Daily Archives: December 26, 2013

Let’s build an app that would save lives

Because, frankly, every phone needs a panic button.

Our professor in one of the computer science courses that I’m taking recently asked us to come up with an idea; a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist yet — presumably to give us a start with our research papers for next year.

I came up with an idea so simple, it makes one wonder why there’s no —even just a very basic — implementation of it yet: a smartphone app that when triggered, would discreetly send out a distress message to contacts of your choice, and perhaps do some other functions that can get you out of bad (and maybe even life-threatening) situations.

Image credit: http://www.Jimmyakin.com

The inspiration

I recently read about a kidnapping in Ateneo De Manila University, a school very close to my own, the University of the Philippines. (Read about the incident here.) It got me thinking: the victim had been held captive for a considerably long time, and at the first few hours of her captivity, she had her smartphone with her — an iPhone, if I remember correctly — or at least within reach. Her parents, on the other end of the story, spent hours trying to track her down, and were virtually helpless even with the assistance of the police anti-kidnapping group.

A solution, were proper things in place, was there all along. It was staring at everybody right in the face. Remember the smartphone? If only she had the right app, she might have been saved much earlier (spoiler: the abductors actually released her in the end) and her family would have been saved much of the trouble.

That said, what could we do?

Proposed solution: a smartphone panic button

Image credit: http://www.macrobusiness.com.au

Say you are under duress. Some nasty people are holding a gun to your head inside your car. Or someone is holding a knife to your sides in a train. Or by an ATM. You need something that can be easily activated discreetly, without the agressor noticing, and before he potentially nabs your smartphone away.

Now think: an app that can be a) gesture-activated or b) voice activated, that would send out distress messages to some of your contacts, including your current GPS location (long/lat, nearest computed landmark, etc.), and maybe even quietly upload these data to Facebook or send them to registered respondents. The other features are limitless. A snapshot of the agressor as you hand the phone to him (or her.) A recording of the agressor’s voice. And seriously, plenty more.

Gesture activation would allow you to swipe a simple (but unique) pattern on your phone while it is on your pocket. Voice activation would make it respond to something like Google Glass’ “Ok, Google.” Or maybe integrate a secret keyword to Siri (“Ok, don’t hurt me”?) that would activate the app. There are a lot of possibilities, if time and resources could be put into making such an app.

The Call

We can do this. The idea is simple enough that a working prototype can be released within weeks. And from then on, we can move forward, integrating new features and perhaps, even begin saving more and more lives. I personally don’t have the resources; I’ve never done mobile app programming, but I can learn it. But I know there are plenty of people out there who can build apps way better than I could, and so I ask you to consider this. You don’t even have to credit me for the idea, should you decide to actually make this. Just make this.

Android/iOS developer? Philantrophist willing to shell out to make this project real? With your help, maybe we can just make a difference.

Further Reading

SafetyLINK – Safety Link , Protect Your Loved Ones

 — SafetyLINK, a personal security device which protects children , Safety Link , women and senior citizens when in danger. SafetyLINK uses …

Written by

Computer scientist in the making and coffee aficionado from the pearl of the orient seas. @KixPanganiban on Twitter.

View story at Medium.com


Aligning your team through design principles

How to spend less time discussing design and more time doing it.


It’s easy for design discussions to devolve into three hour tangents of everyone needing their opinion to be heard. But as designers, we know that iteration and critique are crucial to the design process. Luckily, many disagreements that seem like they are fundamental to your design are actually based on differences in prioritization or understanding of larger goals, not the drama-prone situation of one person being wrong and another right.

If a team member insists a button be big and blue, but you believe it should be subtle, chances are you’re focusing on different problems. This isn’t an argument about taste, it’s a disagreement on what the feature is for.

In cases like this, developing design principles can help your team make decisions more consistently and quickly, without drama and with full buy-in. We recently developed a set of principles at Asana, and I’d love to share our process.

A few years ago, when I started designing at Asana, I knew what our larger goals of the product were, but the exact details of how we were going to accomplish them were pretty unclear. This is how it should be —building a new product means a lot of iteration, trying new ideas, and moving quickly.

But recently, as the product has grown in functionality and our vision matured, intentionality in our design has felt just as important as speed of implementation. We want to be more aware of the impact of each little product change, and need a framework to balance the inevitable myopia that comes from focusing on features.

In other words, when you move fast and don’t consider every step, it’s really easy to lose sight of your larger vision. You tend to think what you’re working on is the most important thing ever for your product, because why would you be spending your precious time on it if it wasn’t? But this narrow focus can be dangerous, as you lose sight of the bigger picture.

As a company focused on teamwork, it’s probably no surprise that we wanted to be more productive in our design discussions. And since we care so much about our product vision, it seemed like the right time for us to develop a set of principles to guide us.

What are design principles, anyway?

