My Dad forwards me 192,303 emails every saturday night

Sent: Saturday, July 13, 2013 1:38 PM
Subject: Fw: Fwd: ADULT TRUTHS

1. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times; and still not know what time it is.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

9. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind-of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blu-Ray? I don’t want to have to restart my collection … again.

13. I’m always slightly terrified when I exit out of a Word document and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

16. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with “Miller Lite” than “Kay”.

17. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

18. How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?

19. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

20. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Jeans? Jeans never get dirty; and you can wear them forever.

21. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket; finding their cell phone; and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey…but I’d bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.

22. The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it took only 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.


Sent: Saturday, July 13, 2013 8:15 PM


Writing Content Before Designing: Conversation Mapping

When I went freelance in 2010, I opened a text file and wrote content that answered the questions potential clients normally asked me. Doug Avery then designed a beautiful website around that content.

The process of writing first, structuring second was so fluid that I repeated it with my clients. I started by asking them six questions. I get clear, direct answers VITAL to me being able to write substantive content that forms a conversation.

The premise is this: Everything we write is a conversation. THAT informs the structure … not the other way around.

I talked about this process — conversation mapping — last week at ConFab and Interlink. For those who asked how it works: here is a template with more details.

With this approach, it really is possible to write collaborative content with clients FIRST, in an ugly Google doc, before ever trying to structure or design for content.

And designers love getting full pages of completed content — they can run.

Here’s the gist of my talk c/o of Gary Shroeder:


Thanks Gary!


A Startup Pitch Template

Awesome pitches cut to the chase and typically include only these nine components, in this order:

  1. Your name
  2. Your company name
  3. The amount of your revenues, users, customers, or email addresses
  4. What your company does in real-person words
  5. Why doing this is important/how it came about
  6. What’s notable about who’s onboard
  7. What you need/want from the person listening to you (one thing, not nine)
  8. How that person can get ahold of you if s/he wants to help you
  9. A closing thanks

Investors, users, mentors, and press are busy. Give them the goods and get out of your own way.*

Yours to customize…

My name is John Smith, CEO of Jiminiboo, and we’ve already made $100,000 by licensing our software to 10 enterprise companies that use our platform each day to track customer sentiment.

  • More than 300 customer service and marketing execs use Jiminiboo to see daily infographics of their customers’ feedback from Twitter, Facebook, and email.
  • I built it after working at Verizon and wishing we could see customer trends faster — today, Verizon is a customer.
  • My co-founding team including Jane Smith of Apple, and our investors include 500 Startups and Fortify Ventures.

We’ve raised $100,000 to support our growth so far, and now we’re looking for angel investors with enterprise experience to help us get to $1M in revenues.

If that’s you, please contact me at or 123.456.7890.

Thank you!


If  you don’t yet have traction …

Go get some first! Ok, maybe this version instead:

My name is John Smith, CEO of Jiminiboo, a new application for companies that want to see daily infographics of their customers’ feedback from Twitter, Facebook, and email.

  • Customer service and marketing execs can track consumer sentiment over time.
  • I built it after working at Verizon and wishing we could see customer trends faster.
  • My co-founding team including Jane Smith of Apple.

More than 100 users have signed up already, and now we’re looking for angel investors with enterprise experience to help us get to $1M in revenues.

If that’s you, please contact me at or 123.456.7890.

Thank you!


* The whole “We’re like Gilt Groupe for eBay” way of describing startups *can* be helpful. But it puts the listener in the awkward position of (a) having to know those two things you’ve chosen and (b) interpreting what the hell you mean.

Same with the question-as-the-lead, like “Do you hate spending so much time in your inbox?” The risk is the listener says no — or doesn’t care enough to say yes — or is a dickhead and won’t give you the satisfaction for asking such a “gimme” question.

So, many founders result to talking AT LENGTH about the problem, their solution, the market … stuff that’s only worth saying if the listener is still actually listening.

header img source


Ode to Dropbox

Being confident enough to focus on consistently improving the one thing you sell is hard as shit.

Google Search is still leading search even without changing its UI, and Amazon has become so reliable that I buy my toothpaste from them.

Similarly, one of the (many) things I love about Dropbox is that it solves the niche problem of file-sync confidently and succinctly. Then it shuts the hell up.

Even the mobile app doesn’t attempt to sell me — “do you want us to sync your photos/videos?” it asks … I select “yes,” it syncs, and doesn’t bother me again. Lovely. 

