of money is real.) Before I started on this journey, I got lots of advice on putting health and wellness high on the priority list, and I generally have when possible, but every little scrape or sneeze seems to have two or three times the impact it did when I worked for someone else — that’s not something I fully grasped going in. Hopefully finally having decent health coverage will help.

To make matters worse, I had to move out of my home of the last 4.5 years in the midst of this illness and recovery (my roommate got married and decided to keep the apartment, which he was entitled to do). In most cities, that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but San Francisco is experiencing (and will continue to experience) a massive housing crunch. For normal folks, every 100 or so emails you send in response to Craigslist posts will net you about 10 responses, and 1 of those might be someplace you might want to live (not to say that they’ll have you, as dozens of others have also made it to that stage of screening). Again, that’s for normal people with jobs. Alas, I’m the easiest guy to say no to amongst a pool of hundreds of applicants: unlike everyone else, I can’t show proof of income.

And did I mention this city is expensive? I moved to the Mission less than 5 years ago primarily because it was the part of town I could afford (it turned out I loved it for many other reasons), meaning I could find a room in a 3br for $1000/mo. I’m now struggling to find listings of smaller, shittier old rooms in 3-4br units for $1500 in the same neighborhood. I understand why the price hikes are happening, and I’m less bitter than many folks, but I’m no longer part of the community that can afford to live here, even if people would rent to me.

So here I am today: homeless, going broke, and a lifeless blob. No one ever said entrepreneurship was easy, but I generally expected the difficulties to come on the business end of things more than in my personal life. I have plenty of business problems to figure out, too (primarily how to keep building a product when the sole founder is borderline vegetative), but those have no choice but to take a back seat right now.

All that said, I’ve always been one to find some light in the darkness (these are #firstworldproblems, after all). I’ve been spending more time with friends lately, and have even spent a few nights (weeknights!) under the stars in some of the most beautiful places in the world. And now, for financial as well as sanity reasons, I’m leaving San Francisco for a little while. I don’t really know how long — could be a month, could be many months. I booked a one-way ticket to Charlotte, where my parents will pick me up on their way to Savannah, then drop me at a train station where I’ll begin making my way up the coast, eventually ending up in Chicago/Milwaukee. It’ll be cheaper than living here, and hopefully less stressful as I continue to recover. I’m hoping to check out a few other cities’ startup scenes along the way, as well as spend time with friends and in bed.

Then, I hope, I’ll return stronger than ever to the town that I love to continue building my dreams (and hope some of you will join me in that journey someday). This is a rough patch, but it’s not forever. Hopefully I can make some new memories, even if I can’t do much else.

<3


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February 10, 2014

I am trying out a friend’s new app called Fluence and recently received a submission I thought was worth posting here. Fluence allows artists to submit their music to bloggers for a small fee, as long as the blogger listens and gives feedback. It’s an idea I’ve hoped to see executed well for some time (I tried and couldn’t).

In this case, Radio Nowhere (whose video above was the content of the submission) was looking for advice based on my previous posts on Facebook Ads, and added this as a comment:

Hey Ty: I’ve gotten a lot out of your DTF blog posts over the years, and have a specific related question for you. I fully understand the mechanics of a DTF campaign, but have had no luck w/Facebook ads, and I think it’s due to bad targeting. My ads have all been: “If you like Band X, you’ll like me”. I’ve targeted fans of Elvis Costello, Counting Crows, Wallflowers, Tom Petty. Have you seen other FB ad approaches work for singer/songwriters like me? What kind of angle would you take with this? Thanks!

My response:

Howdy!

Great to hear you’ve enjoyed the posts! I think one of the key takeaways that may have been missed if you didn’t catch all of them (this one in particular: http://tywhite.com/post/1482423170/learning-from-facebook-ad-failures) is that related artist targeting works best when you actually have connections to those other artists — in my examples, Jim had played in both Modest Mouse & Grandaddy, whereas A B & The Sea hadn’t ever played with the Beach Boys or Katy Perry. A B & The Sea’s connection to Jukebox The Ghost was the strongest, having toured with them. People like more tangible, human connections — those offer validation to whatever your message is. You don’t always need to go for a huge # of people (eg - fans of Elvis Costello) if you are more targeted in your approach (eg - target fans of venues you’ve played, or artists you’ve played with) — remember, you’re not going to blow up overnight via Facebook ads, it’s just one of many ways to make sure your message is heard by the circle who might already be interested. Eventually that circle will grow, but it will come from all of your efforts combined.

Good luck!

-ty


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November 13, 2013

Introducing Couch: Watch Videos With Friends

Over the weekend, my friends Parris and Clay helped me hack together the first iteration of an idea that’s been in my head for far too long: a way to watch videos with friends, using Twitter as your remote. We’re calling it Couch, and you can play with it today at AddToCouch.com.

It works like this: when you hit our homepage, we randomly assign you a hashtag (they can be pretty fun). When anyone tweets a YouTube video @AddToCouch with that hashtag, it will start playing. Anyone else can do the same and keep adding to a queue of videos that everyone watches together. And I really do mean anyone and everyone — you can watch with friends around your TV, or trade videos with a friend on the other side of the world (just point them to addtocouch.com/room/YourHashtag).

@AddToCouch #YourHashtag http://YouTubeURL

Couch on the wall at The Sycamore

I took it out to my favorite bar Monday night and hooked my laptop up to their projector on the back patio. Even without sound, it was a total hit! Almost a dozen different people added videos, and we kept it going til my laptop died. To make things even better, my friend Kyle was tuned in from his apartment in Oakland and commented back on the videos over Twitter!

