Monday, July 30, 2012


Howard Tullman Talk: “Future Trends in Technology and Social Media”

The next speaker for our event series “1871 Talks” was none other than Howard Tullman, labelled by Inc. Magazine as “the most accomplished, best-connected entrepreneur you have never heard of.” A serial entrepreneur, investor, advisor, art collector, teacher, lecturer, lawyer, marathon runner, and friend of both Bill Clinton and Tyra Banks, Tullman has done it all. Most recently and prominently,  President and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, Tullman attracted a room full of 300 eager Chicagoans anxious to hear about his insights on new media trends.

Before Facebook, the primary purpose of the internet was informational. It was principally about anonymous links. However, now that we can post personal social profiles and scroll easily through those of others, the web has become about people. This has had phenomenal implications for the way businesses can interact with and learn from their consumers. Businesses that are not willing to constantly evolve their communication online will quickly be left behind. This is even true for established brands. For example, Words with Friends blew Scrabble out of the water by listening and rapidly reacting to the ever-changing demands of their users.

According to Tullman, social media and technology will shape the future in the following ways:

Hyper-personalization: Our laziness to retype information across multiple accounts has sparked the great success of the Facebook connector. Now more than 9 million applications connect thru Facebook allowing marketers and businesses to target everyone cost effectively, making personal data “the oil of the digital age.” You can even personally benefit with sites like ShoppyCat, which recommends gifts for your friends based on their Facebook information.

Know-Before-You-Go Data Capabilities: Metrics have become so predictive to the point that there is an 80% likelihood that Facebook can determine which two people will change their status to “in a relationship” from their online activities. Analysts have also determined the number of people who will leave AT&T and typical moods on certain days and times of the week just from analyzing trends on Facebook and Twitter. Thus, businesses will have heightened accountability and confidence in the moves that they make to get ahead.

Constant Connection and “Smart Reach”: The location based data (LBS) that is now available has added the dimension of context to business insights. Tullman says now we can “hit people with the right content at the right time and the right place.” Where is my consumer right now? What media outlets are available to me in those places? If a lot of target consumers are attending a sports game,  for example, marketers can take advantage of stadium screens for their advertisements. Israeli company Trendit has melded cell phone data with census data so they can figure out where the crowds are and where the crowds are going. This is unbelievably useful information. It’s not just about the content of your message or the quality of your product anymore. It is about where and how you are choosing to promote it.

Connection and Digital Content Delivery: It used to be that when we left home we were unplugged and unaware of the things that were happening in real time. Mobile, tablet, and 3G/4G capabilities have changed that. Mobile has become the best way to connect with people. Even when people are watching TV, 40% of adults are multitasking on another device. Crowd-funding site Indiegogo raised over $700,000 for the Abused Bus Monitor fund from people in all 50 states showing how powerful it can be for people to be connected all the time. In fact, technological sustainability has taken on a sort of razor-cartridge business model. It’s less about the device itself and more about its ability to maintain a constant connection with continuous content delivery.

Gamification: Whether it be through Klout’s influence score, Foursquare’s badges or Nike Plus’s monthly workout rankings, brands have found new ways to engage their consumers - with games and prizes. This new “incentivization” technique has great promise for marketing campaigns and engagement strategy.

New Types of Networks: People on the streets are trumping the power of our large news institutions with handycams, cell phones, and the power of the web. There are new networks forming around these forums. From the rapid video sharing power of Youtube to the up-voting and down-voting of links on Reddit, people have developed widely dispersed engagements with their content. Understanding these networks and their fluctuations is crucial to developing loyalties with your audience.

Seeing is Wanting: Online shopping is an extraordinary convenience in itself, but now we are even looking towards online “fitting rooms” so to speak. Sears allows users to design interactive rooms with furniture they plan to buy scaled perfectly to size. There are even companies that will show you what an outfit will look like on you. This is a melding of digital and tangible that’s incredible.

Although this may seem like a lot to think about, Tullman advises to “start small and scale up as you succeed.” Technology is a vast and pervasive tool that exists to take your vision to the next level, so “stick to your knitting,” the idea that you know best, but make sure to utilize the great social capabilities that tech has to offer.

Thanks again to Howard Tullman for this awesome presentation! 

The young and the carless

The young and the carless
By Brigid Sweeney

Will Sharp is your typical suburbanite. The Barrington resident is married with a 10-month-old son and commutes 40 miles every day to his retail job in Lincoln Park.
Except he does it without a car.

Mr. Sharp, 31, moved to the Chicago area in 2009 from New York, where he and his wife, Rebecca, found car ownership both unaffordable and impractical. Now, he says, he could buy one, but rather than making monthly car payments and paying for gas, tolls and parking, he prefers saving the money for a down payment on a house one day.

“We're renting at the moment, and it's basically a decision of car ownership versus home ownership,” he says. So he relies on a combination of the Metra commuter train, the Chicago Transit Authority, friends' and relatives' cars, the occasional rental—and his own two feet. “I walk five miles a day. That's the only exercise I get as a new father.”

Among millennials, the love affair with the automobile is turning chilly. For previous generations, car ownership was a rite of passage that often coincided with receiving a driver's license at age 16. The equation was simple: wheels equal freedom.

But because of philosophical and practical concerns, fewer in this recession-socked generation are driving their own vehicles. They're also enabled by the growth of rental outfits such as Cambridge, Mass.-based ZipCar Inc. and Chicago nonprofit I-Go Car Sharing and, for those who've moved back home, mom and dad.

