Alex's Tech Thoughts

Balancing Personal and Professional Goals At Startups

It’s very hard to balance personal and professional goals at startups. I have a myriad of things I’d like to accomplish in my life. Some are personal, others professional. At times they cross over and at times they are at odds.

While I don’t have all the answers to balancing your personal and professional goals, I do have one tip.

That tip is, keep a list. Divide items by personal and professional. Try to cross things off as often as you can. Some are short term goals, others are long term. For example, at Aviary, I really wanted to meet as many people as I could in venture capital, tech press, and BD world. I wanted to leverage my situation of being at a venture-backed startup to grow my network. I definitely met a lot of people and at some point I crossed it off my list.

How do you go about balancing personal and professional goals?

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Balancing Personal Professional Goals Startups
Going On A Vacation

Tomorrow I leave on vacation for the next week. I’ve been off for Jewish holidays (they all happened to fall out on workdays this year) since joining Dwolla but haven’t taken a proper vacation since mid-Aviary. This happens to also coincide with my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and our 5th wedding anniversary.

For the first 3 years, Liz and I would go away for this two week period (birthdays and anniversary). But, last year I moved over to Dwolla in April and didn’t feel comfortable going on vacation the first 3 months at my new gig. I’m finally going away now.


I try to work hard and smart, and every once in a while going on vacation is necessary. I’m looking forward to recharging my batteries and reading a few books on the beach. I’m hoping to come back better and stronger. See you in a few.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Vacation Peace Out Personal
Why Dwolla Is Special

image


Since January 2nd I’ve spent a majority of my time in Des Moines, Iowa at the Dwolla headquarters.  It was not easy being away from my family and friends, but I think it was essential to start the year off working there.

In mid-December I approached Michael and Nicole (from the Dwolla NYC team) about spending an extended period in DSM at the start of 2013. They both agreed and we pitched the idea to Charise (Dwolla’s COO) and Ben (Dwolla’s CEO). They too thought it was a really good idea, and we arrived two weeks later, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

I thought of writing a full post-mortem piece about my time spent in Iowa, but I’d rather write about why Dwolla is special, what made me want to join, and why I think 2013 is going to be a very big year for us (without giving away too many secrets).

Building a Payment Network From Scratch
I’m going to be honest; I had a next-to-zero payment background before I joined Dwolla. I’m not 100% sure, but I imagine if you had asked me before I joined, I would have had no idea what ACH (Automated Clearing House) was. What made me attractive to the Dwolla team was my experience with developer platforms and third party integrations. In this regard, Dwolla wasn’t so different from my previous role at Aviary, working with companies to integrate the photo editing API. Except this was a payment API. Transferrable skills.

I remember meeting Ben and Jordan for the first time to learn about the business. There are three things that stuck out to me after we met.

The first, Dwolla was building a payment network, not so different than Visa or Mastercard, from scratch. Using some legacy technology (really only ACH for the time being), but not like other payment companies. They didn’t owe anyone money, as opposed to other payment companies that need to pay the existing infrastructure players just to operate (Think Paypal charging 2.9% + 30 cents. They don’t keep most of that, obviously).

The second was, they were going after a huge market, in fact a 34 trillion dollar market: ACH. There is no bigger opportunity. It is so big, most people are frightened to go after it. If you added up all of retail in the US, you may come up with a comparable number.

The third was that in terms of the API, the optimal integration was anywhere there is a transaction/payment/donation. This means that any business that is operating and creating revenue, whether wildly successful or even moderately successful, could benefit from integrating Dwolla. The sky’s the limit. Other API’s have ceilings. They can be high ceilings, but ceilings nonetheless. Dwolla’s API didn’t have one. That was a huge deal for me.

The opportunity was too good to pass up. I knew that if I didn’t join the Dwolla team, I would regret for the rest of my life.

Why Dwolla Is Special
It is hard to innovate in the payment space. Re-inventing the wheel is easier said than done. So most companies stick to status quo; they push the ball forward in ease of use or convenience. They don’t, metaphorically speaking, look at the plant, say this is not the right way it should work/grow and dig out the roots and re-grow them correctly.

