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My passions are helping people and populations thrive and flourish, digital health, and all things entrepreneurial.
If you like any and/or all of the same, please sign up for my quarterly newsletter here.

Live Life Love | Volume Twenty-Eight

Hello Everyone,

It was a great summer for me, I hope the same is true for you. I was able to connect with a lot of old friends over the past few months, something I had not done for some time, because frankly I had not made it a priority. What a mistake. I met up with an old friend from high school, Mike D., that I had not seen for decades and had a brilliant lunch. We shared our aspirations of leaving the world a better place, and he described that notion in mathematical terms: finding ways to increase the Global X. That has stuck with me since he shared it. I have always liked the Elizabeth Lesser quote, “Look for a way to lift someone up. If that’s all you do, it’s enough.” However, thinking about global flourishing in terms of increasing the Global X resonates higher with me, since I tend to think of things in quantitative terms. Solving for some sort of Global X highlights the beauty that no matter what part you are playing in helping others, big or small, in the end you are a purveyor of good moving the same needle as all that stand with you. Those that understand that our purpose here is to learn and help one another. So I dedicate this quarter’s newsletter to friendship and moving the Global X. This quarter’s interviews covering business and wellness are below.

Entrepreneurship: This quarter’s entrepreneurial interview is with Ben Rubin who is the cofounder of Change Collective, a mobile product that help users with behavior change. Prior to Change Collective Ben helped launch the company Zeo, one of the first commercial sleep tracking devices. My five questions with Ben Rubin about launching a product can be found here (coming soon).

Health and Wellness: This quarter’s health and wellness interview is with Craig DeLarge who just concluded his tenure as Global Leader of Multichannel Marketing Strategy & Innovation for Merck to pursue opportunities in the digital mental health space. My five questions with Craig DeLarge about the future of digital mental health can be found here (coming soon).

Life Experience: Continuing with the theme of friendship, I have two life experiences to share this quarter. One, my friend Jill who read last quarter’s newsletter was visiting Vermont and picked me up a Heady Topper so that could complete the personal challenge of drinking the “best beer in America”. That was so thoughtful and made my day.

Heady Topper vs. Pliny the Elder

The other life experience is while visiting my friend Nate in New Jersey I stopped by New York to see the Statue of Liberty. It was great seeing Nate, even though we only spent a couple hours together reminiscing about our conversations still makes me smile.

Statue of Liberty

Contribution: There is no harm in being a lemming when it is for a good cause, so of course I got sucked up into the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge craze thanks to another long lost friend Joe.

I also contributed to Pat’s effort to raise money for Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and made a donation to the Midway Shelter for Abused Women and Children.

I hope you have a great fall season with you friends and family. I look forward to reaching out again around the holidays. Thanks for reading.

Warm regards,
Michael

Live Life Love | Volume Twenty-Seven

Hello Everyone,

I hope your summer is off to an excellent start. With summer here there are better things to do than read email, so I am going to make this quarter’s note short. Someone recently shared with me that most endeavors in life are like making sausage, the quality of something you create is only as good as the ingredients you put in and the methods you use. Moreover, if you want beef sausage, you don’t put in chicken, you use quality beef.

As silly and simplistic as this sounds it has stuck with me. I’m not getting any younger and I’ve still got a dent I’d like to make in the Universe. Not staying focused (filler) and engaging in activities that do not move me forward are getting in the way of worthy pursuits. Letting ill will fester, self-loathing, or reading some negative news story on my phone when I could be paying attention to my daughter creating the most glorious Mega Bloks castle is building terrible sausage. That’s not to say one cannot have fun. They don’t call spontaneity and adventure the “spice of life” for nothing. Anyway, today forward I recommit to making better sausage.

Health and Wellness: This quarter’s health and wellness interview is with Bob Summers who is one of the founders of Fitnet which is a company that helps individuals achieve their health goals by providing easy-to-access fitness sessions through a mobile device. Apple recently just announced a new framework called HealthKit to help developers build better wellness apps. My interview with Bob Summers about Apple’s new HealthKit (and health apps in general) can be found here.