We did a bit of research and found that principles can vary widely. They can be broad and inspiring, specific and guiding, or seemingly simple and obvious — but each reflected the culture of the teams that were using them.

With that in mind, we wanted to make sure that if we were going to spend the time to write them, they needed to be useful. They needed to be a way for us to express our culture and allow us to consistently and meaningfully represent ourselves through our product.

Design Principles should help the product team remain focused on a consistent vision of what makes our product experience unique. They should be specific enough to differentiate us from other products, reflect our values, and help us make decisions; but be broad enough to apply universally to our product.

The process

Writing principles that are both useful and broad meant that we needed to take a two-pronged approach — exploring both the nitty-gritty details of when we could have used guidance, and the high-level goals of what we wanted our product to be.

In service of being useful, we started by recording real instances where we could use direction in our decision-making. This list included questions around the importance of direct editability, the appropriate times for innovation, and how focused on power-users we should be.

These were the sticking points we kept coming across in our disagreements, places we weren’t consistently choosing the best balance point.

At the same time, the team got together to discuss the product goals we often referenced but never formalized. From the beginning, we believed that our product needed to be frictionless, empowering, transparent, and simple. But were we succeeding at this? Did we still believe in these goals? What did we actually mean by these words? The outcome here was mostly ensuring that these goals were better understood, but they were still too broad to be useful as principles.

Now that we had a list of real-life instances where we could have used principles, and a better outline of our product goals, our next step was to reconcile them. Each team member to chose a few of the points in our list that were the most contentious and suggested a balance point, with examples. These acted as catalysts for finding patterns (and anti-patterns), and identifying specifically how we were doing in relation to the product goals we identified earlier.

We asked ourselves questions like:

What is the right way to notify people of messages without sidetracking them from the work they’re trying to get done?

Was direct-editability the most appropriate way of creating a frictionless UI?

What role should our UI play in team-connectedness in relation to helping people feel empowered and be productive?

The next step is a bit fuzzy. I spent several days looking at those other principles again (plus a few more), this time looking for inspiration and thinking about what differentiates us. With a focus on being useful and expressive, I looked for ideas for how to frame our viewpoints concisely, while remaining grounded in the reality of the list we had collected earlier.

design e tradizione

design e tradizione (Photo credit: mbeo)

With all that in mind, I began organizing the small issues under the larger goals and found patterns. I looked for ways to have principles balance against each other, since each principle on it’s own doesn’t define the experience we want to create. And above all, I wanted to inspire us to be true to our vision, and give us a defined space within which would could explore because we better understood our direction.

The Principles

Allow users to focus on their work without interference.

A user’s focus should be in their control, only distract users with changes that are personally relevant.

Increase confidence through clarity.

Within the application, and more broadly within teams, it is unambiguous what is happening and why.

Foster productive and emotionally satisfying interpersonal dynamics.

Users feel like they are part of a team, where they can count on each other to do their part, and feel like they’re moving forward towards a common goal.

Design for fast, effortless, and intentional interactions.

Simple and common tasks should be frictionless and obvious; complex tasks should feel efficient and delightful. But, speed should not lead to inaccuracies.

Empower everyone through progressive discoverability.

Everyone at all levels of experience with Asana should feel like they know how to use the product, regardless of how many features they use.

Be consistent and standard, and innovate when it’s worth it.

Users should feel like Asana is familiar, yet modern.

Mindfulness is one of the most important aspects of our company culture, and it was time for us to bring that more fully into our design process. We’re looking for ways to ensure we remember to use them, including creating artifacts like posters and stickers, and appointing an owner for each principle to ensure it is considered.

I am really looking forward to internalizing these principles, and can’t wait for everyone to experience the next generation Asana as we push forward into the future.



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Always Challenge Your Never

because there is joy and freedom in knowing your true potential

Whenever you say “never”, and it’s probably more than you think, pay attention to your never statement.

Never discounts possibility, change, growth and ultimate happiness. Even when you say, “never say never”, that usually amounts to “not in this lifetime”. Never is a defense mechanism, a suit of armor and a dream crusher. Never robs us of better health, work, love and happiness. Never keeps us comfortable and complacent.

There are occasional never statements that are sound and logical, especially when they protect you from destructive behavior. Aside from that, most never statements are simply self-limiting beliefs.

What’s Your Never?

I could never be debt free.

I could never quit my job.

I will never give up meat/sugar/bread/insert favorite food.

I could never start my own business.

I will never leave this town.

I could never give up ___________________.

I will never try ______________________.

I will never change ________________ .

If self-imposed nevers aren’t bad enough, we also assume nevers for everyone around us. They will never support my decision. He will never change. She will never say yes. They will never think I’m cool/talented/good enough.

