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.

Interview with Apple about Health and Fitness Apps

Apple’s App Store is the go-to marketplace for all iOS device users, including iPhones and iPads. This digital distribution platform, maintained by Apple, allows users to browse and download a wide range of different types of useful (and not so useful) applications. The App Store started in 2008, roughly a year after the first iPhone was sold. The original iPhone was launched with only built-in apps, but based on consumer demand and smart business principles, Apple began letting independent developers build and profit from iOS applications (which they are able to sell through Apple).  Although the App Store was a tremendous hit right from launch, profiting from app development is known to be a precarious proposition (as documented in the Fast Company article, Striking It Rich In The App Store: For Developers, It’s More Casino Than Gold Mine). Despite the risks, the App Store launched with roughly 500 apps, and presently is home to over one million. It is estimated to have over 40,000 health and wellness apps in the market, but the usefulness and utility of a majority of these apps is consistently questioned (ex. Time’s article: Bad News About Your Favorite Health Apps: They Don’t Work). The information for this interview took place over a three hour period, with seven employees from the app store speaking specifically about health, wellness, and medical apps. Apple has not endorsed this interview and it is comprised as a composite of various responses from the various individuals. 

1. What makes a good wellness or fitness mobile app? When a developer asks you for advice on how to build a great product what do you tell them?

There isn’t one recipe for building a great app. We work with various developers at varying capacities. Ultimately, our job is to ensure that Apple’s marketplace is curated in a way that maximizes the user experience.  Obviously, everyone benefits when we can help developers produce their best work, which is true across all of our channels. Apple is known for usability, so in that regard we would like that tradition to carry through to anyone developing on our platform. Therefore, a good wellness or fitness app is one that ensures a great user experience for the intended audience. In addition to that, it must create utility that the end-user otherwise would not have. There also has to be a sensibility about cognitive load and user-centric design. Is the app really solving a problem or creating one? Is the app creating value by innovating or improving upon something else, or is it simply crowding the marketplace? These are questions worth asking. When we reach out and work with developers, it is usually because we’ve identified potential, but we also see opportunities where we can help the app improve. We have different teams that work with developers directly on coding issues, as well as a team that helps identify user interface improvements.

2. How can digital health app developers go about app store optimization (ASO) and does Apple support this type of app promotion?

As a rule, Apple does not help developers with app store optimization. There are services outside of Apple that claim they can assist with this, but it is really about simple fundamentals and multivariate testing their marketing. There aren’t that many variables involved so an app creator can simply play around and see if tweaking any of them creates a lift and/or improvement in sales.  This includes trying different app icons, changing the app’s title, making sure the description of the app uses relevant keywords a potential user of the app would search for, and really paying attention to the wording in the first two lines of the description to make sure any relevant information about the app is relayed quickly to catch the consumers attention quickly.

3. I come to the table with allegiances to the Quantified Self (QS) and Health 2.0 communities, yet it seems that much of the popular health and fitness apps today are more content focused, and from where I sit it seems like Apple is not really tapped into these communities (with the exception of Rock Health).  Why do you think that is?

Interpreting our lack of visibility in the QS and digital health communities is not necessary a fair judgment, and a little misleading. We are here to support anyone who makes a good app and to develop relationships with key individuals. Outreach into these communities isn’t necessarily a function of the App Store. If you look at it from simply a demand standpoint (meaning we get plenty of health and fitness app submissions per day), clearly we are covered. So there isn’t really a need for us to go out to these communities and drum up business. Furthermore, we like to work with a wide range of developers, span from big corporations to lone developers. There are a lot of groups out there making great apps.

4. What is the biggest challenge facing the Apple App Store today?

Like most innovative organizations, we have a flood of work and limited staff. We get a tremendous amount of product submissions daily, which means that we tend to be in a perpetual state of triage. Our internal systems are custom built so we don’t benefit from system upgrades that someone might see if they were running a third-party SaaS system. We do the best with the resources we have. We genuinely care about the people developing these products. Like any entrepreneur, often these individuals have invested significant time, money, and energy into their product… some have gone as far as to find themselves in sink or swim situations. We try to help the best we can, but we just do not have the current capacity to help everyone.

5. How can mHealth and digital health developers benefit from iOS 8 and Healthbook?

There is no way to answer that. Apple will not discuss future products and releases, so all that can be said is that the blogosphere has been wrong before. People that work for the App Store get very little information about  internal workings of the company. This is primarily to protect us, since we are an external facing team. Anything in active development could potentially change, so it could be harmful for us to discuss something not yet released because it is subject to change. Of course, the future is going to be exciting. Take the M7 chip for example, it’s really impressive the way it’s being used by health and wellness developers. We principally focus on what is possible now, and that is what developers should be focused on anyway. The present is as exciting as the future.

Interview with Neville Medhora about Wantrepreneurs

Neville Medhora (AKA Nev) is an established copywriter and the trusted sidekick of Noah Kagan, as a partner of the entrepreneurial marketplace AppSumo. Nev made his mark creating one of the first successful drop-shipping businesses on the Web,, and has since sold that company to work on creating successful digital and packaged products as well as consult fellow entrepreneurs on how to launch successful start-ups. He is known for his quirky attitude and ability to connect with his audience through unique marketing copy, which he passes down to other marketers through his Kopywriting Kourse [sic].

1) Your copywriting style is reminiscent, in my opinion, of some of the techniques Dan Kennedy teaches. Who has helped and/or influenced your sales copy style and how have you refined your voice over time to make it uniquely your own?

I’ve been writing for a long time and I’ve always had a weird way of writing. I do not care for grammar all that much. I’ve just feel that if it gets to the point, what’s the difference. You know how some people complain, “kids nowadays use the letter U instead of ‘you’,” those kids are actually being more efficient with their words. The point of language is not to write it in a certain way, it’s to get information from the page to your brain, right? So if it does it, who cares? So I always wrote like that a bit, in my unique way, and then I started reading Gary Halbert. He was definitely a huge influence. His style would just get you to keep turning the page and turning the page, until you were done with the whole letter and you were captivated the whole time. And I was just like… why was I more captivated by his stuff than anyone else’s? And it’s because he laid it out in a unique way. I realized later he actually put effort into this… like okay, by the end of the page, they should want to turn the page, so I’m going to leave them a cliffhanger, and this format will help them along.

So Gary Halbert was definitely a huge influence. Joseph Sugarman, I liked his stuff because he was always a marketer, but he was never a scummy marketer. A lot of the copy guys in the past would use all these tramped up language – “the most exciting thing…” and then the product was actually crappy. That’s called a LIE. At least where I come from, that’s called a lie. When you say one thing, but you deliver another, that is a scam or a lie and I am not into that. And Joseph Sugarman would actually deliver what he said he would. I liked his stuff cause he was definitely not a scammer. I tell the truth and write like I speak. It makes sense to me. Why would I change my language just because I change the medium? So that’s how I developed my writing style… my own recipe influenced by Halbert and Sugarman.