Entrepreneurship: This quarter’s entrepreneurial interview is with Brad Bowery about co-working environments and personal networking. Brad is the former Chief Executive Officer of SRECTrade and has recently become a partner of Founders Den, which is an innovative shared coworking office space helping other entrepreneurs take their companies to the next level. My interview with Brad Bowery about coworking space can be found here.

Life Experience: As I alluded last quarter, this quarter’s life experience was quite exciting as I got to knock off another World Wonder, and I also got to attend a traditional Indian wedding. Although the former is fun with regards to bragging rights, attending the wedding outshined the Taj Mahal.
Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal | Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India | 2014
If you ever have an opportunity to attend a traditional Indian wedding in India don’t pass it up! It was a true privilege and an exceptional experience.

Contribution: This quarter I contributed to Ruby’s effort with Global Glimpse which is a nonprofit organization who each year sponsors over 500 students to learn more about developing countries and culminates in an educational trip to Latin America. Through this program, Global Glimpse strives to create generations of global citizens who are not only aware of the world’s problems, but also deeply invested in solving them.

As promised, keeping it short this time; I hope you get the chance to make great sausage this summer too!

Warm regards,
Michael

Interview with Bob Summers about HealthKit and Fitness Apps

A long-time digital entrepreneur, Bob Summers has founded several startups over the last twenty years. His current endeavor, Fitnet, helps individuals achieve their health goals by providing easy-to-access fitness sessions through their mobile device (currently available in the App Store). Some of Bob’s previous startups include TechPad, EnergyWare and the nanoCom Corporation. Aside from being an online entrepreneur, Bob partakes in community and economic development as a member of the Board of Directors for the Roanoke – Blacksburg Technology Council and Virginia Tech Entrepreneur Club. Bob also led the installation of gigabit fiber access into Blacksburg, making it the world’s first free open access gigabit Wi-Fi network.


1) As a developer of health and wellness apps, what excites you by the recent announcement of HealthKit at the 2014 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)?

The conference has been a lot of fun and the energy has been really high. 5000 developers, all picked by lottery and the result is that 75% of the developers are new. The rumor mill was that Apple was going to announce a wearable but that wasn’t the case. Instead, they announced HealthKit, which I believe is the first step in that direction, because Apple needs a piece of foundational software like this in the ecosystem before they can really execute well on a wearable so that any device they come out with can be built on top of it. Any good application needs to have a good software ecosystem, and HealthKit makes sense for them given the proliferation of health and wellness apps in the App Store. There are now over 40,000 health and fitness apps and it is a terrible user experience that each time you try a new wellness app you have to fill out the same health information. The same frustration that we have when we have to fill out new paperwork with a new doctor… telling them the same stuff we have time and time again… that same experience is true for health and wellness apps. A good app may not get used just because the user doesn’t want to have to go through the process of answering the same questions they just did for an inferior app. HealthKit means this type of information is now portable, stored locally in the HealthKit repository, and users don’t have to rely on apps to talk to each other through APIs and the Internet. This will now all happen locally within the user’s phone. All of these individual apps, with unique APIs, have stifled innovation for too long. It’s exciting stuff. There are some limits since it is new. It is not yet available for the iPad, but I’m sure that will resolve itself in short order. There is clearly a lot of excitement about it so I’m sure it will evolve quickly. It excites me too because it means I’m in the right space.

2) Outside of HealthKit, what other big takeaways excited you from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference and the unveiling of iOS8?

The introduction of a new programming language, Swift, is the most exciting thing at the conference in my opinion. It is a programming language that is more approachable, less noisy, and extremely powerful at the same time. Why this is so exciting is it is going to bring in more developers and create more inclusivity within the developer community. Objective C, which is what a lot of folks currently develop in, is a difficult language for people to get their hands around. In my opinion, Swift is a game changer in regards to efficiency, which will allow developers to iterate more quickly, test more things, which in the end will lead to better products. It is going to bring in more developers and lower the cost of development. This is really a big deal because more competition in this space is ultimately going to benefit the end user. In my view, this is going to have a massive effect on the marketplace.

3) You have an impressive success rate at technology competitions, are there any sharable keys to your success that have helped stack the odds in your favor?