Never statements go on and on, but generally fall into 3 categories:

1. What you think you could never do or accomplish.

2. What you think you would never give up or change.

3. What you think others could never do, accomplish, give up or change.

What if never statements are really part of our bucket list? What if nevers are what we want most, but because we don’t want to be hurt, or fail or expose ourselves to disappointment, we keep them in the never file?

Leaving our nevers in neverland is the omission of opportunity.

We deserve to challenge our nevers. We should at the very least experience a taste of our never so we can make a fact-based decision on whether it should be left behind or become an ever to change our lives, and inform our work.

In life and work, it is our responsibility and inherent right to challenge our nevers and discover what we want most, learn how we can contribute better and live magnificent lives.

Challenge nevers. Risk failure. Lean in. Everything will be ok. Better, even.

want more? visit courtneycarver.com.

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Imagine a life with: more savings and less debt, more health and less stress, more time and less stuff, more joy and less obligation.


Plain Vanilla Games, Maker Of Ultra-Hot Trivia App QuizUp, Raises Another $22 Million From Sequoia


Posted 7 hours ago by (@ryanlawler)
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Plain Vanilla Games, the company behind ultra-hot trivia app QuizUp, has raised a $22 million Series B Round of financing. The financing was led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from all existing investors, including Tencent, Greycroft Partners, IDG Ventures, BOLDstart Ventures, CrunchFund (owned by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington), and MESA+.

QuizUp is an iPhone app that pits users against one another in either real-time or asynchronous trivia matchups. Users choose from up to 300 different topics and can challenge friends or strangers to answer a fast, six-question round of trivia questions.

It’s incredibly fun, and has become extremely popular over the last several weeks, with more than 5 million downloads since launch.

This round of financing is the third that Plain Vanilla has raised since the beginning of the year, but it’s by far the biggest, and brings the total amount raised to $27 million. Along with the new cash, the company is adding Sequoia’s Roelof Botha to its board of directors.

The game studio’s last round of financing — the addition of $2 million from Sequoia and e.Ventures — was timed basically right around the time of QuizUp’s launch, which means the company took money before it knew that it had a hit on its hands.

At the time, Plain Vanilla was looking for a little insurance and some money to fund marketing around the launch of the game. What it found instead was that QuizUp spread like wildfire, thanks to impressive word-of-mouth and growth through social channels.

“We didn’t really need the money just before launch, but we thought of it as an insurance thing,” CEO Thor Fridriksson told me in a phone interview. “In retrospect we probably shouldn’t have raised then. The dilution is higher when taking money on a pre-launch valuation versus now.”

Growth Since Launch

The latest investment in Plain Vanilla was made after QuizUp spent several weeks at or near the top of the Apple App Store charts. Released in late November, QuizUp has averaged about a million downloads per week, racking up more than 5 million downloads since launch.

“It’s the dream of any entrepreneur — you work on something for such a long time and then when you release it, it’s a hit,” Fridriksson said. While pure download numbers have been impressive, the company has been even more encouraged by continued interest in the game, even several weeks after launch.

“The funny thing is that we had a really good launch, but we’re used to seeing games that follow a growth curve where they have a big spike in the beginning and then growth slows down after a week or so,” Fridriksson said. Until recently, he noted, QuizUp had been in the top five or top 10 in the app store since launch.

(The app has been bumped down a bit in the rankings over recent days, likely due to new or first-time iPhone owners adding must-have apps like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat.)

But what’s more impressive than its download numbers is the amount of engagement that Plain Vanilla is seeing within the app. Users typically spend an average of 30 minutes a day playing matches, messaging friends, and participating in discussion boards.

Those discussion boards might be one of the app’s best-kept secrets. Each of QuizUp’s nearly 300 topics has one, and altogether, users are posting more than 100,000 comments a day in those discussion forums, according to Fridriksson.

Picking Sequoia

Thanks to QuizUp’s impressive launch, the company has had its pick of investment partners to choose from. But it decided to go back to Sequoia and add partner Roelof Botha to its board.

Botha brings with him a wealth of expertise in social and mobile startups. The former CFO of PayPal has invested in a series of startups with huge, high-profile exits, including YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram. He also sits on the boards of EventBrite, Square, TokBox, Jawbone and, most recently, secret-sharing app Whisper.

But the investment follows a much longer courtship between Plain Vanilla and Sequoia. Botha told me by phone that he met Fridriksson about 18 months ago, and has been following Plain Vanilla’s development of the game mechanics and technology behind QuizUp ever since.

Botha said he wanted to invest even back then, but that it was challenging to make the case for putting money into a company based in Iceland that was pre-launch. It’s worth noting that he did connect Fridriksson with angel and seed investors, and Sequoia put a small amount into Plain Vanilla’s Series A.

But once QuizUp was out it the wild, it seems like making a larger investment was an easy decision. “After launch, [QuizUp] just started taking off like a rocket ship. How many apps have this type of engagement?” he asked.

But he believes there’s an opportunity to make QuizUp much bigger.

