Teaching a Class By Skype

Today, I had the opportunity to speak to a couple classes at the University of Texas - Arlington about entrepreneurship and digital marketing.  The students were over a thousand miles away, but I was beamed right into their classroom through Skype.  I’m obviously familiar with Skype (all too familiar, actually, after my girlfriend went to India for three months), but I had never used it as a tool to speak to a large group of students.

I’ve spoke to more than a dozen classes over the past few years, but this was probably the most nervous I’ve been.  It wasn’t the topic or the students, but the setup.  Being projected up on a wall in front of the class, while I am sitting in my office staring and speaking into my laptop didn’t seem like a recipe for success.  In my time in undergrad, we never had a speaker in a class by Skype before -- is this really the way things are done, now?

Without being there in person, how would people be able to pick up on my mannerisms, be engaged with what I was saying, or see how excited I was about the topic?  These things, along with a fear of looking like Big Brother, had me concerned about how this would play out.

In the end, I was really pleasantly surprised and had a phenomenal experience.  I felt like students focused more on my actual words than my pacing or powerpoint, and they were ultimately more engaged than any group I had spoke to in-person (maybe it was because I actually did look like Big Brother).  It was also an easy way for students to hear the perspective of someone close to their age and for me to get to encounter some great questions and thoughts.

I went in a skeptic and left a believer.  I hope colleges around the country are using this tactic, because I thought it worked very well for the speaker and the students.  It opens the doors for schools around the countries to bring in different lecturers and gives them the tools to still be effective and engaging in the classroom.

Peyton Manning and Colts Show How to Split with Class

In the era of The Decision (this Clevelander will never forget), Brett Favre, and public trade demands, it's becoming increasingly rare to see a star athlete amicably split from their team.  Peyton Manning and the Colts have been a stark contrast to that trend, and it has been incredibly refreshing.

While Peyton's teary-eyed press conference will be the enduring image, both parties deserve a lot of credit, in the end.  After a tense offseason where Colts management let go of several key actors on the team, it seemed the writing was on the wall.  Peyton and ownership fired off a couple of quips about the situation but it never escalated or got personal.  After that initial flurry, both sides retreated and went through the process in private.  In the end, they made the announcement together and were clear that they both had the utmost respect for the other.

This situation cost Peyton Manning $28 million and cost the Colts' a hugely valuable asset.  However, those facts weren't invoked, and the sides kept it professional and cordial.  It was really a sight for sore eyes in today's sports culture.

Thanks to both for all the memories over the past 14 years and for making sure that those memories are what endures in our minds and not some messy, petty breakup.

The Instapaper Effect and How Its Rewiring My Brain

Instapaper is hands down one of my favorite iOS apps, if not my favorite.  I downloaded the free version in September of 2010, upgraded to the free version about a year later, and have used it multiple time per week since then.  

It's a great app that lets you store any article/column/blog post from the web locally on your phone or tablet and keeps those devices in sync.  It's perfect for lazy weekends, laying in bed at night, or for long trips.  Not only do I use it for the local storage when I'm in an increasingly rare location without WiFi, but I also use it as my primary reading list that I can turn to at anytime to find a good read.

With all of the app's positive attributes and the dividends it has paid by allowing me to consume scores of articles at my own pace, you would think I'd have no problems with it.  However, I've lately noticed an alarming trend in my habits that I'll term the Instapaper Effect.

When I first started using the app, I would always scroll down to see how long a piece was and if it would take me more than 7-10 minutes to read (I'm a slow reader, too), then I would probably Instapaper it to read at a later date.  If I was just laying around or not busy, I would just go ahead and read it at that moment.  The longer I had Instapaper, the shorter my threshold became for read now vs. Instapaper.  I started Instapapering 5 minute articles.  Then, anything over a page.  It's at the point now where I may scroll, but I don't really care what length I see, I'm going to Instapaper any article I find during the workday.  It's not uncommon for me to Instapaper a mere four paragraph blog post.

While this tendency may ostensibly seem like it's bolstering my productivity by not allowing me to get distracted during the day, that's not true.  Studies consistently show that breaks from work or studying boost ultimate productivity and I have to believe reading something interesting and/or relevant is one of the best ways to realize one of those pauses.  Instead, I'm quietly getting more unproductive by refusing to give myself a break with an article. 

