A Walk Along The Paths of Ecstacy

The Seattle Sports fan is used to a swift kick in the teeth. Sit in a bar and throw out any year and watch them recount the travesty or tragedy of that particular annum.

  • 2001 -“How did we lose to the Yankees?”
  • 2012 – “Freaking Falcons, man.”
  • 1998 – “How did that UConn guy – what was his name – hit that shot?”

You can play this game with every year. Just don’t expect to be invited back out again.

And man were the chairs aligned yesterday for this to become one of the most debilitating moments in Seattle sports history. Our big brother San Francisco, coming into our house, a place where we embarrassed them 3 months prior. They had all their starters back, we were missing some of our stars to injury and suspension. We have the lead. We’re inches from the Super Bowl, and suddenly they have the ball on the 25 yard line with all the time in the world. They’ll have 4 or 5 shots to get in the end zone and just crush our will. If you hit pause on life at that moment, I would wager that most fans had already started to think about how they were going to deal with this bone-crushing loss.

And then something amazing happens. The Stanford guy – the import who now who would rather be in Seattle than the Bay Area – makes the play of his life. Seahawks win. Seahawks win. Cue the pandemonium.

I spent hours walking around downtown after the game. I listened to the horns blare up and down 1st Ave. Every bar had “We are the Champions” blasting every 3rd song, with a few versions of New York, New York thrown in for good measure.

To my surprise I saw more than a couple stunned 49ers fans standing on street corners by themselves.  They were graciously congratulating jubilant Hawks fans. It was a sign of a fan base who has had enough success to know how to lose as well as win. I surmised that these people were lifelong San Francisco fans who knew what it meant to Seattle fans, and were dealing with their mourning by watching other people be ecstatic. Maybe it was a bit of comfort for them – to see others experience what they had first enjoyed years – maybe even decades – before.

I saw people in bars not knowing what to do. They hugged, they ordered a drink, they watched the replays on TV and….. now what. Some kept drinking. Some went home. Some just wandered the streets.

But what I observed was honest to god ecstasy. People loved the moment they were in and loved loving the moment they were in. They had no idea what to do in it, but all they had to do was smile and feel good. Whatever life struggle they had was forgotten. Whatever uncompleted task on their “to do list” was ignored. People were happy. Truly, magnificently happy.

It’s irrational and can never model out on an economist’s spreadsheet. But that happiness was good for this city. It might manifest itself as a business owner being more motivated to succeed, or a sad person remembering what it’s like to smile, or a group of friends remembering how much they enjoy being together. But combine all of these moments together, across the city, and you see that our fabric is stronger for that moment.

2014 – “That freaking Sherman play was AWESOME!”

Why Start-ups Shouldn’t Pretend to Recruit Agencies

In the Entrepreneurial Marketing class I teach at the UW, we talk about how start-ups need to be scrappy with their money. Without aa lot of money to spend, we need to make every dollar stretch. We talk about the fact that we often can’t afford to hire an agency.

One of the ways to temporarily sidestep the need to hire strategic services from an agency is to look at campaigns you find compelling, and model your own plan after them. If you’ve noticed a company, it may be possible to reverse engineer their thought process (or their agency’s) and generate similar success. Emulation is a form of flattery.

However, one thing we DON’T advise students to do is “pretend” to be hiring an agency, send out a bunch of RFP’s, and have them do free work for you. Yes, this seems like a scrappy thing to do. Submit your problem and solicit proposals and ideas from 10-20 small to mid-range agencies. You’ll get a few hours of free consulting and brainstorming from each one, and get to form an overall strategy out of the ideas you like best.

Your VC and investors may think this is a fabulous idea. $10,000 in free consulting is a huge win, right?

