Is Depression Actually Normal?

I wrote a post recently touching on my brief bout with Founder Depression.  As a result, many mentioned it on Twitter or reached out to personally thank me for writing it and to let me know they also struggled with it.

This sparked a few thoughts: “Is depression actually normal?”  And “if everyone deals with some sort of depression in their life then what can we do about it?”

I have come to realize depression is something all of us deal with at one point in our lives.  It should not be taboo or anything.  It should be addressed and talked about openly as part of the entrepreneurial education process.  As founders, we encounter depression usually from external events such as failure of a business or a negative outcome of something in which we had hoped for when we first started out.


I am starting to realize being a great entrepreneur starts by perfecting how to handle the shit in your life.  Because it hits the fan waaaaay more times than you plan.  I have also come to understand the successful ones figure out how to identify the piles in the road ahead of time, and navigate accordingly before they hit something fatal.

Athletes strength train and stretch in prevention of injuries.  Why are we not doing this in the startup community?  Why are we not helping people to prevent what inevitably happens to those of us who strive for more?

The point here is to understand its not IF it will happen, its WHEN it will happen to you.  And then go into your entrepreneurial journey armed with the idea that you will at times feel very down about yourself and your company.  This is reality and this is serious.  If a founder doesn’t take it as such they are potentially setting themselves up for disaster.

Like I did.

In a recent conversation with my father we touched on this.  I noted that only when I realized I had dug myself into such a deep hole emotionally could I fully grasp where I was and what I had to do to get out of it.

I realized even though I was not in control of external events I was in control of my thoughts, feelings and internal dialog. And I was the only one who could bring myself out of the funk in which I had brought myself into.  I had to consciously think and make decisions that would place me in a neutral or positive place.

No more negative self talk.  No more whoa is me. No more pity parties and thinking I had let myself, my family and my community down.  I had to stop fighting myself, put my ego aside and choose a different path.  One that – although it has a few more twists, turns, roundabouts and curves to it – is leading me into an even better position than when I was CEO of my own little startup.

The fact is, if you are a high performer and things don’t turn out exactly the way you planned you will naturally tend to go into a dark place.  Those sort of feelings will not help you move forward in any way whatsoever, so please think now about how you will respond once you sense yourself going down.

Bitcoin and the False Dichotomy

This post originally appeared on Geekwire.

You might have asked someone recently, what the heck is going on with Bitcoin? Or maybe you are still wondering what Bitcoin is, or even questioning its relevancy?

A lot has changed in the last year in the cryptoworld — most notably Bitcoin’s price. It’s a good time to dissect a few points about Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market, things I couldn’t help but notice during my first year in the industry.

The biggest point is the false dichotomy in the general perception of Bitcoin. I’d like to unpeel this and provide a deeper evaluation of the industry, because people who commit the mistake of false dichotomy do themselves a disservice by not taking a full view of what’s going on.

First, a definition to help us here:

A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy that presents two opposing views, options or outcomes in such a way that they seem to be the only possibilities: that is, if one is true, the other must be false, or, more typically, if you do not accept one then the other must be accepted.

As one of the few people here in Seattle who frequently (attempts) to explain Bitcoin to non-technical people, and being the one who handles customer interactions for Coinme, I have noticed a problem. The media, tech executives and the general public talk about Bitcoin mostly by committing to a false dichotomy. Quite amusingly, I find people either preach the positives of Bitcoin or they dismiss it, like Gagnam style. One side thinks we’ll live in a libertarian world where Bitcoin will eventually be an anonymized currency to rule us all, and the other believes it’s only for crooks in the shady, dark interwebs. “It’s doomed to fail!” they pronounce enthusiastically.

Well, neither are true.

When I read about a new random Bitcoin startup here, or a larger funding round there, I start to understand how things are changing, and in what direction. The more I talk with highly technical people who mine Bitcoin or build on top of the blockchain, I learn we’re very early in something very special. Even though we aren’t living in Crypto-utopia, there is a subtle rumbling deep within the Internet we should pay attention to.Studying Bitcoin and watching the markets adjust has taught me a very important lesson: nothing ever ends up being 100% of what you think it will be. Innovation cannot be predicted, and the future cannot be known ahead of time. Correctly predicting the future is simply a function of luck. But seeing around corners can be a function of deep listening, observing and learning. So the best action for success is to (safely) get as close to the something as possible, and learn as much about it as you can, so you start to identify where the world is heading. Only then are you equipped with perspectives on where to invest your time, capital and energy.

