Entrepreneurship Across America

I recently finished Andrew Yang’s book: Smart People Should Build Things.   The book is essentially about Andrew’s life and how he arrived at launching Venture for America.

Now, I don’t want to make this blog into a series of book reports.  However, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about challenges of moving from a stable career to a startup.  In fact, I wish I had read this book when I was 20, because I would definitely have applied to be a Venture for America fellow.

http://ventureforamerica.org/

At the same time, I saw an inspiring commencement day speech from Casey Gerald an HBS alum and the founder of MBAs across America.  The theme for Casey’s firm is similar to Andrew’s Venture for America, but leverages MBAs instead of undergrads.  I think it is great that more folks are trying to jumpstart the economy across America by getting highly educated folks to work with small business owners in small markets.  Again, I wish this organization was around when I was in business school, because I would’ve applied.

http://mbaxamerica.com/

In any event, I think it is great that Andrew, Casey and a host of others are working to get smart people to build things across America.  I am excited for my opportunity to contribute to building something valuable through entrepreneurship in America.  Stay tuned…

In the meantime, please spend twenty minutes and check out Casey’s amazing commencement speech.  It inspired me and I hope it does the same for you.

Brasil 2014

I love sports.   And I particularly love watching athletes compete amongst the very best in their sport.  Every couple of years, I am absolutely glued to my couch, either watching the Olympics or the World Cup.  These events are truly global competitions and I always root for the USA and then the underdog from a small nation.  It’s so exciting!

However, I am always frustrated when some sports wish to remain traditionalists and not embrace technology.  For example, how come every sport does not use instant replay for major calls (i.e. penalties in soccer).

I understand the point of trying not to slow down the game.  My point is simply there is too much riding on this event for a team to get screwed by a ref giving the benefit of the doubt to the country with a better reputation.

Take it from me, I spent most of my career getting screwed by refs, because there was no instant replay in fencing.  Once, instant replay was adopted at the 2008 Olympics, the USA Fencing team finishes second in the medal count.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Anyway, I have seen way too many Oscar winning performances by these favored nations and then the smaller country / opponent gets screwed.

My proposal for FIFA is to have a video referee(s) quickly review any foul, goal or penalty, while the athlete is lying on the pitch pantomiming some random injury.  The review must not take longer than 10-20 seconds, so it does not disrupt the flow of the game.  Once the review is complete, the head referee should be signaled if they missed the call.  I think this would bring an element of fairness to the game of soccer and hopefully end some of the inherent biases an official might have.

 

Back to the Future Part II

Apple recently hosted its #WWDC event and it was not the same event of years past.  I think, partly, because they now save the hardware updates for the back to school and holiday shopping seasons.

Anyway, I am not going to spend time addressing all of the items from the event.  You can find a summary here.  But, what I was fascinated by is that Apple is launching two new items Healthkit and Homekit.  I think both of these initiatives could be huge and I am fascinated by the Health and Wellness and Consumer Product sectors.

Consumers are demanding more information on their wellness and it is always nice to have all of your home devices connected to a single remote.  I feel like I am about to enter Marty McFly’s house in Back to the Future II!

Kudos to Apple.  I can’t wait to see what Google has in store at their I/O event in a few weeks.  These are exciting times.

Mentorship

I recently finished Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Things about Hard Things and highly recommend it for anyone in business.  Now, I am a big fan of biographies and will always read one versus a work of fiction.  I find it fascinating to learn about the journey a person took and see if there any inspiring tales I can take from it.

Although Ben’s book has lots of great advice on how to build a business and entrepreneurship, I think the key nugget was the value he found in having strong mentors throughout his career. In particular, whenever he had a tough decision to make he reached out to a mentor who guided him through the process.

Most successful entrepreneurs or business leaders, have mentors that they use or have used as a guidepost.  The importance of mentors cannot be undervalued.  In certain situations, having multiple mentors is required to get a broad perspective on the opportunity.  In other situations, a mentor has the experience of having lived through similar circumstances.

