Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Business

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

Trello vs. Asana – which is better project management software?

For the last couple of years, I’ve used Asana as my project management software of choice. I’m not really sure why I originally chose to use Asana other than reading some articles about it and realizing how beautifully designed the tool was when I first saw it.

Lately I’ve had so many people tell me how much they love Trello. So I’ve been testing it over the last few months to see if it’s as good as people say, and whether it’s a better fit for me than Asana.

Here’s what I learned.

Overview of Trello and Asana


Trello is a simple but powerful web and mobile application based on the kanban board that Toyota popularized in the 1980s and used for their innovative supply chain management process.

The user interface is a board (which typically equates to a project), filled with lists (categories) of cards (tasks or ideas). The default board has lists that are named “To Do,” “Doing,” “Done,” but you can organize and rename each board and list as you please.

The card is the atomic unit of Trello, and here’s where you can create and assign a task or idea, build checklists, add notes, upload attachments, type comments, and more.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what Trello looks like:

Trello welcome board


Asana is project management software with a bit more structure to it.

The first entity in Asana is the workspace, which is the rough equivalent of a Trello board. When you get into a workspace, Asana has a three-column interface:

  • The left column lists projects and members of the workspace
  • The middle column lists task info
  • The right column shows task details, where you can add attachments, create subtasks, add comments, and more

Here’s what Asana looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 6.38.42 AM

Trello’s strengths

Super flexibility

You can do anything with Trello; it’s not just limited to to-do lists and project management.

The standard thing to do with Trello is to create boards where you can log and organize your tasks by project. I’ve created task boards for projects that I’m working on, such as ribl, Thorn Technologies (one of my consulting clients), Startup Weekend DC planning, and personal projects.

But because Trello is so flexible, you can create a board for almost anything. I’ve created a Content Planning and Distribution board, where I log all the blog post ideas that come to mind as well as all of the channels where I can distribute my content.

I also use Trello as a lightweight customer relationship management (CRM) tool for the sales and business development that I do for my clients and my consulting practice. I’ll create cards for each prospect and within each card I’ll log call notes and create checklists for follow-up tasks.

As you can see, Trello is amazingly flexible and can be used to keep track of anything you can think of.

More visual

While Asana is beautifully designed, Trello is more of a visual tool. You can attach images and add color-coded labels to categorize cards. The app displays plenty of icons that represent checklists, votes, due dates, and more. You can even change the background image of your board. Check out the side-by-side comparison below, with Trello on the left and Asana on the right.

trello kitchen redesignScreen Shot 2015-06-09 at 6.38.42 AM

Moving cards around is really rewarding

I have a board that I call “Today’s To-Dos” that lists all the tasks that I need to execute today. Whenever I complete a task, I’ll move it from that project’s list to the “Done” list. And there’s something super rewarding about moving those cards, as opposed to checking off a box and having that task disappear, like in Asana.

And at the end of the day, when I see the board below, I can be pretty proud of all that I’ve accomplished.

Trello Done

Today was a good day (cue Ice Cube)

Asana’s strengths


While Trello’s flexibility is extremely powerful, it may be too flexible for people who are looking for a tool to provide structure in their lives. In this case, Asana trumps Trello.

Asana provides many out-of-the-box features that will help you better organize your tasks and projects. The app lets you categorize your tasks by “Today,” “Upcoming,” and “Later,” so you know what you need to work on and when. You can assign tasks to projects and easily navigate between views for projects and your specific tasks.

A big part of the structure that Asana provides better than Trello is recurring tasks. If you have tasks that you have to execute on a repetitive basis (e.g. every month I need to invoice my clients), Asana allows you to easily set these recurring tasks with a couple of clicks.

Asana recurring tasks

You need workarounds to do this in Trello. You can either manually copy cards over and over again, or just change the due date of that original card. You can also create weekly or monthly lists and copy those at the beginning of each week or month. Or you can use a Zapier integration to facilitate this. It’s just not that easy.

Better email reminders

Many people hate receiving email, and understandably so. But my workflow depends heavily on email, and Asana’s email reminders are amazing.

When you set a due date for a task in Asana, the system will send you email reminders:

  1. One week before the task is due.
  2. One day before the task is due.
  3. The day when the task is due.
  4. Every day the task is overdue until one week has passed.

Yes, that’s a lot of reminders (up to 10 emails for one task!) but it sure as hell will get you to either complete the task or change its due date.

On the other hand, Trello will send one email reminder the day before the task is due, and that’s it. For those who want to avoid email, this is great. But for those like me who depend on email as kind of a to-do list in and of itself, one email reminder isn’t enough.


Because of the more structured philosophy of Asana, the tool is able to better track project progress with dashboards. Asana provides visuals of how many tasks have been completed and remain, and allows the project owner to provide descriptions and status updates about the project. This is a nice feature to get a quick snapshot on how the project is moving along.

Other factors to consider

Team collaboration

While I’ve primarily used Trello and Asana for personal task management, I have also used both apps to manage projects with other team members.

I didn’t see much of a difference between the two apps in this regard, but that’s probably due to the fact that I haven’t used them all that often for team collaboration.

There may be many differentiating features with respect to team collaboration but I don’t have enough experience to determine them.

Mobile apps

Asana and Trello have mobile apps that accompany their desktop counterparts.

Both apps are pretty easy to use and stay true to their design principles. I didn’t see a major difference in quality of the mobile apps outside of the aforementioned differences in the desktop version.

So this isn’t a differentiating factor for me, but it may be for you.


I use upwards of 10 apps while working everyday and many of them can talk to and exchange data with one another. Both Trello and Asana have integrations with many other apps that I use, but I’m not a big user of these integrations yet.

Maybe I’ll find out if there are major differences down the road, but right now, this isn’t a big factor for me.


