Here We Go: StartUp Bus 2015

BUSpreneurs 6.3.15It’s all happening! Tomorrow I depart on a bus from an undisclosed downtown NYC location at 5am with approx. 30 other peeps I don’t really know to co-create what could be the next big start up, app, world changing product, you name it – the possibilities are endless! Over the next couple days we’ll cruise to Nashville, hacking along the way to develop our dream companies and products all for a chance to win big at the pitch competition on Monday. Oh, and did I mention there’s 6 other buses leaving from different cities across the US (even Mexico City!)?Plus NYC is on a winning streak for two years in a row, so no pressure or anything.

How did I even find out about this? Pretty serendipitously. It all started with a chance meeting at the WIRED Business conference in May. A cool chic I met referred me to her company site, which led me down a rabbit hole of other similarly cool sites focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. I stumbled upon the StartUp Bus and thought, why not apply, not knowing much about it except that it looks like the adventure of a lifetime. Soon after applying, the WIRED #girlboss replied to my bus application saying she’s not only a bus alumni but also happens to be conducting this years NYC trip! Meant to be? Surely.

The more I learned about the bus and story behind it all the more I realized there’s nothing more perfect for me to be doing RIGHT NOW. Lately I’ve felt such a strong influx of creative energy, almost restless at times, pushing me to create and strategize everywhere I can – I’ve got to channel this energy somewhere! And how perfect is this – the bus is divided into entrepreneurial types:  hipsters (designers), hustlers (business savvy magic makers) and hackers (developers, programmer gurus)….Guess what I am?

I met my fellow bus-preneurs tonight as well as a few alumni from previous years – super fun and energizing to schmooze before our big getaway! I am super grateful for friends that came to send me off, for a dream job that supports me in following awesome dreams to experience unheard of adventures and for all my collective life experience that has prepared me super well to effing bring it. I can’t help but feel like something big is on the horizon, something truly groundbreaking. In the very least I’m excited to make awesome new friends, see just how much can get accomplished in just three days and what magic is truly possible wth a dedicated team committed to grinding our little hearts out towards a unifying goal. I promise I’ll have some wild stories to share after Monday! #WatchOut ❤💜

Por favor, stalk me all you want + follow our adventures via the Bus’ live stream😎💯🌷

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

Northside Fest Innovation 6.13

My Friday the 13th started out in Williamsburg’s McCarren Park where Northside Fest set up its home base for a week-long South By Southwest-style conference on innovation, film and music. Complete with after parties and concerts galore over the entire week, the festival is in its fourth year running much to the delight of musicians, innovators, digital media nerds, start up gurus, marketers and entrepreneurs alike.

Northside Fest SwagThis year it literally felt like the East Coast hipster cousin of Austin’s SXSW had officially landed in Williamsburg. My friends over at Small Girls PR hooked me up with a badge to attend the Innovation portion of the program, where I hung out all day Friday. The panels were creatively situated nearby one another with main attractions at the Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn Brewery, Kinfolk Studios and the trade show at McCarren Park. Lucky for all attendees Mable’s Smokehouse served up a delicious complimentary BBQ lunch midday Friday. The BBQ never tasted so good but in hindsight might have been a precarious choice for conference-goers expected to pay attention and not immediately need a power nap.

The panel “Preparing to Pivot” showcased  inspiring entrepreneurs talking about their experiences with changing directions and sometimes starting over along their start-up quests. Many spoke to the fact that failure and making mistakes are just part of the start up game. If you really believe in something and are willing to put the effort into it, you don’t ever give up. On the flip side, they also spoke to the importance of knowing when its time to give up on a particular direction and change your strategy to stay afloat. Did you know AirBnB used Craigslist at one point as an early customer acquisition strategy?

Zappos’ presentation on “Throwing Out the Organizational Chart” provided an overview of holocracy. To better foster innovation, Zappos suggests that corporations will do well to model the information-sharing and communication styles offered by cities’ infrastructure. I almost understood the idea, but must admit I might never truly get it until I experience  holacracy first-hand. Talk about new age-y organizational style. We’ll see what Zappos rolls out with results-wise this year following a more full implementation of holacracy. Perhaps their case study will prove fruitful for pushing other companies to adopt new communication mechanisms and management (or lack there of) structures. What about hashtags in employee titles (i.e. #title) to symbolize the fluid-nature of each position’s description? Sign me up.

