Founders RAW: Rahul Sood – How to Build A Luxury Brand

I recently sat down for a Founders RAW conversation with Rahul Sood to talk about entpreneurship and various aspects of startup life. Rahul is cofounder and CEO of Unikrn, a Mark Cuban backed startup in the massively growing esports industry. Below is a short clip on how to build a luxury brand.

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THE NEWS POISONS YOUR BRAIN, SO STOP WATCHING!!

I am in the middle of a massive mental overhaul and it feels great.

Not that I really felt I needed it or was in danger going off the cliff, but I understand continual refinement is one of the secrets to life so recently I pushed into hitting a greater mental/emotional/professional learning curve.  With that I will say I think it’s time we start taking back our minds and not walking around the world like brainless mummies.

You are in charge of what goes into your mind and what you think about. It starts with what you choose to pay attention to and let into your conscious – subconscious even. If the brainless mummy comment was a bit harsh… well that is exactly what the media thinks of you.

I am talking about the news (industry in general) and how much of a bullshit clickbait crockshow it has become. Just look at a quick screenshot of cnn.com today.

Screenshot 2015-11-17 at 2.03.07 PM

It’s as if CNN just reported on the end of the world.

Evacuated.

Terror.

Explosions.

Scared.

Clicks.

Dollars.

Cha-Ching!

That’s what’s going on and I am done with it. So should you.

News and media outlets have long left you in the dust and pretty much focus only on what will bring the most revenue in the bank. They show shock, terror and scare over anything else. It’s all about money and you are being poisoned in the process.

No wonder there are so many shootings and terrorist attacks around the world now. If media stopped reporting it maybe they would stop bombing buildings and killing innocent people since their names wouldn’t be plastered everywhere.

Maybe confused teenage kids who want their 15 minutes of fame on TV and social media would choose another path other than to walk into school and start shooting. But how did they get that idea in the first place??

Oh wait… right.

It’s a challenging topic especially now due to weekly terrorist threats and the latest Paris bombings leading to an unfortunate death toll numbered in the hundreds. My heart goes out to any affected. But it pains me to see this happening and only frustrates me when I see and hear about it.

It actually makes me mad. To the point where I might act on that anger. And that’s why I don’t do it anymore and for the sake of society I hope others do the same.

For an even worse stroll down scaryville-our-society-is-going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket lane just turn on your local news. Murders. Rapes. Kidnappings. Robberies. Fires. OMG. We have a responsibility to take control of our thoughts and emotions, and never-ending scare tactics meant to keep us glued to the TV or computer screen do not help us achieve peace of mind.

You know what does achieve peace of mind?

Reading positive things.

Meditating each day on the good you will do in the world.

Spending quality time with loved ones and friends.

Putting the newspaper down, shutting the TV off, clicking off the website and then going out to do good in the world.

Go to work and do your part to move the world forward, no matter how big or small your impact may be. Don’t worry about missing out on events in the world – the important stuff happening around the world and in your own city will find you. Until it does, protect your own mind and spirit with all you have since that is all you have.

This I know for sure: Making your own world as positive and generous as possible starts with shutting out the negative messages of the media, which starts in your mind and that is 100% under your control.

 

Leading A Few Panels During Seattle Startup Week

This coming week is Seattle Startup Week, a free five-day event highlighting the amazing startup culture of the Puget Sound. It looks like there will be more than 100 events happening over the next week and should be very fun, entertaining and educational.

In fact, I will be participating in 2 of them as I will be leading panel discussions both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Below are quick descriptions of each event. If you are free either one of those nights you should come check them out. Here’s the entire schedule.

Pick The Brains of Local Angel Investors and VC’s 

(Tues Oct. 27th at 6pm)

Learn from local Angel investors and VCs in Seattle  about what they look for in a company when they invest.We will be inviting local Angel investors and Venture Capitalists to get insights on the process they use when investing in startups.