One, there is some serendipity regarding my story because I’m in the health and wellness space and that’s just a hot market right now, so one key to share is either through luck, or by choice, pick a hot market. I can take credit for really paying attention to my presentations. In competitions (pretty much all competition not just technical ones) the best presentation is going to win, right? You can have better elements than anyone there but if they’re not passed along to the judges properly then how are they going to know? So there is some salesmanship that for better or worse is important to hone before you get in front of judges. Also, experience is going to help. I’ve been at this awhile, but that said, that doesn’t mean I don’t practice each time either. Just because I have a good track record doesn’t mean I can now go in and win these things easily. I do the work (through practice, prototyping, etc.) and I’m sure that is a major component to my success. Also, I go into these situations with an open-mind, but I will then quickly focus. This is important in two ways. One, I don’t get stuck on anything preconceived. For instance, I have a great idea, but it does not fit the parameters of the competition. I spend the whole time trying to figure out how to jam a square peg into a square hole. That’s just not going to work. Two, I kill ideas quickly. Understand the challenge, brainstorm a lot of ideas, then pick the right one – not a few – but the right one and spend time making that idea great. If you pick a few ideas to consider you start to dilute your energy (and time) thinking about multiple pathways. These strategies have worked for me.

4) In your opinion, specific to health and wellness apps, where do you believe people are currently getting it right, and where is there room for improvement?

I’ve been really inspired about what Nike was able to do in the sense that they made my data usable. They took what I provided and did not just spit it back to me but gave me suggestions and added value to it. Innovators that are going beyond just collecting metrics and data are getting it right. Mobile competitors like Android will come out with their own version of HealthKit and soon applications that don’t enhance your collected data will quickly fade away anyway.

Where I think there is room for improvement is there are all these great platforms out there and none of them are really talking to each other. What a terrible experience for the general consumer, right? I am tracking my food intake over here, and my activity over here, and doing mindfulness exercises over here. Not very much out there is integrated even though, and I truly believe this from my interaction with competitors, we all want to help our clients and users. We don’t want to get in their way. We want what is best for them. Yet, we do little to make it easy for them to correlate their data and look at their health in a holistic way. In that regard, we could be doing a lot better to unify in a way that doesn’t hurt our respective businesses, while making our products work better (in collective) for the end user.

5) Your app has seen impress growth. What are your top three growth hacking strategies?

There is no secret sauce here. One is persistence. You got to want it and work at it every day. Without this strategy, I’m not sure how you make it. I don’t have any shortcuts that replace hard work. The second would be find great partners. What can you offer other people (you must give first to receive), and once you have that established how can you use what you have (and offer it through partnerships) to expand your reach and/or benefit from a competence that you might not inherently have yourself. For instance, I have partnered with fitness celebrities. For them, I have an innovative vehicle for which they can deliver content in a unique way. For me, I gain a content expert pertaining to health and fitness. It’s a win-win. Lastly, make meaningful contacts and connections and keep them updated. I do keep a list of valuable influencers and advisories and make sure I stay engaged with them. If you want a successful endeavor you need a promoter. If you are not that person, then you might need to acquire that expertise through someone that knows public relations. It’s not a secret that good PR will assist you with growth, but some forget it is a strategy that you can do well or poorly… where perhaps hoping something goes viral is more of a wish than a strategy. 

Interview with Brad Bowery about Coworking Space

Brad Bowery is the former Chief Executive Officer of SRECTrade, a company that provides software to solar energy traders. He has recently become a partner of Founders Den, which is an innovative shared coworking office space helping other entrepreneurs take their companies to the next level.


1) Considering the economics of bootstrapping a startup, when does it make sense for a budding entrepreneur to consider moving their idea from their home (and/or coffee shop) and incurring the additional cost of a “coworking” space? More directly, how can an entrepreneur rationalize the return on investment?

I need to clarify that Founders Den is primarily composed of entrepreneurs who are introduced to the space through personal networks. They usually already have some sort of funding and money for office space. In my experience, they tend to be in a little bit different position than other founders who might be on the fence about taking office space. So companies that come through us are funded and have office space in their budget.