One in four households within the city limits has no vehicle, according to 2010 U.S. Census information, compared with less than 10 percent of households across the country. That's nearly double the 14 percent of Chicago households that were carless in 2000.


Nationally, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by people ages 16 to 34 dropped 23 percent, to 7,900 from 10,300, between 2001 and 2009, according to the federal government's National Household Travel Survey.

Today, only 22 percent of drivers are 20-somethings or teenagers, down from a third in 1983, according to a 2011 study by the University of Michigan. Further, more than half of all drivers in 1983 were under age 40, but today that number has fallen to less than 40 percent, declining faster than this age cohort's share of the U.S. population.

Liz Granger, 25, grew up in Omaha, Neb., smack in the middle of car culture. She got her license at 16 and drove until she went to Northwestern University in 2005. Since graduating, she has spent time in Uganda on a Fulbright scholarship, walking everywhere, and now commutes via bike from her Pilsen apartment to an internship and job as a yoga instructor in the Loop.

Ms. Granger figures that, at most, just 20 percent of her friends from college own cars. One of her former roommates received a car for graduation and eventually sent it back to her parents' after dealing with the headaches of city driving.

“Down the road, I will need a car,” Ms. Granger says, “but I'm happy to delay the purchase as long as possible.” She says that cargo biking gear, which allows riders to haul loads of groceries and other goods on their bikes, plus car-sharing services, are delaying that purchase even longer.

“We have this American idea about cars as freedom,” says Jason Rothstein, a 40-year-old West Town resident who gave up his car eight years ago, after his third driver's-side mirror was knocked off in a six-week span. “But a car comes with a lot of financial responsibility and other burdens.”

Mr. Rothstein, a public health project manager at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of “Carless in Chicago,” mostly takes public transportation, rides his bike or walks to get around. Trips may take longer, but he says he is free of credit card debt today largely because of his choice. He calculates that owning a car cost him $7,600 a year. According to the U.S. Census, Chicagoans who ride public transit to work rather than drive save $1,016 a month, more than the $843 national average.

“Particularly when you're at the age where you're trying to make ends meet, it makes a substantial difference in your quality of life,” Mr. Rothstein says. “It may be the difference between affording tuition or taking advantage of all the great restaurants in Chicago or taking a vacation.”

There are consequences, to be sure. Mr. Sharp says his wife, a stay-at-home mother, sometimes feels trapped within a walking-distance radius. And carless people acknowledge that shopping runs require extra planning and can be a pain. But they also generally say inconveniences are far outweighed by the benefits of saving money and the environment.This mindset shift is affecting city planning and local businesses.

Gabe Klein, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, predicts that bike traffic in Chicago will quadruple in the next five years, partly because of an ambitious citywide program that calls for 10,000 bike-share bicycles and 100 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020.

Meanwhile I-Go has grown by nearly 25 percent this year in terms of members, usage and number of cars. CEO Sharon Feigon says her company has 15,000 to 20,000 members who share a fleet of about 300 cars.

The members' ages range widely, she says, but tend to skew toward people in their 30s who have committed to long-term city living. I-Go research shows that members pay about $3,500 annually for the membership, public transportation passes and the occasional taxi, whereas car owners spend at least twice that.

Scott Klocksin, 29, a Wilmette native who spent a year and a half as a New York bike messenger, says one of the biggest gains of going carless isn't financial.

“If you bike, you establish a sense of connection between the locales of your daily life that isn't possible via other modes of transport,” he says. “It's you, 180 degrees of peripheral vision and the streetscape—and it fundamentally changes your relationship with the city.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012





Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Mcgarrybowen ready for its closeup

By: Mary E. Morrison July 23, 2012

Mike Eisenberg, junior editor at Mcgarrybowen

Photo by: John R. Boehm

Ad agency Mcgarrybowen has been on a new-business tear, picking up notable accounts including Bud Light, Burger King and United Continental, along with accolades including 2011 Agency of the Year by Crain's sister publication Advertising Age. The agency's revenue jumped 60 percent in 2011, and staff increased 45 percent to 800.

One thing the agency's Chicago office lacked, however, was an in-house broadcast production studio—a void that made it somewhat difficult to turn around video content quickly, whether for clients' social media pages or for business-development support.

“We had to either use our New York office or an outside production company,” says Tim Scott, president of Mcgarrybowen Chicago.

So last year the agency hired Mike Eisenberg, a 2011 graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, a Chicago college that offers tracks in recording arts, film and broadcast, animation and visual effects, game and interactive media, and graphic design and visual communication.

Since joining the company about a year ago as a junior editor, Mr. Eisenberg, 27, has worked on videos the agency needs on tight deadlines, including content for a Facebook program to support client Bud Light's popular “Here Weego” Super Bowl spot.

For the “Here Weego” Facebook video, Mr. Eisenberg flew to Los Angeles, shot video footage of a dog and edited it on the flight home, creating vignettes to support the spots on the brand's Facebook page.

“We have the tools to get it out the door right away because that's what the digital landscape is demanding right now,” Mr. Eisenberg says.

' Everything is fluid these days.'

— Tim Scott, president,
Mcgarrybowen Chicago

Tribeca Flashpoint's curriculum focuses on social media, says Edward Glassman, the college's vice president of marketing and business development, “because it's table stakes for anyone in any sort of marketing now.”

But the college also prides itself on creating “digital Marines” who can be dropped in any situation, he says.

That training is serving Mr. Eisenberg well as he works with groups in the agency. “There are no longer the silos of  'That's an account job or that's broadcast production or that's print production,' “ Mr. Scott says. “Everything is fluid these days.”