Moderators

Nick Hughes

Director of Business Development, Knotis
Nick is an entrepreneur with achievements in e-commerce, digital payments and technology start-ups. He excels at interpersonal communication and leadership, business strategy and product management. | | Currently Director of Business Development for local e-commerce focused Knotis, Nick previously founded the mobile payment startup Seconds as well as recently forming Coinme, a new company built around expanding bitcoin and digital… Read More →


Speakers


Josh Maher

Angel Investor
Josh Maher is the author of Startup Wealth: How the Best Angel Investors Make Money in Startups (http://amzn.to/1NUAoz4). Startup Wealth delivers engaging interviews with early-stage investors in Google, Invisalign, ZipCar, Uber, Twilio, Localytics, and other successful and not so successful companies.  | He’s a passionate supporter of the Seattle startup community, President of Seattle Angel, a non-profit focused on education at the…Read More →


Yi-Jian Ngo

Managing Director, Alliance of Angels
Yi-Jian Ngo, Managing Director, leads the Alliance of Angels. A network engineer by training, Yi-Jian stumbled into the startup world when AT&T rebooted its corporate venture fund and recruited him as a founding team member. Working closely with entrepreneurs and helping them build their companies turned out to be such a blast that he continued that work at Microsoft. Most recently, he was a venture capitalist at Sierra Ventures, where… Read More →


Tim Porter

Managing Director, Madrona Venture Group
Tim is focused on investing in B2B software companies in the Pacific Northwest. He currently is particularly interested in the areas of SaaS applied to both horizontal and vertical applications, cloud infrastructure and automation, data analytics, security, and enterprise mobile. He is a board member or board observer of numerous Madrona portfolio companies. In addition to his work at Madrona, Tim is a member of the three-person Investment… Read More →

Gary Rubens

CEO, Start it Labs
Founded ATGStores.com in 1999 – sold to Lowe’s Home Improvment 2012, Founded Architectural Details, inc in 1990- sold to private buyer in 2007, expertise in ecommerce, online advertising and business growth.He invests in more than 50 companies.
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Raise Capital Like A Superstar

(Wed Oct. 28th at 6:30pm)
Learn from some of the most successful startup capital raisers that received nearly and more than 10M$ in funding. Local CEOs and CFOs and startup founders will share their experiences and advice and learn how to raise capital like a superstar!

Moderators

Nick Hughes

Director of Business Development, Knotis
Nick is an entrepreneur with achievements in e-commerce, digital payments and technology start-ups. He excels at interpersonal communication and leadership, business strategy and product management. | | Currently Director of Business Development for local e-commerce focused Knotis, Nick previously founded the mobile payment startup Seconds as well as recently forming Coinme, a new company built around expanding bitcoin and digital… Read More →


Speakers

Aviel Ginzburg

Co-Founder, Simply Measured

James Gwertzman

CEO, PlayFab, Inc.
James Gwertzman is the CEO and Co-Founder of PlayFab, a Seattle-based company that helps game developers future proof their games with an industry leading live game operations platform. James has over 15 years of experience as a senior executive in the games industry. He believes strongly in the power of alignment, empowerment, and transparency to build truly great business. Prior to PlayFab, James founded and then led the Asia operations for… Read More →

Michael Schutzler

CEO, Washington Technology Industry Association
Michael Schutzler is a successful chief executive with over 30 years experience in  | rapid growth, start-up, and turn-around ventures. As a successful Internet  | entrepreneur, angel investor, and CEO advisor, he has helped raise over $50 Million  | in financing for more than a dozen companies and has served as a coach and mentor  | to more than 50 founders. | Michael spent the first part of his career in the telecom… Read More →

Bubbles And Golden Ages… Continued

The following post is an adaptation from the original one I posted on this topic in May of 2011.

I once watched an interview where Fred Wilson offhandedly noted reading a book which transformed the way he looked at markets and the web in general.  I instantly went to Amazon and ordered it and spent the next week reading it front to back.  Whew… it changed my life as well.  I up and quit my job the next month.  Thanks Fred.