But I’d argue that long-term (and even short-term), you can do your brand a pretty large disservice when you do this. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. As a Start-up, your plan is going to involve Influencers and Thought Leaders. When an agency tells you they can recruit “Thought Leader X,Y and Z,” they are saying they have a personal relationship with them already. When you get free work from the agency and then tell them you aren’t hiring anyone, you’re not creating a neutral relationship with the agency world, you’re building a negative one. These Thought Leaders you need to recruit will already have heard about what kind of company you are from the people whose time you wasted.
  2. When you become successful, you will get a larger VC round and have more money to spend on marketing. Then you really will have a budget in which to hire an agency.  But this time when you send out your RFP’s the good agencies will remember how you treated them in the past and decline to participate. Yes, you will get responses to your RFP, but you’ll be getting them from companies that need the work.  You want to hire agencies that turn down work, not the ones who can’t keep it.
  3. You are going to work at other companies in your career. When you are a junior person and your CEO sends you out to burn a bunch of cycles from the agencies, he/she is sending you on that mission so they don’t sully their own name.  We agency people are horrible gossip hounds. We’re going to share stories about the person who sent us on a wild goose chase.
  4. And finally, it’s just not good start-up karma.  Most agencies are like little start-ups.  They have to be scrappy themselves to go get the next piece of business. They have to balance how much staff to have on hand because they always either have just a touch too much work or a touch too little. Their teams are usually either overworked or worried they are going to be laid off. So it’s just bad to make these people do free work for you. As a start-up, do you want to have customers with no intention of buying your product to burn your salespeople’s time? No.

So start-ups of the world, I suggest you resist the urge to get free work from people under the guise of an RFP. If your CEO and VC are making you do this, pause and think what kind of nefariousness they are committing themselves. Is that the kind of company you want to hitch your star to?


Biggio vs Jeter

Imagine if Craig Biggio played for the Yankees his whole career:
  • Craig Biggio: 2850 G, 3060 H, 1844 R, 668 2B, 291 HR, 414 SB, .281 BA, .791 OPS, Played C, 2B and OF
  • Derek Jeter: 2602 G, 3316 H, 1876 R, 525 2B, 256 HR, 348 SB, .312 BA, .828 OPS, Played SS
Biggio always had to be one of the best hitters on his team. Jeter always had $150-200MM of payroll surrounding him.
Jeter will be 1st ballot Hall of Famer.  Biggio will have to wait again for next year.
Poor guy.

The Importance of Your Talents vs Your Resume

I’ve been doing more thinking recently about the role a resume (or LinkedIn Profile) plays in your job search. What is the perfect blend of connections, qualifications, overall talent and past experience?

Coincidentally, today Forbes released its annual 30 under 30 lists. Highlighted in the Marketing list is Seattle’s own Andrew Dumont.  This inclusion did not surprise me in the least.  It’s a great honor and well deserved.

Andrew_Dumont_ForbesIt reminded me of the time I first met Andrew. I was a Principal at another social media agency at the time, and no less than 3 members of the team said, “You have to meet this guy. Super bright.” I was curious why his resume never made it to my desk despite everyone having such great things to say about him, so I inquired.

Our Office Manager was the gate keeper for incoming resumes. This person had certain skills and an ability to color inside the lines, but little ability to do any creative or lateral thinking, and sometimes even struggled if forced to make a decision on which crayon to choose. It turns out a hard and fast mandate had been implemented, “No college degree, no interview.” So despite Andrew’s entrepreneurial successes and social media prowess, our gate keeper would not allow us to talk to him.

But too many people told me I had to meet Andrew, so I chose a day when the gate keeper was on a holiday and invited the 20 year old in.  It became clear within 30 seconds that we couldn’t hire him – we’d just never be able to afford him.  I knew what we paid our junior team members and he was worth 2-3x that. I knew we’d never be able to make the numbers work, but I was really glad my colleagues had made the introduction.

Years later, I’m an old guy who pays attention to Andrew’s successes and tries to learn from him. It doesn’t matter if I have more experience – he’s the one wearing X-ray glasses that cut through the clutter and can see the future. But not only that, he makes time to support the Seattle start-up community. I’ve been able to interview him for a couple of panels, and he’s supported my class at the UW whenever I’ve asked.

So tying this back to the original topic: Talents vs Resume.  A good HR person is recruiting talent that can add value to the future of company. And the easiest scorecard or scouting report to read is a resume. But a resume is usually just a recap of the past. It is not necessarily a predictor of future events. The HR person wants to see what your talents are, and if those talents translate into something their team needs. So you had a job at big company X. That’s great. It shows you can get a job. But what talent did you bring to the team? How much did the team win? What else did you learn while you were there?