GE

My favorite panel of the day was a fireside chat (without a fire) with TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha and GE’s Executive Director of Global Brand Marketing, Linda Boff–“GE’s Secrets Revealed: Their Top 5 Marketing Innovations.” Did you know GE was the first brand on Vine? I appreciated Linda’s candid honesty about how she likes to be promiscuous with advertising and marketing agencies in search of the best storytellers. She made a nod to agencies focused on doing what they do really well, and not getting lost in the crowd of big agencies trying to do many things just-okay.

GE’s secrets turned out to not be so secret after all, but they did provoke some great insights. Be first, be human as a brand, tell a GREAT story, be helpful, and measure success by engagement. All good tips, especially the encouragement throughout to be uniquely useful and stay true to the brand’s integrity. I’m already excited for next year–expect the tech, entrepreneurship and innovation elements to be bigger than ever and attract tech stars from all over the map!

What’s Stopping You?

ImageIf I answer honestly it’s usually always me.  Fear is my worst enemy keeping me from pursuing my dreams.

A friend recently recalled a day when a life/career coach facilitated a workshop on finding your passion. The coach asked a group of women to go around in a circle and each announce what they’re most passionate about. Many responses indicated apprehension at having to share such personal information albeit with a group of people that might judge. Most women explained their passion prefaced with “Oh I don’t really know but..” or “I’m not really sure I have any idea.”

The second part of the exercise challenged the women to take the same question and instead reflect on their answers by writing silently for a minute. The second round of shares indicated a startling clear truth: each person intuitively knows their passion. Sometimes it’s just scary to say what your dreams are out loud, especially if they seem incredibly daunting.

Think about what you would do in a heartbeat if you had a day to spend doing anything your heart desires–without money, responsibilities, peer pressure or validation in the mix. What makes you happy and fills you up with purpose and joy? What are you doing when you feel like you’re in the right place and in tune with the world around you? When you’re in that place look no further because it’s likely you’re doing what you’re meant to do. You have arrived.

Now the question remains of just doing it. Maybe you know that working with others in a volunteer or non-profit capacity is what fills you up but you’re afraid that starting at an entry level non-profit position won’t provide enough for you to survive (trust me, I’ve been there). Sure, that’s a possibility for the short term but be hopeful. If I’ve learned anything it’s that doing what you’re meant to do can make difficult work look and feel easy while others might look at you wondering how you do it.

If you’re in the groove and dedicating yourself fully to your passionate ambition, trust that you will be provided for immensely, I promise. Trusting your instinct is so hard, but once we practice doing it, it becomes easier. You might eventually start to remember that most times you have all the answers you’re looking for. You’ve  known them all along.

Be Good, Go Give

LES Girls ClubWhy is it cool to be a do-gooder? I’m learning more and more that I am drawn to people who do good. Not just in their charitable pursuits but in their everyday lives and businesses.

What are you doing good? What is your company doing to give back? What can you do differently each day to give something that was given to you away to help someone else? I don’t mean in the material sense. I’m talking in the wisdom sense. What’s an important lesson you’ve learned that changed you and how might you share that with someone else to help them in turn?

For me a big lesson I learned rather recently is that the desire to be seen and recognized (validated really, let’s be honest) is never going to be fulfilled by a job, a title, a relationship, friendships or what city I live in. The validation I’ve (sometimes desperately) always sought after can only come from within. This might sound obvious to some but to me it came as a groundbreaking maybe even earth shattering revelation.

I learned that I am the only thing ever in my way, the only entity preventing me from fully enjoying the present moment–which is all I ever really have anyways. I constantly try to make sense of where I am based on regrets of the past and worries of the future. But maybe I just don’t know and won’t ever know the answers I’m looking for. There is relief in accepting that truth.

Since none of that stuff really matters validation wise anyways, why not spend time with people you learn from and people who help you grow? I am drawn to givers and do gooders precisely because of their intrinsic air of growth and change. It’s impossible to hang around movers and shakers of the charitable variety without feeling inspired and pushed out of your comfort zone into evolution and through the fear that comes with treading the unknown.

They say some change is slow, which I guess gives you time to savor it. That’s what I’m working on lately anyways, I don’t want any more of my life to pass me by as I chase the future and try to mitigate the past. Everything is happening as it should and it has been long before my time. It’s my turn to sit back, relax and enjoy it as it all unfolds. Doesn’t hurt to do good and help wherever I can along the way.