2) Given you put a high value on copy, what’s your opinion on budding entrepreneurs extensively using multivariate testing? In other words, is it worth spending resources seeing if it’s the right product, just the wrong message? And, do you have any testing hacks you can share to make A/B testing easier?

It really depends on the use case but basically there are two different kinds of people. There’s the person that already has his product running and another type of person who doesn’t know their product yet. The latter is the kind of person that needs to go out and put out tests before any serious investment, right?

Let me give you an example… it’s called positioning, right? So I had this company called House of Rave back in the day. It was a drop-shipping business that did well enough that it paid my way through college. I spent a lot of time on it. Everyone kept asking me, “How did you make that drop-shipping business work?” They assumed I did very little and I would constantly have to answer questions about operations. So I made a six-part series on my blog where I just answered every single question people had. Yet, people kept asking me more and more and more questions so I decided to make a digital product about how House of Raves works to cater to this demand. And sure enough, a lot of people bought it off my blog and then created their own drop-shipping businesses. 

The need for testing also depends on how you get your traffic. I had been putting content out there for a long time  so I had warm prospects… no need to test if people are asking me directly to give them product. My value proposition was already familiar. Now if you have cold traffic coming from Google AdWords, and the visitors don’t know anything about you, and you have to convert them right away then you really should be testing.

3) What advice do you have for people trying to find their voice, as well as an audience, in the sea of Internet clutter? It seems like there are some many people trying to emulate the style of Gary V. or Frank Kern on the assumption you have to drop the F bomb to get attention. What advice do you have for good people that are not necessarily suited for “peacocking”?

I am an extrovert. I like going out and being in crowds. I get my strength from other people. If there’s someone else working in my apartment with me, I work harder. When I’m alone I tend to slack off because I generate a lot of my energy from other people. I know that about myself. And therefore  whenever people meet me in real life, it’s pretty congruent to what they thought they were going to get. There are some people who try to emulate a loud style, but they are very quiet in real life. And it usually doesn’t translate very well… like they’ll curse to get attention, but cursing doesn’t get attention, it just offends people. If I keep saying Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! You’re just kind of like, “Why are you saying that, what’s the point?” Okay. But if I’m getting really, really into something and I need to make a strong point, and that curse word happens to be fuck, in the heat of that moment, that curse word does add some emphasis to my point. Whereas if I just say fuck for no reason, it’s just kind of inappropriate and for written copy you know spam-filters are going to catch it sometimes so your at risk of not reaching your audience as well. Do you need to add in stuff like that? If you are boring and technical, you can be boring and technical… be yourself… because you know what, there is other boring and technical people out there that will read your stuff.

I know some people that don’t like going out, they don’t like being in crowds, they prefer not to talk to other people, they like just being in their own head. They don’t need your validation for really anything, they’re very secure. In my experience these folks are not good at writing stuff that entertains but that is okay because copy doesn’t always need to be that entertaining. Sometimes it just needs to be informative and useful. If you’re a boring, calculated kind of person, write in a boring calculated way. Also it is important to note nowadays it is easy to take cheap classes and improve on almost anything even if you do not have inherent talent. For instance a lot of people that are good on camera are actually very shy. Marilyn Manson is actually a really shy guy, but does crazy things on stage. His inner persona and his on-stage persona are very different. Some of this can be taught and improved upon, so just because you’re not good at it now doesn’t mean you won’t be good at it later. Andrew Warner, when he started Mixergy, he wanted to be the best interviewer in the world, so he was like – I’m just going to interview someone every single day until I get good, and now he is.

4) What are three relatively unknown and/or obscure productivity tools that you use to make your entrepreneurial life easier, that are not contained within your Problem Solving Checklist product?

I think simple shortcuts are underrated and can save people a lot of time, so the first is the Alfred App and shortcut keys like Chrome’s keyboard shortcuts. The second is there’s a thing called SelfControl. For this app you type in a list of websites you don’t want to go to and press start, and in a certain amount of time, it will just nuke those websites. The third productivity tool that I use is my old-fashioned handwritten To Do List. Have your readers take a look at the following video.

What I don’t mention in the video is I write my tasks the day before. That’s the main thing, I make my to do list the day before, and I don’t add anything to my list the same day (generally). If you pile stuff on in the same day you do not get the satisfaction of ever being done. What’s the fun in that?

Another nugget not in the video is I try to stack the most important things first, but if I’m being lazy I’ll just pick the easiest thing to do. Not a good method but it is what I do. Good advice is doing the hardest thing first, so you just get it done. But sometimes if I wake up really early in the morning, my brain is just not working and so I’ll just do the easiest thing, just to knock a few out of the way and get momentum. If it is something timely like going to the DMV to get my registration fixed and the DMV doesn’t open until nine or something I might mess with the order too, but ideally you stack the most important items in order first so they get done first.

5) Given your experience with the AppSumo Wantrepreneur course, what’s a consistent folly you see with budding entrepreneurs that you know from your own experience they might not overcome by mere mentorship and instruction?  In other words, a common weakness that is usually only overcome through the school of hard knocks?

First time entrepreneurs notoriously like to complicate things so they don’t have to take action. I see this especially with engineers. Here are extremely smart people. They can create a product over a weekend (think hackathons), faster than I ever could. Yet, they consistently get in their own way with questions like: What happens if it grows too big? What happens if we get 10,000 customers the first day? It’s like, don’t flatter yourself. If you start getting 10,000 customers a day, then worry about how you are going to spend your money. And the biggest thing I see is the fear of putting it out there right away. Here’s an example, someone came to me wanting to be a photographer. They said, “I’ve been wanting to be a photographer, but you know, I’m in school for most of the day, etc., etc.” So many excuses! I give these people advice like just try testing your service to people you know and I hear responses like, “I’ll think about it and I’ll do it next week.” No you won’t.  Back to the photographer example, we go and we start typing out content for a website, take a couple of their best sample pictures and put them out there and it is so nerve-racking for this person because they’ve never really done that before. There has always been comfort in the excuse. I ask them to post their site on their Facebook page and they’re reluctant. I’m like, “Well, you want to be a photographer, right?” They say, “Yeah, I really want to try that.” And I say, “Well, have you told a single potential customer about it?” And they say, “Well, my portfolio isn’t fully…” Dude, you want to be a photographer, but you don’t want to tell anyone about it? If you want to be a photographer start being a photographer, and then keep doing it and you’ll start becoming a better photographer. This is just one example but it applies to most entrepreneurs. My advice: put something out there really quick and see if anyone wants it; if they do, congratulations you are an entrepreneur! Now start working on being a better one.