Some people have outstanding talents that have never been showcased in a professional environment for whatever reason – bad managers, shrinking industry, crisis management, etc… Some great strategists spend their early careers putting out fires instead of planning the company’s future. But you have a ton of non-resume opportunities to showcase the talents you can bring to a company. Writing, volunteering, starting side projects, mentoring, being mentored, etc…

In a nutshell… When I met Andrew he was clearly talented, and we had an Office Manager that discriminated against him for not having the right resume. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones. But then there were other companies that evaluated his potential, not his past. And now he’s in Forbes as a 30 under 30 winner.

Moral of the story: Managers – Look for the talent, not the resume. Job seekers – Showcase your talents and don’t let a resume hold you back. This equation adds up to the right HR people hiring the right young talent. And companies full of talent and potential are the ones you end up seeing on CNBC.

Dispatch from Gothenburg

I had the chance to do a little work and visit Sweden towards the end of December. I had every intention of writing and publishing a ton of material.  I did accomplish the writing part – volumes and volumes of content.  But not all of it is ready to be published. So instead of waiting around and trying to get it all together, here’s a short recap that’s a little dated now, but talks about my first week or so.


Ok, its Sunday afternoon here in Sweden, so factoring in the 15 hour trip, 9 hour time difference, and the fact that it gets dark at 3:30pm, I think I’ve been here somewhere between 3 and 12 days.  Hard to know exactly.

Coming at you now from Gothenburg, a short 40 minute train from my home base in Vargarda. Calling Vargarda a town is kind of like calling the New Mexico Bowl a Bowl Game. There are literally 6 restaurants, one cafe and one bakery.  I’ve walked by the restaurants at 12:30 pm, 3:30 pm, 7:00pm and 11:00pm and haven’t seem anyone in any of them, so I’m not sure how they exist. Could be supported by the government. Or a front for Al Qaeda. Who knows. You might think, “Well at least you’ll get to try some Swedish food.” Well interestingly enough, when Swedes go “out” for dinner instead of cooking at home, the last thing they want is Swedish food. So the restaurants are 3 pizzerias, a Chinese joint, what appears to be Thai, and something else. Maybe that’s the Swedish one. Anyway, instead, I went to the grocery store and stocked up on meats and cheeses I can’t pronounce. And caviar in a tube. Which is as good as it sounds.
The only place in the town where I have internet access is the library, which is actually remarkably nice. So I have access to the outside world M-F from 10-7 which is about all I can say about the town otherwise.
The house that is my home base is more cabin than house. Radiators keep it comfortably above freezing but below warm. No internet, No TV, no washer/dryer…. but there’s electricity and a table so theoretically I should be able to get all my work done.
That being said, it didn’t take me very long on Friday morning to walk over the train tracks to the library, gaze west and ponder, “Hmm… Gothenburg….” And a few hours later I was checked into a hotel for Friday and Saturday nights.
So I had a good 3 days and 2 nights of wandering, exploring and adventuring. Gothenburg has an amazing tram system. They have 17 tram lines, so at first you’re like, “Shit, I’ll never figure this thing out.”  Then you realize that all the trams go through one center near the middle of town. So if you see any tram heading inbound, you know where it will end up, as well as one of the 5 or 6 mini-hubs that circle that main hub. Once you figure out that, life is a breeze. No matter how lost you get, you just jump inbound and you get back to someplace you recognize.
You might think, “At $3 a ride, that sounds expensive.” Well that would be the case, but it appears paying for the tram is more of a suggestion than a mandate. I bought a 24 hour pass for day one, then watched gamely as about 1 of every 5 Swedes who got on the tram ever checked in. So since then I”ve just waved my hand at the sensor and gone on with my day. Ah, the joys of socialism.
So like I said, it’s Sunday evening and the last two trains leave at 8:55 and 10:55 – and when I figured THAT out, my mood changed considerably.  My math isn’t great, but 1:00pm Eastern plus 6 hours = 7:00pm Sweden, which gives me a half or even a whole NFL game if I want it. I mean for Christ’s sake, they put a sports bar in the train station.  What do they expect me to do?
Speaking of sports, I got to my Swedish Hockey League (SHL) game Saturday afternoon in Gothenburg. The game here was a special SHL Christmas event – JULMATCHEN – so they played it outside in the soccer stadium. As far as I can tell, JULMATCHEN roughly translates to, “Game played outside in cold rainstorm” so we had a 45 minute rain delay while 6 poor arena employees spent a good 90 minutes sweeping the rain off the ice – and it continued to come down pretty well just above freezing temperatures at 35 degrees. The rain finally stopped, and we had a hockey match. We lost. I stood in the supporters section wearing my Sounders jacket and talked to a few drunk fans who kept wanting to know my thoughts on all the Swedes playing in the NHL. Apparently, if you live in the US, it’s your God given responsibility to follow hockey even if you don’t have a team in your city. Especially in an Olympic year, when they want to ask about how the US team looks. My chance to make friends in Gothenburg was blown because I can’t talk about freaking NHL hockey.
Also last night I got to Liseberg – a wonderful sugar covered Christmas Wonderland with powdered candy cane joy sprinkled on top.  Liseberg deserves it’s own post.  It’s just to Noel-ly-ful to describe in a paragraph. And it should get its own photo album.
Anyway, back to Vargarda tonight, hope to lay low and get my work done this week, keep walking 5 miles a day and then either see a friend from Manchester in Stockholm next weekend or something else fun like that.  Or, with train tickets about $30 round trip, I may be commuting into Gothenburg all week. Who can tell…

