Friday, January 2, 2015

How To Start a Startup

Haven't got a clue how to start a startup? Find out from YouTube, MeetUp, and a ton of classes from Cal Berkeley to Stanford, online and/or on campus. Or follow the directions, in order, below:

1. Productize your idea—Take it from your head to the whiteboard:
a. Define products/services features & benefit that fulfill the need/s of projected target market/s.
b. Identify and analyze competition; redefine product/service in response to competition.
c. Establish immediate and long term growth goals.
d. Determine projected income models on release and over time.

2. Brand company—Create a face and voice for your startup:
a. Develop a strong corporate identity to brand startup [or any new product], as dynamic on a Twitter feed as on ads, packaging, website/s, or the side of a building; And tagline that embodies company/product message and 'voice.'
b. Produce PR and marketing tools to corporate identity standards: websites, social media and PR campaigns, corporate and direct communications, mobile marketing and more directly targeting startups and/or product's market/s.

3. Launch marketing campaign/s—from website/s and online presence with social media strategies, to full advertising campaigns with consistent branding across all media.

Marketing isn't rocket science.

Marketing is SELLING.

Selling what? (It's always the same.):

Marketing is selling FEATURES & BENEFITS.

Selling features & benefits to who?

MARKETING is SELLING FEATURES & BENEFITS to fulfill the NEEDS* of TARGET MARKET/S.

That's it. An MBA is just complications on this very simple truth, trust me.

Easy? No. And you can't do it alone. You need a team, but there are tons of qualified people out there looking for work. Put ads on Craigslist, go to MeetUps of entrepreneurs and seedling startups and make or find yourself a team.

Need and idea on what to start up? Answer the following:
● What do you love doing?
● What are you good at? What do you do well?
● What have you found in the process of what you love doing that you need? (i.e. what tool [software, hardward, product or service] will make the process of what you love doing easier, more efficient, more fun...etc.)

Love to cook? Sell baked goods online. Lots of competition in that space. You bet. But no one cooks (fill in this blank) like you, and you can get your delectable anywhere in the US in 24 hrs for any party size, at a really good price (to start).

Are you an exercise junkie? A serious athlete? Give online exercise classes, diet tips; offer a [dating-type] service for partnering with other serious athletes in their area and in their sport/s.

Find differentiators that separate your product/service from everyone else, optimally one that you can defend for a bit, i.e. not easily copied.

Think! Learn. Then make it happen. Act!

Just follow the steps and do them again and again, because all business, startup or not, is done in iterationsin response to customer's desires, changing times, competition...etc. With today's technology, from free e-commerce storefront platforms to social networking's global reach, there's no reason NOT to try and launch a company doing what you enjoy. Like most everything, with startups (or any business at any stage) you've only failed when you quit iterating your product/service and/or marketing to find and fulfill the needs of your target market/s.

Start somethingDon't quitIterate. Getting absorbed in the process of creation provides us an intrinsic sense of value. And who knows, keep at it and you just may establish something great!

*'Needs' can be created desire.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Do You Write? II

I've spent my entire life pretending to be someone else. Not just anyone else. I've invented brilliant prodigies, accomplished artists, writers, musicians because they were easier to be than me— nothing.

I grew up at the base of the Hollywood Hills, where most everyone I went to school with was a famous actor or producer's kid, or some rock star's son or daughter. Out of school, they went to work in the Industry—the one that packages arts and artists. I was raised on the notion if I followed my passion it would eventually lead to success, financial success, or at least I'd be able to live, even meagerly, but 11 years into writing to publish and I'm still virtually invisible.

The only thing I've ever loved working at is the fire arts. Drawing, building, designing all engage me, like an entertaining puzzle of my creation and execution. But writing, ah, writing. I've been doing it since I could, putting my thoughts on paper, then on a monitor, making up stories of who I want to be, other than me. More than nothing.

How do you get good at anything?
Practice.

So, I thought I was becoming a good writer. After all, I just spent the last 50 years doing it. OK, since this is the truth, which is so rare online these days, I think I'm a good writer. I read NYTimes bestsellers and a huge percentage of them suck. No offense to the writers, really. In a way, I'm in awe they ever got a book contract to begin with. I read indie authors, writing for a few years, maybe, who've discovered Amazon, and it's obvious, to me, they could use a lot more practice telling a believable and/or engaging story with characters I feel something, anything for.