Not a day goes by in 2015 we don’t hear the word bubble in some capacity or another. We are on pace for one of the biggest years in Venture Capital deployment since the dot com bubble of 2000. Massive private funding rounds in excess of $1 billion (Uber, et al) coupled with the sickening obsession of Unicorns have created a market with flu like symptoms. Although I cannot predict the future I tend to agree with others who publicly state it feels like we are in for a correction here very soon. If you are a founder of an early stage company, it would do justice to understand the cycle we are in, where exactly we are in it, and what you should do in your specific situation.

Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital by Carlota Perez is one of the greatest overviews of the incredible economic phenomenon known as the bubble.   What we are currently going though – recessions and expansions, bubbles and bursts, highs and lows, whatever you want to call them – they are inevitable.  In fact, the history of the entire world economy is one big cycle which repeats itself over a period of about 60 years.  I cannot do this entire book justice, just take my word for it, go buy it and read it yourself.  You will publicly thank me later just as I just thanked Fred now.  But I will introduce the general phases a new technology (paradigm) encounters so the “layman” technologist, marketer, social media guru or business person can start to see a clearer economic picture.

I hope I am not being too being blunt, but without grasping this concept you are swimming with your cap over your eyes.  You need to understand what is actually going on in this crazy economic world we live in.

Irruption

As a new technology is developed and deployed into our society, it will enter a cycle of adoption.  Interestingly, Perez notes new technologies are created during the maturity phase of the last great technology expansion.  So although we are starting with the irruption phase, let us take for granted the specific technology has already been created and diffused through very early adopter communities.  During the irruption phase, we see a slowing or declining of the old industries and an early adoption of a new technology.  Carlota notes:

The very intense activity of the new paradigm carriers contrast more and more with the decline of the old industries.  A techno-economic split takes place from then on, threatening the survival of the obsolete and creating conditions that will force modernization.

Old print media anyone?  Taxing industry vs Uber and other on-demand ride services? This irruption phase is started with a big bang (invention and initial diffusion) and will propagate within a small community of early adopters.  Note the image above, depicting very low diffusion, even to a point the general masses dismissing the technology altogether.  Amazingly it is contained within this tight group of people and industries for some period of time.  That is until a tipping point is hit. Today, most people who have taken an Uber or Lyft ride – if given a choice – will only take uber from here on out.

Frenzy

Frenzy is a period of massive growth for a new technology.  It is a time of new market creation as well as for rejuvenating old industries.  Once a critical mass of consumers have been hit, the diffusion of the paradigm takes center stage.  Individualism rules the land, as does speculation, wealth creation and ultimately resulting in over-investment flooding the market.   

Frenzy is the later phase of the installation period.  It is a time of new millionaires at one end and growing exclusion at the other, as in the 1880’s to 1890’s, the 1920’s and the 1990’s.   In this phase, financial capital takes over; its immediate interests overule the operation of the whole system.

Notice the part about the growing polarization between the rich and the poor.  Sound familiar? Capital investments soar during this time, creating a false sense of wealth creation.  This craze attracts more and more individuals wanting to get a piece of the action; so late frenzy is financial bubble time.

Turning point

At some point, the bubble has to burst.   Things that go up must come back down.  Interestingly, the turning point is neither an event or a phase, rather it is a process of contextual change. 

The turning point has to do with the balance between individual and social interests within capitalism.  It is the swing of the pendulum from the extreme individualism of Frenzy to giving greater attention to collective well being, usually through the regulatory intervention of the state and the active participation of other forms of civil society.

The turning point is a space for social rethinking and reconsidering.  It is, in fact, the time when the mode of growth that will shape the next few decades is defined.  I would argue we have been in this phase for a while, maybe starting 5-8 years ago After picking up the pieces of the crash of the early 2000’s we are now starting to see realignment in almost every industry known to man.  Name an industry that is not currently being touched by the internet and mobile?  Exactly.