What’s Next

As quickly as QuizUp has grown, it’s important to note that the app is still only available on the iPhone, and still targeted just to English-language speakers. As a result, there’s a huge opportunity to expand to new platforms and new geographies.

The next step will likely be a launch on Android, which opens QuizUp to a gigantic new user base. After all, about 70 percent of smartphone users are on Android, according to research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. But Plain Vanilla is also looking to release an iPad app soon that will bring its trivia experience to tablet users.

In addition, there’s an even bigger opportunity for QuizUp to reach more of an international audience. That includes localizing the app to support different languages, but also means adopting more trivia that is of interest to international users.

“Our most popular topics in each country are the ones that are connected to pop culture of that country,” Fridriksson said. “We’re focusing then on sourcing local content for the things that those people are passionate about.”

QuizUp does that by turning to its community of users for questions. While it sourced many of that original 200,000 questions on the app itself before launch, now that it has a huge (and growing) number of passionate users, it’s begun accepting user-submitted content for its trivia questions.

With the help of its new funding, Plain Vanilla is in good shape to get its app in as many hands as possible. “It’s incredibly important for us to scale up and get to other markets and other platforms,” Fridriksson said.

Now it’s just a matter of executing on that plan.



The journey so far.

From college to a full time job.

The college days

The end of the school year was approaching. We were up to amazing projects and everything was coming together in a pretty awesome way. During that school year we managed to make some of the most exciting projects to date. At ESAD, school of arts and design, we took it upon us to challenge ourselves to make great things and to learn more about all the things that were happening then around multimedia, arts and design.

We made incredible interactive and reactive installations. One of the most ingenious we did mixed a big projection mapping on the school aisle floor, precisely aligned with the square tiles. You could play pong, dance to Billy Jean music and, occasionally, catch some candy coming from the ceiling strapped to a small parachute. On the side we had a projection onto a cloud of smoke with some 8-bit tunes and crazy graphics. It was definitely too much for one thing but we wanted to have a positive impact on the school community.

Zoltar 2.0

Another one we did was a digital Zoltar that would print the future of new students in small tickets, heavily inspired by both Little Printer and ‘Big’ movie. We had people asking us to change their tickets because they really believed what they got could actually be their fate.

And these are not just ideas, they did really happen.

All of these projects defied our knowledge, our patience and the student-teacher relationship. It all felt like we were working together to achieve something we were proud of, that people would be pleased to engage with. It was a tremendous amount of fun.

Most of us managed to stay friends and we still like to make a few fun projects on the side under Dead Graphics name (hopefully one day we’ll hire some guys to do our website!).

The first transition

By the end of the final school year, Tiago Pedras, my Web & Interfaces teacher at the time, invited me to join the Little Things project. Obviously, it was a great opportunity and he was basically opening me up a door to eventually be part of the TPWD team. Also, getting out of college with such an invitation in my hands was a precious luxury. I was excited about it and no way I was going to refuse that.

Early 2013 before Jorge became part of the team.

Eventually, we were the team of TPWD. Me and Tiago made a small web design agency and were doing some nice and compelling web design projects.

Move forward a year and a lot of things are different. Our team now includes Jorge, a kick-ass self-taught genius programmer and friend, we have bigger clients, our process has evolved greatly and, fortunately, we have a steady flow of work.

Now, at the end of 2013, the TPWD chapter has come to an end. It’s been a little more than a year and half since I left college, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and evolved. I mean, I can but we’ll leave that for another post.

Launch event of Surreal PT

A new surreal chapter

We started a new chapter this month. We are Surreal and we are aiming higher and bigger. We are moving on from a web design agency to a complete branding, strategy and thinking agency. We are a bigger team, we are international, we have experience, know-how and, man, am I excited for this.

I’m so looking forward to 2014.

We had a launch event of Surreal a few weeks ago and managed to get the Dead Graphics team together (that’s André Fabrício, Rui Caldas, Jorge Marques, Tiago Pedras and me) to put up yet another awesome installation. You can check Rui Caldas Behance portfolio to see more about it.

Get to know Surreal at whysurreal.com.

Written by

Designer born with the web.

Published December 26, 2013
Thanks to: Tiago Pedras


Why Developing Serious Relationships in Your 20s Matters

Are you in your twenties? Are you an entrepreneur? Have you been told by your friends, your advisors, and your professional peers that now is your time to build your own life and not worry about things like settling down and having children — especially if you’re a female entrepreneur?

It makes sense, right? This is the only time in your life when you have no ties, no mortgage, no kids to support. This is the only time you can really do something ambitious, if you’re being practical.

And let’s face it, you’re not ready anyway. You’re busy building your company, figuring out who you are, what you want. You get laid on a regular basis; it’s not like you don’t have a love life. A “love” life.

And everyone around you agrees. Everyone!