The best analogy I’ve heard about how Dwolla is different from other payment companies (think Paypal, Stripe, Braintree, etc.) is that imagine the payments world was the Apple App Store and the payment companies were developers submitting Apps. Now, you submit an App to the App Store, people start using it, and you are making money. Woo hoo! Well if you create revenue by selling some sort of digital good or service, you are going to have to send Apple 30% of your revenue. This money is for the infrastructure and distribution Apple provided you. You know, and so Apple can make profit- which is not a bad thing, they are indeed a business. This is the exact relationship of those above mentioned payment companies, and Visa/MC/Amex/etc. If you’d like to build on top of them, essentially becoming a payment method aggregator, well then you owe them money. Typically anywhere from 2-7%, depending on how high risk your business is.

Now imagine you are a developer thinking of building the next cool app. You look at Apple’s App Store and you start to understand why things are so. Some things don’t make sense. They are old and slow. They were built before better technology was available. They are asking for a percentage of your business: 3%! Damn. That’s an entire month of operation costs for your business. There has got to be a better way. You can do this better, you tell yourself. Instead of perpetuating the problem, you say, F them. I’m going to build my own infrastructure. I’m going to compete with the App Store. I’m going to build a better App Store. Then I’m going to convince other developers and the developers’ users to use my App Store instead. It is going to be cheaper, faster, and more secure.

So imagine you decide to do that. You buck the trend and build your own App Store. And look at that- you start to gain traction- people start to use it. First it is just a few close friends who are developers, but then you get some developers you haven’t met before. One is in Hawaii. Cool. It starts to grow. You are getting twenty new developers every day from all over the US. Twenty turns into 100.  100 turns into 1,000. Then 10,000, then 100,000. Very soon you have a few million. Now the Apple App store is getting scared because you are encroaching their turf and war-chest.

This is what Dwolla is doing. We are building our own infrastructure. Ben calls it the “ideal network.”  A faster, safer, and cheaper way to move money. A massive undertaking that has odds stacked against it. But therein lies the magic. If you can muster the courage (or cojones) to build your own payment network, and you manage to get traction, something beautiful can happen. At the end of the day, you need to think about what would happen if your company reached its full potential. I know that if Dwolla reaches its full potential, the economy, and the way money moves, as we know it, will change— for the better.

Avengers Assemble!
This leads me to the next part of why Dwolla is special and that is the team that has been assembled. I’m not going to name any names because we are at 30-40 employees at this point and we’d be here all day. But what I will say is that every single Dwolla employee (or builder as we call it) would be the absolute #1 f’ing rockstar at any other company. You know that girl or guy at your company who just makes things rain daily? That is every single Dwolla employee.

I like to see myself as a problem-solver.  I’m solving my own problems as well as always looking to help people with theirs. I try to come up with creative, out-of-the-box answers if the easy-apparent solutions fail. Well, I must say that the problem-solvers who work at Dwolla are next level. The solutions to some of the problems presented can’t really be mentioned on this blog as they are confidential, but trust me when I say that there is never a problem of finding quality solutions to every difficulties presented.

I’m really happy to be a Dwollan and proud that Ben and Charise have put together such a quality group of people to carry out the company’s vision.

What We Accomplished By Working In Iowa
There were a few goals on the trip and I’d say we accomplished most if not all of them. The first was to start the year off right by spending some quality time with the team. Check. The second was to make a case to various members of the team as to why things we are asking for on the API side of the business are important and high priority. As you can imagine, we have a lot of things going on as a company. We have everything from the consumer and merchant experience to the developer portal and financial institution products. Prioritizing where to focus resources is not an easy task. So in the case of presenting why various features for third party integrations are important (and more or less important than other things on the roadmap), we definitely accomplished our goals. While we didn’t get a chance to begin slaying some of the features/products that we want, we did map them out extensively and prioritize them.

This is going to be a big year for Dwolla. We have lofty goals and I’m confident we will power through them. The State of Iowa deal (hat tip to Nicole and Charise on that. Probably the fastest closed government deal of all time) was one of the first fairly big things coming this year. Stay tuned- upward and onward.

And while I have you here: we are hiring at Dwolla! We are looking for engineers (in Iowa), sales and marketing interns (anywhere- paid), and a developer evangelist intern (NYC- paid).

Checkout other articles in these categories:

dwolla personal startups passion
3 Homeland Finale Theories

image

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you will know that I have a bit of an obsession with Homeland, the hit show on Showtime. This coming Sunday is the Season 2 finale and I have a few thoughts on what may occur. I will break them down to three main theories below.

