Start Up From The Bottom (Now We’re Here) #Hustlers

We assembled at an undisclosed Chinatown bodega at 5am really with no idea what was about to happen. I had heard of Startup Bus being “life changing” and “absolutely incredible” and definitely picked up on the vibe at the night-before departure party, but words can’t really describe the epic-ness. I’m sitting in the Nashville airport awaiting a delayed flight back to NYC, already having mega fomo that I’m not dancing up a storm all over Nash-Vegas (this is a real name) with my Startup Bus fam right now. Considering starting an Indiegogo to fund my flight cancellation but alas, part of me is also looking forward to heading home to sleep and take a real home-style shower. You know what I mean. I’ve collectively slept 3 hours on average the past few nights. Last night I plopped down on my hotel bed expecting to take a 2 hour nap, woke up 4 hours later and decided to call it an official night of rest. Thirteen hours later, I was ready to get back into it.

I can’t describe what just happened. I got on a bus with 30 strangers, we each pitched ideas for start up companies and somehow, less than a week later, we are like a big family bonded by our common survival (and voluntary commitment) of an intense, and at times traumatic, experience. I’ve never pushed myself to such extreme limits, and over multiple days, ever before in my entire life. I guess it was life-changing to see what I’m truly capable of when I’m focused on the end goal. The manic energy of the last few days materialized into an incredible team united under a shared dedication to winning the contest but what developed along the way was what surprised me most. At times I asked myself, do I really want to stay up till dawn writing this Indiegogo campaign content and shooting another pitch video? This is all a game, after all, right? But the truth is – it wasn’t just a game. What we created is real, the strategy and implementation plan is real. We really created something truly original, that stands to make a huge impact while addressing a real market inefficiency. Plus share.ed helps so many people by creating new educational and economic opportunities. Sure, we had fun ideating silly ways to get early Twitter traction but it was all underlying real passion and investment in making a memorable impact. We didn’t just create Tinder of camping or the Airbnb of restaurants like some of our earlier twitter ploys joked.

shar.ed

Of all the experiences of Startup Bus, I can’t really select just one as the most memorable. I learned so much about myself and what I can truly contribute to a team. I’m so glad I didn’t follow my flighty premonition a few weeks ago that doubted going on the bus at all because of my lacking hacker experience. I am a hustler, through and through, and Startup Bus was the perfect spot for me to own it to the fullest.

Now onto my favorite ramblings on the trip: 