Some photos: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjPZL7VZ


My Favorite Quotes

No these aren’t from 2013, but I think they reflect my mindset as I head out of the year and into a new one. It’s a good time to reflect on them.

  • “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” – Paulo Coelho
  • “Everything good I have came from honesty, good intentions, and low expectations.” – Frank Chimero
  • “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.”
  • “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Ben Franklin
  • “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevancy even less.” – General Eric Shinseki
  • “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” – Mark Twain
  • “Age ain’t nuthin’ but mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” – Satchel Paige
  • “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.” – Annie Savoy
  • “All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.”
  • “I’ve been asked this question a lot, How do you want to be remembered…to be remembered at all is pretty special.” – Cal Ripken Jr
  • “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs

Why Life is Like Football

I was talking to one of my young entrepreneurial friends today. It had been a while since we caught up so the conversation predictably started around, “How’s everything going?”

The funny thing about entrepreneurs is that nothing is ever going poorly. Setbacks are learning experiences. Unexpected hurdles are blockers for future competition. Lack of clarity in a mission is pause for contemplation.

People with jobs have a bad day. Entrepreneurs have a new challenge.

We ruminated on this awhile and came up with the analogy that entrepreneurship is like football. You build the best team you can, develop a system you think will work, scout out the competition, and take your game to the field. During the game you run your plays, knowing 11 people are trying to stop you. When you get the ball, you run into the defense, driving as hard and as long as you can go on each play.

Eventually you have to make strategic decisions. When you see something working, you ride it as long as you can. If the situation is hopeless, you punt and regroup. Somedays you have a great game plan and the right team. Somedays you have a great team and the wrong plan. And somedays, you just get blown out of the water by people more talented than you.

Anyway, I thought it was a fun conversation. Keep those legs driving forward….

A Cynical Realization About How I Read News

It’s coffee break time. So I head over to Deadspin.com to do a quick scroll to see if there’s anything im-sport-ant for me to follow up on.  (Yes I created that term to describe important sports news, and I will allow you to use it…)

The latest story on the A-Rod mess attracts my attention. I read the story. I see both sides to the issue. I want more info.

So here’s the main plot point in my story here – I am looking for objective, fair and unbiased facts that I can read through. I want to get news, not filtered bullet points provided by either side’s PR teams. I unconsciously scroll through my mental list of places to type in my browser next. Here’s how that thought process went:

  • MLB.com  – No, that’s a marketing site, not a sports news site.
  • Espn.com – No, they will basically have someone from MLB.com writing the story, with the CFO and head of the MLB / ESPN relationship approving it. It will be completely one-sided.
  • FoxSports.com – No, they aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them either.
  • SeattleTimes.com – No, the baseball beat writers are probably on furlough until February.
  • SportsPressNW.com – Yes, I’ll check them out, but will expect the article later in the week since it’s not pressing news right now.
  • 710Sports.com – No, the home of the Mariners is not going to write anything negative about MLB.
  • Any of the news sites – No, they are probably just going to have 3-4 paragraphs pulled from MLB.com.
  • USSMariner.com – YES. they may not have the story, but I bet the KNOW where a good article is.