You Do You, I’ll Be Me

Scratch that trusty old to-do list. In fact, tear it up and try this instead.

Ever heard of a to-be list? Consider it an exercise in changing your mindset. I don’t know about you but tasking myself with limitless to-dos is so deeply engrained I rarely notice I do it all the time–even subconsciously.

Change the way you view yourself and what you’re truly capable of. Put your dreams down on paper, then visualize them coming true. Dreams are terrifying, especially when you have really big ones.

 TBTI took a stab at writing my first to-be list and here’s what I came up with:

  • Help people always
  • Create, lead and develop a business built upon providing service to those in need
  • Make my family and friends proud
  • Be honest
  • Always tell the truth
  • Feel like I am doing what I am meant to do
  • Present a TED Talk
  • Become an acclaimed artist/writer with respected opinions and insights
  • Be a community leader
  • Be the tour guide host for an epic family vacation somewhere magical
  • Be an explorer of the world
  • Become a fluent speaker of French and Arabic
  • Become a scuba diver
  • Be a surfer in Indonesia
  • Become a familiar traveler through Latin America
  • Become a practitioner of meditation in Tibet and India
  • Be a marathon runner, at least in NYC and SF

I instinctively first wrote many of the above as to-dos, no matter how hard I tried to explain in “be” or “become” terms. Try it, you might surprise yourself!

Interviewing: The Remix

Hey GirlIn my job search escapades over the last month or so (I know, it hasn’t even been that long), I’ve gained what feels like lifetimes of experience and knowledge. First off, I’ve got my elevator pitch nailed to a tee. I know what it is I am really looking for, and have even had the opportunity to pass on a few opportunities because I knew my heart wasn’t in it. So far, the potential employers I’ve spoken to seem to genuinely appreciate my honesty. Cultural fit is everything. 

As far as remixing a typical interview style, I’ve found it helpful to turn the tables early on in the conversation and really explicate what it is you’re looking for. What matters most to you, and what will truly make you happy at a job? Think about what means most to you, what will you look forward to getting up for everyday?

Here are some of the questions I ask to guide my early screening conversations:

  1. How long have people generally worked here? Do employees tend to stick around for awhile?
  2. Do employees spend time together outside of work? Are there company-organized activities for fostering community and encouraging teamwork?
  3. Are there opportunities for people to weave in their personal interests into the job?
  4. What incentives are in place to inspire employees?
  5. How does the company leadership support an engaged company culture?
  6. Describe the employee and management review process.
  7. How collaborative is the work environment? With what frequency do teams meet internally or cross-departmentally to communicate priorities, ideas and changes?

Maybe you have different questions specific to what is most important to you. For me, cultural fit and knowing I will get along with the people I work with all day is my top priority. I want to work somewhere I’m comfortable being my authentic self, where I can share time and creativity with similarly inspired, creative, smart people who want more than just a job to show up to. I want to grow and learn from people that are really invested in creating the future. Everyone deserves to feel aligned in their career and passions, but it’s up to you to be your best advocate.

How to Make (Marketing) Magic

ImageUnremarkable means nothing special, not particularly interesting or surprising. Advertising seeks to draw interest in products, people and services that lack magic on their own. That is the age-old question anyway, isn’t it? What does it take to create something that is truly magical on it’s own? The un-marketed, surprise-released Beyonce album (see: #obsession) comes to mind. That record-breaking release required some groundwork early on for sure, perhaps for years prior dating back to the early Destiny’s Child days.

 Advertising can make or break a brand or an idea in general. Creative strategy and content marketing, if executed thoughtfully with a clear long range goal in mind, can literally change the world. This promise continually drives my personal interest in the field. Look at what’s going on with the green/sustainability trend–it’s all over fashion, haute cuisine and all the rage in tech hot spots like San Francisco (composts bins all over the place with recycling and pushes to go-organic everywhere you look). What if advertising and amazing content strategy could help change people’s perceptions on such a wide scale that the populace actually takes it upon Imageitself to address critical environmental and social issues that the government and corporations don’t necessarily solve?

Social and creative content are the new guard of tools for marketers seeking to change how the world communicates and the way brands can become humanized. Social is undoubtedly the future, especially with regard to video integration and ever-increasing personalization capabilities. Never before have brands had this much potential influence and personal engagement with their intended audiences. Across social, consumers can relate to brands like never before. There is great power in this humanization, notably the promise for greater consumer independence and empowerment with real-time information. Social represents the crossroads at which brands and consumers can create the future together and in doing so, change the way business is conducted and the way perceptions are formed altogether.