Interview with Pat Fellows about Entrepreneurship Reality

Pat Fellows is a serial entrepreneur who currently runs the restaurant Fresh Junkie in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In addition to his various entrepreneurial accomplishments Pat is a health enthusiast, devoted triathlete, and a representative of Mizuno Running. As if that weren’t enough, Pat is also a proud husband and father of two, as well as an avid philanthropist. He is the founder of Rocketkidz Foundation (RKF) which provides activity based programs for kids to help fight childhood obesity as well as supports programs with a similar purpose such as Girls on the Run and Wheels to Succeed.

1)  You had an entrepreneurial endeavor, Rocket Burrito, that was a personal passion but ultimately you had to pivot from it and shut it down. What were the key elements that made you realize it was time to pivot and what did you learn from the experience?

My 2 biggest takeaways from this were:

  1. Sometimes it is just the wrong timing.  You have the right locale, but things don’t fall how they should.
  2. The biggest takeaway was that a business failure is not a personal failure.  

I “was” Rocket.  People still call me Rocketboy.  I was devastated and for awhile wondered how I could be such a failure.  It’s tough.  I didn’t do everything right, but I didn’t do enough to fail as badly as I did other than it simply being bad timing.  There is a thriving Chipotle now right next to where I had my burrito joint…  albeit 7 years later.

2) Inc. ran a recent article, The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. In the piece the author (Jessica Bruder) highlights the soft underbelly of entrepreneurship which is often avoided in print to protect the popular heralding of entrepreneurial accomplishment. It seems few writers are willing to tarnish the lure of owning your own business by highlighting the tales of failed endeavors. I know some of the common challenges of entrepreneurship have affected you in the past as we just discussed. Based on your own experience what can you add to the advice that was passed on in Bruder’s article?

The reality is that some people are just wired for entrepreneurship AND running a starting business is rough.  Hell running a 7 year old business is tough.  I have gone deep into depression and to this day, I leave my wife out of some things as it is just too much.  She runs the house.  I don’t keep her stressed with what is going on. She feels it, but I don’t kill her with the “my bank account is over-drafted” stories.  I have been in every pit of despair there is.  Yet, I am driven to push my ideas.  I have a great job, love the guys I work with, but when I am doing my best, it’s when I am intellectually and “idea” engaged.  I am wired to see my ideas win and be fulfilled.  Bad days are just a part of the process.

3) Giving back to people and the community seems to be a significant part of your ethos. You are the unofficial cheerleader of your friends, as well as people in general – I myself have benefited from this. Other efforts include your 32 Mile swim for charity (see Pat’s TEDx talk) and the RocketKidz Foundation which has been established to help fight childhood obesity. Given the time and resources it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, what are the driving forces that motivate you to want to give back in big ways?

My number one goal has always been  to make people better. Period.  It’s the right thing to do. Just as I can’t not be an entrepreneur, I can’t not give back. Even when I was broke and had to sell a house to get out from under a loan, I was still better off than a ton of people.  I don’t lose light of that.

From a health and nutrition point of view, the reality is our country eats so poorly, that it’s shameful.  I walked through a “grocery store” the other day and I challenged myself to find a row that was completely nutritious.  There wasn’t one.  PERIOD.  Obesity, to me, is currently the number one problem in our society.  Period, end of story.  It drives our economy (downward), and is the battle of our lifetime.  How can you not give back and fight that?

4) You are a proud father, a successful entrepreneur, an Ironman athlete, a representative of Mizuno shoes, a philanthropist and a TEDx speaker. Given your incredible ability to hold it all together, what are your three most successful productivity advantages, methods and/or tools that you can share?

  1. Realize that your 70% is probably better than most peoples’ 100%. If what you do is truly passion based, then on most days, you have to accept that ‘finished’ is good enough.  Kind of the progress vs. perfection idea, if you’re passionate about something you can get in your own way.
  2. Say no.  This is hard, but there is only so much time in the day.  You have to say no to okay, to have time to say yes to awesome.
  3. Exercise every day.  This should probably be #1.

5) Given all your various life lessons to date, what is one piece of advice you wish you could give the young Pat Fellows as he stepped into his first day as a serial entrepreneur back in 2000 (not about that first business per se but about the journey you were about to embark upon in general)?

Really, I don’t think there’s much.  Think and talk less, execute more.  Be more financially strong and responsible. Finally, I’d tell myself, “You are doing this right. If you believe it will work out, it will.” It always has so far.

Interview with Mike Leveque about Fitness Innovation

Mike Leveque has a decade of executive leadership experience in health and wellness innovation. He previously was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Star Trac Fitness and is currently the Chief Operating Officer of MYZONE. MYZONE is a chest strap and monitoring system that displays heart rate, calories, time and effort to a LCD monitor, while simultaneously creating an online logbook of all physical activity that can be viewed anywhere in the world through the Internet.

1) The MYZONE device relies on heart rate and time as the primary data sources by which to track an individual’s overall activity. When compared to accelerometers – aside from the obvious advantage that the MYZONE device is able to more effectively capture effort from activities where movement is limited (ex. spinning, group training, etc.) – what additional advantages does heart rate tracking have over the standard tracking offered by traditional pedometers/accelerometers?

First of all, the pedometer is limited to the movement of the device. If you are wearing a pedometer on your foot and exercise on a Krank Cycle, you will not log activity. Additionally, there may be cases where a bumpy road triggers step credit on a pedometer. Lastly, the pedometer/accelerometer can only calculate a standardized step credit. For example, let’s say a user is cross country skiing, the “steps” credited will be nowhere near equal in intensity to a similar amount of “steps” while taking a walk on the beach at the same velocity.

In the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from The Center for Disease Control, it is recommended that every adult exercise each week for one hundred and fifty minutes at moderate intensity  or seventy-five minutes at vigorous intensity. Never does it recommend a certain number of steps, because there is simply no accurate way to measure the intensity of physical activity via a pedometer or an accelerometer.

A recent report from Flinders University in Australia has found that there is an unbalanced relationship between steps and high-intensity training. In the report Dr. Norton states, “Most physical activity guidelines recommend a 30 minute daily walk but we found that it would take 50 hours of walking to achieve the same aerobic fitness that you could get from just one hour of high-intensity (or vigorous) activity.”

Heart rate monitoring provides a level of accuracy that pedometers and accelerometers cannot. Every body reacts differently to exercise and the beat of your heart is the only accurate way to measure effort during physical activity. This accuracy allows our MYZONE software to provide user-generated content to track metrics such as average effort, time in user specific zones and caloric expenditure during exercise. Because the MYZONE software logs the user’s age, gender, weight and every heart beat during a workout session, it can utilize those four variables to calculate the calories burned during a particular session. This is much more accurate than the algorithms used by pedometers and accelerometers.