My time around Bitcoin has shown me that our world will not be changed as much by the cryptocurrency you read about today as by the underlying technology.

Joichi Ito, who has been involved in building many layers and pieces of the Internet — from helping start the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan to investing in Twitter and helping bring it to Japan — recently wrote about the similarities between Bitcoin and the internet:

The similarity is that Bitcoin is a transportation infrastructure that is decentralized, efficient and based on an open protocol. Instead of transferring packets of data over a dynamic network in contrast to the circuits and leased lines that preceded the Internet, Bitcoin’s protocol, the blockchain, allows trust to be established between mutually distrusting parties in an efficient and decentralized way. Although you could argue that the ledger is “centralized”, it’s created through mechanical decentralized consensus.

What Ito is saying is that we could actually be witnessing the early stages of the next phase of the connected world, a time not so dissimilar to what we experienced in the early 1990s.

An often quoted example of a false dichotomy was when the Internet first gained media attention in the early to mid-nineties. Back then, many people thought it was a fad, hard to understand and a waste of time and money.  They simply couldn’t get their head around the fact that there were more than just two possibilities: A (success) or Z (failure).

And therein lies the fallacy of the false dichotomy around Bitcoin.

What we witnessed with the Internet was the invention of the web and the browser, which commercialized the internet and brought with it every major corporation in the world. By ending up somewhere between A and Z, the world changed forever.

It’s clear to me and many others in the industry we are still in the “pre-browser” era of Bitcoin and blockchain technology.  It’s there, but you really don’t know how to interact with it. What happens when we reach the “Netscape” moment of Bitcoin?

Could Bitcoin — the currency — pop and crash?

Yes, it could.

But seeing investment dollars in the cryptocurrency/bitcoin market grow each quarter, one has to believe that if Bitcoin the currency pops, then something else will emerge even better and more suited for the general public.

What will that be?

I could take a guess but in reality I don’t have a clue. Yet committing the false dichotomy sin here is a grave mistake. An important point to understand is that Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, is just one app that runs on the blockchain technology. People well-versed in bitcoin are familiar with the blockchain, the underlying open-source technology (or rails) that bitcoin the currency runs on. Looking deeper, theblockchain stack presents interesting solutions to problems which have hindered our society for quite some time — outside of finance. Issues such as trust, security and identity can be improved with applications built on the blockchain.

In fact, here are a few other areas where the blockchain serves as underlying technology.

  • OpenBazzar: An open peer-to-peer marketplace not controlled by any specific organization such as eBay or Craigslist. Ideas like this, using a decentralized platform to exchange goods and services, could change e-commerce as we know it.
  • Factom: A conceptual framework for a system that secures and proves the authenticity of records, documents or other important types of data that are later enshrined on the Bitcoin blockchain. This could transform how we handle record-keeping online.
  • Counterparty: An example of digitizing property and identity. Developers are starting to build networks that work in parallel to the Bitcoin blockchain to perform tasks that the bitcoin network can’t, but that make use of the bitcoin blockchain to, for instance, timestamp or validate work.

The reality is that no one really knows what will happen next — that is why it’s called innovation.  But something is going to happen in this area to improve our lives and I hope you don’t get caught up in thinking only A or Z is possible.

Most likely somewhere in between A and Z we’ll see Bitcoin technologies enhance our digital lives. There’s more down there than you think.


What’s Your Story?

Have you ever thought about this question?

“What’s my story?”

I attended an event last night where the speaker talked about startups and creating a story around them as you build.  He then had a slide that simply said “what’s your story?” meaning what’s the company’s story you will be telling others, such as future employees, investors, and customers.   His whole point was a major differentiator between your company and all the others is the story behind it.  I liked where he was going with it but I think it can be taken to a much deeper level.


What’s your story?

Do you know the meaning of the life you are living right now?

Why are you doing what you are doing?

Does company you are starting or the job your are current in have a strong story and purpose behind it?

Why does the company exist?

Does it connect with people on an emotional level and add value to their life?