On top of the productivity concerns, it's just making me plain lazy.  There's no better word than lazy to describe putting off reading a four paragraph piece of writing that is relevant to your career or personally interesting to you.  Instapaper has stoked this sloth-like behavior by reinforcing to me that it's OK to procrastinate these short reads and to hopefully come back to them later in my long queue.  Obviously, though, when Instapaper becomes a chore of choking down a dozen four paragraph blog posts on a myriad of topics intermixed with longform writing, I'll absorb less information and start resisting the queue that I've loved for so long.

Finally, I've noticed the Instapaper Effect starting to manifest itself in other areas of my life other than just reading.  Want to tell me a story, but it's going to take longer than a couple minutes?  Can't I just Instapaper this for later?  Do I really need to spend all this time focusing on content, right now?!  It's getting harder for me to focus on any content that isn't 100% on my terms, and that's terrible.  

Has anyone else experienced similar results from using Instapaper?  I think it's easy to curb with focus -- the next time you're about to Instapaper something, force yourself to answer how long it would take to read and if that would really set your day back.  I'm willing to bet we all have several five minute pockets in the day where we would be well-served to read something in the spur of the moment rather than saving it for later.  I haven't been savoring those moments, but I'm going to make it a point to pushing back on Instapaper.

Remember Why You Got in the Game...

"I see all these people who just keep going and going and going, and I just feel like, ‘Hey! You made it!’ But they get up every day and just keep going. You love the game, but the game for us? We just wanted to be in fourth place. We just wanted a good little company."

A cool quote from Andy Spade (Kate's husband) about their decision to sell their business with no plans for a huge second act. Nice to see someone achieve a goal, comprehend the feat, and then walk away on their own terms in order to enjoy life. (Also, yes, this means I'm trying to get back in the habit of posting here, even if just snippets like this). 

Here's the full article from New York Magazine in Feb. 2010.

2011 Resolutions

There are just seven and a half hours left in 2010.  It has been a really great year for myself and New Media Campaigns.  Personally, I got to travel around the country to see friends, attend several weddings, make some great stories, achieve several personal goals, witness some awesome sporting events, have some inspiring conversations, read some great material, and plenty more.  Professionally, NMC worked on more than 100 projects, added a new team member, grew revenue by more than 30%, launched our first product, got some awesome press, and plenty more.

I'm a firm believer in New Year's Resolutions, as I think they're a great goal-setting mechanism and really inspire you to achieve.  For even more incentive, this year I'm going to make my top resolutions public on this blog.  Below are my top 5 resolutions I came up with over the past week, and I'll update everyone as I achieve them.  If I don't complete all of them, it won't be the end of the world, but I'm really going to make a concerted effort.

  1. Travel Abroad - I haven't been abroad since I went to Italy in the summer of 2007.  That's just way too long in my opinion.  I've been able to see some awesome places around the US in the past three years, but I want to go abroad this year to be exposed to a different culture and a totally new place.  Right now, the leading contender is a winter trip to India.
  2. Read 12 Books - I read a lot.  But not books.  I love reading the NY Times, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Inc., various blogs, and plenty more.  Most of these items are longer pieces that consume a good amount of my time (I'm a slow reader).  However, I often find myself reading quick little articles that I don't really care about too much and that I don't retain much info from.  This year, I want to focus on reading books that really dive into topics and give me a much better grasp of a subject than an article ever could.  I think one a month is an aggressive pace that will still allow me the time to read the articles I love.
  3. Run 10 Miles in Under 76 Minutes -- This past year, largely thanks to my girlfriend, I got into running.  I ran a 10 miler in April and recorded a time around 82 minutes.  My goal had been 85 minutes and since I'd never run in a race longer than a 5k, I was really pleased with my results.  This year, I want to break the 8 minute mark and finish at around a 7:30 pace.  It's going to be tough, but I think I can do it.  My first shot will be at the same April 10 Miler, the Tar Heel 10 Miler.
  4. Blog Every Two Weeks -- This one is self explanatory.  I suck at blogging consistently on this domain.  My time is usually consumed by blogging on the NMC site or doing other things.  This year, I'm going to blog at least twice a month and hopefully more often than that.  I've got a whole list of topics written down and I plan on going through them one by one.  Keep me honest on this one!
  5. Cook More -- I eat out for just about every meal.  It's expensive and unhealthy.  This year, I want to learn to be a better cook and also focus on making more meals for myself.  I did a CSA for the last few months and that really forced me to cook, because I didn't want to waste the different items.  
  6. Grow NMC and HiFi -- Considering that this blog is largely about entrepreneurship, this resolution shouldn't come as a surprise.  We had a great year at NMC.  We grew the company in a plethora of different ways.  However, one of the most dangerous things is to get complacent and just assume that growth naturally happens.  It doesn't.  It takes hard work, persistence, risks, trial and error, and some luck.  In 2011, I'm focused on helping our company taking the next step in our growth and really focused on helping our new product, HiFi CMS, become the success that we know it deserves to be.

