Living with your parents… is… AWESOME

I recently finished a semester-long co-op and have decided to spend the summer starting a new tech company with another student from Duke. After careful consideration, we decided to both live at home with my parents for the summer so we can focus 100% on what we are building (more details on that later).

With the Northeastern co-op schedule, I haven’t lived at home since I graduated high school. What I am quickly discovering though is that for a bunch of 20 year olds writing cool software, living at home can be fantastic

  • It’s free! My parents know that if we end up with $millions from the company we’ll send some their way.
  • Food. I’ve been cooking (attempting to cook) while living on my own for co-op, but oh man is it great to have home cooked meals every night.
  • We can focus literally 100% on our company – no need to worry about bills, driving, getting furniture etc. We wake up and code. 

I always hear that a potential drawback of following the entrepreneurial path is having to worry about forgone paychecks to cover cost of living. I can’t think of a more effective way to combat this at the college age then moving back home.

Bottom line for college entrepreneurs and recent graduates:

Give up your freedom and go live with your parents if it is a viable option in your family. Focus your time and energy on building something great.

The Power of Buying Lunch

One afternoon last year when I was on co-op at Cisco Systems, I went out to lunch with a few other co-ops to a Vietnamese restaurant. I had never tried Vietnamese food before, and the restaurant was a favorite of one of the interns going with us, who happened to be originally from Vietnam. 

The lunch was excellent and we all had a great time. At the end of the meal, I was surprised that the intern who suggested the restaurant graciously insisted on paying for everyone’s lunch. While it might be pretty standard for your boss to pick up the tab after lunch, it was different with a peer since the check is generally split.

So what happened? Well, to this day, I have not forgotten this gesture. It was so simple, and the total capital investment required was about $8. Yet it made such a deep impression. While he may not have thought of this at the time, he could end up getting a substantial ROI on that investment. Because of the impression he made on me, I would go out of my way to help this person – get him an interview, make a recommendation, etc.

Bottom line: it is surprising how powerful simple gestures of generosity can be. So next time the lunch bill comes, consider being generous and making that investment.

Take the Risk, Go for the Gold

The ability to focus in on your core competencies is a major asset. We all have multiple talents, commitments and activities. Some create a lot of value, while others do not. The goal (particularly on the business side of things) is to determine which activities create the most value and focus resources on those. Value could be happiness, money, whatever it means to you.

In response to my friend Drew D’Agostino’s recent blog post:

So Drew, to answer your question, YES, drop things that you have gotten out of practice with and aren’t truly passionate about anymore, even if they are making money. I recently left my web design business of 7 years that generated great revenue for a college kid to instead focus on a new tech start-up that statistics and probability say will fail. 

Never sit still. Take the risk, go for the gold. Don’t get caught up in the little wins, it’s the big ones that actually make an impact. Always consider, what is the worst case scenario? Maybe some lost time, lost money, so what? Think about the opportunities that have a time window – if the clock is ticking, grab them while you have the chance.

Dealing with Differences… in a Tent

I just returned from a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains where my friend from Duke and I camped for 4 days in the gracious mountains of Tennessee. No internet, no cell phone, and sadly, no showers. Of course aside from roasting marshmallows and hiking, there were some strong learning moments.

After spending 96 hours straight with this friend, we realized that we had quite a bit of conflicts in our value systems. Bluntly, I thought a lot of what he did was absolutely ridiculous, and he felt the same way about me. We each wanted the other to conform and do things “my way.”

After some arguing, I learned a very important lesson: what you think may make perfect sense in your mind, but someone else will look at it completely differently. While we may truly believe that our way is the right way, it is ineffective to tirelessly argue with others to change their ways. In fact, it just upsets and insults them.

Instead, I found it was much more effective to simply respect each others differences. Compromising and trying new things is a must, and doing so confirms what a person’s true passions and values are. We each watched and listened to each other, ultimately taking away new perspectives. In doing something like this, some people may end up adjusting their values by their own choice based on observations – this is the key!

Bottom Line:

Everyday, we encounter differences in values, principles and passions. Instead of always arguing with people to change, it is so much more effective to respect each others differences, learn from them and ultimately grow from understanding them.

