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.



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!



Personal Branding: Are You @GaryVee or The Stealth Bomber?


Say something.


[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Founder to CEO: Mastering the Unnatural" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

This is a quick post about branding. Personal branding. I’m not going to cover the “what” of personal branding, i.e. tools, techniques, etc. Instead, I’m going to talk briefly about the HOW. Use this as a quick gut check on where you are with your own personal branding.

Let’s talk goals first. Are you looking to get a lift in your job search and networking? Become a better thought leader in your space of learning and expertise? Get the word out about your new startup? The main question you must constantly ask yourself is, “What am I comfortable with out in the wild?” For some, it’s a series of baby steps, walks or skips. For others, it’s big leaps at every turn. Virtually all of us are looking for the same thing. We want our message to be seen and heard by people who care.

Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle of these two approaches, blend them at times, depending on the challenge or opportunity that’s in front of us. This is practicing situational awareness. I’m fairly new to personal branding and admittedly still finding the right mix. And that’s ok. The problem comes when your goals, expectations, and aspirations are out of alignment with your approach. For example, if you’re a soft-spoken entrepreneur and have big, lofty expectations for your idea in the marketplace you want to seriously consider turning up the volume on your personal branding even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

Now, this doesn’t mean you will instantly gravitate to either extreme outlined below. But it does mean that when you decide to say something big, you should consider how big you want to say it. You’ll need to eventually put most of your personal branding chips into one of these two pots.

The Stealth Bomber

You’re a bit of a lurker. You smartly poke around different environments and platforms making incremental gains in building up your sphere of influence and network. You might even take center stage sometimes. Not a bad play. When played right, this strategy allows you to fly under-the-radar but still be visible when you need to be. You’re usually well-connected. It’s also handy for using the element of surprise when the right opportunity presents itself. You strike when the iron is hot, and do so decisively.

“…featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons.” — The Stealth Bomber

Personal branders should always strive for congruence. How you say something should align well with how you actually are — your authentic true self. Let’s say you’re known as somebody that doesn’t speak up much, but when you do, you do so confidently and decisively. Your personal branding should reflect this. That’s an example of being congruent. Conversely, if the same person is all over the map and offers no conviction in their personal branding, they are out of alignment with their true authentic self — and it will show. This is where being a stealth bomber can blow up on you. Let authenticity be your watchword with this approach.


If you follow social marketing trends and aren’t familiar with @GaryVee of Vayner Media and Wine Library TV, get on Twitter or YouTube right now.  He advises some of the biggest consumer brands in their world on their customer engagement and marketing strategies. What sets him apart is his ability to put himself virtually/completely out there for mass consumption in his personal branding. It’s an integral part of his business branding too. This is a far cry from the stealthy approach outlined above. This approach requires a unique set of attributes, featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition. You must be comfortable in your level of exposure out in the wild being somewhere higher than the moon and stars.

“…featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition.”

I think you get the point with this approach. You’re putting your personal stamp on just about everything you’re putting out to the world. And you’re doing it in a very BIG and memorable way. If you buy into this approach, you are telling the world you’re confident that your message will persuade them to move in your direction.

The biggest difference between this approach and the previous one? In the @GaryVee approach, you’re putting all your chips into this pot, ALL the time. There is very little, if any, filter when it comes to your strength of conviction. Congruence is equally important with this approach to personal branding. But if you currently fall into this camp or are contemplating it, chances are you’re already the type of person that can pull this off.

Your Homework

To get you warmed up and inspired for how you’ll tackle personal branding in the New Year, watch this short video on marketing by the late Steve Jobs. In it, Mr. Jobs explains that ‘this is a noisy world, be clear on what you are about.’ It will challenge you to think differently about what you are currently doing. To say nothing is no longer an option.



Creative Collision in the Startup Ecosystem


Pink'n'blue by futhark, on Flickr

Let’s collide, thrive.


[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Going #Badgeless at SXSW" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

What a last few weeks. I live in the Silicon Prairie. Home to many new upstart software companies within the Omaha-Des Moines-Kansas City triangle. It’s also home to the Kauffman Foundation. If you’re not familar with @KauffmanFDN, to use a college football analogy, they are a veritable “Entrepreneur U” for the World. It was a pleasure to be part of #GEWKC and all the events that took place. It got me thinking about creative collision and how important it is to building a thriving and sustaining community of innovation.

