Lessons Learned Running a 100 Mile Relay Race

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Seven years ago I took part in GE Training at their Crotonville, NY campus. Much of our time was dedicated to navigating corporate politics and developing large-scale, effective teams. According to the curriculum, building a functioning group could take months or even years. There are four levels in a team’s life cycle according to Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development: storming, storming, norming and performing. That is some unwieldy baggage if you need to get something done right now.

On the flipside you’ve got Minimum Viable Product (MVP),  a concept popularized by Eric Ries. The basic idea is to build a product quickly and inexpensively with just enough features to attract early adopters. As you add users you iterate and add to your product based on the feedback from customers. It’s all about immediacy, speed and agility.

In the years since I took that training it’s been fascinating to watch large corporations dump traditional business strategies, adopting MVP and Lean Startup principles. They’ve had to reinvent once-sacred processes in an effort to bring better products to market faster.

Last summer I took part in the 100 On 100 Relay, an epic day-long race. We had to come together as a team, run like hell for fourteen hours and survive a grueling endurance event. This meant embracing concepts from both Tuckman and Ries to get from one end of Vermont to the other.

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We had a clear goal. Our team of six people had to run 100 miles along Vermont Highway 100 from Stowe to Okemo. The race organizers provided us with a map and first aid at transition points. Apart from that we were on our own. It was up to us to organize, delegate, hydrate and operate our minimally staffed running startup for one long day.

We organized. I only knew one teamate well. I had run a few times with another, but hadn’t seen him in eight years. Another I raced with once in 2006. Two members I had never met before that morning. I was going to spend the next fourteen hours packed into a car with them. We had to make it work.

We made decisions. We hadn’t chosen which legs to run prior to the race. Fifteen minutes before the start we picked our assignments consisting of three legs per person. Each runner was responsible for roughly seventeen or eighteen miles. One leg in the morning, one leg in the afternoon, one leg at night. Our first runner was off at 8:15am. The rest of us tumbled into the car. We formed immediately. You get pretty friendly pretty fast while sweating and farting in a crowded SUV packed with runners.

We acted immediately. There was no dithering or hesitation or non-performance. We each got a number. #1 was responsible for legs 1, 7 and 13. #2 was on the spot for 2, 8 and 14. And so on. When your number was up you took the fluorescent snap bracelet and started running. It was your job to get your ass and the snap bracelet five, six or seven miles down the road.

We found our roles. At first there was a bit of politeness and hesitation about who would drive or who would sit where. Pretty soon someone would grab the keys and go. Someone else would carry water to the runner. It was no longer about courtesy. Now, it was about doing our job and iterating as we went. Feedback was constant and fixes were put into place immediately.

We cooperated. We normed quickly. One of us would buy ice while another would check the map for our next transition spot. One would get water ready for the incoming runner while another would make sure our outgoing runner was ready. We acted on instinct and nobody slacked. Our organization was flat and everybody gave it everything they had.

We suffered and endured setbacks. The only storming came from external forces. We ran through soupy lung-sopping humidity. We endured a massive thunderstorm and got soaked. There were hills that crushed souls and hot open spaces that burned skin. We ran in the dark on a lonely highway with only reflective vests and headlamps to protect us from oncoming cars. Our only job was to get further down the road. I ran my first leg like I was racing a 10k and after three miles I crumbled in the heat like a house of cards. My pace dropped by two minutes per mile. I crawled up a final massive insult of a hill with my stomach gurgling, my spirit destroyed and my energy reserves gone. I still had another tow legs and twelve miles to cover. I would never make it. They would find me out.

We brought the best out of one another. While one runner put in mileage the rest would follow by car. The team was there every couple of miles with water, Gatorade, or whatever the runner needed. The cheering and encouragement from the support vehicle made all the difference. We even had cowbell! Plenty of cowbell.

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Our greatness combined transcended all our individual weaknesses and shortcomings. We were performing. I found the strength to head into my second leg. I had seven miles to race with nothing left. Left foot, right foot. The sandwich hollering in my gut was declaring its independence, yet I was determined to keep going. I gave everything I had to the team. Somehow, leg two was a vast improvement over leg one. By leg three I was done, but the spirit and unity of our group carried me forward. Without them I couldn’t have covered that final five miles in the dark on a meandering dirt road. I couldn’t let these people down. They were my team.

We succeeded. Together we ran 100 miles. One step at a time. One mile after another. Somewhere around 9:58pm our sixth runner climbed the last pummeling hill in the dark and crossed the finish line. We gathered around and hugged like we had known one another for years.