Now is the time to live! (By which you mean building the next change-the-world company, of course.) You’ve moved to New York. Or San Francisco. Or Palo Alto. Or Boston. With the express purpose of building something.

This is a noble cause. There is nothing more professionally satisfying as building something. Something you love. Something you can “get behind.”


There was this girl. This guy.

Eh, fuck it. You’re busy. You have more important things to do. Changing the world is a full-time job and if you don’t do it now, when will you?

Here’s the thing: I know you. You’re probably one of the many people I’ve mentored or hired. On multiple occasions, you’ve explained to me (as if I were your batty old aunt, but I’m not taking it personally) that you have no time to get to know anyone because you’re busy doing your work.

This is a complete fallacy. Work and relationships are not incompatible. (Ask Mark Zuckerberg.)

I’ll wager that there is something about big transient cities that distorts everyone’s sense of time. You become convinced that you have time for everything you find challenging, that your ultimate horizon is infinite. This is only the beginning for you.

But you don’t know how much time you have. And even if things go well for you, your time is finite. You can’t figure out your professional life now and your personal life later. (Unless you’re the rare thirteen-year-old entrepreneur, in which case, I might demur.)

And here is why: As with coding and management and matters of finance and marketing, relationships have a learning curve. You learn the basics of “relationshiptiva” (note to copyed: yes, I made up that word): How to deal with sexual etiquette, mundane everyday things, scheduling, and appropriate meetings with close friends, and some equitable plan for who’s supposed to pay for dinner or wash the dishesthis time. These are basics. And if you’re learning them in your thirties, it’s going to be much harder.

Because in a few years, however young you think yourself (how old is thirty, really?), you will be approaching midlife and you won’t be as adaptable as you once were. There are reasons for this, many of which are biological. Your body won’t respond the same way. You’ll have knee problems that didn’t exist when you were running sophomore track. You can’t stay out till 4:00 a.m. anymore, because now the same alcohol intake has somehow resulted in a hangover that’s a multiple of what it once was — and you will never ever have appreciated a nice soft pillow more. And if you think you can fend these things off with diet and exercise, you should probably buy a good solid book on the aging process or find a professional athlete over the age of thirty to talk to. They will speak of massage therapists and bone density and necessary nutritional supplements. You can mitigate these things, but you can’t entirely avoid them.

But that is not the point. The point is that thirty (or thirty-two, or thirty-five) is not the age when you want to be practicing serious relationships for the first time. Because learning how to develop a meaningful, sustainable relationship and keep it healthy takes some extended practice. You have to get beyond the basics — the sexual negotiations and the decisions about whose clothes go where and how to talk about exes. You have to figure out how to fight well, how to negotiate major value conflicts (if you can — some are impossible), and how to deal with the inevitabilities that come your way.

And those inevitabilities are myriad: At some point, you and your partner will go through a period of disillusionment when someone else turns your head or your partner’s. Maybe you have an affair, maybe you don’t. At some point, one of you will have significantly more career success than the other. This will become a point of tension. As will the disparity in income that usually accompanies it. At some point, you will disagree on how to raise your child and you will each wield the child as the ultimate weapon in a battle of wills. (I’m just doing what’s best forour child!) And at some point, one of you will have a major life issue that costs you everything or close (cancer, financial ruin, miscellaneous crisis), and the other person will have to decide to commit to or not.

It’s not a question of whether each of these things will happen; it’s a question of when. And if you do decide to spend a life with someone, you have to decide that you are willing to face all of these things and acknowledge that some of them could happen sooner than you expect.

Relationships are too important to learn how to face those issues at the last minute. You have to go through a few of them to know how to properly conduct one. You have to fail. You have to date a few terrible people. You have to be the asshole yourself sometimes. You have to learn how not to be the asshole. You have to spend tons of time together — so much time that sometimes you feel indistinguishable from each other and you find that both reassuring and disturbing. You have to have a vicious fight and know it’s not ending you and that you’re going to have to work to repair it and that the effort is worthwhile. These things take time.

I’m not suggesting, mind you, that you settle down in your twenties. I don’t envision you in a ranch home in the suburbs at twenty-six, feeding your toddlers Cheerios and pureed organic carrots and carting them to and from soccer practice in the family [Missouri: Suburban; SoCal: Prius].

I’m just saying that it’s worth it to look at your romantic relationships nakedly. (Metaphorically, not literally. Unless that’s your thing — in which case, contemplate in the nude as much as you want.) Work at a relationship the way you work at your work. Spend the time. Make the effort.

You need the practice. You need to learn. Some of you can wait another ten or twenty years to do that. And some of you may be the rare bachelors and bachelorettes who have no intention of ever being in a serious committed relationship ever. But not most of you, especially if you’re envisioning a spouse and kids sometime before you can start collecting social security. You need time — and lots of it.