Well, there you go.  That's what I'm shooting for in 2011.  I'll let you know how I fare.  Thanks again for helping make this such an awesome year and here's to 2011!

My Digital Toolbox

Every job/industry has a toolbox that is relevant to that profession.  In some professions, it’s quite literally a box of tools.  In most lives, it’s just a suite of tools that one uses nearlyevery day in order to get their job done well.

Within an industry, the toolboxes of each practitioner vary dramatically.  The skillset, experience, and focus of each person strongly influence which tools they lean on the most.  For example, the #1 tool in many accountants’ lives is likely a calculator.  However, others that have been in the game for awhile might rely more on mental math.

I work at a web design, marketing, and development firm, hence why my toolbox is of the digital variety.  So, that’s the broad toolbox I’m representing.  However, within the organization, my top priorities are marketing, business development, and client relations.  Furthermore, I was one of the company’s founders, meaning that I also spend a lot of time reading about entrepreneurship and helping run the actual business.  So, that greatly changes the tools I use from, say, the developers on our team.

Here are the top 5 tools I find myself most frequently using to help me do my job and run my life:

1. Gmail – It still baffles me that some people don’t use Gmail as their primary email client.  I use it for my business and personal accounts (synced to the same mailbox).

2. iPhone - I’ve been an iPhone user for a little over two years, now.  I hesitantly switched over from BlackBerry.  I was pretty intimidated by the touch keyboard and lack of email push capabilities.  However, I quickly learned that while it’s email wasn’t quite as good as BB’s, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I stopped checking my email every second and started doing some cooler things while mobile, whether it was using apps or just browsing on Safari.  Even with the bad AT&T service, I don’t anticipate switching anytime soon.  It helps me manage the business from the road when I’m traveling, catch up on reading no matter where I am, and to keep in good contact with friends.

3. 37signals Products – Our company relies heavily on 37Signals suite of collaboration tools.  Campfire serves as our company chat room, which we all interact in throughout the day.  Basecamp is our project management system that allows our small team of 8 people launch more than 100 websites each year.  Highrise is a CRM tool that I use on the marketing side, helping me keep track of leads and prospects.  Without these tools, we wouldn’t be able to be nearly as productive and organized.

4. Evernote – I tend to use this tool more in my personal life than work, but it still comes in handy at the office, too.  Evernote is a kind of digital memory system.  You can insert any type of media – articles, videos, audio, images – and it’s all categorized and searchable.  I really just use it for articles.  I love reading different magazines, newspapers, and blogs, and when I come across a good article that I know I’ll want to reference in the future (whether for work or for fun), I’ll put it into my Evernote.  There are tons of good usecases for the program, from saving business cards to wine labels.  I recommend you check it out — also, it’s free!

5. Pandora/Grooveshark/Hypem/iTunes – As you can tell, this one is kind of a blanket item for music.  I can’t work, write, or think in silence.  I always need some sort of background noise, and my preference is music.  Switching between these four allow me to get different music for my mood and also just new selections.  I think everyone is familiar with Pandora and iTunes.  However, if you’re not familiar with Grooveshark or Hypem, I strongly recommend you check them out.  Grooveshark lets you stream any artist, song, or album for free.  Just type it in there and click play.  Hypem is an awesome aggregator and voting system of music blogs.  It posts songs from thousands of blogs and then lets listeners “favorite” them, allowing you to build your own playlist of favorites and also aggregating a list of the most popular songs on the site.  Grooveshark has helped me find many new artists and songs (especially remixes!).

Well, that’s my digital toolbox.  These tools help me get through everyday in a productive and sane manner.  What would you put in your toolbox, if you really had to think about it?