2) At the Quantified Self Conference this year Gary Wolf made a comment eluding that corporate wellness is somewhat degrading the sanctity of self-tracking. He was then reticent about the sentiment but my interpretation is he was alluding to the potential damage program parameters can have on motivation and personal drive when it pertains to the positive benefits tracking can have on wellness. In other words, limiting autonomy and confining options (ex. a company that only offers step challenges) might actually end up doing more harm than good. How important do you think it is to let the individual set their own health and wellness goals (opposed to them being mandated)?

I believe most reasonable executives would agree that utopia would be providing regular health assessments, thoroughly educating each employee individually on their results and then allowing them to set the most appropriate health and wellness goals that motivate them to achieve a better future state. However, a wellness program that is customized to each employee is neither practical nor cost effective for most companies. So then the question becomes, is the net benefit positive of a standardized program where the goal or goals are set by the firm? After taking into account the human cost of capital and other direct costs, the vast majority of studies agree that there is a strong return on investment of any wellness program that encourages increasing regular physical activity, even if the participants are not able to set their own goals.

3) When it is difficult enough to get the layperson to understand the existing wellness vernacular, what is the added value/utility of introducing a new branded concept like MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) for measuring and tracking physical activity? How does this improve upon the existing lexicon and contribute to a better user experience?

The two main benefits of MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) are standardization and gamification. Since MEPs progressively reward a user for increasing effort in their personal heart rate zones, we have created somewhat of a golf handicap in the awarding of points to users. For instance a deconditioned user may rapidly enter their higher point earning zone but they will fatigue more quickly than a well-conditioned athlete. A well-conditioned athlete, with an efficient cardiovascular system, may have a hard time approaching the high point earning zones but they can maintain durations in their lower zones for much longer than a deconditioned user might. The benefit is the system rewards general effort and standardizes for various levels of physical fitness .

Many users need an increase in their motivation to achieve their goals. Through gamification, MEPs allow MYZONE users and their fitness facilities to encourage attainment of health and wellness targets by establishing user challenges, goals setting and rewarding goal achievement. Cycling various user groups through individual and/or collective challenges has proven to engage and maintain club member participation in an exercise program while simultaneously creating the stickiness of the member to the associated fitness facility.

4) Current science suggests that if you can get an individual intrinsically motivated to stay healthy (ex. focus on the benefits of general well-being), adherence to behavior change will generally be longer lasting when compared to an individual who was extrinsically motivated (ex. the carrot of winning a weight loss challenge). If this is true, what role can technology play in fostering intrinsic motivation?

Utilization of technology is an effective mechanism to provide an individual with user generated content (UGC) of their physical activity and its related outcomes. UGC, such as duration of a training session, intensity of a training session and an accurate caloric expenditure total, helps educate the MYZONE user as to how effective an exercise session has been. It creates a currency by which all future sessions can be compared.

Since the MYZONE system can be linked to a body composition analyzer, a MYZONE user can track important biometric information, such as weight, BMI, body fat percentage and muscle mass to gauge whether or not they are benefiting from their current regime. MYZONE and devices like it can also provide the user a basal metabolic rate calculation to help the user regulate food consumption to achieve their health goals. It is through this increased availability of information that an individual can track their activity and make better decisions.

5) What currently excites you the most about the accelerated advancement of personal technology as it pertains to health management? What do you see on the horizon that you believe is going to be a game changer?

Accessibility of data as it relates to physical fitness will allow fitness facilities to add gamification to their offering. When deployed correctly, gamification will support the club’s efforts to attract, integrate and retain members at levels the fitness industry has never seen. In addition, personal technology will aid in the club’s outreach to provide richer feedback to corporate clients. The holy grail of technology as it relates to fitness is linking activity to lower health care costs and ultimately lower insurance premiums. Once this happens and information is accessible to all individuals, the fitness industry should grow exponentially.

Interview with Ari Meisel about Self-Tracking

Ari Meisel is a productivity optimization expert who coaches clients on optimizing, automating and outsourcing every task possible. Ari’s Achievement Architecture coaching program is an optimization framework design that helps individuals and teams improve their effectiveness and reduce the amount of time they spend on tasks. Ari’s personal website The Art of Less Doing has become a go-to resource for those seeking to improve productivity either in business, life, and/or health. Ari also has courses on wellness and productivity available from Udemy.

1) There is a lot of talk about what it might take to cross the proverbial chasm with regards to making bio-hacking more commercially viable. In your opinion, what do you think is important to get right regarding bringing the benefits of self-tracking to a wider audience? What’s currently missing?

Nowadays you can track everything… from how many emails you have sent, to how many calories you have burned… or even how many calories you have eaten if you have the right sensor. It’s so easy to do this stuff without even thinking about it now, which is great… which is the first step. The second part of it though is making this data actionable, and as far as I’m concerned there are very, very few products that provide the lay person with any sort of usable data. It is one thing to see that you’re losing this many calories today, and this many yesterday, and so on and so forth, but what does the average person do with that? Unfortunately, there are not a lot of ways that people can correlate this data and make it actionable. There is a really great website called Tictrac where you can do drag and drop corollaries; Tictrac is a step in the right direction.

2) You’ve made mention that you have some particular effective shortcuts for improving running speed? This is my gratuitous, self-serving question: I’m a Clydesdale runner who has been stuck at 8:45 minute miles for a few years now despite various training regimens. What do you suggest for someone like me that might help me move the needle?

The obvious ones are H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) programs, workouts that involve high intensity drills with short periods of rest… there are a lot of different interval workout types that help you increase speed and efficacy from sprinting to plyometrics. I think that fartlek training is really good too, and not only because it has an awesome name. What I have actually found to be extremely effective as far as speed, and I know it sounds like stupidly obvious, but I recommend increasing leg strength. Once I started doing really heavy squats and box jumps my speed went from a mile PR of 6:17 to running one mile in 5:45. In my opinion, you simply add more horsepower when running isn’t the only thing you do to get better at running. Adding plyometric and explosive movement training makes your runs feel like every time your foot hits the ground you’re on a rubber band and ready to go again once you hit that next stride.

3) A bit outside the realm of health and wellness specifically, but knowing your expertise encompasses systematic lifestyle improvements and predicated on the assumption that generally people want to fix everything at the same time — and quickly — when a coaching client comes to you and wants to improve wellness and productivity at the same time, where do you usually have them start?