  • Finally made it to Detroit rock city. Impressed by how beautiful it was amid total dilapidation and erie abandoned buildings in its downtown financial district. Had the most amazing brussel sprout salad with more bacon than I could handle. Slept 4 hours max. The next morning we checked out Tech Stars where we got to pitch and work on some more content development. In my case I was just happy to have an outlet, wifi and some coffee. I wrote our mission statement, set up the blog and wrote another value prop outline in what seemed like a flash of light. All I know is I can pump out the jams as long as the vision of what I need to communicate is clear. What a cool exercise to see what I’m really capable of and what it takes to get to that point.
  • I’ve never written so much in such a short period of time! I have over ten multiple paged notes filling up my computer, certainly enough to make a baller business plan. I have a pitch outline to die for – so on point, if only we had energy slash foresight to put it into a deck for our first round presentation. You know what, I’m okay with not progressing through the entire competition because ultimately I got to sleep and enjoy time with other cool hustlers on the scene. What is meant to be will be and maybe Startup Bus just wasn’t ready for shar.ed’s big vision this time around. It’s the farthest thing from failure actually. We won in so many other ways.
  • The day on the bus after Detroit felt the longest. Maybe it was the lacking sleep. Although I got very little sleep before our very first day, with the heightened pressure of executing a real vision added on to the exhaustion – everything was intensified. Each day I wasn’t sure where we would be headed. I’m not sure if that was intentional on the conductors parts or if maybe I just wasn’t paying attention because I was so hyper focused on getting work done. Regardless, our arrival on day two to Ohio’s coolest startup (Cover My Meds) was such a welcomed surprise. We had real food (bahn mi and sushi) plus actual office space with wifi and outlets – it felt like a dream! It’s amazing how only two days of being on a bus can make you feel like you’ve been gone from civilization for years. Maybe it’s a New York adjustment thing in particular but the difference was palpable.
  • Later that day we were back to the grind, working out our company vision, user flow, monetization strategy and pitching whenever possible to refine our delivery. I was on a high I haven’t ever experienced. I felt like I was in the zone. Like THE ZONE – the one pro athletes must refer to when they’re getting psyched to go into a game. I was so tired and uncomfortable at times but couldn’t stop grinding on the work ahead even if I wanted to.
  • We crashed super late in Durham (North Carolina, come on and raise up), which did you know has a mega thriving startup scene? Me either. We started the day off bright and early after another short sleep at American Underground – a Google enterprises sponsored co working spot home to some seriously cool companies. We got some great pointers on monetization and user acquisition and I rolled my ankle on a super hidden short step, bumping right into the CEO that had just presented to us in the process. Suave.
  • Day three got really real, and fast. Other teams on the bus already had working demos, prototypes and legit designed websites and social pages. I was impressed. What a talented crew! I think what I started to appreciate on this day was the incredible power of teams coming together to support each other, communicate exquisitely and frankly just rally to get shit done amid less than ideal circumstances. My team mate Ryan, for example, had terrible motion sickness (as did many others) but still managed to give me a much needed step by step refresh of setting up a Facebook ad campaign on power editor. I couldn’t believe how good he was at teaching. Then I remembered he’s an instructor at General Assembly and felt less surprised. Nevertheless, everyone was in it to win it. I felt proud from the get go of everyone’s sheer dedication and the universal sense of being all in. Sure it was a game but we didn’t play like it was. We were playing to win.
  • Our friends on the bus who launched what seemed at first to be a bit nebulous – a virtual reality experience providing a getaway from the everyday bustle of life – actually got investment even before the final pitches! They balled so hard they couldn’t even make their final pitch because of investor interest – but they thanked the judges for the opportunity and then mic dropped so hard it hurt. Suddenly it wasn’t just a game anymore, it’s a legit mechanism for getting noticed (slash getting paper).
  • The long night in Nashville was the most intense. I drank a Red Bull to stick to the grind and ended up staying awake till dawn. Hadn’t done that in awhile and certainly never because of writing and working on work-related anything. Reminded me of being in college and cramming before a big paper deadline but even then I wasn’t as passionate or invested in what I was working on. This was easier in that respect. The adrenaline of being so close to pitching, having survived a three day bus trip across the northeastern U.S. and having a legit, impactful, purposeful business plan to share fueled us to no end. I must have gotten two hours of sleep. Pitch day was next, our moment of truth and our chance to see how far we had all come since our first pitches on the bus leaving NYC. 

What’s there to say? The talent, creativity, vision, contagious energy, dedication, community and sheer hustle speaks for itself and then some. Startup Bus-preneurs are game changers. Even if our companies don’t get worked on after the competition, we’ve all come out stronger, smarter and more empowered than before. No one bailed out, every single person brought it 100 and helped prove what’s truly possible when people work together to create the future. I’m so excited about what we’ll do next! Whether it be in our startup bus companies, our jobs, our communities or simply in our relationships – we are going to bring a whole new light with us to inspire others and move them to reaching their full potential. At the very least we’ll move someone with our crazy insane stories of the most ridiculous adventure of all time. Will I do this again? Next year? Ask me in a week when I’ve gotten caught up on sleep. Part of me feels like this is the kind of thing everyone should experience at least once. Lastly, the theme song of the trip is officially dubbed Start Up From The Bottom Now We Here (the remix). 