Like my writing or hate it, you're going to feel something after each read. Mad, Glad. Happy. Sad, but I write to ignite thinking and feeling. What I don't write is the same detective story over and over, or one more vampire tale that's been told a billion times, or stupid and/or silly women, or their analog— hard-ass bitches, or love at first sight since that's lust. What I don't write is what seems to sell the most.

I write Literary Fiction, to a non-literary world. Publishers and popular writers have warned me not to use the Literary genre label since “It doesn't sell.” On Bookbub, their Literary section has the lowest ROI of any of their book recommendations lists.

I learned to write Lit fiction from reading it. Don Quixote, Crime & Punishment, The Magus— one-off stories that do not have sequels, their writers trying to get the reader thinking, feeling, instead of purchasing their next book. My novel Disconnected has taken 20 years of writing and rewriting to get it right, to communicate the turbulence in L.A. in the early 1990s, and expose the facade of the women's movement yet to be realized. The novel invites women to see where we came from, and to think about where we are, and will be in society by the choices we make today. Disconnected is Historical Literary Fiction, but I've been told I should call it Historical Romance...; }.

I stopped doing business marketing, my 'real' career, last April. Decided to focus all my creative energy on fine writing, and marketing myself as an author. And while it's true, more people are reading me now than ever before, it's not ramping the way I'd hoped. No shit about 'Don't quit your day job.' That said, I'd rather live poor and write Literature for the few readers who like unique, thinking novels with characters and ideas that linger, than write what is popular merely to sell books. It's my job as an artist to provoke thinking rather than provide more mindless entertainment to our world already mired in it.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We ARE What We DO

In the car with my 10 yr old daughter the other day, she asked me what Ego meant, one of her vocabulary words for the week.

I laughed. Good question, I replied. What do you think it is?

I wouldn't ask if I knew, mom.

Well, use it in a sentence, in context. You've heard the word enough to have an inkling what it means. And an inkling is as close as you're going to get to defining an abstract like Ego.

Her brows narrowed and I could see her pondering in the rear view mirror. 

My ego got hurt when Ms Brown told me I was singing flat this morning. She paused. And she did, mom.

Sorry. We'll get back to that. OK? So Ego is feelings then?

Not exactly. It's more like how we see ourselves. To me, I'm a good singer. You can hurt my feelings by being mean to me. But you hurt my ego when you tell me I'm not how I think I am.

Do you think you were flat this morning in glee?

Well, yeah. When I listened. I guess I'm not such a good singer.

Ah, but you could be, if you practiced singing. And not the perpetual off-key humming you do, but really practiced, daily—sing along with your favorites, or sing the notes when you practice piano. I glimpsed her rolling her eyes at my suggestions in the rear view mirror. Being a good singer doesn't happen inside your head. What is the only way to really get good at anything? (One of my many canonical refrains.)

Practice, mom. She sighed.

I sighed. My beautiful daughter, I think your explanation for Ego is excellent—it's how we see ourselves. Ego is an idea, even an ideal—who we want to be, but it isn't real. We are what we do, my dear (another of my refrains). If you want to be a good singer, you're going to have to practice becoming one.

So you don't think I'm a good singer, she asked woefully.

Were talking about ego, right?

Yeah. And my ego says I am one. So is ego always fake, just pretend inside my head?

You tell me. Do you think our ego ever gives us an accurate depiction—paints a real picture of how we are, who we are, in the real world?

Probably not. She sighed again, deflated. Just cuz you think you're good, or talented, or special doesn't mean you actually are to anyone besides yourself, except if you're famous. 

Really? So, there's a famous chef, recognized for his delicious creations. It's not just his ego talking that's telling him he's a good chef. He decides to create a new dish, and serves it to five friends. And all five hate the meal. The combination of flavors tastes just terrible. So, is the guy delusional that he's a good chef—it's just his ego talking—or is he really good?

My daughter considered my little tale carefully before answering. Well, if he thought of himself as a great chef with everything he made, then his delusion was that he could be good all the time, that everything he created would be a masterpiece.

So then, ego is never an accurate depiction of self?

I guess not. Just like there is no such thing as smart, mom. She quoted another of my canonical refrains. Her bright smile in the rear view mirror lit up my world.

