Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

Guest post for ThornTech – The Week in Tech: YouTube Gaming launches, Facebook’s virtual assistant, and more

YouTube Gaming

Check out my latest guest post on ThornTech.com titled “The Week in Tech: YouTube Gaming launches, Facebook’s virtual assistant, and more.

This week we chat about the launch of YouTube gaming, Facebook’s virtual messenger, and the upcoming announcement of new Apple products.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Guest post for ThornTech – The Week in Tech: Google is now Alphabet, Samsung launches new phones, and more

Alphabet logo

Check out my latest guest post on ThornTech.com titled “The Week in Tech: Google is now Alphabet, Samsung launches new phones, and more.

This week we cover Google’s restructuring, Samsung’s new phones and mobile payments launch, and the delay in Apple’s streaming TV service.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

3 examples of startups who innovate on business model, not just product

The startup world is hot right now and there are so many companies vying to be the next big thing. If you read TechCrunch, The Verge, or any other startup or technology publication, you’ll be inundated with content about hundreds of companies with similar-sounding solutions.

If you’re a potential customer of some of these options, you might wonder – how are these companies different from each another?

Another enterprise communication software company just launched as I write this – how will it be different from Slack, Yammer, HipChat, or the 100 other tools out there?

Sweet, another project management app? I already use two of them, so might as well sign me up for a third, right?

Someone else just built a platform where you can get meals delivered to your home – should I use that one, or Munchery, Sprig, Maple, or the 30 other options that I have?

Most of the differentiation among these companies, if any, comes from the product, which makes a lot of sense. You can see or feel the differences in product and user experience, so they have the most immediate impact on the potential customer.

But what’s more interesting to me are companies that innovate and differentiate on business model. They deliver a great product (which is a necessity), but the way they significantly separate themselves from their competition is by delivering a unique solution based on how they charge their customer, and not just the product they deliver.

Here are three examples.

Zenefits – free software, commissions on insurance sales

Zenefits homepage

Zenefits is free software that allows small and medium businesses to manage all of their human resource tasks, such as benefits, payroll, time off, and more, all in one platform. Competitors include BambooHR, Vista HCM, TribeHR, Zoho People, and many others.

It’s been labeled as one of the fastest-growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies ever.

I’m not expert in HR management solutions, nor have I used any of these software packages. While Zenefits may differentiate itself a bit by having a better product, that’s not the point. The way they have really innovated is with their business model.

While other solutions charge their customers based on number of employees in the company or users of the software, Zenefits gives its software away for free.

Not a free trial. Not freemium. FREE 4EVA. This is basically unheard of in the enterprise software world.

Zenefits makes money by becoming the insurance broker for all of their customers and earns commissions for any health, dental, vision, and other insurance that is sold and managed through the platform.

Genius.

Venture capitalist Tom Tunguz calls this a “software-enabled marketplace” and this model, when executed correctly, can lead to dominating market positions, which Zenefits is well on its way to achieving.

Thumbtack – charge per contact, not per transaction

Thumbtack homepage

Thumbtack is a website where you can find a professional local service provider to help you complete any project such as remodeling your home, tutoring your child, or refreshing your resume.

Sound familiar? It should, as there are tons of similar sites – Craigslist, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Red Beacon, and Zaarly, just to name a few.

While many of these companies charge service providers a fee per transaction, Thumbtack differentiates by charging these contractors each time they contact a potential customer.

The company initially charged transaction fees and also tried a subscription-based model, but pivoted toward the charge-per-contact model because they found that this better scaled to the activity of the marketplace and acted as a pre-screener for each potential customer.

This is a perfect example of the Build-Measure-Learn principle of the Lean Startup where companies can use a consistent experimentation process to achieve success. In most cases, companies use the Build-Measure-Learn process to make changes to its product, but Thumbtack used it to alter its business model.

With a $100 million fundraise a year ago, I’d say Thumbtack made some smart decisions.

Robin Hood – no trading fees

Robin Hood homepage

Robin Hood is a mobile app where you can trade stocks for free with no account minimums, while other online brokers such as eTrade, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade charge around $10 per transaction with account minimums of $500 or more.