Synergy

This is a time for production.  Since the foundations and infrastructures were laid out during the previous phases, conditions are there for dynamic expansion and economies of scale.   The diffusion of the new paradigm now reaches far and wide, is accepted as standard, and now governs supreme.  It is a time for promise, work and hope.  For many, the future looks bright.   

Synergy is the early half of the deployment period.  This phase can be the true ‘golden age’.  It is likely to be the closest the system ever comes to convergence within the economy of the core countries of the system.

Mary Meeker anyone?  She has identified this expansion phase quite eloquently, particularly in the mobile space.  I would argue we are still at the turning point but on the cusp of this synergy phase.  We should expect to observe massive expansion and economies of scale in almost every industry imaginable for the next few decades.  New industries and markets will emerge.  Old ones will finally die off.  Will it be all golden?  I am not so sure.  But if history is any indication, we shall see an expansion of scale only experienced once every 60 or 70 years.

It was this exact point in the book which urged me finally jump off the fence and into my entrepreneurial pursuits full time.      

Maturity

Once again, the cycle continues.  Every paradigm has a shelf life and can only survive so long.  As it enters maturity, deep questions are asked about the system and the climate is favorable for politics and ideological confrontation.  Markets are saturating and technologies are maturing.  

Gradually the paradigm is taken to its ultimate consequences until it shows up its limitations... yet all the signs of prosperity are still around.  Those who reaped the full benefits of the ‘golden age’ continue to hold onto their belief in the virtues of the system and to proclaim eternal and unstoppable progress, in a complacent blindness, which could be called the ‘Great Society Syndrome’.

During maturity, the stage is set for the decline of the whole mode of growth and for the next technological revolution.  Since we are entering a synergy phase, I will not spend much time on maturity.  According to Perez, the next maturity phase should not be entered for quite some time and the decline of our current paradigm should not influence ones innovation or investment perspective.  Yet it is always smart to keep an eye on something like this.  Interestingly, it is in this period inventors and innovators are tinkering with what will eventually become the next great paradigm.  This begs the question:  What will supplant the internet?  I would suggest not worrying much about the answer to that question and take advantage of the current conditions.  According to Perez, it should be quite good for years to come.

The lesson I see here is to know that we are in a smaller bubble within a larger economic cycle.  The smaller bubbles grow and pop fairly regularly with the net result of growth throughout the 60-70 year larger cycle.  The key is to make sure you have made the correct decisions to protect yourself and your company from the small bubble gyrations.

How To Approach A Startup When Looking For A Job

A friend recently asked me a good question:

What’s your feel on whether or not to contact a company without a clear position opening. There are a few startups I really dig, but they don’t currently have a job opening that fits my role. Is it worth it to shoot them an email to introduce myself and possibly talk about carving out a role if they like me enough? Or should I not waste my time?

My answer:

Best to naturally network and get to know people in real life like you have done with me, rather than reach out cold knowing they aren’t hiring for your skill set and hoping for the best. They’ll probably just think it’s spam and not respond – that’s what I do.  Most companies/startups hire for personality + skillset, and the only way to find that match is to meet them first and get to know them over time, illustrating your value.  So.. find a way to get to know the founders and employees of the startups you like first, then work the angle of getting a job at their company.

Reaching out to startups in an effort to connect and get to know the company is definitely a great idea.  But cold emailing thinking you will be able to land a job is a longshot at best, and shows you have no savvy way to integrate yourself within their operations.  Especially if they display on their website they are only hiring for certain positions- and you don’t see a good role that fits your skill set. (If they DO show they are hiring exactly for what you are great at, by all means reach out to them!)