SPOILER ALERT. STOP NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED LAST WEEK’S EPISODE

Theory #1- aka “The Basic Theory”
This is the tamest theory. The general idea is that Brody is a goner. Brody’s story will end on Sunday night. He has played out his purpose and is a sitting duck to Quinn’s covert operation. The end of the season has Claire and Saul as outsiders and Season 3 will deal with them trying to expose the CIA, specifically Estes as a bad guy. A good addition here would be if, in the last few scenes of Season 2, they begin the Season 3 story plotline, setting up what’s next.

Theory #2- aka “The Long Con”
This is the theory I believe is most plausible. Brody is bad. Brody and Nazir always had a Plan B if Brody were to ever get caught and this is it playing out. Few things to think about:

- Brody conveniently left out the coordinates that Roya and Abu Nazir asked him to get when he snuck into Estes office.

- We have no idea what happened when Brody was with Abu Nazir for those few hours.

- When Nazir dropped off Brody in Season 2, Episode 9 he said something to the effect, ‘if all goes well we won’t see each other again.’

- Abu Nazir is all about the long game. Remember Season 1, Episode 1. The mere fact that Brody was a turned POW-Nazir-planted leak, and had ten of his men killed so they could rescue Brody. Now giving up Roya and a bunch of muscle doesn’t seem so crazy.

- Brody is a terrific liar- even besting his polygraph.

In this theory, Abu Nazir has always been in control. He purposely had Carrie listen to him and Brody plotting and successfully killing the Vice President so that he could link them and Carrie would go to bat for Brody. Now from previews it looks like Carrie is trying to help/protect Brody. I think that there are a few ways this theory plays out.

One way- Quinn tries to kill Brody, Carrie kills Quinn first. They escape, but we find out in one of the last scenes that Brody is really bad (while Carrie doesn’t know).

Another way- Carrie figures out that Brody is bad (probably after killing Quinn- let’s face it Quinn is a goner). Carrie then kills Brody.

A third way- We find out that Brody is bad. Carrie finds out Brody is bad. Brody escapes to be the new terrorist org leader (keeps him alive for next season).

Theory #3- aka “The Mind F—k”
This last theory is ballsy. Some might look at it as a cop-out, but I see it as a real mind bender. Doesn’t it seem weird that everything is going swimmingly well for Carrie this season? She recovers and has a normal life, gets back into the CIA, ends up with Brody, assists in the killing of Abu Nazir, stops a terror attack, etc. It seems a bit dreamlike.

Imagine the last scene of the season with Carrie waking up from electroshock therapy she underwent in the finale of Season 1, and this all having been a dream. Season 3 plays out in a very different manner: Carrie struggling to get her life back to normal, etc. Mind = blown.

Anyways, I’ve spent way too much time on this. Jump into the comments to give your theories.

Update:

A fellow on twitter by the name of Ryan Jones made a good point. “S1: Nazir uses distractions to execute a larger plot. I bet all this is a distraction for larger attack. S2 ends with attack”

I agree, I think season 2 will end with an attack and we will see Nazir’s long con. Brody is bad. Attack at end of season. Carrie being so right about Brody, but yet so wrong. Powerful stuff.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

homeland personal
2 Years Later

On November 23rd, 2010 I wrote my first blog post on Alex’s Tech Thoughts (formerly Alex’s Random Tech Thoughts). I’ve written four posts a week, since the third week of writing (I wrote one-a-day for two weeks to get content onto my blog). On March 1st, 2012 I started contributing to Forbes in the Entrepreneurship section. Every two weeks my Thursday post appears on Forbes. I skip Forbes if it is a holiday (like today). I also have written for The Next Web (once), VentureBeat (thrice), and The New York Observer (once). It has been a wild two years and my site has found a little place in the tech community.

I want to take this time to open up the data and statistics around this blog. I’d love to hear feedback on what you like, what you don’t like, and how it can improve. I have tried to keep the blog focused on business development, startups, and technology. Once in awhile I write about basketball (big Knicks fan) or politics (twice- once about the Internet Bus and once before the Presidential Election 2012)- but they are the outliers.

Some high level stats since I put Google analytics on my blog on February 28th, 2011. I never did paid-SEM, I did, however, experiment for a month- buying twitter ads. When I post- I tweet, share on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+. I also update it as my Gchat status, send to my mailing list, and if I’m feeling lucky (or if the piece is API skewed)- I post to Hacker News.