We celebrated. At the end there was beer for the drinkers and food for the eaters. After eighteen miles of running and fourteen hours of riding shotgun just about anything is gourmet fare. We destroyed piles of baked beans, pulled pork, hot dogs and fruit as if they were the greatest delicacies ever prepared.

What we had done in that day takes organizations forever to accomplish. We came together, bonded over a quest, faced countless challenges and made it across the finish line. We will never unite as a group again, but in one day we formed, stormed, normed and performed. We produced, iterated and pivoted like a well-tuned startup. In the end we slayed the goddamn dragon and went home happy.

A Tech Vision For Newark – An Ambitious Plan To Transform NJ’s Largest City

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One Washington Park, Newark, NJ

This is something I wrote for the NJ Tech Meetup website.

Newark, New Jersey – the next tech hub? Could new companies and new jobs be the next big step in the city’s renaissance? Newark Venture Partners (NVP) thinks so and they are placing a 50 million dollar bet they can ignite the high-tech fire that will reforge, reimagine and reinvent New Jersey’s largest city.

You’re likely wondering, “Newark? The next tech hub? 50 million? How can I learn more?” Well, you’re in luck.

Next Wednesday 9/30, NJ Tech is heading to Newark for a very special evening. In partnership with NVP, we are hosting a fireside chat with Don Katz, the founder and CEO of Audible (the largest audio book producer and retailer in the US.) Don also founded the NVP team and will share his vision of Newark 2.0.

You can read more right here.

NJ Tech Meetup 64 with Kevin Ryan In Review

Here’s something I wrote for NJTech.me

Aaron Price Kevin Ryan NJ Tech

Fireside chat with Aaron Price and Kevin Ryan

Key Takeaways:

  • Great teams build great products
  • Deciding what you’re NOT going to do is important
  • We need more computer scientists, NOW!

Summer is over and it’s time to get back to business. The NJ Tech Meetup kicked off fall with its 64th meetup. It was a double packed house and there wasn’t a piece of pizza, drink of water or seat left in the house. The crowd was there for an evening with special guest Kevin Ryan, “The Godfather” of NYC tech. Plus, three startups were there to fight for NJ Tech glory; Ceros, Vognition and LivnList™. Only one would leave victorious.

You can read the rest of it here

#NJTech Meetup 64 w/ Kevin Ryan, Founder: Gilt, MongoDB, Business Insider

Here is something I wrote for this Wednesday’s NJ Tech Meetup with special guest Kevin Ryan.

 

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DoubleClick, Mongo DB, ShopWiki, Gilt, Zola, The Ladders, HotJobs, Business Insider. One thing they all have in common is Kevin Ryan, “The Godfather” of NYC tech.

What started it all? How did he become an entrepreneur?

Dilbert made him do it. Yeah, that Dilbert. Back in the early days of the internet Kevin Ryan was working for E.W. Scripps and set up the Dilbert website. If he could get the comic strips online, maybe it would become a destination. Not only did people come in droves, but the site made money. He had seen the future and that future was the internet.

You can read the rest here at NJtech.me

#NJTech Meetup 63 with Gary Vaynerchuk

NJ Tech Meetup

Gary Vaynerchuk should come with a warning label. DO NOT use @GaryVee if you are afraid of brutal honesty. AVOID @GaryVee if easily offended. @GaryVee may cause epiphany, soul searching and uncontrollable laughter. For best results @GaryVee only as directed.

This past Wednesday night will go down as one of the great NJ Tech Meetups. It was a packed house with barely a seat left. Even with the start moved up at the last minute, everyone got there on time. The crowd was there for one reason, Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur, investor, author and one of the most entertaining and captivating speakers ever to take the stage at NJ Tech.

Like all NJ Tech meetups, Aaron Price @apstartup keeps the trains running on time. He made sure everyone ate, drank, networked and then got down to business. After opening remarks and a shout out to the sponsors, he opened the floor to 20 second asks and offers. About a dozen people gave quick pitches for jobs, services and opportunities.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer @dawnzimmernj made a quick appearance and welcomed all attendees. She reinforced her team’s ongoing support of and commitment to the Hoboken, Jersey City and greater New Jersey tech community.

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There can be only one winner

THE STARTUPS

Each NJ Tech meetup features three quick startup pitches. At the end of the night everyone votes on their favorite. The winner walks away with a stunning recycled baseball trophy.