The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale?

The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale?

·         BY BEN AUSTEN

·         07.23.12 6:30 AM

Soon after Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, he decided that a shipping company wasn’t delivering spare parts fast enough. The shipper said it couldn’t do better, and it didn’t have to: Apple had signed a contract granting it the business at the current pace. As Walter Isaacson describes in his best-selling biography, Steve Jobs, the recently recrowned chief executive had a simple response: Break the contract. When an Apple manager warned him that this decision would probably mean a lawsuit, Jobs responded, “Just tell them if they fuck with us, they’ll never get another fucking dime from this company, ever.”

The shipper did sue. The manager quit Apple. (Jobs “would have fired me anyway,” he later told Isaacson.) The legal imbroglio took a year and presumably a significant amount of money to resolve. But meanwhile, Apple hired a new shipper that met the expectations of the company’s uncompromising CEO.

What lesson should we draw from this anecdote? After all, we turn to the lives of successful people for inspiration and instruction. But the lesson here might make us uncomfortable: Violate any norm of social or business interaction that stands between you and what you want. Jobs routinely told subordinates that they were assholes, that they never did anything right. According to Isaacson, evenJonathan Ive, Apple’s incomparable design chief, came in for rough treatment on occasion. Once, after checking into a five-star London hotel handpicked for him by Ive, Jobs called it “a piece of shit” and stormed out. “The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him,” Ive explained to the biographer. Jobs’ flouting of those rules extended outside the office, to a family that rarely got to spend much time with him as well as to strangers (police officers, retail workers), who experienced the CEO’s verbal wrath whenever they displeased him.

Jobs has been dead for nearly a year, but the biography about him is still a best seller. Indeed, his life story has emerged as an odd sort of holy scripture for entrepreneurs—a gospel and an antigospel at the same time. To some, Jobs’ life has revealed the importance of sticking firmly to one’s vision and goals, no matter the psychic toll on employees or business associates. To others, Jobs serves as a cautionary tale, a man who changed the world but at the price of alienating almost everyone around him. The divergence in these reactions is a testament to the two deep and often contradictory hungers that drive so many of us today: We want to succeed in the world of work, but we also want satisfaction in the realm of home and family. For those who, like Jobs, have pledged to “put a dent in the universe,” his thorny life story has forced a reckoning.

Is it really worth being like Steve?

In one camp are what you might call the acolytes. They’re businesspeople who have taken the life of Steve Jobs as license to become more aggressive as visionaries, as competitors, and above all as bosses. They’re giving themselves over to the thrill of being a general—and, at times, a dictator. Work was already the center of their lives, but Jobs’ story has made them resolve to double down on that choice.

Steve Davis, CEO of TwoFour, a software company that caters to financial institutions, was eager to talk about Jobs’ influence on his own life and career. But first he had to find a free half hour. When he finally did steal a few moments to speak, he explained that he had consciously set aside certain aspects of his family life, since he believes that startups fail when those involved aren’t committed to being available 24 hours a day. Luckily, Davis told me, he was blessed with a wife who picked up the slack.

Davis detailed these choices matter-of-factly, but his voice rose with fervor when he described the intensity and uncertainty of entrepreneurship. He loved every minute of it. He didn’t operate with a corporate safety net. His lawyer was calling him at that very moment with a contract question, and Davis needed to pick a direction and just go with it. What should he decide? He admitted he didn’t know. The thrill came from the possibility that he might be wrong. “Guys who start companies are different from other people,” he said. “We’re willing to fail. Look at Jobs. He got knocked down, and he kept going. He’s totally unconventional, driving on his particular path, and either you join him or get out of the way.”

Join or get out of the way—it’s a phrase that sums up what Jobs’ life has taught his admirers today. Andrew Hargadon, a professor at UC Davis and author of How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, points out that Jobs’ brashness has helped inspire a larger reaction to several decades of conventional wisdom about the importance of worker empowerment and consensus decision- making. “Jobs is showing us the value in the old-school, autocratic way. We’ve gone so far toward the other extreme, toward a bovine sociology in which happy cows are supposed to produce more milk.” That is, it took a hippie-geek like Jobs to give other bosses permission to be aggressive and domineering again.

This isn’t aggression for its own sake but for the good of a company. Tristan O’Tierney, a Mac and iPhone software developer, helped Twitter creator Jack Dorsey found the credit-card-swiping startup Square three years ago. O’Tierney says that he now sees the value in bluntly telling people their work is crap. “You don’t make better products by saying everything is great,” he explains. “You make them better by forcing people to do work they didn’t know they had in them.” Aaron Levie, a self-described Jobs “wantrepreneur,” started Box, which allows cloud-based file-sharing, in his USC dorm room in 2005. To new hires, he quotes Jobs—”Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected”—to make clear to them that Box is just such an environment. “My lesson from Jobs,” Levie says, “is that I can push my employees further than they thought possible, and I won’t rush any product out the door without it being perfect.” He adds: “That approach comes with collateral damage on the people side.”

It’s true that Apple employees rarely quit when Jobs called them shitheads, or even when he took credit for their ideas. An early manager on the Mac team told Isaacson about the abuses Jobs heaped on employees. But she said, “I consider myself the absolute luckiest person in the world to have worked with him.” These sorts of testimonials are the proof, for many entrepreneurs and executives, that strong leadership and impressive results will lead employees to tolerate, even to embrace, unpleasant work conditions. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s most profitable hedge fund, has been called the “Steve Jobs of investing,” in part because his firm practices a form of radical forthrightness. All Bridgewater employees are expected to clash with one another, to speak without filters or concerns about sensitivities. Dalio says he shares Jobs’ belief in the benefits of a tough, brutally candid office environment, though he requires his employees to dish it out to him just as much as they take it. He likens the mode of dialog he practices—not just at Bridgewater but in all his personal relationships—to twisting one’s limbs into a difficult yoga position or training as a Navy SEAL. “Pretty soon the pain becomes pleasure and you can’t live without it,” he says.