Forbes Traffic (since 3/1/12):
Visits: 66,297

Alex’s Tech Thoughts Traffic:
Visits: 64,633
Unique Visitors: 45,332
Pageviews: 152,336
Pages / Visit: 2.36
Avg. Visit Duration: 00:00:52
Bounce Rate: 17.98%
% New Visits: 70.10%

Country / Territory - % Visits
1. United States- 71.05%
2. United Kingdom- 4.90%
3. Canada- 3.73%
4. India- 2.05%
5. Germany- 1.62%
6. Australia- 1.07%
7. Israel- 1.01%
8. Netherlands- 0.98%
9. France- 0.90%
10. Sweden- 0.66%

Browser- % Visits
1. Chrome- 61.33%
2. Firefox- 17.81%
3. Safari- 8.87%
4. Internet Explorer- 8.42%
5. Mozilla- 1.62%
6. Opera- 0.65%
7. Safari (in-app)- 0.56%
8. RockMelt- 0.20%
9. Android Browser- 0.15%
10. Opera Mini- 0.11%

Mobile Operating System- % Visits
1. iOS- 54.07%
2. iPad- 25.28%
3. Android- 7.72%
4. BlackBerry- 7.72%
5. Windows Phone- 3.56%
6. iPhone- 1.03% (browser maybe?)
7. SymbianOS- 0.34%
8. Nokia- 0.15%
9. Samsung- 0.08%
10. LG- 0.04%

Top Referral Sources- % Visits
1. Hacker News- 47.62%
2. Twitter- 23.79%
3. Facebook- 9.72%
4. Tumblr- 8.71%
5. LinkedIn- 6.48%
6. Google+- 1.49%
7. HootSuite- 0.70%
8. Quora- 0.37%
9. DZone- 0.28%
10. Disqus- 0.22%

Biggest Posts in Terms of Traffic:
1. How To Win A Hackathon
2. Can Developers Really Be Bought Off To Build At Hackathons?
3. The Next Big Consumer Application Will Possibly Not Coming From An Accelerator
4. What’s Your API Strategy?
5. Given The Opportunity: Should You Do TechStars or YC?
6. Biz Dev Documentation
7. Dealing With Jerks
8. How To Get On The Frontpage of Hacker News
9. New Adventure: I’m Joining Dwolla!
10. Taking Care Of Yourself At A Startup

Not sure what else I can share, but it is great to connect with so many people through my blog and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Thanks for sticking around.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

personal anniversary
Looking For Good Books

I’ve been trying to read more books, both fiction and non-fiction, over the past few months. Over the past 12 months I’ve read a slew of books, but recently have been slowing down- haven’t read anything completely in past month. I don’t want to stop, so I need some good referrals. I just ordered The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World by Randall E. Stross.

What else should I read?

To give you a sense of what I’ve been reading, here are some of the books I’ve recently finished:

Fiction
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Hunger Games Lucky Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
The Best Of Me by Nicholas Sparks
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Non-Fiction
The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda by Ali Soufan with Daniel Freedman
Boomerang: Travels in the New World by Michael Lewis
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
The Paypal Wars: Battles with eBay, the Media, the Mafia, and the Rest of Planet Earth by Eric Jackson
Lucky or Smart? : Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life by Bo Peabody

I’ve also started Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

Let me know what you suggest!

Checkout other articles in these categories:

books personal
5 Thoughts On The Election Tomorrow

I don’t usually use this blog to write about things besides startups, business development, and technology but considering tomorrow is Election Day- I figured I should put a few thoughts down. I don’t care who you vote for, but you should vote tomorrow.

1) Obama v. Romney

I’ll be voting for Obama. I don’t think talking about who I will be voting for will affect anyone else’s decision but I wanted to put it out there. I think Obama is the best bet for this country to keep moving in the right direction.

I think that Romney’s plans, while great for affluent individuals, is not realistic in helping improve the economy. Aside from the data and facts behind the math Romney is touting- think for a moment about what would stimulate the economy more. A small subset of weathly individuals taking home more money (Romney’s plan) or a large portion of the economy (the middle and lower class) getting a little more money? The truth is that wealthy people stay wealthy by saving and investing- not spending. This is great for them, but doesn’t help the economy as a whole. Middle and lower classes actually stimulate the economy by going out and spending. To me, it is mostly logic, but the economic stimulating and jobs growth plans of Democrats is backed up by data from the last few decades. This US News article is pretty unbiased piece, laying out the data.