What’s the difference, really? The truth is productivity and wellness go hand in hand. It’s so funny because I invariably have somebody come to me for coaching on one of these and we always work on both. Basically, I can make you as technologically efficient from a productivity standpoint as you can possibly be, but if you’re not sleeping well enough and/or not eating right, there is going to be a limit to how much you can produce, or how happy you are going to be with your results. For instance, some come to me and say they want to be a speed reader, which most people can certainly do, but at the same time if you can increase mental focus, retention, and memory by reducing stress and improving well-being you’re going to be a faster reader because part of being a faster reader is not having to reread things.

My method is to tackle the biggest problems first. This methodology quickly addresses the low hanging fruit. So I start with “What are your biggest productivity challenges? Give me the three top things that frustrate you.” Always, always the answers I get back are inevitably two productivity things and one wellness thing or two wellness things and one productivity thing. So they’ll say something like, “I’m not sleeping great and I have to finish X number of things by the end of the day.” It’s always that mix. So if you ask somebody “what is stopping you from being the best you can be?” the answer usually covers productivity and well-being. I’m also a big believer in moving the needle at the onset of our engagement, and quickly, because progress begets progress. The worst that somebody can do is to stagnate and as long as they are doing something, even if it’s a tiny thing, that’s progress.

4) The buzz last year regarding bio-hacking was enabling, through technology, users to make better correlations by aggregating different tracking devices. There are a few options such as Open in an attempt to increase the benefit of tracking, but so far I’m unaware of any solutions that are super user-friendly. What strategies and/or tech do you use to increase the value and utility of tracking multiple modalities?

I have already mentioned Tictrac. I find that if you ask the right questions, a lot of the time people can give you the answers about the real issue. But I say that at least with half of my clients, a lot of it involves putting those trackers in place and then letting me read the values. So whether it’s RescueTime to see how often they are checking their email; or Fitbit to track activity I won’t even ask them to look at their own data at first. In my experience I find it is more helpful if I help my client first amass data and start by making recommendations based on their data as a first step in our relationship. I can help them better understand their data after they’re comfortable with it. People usually come to me because they are overwhelmed. They don’t have the time to do the things they want to do or they’re overwhelmed because they are stressed. These are compounding issues so I don’t want to introduce a complex solution just yet. I can introduce a sophisticated set of tools but take on the heavy lifting of interpretation until we make some progress. Not to beat a dead horse but fatigue is not an isolated issue. Are you not sleeping because you’re working too late, because you didn’t get enough done for the day and you are stressed, or are you tired because you’re eating too late and you’re eating really badly… or are you sleeping poorly because you don’t have the right environment in your bedroom? You need data to make a diagnosis and cause will rarely be just one thing.

5) One of the many valuable qualities of the content you curate is your intimate knowledge of the latest technologies that enable shortcuts and optimization. What’s out there, either now or on the horizon, that really excites you regarding wellness innovation?

I dream all day about finding new and interesting ways to use two particular services: one is and the other one is Zapier. Zapier has identical functionality to but it’s much more business focused. has like 60 different services, everything from Twitter to Facebook, Gmail and stuff like that and services that 90% of the computing-using world uses. Zapier has those things as well but it also has things like Salesforce, MailChimp and PayPal and a lot more business focus things. So will do so much regarding automation but Zapier really lets you drill down and get some unbelievably detailed things done. Through these websites I’m always trying to think of ways I can automate things to make them more efficient.

These kinds of things really get me really jazzed up. The great thing about automating some of these processes is it actually allows you to track things a lot better as well, because you know when the requests were made; you know how long it took to get them done and you can correlate those things a little bit too if you’re tracking your own productivity. It’s a lot easier to go back and see how and when things have happened and how often you did them through these services. They also let you compile things in effective ways. For instance, you can have Zapier set up that every time you make a sale on PayPal the sale is added to a Google spreadsheet, so right there you can make a data set that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. There’s a whole lot of creative ways that you can use this functionality to make your life easier.

Interview with Gary Vaynerchuk about Passion

Gary Vaynerchuk is a multi-faceted entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, and sought after public speaker. In 2009, he was crowned the “Innovator of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast magazine, and became a part of Decanter magazine’s “Power List” of the most influential figures in the wine industry. Gary has become famous in part for his effectiveness in reaching people through social media, so much so that he once hit the Facebook friend limit and is about to reach the million follower mark on Twitter. Gary’s content is available through two websites Wine Library TV and Gary’s newest book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy, Social World about social media marketing strategies is available for pre-order and will ship by the end of the year.

1) Other popular thought leaders such as Tim Ferriss and Chet Holmes make reference to really working hard on establishing a base of advocates (1000 True Fans, The Dream 100, etc.)… and I get the sense that you recommend acquiring this type of loyalty more organically through authenticity rather than methodology… would you say that’s a fair statement? And if so, why do you choose authenticity over methodology?

I don’t really know Chet, but I think Tim really likes people and interacting with them a lot so I believe he would tell you, as I’m telling you, no one advocates one of these over the other. I’m well known for how much I like engaging with people. I think Tim is a brilliant operator and thinks more about the strategy of this stuff. I think about strategy as well, but I think it’s fair to say I’m a little bit less concerned with my time than other people are. I believe in the serendipity of it all, I believe personally that making myself accessible has a lot more value for me than others. I think the real answer to your question is there are a lot of different ways to skin a cat. There are a lot of different ways to build brand advocacy and both methods can work. I think what Tim and I have done extremely well is become really self-aware. People who know what they are good at and then execute against what they do well… they are the ones that win. Tim is more organized than I am, and that works for him and he gets a lot of upside out of his organization. I can’t even begin to sit down and get organized… but on the flip side I have the capacity to go 24-7, 365 days a year… I mean, here we are 9pm for me and I’m doing our interview. This is what I’m good at… everybody is different. I would never want to outsource my engagement, my interactions, or all the things that I know that I might be able to make more efficient, because frankly I get a lot of happiness out of them.

2) One of the reasons your teachings resonate with me so much is I too believe in the tenets of hustle and family. I’m a self-tracker so I was going to send you my sleep data but elected to spare you the minutia. We put my child to bed at 9:00pm, the wife goes to bed at 10:30pm, and then I crank until about 1:00am. I then get up at 6:30am and do it all over again (this usually includes weekends too). It doesn’t bother me because I love what I do, but I also love my family and as I get older I can tell that sometimes the fatigue catches up with me (regardless of passion). This means despite my best intentions I’m not fully engaged with my family during certain levels of fatigue. In your experience what successful strategies have you seen to help mitigate this risk and maintain balance despite the “hustle”?