Robin Hood recognized that the millennial segment is a group that is largely untapped by financial services firms, and the company understood that in order to get this segment active in investing, barriers like trading fees, account minimums, and complicated tools and interfaces needed to be abolished.

With little to no overhead (as opposed to many other online brokers, who have to maintain brick-and-mortar locations and pay financial advisors and administrative staff), Robin Hood is able to let its users trade stocks for free.

The company makes money by accruing interest from users’ uninvested cash balances, and is testing the collection of interest from those who upgrade to a margin account.

This is a case of a company recognizing a hole in the financial services market, understanding its target customers, and finding a way to cater to them.

Conclusion

Zenefits, Thumbtack, and Robin Hood are three examples of startups who figured out a way to differentiate themselves from the competition using their business models, and not just their products.

These companies were really smart in understanding their customer really well and figuring out the best way to monetize their users.

While innovating on product is still extremely important, I really appreciate when companies can find inventive business models that works well for both the end user and the organization.

Your turn

What do you think of the above companies who are innovating on business models? Do you have any other examples who are doing the same? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Guest post for ThornTech – The Week in Tech: Apple may launch a mobile network, Facebook’s live streaming, and more

Woman on iPhone

Check out my latest guest post on ThornTech.com titled “The Week in Tech: Apple may launch a mobile network, Facebook’s live streaming, and more.

This week we cover Apple’s ambitions to run its own wireless network, Facebook’s new live streaming feature, and GE’s app store. Check it out here.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Guest post for ThornTech – The Week in Tech: Farewell to Google+, Windows 10 launches, and more

g+ logo toppled

Check out my latest guest post on ThornTech.com titled “The Week in Tech: Farewell to Google+, Windows 10 launches, and more.

This week we chat about the continued death of Google+, the birth of Windows 10, how Best Buy will sell the Apple Watch, and why science and tech moguls are against AI warfare.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Can you be more productive on less sleep? My first week experimenting with biphasic sleep

Sleeping dog

This past week I started experimenting with a biphasic sleep model, an alternative schedule where your sleep is broken up into multiple segments throughout the day. Here’s why I started exploring this sleep method and how it’s going.

Why I’m doing this

Most of us follow a monophasic sleep pattern, which consists of one long chunk of sleep every day. That was the schedule that I adhered to, and I would go to sleep around 11PM-midnight until 7AM, consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep each day.

But since my daughter Maya was born over two months ago, Vicky and I have to wake up around 3AM each morning to feed her, which has wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule.

So instead of 7-8 consecutive hours of solid sleep, my sleep schedule started to look something like this:

  • Sleep from 11PM to ~3AM
  • Feed Maya until  ~4AM
  • Sleep from 4AM to ~7AM
  • Feed Maya until ~8AM
  • Sleep from 8AM to ~10AM
  • Wake up feeling really groggy
  • Take a 30-minute nap sometime during the day
  • Ride out the day pretty tired
Sleep schedule

Maya jacked up my sleep schedule

Even though I was getting up to 10 hours of sleep per day, I was basically a zombie. My work days started 2-3 hours later than usual, and I was lethargic throughout the day.

So I decided to do something about it.

I started researching biphasic and polyphasic sleep online and asked my Facebook friends if they knew anything about it. I basically was told that my sleep was fucked for life.

FB post - biphasic sleep

My friends think I should just surrender to my child.

I refused to let this little lady continue to jack up my sleep.

Biphasic Sleep Overview

The biphasic and polyphasic sleep methods are alternative schedules where your sleep is broken up into multiple chunks per day instead of the one long 7-8 hour segment that most people are used to (monophasic).

The purpose of these methods is to take advantage of the architecture of sleep to decrease the number of phases we sleep per day while still avoiding sleepiness, thus allowing for more awake (and presumably, productive) time.

This article outlines the many variations of biphasic sleep. I’ve decided that the Everyman2 (4.5 hour major episode and 2 20-minute naps) and Everyman3 (3.5 hour major sleep session and 3 20-minute naps) were the best options for my schedule and sleeping preferences. I work from home, so my schedule is flexible enough to accommodate these alternative sleep schedules.