2) Israel

Israel is a very important issue for me. As a Modern Orthodox Jew, US support for Israel is critical. I’ve, unfortunately, seen many Orthodox Jews share very negative (and baseless) sentiments about the President and his administration (which has left me disheartened). However, this is a small subset of overall Jews, as most Jews vote Democrat. The problem is that many Orthodox Jews believe that this president is bad for Israel. I’ve seen numerous circulated articles and videos saying that Obama is going to partner with Iran, Syria, Egypt, and others, to leave Israel to fend for itself. When in reality the exact opposite is happening.

There is no better way to value Obama’s commitment to Israel than to look at the US’s military aid involvement. President Obama has intensified that engagement by increasing security spending for Israel every year since he has taken office. This included nearly $10 billion in aid over the past three years. Colin H. Kahl, in a piece about Obama and Israel on the Foreign Policy website, wrote “To put this in perspective, this is about 20 percent higher than the remaining six dozen recipients of U.S. FMF (foreign military financing) combined.”

While military assistance is the most important aspect for evaluating a president’s relationship with Israel, there are other indicators in Obama’s favor. Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, former Israeli Mossad Director Efraim Halevy, and Israeli President Shimon Peres (all pretty important guys) have all made statements in support of President Obama, saying he is a true friend of Israel (even the highly critical former NY Mayor, Ed Koch, came out this past week with the same sentiment). What’s more, President Obama has vetoed anti-Israel resolutions at every turn in the UN, has supported and pushed the most critical sanctions on Iran, helped save the lives of Israelis trapped in the embassy in Cairo, and most impressively opposed the Palestinian bid for statehood. Does this sound like a President that is throwing Israel under the bus? I’ll answer that one for you, NO.

3) 118,599 votes

Moving past the topic of Israel, other issues such as the economy, health care, immigration, foreign policy, education, abortion, same-sex marriage, climate change, gun control, and more are high on the importance spectrum in this election. The race is neck and neck in many battleground states, but no more so than in the state of Ohio. The Jewish community there has never been more important, at roughly 150,000, or about 1.3 percent of the state’s 11.3 million residents. How important is the Jewish community there? To give you some perspective, in 2004, when George W. Bush was elected, he won by 118,599 votes.


4) If Romney Wins vs If Obama Wins

If Romney wins, I think the presidential campaign process will forever change for the worse. A candidate will be able to continuously change their stance publicly and know that they can still win. This will allow the anti-intellectualism, that is overtaking the US, to continue to prosper. Don’t think he is changing his mind? Watch this.

If Obama wins, he may end up going down as the GOAT (greatest of all time) for presidents. It is clear we are on the road to recovery and that jobs are coming back (people just debate on if they are coming back fast enough). You know that 12 million new jobs number that Romney keeps telling people he will bring if he is elected. This is the number of jobs that most economists predict will spring in the next 4 years- via President Obama’s policies- regardless of who is president.

So let’s say Obama wins- The economy will come back with unemployment going back down to normal, he will implement Obamacare giving access to healthcare for uninsured individuals, he will probably go ahead and legalize gay marriage in a second term (pulling a Lincoln in the 21st century), not to mention having ended the war in Iraq, having give the order to assassinate Osama Bin-Laden (among other high ranking leaders in Al-Qaeda), and winding down the war in Afghanistan. That’s like pulling a quadruple double in Game 7 of the NBA championship in your rookie season- Points, Rebounds, Assistants, and Blocks. Just killing Osama is like putting up 50 points at Madison Square Garden.

5) Low Information Voters
I think it is a little scary that this election is coming down to a bunch of low-information voters. Yes, undecided voters are people who probably don’t know who the two candidates are for this election, or even what day the Election Day is. It may be a bit harsh but I think we should implement two things to fix this problem in America:

a) Compulsory Voting: According to Wikipedia- this is a system in which electors are obliged to vote in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he or she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines, community service, or perhaps imprisonment if fines are unpaid or community service not performed. While a bit on the extreme side, it is implemented in Australia, Argentina, and other countries. This would combat voter suppression and if mandatory, I believe people will seek more information before they vote.

b) A short quiz when voting: Not so different than going to the DMV and taking a test to get a drivers license. It should be 10 questions. Very basic stuff for the first five, i.e. how many states are in the US? What state are you voting in right now? etc. The last five would be a bit deeper and more complex (but again, nothing that crazy). You need to get the first 5 right and at least one of the next 5, i.e. you need to score a 6 out of 10 to have your vote count. I know this sounds extreme as well, but you need to pass a test to drive in this country, you should have to score a certain level to elect individuals who will create policies that will affect the country, not just the people on the road.