Startup pitch 1 fusar

First up, Fusar makes wearable tech for action sports. Focused primarily on products and apps to keep motorcyclists safe. they are also working on solutions for skiing, snowboarding, skydiving and more. Their tech features a helmet-mounted camera and eyes-up display so the rider can keep their eyes on the road.

 

startup pitch 2 cosmic


“My name is Alex and I am building the future of commerce”

Second, Cosmic aims to take the pain out of shopping online. They want to be the pipes of commerce and allow you to buy whatever you want wherever you are. Currently they can sell from websites, apps, blogs, HTML5 video as well as microsites on Tumblr and RebelMouse.

 

startup pitch 3 gravy

 

Finally, Gravy is a B2B solution for businesses to send gifts to businesses, people and employees. THey have a custom catalogue allowing users to send the right gift to the right person. They also provide hand wrapping, robust “giftlytics” and high touch support from a single dedicated vendor.

**Trivia note: Gravy founder Aaron Flack was the star of 2007 YouTube sensation “What You Know About Math.” Check out his mad rapping skills below.

THE MAIN EVENT

Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur, investor, social media personality, businessman and much more. Born in Belarus and raised in New Jersey, Gary made a small fortune as a kid selling baseball cards. He turned his father’s wine shop into a multimillion dollar business. He was a YouTube pioneer with the daily online show, Wine Library TV from 2006-2011. Today, he run and his brother run VaynerMedia, a powerhouse social media agency. He also runs VaynerRSE, an angel investment fund. He’s written three bestselling books. Crush It, The Thank You Economy and Jab, Jab, Jab, Right-Hook. Plus, he decided in the sixth grade he was going to buy the New York Jets.

 

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“I’m very interested and thrilled to talk about myself.”

The fireside chat was the highlight of the evening with Aaron and Gary covering a wide range of topics from his New Jersey childhood to his rise as a social media personality to his current focus on VaynerMedia and future investment plans. His next project is a new venture capital fund that will go after Series B and C investments. While VaynerRSE spread 25 million dollars across 93 angel and seed investments, he hopes to raise 150 million and invest in 10 to 20 companies.

100% confidence and “disproportionate marketing capabilities” are key to Gary’s success in business. He saw his future when he was 12 and making more on baseball cards in a few weeks than his teachers made in a year. He lives for the thrill of the competition and the risk of failure. The man is a soundbite machine with an incredible knack for storytelling.

“I’m a much fucking better businessman than you!”

“I like losing. Being a Jets fan is good for me.”

“A true entrepreneur loves the process more than the riches.”

“The game is my drug. Competing is my oxygen.”

“I love the I told you so. Nothing makes me happier than to stick it to you.”

“We are the ultimate species. And you live in America. Fuck you to complain about anything.”

When Aaron asked if we are in a tech bubble, Vaynerchuk had some pointed words about startups, entrepreneurs and building companies.

“Yes and no. We are in an entrepreneur bubble. A lot of people think they are entrepreneurs who really aren’t. You just say you are. And that’s not real.”

Regarding Zirtual, a company that earlier this week went out of business overnight, he was highly critical of their failure and startups in general who really too much on raising money to survive.

“You control your burn”

“I can get unfancy real quick.”

“You aren’t entitled to anything.”

“Raising money is a real bad way to learn how to build a business.”

Of course, Aaron delved into Gary’s success on social media and his complete dedication to building his brand and telling his story across all platforms. He control his Twitter and Instagram accounts while his team does Facebook. Much of his Medium content is boiled down from interviews with Gary. Again he echoed the absolute necessity of putting in the hours to create great content and connect with people.

“I find time because I find passionate people.”

“The best way to build a following is to provide value”

“Curation is outrageously valuable.”

“I see a lot of dj’s trying to be songwriters and a lot of songwriters trying to be dj’s.”

He has little patience for people who claim they don’t have enough time to succeed in business and no room for excuses. His passion, determination and fierce intensity reached a peak at this ppoint of the evening.

“If you’re complaining I will audit you and find 4 hours.”

“You’ve got time for angry birds and you’re complaining, Fuck you!”

“Your actions are your game. Putting in the work matters.”

As the chat drew to a close, Gary had some tough thoughts on the future and America’s place in the world economy going forward.

“America lost.”

“Fake winning is really hurting us.”

“The market always rules.”

gary hugs woman

How we got to the free hugs from Gary V was pretty amazing

While the crowd could have listened all night, Gary had another engagement. He rushed out  with these final words, “Jersey, I love you!”