Are you doing something just to make money or are you also creating value in the world?

Yes, these are deeper and more serious thoughts than revenue models and exit strategies but they need to considered or one day you’ll wake up wondering what the hell you have been doing for the last decade or two.

I don’t know about you but I don’t ever want to have that feeling.  I’m not perfect and nowhere near where I want to be in this department but I am glad I am reflecting on thoughts like these.  They are definitely influencing my next moves.  I hope they help you as well.

If you need some help in this area, listen to Scott Harrison tell his story about Charity: Water.

When Losing is Winning

I recently sat down with serial entrepreneur Jordan Weisman for a Founders RAW conversation and walked away a changed founder.  As we cracked our beers and adjusted our mics – we hadn’t even yet turned on the cameras – I asked him to give me a brief overview of his entrepreneurial journey.  Here’s a rough summary of what followed:

So I started out trying solve problem X…. that didn’t work.  So we tried something else…

Next, we founded a game company.  That was bought by company Y.   Boy was that crazy..

After that, I started a few more, one was sold to Disney.  Another I sold to….and  so on and  so on.

In total, Jordan has founded 14 companies over the course of his entrepreneurial life.  Many failed.  Some very much succeeded and you could sense he was very content with his journey.

I really wish we had captured those few precious minutes on camera!  I wish you could have heard it – and seen my face – during the conversation because my jaw was dropping lower and lower each time he said the words “…and then I started” and followed them up with “and that was sold to...”

It was during that specific moment I was struck by something very powerful, I realized I was grasping a strong lesson right then and there.  Of course you are going to feel like a failure if you start one company and it doesn’t work out.  But the truth of entrepreneurship is it’s a numbers game.  Or said differently, if you take just one crack at it most likely you are going to fall flat on your face.  But by simply getting back up and trying again you greatly increase your odds of succeeding.

At risk of sounding naive, pollyanna and cheerleaderish, I want to bring up a really important point.  The irony is the most successful people in our world have failed more than many of us, sometimes more than many of us – combined.  We all have seen the old Nike commercial where Jordan describes how many times he failed, yet he still is arguably the most successful athlete we’ve ever seen.  He says: “I have failed over and over and over in my life, and that is why I succeed.”  

Look at any billionaire founder (outside of Mark Zuckerberg) and you will see someone who did not make it on their first try at business.  Or second try.  It might have even taken them 3, 4, or 5 starts before the big one hit.

This is not a “let’s all grab hands, sing kumbaya and make each other feel better for failing” type of post.  This is about absolute truths of the world, and ones which are hard to truly understand when you find yourself in challenging moments.

The lesson here is all of us founders must understand the first few times are the most challenging.  If you didn’t achieve what you set out to achieve in your current startup, statistics tell you to try again.

Does a gambler in Vegas take just one shot at the craps table?

Was your your first job the best and highest paying you have ever had?

I am guessing no.  So don’t think your first startup is going to be your best.

During another recent FR conversation, Matt Schobe told me it took starting 2 other companies before starting Feedburner, which in the end sold to Google for $100 million.   Would you grind away at two tough startups before a third one gets acquired for nine figures?

I sure hope so.

And a subtle but important footnote in that story is Dick Costolo.  He was part of all of those attempts – there during the tough times and challenging days – which in the end led him to Google, and then on to Twitter where he is now CEO.

Oh and he recently took Twitter public, minting him many more millions in the process.  I am wondering if he would be there today if he quit after the 2nd failed startup?

Here’s Jordan’s advice to first time founders.

The Keys To (Revelevant) Local Commerce Are Now Within Reach

So since we all now know daily deals aren’t the holy grail of local commerce, it begs the question “WHAT IS the holy grail of local commerce?”

I’ll throw in my hat and suggest a real-time product and service discovery platform within your local community would be a strong contender.  Imagine if the right information hit your mobile device just at the right time, suggesting (or urging) you to make a purchase or buy a product from a favorite merchant of yours, who happens to be right in front of you at the moment.

keysIt’ll happen.  And OfferSavvy is already treading in these waters.

I spoke with Justin Boggs, one of the OfferSavvy founders about the future of commerce, where he sees it going and how they are looking to roll out their product discovery platform.