Two final thoughts:

If you are a Romney fan- this is a pretty strong video against him from Republicans. Any Romney supporters reading this- please comment below. I’d love to understand how you reconcile his back and forth on most issues/topics.

I’m not proud to say, but I sat on the sidelines in 2008. I justified it by telling myself that I’m a New Yorker, so obviously my vote doesn’t count. I don’t feel this way anymore, I will be an active participant on Election Day 2012.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

election personal
What I Am Looking For Right Now

This blog is normally for thoughts I have about technology, startups, and business development. But every once in awhile I venture out to write something different. This is one of those times. I’m putting out a PSA of what I am looking for right now. Readers of this blog might be able to help.

I’m currently working on a project (at Dwolla, obviously) and I’m looking for companies that accept payments online. Any website that has a payment/checkout/donation aspect to its site. It could be anything from an ecommerce and gaming to nonprofits, marketplaces, and accounting tools. The entire idea here is for savings. If you accept payments and like to save money then you are someone I’d want to talk to.

I can’t go into too much more detail here but if you or someone you know fits the bill (it could be a small, medium, or big website) please feel free to email me or intro at AlexT@dwolla.com. This should only be for launched products/companies, not pre-product.

While on this topic, I think that it is good to ask for things you need/want in life. People can’t read your mind and it’s best to be direct as good things come for those who ask.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

personal dwolla Business Development partnerships
Perseverance And The Will To Overcome

My grandmother passed away this past week after 94 years of life.

She was the ultimate underdog in life and at every turn persisted. 

Some short anecdotes of things she overcame in her life:

  • She had a family before my grandfather. Her husband and son were killed in the holocaust. Alongside her parents, eight siblings, and most of her cousins (only one nephew survived).
  • She was in Auschwitz-Birkenau and a few other concentration camps for almost four years. 
  • She was on two different lines to the gas chamber and survived each time.
  • She met my grandfather in a displaced persons camp in Bergen-Belsen.
  • She came to America with my grandfather, my uncle at six-months old and no money.
  • She worked at a nursing home, while my grandfather was a baker.
  • She had half her gallbladder and one kidney (having the rest of it removed in her lifetime).
  • She saved enough money to put my father and his brother through Jewish day school and college.
  • In 1993 while running across the street to get a discount (I know :D)- she was hit by a car and broke many bones in her body. The doctors first said she was going to die, then it was that she would never walk, then never run. She was fully rehabilitated in no time.
  • The past 7 years she had Alzheimers and dementia, which had gotten pretty bad in the past few years, but still there was nothing physically wrong with her.

My grandmother did not have an easy life, but against all odds she persevered and survived. Any issues I can think of in life pale in comparison to what she had to endure at my age. I hope I can do half as well with any adversity that comes my way in my lifetime.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

personal
New Alex’s Tech Thoughts Mailing List

I’ve added a mailing list on the right side if you’d like to get Alex’s Tech Thoughts in email format.

That is all :)

Checkout other articles in these categories:

blog personal mailing list
Taking Care Of Yourself At A Startup

While working at a startup you can sometimes forget to take care of yourself.

You can lose or gain a lot of weight (depending on whether you eat a lot or very little when you have stress or lack energy), get very little sleep, and at times (or depending on your role) run yourself ragged.

It’s very easy to burn out quickly, which is why you sometimes need to take a step back and evaluate what you are putting into your body, how much sleep you are getting, how much time you are spending with your family and friends, etc.

I’ve recently been trying to map out all the things I am doing to find balance, build structure (i.e. go to the gym Sunday, Wednesday, Friday) and still continue to kick ass.

Any startup people have good tips for taking better care of oneself?

Checkout other articles in these categories:

personal startups early-stage
Alex’s Tech Thoughts In PDF

I received an email from a guy named Marc Luna last week. Marc has taken some of my blog posts, structured them, and put them into a PDF.

Marc separated the material into 8 different categories:

  • Words of Motivation                                                                                                               
  • Breaking Into Startup-ville                                                                                                       
  • Best Practices for Early-Stage Startups                                                                                     
  • Best Practices for Individuals                                                                                                    
  • Startup Observations                                                                                                              
  • Tech Trends                                                                                                                               
  • General Observations                                                                                                              
  • How To Become A Biz Dev Samurai     

It’s pretty awesome. If you’d like to download the PDF, you can find it here.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

blogging Business Development early-stage personal startups
Balancing Work And Love Life

Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/JigUPP 

Let me know your thoughts!