What acolytes want most of all is to possess the same certainty about their vision that Jobs felt about his. Neal Sales-Griffin, 25-year-old cofounder and CEO of Code Academy, a programming school in Chicago, says that after studying Jobs’ life, he doesn’t waste time anymore with the intricacies of etiquette. He openly denigrates projects that aren’t working, even if others have already invested countless hours in them. He recalls Apple’s inauspicious launch of MobileMe, the subscription service that was supposed to sync a user’s entire online existence in the cloud. From a stage in an Apple auditorium, Jobs berated the MobileMe employees for their inability to create a better product—”You should hate each other for having let each other down”—and then fired the team leader on the spot. “Jobs’ passionate approach has empowered me to be myself, with my flaws and difficulties and limitations,” Sales-Griffin says. “Look what came of it for him.”

The second camp is what you might call the rejectors. These are entrepreneurs who, on reading about Jobs since his death, have recoiled from the total picture of the man—not just his treatment of employees but the dictatorial, uncompromising way that he approached life. Isaacson’s biography is full of stories of Jobs as an unpleasant individual—the fits he would throw over the most picayune-seeming details, like the type of flowers in his hotel room or the way an aging Whole Foods barista made his smoothie. He would park in handicap spaces; he refused to get a license plate for his car. And he abandoned his oldest daughter, applying his “reality distortion field” to the question of his own paternity.

Jeff Atwood was once an acolyte. He had subsumed the whole of his identity into the company he created: Stack Exchange, a network of online Q&A sites. “You gird for war,” he says about the ethos of running a startup. “You need a spiritual fervor, an almost religious belief in the mission, to throw yourself on the shores and attack.” So it came as a surprise to Atwood—and everyone else—when he realized that he had to leave behind Stack Exchange and the startup life. And the Isaacson biography was what prompted his epiphany, turning him into a devout rejector.

He already knew all the stories about Jobs the businessman and innovator. But what he found harrowing, almost too painful to read, were the details about Jobs’ family and personal life. Atwood was brought to tears by a passage in which Jobs showed drawings for the new Apple campus to his son at home one night, and it didn’t even occur to him to call over his daughter, who had expressed interest in becoming an architect. “He paid less attention to Erin,” Isaacson writes about Jobs and his daughter, “who was quiet, introspective, and seemed not to know exactly how to handle him, especially when he was emitting wounding barbs.” Atwood, 41, recently became a father to twin daughters, and he said what Jobs did was “the opposite of parenting. Parenting is being there, man. It’s showing up.” The biography forced him to see that he, like Jobs, had allowed work to dominate his life. Atwood groaned as he recalled how Jobs would respond directly and rudely to some random customer’s email in the middle of the night: “Here’s why you’re an idiot.” Atwood would do the exact same thing. He really didn’t want to quit, but he saw that nuclear option as the only way to disrupt the cycle. “If you’re going to fail at building something,” he says, “fail at building the fucking iPad. Don’t fail at building children.”

For some of these more repulsed readers, it’s the tales of managerial cruelty that have gotten under their skin. Verinder Syal—a former executive at Quaker Oats who bought a coffee franchise, sold it, and now runs a consulting firm and teaches business-school students—expected to adore the biography. He greatly admired Jobs’ ambitions, and he regularly extolled him to students as a paragon of leadership. The book saddened him, though: Syal couldn’t understand why Jobs felt the need to be right all the time and to blame others, why he had to claim other people’s ideas as his own. Syal says he went back to his classes and admitted that he was wrong. “Jobs was like dynamite,” Syal says. “Dynamite clears paths, but it also destroys everything around it.” Syal didn’t think much of Bill Gates before, but he does now. “Gates evolved from an asshole into a human being,” he says. “Jobs remained an ass.”

But most of the rejectors are, like Atwood, entrepreneurs who worry about their roles as fathers. A few of them single out one particular moment near the end of the book, when Jobs explains why he asked Isaacson to write it. “I wanted my kids to know me,” Jobs said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.” Brad Wardell, CEO of the software and computer-game-design company Stardock, was shaken when he realized that the same powers of reality distortion that allowed Jobs to create the iPod also led him to deny the seriousness of the pancreatic cancer that killed him. (For nine months, Jobs delayed undergoing conventional treatment.) Wardell, 41, says his formative years corresponded to the rise of Jobs, and Jobs’ influence helped him “put every ounce of energy and focus into Stardock.” That translated into 80- and 90-hour workweeks, maniacally testing every version of every piece of software, reviewing all source code, writing notes nonstop. “But I realized that, like Jobs, I could die. Jobs missed out on his kids, and I’d have missed out on mine too.” Wardell now often works from home, and he has hired people to manage aspects of the business he previously handled himself.