Everyman3

E3 schedule – 3.5 hour major sleep session and 3 20-minute naps

In these cases, I would get anywhere from 4 to 5 hours of sleep per day and theoretically not be tired. That’s 5 fewer hours per day compared to my jacked up schedule! If this worked, and I would feel less fatigue with less sleep, that’d be amazing.

Let’s see how the first week went.

Day 1: Monday

I didn’t plan on trying biphasic sleep so soon. But on Monday morning, I couldn’t fall back asleep after feeding Maya at 3:30AM. So I decided to start the experiment.

I must say that Day 1 went really smoothly.

I started work around 5AM and was surprisingly productive. I’m typically not a morning person, so I was shocked that I could get so much done that early.

A little before 9AM – about 5 hours after I woke up, which is perfect according to the Everyman2 model – I started feeling groggy. So I took a 20-minute siesta and woke up really invigorated.

I made some breakfast and continued to work until approximately 2PM, when I snagged another nap. Again, I woke up energetic.

I didn’t feel lethargic at all the rest of the day. I even attended an industry event at night and drank a couple of beers there.

When 11PM rolled around, I was ready for bed and fell asleep really easily.

Day 2-4: Tuesday-Thursday

I continued the experiment throughout the week and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday went as planned.

Maya woke up for her morning meals on each day anywhere from 3:30-4AM, and we fed her as usual.

Fatigue came at expected times.

The biggest change I saw was that I had some vivid dreams during my 20-minute naps.

On Thursday evening, I was able to fit in a boxing workout, the first really intense workout I’ve had in a while. I felt pretty tired during and after the workout. That could have been due to the fact that I’m pretty out of shape right now, and not so much a result of the sleep experiment, but who knows.

Day 5: Friday

I was a bit nervous how my sleep schedule would pan out on Friday.

I had to diverge from the Everyman2 schedule because I had in-person meetings most of the day. I wouldn’t be able to take a nap until much later in the afternoon, and thus would have to skip both my morning and early afternoon 20-minute naps.

And because I had to drive to and from these meetings, I was afraid of being tired behind the wheel.

Thus, I decided to intervene with some coffee, which I don’t drink often. It was certainly justified, and the sleep schedule, while not adhering too well to any of the biphasic options, worked out well.

I woke up around 3:30AM as usual and worked.

I left my home around 7AM to my first meeting and chugged a cup of coffee there.

I was done with all of my meetings around 4PM and scored a 1.5-hour nap, which felt really good. Then I was able to go on with the rest of my evening with no problems.

I found out that this biphasic sleep thing can be flexible, which is really nice.

Day 6 and 7: Mixing it up on the weekend

With fewer work constraints, I decided to be a bit more flexible with my biphasic sleep schedule on Saturday and Sunday. Some good and some bad came out of it.

I had a pickup football game to play on Saturday morning, so Vicky was gracious enough to handle Maya’s morning feedings so I can get a full 8 hours of continuous sleep. Isn’t my wife just a gem?

I took a 20-minute nap later that day because I was tired from the football game played in the sun and heat. No big deal.

But things went a little off the rails on Sunday.

For some reason, I reverted back to the jacked up, on-and-off sleep schedule that I was trying to avoid with biphasic sleep. And as expected, I was tired most of the day. I had to take a short nap later in the day and woke up groggy and lethargic.

Never again will I do that.

Conclusion

My first week experimenting with biphasic sleep was a real success.

I learned that you can be less tired and more productive with significantly fewer hours of sleep.

Not everyone’s schedule is as flexible as mine, and yours may not allow for naps throughout the day. But if you can shut your office door or dip out to your car a couple of times a day for short naps, I believe that your productivity and overall energy level can be improved by implementing a biphasic sleep option.

I’m going to continue using the Everyman2 and Everyman3 schedules until Maya decides to change up her routine. At that point, I’ll see which other biphasic schedule works best.

I’m really looking forward to a higher level of productivity on fewer hours of sleep in the weeks and months ahead.

Your turn

Have you ever tried out a biphasic or polyphasic sleep model? If so, how did it work for you?

If not, do you think these alternative sleep schedules might work for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, and connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Dog image courtesy of Pixabay.