Checkout other articles in these categories:

forbes personal startups Thoughts
New Adventure: I’m Joining Dwolla!

I have some big news. I couldn’t be more excited to announce that I am joining the Dwolla team!

Dwolla is an amazing company in the payments space, looking to re-imagine what a company like Visa or Mastercard would look like if started today (and not 40 years ago with its associated legacy costs). I am going to be a Biz Dev Builder, leading business development and partnerships. I will be tasked with growing out the API platform- similar to what I did at Aviary with their photo API, except now with a payment API.

You are probably asking yourself, isn’t Dwolla based in Iowa? Well, yes it is. To that regard, I will be establishing Dwolla’s NY satellite (location TBD) with my good friend Michael Schonfeld, as he is joining Dwolla as their developer evangelist.

I’m very grateful for my last two years at Aviary. I’ve learned so much from Avi, Michael, Paul, Iz, and others. I’m sure Aviary is going to continue to do amazing things without me. 

I’m out in Iowa this week, but I will be jumping right into third-party integrations. If your business is creating revenue and you are paying a percentage of that revenue in credit card fees, you should consider adding the ability to accept Dwolla as a payment option. Any transaction under $10 is free for the merchant (great for something like iTunes, Zynga payments, charity donations). Any transaction over $10 is a flat fee of 25 cents for the merchant. That’s why merchants love Dwolla and why the entire financial industry has taken note.

I’m excited to get started and hope to hear from everyone soon!

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Business Development apis personal dwolla
It’s A Small World

I was debating whether to write this story, but I think there is a teachable moment here.

This past week I taught a Skillshare class that I originally titled “Advanced” Business Development and Partnerships for Startups. The class went through the top 10 most important pieces of biz dev and each student came away with templates/samples of each subject to use in every day work. In retrospect (and for future classes) it should have been called “Practical” BD/Partnerships for Startups that is a more fitting name.

In the beginning of the class I mentioned that this was the first class, an experiment, and if anyone wanted a refund they should just let me know. While I was saying it in a joking matter, I was serious that if anyone felt they wasted their money I would refund them. 

Well my story here is about two students who followed up after the class who felt that the word Advanced had been misleading (which I agreed with). The reason this is noteworthy is that I feel that one went about it the right way, whereas the other didn’t. 

Without naming names, Student #1 left constructive feedback via Skillshare’s platform (they allow this) about feeling that the class was practical basic skills in business development. I immediately responded that I was sorry that she/he felt misled and that I’d be happy to give a refund. I explained that I plan to change future classes to Practical BD, which seems like a better-suited name. I thanked Student #1 for the feedback.

The immediate response I got thanked me for responding and said that no refund was necessary because she/he appreciated the time I spent on the class. We ended up going back and forth, with me asking what she/he would want to see from a properly titled advanced class. This was a great critical feedback experience. I like this girl/guy.

Student #2 responded to my student/attendee follow-up email and was nice about it, but said she/he felt misled about the title and was asking for a refund. I responded and said as soon as I got to my computer (I was mobile at the time) I would issue the refund. I also asked what she/he would want to see in a prospective class. It’s been about 5 days and I haven’t heard back, so I won’t hold my breathe. I issued the refund and moved on.

Now you are probably thinking that I’m just venting because I had my first experience with someone asking for a refund to my class. While there may be some truth to that, I understand that is a part of teaching classes; you can’t make everyone happy. I think the main difference between the good and bad correspondence is understanding the situation.

In this situation, Student #2 approached it the wrong way. I would have offered a refund if she/he would have just said that the class title has been misleading. By asking for a refund for a 20 dollar class in business development she/he showed that he/she probably needs to take Biz Dev 101 before jumping into an advanced class. It’s a small world in the early-stage tech space with correspondence and relationships being critical pieces. Student #2 really failed in her/his approach, while I would be happy to go to bat for Student #1 in the future.

PostScrip: After I wrote this post, Student #2 emailed me asking for access to the class materials, you know the one that she/he received a refund for. Snarky response ensued- “can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Can’t tell if he/she is super confident (ie big balls) or is just plain stupid.

Shoutout to Paul BZ for the title name. 

Checkout other articles in these categories:

skillshare best practices personal Thoughts