Many of these former fanboys are reconsidering their allegiance to Jobs in part because they are no longer boys. Now in their forties, they’re confronting the end of their young-adult selves—they have children, and their own parents have become senior citizens or died. Matt Haughey, founder of the community weblog Metafilter, addresses this point directly in a presentation called “Lessons From a 40- Year-Old,” which he delivered last February at the web-design conference Webstock. Haughey remarked that he was grayer, his daughter was turning 7, he had recently put down a longtime pet, and he had experienced his own near-brush with cancer (a brain tumor that turned out to be benign). Haughey heard many in his cohort—most of them devoted Jobs followers—saying, “It is time not to end up like Steve.” So rather than trying to create the next Apple, he proposed building a “lifestyle business,” a smaller-scale enterprise that rejects venture capital and funds itself, leaving its owner time for pursuits outside of work. He displayed a graph of his mid-twenties existence, with the bar representing work towering over the one for personal life. Now that he’s 40, the bar heights are reversed.

It’s worth pointing out that these male rejectors have wound up where most female entrepreneurs have been all along. Women CEOs and managers didn’t need a biography of an absent father to start thinking about balancing work and family; unlike the fortysomething dudes, they’ve been having conversations about this trade-off most of their lives. Rashmi Sinha, CEO of the presentation-sharing service SlideShare, was pregnant with twins when she devoured the Isaacson book. She read it to understand how Jobs created great products, but the possibility of gleaning any personal lessons from his life didn’t even cross her mind. Similarly, Heidi Messer, cofounder of the affiliate-marketing firm LinkShare, has told her entire marketing staff to read the biography, but without any thought that they’d construe Jobs to be her own role model as a manager. She does suggest one personal lesson from Jobs’ life: “If he could do Apple and Pixar—two multibillion-dollar companies—then I should be able to handle one business and also my family.”

The rejectors all know that quelling their Jobs-like tendencies will be a struggle. They are by nature strivers, perfectionists. They also know that their retreat from the struggle—adopting a lifestyle-centric approach to business—means they will never accomplish as much as they would have otherwise, let alone as much as Jobs did. If they used to release six products a year, now they produce only two. If previously they sent out three dozen emails during the dinner hours, then now they make do with sending just a few. Rather than planning to take their startups public, they are shooting for enough profit to sustain their employees and themselves. To create the lifestyle they want, or need, these entrepreneurs are reining in their compulsions, imposing limits on themselves.

When he’s not writing best-selling biographies, Walter Isaacson runs the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC, that covers everything from business development to education and foreign policy. At his office there, Isaacson proves to be a gracious New Orleanian, easeful and attentive—in short, nothing like Steve Jobs. He says that readers of the biography have been seeking him out to discuss their uncanny similarities to Jobs or their desires to behave more like him. Two executives visited the writer separately just hours before me. One of them was Bridgewater’s Dalio, who came specifically to confer about people he called “shapers,” those who overcame tremendous opposition to transform vision into reality. Dalio hoped that he and Isaacson could suss out a few of the traits shared by such shapers as Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Margaret Thatcher, and perhaps also Dalio himself. When I asked Isaacson about the life lessons of Jobs, he ducked behind his desk and returned with articles that had recently been forwarded to him, each one about the merits and demerits of emulating Jobs’ jerkiness.

Isaacson himself has published what he deems a corrective, writing in Harvard Business Review that readers hoping to draw meaning from Jobs’ life should fixate less on his petulance as a boss and more on his remarkable achievements at Apple and Pixar. Isaacson distilled the real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs down to 14 business proverbs, such as “Bend reality,” “Push for perfection,” and “Tolerate only A players.” “Long after their personalities are forgotten,” he remarks of Jobs, along with the pantheon of Edison, Ford, and Disney—not one a saint—”history will remember how they applied imagination to technology and business.”

The author admits that he now tends to defend Jobs against personal attacks, since his book has provided much of the ammunition. Isaacson sees Jobs as being hardly more blameworthy, even in his worst moments, than other powerful people. Readers he knows personally claim to be shocked that Jobs would brazenly park in handicap spaces, but Isaacson says some of them are bankers who created the derivatives that screwed clients out of their life savings and helped lead to worldwide recession. When other readers express their contempt for the way Jobs treated his family, Isaacson asks them, “Then how come you’ve been married three times and this particular daughter doesn’t fucking speak to you?” Indeed, Isaacson rejects the premise that Jobs failed with his family. He points out that Jobs ended up with a strong marriage and four loving children, all of whom were at his side during his illness. A wooden table filled much of Jobs’ kitchen, and for the last two decades of his life he came home just about every night and sat down for dinner. “Jobs could have been a better father,” Isaacson concedes. “But I look at that family, and it’s perfectly wonderful. It couldn’t be a better family.”

Yet Isaacson understands how genius worship has led to multiple interpretations. “It’s like arguing the gospels with a fundamentalist,” he says about the futility of trying to rebut what he sees as misreadings of Jobs’ life. He tells me what he’s told lots of people who have sought him out to catechize about the book—that his biographies aren’t how-to manuals for the good life. He isn’t arguing that readers not look for guidance in the story of Jobs; he knows it is the nature of biography-reading to do so. But Isaacson stresses that Jobs’ life was complex, the lessons to be found myriad.

At least since Plutarch illuminated the moral character of famous Greeks and Romans, readers have looked to biographies for guidance and inspiration. My father still recites a corny Longfellow poem he learned as a kid back in the ’50s:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Some intimate portraits are meant to debunk the iconic figure, their anecdotes served up as exposé. But usually the readers of biographies are supposed to recognize some aspect of themselves, or a wished-for better self, in the footprints of the eminent subjects. The genre is intensely individualistic, rebuffing sociology and collective history, and the reading experience winds up being no less personal.