I’m still very comfortable with the entirety of the message in Crush It! And here is why, if you read it you know what I am advocating is that if you are not happy with your life the only way to change it is to put in an effort that creates something else for yourself. I mean some people are going to need to spend that energy with their families… to truly crush it they need to spend more time with their families. In other words, what they need to do is spend less time at work. Here is the spirit of the message: I think that if you were not happy with what you were doing in 1977 you did not have a lot of alternatives. You had to pay the rent; you had to pay your bills, right? You got home from your job in the evening, and the best you could do is maybe moonlight at some other terrible job. Today if you come home in the evening and you are unhappy you have the ability to start a business online at night and work to create a scenario that could change your life. I still believe that to be a hundred percent true. Just like if you are unhappy with how much you work – well, then – go get a job that is less demanding and spend that extra time with your family.

So here’s my point, I’m speaking to the 90% of people that complain about their situation. And my point is if you are complaining about something, change it.

3) In The Thank You Economy you mention that companies that believe “caring” cannot be scaled do so at their own peril, but for solo entrepreneurs and SMB figureheads’ bandwidth will eventually cap. You’ve also mentioned before in jest that you’re great at building communication models that don’t scale. You now have an auto-responder for fans that email you because you simply cannot response to everything coming at you. As you begin to reach the limits of what is humanly possible what do you need to make sure – bar none – doesn’t get lost regarding the customer/fan experience? And, have you developed any tricks and/or can you recommend any technology that can help a person (like yourself) optimize the connection and rapport needed to maintain their respective fan base (regardless of size)?

I have an intimate knowledge about what I’m about to say which is one’s capacity for effort is usually grossly underestimated. So, yes I have already reached critical mass, but I am actually engaging more now than I use to believe it or not. I mean now I do an obnoxious amount of engaging. I think my one interview a day series is a good example of that. It is not scalable, but using our interaction now as an example I have to assume, unless I’m naïve, that you and I now have a deeper intimate relationship after this phone call than we did before. I was happy to strengthen that bond because I can tell you consume my content and you clearly know it. I think this is what it comes down to – I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too – is that I honestly, genuinely, completely and utterly believe in what I talk about. I think the authenticity of that really resonates with people. I believe, actually I know, that when you are trying the world notes it. Some people are more efficient, more guarded, with their time. There are people much more strategic than I am… the only optimization I have now that I did not have before is more people to help me. That is still human though, I’m not automated. I’m serendipitous. I’m careless, but it’s my carelessness that has created my strength.

4) What is your take on the new crop of companies focused on optimizing against Net Promoter Score (NPS) and developing campaigns to exploit this type of success metric? Are there any new and/or established companies that, in your opinion, succeed at helping companies streamline and optimize their ability to foster advocacy aside from traditional social media channels?

I never signed up for a Klout account for that reason. Note not because I don’t like Klout, it is just for the fact I am very scared of a world where people try to con and/or figure out how algorithmically to build brand equity. I believe you need to give to receive. I understand why these types of things exist. There is some value to it to some I’m sure… but you know, I live at the crossroads of analytics and feeling. I would like to believe I have a high emotional intelligence.

There are so many ways to build your fan base and – again – the people I see win the most are those that are self-aware. I envy people that are more efficient than me, and in theory “achieved” what I have achieved in shorter periods of time. These are the folks that squeeze the most out of every minute. I envy it. On the same token, I think they should envy how deep and authentic my relationships are, and I believe that matters. For me the way I got there, and what I advocate, is putting in the work. So to try to answer your question… I believe in scaling the un-scalable, I believe there’s enormous magic in it. Especially as the world becomes much more efficient, and people buy more into the analytics and the “quant” it is a competitive advantage to be real. Authentic, consistent effort and going the extra mile are becoming less and less and less of the norm, these things are becoming more and more scarce. I think real, less automated, approaches will soon outweigh the methodologies that game advocacy because of the inherent value of authenticity.

5) I’m fired up for your new book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy, Social World… it alludes in the summary that the idea of just curating great content is not enough anymore. Responsive design and optimizing for mobile is now clearly more important than ever; without the luxury of intimate knowledge of your new book I ask: Have you been persuaded at all by the budding Lean Startup Movement – the entrepreneurial idea that passion alone is not enough anymore in today’s marketplace – that passion should be paired with a consumer-centric approach? Or, are you still a believer that passion and tenacity are the primary ingredients for success (i.e. creating and adapting to your market vs. finding and instructing your market)?

Go look at what I did with Wine Library TV and I think most would agree I lived “Lean Startup” long before it was written about by Eric Ries. I love Eric’s work. The spirit of it is don’t waste time, energy and money on things that do not move you forward. Be efficient. But here is where I think some people get it wrong. If success was easily quantifiable, if everything could follow a perfect blueprint… efficiencies were easily learned… everyone would be rich. It should be obvious to anyone however that if this was really true the game would be over by now.

In other words, if everything was about efficiencies and math and Lean Startups… success was all mathematically driven… the whole world would be over by now. Every single nerd would have all the biggest companies in the world. In my new book I make the case that there is a balance between creativity and analytics. I also believe social networks are required engagement platforms… they are necessary to understand and will be important tools with which to interact with your people and will be relevant for at least the next 36 months… simple as that. They’re state of the union on how to get your story across on the platforms that I actually think people are paying attention to right now. These platforms still cost little to no money to tell stories people will consume and resonate with, opposed to producing professional prefab content at a significant cost.

Can I tell you something funny before we finish? I would tell you I think a lot of my success comes from the fact that I’m undereducated. I think that me not knowing all the rules has made me guided by my own internal light thus making me unique enough in some way, some shape, some form, that it has made me fresh and interesting to other people. It’s my naiveté and lack of academic education that has made me in some ways break out because I wasn’t educated in the same way that a lot of my contemporaries are. Truth be told, the “Lean Startup” is called running a successful small business. The truth is hustlers don’t have any choice but to be lean. Too much funding and what’s your carrot? My family… we lived paycheck to paycheck. Anybody who follows me knows my story, what they don’t know is we were probably making a 10% gross margin at the store. We grossed three million which left $300,000 before expenses. We didn’t really make any money.

This is not something I have ever really talked about. This is one of the first times I have mentioned it in an interview actually, but it gets to the spirit of your question. It is kind of why I did this interview series, to say things I have never really said in the past. Look, true self-funded entrepreneurs are lean; for us there is no other option.

Interview with Ned Dwyer about Building an Online Marketplace

Ned Dwyer is the CEO and Founder of – a start-up that facilitates “small modifications” on people’s websites. The “tweaks” are purchased online where clients initially create a brief description of the modification required, followed by Tweaky’s team dissecting the situation and eventually offering a solution. Ned formally headed up NativeDigital which now primarily focuses on Facebook applications. The inspiration for Tweaky came through Ned’s agency experience where he saw how hard it was for small players to get their websites done the way they wanted. He is also a mentor for StartupSmart and runs his own blog When he’s not working on his projects, he enjoys activities such as running and hiking.