My DH and I NEVER tell our kids they're smart. In fact, when other people do, we smile politely, turn away and snicker. Our kids are consistently at the top of their classes because they work at it. A lot. There is no such thing as smart, we preach. Smart is an abstract, merely an idea, a concept, like democracy, or love, potential, or ego. Smart is as smart does.

It is not how we think, or what we believe, it's ONLY what we DO that defines us. 

We are what we do.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Necessity of Immigration

Two inventions in the last hundred years have altered the course of human history:

The Atom Bomb, and the Internet.

While technology enables us to do many thingsfrom create to destroyit's the internet that connects the world in an instant and has the potential to unite us.

If we do not unify under the moniker The Human Race, humanity will likely parish sooner than later, as we are now capable of manifesting our aggression by annihilating each other, and taking most other life on this very small planet with us into oblivion.

To unify, we need to integrate. To integrate, cultures must emigrate between countries. For people to emigrate, we must allow, even encourage immigration between nations.

Except I don't want to integrate, a BIG part of me says.

I can't stand Obama's plan to allow more H-1B work visas because Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk are his largest campaign contributors and they want to hire cheap labor out of India, and bring the entire salary base down for all American's in doing so. Indians, Chinese are equally as inept as U.S. workers trying to figure out emerging tech. They, too, must learn on the job. They are cheap labor. It is THE REASON Google, Facebook, Twitter...etc, wants the H-1Bs. And Obama's new Immigration Reform gives these corporations, not start-ups since they aren't anymore, the visas.

Sucks, right. Yup. U.S. salaries will surely rise more slowly with the workforce shifting to foreigners. American citizens will lose out on jobs they are equally qualified for to foreign workers willing to accept less pay. Compact housing developments to accommodate H-1B workers are already springing up everywhere around the Bay—from the high rises in S.F. to the miles of condos that house foreign families—entire Indian and Asian neighborhoods of thousands are being established in the East Bay.

Yet, still, I advocate integration. Immigration.

Obama's screwed up loyalties at the expense of the U.S. workforce does NOT invalidate immigration reform. However corrupted it happens, integration between the cultures of humanity is a MUST. The internet connects us now. We are no longer separate islands but one world, and if we do not live this we all perish. And if still you don't get why, reread the first 5 paragraphs of this blog again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Suicide

I think about suicide constantly. It used to be my out— if life got too...much, I'd leave. Feeling nothing must be better than feeling bad all the time— my rejoinder.

My life hasn't been very hard, not like the kids in Oakland hard. I grew up in a middle-class suburban neighborhood, when it was still safe to walk to elementary school. Never wanted for food, always had a bed, felt safe in the home of my parents. And, however abstracted, I got that they loved me.

What's been so damn hard, always in my way, is...me. Born 2, or 200 yrs too early, I don't seem to fit here. I've been on the outside looking in at this world for as long as I can remember. First hit me when I was around 5 yrs old. My mom would often laud accolades of my father in the store or the car on the way home from school—what a good artist he was, or how “smart,” and “passionate.” But at home, I saw him put his fist through the wood cabinet on inch from her face in a heated argument over politics. I'd seen him make her cower multiple times, listened to him demean her time and again with statements proclaiming her ignorance, or jumping down her throat when she dared disagree with him. The cognitive dissonance between what she said and what I saw put a glass wall between us, instilled mistrust. Perhaps I was delusional, or she was, but either way it took away my ground.

My mother came to the house I was renting when I was 31, and told me she wanted to divorce my dad. Though she never followed through, I know she was unhappy with him. After our divorce discussion, she never again professed her admiration of him, though they were together for another 10+ years before her death. She spewed hateful word about her husband of 49 years on her deathbed practically every time I was with her. What I observed at 5, and forward, gave me the real picture of my parents' relationship, regardless of what my mother said. A glass brick in the wall of my emerging psyche. I've plugged into the difference between what people say and what we do ever since, much to my chagrin.

No, it's not my parents' fault I've spent a lifetime on the outside looking in. They tried to instill in me religion, be a part of the grand delusions the rest of the world apparently slavishly subscribes. But I've never been able to believe in a vengeful, rather ugly solipsist telling me what is right and wrong, acceptable and not, whom I'm supposed to believe in without question, or even speculation. Never been any good at blind faith. Suicide is not a sin. But it is all too often a selfish, morally ambiguous choice.

