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Noticing increases in our Luck Surface Area

2011/10/09 Leave a comment
When I was growing up, my dad hung a few of those Successories posters on the wall in my bedroom. He is a sales guy from birth, and is big into the management theories of Stephen Covey and the like. There was one poster that I remember particularly well. It had a photo of a tattered baseball glove on it, with the words "The harder you work, the luckier you get." After forming our company nearly two years ago, and growing through several upward pivots, my team and I have first-hand knowledge of this statement's validity. 

I just read a brilliant post by Jason Roberts: How to Increase Your Luck Surface Area. With that, he saved me the effort of writing a full-fledged blog post, so here is the half-fledged version:

Lessons: 
  • Startups are hard
  • You need help
  • People want to help
  • Don't be secretive
  • Share your passion with the world
  • Good things will happen
My additional comments on his post:

"I woke up this morning to two text messages from friends/former co-workers with leads on potential technology partners for my startup, BuildingLayer. Following some press (ie talking to a large audience about what we do), we've had top-notch mentors and potential investors reach out to us. Startups are hard, so anything you can do to increase the probability of your success is helpful. Having an army of friends/mentors/fans who know what you do, have experienced your passion for it, and can be your scouts and messengers is a huge asset. 

After experiences like these, I almost wrote a similar post, but opened up the Startup Digest Reading List (thanks, Chris), and liked the way you articulated it. Keep up the good work, Jason!"

PS: Thanks to Chris for sharing Jason's post via Startup Digest Reading List! (you should sign up)
PPS: Copious amounts of this also goes a long way.

Categories: Uncategorized

Don’t be late to the party at 83(b)

2011/09/27 Leave a comment
My co-founders and I recently formed a C-Corp, and have been learning some of the formational intricacies that we avoided in our last company (which was an LLC). One of these is the need for founders/employees to make our IRS Section 83(b) elections. There are some great posts out there by people like Dave Naffziger and Startup Company Lawyer to explain this in depth, but I wanted to share some personal context, and hopefully add a few words of wisdom.

So, what is this 83(b) stuff? It's a section of the IRS Code of 1986 that permits a special tax designation that can save startup founders & employees from incurring large capital gains taxes ($10k+) on stock issued through a vesting agreement as compensation (essentially worth $0 in early days).

The highlights:

Who: employees (for startups organized as Corporations) who are receiving stock on a vesting schedule

What: a form (no standard from the IRS, but there are some basic docs out there) that identifies founder/employee, number of shares he/she owns, date when shares were awarded, tax year, Fair Market Value (FMV) of each share (based on your supposed valuation), the Amount Paid by the founder for each share.

When: you must file within 30 days of issuing stock (this is a HARD deadline, so don't mess with the IRS on this, all you Pareto devotees and procrastinators!)

Where: umm, yeah, nothing to put here, but I was told to use these 5W's and an H…

Why: without the designation, founders/employees pay taxes on the stock grant, and at each vesting interval. With the 83(b) election, you can defer taxes until your shares in the company are sold (ie a liquidity event, when you can hopefully afford to pay those taxes!)

How: send the form to the IRS (usually via your lawyer)

A few pieces of advice I was given that I didn't see listed anywhere else:
– It's likely a good idea for your FMV and Amount Paid to be the same. Hence, no gain. (please, correct me on this if I'm wrong).
– You'll probably be guessing on your valuation, so don't get too hung up on the number you choose. This might range from Par value (something like $0.001/share) up to $1/share. See example in Dave's post.

– File this within 30 days of awarding shares! (Ok, I saw this advice everywhere, but worth repeating)

So, startup founder, I hope this saves you some time so you focus on building your business and changing the world! As for me, back to indoor maps

Disclaimer: I'm not a tax expert, yatta yatta. And if you know better, please discuss on the comments!

Categories: Uncategorized

Hello, Denver. Thanks for this map. Why isn’t it a touchscreen?

2011/09/13 Leave a comment
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Back at our favorite Sheetz, near Harrisburg, PA.. #LexKY-bound

2011/09/10 2 comments
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Getting Started On My Life’s Work

2011/08/15 1 comment
(Note: this was written as a companion piece to my post on why I turned down Stanford to keep running my company)

My professional goal in life is to drastically improve the efficiency of Human Transportation. My dad has spent the entirety of his career engaged in the shipping industry, and has witnessed the maturation of one of the most efficient transportation processes ever. If we look at the example of Amazon, UPS has enabled us to order anything I want and have it shipped to almost anywhere, in just a matter of days. The efficiency with which we can move stuff around this planet never ceases to amaze me. But it infuriates me that we have not come further with the systems we use to move human beings around. There are 3 main types of waste I have noticed: energy, time, and attention. Here are a few examples of this:

Energy
From an efficiency standpoint, cars suck. I have driven one of the world’s most efficient vehicles (a solar car) across an entire continent. The single most effective way to improve vehicle efficiency at highway speeds is to reduce aerodynamic drag. The reason that doesn’t happen is not for lack of technology (see Aptera). It is due to consumer aesthetic preferences. This is why I have become an entrepreneur and not a scientist. But even if we improved the efficiency of every vehicle on the road, the system is still flawed.

