Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Entrepreneur's Pitch: Keep it Tidy

Keep your pitch tidy.
I've mentored many entrepreneurs over the years – they usually come from a "maker" background in that they make things. Typically, they make physical products or they are software engineers. Most of them are in the midst of their careers as individual contributors. They usually work quietly at their desks without much interaction with others. While this is great for their productivity, it doesn't give them the soft people skills to communicate clearly when interacting with other people.

I've listened to some entrepreneurs take 15 or 30 minutes to explain to me what their product does. That's 60 times too long. For a conversation opener, it should take a couple sentences to tell someone what your company or product does. Longer than that and people lose interest and they're not going to want to work with you.

If you don't know how to do this then practice. Start off with telling the listener if your "thing" is a product or service. "We manufacture an LED light that's an alarm clock for your nightstand which is more effective at waking you up compared to an alarm clock."

That single sentence is how I'd describe TheUplight. Most importantly, it leads with the benefits, not the features. From that sentence, the listener can follow up with their own questions, i.e., "Why is it more effective?" which the entrepreneur behind The UpLights responds with, "The UpLight gently prepares your body for waking up to reduce morning stress and increase productivity throughout the day."

The problem with listing a litany of features is that customers then have to figure out how those features would be of benefit. I know this sounds simple, but it can be very difficult to focus on what's marketable. For example, "it's patented" isn't marketable. While that tidbit is marketable to venture capitalists, it's not a buying decision factor for consumers. I don't care if I buy a patented or patent pending product. Big whoop. So, knowing your audience is important, too. But, regardless of your audience, make your point succinctly. There's a lot of noise out there.

Here's one of the best example I know of about succinct marketing, "1,000 Songs in your Pocket."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Student Learning in the 21st Century

A few years ago, I heard about some teachers who were "reversing the classroom" by posting their classroom lesson videos on YouTube. Students would watch the lessons at home and then do their "homework" in class. This gave the teacher a more effective opportunity to help students work through the lesson's problems, rather than the students' parents. It seems like a good idea for more affluent school districts. However, one teacher I know, with ties to the Kibera slums in Nairobi, quickly pointed out that it wouldn't work in all areas.

The Gouge

I went to a military college which had a tightly organized student body where we maintained file cabinets of past exams and quizzes. If a professor gave the same test as before then students would have a leg up. When I brought this up with a friend, he pointed out that a well know textbook rental company started getting into a similar business. When I hear of business ideas like that I ask myself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Communal Note Taking

With apps like Google Docs, where multiple people can edit a document at the same time, students now use it for collaborative note taking during lectures. Brilliant.


Students can't cite Wikipedia as a source. But any decently written Wikipedia article will cite sources – so students can cite the original source.

The worst of the privileged white men

The worst privileged white men are the ones who have no idea, or refuse to believe they're living in a different context than others.

And context matters. 

Otherwise we wouldn't celebrate the minor achievements of children or have age groups at 5Ks. Why do we celebrate them? Because they represent the best-of, and significant progress forward.

Context matters.

Let money be the absolute quantitative decider and let love be the qualitative one.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Medio Maraton y Ultramaraton 57K in Mexico

This was one dirty forest.
As I descended from the mountain top into the depths of the ashes that had once been a scenic forest it seemed that hell had been here and moved on. It wasn't possible to go up and down the mountains without grabbing onto the dead trees wrapped in a bark of soot. Wearing a white shirt was a poor choice of colors for me. I mean, seriously, who wears white after Labor Day?

The beautiful forest that the trail took us through had been torched by wildfire, last month, leaving dirt and dusty ash with charred bark on the trees. It took two showers for me to get clean. 

Don't let that smile fool you. It's a facade.
This was one of the most grueling races I've done in terms of the trail. The mountains were so steep that going down them at any pace was a challenge and walking up was at a slow crawl that was nearly unbearable. It became my own personal Vietnam.

If I stopped to take a breather, while feeling sorry for myself, the vultures would start circling (jk).

I don't know if I'll do this race again, but it was a memorable one, especially with people cheering me on in a domestic language that was foreign to me.

Dirt, dust, and ash.