Pre-launch party On the bus - brainstorming UX Launch Party in it to win it detroit tech stars typical real talk nashville reppin it typical nashville up all night to code accelerate nashville hacking it up always be pitchingtwinz studio 615 hackers shar.ed ladies NRA shar.ed team breakfast 11393199_10205816671550310_162881668807833843_n 11257236_10205816672230327_4458793589188526923_n 11350421_10205820770452780_6753849344493127924_n 11163765_10205820788533232_8101063107973037569_n

Getting WIRED: Keep Falling

WIRED It wasn’t any ordinary Tuesday. Word on the street scoped May 12th to be a scorcher – destined to hit ninety degrees in the afternoon sun. Fortunately I got to spend most of the day in an overly air conditioned conference space with hundreds of tech innovators, journalists, start up groupies, founders and other proud techstars. Yes, the 2015 WIRED Business Conference was all that – and way less nerdy than I expected. Tech is so chic these days, all the cool kids agree.

I was invited to attend on behalf of one of my favorite nonprofits, United Women in Business (UWIB), a start-up foundation in its own right dedicated to fostering education and community among female entrepreneurs and changemakers. The day’s content was truly diverse, covering everything from cannabis capitalism, gender diversity in tech, and street skateboarding as environmental hacking, to crowdfunded social architectural design, Instagram’s backstory, the future of finance, and how to go pro without losing your soul.

Watch/listen to the whole conference here but first, here are my top highlights:

  1. The head of engineering for Pinterest is a total #GirlBoss – Tracy Chou.
  2. DJ Patil (not a DJ name, it’s real) is the US Government’s Chief Data Scientist (we have one!), working on new ways to leverage data for improved healthcare and personalized medicine. One day we could be using bioinformatic data to create custom individualized treatments for conditions and injuries based on genetics.
  3. Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, taught us that #DogMom was trending on Mother’s Day while #OnFleek is also on the rise. He’s all about the power of UGC – citing Instagram’s 300 million users each month who upload 70 million photos a day. He’s passionate about how a photo can start on Instagram and make it’s way to the cover of TIME. Krieger’s biggest hope is that the platform will create more empathy across the world and strengthen human connection, citing the #NepalPhotoProject as a prime example. What’s next? Private messaging will become easier to use, and a new feature will send notifications when your favorite accounts make updates to keep you in the loop.
  4. Did you know Anna Todd wrote One Direction fan fiction on Instagram while working at an Austin make-up counter? Her work has since developed into a NYT Bestselling novel after finalizing her writing on Wattpad, the YouTube of ebooks. She used Wattpad to crowdsource pieces of the plot and even her book’s cover art.
  5. Financial advising startup Wealthfront predicts that all of us will utilize an automated financial service within the next 5 years and cites 20-30 year olds as the most financially empowered generation.
  6. I met the VP of Product at Frankly – which offers What’s App-type tech for any kind of custom, branded app experience you can imagine! Check out what they did for Victoria’s Secret.
  7. Defy Ventures was the stand-out session with a surprise intro by legendary Seth Godin. Catherine and three EITs captivated the entire audience, likely enlisting a whole new cohort of volunteer coaches. Much deserved, MDC Partners presented Defy with their 2015 Humanitarian Award. Plus, I may or may not be in Coss Marte’s documentary (they have my release form).
  8. BIG – (super) cool architectural firm based out of Copenhagen presented on crowdsourced social design and groundbreaking projects they’re leading around the world. Have you heard of a court scraper? It’s a combo of a courtyard and skyscraper – currently underway on the Westside highwayin Manhattan behind Hell’s Kitchen. Get ready. What about building a 10 mile dryline (watch this, seriously), protective wall around downtown Manhattan to protect the city in the event of another hurricane?
  9. Brendan Kennedy of Privateer Holdings spoke to the continuously surprising nature of working in the retail cannabis industry (you can imagine). He says the end of prohibition is inevitable, and that there will be global cannabis brands within the next 5 years with federal prohibition ending in the US within the year. Keep an eye on Tilray, Marley Natural (yes, THAT Marley), and Leafly – all Privateer subsidiaries.
  10. Chad Dickerson, Etsy CEO, spoke to going pro without losing soul and how the company is approaching it’s 10th birthday fresh on the heels of its recent IPO. He plugged the benefits of being a B Corp, and how their team is SO Brooklyn that employees volunteer each week to bike-deliver the company’s compost out to a farm in Red Hook. Did you know Etsy sellers can opt into wholesale deals with Whole Foods and Nordstroms? Plus 86% of Etsy sellers are women – go girls! Think on this: if you come up with an original creative concept but use a 3D printer to create it, can your item still be considered hand-made?
  11. Pro-skater Rodney Mullen’s final words of wisdom sum up entrepreneurship best: “Most of what we do is fall – the best skaters are the best fallers” and “Whatever you do, don’t think about it too much.”

