Create a SquareOff, Not Just Another Poll



We are squaring off here.

The days of writing a mini book report to poll your readers is over. You’re now able to take your online polls to the next level, beyond the text and radio button.

People are busy. Engage them on an emotional level and they can become your biggest fans. Be relevant and shareable. Buzzfeed knows this well. Just look at their clever The 20 Coolest Hybrid Animals campaign they did for Toyota. Relevant and sharable with everybody from the cute animal loving set to the sustainable consumer crowd.


The best SquareOffs spark and spread an ongoing conversation around your content. They will enhance the social interaction on your site and generate more impressions for your brand. One-sided debates are not exciting. Remember, we are squaring off here.

Get to the point! Are you talking about something too obscure? Keep it simple. If you must add some detail for your readers, do it in the side defense area not in the front page of the SquareOff.

Zebroid (photo credit: Buzzfeed via,1020,904914,00.jpg)

Even a Zebroid has two sides.

Choose subject matter that is topical or contentious. Look at your own content across your site. What are your writers writing about? What are your readers talking about? And don’t underestimate the power of Local. If you’re a local news operation, tap into the trends happening on the ground.

For further inspiration, check out Google Trends or what’s trending now on Twitter. This will help boost your reach as people share their votes out to social networks and bringing new readers back to your site.


Check out some live examples and contact SquareOffs to get it on your website.


Spring Forward Like Pacman



Never give up.

What a busy winter season. Holiday crush, end of year rush always has me looking forward to Q2 on the calendar. It’s Spring time and love of fresh tech startups is in the air with all the conferences, including South by Southwest and the inaugural Big Kansas City.

The picture you see is courtesy of one of my favorite blogs, Austin, Texas Daily Photo. The caption says it all. Go for the Pacman food, and don’t look back.

Time to recap and get this blog revving again…

I spent a considerable amount of writing bandwidth on my contributions to Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs’ stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check out some of my work there:

South by Southwest
Checked in at “halftime” on Sunday, just in time for a solid three-day plan of tech parties, customer meetings, and the usual serendipity. Brief rundown:

  • #ShowMeSXSW
  • Paid a total of $7 for parking, not bad if you’re with car in ATX during SXSW.
  • SoCo, Joe’s, Annie’s, food truckology, and so forth.
  • Hung out with The Real Lean Startup
  • Badgeless with purpose in the Hilton lobbies
  • Ate a Casino El Camino burger and saw some Music + Film (thanks Kate!)
  • Met Bing Gordon on 6th Street (thanks to Jeff)
  • Hosted a kick-ass party with SquareOffs

I made a few “Un-Predictions” for 2013. Things that won’t change…
Brandifying, Google Plush, Byte Sizing, 2xfoursquare, Impressions, KISS

Tao of Bhanu Returns
Not only did he bust this blog’s record for Facebook likes, but he wrote another impassioned post on startups. Startup Investments and E-Commerce asks some tough questions on funding and urges tech entrepreneurs to take a pledge.

And finally…


All the way from Columbus.

Sometimes the best offense IS a good offense.

Congrats to the Louisville Cardinals for outlasting the amazingly talented scoring machine of the Michigan Wolverines. This game, this Final Four (Shockers) and tourney was everything the Spring Classic should always be — Competition + Class — and one to remember.



Write Better, Live Healthier #2


Packing serious power.

In the Write Better, Live Healthier  series I’m giving you practical advice on ways to improve the quality of your life. Creativity, happiness, success — there’s never a bad time to think more about it and go get it. It’s also a forum to explore and debate topics that we all care about but rarely have time to stop and consider amidst our busy lives. Think of it as a quick push notification for your life, full of little nuggets of byte-sized wisdom nudging you to tap into something new and good.


#2… Stop training for marathons, start training your mind.

Austin is my new favorite hot spot — not just for reasons some may think. Sure, it can be a mighty fine non-stop culinary and cocktail rodeo. But it’s also a place with people who live healthier lifestyles. That’s hard to do in the Everything-Is-BIG Texas.

It’s also home to two very cool and inspired people who I’ve come to know as great friends the last year — Andy & Nichole. You can read about their amazing story here. I recently was down in ATX to handle some business, surprise Nichole for her birthday, and retrieve my favorite burnt orange “trainers” (running shoes in the standard British-American English translation). Andy and I were having a discussion about what it takes to make a difference physically in your life. Nichole knows this like the back of her hand, so if you want to know more about her new project “The Real Lean Startup”  you can go here.

Back to me and Andy’s chat…

I was lamenting how I’ve known so many people that train for marathons, run in them, but never really seem to make much of a difference with their physical fitness. They still physically look the same as they always have. Conventional wisdom would tell you otherwise. But Andy reminded me what Nichole said once that stuck with us both, and that was “80% is your nutrition.” What I really worry about is all this focus on excessive cardio starting to eat into our muscles — the lean fat burning machine of our bodies.