Here are my 5 questions with Ned and his answers:

1) Your company has seen amazing growth in a short period of time and you were able to reach profitability in less than two years. Along this journey did you identify anything that you believe is repeatable regarding your business blueprint that you would recommend to fledgling entrepreneurs?

Definitely, one, recognize a genuine problem. In our case the problem was/is that small to mid-size businesses need help with their online presence, and most of the time Agencies are simply not a viable solution for them, especially if all they need is a little assistance. We identified this problem and came up with the concept of a “tweak”.

Two, packaging works. We have bundled some of our best services based on our ability to deliver on the identified needs of our customers and it’s helped with some of our growth.

Lastly, never underestimate the value of your email list. I know this one is a bit cliché now but sometimes it is the simple stuff that you forget about. We had a solid list of about 1500 customers but we weren’t doing much with it at the beginning of Tweaky. We would send offers and see revenue spikes but there was not an initial methodology. When we began to test and measure campaigns through this channel it became a significant engine for our growth. Early entrepreneurs can benefit from working on a qualified list early, and then see to what extent they can work their list without fatiguing their core base.

2) I really enjoyed your post How to Build an Influencer Outreach Campaign that Converts, it complements the often sited post 1000 True Fans. Did you employ this strategy to foster Tweaky’s early growth?

I’ve used this strategy more as a music marketer than I have building Tweaky. To be honest, currently we aren’t using these concepts enough. This strategy is labor intensive but it works, especially if you are authentic. Using this type of strategy I was able to secure an early win with James Farmer from WPMU. He introduced Tweaky to his entire list asking only that we provide them (WPMU’s customers) with an exclusive offer. He wasn’t looking for any sort of compensation; he just wanted to make sure that the end result was a win/win. He benefited by providing value to his list, and we benefited from reaching an untapped market. The key to this strategy is you cannot take shortcuts. It truly requires authenticity to work. If you try to automate processes you’ll burn bridges and likely have to ultimately abandon the strategy for something else. However, if you work on building genuine connections, think about the other party first before thinking about yourself, and focus on reciprocity, it is an extremely effective strategy.

3) You have successfully created an online market. Along with Tweaky there are other major players in the online market space that have had some success creating marketplaces as well, a popular example is airbnb. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge to ensuring an online market place becomes profitable?

I call it “the grind”. There is no secret formula, or if there is it is this: keep your head down for 6 months and create a great product… that’s the challenge. This requires a particular mindset, one of focus and vision. If you believe you have a great product or service and you are able to turn out great content you’re half way there. You just have to keep pushing. I share the opinion with many others that in the SaaS business there are never “big” wins. A great post on this subject I recommend is How to Negotiate the Long, Slow, SaaS Ramp of Death by Gail Goodman.

You must have confidence and have the tenacity to go a significant amount of time with little revenue. Architect your “10X” goal and then get to work. I’m not suggesting you do not build in “kill switches”, i.e. indicators that you’ve miscalculated and you should pivot. You should never run yourself, others, and/or your business into the ground. However, you also have to have the guts to know that even though things look bleak, and are uncomfortable, you will persevere to reach your goal, 10X or otherwise.

4) From my vantage point it appears that you’re consistently testing things on Tweaky such as layout, pricing, and content. What are your favorite tools and methodology for refining your approach for the betterment of your business, as well as site usability?

Ha. I’m glad it looks that way. I would say it is a combination of mixing data with fineness. When we initially tested our pricing, in a sense we were using data because we were gauging how people reacted to the price changes, but the pricing numbers were our call based on institutional knowledge and instinct. Regarding the way we formulate our products… it is a bit more fineness. Something like, “I believe my customers will want this so let’s build against this presumed desire.” However, we will still make product choices by asking questions such as, “where is the data on that?” We have definitely done a lot of testing regarding our email list. As I alluded in your previous question, the adage “the money is in the list” is true for a reason. We have done a lot of segmentation and experimentation with our list through special offers to particular segments, as well as testing offer elements before a mass mailing. For instance, we wanted to get advocate exposure by asking our clients to provide a link to our website in their website’s footer. We tested four different offers to see which one would garner the most desired response. When we identified the offer that received the most positive response we went wide with that particular offer and got favorable results.

5) As a successful digital entrepreneur what are some of your favorite tools and/or products that might not be widely known yet?

For CRM I’m currently a big fan of Intercom. It’s a robust integrated solution that does a good job of tracking user activity. It allows me to do some really cool segmentation based on a wide variety of attributes. Using the features of Intercom I can quickly identify customers and prospects through specific behaviors and traits.

Another service I’m currently fond of is Full Contact. I use it to get social attributes on incoming leads. This affords me the ability to quickly know the social influence of anyone interested in Tweaky.  Knowing this information means I can segment prospects that might be influencers and potentially target them with specific offers.

Interview with Dr. Howard Jacobson about Nutrition and Scientific Inquiry

Dr. Howard Jacobson is a health educator and contributing author to T. Colin Campbell’s new book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition. He holds a Masters of Public Health and Doctor of Health Studies from Temple University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Princeton. Howard also founded as a resource for busy parents trying to raise fit and healthy children. He speaks, coaches, and consults on marketing for small and green businesses, health and fitness for individuals and families, and permaculture and planetary sustainability.

Here are my 5 questions with Dr. Jacobson and his answers:

1) A number of articles have been written over the past 10 years that raise concerns about clinical studies that address public health, food, and nutrition- related issues.  As examples, an essay written by Nobelist, James Watson, plays down the importance of anti-oxidants in diets (New Scientist,  March 16, 2013); a New Yorker article from December, 2010, entitled  “THE TRUTH WEARS OFF – Is there something wrong with the scientific method?” describes the difficulty in repeating and validating complex drug, public health and related clinical studies. Do you believe there is a single source of truth that applies to the global population regarding nutritional information?