Unfortunately, many people do not have access to mentors and no two mentors are the same.  The thing that I am most passionate about is being a mentor to women and underrepresented minorities so they know how to access the same entrepreneurial and educational opportunities as everyone else.

Basically, I am trying to emulate my mentor, Bob Cottingham, who is a successful entrepreneur, father, husband, Olympian and philanthropist.  I have a long road ahead of me, but it is never too late to start the journey.

Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

I am excited to announce that I will be serving as a mentor to a female entrepreneur based in Jamaica for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.  The mission of the Cherie Blair Foundation is:

“Our vision is a world where women have equal opportunities and the capability, confidence and capital necessary to establish and grow businesses, resulting in a brighter future for the women themselves and their communities as a whole.”

As the father to a daughter, who I hope one day becomes an entrepreneur, Cherie Blair’s program immediately resonated with me.

I applied to join the program through Bank of America, and once I was accepted there were several requirements.  Including an intense training session about international cultural norms as it relates to women.

Being a mentor in this program is extremely exciting because I get to:

  1. Help an entrepreneur grow their business
  2. Contribute to the growth of Jamaica (my mother’s birthplace)
  3. Encourage more women to become entrepreneurs
  4. Assist in reducing the achievement gap by women in third world countries

There will be more posts about the program, as I get more involved.  In the meantime, I invite you to check out the link and see if you want to participate in the future.

http://www.cherieblairfoundation.org/

RIP FuelBand

It has been a busy start to spring.  Facebook purchased Oculus, Google offers Glass to the public, and the big news Nike fired its Fuelband team.  This is huge, because a company as impactful and trendsetting as Nike decided to hang it up in the wearables technology.

Will this lead other less funded wearable tech firms to reevaluate their strategy?  Perhaps some of these firms will make larger fundraises or seek partnerships with various hardware firms.

I think Nike realized that they were entering a field that they could not win and instead of trying to be a tech company maybe they should partner with one.  My vote is with Apple.

Apple and Nike have partnered in the past together with the Nike + iPod and now my prediction is a series of fitness apps with the forthcoming Apple iWatch.  You heard it hear first.

RIP Nike Fuelband

Nike Fuelband

 

 

 

 

The Zen Master

As a die-hard Knicks fan, I follow every tidbit of information about the plight of my beloved team.  Over the years, it has seemed that we are cursed or maybe we are just the kid in high school who matures in college or grad school (i.e. yours truly).

In any event, I am over the moon that the Knicks have brought Phil Jackson to serve as the next President of the team.  Simply put, the man is a student of the game and believes that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain.

I think there are direct correlations one can make between Phil’s career and the path and the journey we will all eventually face.  To break it down in a few sentences, Phil was a star player in Montana / North Dakota (i.e. if a tree falls in a forest…), arrives in NYC and realizes it is a different world.  Phil then has to develop a brand that is valuable to teams and becomes the player that does all of the dirty work on the court (i.e. sets picks, rebounds and does not shoot).  Wins two rings as a player.  Then becomes a coach, but first, pays his dues in the CBA followed by being an assistant in Chicago, ultimately he’s given the chance to run the show with the Bulls & then leads the Lakers (11 rings!).  Some may say he was always in the right place at the right time.

But, I think that is evaluating the situation through the wrong lens.  Phil knew how to make individuals work together and buy into the team.  Michael Jordan was already a superstar before he won a championship the same goes for Shaq and Kobe.  But, they did not win it all, until a leader like Phil showed up (I am praying to add Melo to this list).

The same thing occurs at work, we all are not lucky to be around great leaders every day.  Some of us have great bosses and others have terrible ones.  The great bosses I had, always left me inspired to walk through walls at a moment’s notice.  What I realized is not everyone is destined to be a great boss, but whenever we see one we should jump at the opportunity.

Right now, I am halfway through Ben Horowitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and it is great!  There are way too many business books that only focus about the victory celebration.  The rock star CEO that was destined for greatness in the womb.