People who throw around the word “engagement” like I do the word “awesome” could seriously benefit from asking themselves: “Have I built a daily-use product/service?”

If so, and acquisition or churn rates suck, then improving product or marketing makes sense.

If not, all the marketing and feature development in the world won’t help — finding a daily-use application for the problem you’re solving is the answer.

It’s really not rocket science, but it DOES require stepping away from “the vision I have for what COULD be” and recognizing that users’ incentive to adapt you into their lifestyle DOESN’T EXIST until you are relevant to them.

When I was working on FastCustomer, we did a bunch of design and marketing work before recognizing:

  1. We had been solving a problem for very happy users since Day 1, that our users didn’t have the problem but just a few times a year, and that THIS WAS ALL TOTALLY OK
  2. Business was booming on the enterprise side because these people had a daily problem we could solve, at a huge scale of need, and WE COULD FOCUS ON THIS TO GROW 

Of course, brilliantly solving a problem people REALLY have on a daily basis is way harder than adding “share” buttons.


img source

The #1 UX Failure of New Products

I got asked this question last week. At first it seemed un-answerable, but then I realized that NOT optimizing their UX for a first-time user is the biggest issue early-stage companies face.

The problem is clear: there is no active or loyal user base yet. So if the product relies on having a user base to be valuable enough that users would want to return, it HAS to cater to a first-time user FIRST.

For example, when I first got into Rdio very early on, I saw music there already. I started listening immediately. I then had a lower threshold for inviting friends because the proof was in the app when I first logged in. I also already was ENJOYING the app, so returning (and becoming a paying subscriber) was also easier for me.

Now imagine if Rdio required me to upload music first because the listening library had a minimum number of songs to start. Imagine if I had to connect my Twitter or Facebook account BEFORE I had a chance to use the app.

What’s my incentive?

A first-time user is there to kick the tires. To change behavior and encourage users to come back for more, there has to be a clear strategy that caters to that first-time user’s context FIRST. That mainly means answering questions like “what the crap is this, why am I here, and is it worth my time?”

Here’s a real example of the norm. My buddy Will invited me to Biogrify. Its homepage says nothing about what it is. So I asked Will “what the crap is this?” He told me it was something like the New New Social Network with Infographics. I don’t need this in my life, but Will is awesome, so I signed up via Twitter, added profile info, then skipped the “invite friends” part of the 3-step process.

Once in, I see content created by people I don’t know.


Why didn’t I see Will’s posts? He invited me. And what’s my incentive to do a Quick Post, “Create,” or “Connect with Facebook to find more friends” at this point? I’m kicking the tires, but why would I want to create content for strangers to see? And why would I want to invite friends without seeing what this product really is all about … but wait, is that the only way this would be relevant to me on first view?

Instead of optimizing the sign-up process and UI to a first-time user like me, the product is built for the business. It’s got fun visual tools without context of why a first-time user should use them. It offers the chance to make posts without friends. Each of the features and networking aspects requires me to take actions without ever telling me why I’d want to take them. In the meantime, my inbox starts filling up with “X is now following you” messages that try to draw me back into the application.

Startups here are optimized for power users who “get it” and become evangelical. This is definitely one tactic to take, and my buddy Will is surely onboard. I’m not. Would I be if the UX was customized to creating a more oriented, powerful, and conversational first-time experience? Yes. It’s fun.

But it’s not worth my time to figure out why it matters to me. That’s the startup’s job. Taking the pitch of why it needs to exist and making it a core aspect of the UX is the best way of communicating with the first-time user, whose buy-in is essential to success.

Building a product for most of us is an attempt at building a business; it takes time. Think Jack Cheng’s “slow web” time. If startups could launch products the way they launch conversations — with an “I’m working on this app for people who love infographics” rather than “connect twitter, tell friends, create posts!” —  and guide them in that first-time experience, more of us would actually stick around for the good stuff that makes us incorporate the new app into our daily lives. Which makes the business grow for realz.

With SOOOOO many other risks startups face, why risk leaving your first-time user to fend for herself and “discover” the value of the app through its features?

Screen Shot 2012-10-18 at 2.42.36 PM

On doing what you love that matters…

At Brooklyn Beta last week, the “do what you love, do what matters” theme resonated loud and clear. People like Ian Coyle talked about how planning can actually keep you from doing work (and that talking about doing something can actually take the spot of really doing it). Aaron Draplin knocked my socks off with his raw emotion about living his life and designing it along the way, and not saying “no” to people who seem to really need what you have to offer (versus just pouring more into the wasteland of noise). Cory Booker challenged everyone to get out more than every four years and do something for ‘merica. Alex Payne said that although he stepped aside from Simple, it was only after spending 2.5 trying years “building a bank that treats people well,” which so many investors and others found idealistic and crazy when it was a blip of an idea.