Ironically, in Jobs’ remarkable story of self-creation we can see why the rest of us are so hungry for a role model to light our own paths. Whether it was in the early days, when he manipulated Steve Wozniak into building products for him to sell, or later in his career, when he was struggling to shape NeXT from scratch, or even after returning to Apple, when he created entirely new products, Jobs had no one to tell him how to realize his vision. He made high-stakes decisions on his own, with little to rely on besides his well-honed intuition. And on a smaller scale, isn’t that true of us all? In life, as in business, there really aren’t any concrete answers or clear guides. We can’t help but see a biography like Steve Jobs as a rare road map to the uncharted world we awake to every morning.

So what, then, is Jobs’ real legacy as a human being? “It’s his passion,” Isaacson says, after some deliberation. “We all want to lead the passionate life. We want a life of emotional connections. If that’s what you get by saying, ‘I will be more like Steve Jobs,’ then that’s not bad.”

The gospel of Steve Jobs has spread far from Silicon Valley to touch people in every field of business. My cousin Jason is a yoga entrepreneur in Asheville, North Carolina; he makes foam accessories to help people stretch more ergonomically. When he came to visit not long ago, he brought his copy of Steve Jobs along with him. “I care about all these tiny design details no one else does,” he says, nodding at the book as it sat between us on my dining room table. “I get frustrated, catching myself telling people who work for me that their ideas are shit.” Our respective children in the next room celebrated their reunion by putting on a succession of princess and monster costumes. Motioning toward them, Jason said he now accepts that traveling constantly and spending less time with family is a necessary trade-off if he, too, wants to produce a great product. “When your karma and your lila meet, you find your dharma—your one true path,” he tells me, citing a precept that might have sat well with Jobs, a devotee of Eastern religions. “It’s a beautiful concept. You discover your way to contribute to the world. That’s what Jobs found. He contributed so much to humanity with his products.”

In the end, that remains the paradox in the life of Steve Jobs. He put his uncompromising and sometimes brutal personality into the creation of products that strike us as beautiful, even uplifting. But the historical moment that he helped to create—a magical intersection of technology and commerce and culture, as our computers and computerized gadgets matured from purely functional items to expressions of ourselves—is unique to his life story. Without his unyielding approach to design, we might never have had our iPods and MacBooks and iPads. But most of us don’t need, or want, to take such an unyielding approach. We don’t operate Apple-sized corporations and redefine industries. Our employees, if we have any, will quit or undermine the company if they are repeatedly called shitheads who suck. Family members will find ways to administer payback if persistently ignored or mistreated. Jobs operated on an entirely different plane from just about anyone else. For the rest of us, trying to behave like him will make us and everyone around us miserable.

As he was writing his 2007 book, The No Asshole Rule, Robert Sutton, a professor of management and engineering at Stanford, felt obligated to include a chapter on “the virtues of assholes,” as he puts it, in large part because of Jobs and his reputation even then as a highly effective bully. Sutton granted in this section that intimidation can be used strategically to gain power. But in most situations, the asshole simply does not get the best results. Psychological studies show that abusive bosses reduce productivity, stifle creativity, and cause high rates of absenteeism, company theft, and turnover—25 percent of bullied employees and 20 percent of those who witness the bullying will eventually quit because of it, according to one study.

When I asked Sutton about the divided response to Jobs’ character, he sent me an excerpt from the epilogue to the new paperback edition of his Good Boss, Bad Boss, written two months after Jobs’ death. In it he describes teaching an innovation seminar to a group of Chinese CEOs who seemed infatuated with Jobs. They began debating in high-volume Mandarin whether copying Jobs’ bad behavior would improve their ability to lead. After a half-hour break, Sutton returned to the classroom to find the CEOs still hollering at one another, many of them emphatic that Jobs succeeded because of—not in spite of—his cruel treatment of those around him.

Sutton now thinks that Jobs was too contradictory and contentious a man, too singular a figure, to offer many usable lessons. As the tale of those Chinese CEOs demonstrates, Jobs has become a Rorschach test, a screen onto which entrepreneurs and executives can project a justification of their own lives: choices they would have made anyway, difficult traits they already possess. “Everyone has their own private Steve Jobs,” Sutton says. “It usually tells you a lot about them—and little about Jobs.”

Ben Austen (bausten@gmail.comwrote about YouTube stars in issue 20.01.