It's true I think about suicide virtually daily. I hear about Robin Williams, or Aaron Swartz, or Sylvia Plath and cycle on what they felt like right before killing themselves. Black, I imagine. And I live there. All too often. But both Williams and Plath had kids. And Aaron Swatz had thousand of followers who believed in and supported his fight for net-neutrality, me among them. And this is where the morally of killing themselves gets sticky. At least to me.

I brought life into physicality to experience living. And the experience of living—is feeling. The full range—happy, sad, mad, glad...whatever. No matter how hard things feel, no matter how black, if I take my own life I will invalidate the very reason I gave life. To feel. Dead, I will be robbing my children my love, the most intense, fantastic, and cherished of all feelings. And as much as I want to check out sometimes, I can't validate the moral choice of committing suicide, with, or even without kids, since most people have family and friends who love them.

Feelings are dynamic. They change with time. Black morphs to gray, then violet, then sky blue some sunny days. I wish I could go back in time to the moment of choice for the aforementioned suicides, and the 40,000 annually across the U.S. alone, and remind each of the sunny days that will surely come again, especially when embracing and sharing love.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Out of Body? Or Out of My Mind?

I'm participating in one of the creepiest, weirdest, most...surreal experiences I've ever had.

Greg Tremblay is a voice actor currently producing the audiobook for my novel Reverb. We met through ACX, Amazon's audiobook portal which hooks up authors with actors/producers for creating audiobooks to sell exclusively through Amazon and their channel partners. I didn't consider Reverb being an audiobook until several reader inquired if I had one available. I'd never heard an audiobook before. Every time I try to listen to one, in a friend or relative's car, my mind drifts, generally first to the scenery, then it begins a-wanderin. It does with TV too. Can't help it. Not much holds my attention the way my imagination does.

I'm currently reviewing the chapters of Reverb Greg has recorded to date. A practiced professional, he's 'playing' all characters true to their voice and nature. It's bizarre at best giving voice to the people I'd only heard in my head, but he's particularly nailed James, the protagonist in the novel, with his cultivated British accent, the rich tenor of his voice. And it's creeping me out. I get anxious, breathless, listening. The story, in parts “brutally raw,” is hard enough to read, yet alone hear, and the intensity of Greg's deliver so palpable it feels real.

James has been inside my head since I was a kid. Made him up when I felt afraid. Started when I was little, pretending to be a guy because men were supposed to be stronger than women, and when I felt scared I sought strength. I found it in James. As I grew he took on a life of his own, with a complex family history. He was brilliant, what I always wished to be, and insular, like most men seemed to me. Felt compelled to write about him to shed him from me completely. In giving him ground, perhaps I too could find some, learn to handle fear on my own.

For quite some time after finishing the novel, our separation was complete. Fear still takes me by the throat and is choking, often, but now I deal with it instead of cloaking James. He's merely a character in a novel, after all. But not anymore. Greg's voice has taken James outside of my head. He's been actualized, made real. And having James out there somewhere now, playing out the rest of his life story as I write this blog, is on the extreme end of surreal.

The most exquisitely bizarre bit—I can't wait for the next chapter Greg delivers to hear James again, be with him, in the same room, the same space, camera pov, a fly on the wall—listening/watching. “Addicting read,” several reviewers have called Reverb. I get that now, and other reviews like, “frantically turning the pages to see what happens next.” I can't wait to hear the rest of his story, like I didn't write it. Someone else who knows James did.

I'm unclear if these feelings, this surreal experience is typical for other writers whose work is actualized in voice or video. For authors currently involved in the process, or those who've previously brought their work from the page to the airwaves, please use the comment box to share your experience.

Friday, July 25, 2014

StartUp @ 45+

I responded to an ad for a Traffic Manager position at an ad agency in San Francisco a few years ago. Downtown, in one of those glass monoliths. Eighteenth floor. Made me nauseous being up there. I couldn't help consider the notion of an earthquake as I sat in the lobby waiting for my interview to begin, staring out the floor to ceiling windows at the city far below me.

An older gentleman, at least 20 years my senior, sat in the lobby with me. Probably in his mid-50s, receding hairline with only a tuft left on top of his head, but the sides were still full and more salt than pepper. He wore a wedding ring, black slacks and a white shirt under his gray suit jacket which did not conceal his slightly protruding belly.