Time
When I watch my friend Phillip, a PhD candidate in Materials Science, drive his car for 3 hours every day to get from his home to school, I get frustrated. Those 3 hours steal pieces of Phillip’s life, time during which he could be doing world-changing research (in arguably one of today’s most valuable fields in applied science), or even spending quality time with his wife. But he loses nearly one month’s worth of time per year because driving a car along the interstate is the only option our modern society presents him to get from point A to point B.

Attention
From a safety standpoint, I have watched half a dozen of my friends lose their lives to automobile accidents. None were impaired by drugs or alcohol, but several were impaired by trying to be a normal human while being expected to simultaneously operate a 2000-pound guided missile. While my parents’ generation wears little pink ribbons to support breast cancer research, I want to wear a ribbon to support whatever will stop cars from killing my friends. It turns out, people have a finite amount of attention, and when we focus on multiple things (like driving and doing anything else), our performance suffers. This problem is systemic in nature, and our current attempts at fixing it are merely patches.

The system level is where I want to do my life’s work. I believe it’s the only way to make a significant reduction in the energy, time, and attention that human transportation requires. With solar car (and personal experiments), I’ve mettled on the vehicle side, but realized that the most opportunity for change is in human behavior. To avoid being rejected by the host, however, this change must be done in a non-jarring way, and it must exhibit a positive customer experience differential over the current situation. With AwesomeTouch and BuildingLayer, we’re starting to change the system of indoor navigation to better mimic the outdoor navigation we’re used to. Research shows that the insides of buildings are actually some of the toughest places for pedestrians to navigate. If we can make a dent in this problem, I feel good about our generational opportunity to use software and smart people to reduce the energy, time, and attention consumed by public transit, automotive, and air travel. The question I’ll be asking a lot over the next 20-50 years: what’s your ETA?

Categories: Uncategorized

Pitch practice from the State House steps #demodayordie

2011/08/04 Leave a comment
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Categories: Uncategorized

Huge thx to Town of Rehoboth for this awning, or my bike & I would be soaked #nowihearthunder

2011/07/23 Leave a comment
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When your family is as numerous as mine, White Castle’s Crave Case just isn’t enough. #CraveCrate #100sliders

2011/07/15 Leave a comment
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Some thoughts on Average Pace, and the usefulness of data

2011/07/14 Leave a comment
Forerunner_305_2

I love data. Ok, maybe not as much as Hilary Mason, but I'm still a big fan. I recently started using a GPS watch while running, which has added a new column of data to my personal collection. I had an important learning experience today: Average Pace is the most important metric to monitor while I’m running. 

While the watch will attempt to spit out an Instantaneous Pace measurement, it's useless. Anything that updates faster than the Average Pace has too much fluctuation to be useful. I can't sort out the signal from the noise. Anything that updates more slowly (such as Lap Pace) is updated too infrequently (once every 8-minutes, if I'm hitting my target pace) for me to make adjustments. (For the curious, it's possible that Average Lap Pace would fall into the magic range of usefulness, too. I'll try it on my next run.)

This lesson translates over to my personal dashboard as well. In order to be useful as a decision-making tool, it needs to update at a particular rate. 
  • What I really need to know for food: am I where I am supposed to be for this time of the day? Kind of like a speedometer, I want to keep my pace of eating in a particular range throughout the day. 
  • Same goes for sleep. I don’t really care about my lifetime average, or how much I slept last night. What really is actionable is how well I’m doing for the week. It’s the happy, meaningful middle.
I think there's a good likelihood that this same swath of data usefulness will apply to tracking (and maintaining) my performance at work. If I need to make a certain number of sales/business development contacts per day, what is the reasonable data rate that I need to adjust my pace? Every 2 hours? Right now, our business team lives on a daily schedule. We have a list of activities, and at the end of the day, we give ourselves a percentage score (number complete divided by number scheduled). What about for our development team? They are currently following the Scrum method of Agile development, working in 3-week sprints. This method specifies a 15-minute Standup meeting every day. Is this barely frequent enough, or is it distracting?

What I'm getting at is that there is a limit to the usefulness of data. There is an optimum range of actionability that varies for different people and for different tasks. I'm looking forward to doing some experiments to find out just where that is.

Categories: Uncategorized

Getting my first RI bike ride in w/ the MIT Tri club & the http://nbwclub.org

2011/06/26 Leave a comment

Stopping for snacks at Suzy-Q’s place. Just downed a much-needed iced coffee.

Categories: Uncategorized