It’s obviously rough around the edges currently, but there are a few things about Couch that I’m particularly fond of.

First and foremost, by using Twitter as a protocol, it engages a large audience of people without requiring an app download or proprietary interface. I’ve loved how payments companies like Venmo & Square have used text and email, respectively, to facilitate payments super easily. Twitter is the home of media & commentary today (and you trust them with that, as you trust SMS/email with private matters), and it’s only a tap away on the majority of smartphones.

Second, it connects people through (rather than just to) media. As I learned at Eventbrite, great things happen when you connect people.

Third, it’s exceptionally fast. Credit goes primarily to Parris for that, and it makes a difference. If it took a few seconds for the video to appear, you might still consider Twitter as a lesser being than email or sms. In actuality, it’s the same as those, just more public. That’s certainly some of the magic here, especially if you’re the one starting the room.

Of course there are infinitely more things we want to build here — extending the concepts of Twitter as remote, adding more ways to make people feel more connected while watching, and of course protecting against trolls. We’ll keep at it, and would love to hear from you with ideas and feedback!

——

Oh, and we’d also love your votes for the Node Knockout hackathon — use the little Facebook “KO” widget on the top right of the homepage to vote. Thanks!


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September 17, 2013

Changing The Conversation About Entrepreneurship

Last week, I was invited to participate in a workshop at my alma mater, Davidson College. They recently launched an interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Initiative, and had brought in the foremost expert on the intersection of innovation and education, Tony Wagner, to facilitate discussion with students, faculty, and alumni about what the Initiative might mean and become.

A few things about the initiative are absolutely correct, but a number of major challenges still face the school and program.

To be sure, Davidson is coming from a more privileged place to begin with than other institutions, with strong foundations in leadership development, an impressive endowment, and an open and honest culture that is difficult to replicate. It’s a selective enough place to know that the vast majority of students will go on to have successful careers, even if they’re not completely prepared for the workforce on graduation day. As such, the term “vocation” can be kept off-campus, and the decision to make the Entrepreneurship Initiative interdisciplinary (rather than creating a new major) is a good one.

They’ve already set up an internship program, a venture fund, a maker and innovation space, a scholarship, and a post for an Entrepreneur In Residence. All of these vehicles will prove incredibly valuable for students with a desire to pursue an idea as a business.

However, the biggest challenges remain in communication and changing the way students view entrepreneurship.

Davidson students are known for being workhorses. The school has more rigorous workloads than anyone outside of top military academies, and most students balance school work with Division 1 athletics, community service, or any number of extracurriculars. Many students come in groomed for such rigor, having been top of their classes at top high schools from around the world.

While this work ethic is crucial, the current context for it is troublesome when contrasted with the sorts of attributes that help entrepreneurs succeed. The biggest issue at hand is the fear of failure, which is something every entrepreneur has to overcome. In an academic setting, taking risks very rarely yields positive results, and anything less than perfection will hinder a student from achieving their goals — how many Davidson students got an F on anything in high school? In order to get students taking big entrepreneurial leaps, Davidson will either need to innovate in the realm of measuring academic success (no GPA? different grading criteria?), or communicate to students that academic success is measured differently (which also requires educating students on work-world success metrics).

That said, I think there may be lower hanging fruit, too. In the workshop, we were asked to associate words with the question “What is entrepreneurship?” The majority of the terms thrown out painted the same picture the media paints of entrepreneurs: self-assured risk takers who come up with crazy ideas and make billions of dollars from them. While some of that is true to some extent some of the time, I think entrepreneurship, especially as it applies to a college program, is far broader.

In my small workshop group (one student, one recent grad, the current EIR, and me), we decided Entrepreneurship is a framework that involves asking hard questions, setting a course, and creating spaces and vehicles for others to help push towards a shared goal. Nothing in that definition necessitates starting a company or taking enormous, potentially life-altering risks. It’s very possible to be entrepreneurial within existing organizations (even as big and old of organizations as 3M), and it’s very possible to be entrepreneurial without pursuing large sums of money.

A few other words came up that could be terrifying for Davidson students, but shouldn’t be. The big ones were “failure” and “execution.” San Francisco is the only city in the country where “failure” is not only embraced, but celebrated (see FailCon), yet all of America has a long history of entrepreneurship. Everyone fails several times daily, but our success (and happiness) is generally more contingent upon how we recover from that failure than the failure itself. Thus, communication should focus on “iteration” rather than failure. Similarly, “execution” is merely a fancy term for doing successful work — it could be replaced by any number of terms, and it’s something Davidson students are highly capable of.

On a whole, the Entrepreneurship Initiative has created and will continue to create great opportunities for Davidson students, but its challenges lie outside of logistics and in communication. I’m hopeful for its future, and for the future of Davidson, and extremely humbled to have been asked to participate in its formative discussions.


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September 4, 2013

Instagramps

There are worse things to wake up to than a Twitter message from one of your favorite bands, especially when it’s an idea for a hilarious and easily buildable website.

I was lucky enough to wake up to such a message yesterday from Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr:

While the band’s representatives could neither confirm nor deny a rumor that the idea was conceived after a leisurely wake-n-bake (okay, I just made that up), I thought it seemed like a reasonable idea and set about building it.

I built it on Tumblr so it only took a couple hours from beginning to end product, and now anyone can look old. Just submit your picture and await your aging. Miley did it, so can you!


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