People who run in these startup circles will talk about Brad Feld’s new book “Startup Communities” and what he’s done with Tech Stars and the Boulder community. An exemplary case study. There was also a recent guest post by Phillip Rosedale in the Silicon Prairie News that essentially asked the question,  ’How can a tech ecosystem like Silicon Valley/San Francisco take hold in cities like Omaha, Des Moines, and Kansas City?’ The big takeaway for me is DENSITY. Not the sheer population size. That’s just false hope. But a higher concentration of the ecosystem components in a defined area. The area should not only be defined, but branded. Let creative collision ensue.

Here’s an all-time classic scene to get us started on the idea of density.

Density is EVERYTHING. And it could very well be your destiny, if you play your cards right. Here’s the deal. Nobody’s gonna fund a light rail project through a dead downtown. Nobody’s gonna eat in an empty restaurant. Nobody’s gonna join a movement if nobody knows about it. The capital will be there. Yes it will. So, continue to fill your community with entrepreneurs, connectors, and service providers. Make bold moves.


A curious, passionate bunch. Many have eschewed their corporate pedigree and aren’t looking back. Others are starting early, even skipping the traditional college-then-go-find-a-job plan. They seek comfort in ambiguity and risk taking. They are connectable. Meaning, they have a strong social API (Attitude Performance Index). All of these attributes are hard to find in one person in any community. So unique, and so vital. The DNA of this whole thing.

Action item for those still on the sidelines: Help cultivate and celebrate the entrepreneur ethos in children and young adults.


One of my former bosses used to always say “success breeds success.” I’ll take it a step further and say that successful people breed successful people. These breeders are the connectors, and they are everywhere. Some may never take the leap into the great unknown of entrepreneurland. But they’re ready and able to help you where they can.

Action item for those already embedded in a startup community: Get the word out to more  potential connectors about the opportunities that abound for them. Bring a non-startup person (whatever that means) to a startup event or scene.

Service Providers

Not everyone is a product person. Service providers above all else are about RELATIONSHIPS. In many cases, relationships your startup doesn’t have. They also have expertise you don’t have (yes, it’s true), and a healthy distance from your product that allows them to truly think outside of the box for you. They ARE outside of the box. And they should be valued higher in the ecosystem.

Action item for startups: Stop trying to do everything yourself and embrace the service providers in the ecosystem.

Let’s collide, thrive.

You’re a bank? Consider making a loan to “startups” that are actually making money right now. You’re a large employer in the region? Consider looking in your own backyard, and give that innovative upstart a REAL chance to earn your business as one of their first customers. (Best line of any panel this week, by the way.)

Oh, and thanks Google. Welcome to the Fiberhood!


Crack Your Creative Code


It’s your code.


[Editor note: This post is related to the article "2 Must-Have Habits for High Value Networking" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

Creativity is the spark plug to your entrepreneur engine. It doesn’t matter where you are in life or what you’re doing for a living. I’ve often been asked “why are you always coming up with these crazy ideas?” Does this sound familiar to you too?

If you find yourself in this camp then you absolutely understand that your own creative process is filled with lots of a really bad or “out there” ideas at first; and then over time they become refined to the point of sometimes being insanely good. There’s no secret to this process. In fact, most who practice it plead ignorance. They’re actually right. This idea was captured in a great quote I found by the late Steve Jobs:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. [via BrainyQuote]

Code Your Dots

There’s a sea change going on in the world right now. Information is so readily accessible to anybody, at any time, and it moves at lightening speed. This is taking our lives by force and making it necessary, not just optional, to think more creatively in our endeavors. What’s the point of being creative if we all have the same information? Think for a moment about the idea of connecting things — those THINGS are the dots of your life and experiences. And only you have access to how they all relate to your view of the world. You own that code. That’s your edge.

There’s a cool hashtag campaign happening over at Fast Company called #genflux. I encourage you to check it out.


There’s a conversation going on there about what talent looks like today. It’s an important conversation. Especially, if you find yourself moving in your career or building a company. I personally don’t think it costs you anything extra to be more creative. All it takes is connecting a few dots to create some new things. And you don’t need a certain look, job, title, or any permission to connect the dots and unleash the creativity within. It’s all right there.