The secret to getting hired at a startup is to get to know the people within the company by any means necessary. This effort will provide an opportunity to determine if you are a good culture fit – and you might find out there isn’t a good fit after all.  And just like a lot of things, that happens over time. It’s all about learning as much as you can about the founders, the employees, their product and what type of office environment they have. No startup I know of will keep the best engineer in the world on staff if they are also the biggest asshole in the world.  And vis versa, no person will want to work with a company/founders who have no idea how to treat employees with respect.

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

And that is the root of networking – connecting with people in your industry.  “Networking” has gotten a bad rap and has been misconstrued in today’s fast paced transactional world. It’s not about the one night stand and getting hired as soon as possible.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It happens over time and over repeated positive interactions with various people within the startup, to the point where numerous people are asking “what does that person do and why don’t they work for us?”

So if you want to get hired by great founders in the industry, get out there and make sure they know who you are and why they should want you to join their team.

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.

 

When A Founder Crosses The Line Towards Godlike Hubris

I recently noticed a frightening trend with certain founders in the tech industry.

–> Have a great idea.  Get a few key people to join you and build it.  Launch the product and raise money from investors.  Experience massive success.   Raise more money.  Gain hundreds of millions of users. Raise billions of dollars and fight off regulators.  Have unfiltered access to billions of people’s data.  Exploit it.  Believe you are the second coming of a God.  Act like an uncaring, immoral capitalist.  Care only about your wealth and not what you are doing to everyday citizens.  And so on…

With the recent Uber misteps and observing the resulting outrage which ensued, it has come to my attention that we, as an industry, need to take a long look in the mirror.  Founders need to take full consideration in how they are running their company, the culture they are creating, the data they are generating, and the ultimate consequences of their actions.

I hope Uber realizes they are doing to their users exactly what they were furious (I assume) about the government doing to them as citizens when the Snowden files were revealed last year.

We all need to understand we are standing at an unprecedented time in the history of business and technology.  Everyday Joes now have the opportunity to create an app or platform that one day might just become indispensable to mankind.  With its use, Joe will collect billions upon billions of data points on everyday citizens – like where they are currently, where they are going, who they talk to, what they typed, to whom, what they viewed on their phones, whom they connected with socially, etc..  With all this happening, Joe will find himself directly in the middle of our society, holding a treasure trove of personal data and a devil on his shoulder just waiting for the right time to temp him into exploiting it.

I mean, it’s like big brother!

But surprisingly it ain’t the government doing these things.  Imagine what Facebook knows about you.  Couple that with your Uber or Lyft usage data.  Toss in your twitter clicks, Instagram photos, Gmail history and Google Chrome browser history.

We are doing this to ourselves.  We are the ones creating this new world of massive data collection which is resulting in unprecedented spying, snooping, breaches of security, cloud hacks and the like.

This is your fault.  And mine.  It’s all of our faults.  All in the name of making more money.

I am not here to end the data analysis, in fact I believe in it and when done correctly it makes for a better end user experience.  I also know data collection is only going to get more prevalent with the expansion of categories like the Internet of Things and connected homes.

Yet, I am urging us to start thinking about things using a different filter, or scope of perspective.  Start asking yourself these questions:

Recognizing all possible data about myself and every other person is now being collected, how to I structure my platform to preserve mankind and the humanity inherent within our society?

How do balance personalization of my technology with personal security of my users?

How do I proceed when I know I CAN do something but unsure if I SHOULD do something?

Where’s my “do not cross line?”

How can we best usher in a new era of technology applications where security is inherent within the structure of the product, not an afterthought when plugging holes after launch?

How do I shift my perspective from making the most money possible with my application towards making the world a better, more secure and protected society?

Please start thinking about these questions and more…  It’s time we call a spade a spade – WE are the ones creating the exact surveillance society we were deathly afraid of growing up.  We just thought it would be the Big Bad Government or another foreign country, not ourselves.

Please understand hubris will sink anyone who thinks they are immune to it.  You – as a founder and someone desperately wanting to change the world – can now no doubt do just that.  You and your technology can alter the history of humans here on earth.  Just make sure you know what change you are putting in place.