Well, here’s a newsflash, life does not work that way.  Personally, I am far more interested in the struggles everyone faces.  Hence, my interest in the writings of Malcolm Gladwell and learning from the failures that a great leader made and eventually overcame.   Because, there is never a straight line to the top of the mountain even if you are Phil Jackson.  Although, I am praying that next season with the Knicks is an exception to the rule.

NYC Startup Scene

My New Year’s resolution for 2014 was to reintegrate myself into the NYC startup scene.  Some might say ‘…why do you need a resolution for that?”  Quite frankly, I have always thrived on holding myself accountable and I knew that I wanted to be involved with NYC startups.  So why not make a resolution to keep myself honest.

A little background, I was very involved in the NYC startup community during business school.  In fact, I had my own startup and was eager to pitch at any and every event and collect feedback.  I am proud that one of my career highlights was being selected for Columbia’s Greenhouse program.  But, I digress.

Anyway, it was during my annual period of self-reflecting this past holiday season that I realized my passion is and still remains with startups.  Fortunately, NYC has expanded its industry focus to include startups.   And the fields are quite varied.

Over the past few weeks, I have met amazing founders trying to disrupt the hardware, fashion, medical, financial services and sports spaces just to name a few.   And, all of these firms are thriving with their headquarters in NYC.

It seems like there are countless opportunities that exist for people who want to learn about Silicon Alley (does anyone even refer it to that anymore?).  I have personally enjoyed attending several coffee chats, pitch events and networking opportunities as I look to expand my knowledge about disruptive technology.

It has been a great experience and I’m only in the 2nd inning of my New Year’s resolution, so I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

Also, definitely sign up for a Meetup if you are ever in NYC and don’t forget to stop me and say hi.

Sports Tech…The New Wild West

As an Olympic Medalist, I have always been interested about how I can legally push myself to get the edge against my competitors.

Over the years, I have seen a few advances in technology as it relates to sports, but nothing as monumental as video tapes and gatorade, until now.  It seems we are on the dawn of breathtaking era…

Wearable technology coupled with advances in smartphones will allow athletes to gain instant feedback on their performances in practice and competition.  What’s interesting, is where do we go tomorrow?

My initial thoughts are that sports hardware are still in the early innings of development.  Imagine, indestructible tennis rackets, fencing blades and baseball bats.  Or football helmets that prevent concussions.  How about a golf club that automatically adjusts to the conditions and distance to the hole? Or a sneaker that can be programmed to dial up or down resistance according to different conditions or levels?

In essence the opportunity to improve performance while leveraging technology is huge.  Currently, the focus of most startups is to solve problems involving, music, commerce, dating, networking, etc.  With the exception of fitness, there have been little advances in the world of sports technology.

This is primarily due to athletes are typically not engineers.  And the people who typical create startups are trying to solve problems that bother them.

My vision for the future is the marriage of wearable technology with sports hardware to provide coaches and athletes instant feedback on their performance, ultimately giving them better opportunities to win medals.

Wins versus Losses

Over the past couple of weeks, I have given approximately half a dozen speeches on the Olympics and how I won an Olympic Medal and then successfully transitioned into my current career.

Historically, my story had a predictable pattern of grew up in Brooklyn, introduced to fencing, made my first Olympic team in college and then won an Olympic Medal in my last competition.

However, over the past couple of years, I decided to be more forthcoming about my experiences.  Specifically, focusing on all of the losses that I have experienced in my athletic, personal and professional life, because that is what helped me become the person I am.   To some this can be a shocking departure from the typical feel good story most want to hear.

On the other hand, others feel that this is exactly what they need to hear.  My willingness to share my darkest fears and the challenges I face in trying to solve them resonates with many in the audience.  I can recall most major losses with graphic detail and constantly struggle to describe major wins.

It took some time for me to realize this, but we remember the losses in order to savor the victories.  If you are not losing more than you are winning then you are not setting high enough goals.