Aaron took the vote on best startup. All three gave solid presentations with smart ideas. It was a tough fight, but Cosmic was victorious and took home the trophy!

NJ Tech 64 takes place on Wednesday 9/16 at 6:30 with Kevin Ryan, founder of Gilt, Business Insider, Zola and MongoDB. You can sign up here.

#NJTech Meetup 44 with Vinnie Bharara

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Pizza, beer, startups, guest speakers. Hmm. what’s not to like?

Welcome to 2014 and the first NJ Tech Meetup of the year. I’ve written before that this meetup is a personal favorite and the Thursday 1/9/14 gathering lived up to the usual high standard. Startups included Mommies 247, Stantt and Pijon Box. The evening’s guest speaker was Vinnie Bharara, co-founder of Quidsi.

Aaron Price

Aaron Price laying down the law. A ripple of fear runs through the crowd

The founder, organizer and ringleader for the meetup is Aaron Price. The man is a huge cheerleader for tech in Hoboken and New Jersey. He runs this group like a machine which is probably why it is always awesome and sold out. After his opening comments and quick pitches and requests from the crowd it was time to hear some startup presentations.

Mommies taking over the world

Mommies taking over the world

First up was Mommies 24/7. They started as Hoboken Mommies as a way to get moms together online and in real life. “What if Facebook and Meetup had a baby?” is how they position themselves. They’re currently reaching beyond the borders of Hoboken and have a plan for mommy content world domination.

Say goodbye to small, medium and large

Say goodbye to small, medium and large

Next up, Stantt has a serious goal of ridding the globe of small, medium and large (please be gentle with extra large). They make custom fit clothing for men using data and technology. They boast of over 50 size combinations guaranteeing you a perfect fit. While they import the fabric, their clothing is made right here in the USA.

Please don't feed the Pijon, the Pijon feeds you

Please don’t feed the Pijon, the Pijon feeds you

Finally, Pijon Box aims to dominate the college care package industry with their monthly subscription boxes of goodies. These boxes are specifically designed and curated with college students in mind. You can customize for men or women. Plus, there is a social good component and Pijon gives back with every box sold.

Now on to the main event. Vinnie Bharara is the co-founder of Quidsi, an e-commerce company and parent of diapers.com, soap.com, wag.com and more. They sold to Amazon a couple of years back for $545 million. He recently stepped away from Quidsi and is currently plotting his next move.

Powerpoint? We don't need no stinkin' powerpoint!

Powerpoint? We don’t need no stinkin’ powerpoint!

Rather than the usual powerpoint typical of the guest speakers, Vinnie just talked without visual aid. He spoke about entrepreneurship, bootstrapping, company culture, customer service, kindness and rigorously standing by your organization’s core values. He quoted Maya Angelou to prove his point about Quidsi’s mission “to inspire passion in our customers.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

What impressed me was how deeply he seemed to hold the company’s values and truly live them personally and professionally. Having made a recent purchase at diapers.com, I was incredibly impressed with the price, ease of purchase and overall service. It was obvious his passion for excellent customer service and belief in the core tenets were integral to Quidsi’s success.

The final highlight of the evening was the telephone vote for best startup presentation. After using their mobiles to answer questions about the startups and earn points, the crowd cast their ballots. All three companies gave smart pitches. All had compelling stories. Who would win? Both the glory of victory and a beat up hand-me-down trophy hung in the balance.

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The Pijon Box crew revels in the glory of victory. (photo by Dominic Rivera)

And the winner was…Pijon Box. Congratulations!

Next month’s meetup is the daylong NJ Spark Summit on Tuesday, February 25th. You can find the details here.

The First Rule of House of Genius is…

….You do NOT talk about House of Genius.

Yeah, I am going to drag out that tired quote from Fight Club and I am going to paraphrase it proudly. When it comes to House of Genius this is the one time it might actually apply.

A random invite to a cryptically titled event arrives in the email. If you choose to accept it, you are instructed that it is a first-name only event. You are not allowed to say where you work or what you do. Once you arrive you are greeted with the ubiquitous pizza and beer common to all coworking space, but otherwise the event is shrouded in mystery. After a few bites of pizza, you and 15-20 others gather around a table. Now, it’s time to get down to business.

So what exactly is House of Genius? Why are we here? What is our nefarious purpose? Why all the secrecy?