Creative Populism

While studying Markets & Management at Duke University (more info on that later), I learned a bit about the Creative Populist movement and the concepts behind being creatively entrepreneurial. The big ideas are:

Complexity – looking at a problem from multiple angles and devising a creative solution to get around that problem.

Creating Advantage – does anyone want to be taken advantage of? No. Creating advantage implies a mutual benefit and adding value for all.

Being a deviant – in this case, it’s a good thing! Go against the grain, challenge the status quo. This is the essence of entrepreneurship.

The Market will never be more generous with you than you are with the market.

Be Generous, Be Enthusiastic, Be Humble, Be Playful. Intentionally acting on these characteristics broadens perspective and creates new opportunities.

The End of an Era – 7 Years of Armonk Web

Armonk Web & Computer Solutions was my first company – co-founded as freshmen at Byram Hills High School in 2004 with Jeremy Blum and Zach Lynn. The company started out providing PC support services, and later moved into deeper small business IT consulting and ultimately website development. To date, the firm has created 80+ websites for small businesses across the country. In 2008, I moved the company to Boston, MA so I could continue web development while attending Northeastern University. By operating Armonk Web, I learned a ton of lessons as a young entrepreneur:

  • The customer is king – ultimate goal is to please the customer
  • Web design is a great business to be in – everyone needs it – opens doors
  • Develop skills that not everyone has – technical skills are highly valuable
  • Learn how to speak the language – technical acronyms are everywhere

Overall, Armonk Web has been a fantastic experience for me to learn how a business works and the basics of entrepreneurship. It served me well and I enjoyed working with all of my wonderful clients. As of today, I have left Armonk Web to focus on some even more exciting opportunities on the horizon (more details coming soon!)

Are You Afraid of the Dark? Risk Management 101

Last weekend I watched the Hills Have Eyes 2 on DVD. Knowing my policy on horror movies (stay away from them), this was admittedly a poor choice. That night as I stared into the blackness of my dark room and I tried to fall asleep, all I could think about was the blood thirsty mutants. As I thought about this more, I realized there is a distinct link between my mutant fear in the dark and risk management in business and entrepreneurship.

Put simply, we fear the unknown. The darkness is scary because we can use our imagination to decide what might be there. An unknown represents a risk and this induces fear. When there is light, we have confidence because we can see exactly what is going on. Unfortunately, the business and especially entrepreneurial world is one giant dark room, filled with risks with unknown outcomes.

The key to mitigating risks (and allowing yourself to fall asleep and not get attacked by desert mutants) is two fold.

  1. Outline potential outcomes – if (A) happens, what is the worst result? How can I plan to make it better?
  2. Acquire more intelligence. Analyze data, look at past examples and trends. Shed some light on the darkness.
  3. Suck it up and move forward – entrepreneurship is a risky business.

Vegas + Business?

I recently completed my first trip to Las Vegas, NV for the National Association of Broadcasters annual trade show with my co-op company, Digitalsmiths. Being a few months shy of 21, I couldn’t sit down at any of the poker tables or purchase alcohol, but I did get to make quite a few observations…

  • Vegas might easily be the most bizarre, most ridiculous place ever.
  • There is no sense of time – no clocks. 6am and 3pm are the same.
  • Food is expensive. Like, really expensive. $7.50 for a bagel and egg.
  • Everything is sexualized. Billboards, street “cards”, game dealers, etc.
  • Everyone seems to be smoking. Inside.
  • Alcohol flows everywhere… it is the fuel that keeps everyone going.

Slot Machines

Adults sit in front of these big boxes with flashing lights. The adults stick their money into the machine. Their money goes away. The adult then proceeds to stick more money into the machine, and then that money disappears as well. This process continues.

Bottom Line

There is a distinct culture in Vegas, and that is the party culture. It works great for many people, but it has never been the right fit for me. It isn’t the kind of place that is conducive to creating amazing innovations in technology. This ties in with company culture, and is a topic I will be expanding on frequently.

Entrepreneurs & Hackers

In many ways, entrepreneur and hacker mean the same thing. Entrepreneurs create advantage from situations and innovate to build value. They go around obstacles to figure out solutions to getting where they want to be. When I think of the leaders that I strive to work with, people with the “hacker” mentality rise to the top.