I once loved FastCustomer madly, and I thought it mattered that people never had to be at the mercy of waiting on hold for customer service. I loved being able to bring that to 100K+ people. But I stopped loving the idea of changing customer service beyond what we’d already created. So when I chose to stop working on it in July, I felt a huge void, both emotionally and from a time perspective. I thought about how I’d fill that void. I had loads of ideas and started sketching them. Awesome friends and family encouraged me, too. And they told me to take some time to think. So I took time to think. I went to the driving range, yoga, and crossfit. I wrote more and took on several speaking gigs. I started answering “What are you doing NOW” with “I don’t know yet.”

But after last week, I felt a new sense of peace that NOT having the answers was pretty much the best possible situation of life. I came to realize that I already was doing what I love — that is, collaborating on projects with awesome people, and having control over my time. I realized I already was saying “yes” to things that I think make a difference in people’s lives. The commitment to doing great things is key. Almost everything else is unnecessary, fear-of-failure pressure.

But I hadn’t taken comfort in the limbo state — not knowing — until I was surrounded by so many smart, talented, friendly people who also had no idea what’s to come … but were committed to kicking ass anyway.


Making Something for 100 Years

Last summer, I got a tour of National Machinery. It’s the place where my dad has worked for 32 years.

And now I think it’s a place of wonder.

“My dad always told me that the only way to move the economy forward was to make real things,” he told me this past weekend. My dad has done this for 50 years.

“The National” has been a fixture in Tiffin, Ohio, for more than a century. It industrialized the U.S. and Europe (post-war) by forming metal into things vital to everything from airplanes and cars to cabinetry. The engineering required to accomplish this is something I’ll never comprehend.

Like most manufacturing firms today, National has struggled — but that hasn’t stopped the company from making real things. It’s a company of individuals toiling to make their business thrive — and reinvent the parts that need reinventing — by making more of the real things that the world needs. They prototype, research, discuss, sell, iterate, pilot, refine, and produce over and over and over again in a constant loop of engineering, design, marketing, and quality assurance.

This is how to make real things.

But I was most touched by my dad’s and his team’s loyalty to each other, their respect for the company, and the pride they so obviously took in their work.

It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my life.

The people on his team showed me how their machines worked and the results they produced each day by managing that machine. They didn’t speak in generalities. They got right into showing me the nuts-and-bolts of their making process — whether on a physical machine or on 3D software they were using to design the next prototype.

All of them also explained how crucial my dad had been to their careers and to the company itself. They talked about how his FORMAX machine in the 80’s and Met-Max Innovations group today were high points in the company’s history. My dad turned red, then praised them for enabling him to do what he loves in the first place.

Seeing my dad and his obvious commitment to National and its people was moving. But man, seeing their commitment in return filled me with unparalleled pride.

My dad has built an entire career — and those of others — making real things with real people all working their asses off to protect and sustain their ability to keep making things.

It’s like surviving for creativity and craftsmanship. And it’s an inspiration to witness first-hand.


A 4-Minute Backstory

I grew up in Tiffin, Ohio. That’s where American Standard was. Maybe your toilet came from Tiffin.

In high school, Mrs. Kizer rejected me from National Honor Society because she hated my oldest brother, Alex. I never even had a class with her.

I chose to attend Ohio University because, while visiting campus with my mom, someone walked by us standing in the natatorium hallway, stopped, and said “You should come here. You won’t regret it.”

I became an obsessive over-achiever in college, earning academic and athletic scholarships, 4.0 GPA’s, two degrees in five years, and awards for my grad research on “Sesame Street.”

I’ll show that Kizer lady.

After graduation, I followed a dude to DC. We broke up three weeks later. I didn’t expect to stay in DC, but I found a job. It was at Studio Theatre. I hated it.

Two months later I started working at George Mason University. One day, Tere Linehan — my original supervisor — told me I had to pay for a new college banner. This was because some alumni spilled meatball sauce on the original one during homecoming (held outside in February), and the dry-cleaner I chose “wasn’t acceptable.”

I was crying in the bathroom when Office Manager Gail Crigler walked in. She asked what was wrong, and I told her I couldn’t afford a new banner, so I needed to quit and move back to Ohio.

She told me to give her an hour. She said, “You’re a breath of fresh air here.”