A few years ago Boggs started to think about how Groupon, LivingSoclal and other daily deal sites were taking huge cuts from each deal sold but not adding much value to local commerce.  He thought “how do we track offline transactions, and do it better and in a more healthy way for the local economy?”

After going through Bizdom, an accelerator in Cleveland where they got advice and connections, they are now headquartered in Long Beach, CA and rolling out their first version of the product as we speak – a personalized product discovery platform with CashBack incentives on any purchases through the system.

Ideally, they aim to build out this commerce platform and offer it to brick and mortar companies to establish a full blown local product recommendation system, akin to what Amazon does on their properties.

The goal is to create something meaningful for business owners and local consumers, with cash back incentives for both if they opt for social sharing.

I sure hope they succeed, I cannot wait to get relevant deals and offers from a system that actually knows who I am, knows my interests, knows my favorite local merchants and understands my purchase history.

You can read the entire back and forth conversation below.

What is OfferSavvy?

OfferSavvy is a social commerce marketplace where people come to discover, share, collect and buy their favorite products. We incentivize social activity and reward users with CashBack Offers on Products and Social Bonuses when their social activity leads to sales. Users can elect to have their earnings deposited into their bank account or they can donate those funds to charity AND OfferSavvy will match that donation.

We believe we have figured out how to truly create social engagement around the shopping experience in a meaningful way. Most importantly, our goals are to present each user with a personalized experience and a wall of relevant offers. So with our advanced recommender technology, artificial intelligence machine learning software, graph database, and natural language processing capabilities, we can acutely monitor a users interaction with our website and people on the site, and then begin to customize the experience for each user. Thus we help people shop for fun and with purpose.

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What’s the vision?  And what problem is OfferSavvy solving?

OfferSavvy is shopping evolved. People love to window shop, score great deals, and tell their friends all about it. OfferSavvy delivers that experience in one place, and we help people earn some extra cash based on their social connectivity. Moreover, the best form of advertising is word of mouth. Big brands and marketers know this. You probably realize this too, as your friend’s opinions are more important to you than some paid advertisement.

So, we encourage our users to be social and share offers that they discover through OfferSavvy. And each track every link that is shared. Therefore, when any social activity leads to new signups and sales through OfferSavvy, we give a little Social Bonus to the user for being the catalyst to that activity. Every user now has the power to earn dollars just for being social. Plus for the millions of American’s that need their dollars to stretch just a bit further, every product on our platform has a CashBack offer attached to it, so you can find the products that you really want- and earn CashBack in the process.

Our longterm vision for OfferSavvy is to build out the commerce rails to allow any business to actively engage with us and make Offers through our platform. This will give our users a unified experience, and allow them to stay on our website rather than be redirected third party websites to buy products. In addition, we have already written card linked offer software, as a means to close the loop for offline redemption in store. So, when I am able to build out this vision, OfferSavvy will be a grand catalog of CashBack Offers, both online and offline, to your favorite brands and merchants. We will be able to serve up real time, geo-located, personalized, mobile and cardlinked offers for our users. This way we can help people earn rewards off of every transaction they make each month. If you think about all the money you spend each month, how meaningful would it be in your life to get 5-15% of that back… we can truly impact lives here, while building cool technology.

How do users discover and use OfferSavvy?

We just went live last week, so we have started contact all of our friends, family, and connections directly. So people are coming to the site mostly through a direct link to the site. In addition, the website is built on the premise of social shopping, which means that each of us spends time using the product, creating collections, and sharing products with friends through social media. This has lead to promising traffic from Pinterest and Facebook, and a couple of visits from Tumblr and Stumbleupon.  As time goes on, traffic in large part will be through natural search for products, and given are large catalog, we can compete for page rank.

What’s the story behind OfferSavvy?  Any lessons to share?

The initial thoughts and ideas were came to me a few years ago, since that time I have continue to iterate and cultivate what is now OfferSavvy. Officially, the company was started June 2012, when we got some initial seed funding.

Some things I’ve learned from building startups is that nothing happens unless you do it, and you can truly never expect anybody else to be invested in your ideas the way you are. So you really need to be passionate about what you are doing, and love working, because for the first several years, work life balances shouldn’t exist- if you want to build something truly impactful.