Taking a Risk, and Hoping That Lightning Strikes Twice

Taking a Risk, and Hoping That Lightning Strikes Twice

Sean Parker, the 32-year-old billionaire and former president of Facebook — played by Justin Timberlake in “The Social Network” — was sitting on the top floor of his town house in the West Village of Manhattan last month, lamenting that too few entrepreneurs continue taking big risks after their first great success.
“Every good entrepreneur I know ends up in the wasteland of being a venture capitalist. It’s really frustrating,” he said.
Mr. Parker was sitting, or more accurately, slouching, on a couch next to his best friend and business partner, Shawn Fanning. Together, they founded Napster in 1999, the online music service that upended the entire industry before closing and filing for bankruptcy after losing a court case over piracy.
 “How can you as an entrepreneur that’s had success, has a reputation, ever build the courage to go and do something again?” he asked, almost rhetorically. “Most entrepreneurs don’t remain entrepreneurs. It’s just too psychologically draining to have to constantly start over.”
More than a decade later, however, Sean and Shawn are at it again. The two recently started a video chat service called Airtime. (Think Skype, mixed with Facebook and a twist of Chatroulette.)
Mr. Parker and Mr. Fanning are the exceptions to the successful-entrepreneurs-still-working theory. Sure, there are a handful of serial entrepreneurs out there in Silicon Valley: Jack Dorsey started Twitter and Square, for example, and Elon Musk, who was behind PayPal, now runs SpaceX and Tesla.
But the career trajectory of many tremendously successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley often looks like a rocket ship that stops in midair. Less charitably, Mr. Parker suggests some could be called one-hit wonders.
“The list of people who have started from scratch over and over and succeeded systematically over a long period of time is incredibly short,” he said. “The only person I can think of off the cuff is Jobs who had Apple, Next, Pixar, continued doing Pixar and Next and then Apple again, which is really a different company.”
He said that the tendency of great entrepreneurs was either to become merely an operator of one company or, like Sumner Redstone, move into an investor-ownership role.
The Silicon Valley version becomes a venture capitalist. For example, Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, has gone on to be a successful venture capitalist through his firm Founders Fund, investing in other companies’ businesses, like Facebook and Spotify. But Mr. Thiel hasn’t endeavored to start a new company himself. (He did start a hedge fund, but that’s still investing.) He happens to be in business with Mr. Parker, who is a partner in the fund, which also invested in his Airtime.
Marc Andreessen, a longtime star of Silicon Valley, co-founded Netscape in 1994. He started two companies after that: Loudcloud and Ning. Both had modest success, but neither was comparable to Netscape. Mr. Andreessen became one of those venture capitalists Mr. Parker dreads, but with an extremely successful track record of having invested in some of the most promising technology companies, including Facebook, Groupon, Twitter, Zynga, Pinterest and Instagram (which was sold this year to Facebook for $1 billion).
Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. Andreessen said of Mr. Parker’s theory: “I sort of agree with him.” In an interview, he said many “former entrepreneurs crossed over to be V.C.’s and it hasn’t worked out well.” He added, “You don’t want to be Michael Jordan playing baseball.”
Mr. Andreessen said he differentiated his decision to pursue investing from that of other entrepreneurs-turned-investors, because he approached it as an entrepreneurial effort to “rethink the model of venture capital.” He has sought to reimagine the way a venture capital firm works from top to bottom, and so far, it appears to working quite spectacularly.
Still, to Mr. Parker, most entrepreneurs who seek out investments do so as “a total cop-out.” He explained his thinking: “You have a whole portfolio, you only focus on your successes, you ignore your failures and you get to continue looking like a player, but you’re ultimately not in control of anything.”
He continued: “Everything is probabilistic, nothing is deterministic, so you never have that satisfaction of knowing that you’re in control of an outcome. So you spend all of your time managing your reputation, managing your relationships and you spend almost no time thinking creatively or doing the things that an entrepreneur is good at doing.”
If it sounds as if Mr. Parker is talking only about others, he’s not. He’s also talking about himself.
After stepping down from Facebook in 2005, he joined Mr. Thiel’s Founders Fund and for several years worked on making investments, including in Spotify and Votizen.
He also worked on Causes, a site to raise money and awareness for issues and nonprofits. That venture only muddled along, and he said he did not commit to it wholeheartedly enough.
He said the biggest challenge for any new start-up by a previously successful entrepreneur was focusing too much “on downside protection, which is just assuming failure from the outset.” Being worried about failure and its effect on one’s reputation, he said, is “very dangerous.”
He said he was reluctant to start a new company like Airtime until just recently.
“The expectation thing definitely weighs on me. There’s a sort of fear of launching something and failing,” he said. “I had to decide I am going to try to go the road less traveled and just be an entrepreneur that’s willing to go back and start things from scratch.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

How a Self-Taught 12-Year-Old Turned Spartz Media Into a Viral Media Titan

How a Self-Taught 12-Year-Old Turned Spartz Media Into a Viral Media Titan

Asking someone how they started their company is more a formality than anything else. Most people have a formulaic answer. “I had X problem in my daily life, and then I solved it with Y!”
And that’s fine, it’s just not exciting after hearing it 100 times.
So I was a little surprised that Emerson Spartz’s story began with the words, “When I was 12 years old, I convinced my parents to let me drop out of school and homeschool myself.”
For all of the stories about people learning from Khan Academy, teaching themselves programming, and learning via Wikipedia, I’ve never heard of a single person who homeschooled himself. Self-starters? Sure. Self-motivators? You’ve gotta be to get by. Self-teacher? That one is a little bit different.