About seven years ago, my doctor told me I was a little “fat” for my age and height whilst still being an athlete. I always tell this story to people, and might be a bit ridiculous. But I tell it to remind myself to stay on track. I played basketball in a fairly competitive pickup league every Tuesday night. I’d run up and down the floor for two hours, burn a ton of calories. I’d go to the gym a few days a week and run once a week on top of that. Here’s what happened. Amidst all the physical activity and exercise I was repeating some of these bad habits:

  • staying up too late and getting less sleep
  • neglecting my down time, i.e. no relaxation activities, but finding more work to do
  • eating like a buzzard while traveling on the road
  • stressing out too much about dumb shit

Whenever I visit Austin, I make a point to spend time with Andy & Nichole. We share a nice ritual of going to the store and picking up fresh ingredients for dinner. Then we go back to Bevanham Castle and cook an awesome fajita dinner. It’s good to slow it down a bit. Eat later. Do some food prep, open a bottle on wine, rap about life and business, and put on some crazy Swedish house music on the iPad. This is what my friends might call a “cheat” day. It’s never really a big deal because you’re doing the all the right things the rest of the week. And this is my practical message to anybody, but specifically to entrepreneurs  moving at a constant ludicrous speed:

It’s not about the bad stuff, as much as it is about not doing enough of the good stuff.

  • Eat right more often than not – Dave Thomas and Colonel Sanders are not your nutritionists. Neither are Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy John and Cinnabon. So don’t let them take over your crammed and slammed week of pitches, meetings, and hackathons.
  • Get out from under the laptop and get active — Surely. But don’t amass days and weeks of bad habits and think you’re rewarding yourself with a fun run or a marathon. That’s just backwards thinking. Instead…
  • Start training your mind to think ahead — Moderate exercise is a healthy habit to take up. No argument there. But stop for moment and think about what will take your mind and body farther and higher well into your best years. It’s the nutrition stupid.

Try this routine out. One weeknight a week. Work later (yes, I said work later). Go home around 8 or 9. Slow down, take the rest of the night off and cook yourself a healthy meal. Fajitas are great (Andy puts too much guac and sour cream on his), or try one of my all-time favorites. It’s fresh Wild Alaskan Salmon with sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts (use olive oil instead of butter, substitute prosciutto for bacon if you must!).

Little victories like these throughout the week will begin to train your mind with healthier habits. Watch your body become your new best follower.

To Badge or Not to Badge at #SXSW




I wrote a piece for my friends over at Entrepreneurs Unpluggd last fall on this topic. With just over a month before our annual Spring Break for Geeks  road trip, we’d like to get your opinion on the matter. Join us for a pint on @SquareOffs in Austin on Sunday night, March 10th. We’ll be at Fado Irish Pub on 4th St.

March will be here before you know it and that means “South by” time in Austin. And if you’re like me and haven’t bought your badge yet for SXSW Interactive, you may want to keep it that way. I recently saw a Tweet that got me thinking about the idea of going badgeless. There’s a bit of a badgeless movement going on lately, even a Facebook page devoted to it. It’s clearly a stated alternative, not a knock against the organizers of the conference. Read on…


So, if you’re headed to SXSW in Austin, are you considering going badgeless? Pick a side and tell us why!



Write Better, Live Healthier #1


Lettuce, begin.

In the Write Better, Live Healthier  series I’m giving you practical advice on ways to improve the quality of your life. Creativity, happiness, success — there’s never a bad time to think more about it and go get it. It’s also a forum to explore and debate topics that we all care about but rarely have time to stop and consider amidst our busy lives. Think of it as a quick push notification for your life, full of little nuggets of byte-sized wisdom nudging you to tap into something new and good.

#1…You need to make an effort to Write Better stuff.

I see a lot of poor writing out there. I see it in business — RFPs, emails, docs, Powerpoints, product specs and other things. I see it online — web copy, UI, blogs, profiles, social media posts and comments.  I also see out there in general, in the wild — ads, billboards, industrial designs, instructions, signage, even menus at bars and restaurants.

Nobody’s perfect, and I’ll certainly carry the torch for imperfection. Maybe at some point I’ll put up a few examples. But to quote a famous line from a Supreme Court judge and James Bond, “I know it when I see it.”

There are three reasons it’s important to Write Better:

  • Write Better to organize your thoughts. We all have ideas that pop into our head all the time. Use whatever system you want for getting these into some recognizable and referenceable format. I like blogging them, but I also like recording them on paper. For the latter, it has the added benefit of always being “wireless.”
  • Write Better to reuse your content. Time is precious. Why waste it on trying to recreate something every time you want to reference it, link to it, or expand upon it. I like this idea of becoming a buffalo content maker. Don’t waste anything. If you write it better the first time then it will be much easier to call-up and reuse again for maximum impact.
  • Write Better to inspire yourself and others. Make it memorable, and fun. How cool would it be to have a running catalog of stuff you wrote that gives you or someone else a lift in their day? Very. There’s an amazing thing that happens when you write in an inspired voice, a bonus. You often end up with content that can easily work into a verbal communication on the subject. This is because it was written in a conversational style that is a natural for connecting with the listener.