I believe there is a really thick veil between us and the “Truth”, so the best we can do is be really respectful regarding what we do know. I look at Truth as a dinner guest. You invite Truth to dinner with the utmost humility. In my opinion, that is how you glean Truth from scientific study. You ask Truth to come for a visit, with the hope of getting yourself a little closer to true objective reality. Given there are so many ways of asking questions it seems to me the most respectful thing to do is to encourage  people to ask lots and lots of questions in various different ways – from micro-concerns to global issues and everything in between – then look at all the information you’ve amassed and try to create nested priorities. When claims are made off isolated studies (as discussed in the article you mentioned THE TRUTH WEARS OFF), they’re often reputed as fact and acted upon, only to find out as time passes that the benefits are only applicable in a scientific setting, or worse, they cannot be replicated. Given that goes on, I think a strong case can be made for judgment through diversity. You can approach scientific inquiry like an ecosystem. An overabundance of one type of organism is going to create havoc. You need diversity in any system so when weird things occur, and they will, you will have enough information you can rely on the preponderance. In this sense, when you come up with a counter-intuitive study – instead of sensationalizing it and broadcasting it as Truth – nest it as part of a holistic approach to inquiry and weigh its significance. So in the case of nutrition, we can look around the world and see that the people who tend to be slim, healthy, and live long lives are those that tend to eat a lot of complex carbohydrates, very little processed food, and not that many animal products. There is a large body of evidence to support this. So using this as a starting point, in my opinion, it is ridiculous to promote a 70% fat and protein diet when it flies in the face of a really robust empirical observation. I believe it is fair to be suspicious of purported evidence and mechanisms discovered in isolation that contradict more holistic observations that have proven evident through more vigorous means.

2) What advice do you have for consumers of this type of information in making nutritional judgments given the criticism that nutritional advice seems to come from a very diverse group of researchers and evaluators?

I’ll approach the question like this, given we live in a very unnatural society and we have the power of choice, how shall we eat? So someone might suggest let’s eat like a caveman… well, but wait, we do not live in that paradigm. We are not roaming the earth essentially working out eight hours a day, at least not most of us, that lifestyle involved a lot of physical labor. We now have unique demands that are specific to the environment we’ve created. It is a bigger issue than just being anthropological in nature however. We have power over our environment and ecosystem, so shouldn’t we make choices that are sustainable? That is one issue. Another is that as individuals we’re all different. If you are eating in a manner that is sustaining you in a healthy way, you are at a healthy weight and all your biomarkers are optimal, then maybe you do not need advice? I’m not a doctrinarian saying there is a single approach and everyone should eat a certain way. I will close by saying in spite of what I have just said, I think as individuals there is an obligation to be considerate of the fact we operate in a system larger than ourselves. For instance, there are a lot of ways to make a living. Some of these occupations might be harmful to other people but be financially advantageous. The spectator might look at an individual in one of these occupations and think that person is happy because of wealth and/or other measures, but pull back the lens and it proves to be a much bleaker picture. You can use this analogy regarding our food choices as well. Nutritional advice might be suitable for an individual but in the context of societal concerns be terrible (i.e. unsustainable farming practices, workforce exploitation, etc.). For these reasons I do suggest that the context of the information you consume is important to consider. Think beyond food choices that sustain only you, but choices that sustain your community, as well as the Earth.

3) An interesting section of your book deals with reductionism and the development of the many sub-specialties that now define aspects of biology. However, those with whom I have previously discussed the question of reductionism seem to argue that because science has advanced so much and has become so complex that some kind of subdivision is a necessity (this is true in both biology and life science).  There is simply too much to know.  They are also quick to point out that in addressing broad questions, the first and essential step is to put together teams with diverse viewpoints. The team approach also seems to be at the heart of what is often referred to as bench to bed or translational research. Isn’t reductionism needed so that others can “stand on the shoulders of giants”?

Let me clarify I’m not against reductionist research. On the contrary, reductionist research is an important part of a holistic view. The opposite position would be like a left-armed man saying, “well, I am left-handed so let me cut off the right one.” To be a literate scientific society we need all types of research. What we decry in the book is people who spend their lives looking down microscopes and then try to convince the rest of us that they’re the only ones that can see the Truth.  Again, as I posit in your first question there is no “single source of Truth”.

4) You also have some interesting perspectives on reductionistic approaches with regard to addressing broad questions.  If the goal is to make a recommendation, isn’t it necessary to have some sense of the mechanism of the putative interaction?  The point being that recommendations most likely come from a reductive process or require methods or concepts that are products of reductionism (e.g., good compositional data or knowledge of what a single component in food might do). Could you give some insights in approaching food related research questions, particularly when making an association to a given health aspect it may be a necessity to only be correlative without a lot of fundamental information? 

Having a passion and conviction for something you’re involved in is very human, especially among intelligent, successful individuals. Scientists who make an important finding tend to get identified with it, and that’s okay. It is very rare for scientists, or anyone for that matter, to be truly egoless. You need drive to do meaningful work. Part of the beauty of the scientific method is the desire to prove that you are right. The challenge is separating the real Truth from rhetoric. The issue in our modern society is that through media and other means, interpretation of Truth can sometimes actually be disseminated as Truth and that’s a big issue. It’s a big issue for two reasons. One, it gives the people with money a real advantage, because with money you can basically disseminate a distorted (aka your) version of Truth. Two, and even more concerning, is that reductionism is used to create marketable products with purported benefits that rarely can be achieved (at least as advertised) in a real-world environment.

Consumers have a hard time telling the difference between marketing and science. For instance, a lot of discourse has been spinning around the Cheerios’ ad featuring a biracial couple because of the alleged proactive portrayal of a mixed race couple, when we would be better served discussing the merits of the claim that Cheerios are good for your heart. These claims about Cheerios being good for your heart are so far from any scientific truth… they are loosely based on tangential data, and turned into marketing messages based on ingredients studied in isolation. I believe this controversy is more worthy of debate. It is like the old fable of a guy searching for his keys under a streetlamp. He lost his keys in the dark but the lamp was the easiest place to look so he started there.

The spirit of Whole is to suggest that in most cases nutrition is too complex to associate an expected outcome with a single nutrient. It’s like asking, “What is the best note in a particular symphony?” You certainly can take out a single note and examine it, but the examination is going to be of little use in creating your next symphony.

5) Given the complexity of the arguments made in your book, if the reader is to walk away understanding one concept what would you hope that is?

There is almost always a larger “whole” to examine. When you’re examining anything always try to see if you can broaden the context of your inquiry. Ask these questions: In what cases is the concept true? In what cases is the concept only a half-truth? In what cases is the concept false? The laws of phenomena are so unbelievably complex that whenever we attempt to break things into smaller pieces – as useful as it is to do so – we need to appreciate that some things are lost in the process. Reductionism very often comes with a cost or trade-off, and when that trade-off is not fully explored – or worse omitted for the economic benefit of special interests – the things that society loses in the process are not mitigated by societal gain… and worse yet, the gains are usually not shared equally but rather benefit only a select group of individuals (through monetary gain). Regarding nutrition specifically, as a society we have evolved in such a way that a plant-based diet simply makes sense. Eating is a way we turn the world into ourselves. It is one of the most intimate things we do and it is a shared commonality amongst all of us, so I believe it really does behoove us to slow things down and focus on building habits that will contribute to the greater good… as individuals… as an ecosystem… and for the betterment of the planet.