House of Genius logo

Your purpose will soon become clear, maybe

Here’s how it is described on their website. House of Genius “brings together entrepreneurs and a diverse mix of business leaders from the community for an evening each month of disruptive thinking, supportive input, and creative new ideas.”

And here’s how it goes down. After a few ground rules and introductory comments from one of first name only hosts, a brave soul stands in front of the panel and introduces his or her business and discusses the challenges they face.

The focus then turns to the panelists all who are given the opportunity to offer instant feedback, questions, criticisms and solutions. The presenter then has a few minutes to address the panel’s comments. Generally, there are 2-3 presentations for the evening and it adds up to 2 hours of complete engagement around the room.

At the end of the night each panelist reveals their last name and a little bit about who they are and what they do. The big reveal, if you will. Of course, hugs, high-fives and handshakes ensue.

Both times I have attended I was incredibly impressed with the intelligence of the presentations and the compelling feedback and encouragement from every corner of the room. Watching entrepreneurs define a problem and present a solution is powerful stuff. Experiencing a room of smart people provide insight and observations can be revelatory. Perhaps that is why the light bulb is such a prominent part of the House of Genius logo.

The brilliance and beauty of House of Genius is in the anonymity. Those offering feedback might be a top VC or just another struggling entrepreneur. Each panelist’s feedback has equal weight and removes all bias that comes with knowing your audience. It also is much more collaborative and supportive than typical startup presentations. Something magic happens at House of Genius. It is truly a remarkable evening.

If you get ever get the cryptic invite make sure you say YES. If you are interested in attending or presenting just click. I can’t wait to be invited back.

A Few Thoughts on NJ Tech Meetup with Lewis Schiff

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Hoboken’s Finest Meetup

One of my favorite Meetups is the monthly NJ Tech gathering. It’s a great crowd with excellent speakers and there is always a wait list.

Here’s how it works every month.

    Pizza and networking.
    Opening remarks.
    A word from the sponsors.
    A chance for the crowd to give rapid fire pitches or requests.
    Three quick startup presentations with Q&A.
    The guest speaker.
    Vote on the best startup.
    Adjourn for beer.

Repeat that formula every month and you have a pretty killer meetup.

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Aaron Price – Master of Ceremonies

Aaron Price is the mastermind who organizes this extravaganza. Every month he lines up both smart startups willing to throw themselves to the lions and high profile special guests. Just a few of the past speakers include Ari Meisel, David Kidder, Scott Belsky, Peter Bell and Bob Dorf.

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NJ Tech’s Stanley Cup

Tonight, three startups each got five minutes to present and five minutes to answer questions. Yes, the stakes are high. The merciless crowd picks the best pitch and awards them the highly coveted, “recycled and rebranded” trophy.

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Startup #1 iBE.net

First up tonight was iBE.net. They provide an enterprise cloud software solution for small and medium sized businesses that works across devices.

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Startup #2 Geekrowd

Then, Geekrowd pitched their “platform as a service.” They are a jSON api for developers who want to build social apps and tools.

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Startup #3 Sproute

The final pitch came from Sproute. They provide a B2B2C white label digital concierge for travelers. Currently, they are working on a new name and prepping for launch.

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Lewis Schiff on how to be Business Brilliant

The main event was a speech from entrepreneur and writer, Lewis Schiff. His focus tonight was the major points from his recent book, Business Brilliant. Outlining his simple four point LEAP strategy on how Ultra High Net Worth players get wealthy and stay wealthy, Lewis spoke with conviction and drew on hard data to back up his findings.

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LEAP – Learn, Earn, Assistance, Persistence

1 LEARN Discover the few things you are exceptionally good at that will make you money. Focus almost solely on those skills.

2 EARN Make money doing what you do best. Move up the ladder from being a player to being the proprietor. A job will make you money. A business can make you very rich.

3 ASSISTANCE Develop your network. Know the people who will bring you business and opportunities. Choose wisely and surround yourself with a few truly great people.

4 PERSISTENCE Fail, fail, fail…and learn from failure. Don’t give up and keep going. Stay focused. Have faith in failure.

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And Sproute wins it all!

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for. Which startup would bask in the glory of the NJ Tech Meetup’s blessing? The audience voted by phone and the real-time results yielded a winner….Sproute. And the crowd went wild!

This is a can’t-miss meetup. Come join us on August 2nd with Scott Heiferman, founder of Meetup or September 16th with Michele Brown, CEO of the NJ Economic Development Authority. It would be great to see you there.