The decision seems to have paid off. Fast forward ten years and Spartz’s company, Spartz Media, is now a thriving, profitable business. Between the company’s dozen-or-so sites, including OMG Facts and Gives Me Hope, he’s got an audience of 160 million monthly pageviews. And he’s got Jimmy Kimmel, Geraldo Rivera, JK Rowling, and millions of fans to thanks.
Emerson Spartz’s career in viral, community-based content started with MuggleNet, a Harry Potter fan site that Spartz started with a free website builder when he was 12.
But Spartz wasn’t interested in creating just any Harry Potter fan site. Instead, he wanted to build the Harry Potter fan site. So, as a 12-year-old, Spartz began to email “literally thousands of people” around the world — site admins, moderators, and well-known Harry Potter enthusiasts — asking for link-trades. He would link to them, they would link to MuggleNet, and MuggleNet would grow.
And oh boy, did it grow. As he worked on the site for more than ten hours a day, the site exploded in popularity. He published three books, one of which was a NYT Bestseller that sold more than 300,000 copies. “I got to go on tour, live like a rockstar, attend the movie premieres and after parties, visit the sets, and travel to Scotland for a private interview with JK Rowling,” he says. “We had, for a time, the most listened-to podcast in the world.” At its peak, MuggleNet was doing 50 million page views per month.
As Spartz pushed a community-based content creation model, the entire site ran off of free volunteers, which was a big deal in the days before the Huffington Post made free, community content a well-known business model. Spartz recruited from the most active contributors on the MuggleNet site, and gave them the ability to publish content.
This community-based model not only makes sense for a content site like Spartz Media, but more importantly, it’s one of the key drivers behind Spartz’s life goal of improving the world through harnessing community content.
I first met Spartz, who is now 25-years-old, on my trip to Chicago in March, where we had coffee together. The first thing you notice is that Spartz is his noticeable preoccupation. Not in the sense that he has a third eye, but in the sense that you can tell by looking at him that he is somewhere else. He’s paying attention and answering questions, but at the same time, he’s clearly thinking about other things, like building a company.
But he begins to come into focus when I bring up his schooling, because it really is something interesting. He sits up, starts talking fast (too fast, really) and dives into his upbringing. Not only did Spartz design his own curriculum and teach himself all through school, he also did it during college. When he went to Notre Dame for college, he was taking the normal load of classes. But it wasn’t enough, because he wasn’t feeling intellectually stimulated.
In typical self-starter fashion, he decided to teach himself even more. In addition to taking a full load of classes and graduating from Notre Dame, Spartz also managed to create a new method of self-teaching that he designed for himself, which uses a complex method of initialisms, mnemonics, and flash-cards to force him to memorize concepts.
Management, business, humanities, history, and just about everything else, they all use the system of self-teaching that he developed for himself, and they’ve apparently worked pretty well.
In addition to teaching himself as much as possible, Spartz also reads more than is normally possible for a person. At Notre Dame, he set the goal of reading one non-fiction book every day until graduation. It’s all a part of his desire to be intellectually stimulated and to learn, not dissimilar to what Bill Gates is known to do.
While at Notre Dame, Spartz also met his future wife, Gaby. She had a story similar to his. She had founded a website when she was 12 years old, which was very popular at the time, according to Spartz. Following graduation, the two of them founded Gives Me Hope, which marks the beginning of Spartz Media.
Gives Me Hope, on the off-chance that you don’t have a female teenage relative, is probably the most encouraging site you can visit on the Internet. Want to recover after a day of battling trolls in the comments? Gives Me Hope. Bad day? Gives Me Hope.
The concept behind Gives Me Hope was to give people a way to share short, inspiring, and heartwarming true stories. All of the stories are a few dozen words, and go a little something like this one (GMH stands for Gives Me Hope):
In the early days of the company, traffic was sustained by sharing posts via Facebook. In fact, the company’s content was shared so much on Facebook, that Spartz was able to create algorithms to predict if content was going to go viral, based off of the mountain of data they had collected. If a post didn’t follow the trajectory of a certain number of shares or “Likes” at a certain point in time, it wasn’t going to go viral.
Using this, Spartz Media had it good for a little while. But then, Facebook began to crack down on the success of content. It became harder and harder for the company to game the system and make it more shareable, until finally, Facebook won the cat-and-mouse game.
Good news for the company, though, as Twitter was gaining popularity at the time. With a more viral-friendly social network to focus on, the company really began to take off. The company’s network of sites now have millions and millions of followers, and is growing at a rate of 400,000 new followers every month.
While the success of Gives Me Hope would have been a notable story on its own, more surprising is that the success spread to other sites. The company launched Love Gives Me Hope, Six Billion Secrets, and OMG Facts, each of which was successful on its own. In fact, OMG Facts has been so successful, it now has 6 million Twitter followers and sees 30 million page views per month.
Despite this success, though, the company was still only Emerson and Gaby Spartz, and a team of overseas freelancers.
According to Spartz, the reluctance to hire full-time employees was because he wanted to make sure they had a product fit before they hired anyone. After all, you don’t want to change the company’s business model two months into a new hire, meaning they’re no longer needed. But he had an “a-ha!” moment when he received a check for $100,000 from an advertiser for one month’s advertising on the site.
The delay in hiring, however, was a mistake Spartz made, as he himself admits. According to Spartz, he saw “how much more we were able to accomplish with full time, in-house talent” forcing him to admit that he realized “how stupid I was for not hiring earlier.”
Once the company started hiring, things really started to take off. According to Spartz, when the company was just the couple, it had 7 million monthly page views, when it had 5 employees, it saw 42 million page views. And when it had 160 million page views (present day), it had 30 employees. In three years, it had doubled the number of people coming to the site almost five times.
The best part of Spartz Media is that the viral model works incredibly well in so many areas. Because the content is all community-based and -driven, it scales to as many verticals as there is interest. You don’t need to hire dozens of people for another topic to cover, because it’s the same basic underlying technology and free community, tweaked for the topic.
That’s why the company is looking to expand to as many verticals as possible, while still maintaining the support, and without diluting the brand. According to Spartz, this means launching a new site every one to two months, with 95 percent of the sites being successful over time.
When I was speaking to Spartz, though, we started talking about the underlying mission of what he has been doing with his life so far. According to Spartz, everything he has done has been aimed towards improving people’s lives by harnessing the power of communities, whether by giving them a brief moment of hope or making them laugh.
While building a company viewed over one billion times per year definitely meets that goal, Spartz has also set his eyes a little higher. I asked if he would move into the public service area, and he said he had considered it, because that would truly make it possible to improve people’s lives in a substantial and meaningful way.
Which is what everything comes down to. As Spartz puts it, he wants to change collaboration platforms “in the same way that Jimmy Wales popularized the Wiki model and changed the world.”
While he’s doing that, though, he’s going to have to be content with being poked fun of on Jimmy Kimmel.

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