So to answer your question, let me take a step back and talk a little bit about my own personal experience. This type of decision is really going to depend on your respective circumstance. I bootstrapped my first company for the first two years, but I did this because I had the luxury of having a dedicated room in my apartment. I had a roommate who was never there and I had a lot of space. My environment was ideal. However, there came a point where more space made sense. I was also fortunate that my company had early cash flow. My decisions about what to invest in would have been different if we were burning cash.

In short, the return on investment in the context of your question is subjective. There are many things to consider: Is your living environment such that it can adequately support your entrepreneurial endeavor? Is using precious cash on renting working space the best investment, or could you get a better multiplier by investing in technology or more head count? Lastly, does the new workspace make sense for your company? Does the culture of the space match yours? There are a lot of choices regarding space, especially here in the Bay Area, will the environment help support your mission, culture, and values in ways that working somewhere else would not?

2) When an entrepreneur is considering picking a coworking environment vendor, what should she/he consider when making a decision about which space is the right “fit”?

This is an interesting question, because there is definitely a growing focus on the importance of one’s work environment. You have places like Facebook and Google that have made their campuses fun, and places that in a lot of respects are inviting. You are seeing people new to the workforce shy away from traditional work environments and levitate towards more dynamic ones.

At the Founders Den, we are really trying to create a curated experience for founders that come into our network. Our goal is to provide a lot of resources and a curated work environment for our entrepreneurs during a very crucial time of building their company. These entrepreneurs are able to cohort with a lot of other companies, all coming together, who are all going through similar challenges and feeding off of each other’s energy and skill sets. They also benefit from our network of advisers that include some of the top entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. For Founders Den, it is really about a community. There are benefits that go beyond a standard coworking space.

There is a fairly large spectrum of choices for startups. Like most decisions, you will make the best choice by shopping your options and weighing costs against the value you will get. Cost is not just money, there is opportunity cost if the “fit” isn’t right, if there is dissidence between the culture of the company you are creating and the culture of the space in which you are doing it, you could be wasting energy. A bad decision is not without consequence, this new space is likely where you are building your company’s foundation (i.e. new hires, social norms, etc.).

3) There are possible pros and cons to a “coworking” space. For instance – potentially on the negative side – there are the inherent risks of distraction in a collaborative work environment. On the positive side, these type of arrangements are meant to be temporary so this type of engagement might provide motivation for a desired amount of growth by a certain period of time. What strategies can you recommend for someone to make the most out of their experience using a “coworking” space?

Let my start by clarifying that this comes from my own experience, but I believe there is certainly this idea that all the founders in Silicon Valley are networking all the time, and partying, and that’s all they’re doing. The reality is the people who are successfully building companies are going through a completely smothering experience. When you are building a company, you are living and breathing it. As a startup, it’s so easy to just put your head down, put the blinders on, and wait for months before coming up for air. That is something I experienced with my business. In my opinion, some healthy distraction is probably a good thing. In my experience, if I can get out of the weeds and sit and talk with someone smart it starts to trigger things in my mind that relate back to my business. It’s a great time to step back and look at the bigger picture. Since we are selective about the entrepreneurs invited to the Founders Den, I’m not worried that our entrepreneurs will have a problem putting their head down and getting work done. I worry they might not take full advantage of the opportunities to interact with other people, to sit in on talks, and take advantage of other resources that they can get in a well-designed coworking space. There are easy ways out there to get a desk, computer, and phone. In that sense, I guess one of the negative aspects would be that you could over pay for simple amenities by overpaying at a sophisticated work space (if you are not going to take advantage of all they offer when all you wanted was a phone).

So continuing along with the same theme, the upside is you are probably surrounded by a bunch of high performing entrepreneurs. I believe the great entrepreneurs will never have trouble focusing on their businesses, getting them to come up for air and refreshing the perspective from which they are thinking about their business is what we are challenging them to do. That is where a coworking environment can really be a benefit. You have the opportunity to cohort with other really smart people sharing the same journey but with different skill sets. You are surrounded by people that potentially see the world differently than you, as well as access to unique resources only available to the collective. Our entrepreneurs generally are accommodated for six months because we want them to get in, take advantage of the resources at a unique time in their growth and then graduate on to bigger things. It also helps us create an environment that is dynamic and constantly being updated with new faces and perspectives.