An hour later, the dean walked into my office and told me I wouldn’t be reporting to Tere anymore. 

Gail Crigler changed the course of my life.

Then came my new supervisor, Audrey Kelaher. I thought she might be a dillrod because she preferred using the Oxford comma. Turns out I was the dillrod with a lot to learn about interacting with adults.

I’m a better person today because Audrey helped me.

I left GMU for a startup, World Championship Sports Network. I loved the speed, but I really hated working by myself covering badminton at 3 AM for 12 viewers.

I left WCSN for Viget Labs. I loved the people — especially one named Matt Swasey. I’m going to marry him. But I didn’t love the work as a project manager. I quit and took a job at another agency for almost twice the pay. A year later, I loved new people but still didn’t love the work.

Looking back … “duh.”

Anyway, I decided to spend the summer of 2010 doing freelance projects while looking for “the right fit.” I asked for leads from former clients Mina Ebrahimi, Les Rosenthal, and Bob Fox. I’d even clean their houses.

I’m pretty good at cleaning, you know.

Aside from my man — whose honesty and support came first — I credit Mina, Les, and Bob as my champions; they validated my independence by hiring or referring me.

Samantha Warren helped me get more involved in DC events, which never really led to contract work. Instead, they led to new friends; way better, really.

(Of course, sometimes we referred each other. Because that’s what friends do.)

I decided to try public speaking. My first talk came in the summer of 2010 thanks to RefreshDC and Dave DeSandro (now of Twitter). About 20 minutes before I was set to start talking, I walked out the front door and along the C&O Canal to panic in peace.

But I came back, Dave introduced me, and I started saying what I’d practiced 20 times over the 10 days prior. The audience listened. They laughed when I hoped they would. They cheered when I ended. They told me they’d learned something.

This felt awesome.

Since then …

I’ve spoken at SXSWi in Austin, FOWD in London, Beyond Tellerrand in Dusseldorf, Interlink in Vancouver, and on UIE’s Virtual Seminars from my home office.

I’ve worked with people who are smarter than me, launched a company, and published articles.

I got drunk, danced, and laughed with people I couldn’t have imagined meeting just two years ago — in cities I only had dreamed of traveling to.

Of course, I’ve made embarrassing and foolish mistakes along the way. Plus, I’ve been rejected by conference organizers, respected industry leaders, publishers, potential customers, investors, and MindShare (my modern-day National Honor Society).

But I can’t give up. That would be letting Mrs. Kizer win, after all.

I’ll show that Kizer lady.

BESTPIX  U.S. President Barack Obama Visits Ireland

Dear President Obama + Tax Reformers

Here’s an awesome tax-reform idea that will:

  • Promote fiscal responsibility by requiring budgets be set openly
  • Give Americans a sense of purpose in paying taxes
  • Incentivize Americans to pay taxes early
  • Quiet arguments on taxes
  • Display governmental and fiscal transparency

The scoop:

  1. The federal government finalizes budgets for all of its departments and agencies by November 30.
  2. On December 1, the budgets are published on the website.
  3. Starting January 1, Americans can designate how much (dollar-wise or percentage-wise) of their quarterly or annual taxes they would like to pay toward each pre-set budget.
    • Real-time budget availability is shown on the website
    • Tax returns filed on paper are taken into consideration, though priority is given to electronic returns (for obvious efficiency reasons)
  4. Once a budget has been filled, it is closed — no additional tax revenues can be designated toward that particular budget.
    • This quickly shows what the people ACTUALLY care about. This is important.
    • There’s still a discretionary budget; this is where money is pulled if any of the pre-set budgets end up being way off.
  5. Tax payers choosing NOT to designate their taxes are given the option to “you choose for me,” which evenly splits their taxes across all open budgets OR goes into the discretionary fund.
    • This is used to cap remaining budgets and/or provide more funds to agencies that end up needing it as the year progresses (e.g., to pay for natural disaster recovery).

Why it’s Awesome:

Such a system could encourage people to feel a sense of ownership that they may currently NOT feel.

If I was able to designate, for example, 100 percent of my annual tax burden to the agencies I feel are most deserving, I then would feel LESS disgruntled when I’m asked the next year to pay a greater amount of taxes.

This is how life works anyway — if I want to buy a house today, I’m certain the cost will be less than what it will be in the future.

And that’s OK, because I know I’m buying a house I want versus just throwing money into ANY house, without my choosing.

Please make the tax system more transparent, and give that sense of confidence in government back to the people.