And you need to remember that work is not everything. I met my fiancé at work, which is not a way that Detached Professional Me would ever advise anyone to go about meeting people. Under the circumstances, we had to decide fairly quickly whether we were willing to get fired. What was more important: the job or the relationship? We picked the latter. Fortunately, nobody got fired. But if I had been sent packing, I wouldn’t regret it. Jobs are replaceable. People you truly love are not.

I think it’s fair to say — with no scientific evidence — that deathbed wishes rarely include, “If only I had put another twenty hours a week in at the office! That slightly cleaner product release would have made all the difference.” But that guy, that girl? You might regret that.

Further Reading

Confessions of a Part-Time Vegan

 — Eating vegan before six with Mark Bittman

On Dilettantism and the Virtues of Pursuing Multiple Interests

 — When I think back to my childhood, I have a lot of fond memories involving family and friends, but the fact is, I hated being a kid.

Written by

maker of digital things


Become a Hustler

The secret is simple: Pay the price.


I started a mobile software company in 2009 with $430 in gambling winnings.*

Angry Birds

Angry Birds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since then I’ve grown it into a small empire that has netted more than a quarter of a million dollars.**

I know that’s not Angry Birds money or anything. However, I started with no programming skills to speak of, no formal business training, and I did it all in my spare time while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

How did I do it?

I became a Hustler.

You know the Hustler. He gets things done. She always seems to be thinking miles ahead of everyone else. He’s the go-to person in the office. She wins awards time after time.

How do they do it?

Years ago there was a public service announcement promoting fitness airing frequently on military TV stations overseas. In it, a pair of young men are at an outdoor track watching a third man run laps. They marvel at his speed and endurance. “How does he do it?” one of the men asks. Still watching the runner, the other man replies, “I don’t know, but he does it every day.”

Obviously the man is able to run with such speed and endurance because he does it every day, and the point is to encourage people to develop a routine that promotes better personal fitness. Running can be difficult at first, but it gets easier the more you do it. If the two men were willing to pay the price, before long they could be running with the same speed and endurance as the man they envy.

And that’s the big secret of all the Hustlers you’ve ever known. That’s the difference between you and them.

They pay the price.

When you were young, you may have been told “you can do anything.” However, when we say this to kids we usually don’t add the implied caveat, which turns out to be the most important part. What we should tell our kids is this:

“You can do anything — if you’re willing to pay the price.”

Everything has its price, even if that’s not so easy to see these days. Our media feeds us a delicious buffet of lavish living, huge homes, fancy cars and the beautiful people who seem to do very little to earn any of it. But even if we don’t see it on TV, these people are living lives financed by hard work and sound investment. Someone is paying the price or has paid the price; we’re just not seeing that part on TV because it’s not as sexy as whatever else they’re doing. So what we see is people seeming to live a fabulous life — a life we’d like to live — and putting forth little or no effort to earn it.

Unfortunately, that’s not reality.

Cover of "The Hustler (Two-Disc Collector...

Cover via Amazon

Some people try to replicate the lifestyles we see on TV, buying cars and homes well out of their price range, and end up in serious financial trouble.

One way or another, you’ve got to pay the price.

The price of success usually includes a lot of hard work, and most people accept that. However, the price also often includes failure — or even a series of failures. This is too much for some people.

Not me. I’ve failed plenty of times in my business, but I stuck with it. In fact, I’ve made so many mistakes I’ve learned to fail like a pro: I always come back smarter, stronger, and better for having pushed through.

The Hustler sees everything as an opportunity (even failure), so there’s no reason to fear failure, and no shame in failing. Hustlers know the only people who never fail are the people who never try anything (and it could be argued that they fail at trying). They understand there’s a valuable lesson in every mistake.

Not only did I learn from my mistakes, I relentlessly worked and sacrificed to improve. For example, while nearly everyone else in America was watching games on Sundays during football season, I was honing my Photoshop skills and teaching myself to use Xcode. I dedicated nearly all my free time to activities that developed my skills and my business.

Hustlers excel at what they do because they pay the price by moving and growing all the time.

To Hustlers, there is no such thing as “just a job.” Since everything is an opportunity, anything worth doing is worth pouring every bit of the Hustler’s self into. The Hustler’s name and personal brand eventually become valuable, and he protects them. She knows every piece of work she does is signed with her name. His personal brand is on the line, even (maybe especially) on the small and insignificant tasks.

Therefore, the better a Hustler gets, the better still the Hustler strives to be.

As good as I might get, I doubt I will ever make a product that can compete with Angry Birds. That’s okay with me. I didn’t set out to do that. I’m not competing with Angry Birds or any other app or developer.

I’m competing with myself.

New Year is a great time to adopt new philosophies. This year, challenge yourself to become the absolute best you can possibly be. Set lofty goals and pay the price to achieve them.

I know you can do it because deep down, you’re a Hustler too.