4) Moving to you personally: regarding Dunbar’s number, in my experience you are the exception that proves the rule. Your innate ability to stay connected to a large and diverse body of friends and associates, while still maintaining a high degree of authenticity is extraordinary. Given there are only so many hours in the day, what strategies do you use to maintain meaningful relationships with so many people?

I am a firm believer that you get what you give, and that is what has worked really well for me. I try to take the lead by being authentic and vulnerable when getting to know people… even if I’ve just met them. I lay my cards on the table early and often and, in turn, I have found it gets easier for others to reciprocate. I don’t create a high bar for getting to know me personally and it has helped me feel connected to people in a short period of time. Personal disclosure and trust is important to deeper relationships, and I suppose the way I communicate speeds up this process. This inherent style is not without its drawbacks. Put me in a networking event with a bunch of strangers and I’ll struggle not because of social anxiety, but because everyone there has been socially conditioned for small talk. It’s tough to really connect with someone in that environment. I like situations where you can have deeper conversations with people and move very quick past small talk and get into substance quickly.

I really do enjoy making connections and staying connected, and there are few things I do that probably help me feel connected to friends who I may not get to see as often anymore. For instance, I love taking photos. I’ve had a blessed life and I’m constantly documenting it so that I never forget it! I love going through old photos and will often come across a gem that I just can’t help but send to someone. It’s quite spontaneous and it always leads to some good back and forth. Those shared experiences will never go away, even if the new ones are fewer and farther in between.

Lastly, I love bringing people together. I’ve thrown some fun parties in the city, co-hosted a few charity formals, organized a few kitesurfing trips and co-hosted a couple huge Rose Bowl tailgates in Pasadena. People tell me I should be an event planner, but I could never do that for a living. It just wouldn’t be fun anymore if I were doing it for money. I love creating great situations that bring all the wonderful people I know, and the ones they know, together in meaningful ways. And there is nothing better than seeing people who are good friends, colleagues or even married because they met at something I put together. I have been to at least three weddings where I played a role in making the connection. How cool is that? Aside from being fun and rewarding, creating events is simply a great way to scale keeping in touch. There are no expectations and there is no hidden reason to why I like doing it, but there is no denying that it is a scalable way to stay connected to old friends and meet new people (within your network).

5) Men’s Fitness had an article earlier this year titled Silicon Valley’s New Social Network and the first line goes, “It’s an open secret in the technology industry: If you want to score a deal, learn to kiteboard.” The overarching theme was that deal-making is moving out of the country club and traditional office spaces and has become more adventurous and accessible. Knowing you are an avid kite-boarder, and in line with the theme of this interview, do you see the way entrepreneurs succeed at building businesses changing? Similar to the way open technology is being touted as creating a “Cambrian moment”, do you think the way we are accessing each other is a trend, or alternatively a paradigm shift that is forever changing the way startups will be built moving forward?

I think few would argue it’s a little easier to get an idea off the ground and get a company started than it has been in the past. I am not sure I would make the same assertion about later stage funding/financing, but I don’t believe that addresses the spirit of your question anyway. Also, I have heard things like, “kitesurfing is the new golf.” I’m not sure that is true. Are there more avenues to make connections and get things done through crowd-sourcing, coworking environments, meet-ups, events, etc.? Yes.

Focusing on kiteboarding is a red herring. Yes, it has some visibility right now in the Bay Area. However, for an entrepreneur looking to make connections, just getting to know new people through common interests is more important than getting involved in the latest fad. I got my business school internship through my involvement with pole vaulting. It was an awesome internship. I traveled around the world and got to do some really cool stuff working for an investment fund. I successfully partnered with someone to start my first company through a softball league. My Founders Den involvement did come through kiteboarding where I met Michael Levit during a summer kiteboarding trip I organize each year. Are the ways startups are being built changing? Yes. Are the ways we are accessing each other changing? Maybe. However, putting yourself out there and developing relationships through common interests is timeless, the popularity of certain activities just changes from time to time.