I leave you with this poster called 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer to get you pumped up. It’s from Copyblogger Media, makers of the StudioPress Genesis Framework. They make awesome WordPress themes. I am a big fan.

In future installments, I’ll cover specific tools and techniques for Writing Better for different situations in life — professional and personal. And of course I’ll be diving into the Healthier  side of this series. Topics for that one are top secret at the moment. I might need kid gloves.

#2… Stop training for marathons, start training your mind.



Un-Predictions 2013


Bark park

Off the leash.


With so many predictions flying around out there, I’m taking a page from the unconventional and making this post about the things that I believe will not be changing — the “un-predictions”  for 2013.

I heard once in a great talk from Jason Fried of 37signals quoting Bezos wisdom, ‘focus on things that don’t change in your business.’ For example, a product needs to be slower and harder to use…said no customer ever! You get the idea. It’s in these tiny oft-overlooked realisms that we find our focus and keep delivering value.

My New Year’s gift to you:…

Companies will continue to pop onto the scene with these uber crazy tech sounding names. If they’ve actually got something then these cheeky monikers will help them stand out for a little while. After their coolifyness wears off they’ll need to be tenacious about reinforcing their brand and value as more pop-up around them. Or, worse, this might happen. It’s true that slowly and certaintly the universe of possible legit sounding dot com domain names are dwindling down. But companies that opt for the other side of creativity — the bold and abstract, utilitarian, or sometimes ironic — still have a place in the market without going all creatify on it.

G+ Identity Crisis?

The tech press will continue to beat the living Internet out of Google for their supposed FAIL on an unrelenting effort to create an alternative to the Facebook social network. What will also continue over at the “Gplex” is their undying focus on building great context into networking and productivity tools for account holders of their service. The digital world is largely an impressions economy, not a winner-take-all moat. Information and people will always find ways to move about their pipes freely. We want context. It’s not about the plus one. It’s about the plus done!

Small Keeps Winning

Somebody asked me recently to sum up the “mobile revolution” and what it means for content. I politely mea culpa’d that I’m probably not the best person to answer that question despite being an early adopter at most things tech. Here’s one simple idea. Content makers will need to continue taking a hard look at how many impressions they can get from content that’s smaller versus bigger, longer form, etc. The context of how and where people are consuming information is constantly changing…and that will not change.

foursquare Quietly Eats the Physical World

“Excuse me while I check-in before we order” is NOT what foursquare is all about, or what makes it still very much relevant. To paraquote its founder, Dennis Crowley, foursquare is ‘making the world around us easier to use.’ It’s a discovery tool  for people that get out of the house and want to experience the world around them. foursquare’s new UI is slick for sure, but two enhancements pushed out this year are a sign of more goodness to come. Users can now synch an AMEX card with their account and get the deal auto-magically when using the credit card at those venues — check-ins not necessary. This takes foursquare more mainstream and further closes the data loop so many deal sites have been struggling with to date. There’s also a slew of new services presenting foursquare businesses with a customer dashboard where they can make quick decisions on data and push out relevance to their best customers. This is customer enchantment at its finest, and signals a sustained focus on value-add for their most active users and the businesses they frequent.

Impressions Not Emails

I’m on a bit of an email crusade these days. I’m both fighting it and on the hunt to improve it. It’s an odd pursuit trying to justify the value of something that’s still very practical but yet has become increasingly irrelevant in my connected life. Which leads me to a brief thought on marketing. How much value are you really creating in your audience’s inbox? Did they convert because of your email, or because it was just one of many impressions that collectively moved them to take action?  I ask this question of every marketer from the tenacious blog owner to the big brander. I’m almost not sold anymore on the email “subscriber” model of online marketing. #11 of on this prediction list especially got my attention. These are important and honest questions we will continue to tackle together in the coming year.

Simple Explanations Rule!

Need a New Year’s resolution? How about practicing explaining complex things in simple ways to non-techy people. It’s fun and challenging. It will ultimately help you become a better communicator. Most of all, it’s a great gift to offer those among us that haven’t yet figured all this new stuff out yet. Here’s a free sampler. Mom: “What’s the point of PayPal anyway?” Me: “It’s so I don’t have to do this every time I want to pay for something”…as a I pull my wallet out of my pocket. The people that fervently push SIMPLE on a complex world will continue to lead the pack of ideas in 2013 and beyond.