* It was all legit. Swear.

** My business partner Damian is every bit the Hustler I am, and I would never have been able to achieve this success alone. Also, “empire” may be a bit of a reach.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider recommending it.

Written by

Gentleman. Idea man. Strategist.

Published December 26, 2013




Honest Work.

photo credit bdm

photo credit bdm

Taking longer to produce less.

We’ve all been audience to presenters who put too much text on their slides.

We all know that too much noise drowns out a clear signal. We know that we would never make slides that complicated. Right?

It’s so obvious when you’re sitting in the audience.

The reason we see perfectly intelligent people using sub-par communication techniques is selfishness. A boatload of text means that we really thought about everything. Miles of footnotes show we’re smart, prepared, thorough, we did our homework. Good job, me!

It can be tough to abbreviate. You spent 3 days researching something — shouldn’t your findings be exhaustive?

We want to expose the complexity as though to say: “This issue is complicated, and I figured it out. Look at what my product can do — there’s a button for everything! My essay covers every angle! Check out my 375 vacation photos from Vancouver!”

Martin Luther said, “If I had my time to go over again, I would make my sermons much shorter.” Seriously!

It can be tough personally to scale back our own work. Sometimes it’s an ego issue, sometimes it’s a time constraint, sometimes it’s both. It’s always an issue of the creator not doing enough hours of honest work.

Honest work is a process that’s focused on the product, not the producer. Honest work looks like: 1) Know your audience, 2) know your fundamental goals as a producer for where you want to take the audience, and 3) take them there. Remove the deep down demon that wants to self-congratulate.

Honest work is not about you. It’s about the work.

If people think you’re impressive during the speech, but a week later don’t remember what you said, you didn’t do honest work. If people think your product is “cool” but they never use it, you didn’t do honest work.

The reason that simplicity is rare, sought after, and timelessly adored, is because it takes a special degree of confidence and hard work to fully remove the ego.

Simplicity is more work for the producer. It’s more valuable for the audience. It’s more of a leap of faith by the producer that they really boiled down the good stuff.

photo credit: {www.bdm.xxx}

Written by


Updated September 22, 2013


Best Links for Bloggers, Writers and Publishers — December, 26

A bunch of interesting reads


“Managers who are skilled at executing clearly defined strategies are ill equipped for out-of-the-box thinking. In addition, when good ideas do emerge, they’re often doomed because the company is organized to support one way of doing business and doesn’t have the processes or metrics to support a new one.”
The New Patterns of Innovation -Harvard Business Review- http://ow.ly/s42wl


“But every book, and every deal, is different. Today writers have options they never had before…and so do readers. Segregation isn’t the answer to the rising above the clutter and selling books. The answer is writing a good book…coupled with strong packaging and shrewd promotion, advertising and social media marketing. Because for authors in today’s world, whether you are self-published or under contract, you need to be a businessperson, too. It’s not enough to produce the product, you have to effectively sell it, too.”
Self-Publishing Revolution: Adapt or Die -Lee Goldberg-http://prsm.tc/l3Go7m

“What I found shouldn’t be surprising: agents are adapting swiftly and creatively to the fluctuating literary marketplace. In addition to their traditional work of finding buyers for intellectual property, agents are experimenting widely and expanding thoughtfully.”
6 Degrees of Agent Evolution -Jason Allen Ashlock- http://ow.ly/s2Aks

“Talk to other authors; do research; make notes. Stalk folks on Twitter, in interviews, in their publications, via their authors, on forums, & listen at conferences. Think business, not harem.”
Your writing career is a small business, not a marriage -Melissa Marr- http://ow.ly/s42O2


“When I say “intellectually persuasive,” I am referring to writing for a particular kind of audience. I’m not talking about writing for mass audiences, for which you can rely on slick copy and glossy images to get your point across. If your audience is smart and discerning, if your readers will be examining your writing with critical eyes, you must have the capacity to develop sound arguments.”
10 Tips for Intellectually Persuasive Writing -Douglas E. Rice- http://ow.ly/s0BWj

“One key to influencing people on the social Web is the ability to present information in a way that builds likeability.”
9 keys to writing likeable content on your blog -John Gregory Olson (via @francescoeam)- http://bit.ly/19Ee9cg

“Above all, web designers have got to realize what it takes to stay competitive. They need to mix disciplines and understand that there’s a lot more to HTML conversion than they ever thought.”
Mixing the Disciplines: 54 Things a Web Designer Should Learn to Do in 2014 -Sasha Zinevych- http://prsm.tc/uUo9H9

“With the state of search in the content basket, we have to provide well-written, engaging content for people in our niche. Think about The Huffington Post or Wired, or even Seth Godin’s blog. What is it about them that makes people go there, day after day, to read the content?”
How to Write Engaging Content that People Actually Want to Read -Pat Marcello- http://ow.ly/s3qb4