Another interesting thought is just how startups are a lot about “hurry up and wait”. You have this grand vision for what this thing could be, and you want it tomorrow, but come to find out that it is going to take quite some time to build such a thing.

Also, as the founder, remember that you don’t have to be the best at everything, instead try to be the maestro, and get the right and best people for each role of the orchestra.. the genius is witnessing the music as your group plays in concert, in harmony.

What is the company’s current status? (funding, beta, users)

We have raised a little over $300k in seed funding thus far. We now have a live product open for consumption, and watching intently as users begin to interact with our platform. Ideally we want to use data and user feedback to shape this into the product that people truly want to use. And we can take the evolution in development and modifications in stride as we have structured release cycles in agile development. This allows us to be nimble, and redirect development efforts quickly as users begin to tell us, and show us the right way to go. We are also looking to raise additional funding that would give us a 9-12 month run rate, so we can focus on user acquisition and engagement on the website.

What’s next?

We have some fun hacks under way as we speak that is truly ground breaking. In the next few weeks you can expect to see the release of some social products that are completely unique to OfferSavvy. One such hack will allow users to not only make comments on products or collections, but respond with hashtags.  You might say, “Hashtags” aren’t new? To which I reply, ‘what if’ every hashtag pulled the top user generated tweets & Instagram Pics in real time into the thread?  People would not only be discovering new and interesting products, but they would find additional rich social content surrounding that product.

So with a hashtag system in place you could not only read what people think or how they feel about the products, you can see the latest tweets about the product from all over the web attached to that hashtag, and you could see the most recent Instagram Pictures that people snapped with that product or brand with that hashtag. Check out our “Featured” section today to see this in action in a slightly different way, but it will give you a good idea of the direction we want to go socially.

Founders RAW: Startups Are A Lot Like Surfing

This post was originally posted on GeekWire.

Seaton Gras started a tech incubator because he wanted to help entrepreneurs more easily create companies.  He named it SURF Incubator — an acronym for Start Up Really Fast.

But If you prod a bit more and ask him about the name, he might just dive into an analogy of how startups and surfing are quite similar. SURF is a great name since founders are constantly working against resistance to get a business up and running, he says.

Bromium founder Simon Crosby brought up that same analogy during one of my recent Founders RAW conversations.

He says:

“So you’re in the waves… and you got a board.  And your board is your ‘idea’.  And one thing you quickly realize is you cannot control when the waves come.. you have no ability.  When the wave comes, you gotta get on the board and you gotta surf… and there’s reefs and other dangerous things under you.  So you cannot control time, you’re in a very precarious situation at all times… and it goes up and down a lot, sometimes several times a day.”

New startups are being created at a fever pitch — and we’re coming off Seattle Startup Week where we crawled, sang, danced, learned, lived and breathed startups. But it’s important to remember: Not everyone surfs.

And they don’t for very good reasons.

It’s dangerous.  It takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes learning the ins and outs of the environment  so you can start predicting what’s going to happen next.  It’s not as glamorous as most make it out to be, sometimes it’s cold, it’s always wet and a mouthful of salt water doesn’t usually sit too well.

See the similarities?

Let’s not forget it takes lots of hard work and dedication to build great and lasting companies.  Here’s to hoping you paid attention this last week, made some great contacts and discovered your next steps to take. I know I did.

Now, it is time to act on those next steps.  Make a promise that your excitement and energy of wanting to be a part of the startup movement doesn’t get washed away just like the “NICK WAS HERE” signature I place in the sand of every beach I visit.

Below is the short clip of the surfing analogy from my conversation with Simon.  You can catch more of Founders RAW here.


Who Inspires Me?

You might wonder who inspires me as an entrepreneur and a writer.

There are many, but one person is Mark Suster.  He is a previous two time entrepreneur – sold his last company to Salesforce – and is now an investor and has been with with Upfront Ventures for about 6 or 7 years.

He’s great because he views startups from both the investor AND the founder perspectives, hence he writes at Both Sides Of The Table.   His straightforward tone and no BS attitude is something I have taken to my own words.  Like him I feel truth, honesty and controversial topics should be embraced by an influencer.  Ya’ll deserve it.

To get an idea of who Mark is, here’s a recent interview with Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily.

If you are an entrepreneur I suggest sitting back and taking some notes.  It’s long, but chock full of gems.