Why All The #Hashtags?

EarringsI can’t remember the first time I used a hash tag but I think at that moment I sensed my life would never be the same. Suddenly I felt like I was speaking the language I was always meant to speak. The world finally made sense, talking back to me one abbreviated thought at a time. Immediately, I was in love.

I was super late to the Twitter party because, quite frankly, I wanted to stick with what I felt good at (who ever thought you could be “good at” social media?). When Facebook enabled hashtagging, it was game over. I was off to the races. Armed with a penchant for penning all-too-lengthy mantras, I even started taking them out of posts and using them straight up in my text messages. Friends beware: a new era is upon us.

Somethings are just better communicated in short code. Like Twitter’s 140 characters, hashtags command a certain simplicity and straightforwardness that might otherwise get lost in, I don’t know, a complete sentence or narrative. Try tagging old vintage photos of people’s families or friends as little kids with things like #newswag, #thuglife, #stuntin, #hyphy and don’t even get me started on where that could really lead. At times it can get pretty #treal.

For all you late bloomers out there, don’t fret, there is help for optimizing your hashtagging! To become more seasoned in what will most certainly continue dominating social, get out there and practice. It’s meant to be fun. Get creative and try communicating with people in new ways. That’s what this is all about. Find new things that interest you using images and posts you’ve hashtagged in the past and see what other people are tagging similarly. You might be surprised at what you find and what new connections arise. What is your mantra? What are you known for? Claim your brand.  At the end of the day, social is all about building connections between the people and ideas that inspire us. Welcome to the party.

I Could Have Invented Facebook, But Then High School Happened

My first social media experience happened with my 6th grade introduction to AIM. My screen names were so ahead of the times! There’s no doubt that my super fast typing skills developed over late night group chat sessions with all my middle school friends, typing fast while also using alternating capital and lower case letters for style. Using names like “LiToLePrAkHaN” and “SsHoMeSlIcEsS” was my m.o. and it soon led me to get into web design–although I didn’t know it at the time. What prompted me to get so invested in a personal site at that age? I’m not so sure, but my first site http://www.shupz.cjb.net was really a feat to behold. I took it down around hight school because it just wasn’t the cool thing to do anymore. I either outgrew my interest or became a slave to what I thought was the cooler thing to do. I think the latter is true.

Social ProfileI reached some point in my adolescence where I was embarrassed by my nerdy history of making sites and learning to code. I wish I remembered how to get it back. I’d give anything to reminisce about the hilarious history of middle school, my site’s “shout-outs,” the “trademarks” page and the funky layouts borrowed from the endless Expage forums. I don’t know why I was embarrassed. Website building and coding late at night while snacking and typing lightening speed messages on AIM suddenly didn’t fit in with the party girl persona I tried to cultivate, in fact is really cramped my style altogether.

I wish I felt more encouraged to follow that passion and listen to the inner drive I felt to create things using this tech format I’ve always felt so comfortable with. I jokingly say I could’ve created Facebook had I stuck with it and maybe took steps to learn more advanced skills in the arena. For whatever reason that just wasn’t my path. I am grateful to feel a return full-circle to that time when I didn’t care so much about what others thought and just followed my instinct to create. Putting content out there without a brand or company backing me is a new feeling, but for now I’m just going with it. And for now it feels like the right thing, so I’m listening up.

Are there others who had an early introduction to coding or website design but didn’t pursue it because it doesn’t seem cool enough? Luckily I think that paradigm is shifting to one in which coding and creating and having your own start-up is becoming a highly desirable path, and not just one you can easily teach in college. Learning the tools and skills needed to succeed in the new tech economy is also becoming more accessible, but those who can’t afford multi-thousand dollar degree program or coding intensives are still facing barriers to entry. New technology and the internet of things have helped democratize so much opportunity across all industries, namely education. So far I’m proud of my generation for helping push things forward, but I still wonder if there is more we can do to help bring everyone into the fold. Are coding and web design becoming cool again? Are kids showing an interest earlier on and sticking with it because they feel supported? I want to be a part of the movement towards greater inclusion and opportunity for all. Maybe I am a part of it just by putting myself out there like this.