We'd probably been sitting there three minutes but to me it felt like twenty. I could have sworn the building was swaying. So sure I was having a vertigo reaction, at one point I asked the older guy next to me for a reality check.

“Excuse me. Hi.” I gave him my friendliest smile and tried not to come off like a lunatic. “Do you feel the building...moving?”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied. “These buildings are designed to sway in the wind. In earthquakes, too.” He gave me a shy smile, like he was sorry he brought them up. “They have upwards of a five foot arc depending on height, and design, of course. Doesn't sit well with some people. My son hates it. You one of the motion sensitive types?”

“You bet,” is all I could manage to avoid barfing.

He smiled. “Not me so much. I'm not the sensitive type. You here for the Traffic position?”

I nodded. “You?”

“Yup.” Then the pudgy older guy went on a diatribe describing his education and work history, as if I was the one interviewing him. A few minutes into his years at yet another firm in a compact list of famous ad agencies, a young, and I mean young, maybe 20 year old assistant/model called the guy in for his interview.

From my vantage point I watched them go into the all-glass conference room in the center of the open office maze. I saw him sit at the end of the long table only after the woman interviewing him sat. She was strikingly similar to the assistant/model, same tight build, silky auburn hair and milky skin of an early 20-something. She sat straight in her chair, but he seemed to wilt in his as the interview progressed, which seemed odd because his experience was substantial and in the exact areas required for the job. I'd been on the Creative and Art Direction side and knew nothing about running Traffic in a large agency setting. I'd applied for the position hoping for an entree into their creative department. Less than ten minutes later the hot interviewer was escorting the pudgy guy to the glass door. He gave me a basset hound nod as he passed to leave.

I was called in next, and felt twitchy with the fishbowl affect of their all glass conference room the entire time we were talking. I kept losing eye contact with the young Director of Digital Traffic, focusing instead on every passerby looking in at us, and even most that weren't. She went through my resume with perky interest, then asked to review my portfolio as if to back up my claims. I showed her several projects from my book which she perused carefully while questioning my involvement in the campaigns. I gave her detailed descriptions of a few of my recent freelance consulting gigs, hoping she'd get the hint and refer me to one of the impossible to reach CDs on staff.

“Are you aware you're dressed the epitome of chic?” she asked me, which seemed very personal but it was an interview, after all, so I went with it.

Sort of. I had no idea how to respond so I kinda laughed her off with a shrug.

“The black leather jacket with that maroon lace dress. Stunning. Really. Good choice. So, do you want the job, or what?”

And I would have said, 'No, not really. I'm hoping for a lead to your creative department,' but then she told me the salary.

“$90,000 to start. And if you come on board there's a $5,000 signing bonus.”

I was working my ass off for around $60,000 annually, getting the clients, hiring the teams per project, doing everything from the creative to the production and traffic to accounting and billing as a consultant. Close to a hundred grand seemed easy money working for someone else, performing a single job function. I told her I needed 24 hrs to think about it and I'd get back to her tomorrow.

“Well, I hope you join us,” she said as she walked me out. “I think you'd be a great asset to the team, and our agency.”

In my car on the drive across the Bay Bridge her words echoed in my head. Why, exactly, would I be a great asset to the production team? Unlike me, the older candidate I met in the lobby had the experience and education the agency's ad asked for, and he surely needed the job more than I did, with a wife and at least one kid. I told the young director I'd only trafficed my own projects, that I'd been on the creative side my entire career, but she didn't hear that. She was too busy checking out at my outfit. She was basing my fit into the agency on my looks, and my age.

Before you roll your eyes and tune out of 'another article on ageism,' for all of you over 50 out there, or if younger you're at least aware that you too will age, don't bother looking to get hired from a 20-something 'Director' who hasn't amassed the years of experience you now possess. Young and naive, your knowledge threatens her authority. You don't need to waste your valuable time in the playpen, also known as most startups today. Become your own CEO. Start your own gig with the skill sets you've cultivated all these years. Have an idea? Create your own company, even if it's consulting, or teaching on what you used to do full time. No ideas? Find someone who does and partner.

Simple? Nope. Hard. Very. But harder than getting a job from the pubescent workforce now dominating the job market? Probably not. And a hell of a lot more... invigorating than answering to some just out of college clueless 'Director,' young enough to be your kid.