I schmoozed up a storm (without losing my voice, yay!) and plugged Praytell as much as humanly possible. All in all, the day was inspiring and knowledge-filled. It was amazing to rub elbows with the future of tech. It felt like being in the right place at the right time. After all, I was happily representing the future of PR.

WIRED

Stuntin’ is a Habit (Get like me)

Be all there

Love this song. Right now I’m taking it as a reminder to make new habits – consciously form new habits, especially the ones that feed my soul. For me, traveling is just that. Last week was my first week back a 10 day blissful adventure in Spain, which actually felt like a month away. Time slows down maybe everywhere else in the world outside of NYC.

I started by adventure in Cadiz, where time literally slowed down, spread out and morphed in ways I still have trouble understanding. The sunrise is earlier and sunset is way later than anywhere I’ve ever been (9:30-10pm in summer or maybe always) and it’s the norm to eat weekday dinner at 10pm. Siestas are brilliant although my first day walking around I didn’t quite get why there wasn’t anywhere open to eat. Siestas are such a real thing in Cadiz that the town literally shuts down for a few hours between 12 and 4pm to give people a chance to literally and figuratively chill (so hard).

Barcelona offered more of the familiar NYC city vibe with a certain SF swagger I couldn’t help but feel was familiar. I felt like I had been there before, quite possibly in a past life. Most importantly I realized the root of the restlessness I was feeling for quite awhile. After all I hadn’t taken a real unplugged vacation (for longer than a long weekend) in a couple of years!

Here’s what I’m taking back with me from my recent escapade – new habits with intentions to match:

1. Plan more weekend getaways, get out of town, get a fresh perspective. Get into gratitude for how awesome my life is in NYC. Remember 5 years ago when I dreamed of moving here and I went for it, without a job, or anything? Yeah, that happened. What a ride.

2. Treat the day like an adventure. On vacation I love waking up without too much planned and just seeing where the day takes me – spontaneity in its purest form. Instead of planning the week with back to back commitments and activities, how about going with the flow and seeing what I actually feel like doing throughout the day. Adios FOMO. 

3. Go on solo adventures walking around NYC, visiting spots I’ve never visited before. Where would I go if I was a tourist visiting NYC for the first time on my own? There are still so many places I haven’t experienced here – I’m excited to venture out into the great beyond with a renewed sense of wonder. Hiking along Appalachian Trail, The Cloisters, Brighton Beach, Hudson Valley spots, Fire Island, NJ hiking and beaches…and much more.

4. Eat amazing food, adventure to far away neighborhoods to experience famed cuisine only available in NYC. Dim Sum in Flushing, Indian in Jackson Heights, soul food in Harlem, Dominican in Washington Heights.

5. Run around with no schedule in mind and no limit on time. Stop to take pics and bask in the beauty of Prospect Park, Central Park, the city, the Brooklyn Bridge and the loop around Battery Park up the Westside Highway.

6. Write about my experiences. Remember why I moved here, what I thought would happen and what actually transpired. Tell the story of how it’s all unfolded.