Follow: @gg
(My italian blog)

Written by

Predictive Thinking. Author of several books, columnist/contributor (L’Espresso, La Stampa), contract professor (Urbino University) | @gg | www.bookcafe.net

Published December 26, 2013


Every startup needs a story

This is the first article of a three part series on building products for critical mass

I spent last Saturday giving design feedback to the current batch of startups at 500 Startups HQ in Mountain View, California. For each company, I’d quickly listen to their value proposition, look through their product, and provide suggestions for improvement over the course of fifteen minutes. At the end of the day, a recurring theme had emerged — many founders didn’t know their product’s story. The companies were all very early stage, so it’s not particularly troubling, but “before you design anything, you first need to be able to tell your story” (Chuck Longanecker).

It’s common for entrepreneurs to pitch their products as a list of features, tech specs, or explain an abstract, convoluted idea. What they should do instead is a story — something everyone can understand and relate to, from investors and employees to friends and family. Something that is memorable, easily passed around, and well-received by even the least tech-savvy. The web’s most viral products are the result of simplicity that represents something commonly understood. Instagram’s founder, Kevin Systrom, started out with a full-fledged mobile social network called Brbn, but whittled the product down to a single feature — capturing beautiful moments and sharing them with others. To craft a story, you must first understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and your solution — inside and out, backwards and forwards.

Identifying a problem

There are three types of problems entrepreneurs aim to solve with a product: a problem you have yourself, a problem someone else has, or a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s easier to solve a problem you face than someone else’s, and most difficult to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. I’ve found that it’s common for entrepreneurs to list out multiple problems they’re trying to solve at once, explain what their customers want when they had never spoken to them, or have difficulty clearly articulating the pain point their product solves. This convolution is often reflected in their homepage messaging and product flow. Every successful startup began by solving a single problem they understood very well, and only after they had gained traction did they widen their reach. Brbn, the predecessor to Instagram, had dozens of features. But one in particular exposed a growing problem — everyone was buying smartphones, but their photos didn’t look great. Instagram describes on their FAQ page how the idea came about:

“Mobile photos always come out looking mediocre.”

This was a problem that would only grow as we took more and more photos with our mobile phones, and Kevin knew it was worth focusing on. Brbn never took off, even though it had filters because the product was trying to solve a much broader issue. When understanding the problem it’s best to talk with your target demographic as much as possible before you begin to hypothesize a solution. This helps discourage any bias, validate that it’s a real issue, and identify one problem that you can focus on.

Proposing a solution

It’s easy for an engineer or designer to come up with an idea in the shower, and later that night start building away. It’s our natural state to build, but what will likely happen is that you’ll build something only you understand as feature creep sets in and you spend weeks polishing your product. Instead of building right away, take a step back and make sure you understand what you’re going to work on. Hopefully you’ve identified a single problem, so it’s easier to focus on creating a single solution that does one thing very well. One of the startups I talked to on Saturday said his product had multiple types of customers, and that the user homepage had to accommodate each of their needs. Creating a product that provides many solutions is difficult to build, and it’s best to start with a solution that’s as simple as possible. Here’s how Instagram describes their solution:

Our awesome looking filters transform your photos into professional-looking snapshots.

They’ve added additional features since then, but this was, and still is, their most unique and compelling feature.

Crafting the story

The story is the summation of the problem you’ve identified, and the solution you’re proposing. It’s devoid of technical back-end, industry buzzwords, and feature lists. It’s the entirety of what your product represents and why it exists expressed in concepts and laymen terms that you could explain to an aunt or uncle at a family reunion. Begin with by describing what: the solution your product provides at the highest level. Taken from Instagram’s homepage:

It’s a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your photos with friends and family.

The second part is to describe how your product does this, by explaining the solution you’ve come up with in concrete terms:

Snap a picture, choose a filter to transform its look and feel, then post to Instagram. Share to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr too – it’s as easy as pie. It’s photo sharing, reinvented.

Crafting a narrative to describe your product should be the first step, prior to building, and can be used throughout the entire process. It provides a starting point for storyboarding the design, mocking up the flow, writing the homepage messaging, and marketing the product. It also ensures everyone involved is building the same thing and working towards the same goal.

In the next article, I’ll explain how you can take your product’s story and build something that is easily understood, marketable, and measurable. Interested? Be sure to follow me on Twitter here and I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Also, to learn more on validating ideas before designing a mockup or writing a line of code, check out Running Lean by Ash Maurya. It’s a great book on how to test an idea through customer development.

Edit: Discussion on Hacker News here.

Edit: Part II, Creating Successful Product Flows, can be here.

Written by

Product and User Experience at Vurb. Bikes to work, sails on the weekend. Identical twin.

Updated November 18, 2013

Published in

Go to Design + Startups

Design + Startups

Learnings. Musings. Stories.

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