And I was rewarded. A USSMariner.com article had a link to this awesome piece by Wendy Thurn at Fangraphs.com.

But now think about this. I have been trained that whenever there is an “insportant” story, I can’t go to any major media outlet to get fair coverage. The news, sports and entertainment divisions of companies are so intertwined, my unconscious reaction is to ignore anyone who has any official relationship with Major League Baseball.  Not to read the story with a grain of salt on my tongue. Not to read the story and then look for countering arguments. But to sidestep all broadcasters associated with MLB all together.

Am I too cyncial? Maybe. Or maybe I’ve just been conditioned to know what to expect from them.

Opposing the Arena Cost Richard Conlin His Job

This is pretty much purely my speculation…

Fact: Out of 16 people on the Seattle City and King County Councils, Richard Conlin was one of 2 people to oppose the proposed arena. From Wikipedia:

On October 15, 2012, both the King County Council and Seattle City Council approved a financing plan for a $490 million sports arena in the Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood, backed by venture capitalist Chris Hansen. The King County Council vote was 9-0, while the City Council vote was 7-2, with Conlin and Nick Licata as the only opposition.[16] The new arena was intended to host the NBASeattle SuperSonics professional basketball team as well as a potential NHL ice hockey team.

Opinion: I voted against Conlin solely because of this.  Didn’t even look to see who the opposition was. (Of course, the joke’s on me – the opposition is a Socialist and I’m stuck with THAT for 4 years, but anyway.)

Conlin’s only colleague in his failed anti-arena effort was Nick Licata, who keeps getting elected under the same Seattle-specific psuedo-common sense that says people should wear socks with birkenstocks, refuse to use umbrellas in the rain and improve traffic by getting rid of car lanes for bike lanes. It appears Licata was at least lucky enough to be able to wait for the election to be over before having to launch his failed initiative to derail $151,000 from funding a more formalized Seattle Startup Initiative. I breathe a little thanks that Licata has lost enough pull that he can’t completely derail common sense in the Council anymore. Still, I can’t help think that as a city, we get what we deserve as long as we continue to elect that crackpot. But it’s worth noting that he waited until his paycheck for the next 4 years was secure before trying his latest effort to hold Seattle back.

But back to the point of the story. Richard Conlin is forced out of his job of guiding a city, and headed back to a job of writing policy for non-profits, thanks in part to his refusing to help bring a privately-funded arena to life.  He could have used common sense and kept his job. But he didn’t. And by refusing, he forced voters to go against common sense and elect a Socialist. All in all a wash for the voters, and a loss for him.

Bridging the Social Media Ocean

When I chose to go back to Grad School at the UW  in 2004, I made a conscious decision that after I graduated, I would say “Yes” to every opportunity to learn more that would ever be thrown at me.

In the first few years, saying “Yes” meant speaking at the Undergraduate Marketing Club or Young Entrepreneurs Club, or meeting with VCIC students. That evolved into judging the UW Business Plan Competition, taking on interns for projects and guest lecturing from time to time. Before I knew it, I was teaching  real classes, trying to implement the parts of business school I benefited from the most as a student, while shedding the parts that I saw no value in.

And so here we are today. I just finished up the first part of  the two days I have the privilege to spend working with MBA students visiting the UW from Lucerne University in Switzerland. I wish someone would have asked 4 years ago if I ever thought I’d be teaching students who live 8,000 miles away. I wonder what m response would have been.

My discussions with them today reminded me about something I think proud Seattleites often forget. Namely, there are way more people in the world that don’t share the every aspect of the Northwest’s rain driven, liberal thinking, social media embracing, technology-centric, environmentally-maniacal, privacy shunning state of mind.

For example, other countries haven’t necessarily adopted the idea that every ham sandwich we eat should get its own Instagram photo, or why we would want our boss to know what articles we are reading.  The idea of building personal blogs to gratify our egos and promote our social importance isn’t necessarily a worldwide phenomenon yet.

But what is important is that globally, smart people want to learn more. Whether we are American, Swiss, German, Japanese, Korean, etc… there are people who want to understand how others think. They may not understand why, and they may not want to emulate it, but they want to understand the “how.” And the more people we have around the world who want to learn about how other cultures act, work, play and live, the better chance we have at finding a common ground.

Moral of the story: Always say yes to anything you can learn from.  You’ll never regret it.