Guest post for ThornTech – The Week in Tech: Ashley Madison gets hacked, Jet.com launches to take on Amazon, and more

Ashley Madison

Check out my latest guest post on ThornTech.com titled “The Week in Tech: Ashley Madison gets hacked, Jet.com launches to take on Amazon, and more.

This week we cover the hacking of Ashley Madison, the launch of Jet.com, Lyft and Starbucks’ partnership, and the earnings results of Yahoo, Apple, and Microsoft.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Ashley Madison.

Guest post for ThornTech – The Week in Tech: Comcast announces Stream, Twitter’s fake takeover, and more

comcast

Check out my latest guest post on ThornTech.com titled “The Week in Tech: Comcast announces Stream, Twitter’s fake takeover, and more.

This week we highlight Comcast’s Stream, the fake takeover story about Twitter, the continuing Reddit drama, and eBay selling their enterprise unit.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Comcast.

Do you regret your past career decisions? Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Career regret

Studies have shown that workers can have up to seven careers in their lifetime. If you’re one of these people, this means that you may have had to take a few steps back and completely start over with little experience in your new job or industry.

Thus, when thinking about your career trajectory, it’s easy to say “I wish I had done that sooner,” or “Man, if I knew then what I know now, I’d totally be killing it today,” or whatever else people say about the career and life decisions that they regret.

Many people who have made career changes wish that they realized sooner what they wanted to do with their lives. They think that they’re really late to the game and regret not doing things differently in the past.

My career has been a winding, swerving roller coaster, and I think this way sometimes. But it’s bullshit. And when I do think this way, I always call myself out, because things change all the time, and you never know how past experiences can help your current or future prospects.

Here’s what I mean.

My convoluted career path

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 2000 but had no desire to work in that field after graduation. After all, life wasn’t to be spent in a lab or steel mill.

Thus, I pursued my Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering (IE) to hopefully start my career in the consulting industry. After obtaining that diploma in 2001 and getting a consulting gig, I wished I was interested in IE sooner. I felt that my four years of undergrad could have been better spent pursuing an IE major, and I wouldn’t have had to attend grad school.

Oh, regret.

The consulting career then ran its course.

When I started my career in sports business a few years later, I then wished that I had jumped into that industry sooner.

I was living the dream at my marketing job at the Washington Capitals. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine working in another industry.

Even when basking in the glow of my dream sports marketing job, I thought about how far up the corporate ladder I would have been had I started working in sports business after undergrad, instead of seven years and two graduate degrees (and lots of debt) later.

Oh, regret.

Until, of course, that career ran its course and I became an entrepreneur.

Do I wish that I had pursued entrepreneurship earlier in my career? Not at all.

You are the sum of your experiences

Your experiences make you the person you are now, and your current career is the aggregate result of your past careers. Even if your past careers seem completely disconnected from what you’re doing now, don’t ever regret the path you took nor take your past experience for granted.

I never came close to using materials science and engineering concepts in any of my careers, but that degree laid the foundation for the analytical thinking I use everyday.

I actually did use my IE degree in my consulting career, which is a plus. And even though I don’t directly apply IE to my current job, the concepts of efficient work, project and time management, and process analytics certainly influence each task that I execute on a daily basis.

And looking back, the MBA that I attained isn’t a necessary credential for an entrepreneur; rather, many say the degree is a detriment. But do I regret getting that degree? No way.

Although I attended NYU Stern to pursue a career in sports business, I learned so much about marketing, branding, and management, skills that I use every day. And much of my professional network stems from my time at NYU, which has helped and will continue to benefit my career in the future.

Conclusion

Sure, everyone wishes they had pursued certain career paths earlier, but hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t even waste time looking back and regretting your choices.

Just know that your past experiences make you who you are now, and that’s a good thing.

Your turn

Have you made career decisions that you regret? How do you think those decisions have impacted your career trajectory? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, and connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Guest post for ThornTech – The Week in Tech: Microsoft to lay off 7,800 workers, Yahoo launches daily fantasy sports games, and more

microsoft layoffs

Check out my latest guest post on ThornTech.com titled “The Week in Tech: Microsoft to lay off 7,800 workers, Yahoo launches daily fantasy sports games, and more.

This week we cover Microsoft’s layoffs, Yahoo’s new daily fantasy sports games, and Waze’s carpooling initiative.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.