So much awesome change is in the air lately – I’m excited for more of it to unfold in the coming months! But as always it all starts with today.

BK Bridge

Pura Vida: My Dream Came True

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My life changed forever the first time I ventured out on a one-week solo expedition to Costa Rica. I bought the plane ticket pretty impulsively after noticing a sweet deal on one of the many travel deal sites I stalk. I knew I always wanted to travel somewhere alone but at first I thought I might convince a good girlfriend or maybe a group to come with me on this one. Deep down I knew I would go this alone and see if I had what it takes to survive an absolutely out of this world solo adventure.

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I didn’t prepare as much as some people might have suggested. I perused tourism sites and trusted the country was more developed than where I lived in Brazil in 2009. I figured I’d know more once I got on the ground. At least it would be nice and warm so I could pack light: bathing suits and shorts every day! One of the first places I looked up was Monteverde, a huge area of forest and mountains settled in the mid section of the country. I know I was researching locales in June because it was then that I set my Facebook cover photo to a picture of Monteverde’s famed hanging rainforest bridges (this post’s headline picture). I knew I had to make it to that exact spot even if I didn’t make a plan for how I’d arrive–there was something waiting for me there.

I could barely sleep the night before I was set to leave. I was far too excited. I packed everything I had into a backpack and woke up when it was still dark out, wide awake with anticipation. All I had planned was my bus trip from the Liberia airport to the Pura Vida Hostel in Tamarindo, where I’d spend my first night. When I arrived at the hostel it finally started to really sink in: I was alone in a foreign country and I could do whatever I wanted with a week to spare. I went to enjoy some lunch at the restaurant next door, amazed at how comfortable I felt as soon as I sat down. My waiter started speaking English and even accepted my US dollars all while an American news broadcast was playing in the background.

ImageEventually I met a couple character mainstays at my hostel, Eddy and James. Eddy was from Chicago taking a prolonged break from his start-up whereas James was a surfer from New Jersey who was chasing the waves for as long as he could steer clear of returning stateside. After a few adventures with Eddy as well as some other travelers that would join our escapades here and there, he offered to drive me to Monteverde. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse, especially since I didn’t have any other plans and purposefully left my schedule open so I could see what might come up. I didn’t know it then but this was the trip I had been waiting for.

ImageAfter a bumpy ride through the country side, we made it to Santa Elena where we found an amazing bed and breakfast to call home–Camino Verde. The day we arrived we went zip-lining through the trees and even ventured to try bungee jump ing while we were at it. Eddy would only stay one day, enough to get a feel for the mountains and Santa Elena’s quiet change of pace. My first day waking up alone there I struck up a conversation with the inn keeper and asked if there was one thing I absolutely had to do while in Monteverde–what was it? He said it was my lucky day and if I was game I could hop in a van coming by in 10 minutes to take me on my next adventure.

Trusting my guide’s recommendation, I hopped into the van filled with Spanish tourists eager to explore. We stopped after a 30 minute drive up a big hill into what seemed like an epicBridge expanse of rain forest. It was really a nature preserve filled with canopies, gardens, natural sights, wildlife and trails throughout perfect for self-guided walking tours. I started out on my own while purposefully trying to walk slowly to make sure I would remember every moment. I suddenly felt grateful to be alone to savor this experience.

After walking a bit, snapping pictures of beautiful plants and butterflies along the way, I arrived to a critical stopping point where something suddenly clicked and I was overcome with emotion. There in front of me was the exact same hanging bridge I had come across when first researching Monteverde many months before. Without a concrete plan to reach this place, the symbol of my solo Costa Rican adventure, I made it there–perhaps the universe was guiding me. Before my eyes, my dream became a reality and I continued my tour with a renewed sense of purpose, abundance, and gratitude that I was delivered to the place my imagination had conjured up all this time. Sometimes I get what I want and sometimes I don’t, but no matter what happens, I am always taken care of. Perhaps the same is true for us all. The rest is pura vida.

 

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