Trello and Asana are both great project management tools to keep you organized and productive. Selecting which app works best for you really comes down to personal preference.

For now, I’m going to stick with Trello. I think the visual user interface and flexibility of Trello trumps the structure and strong email reminders of Asana.

Have you used both Trello and Asana for project management? What are your thoughts about their differences, strengths, and weaknesses? I’d love to hear your opinions 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.

3 ways how raising a kid is like running a startup


ribl and mayaVicky and I welcomed our beautiful daughter to the world on May 14, 2015. At that time I recognized that I’m now the co-founder of two startups – ribl and baby Maya!

The more often I perform my fatherly duties, the more I realize that raising a child is very similar to running a startup. Here are the three major ways they’re alike.

There’s no playbook for this stuff

There is no shortage of books and internet articles about other founders’ experiences with startups and what they’ve learned. Entrepreneurs publish posts on their own blogs or write articles on sites like Medium and Quora that communicate what they’ve learned running their companies and things that worked and didn’t.

Similarly, there are plenty of websites like and where experts provide insight on how to raise your children and parents ask questions and tell their stories about their experiences rearing their kids.

In both worlds, there are some standard guidelines that you can follow but in the end, every situation is different. You need to experiment and try different things to determine the best decision for your particular circumstance. The issues that you’ll face running your startup are going to be different than the next entrepreneur’s, just like your child is going to be different than that of the family down the street. You can read all of the advice but just make sure you’re applying the correct information to your particular situation to make the best decision possible.

Both are absolute roller coasters

I’ve been an entrepreneur for about three years and it’s been a roller coaster of emotion, with a bunch of highs and just as many lows. I’ve only been a dad for a week and I’m already finding out about the peaks and valleys of parenthood.

I wrote on the ribl blog that startups are a slog, and running a company is full of little things that you have to do every day to keep moving forward. There are going to be days when you’re 100% sure that you’re doing the right thing and will absolutely succeed. And then there will be days where it seems like you’re climbing a never-ending mountain. The good days are great, but the bad days can be absolutely miserable.

Raising a child is also full of little things to do each day, and many can give you joy or ruin your mood. It’s a great feeling putting Maya to sleep; Vicky and I claim victory every time she’s napping in her crib. But her wailing during the wee hours of the morning is not the way we prefer to wake up, and we’re absolutely exhausted because of it. I’m sure as the days, weeks, and years go on, there will be plenty of good and bad to come.

The only way to deal with the roller coasters of emotion is to celebrate the highs, as small as some of them may be, and not get too down when the lows come around.

The right co-founders are really, really important

Running a company and raising a kid are both extremely difficult to do alone. And doing these with the wrong partner may be just as bad.

Paul Graham, the founder of top-tier startup accelerator Y Combinator, lists being a single co-founder as the #1 mistake that kills startups. He also says that you have to be really careful in selecting and working with the right co-founder. Startup co-founders need to be equally committed to the company and must work well together; the wrong partners can lead to your company’s demise. I’ve experienced this personally.

The same can be said for raising a kid. Rearing a child can be a really intense experience. It’s essentially another full time job and adds a completely foreign dimension to your life. You and your spouse or partner need to be on the same page and work really well together in order to raise a healthy and well-rounded child and not lose your minds doing it.

I’m lucky to have amazing co-founders in both of my startups.


I’m quickly learning how similar being an entrepreneur and a father are. Both entail processing a lot of advice and applying it to my specific situation, dealing with ups and downs everyday, and working together with my partners to achieve the best outcome.

Both of my startups are going to be long journeys on winding roads, but I’m going to enjoy the rides.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! If so, please share it and connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

How to avoid burning out when running your startup (and promoting it at SXSW)


This time last week I was in Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive to promote my startup, ribl. And this time last week, I was as mentally and physically drained and depressed as I have ever been in my life.

Those who know me know that I’m a pretty high-energy and positive person, and “depressed” is hardly ever in my vocabulary. But SXSW, and the startup game, took its toll on me for a little while. Here’s what I learned from the situation, how it applies to startups overall, and how you can avoid the temporary burnout that I experienced.

Multi-day conferences, and startups, are marathons, not sprints

If you read my recap of SXSW on the ribl website, you might see that I had a pretty stressful start to the conference.

The week prior to the event, I was really busy preparing for my demos and garnering press for our launch. On Friday, it took longer than we expected to publish the app on Google Play, which was really nerve-wracking. On Saturday, my demo at Austin TechBreakfast did not go well, and I spent all day and night in a frog suit doing demos and promoting ribl, which was very tiring.

mike in frog costume

This frog was not that happy at the end of SXSW.

By Sunday, on only the third of five days of SXSW, I was already feeling the effects of burnout. I was tired, hungover, and mentally fried, and didn’t attend any SXSW events during the day. I did not want to get into that frog suit again. But I did, and attended a few parties that evening.

On Monday, I took a full day off from the conference and did nothing. On Tuesday, I attended a few panels and took a couple of meetings sans frog suit. On Wednesday, I was really happy to leave Austin and head home.

The lesson here is that for these long conferences, you need to pace yourself to get the most out of them. Maybe I wouldn’t be saying this if I were 10 years younger, but who knows. I was really busy and went out really hard in the beginning and was totally worn down by day three.

The same can be said about startups and entrepreneurship overall. I think one of the reasons I was depressed was that our product wasn’t ready for prime time and while we received great feedback, we didn’t achieve the number of downloads and engagement level that we wanted to see from the event. And because of this lack of success, I felt even more guilty when I wasn’t wearing the frog suit and promoting ribl. It was a pretty vicious cycle.

But I realized that this is just the beginning. While SXSW didn’t go perfectly, we actually launched the app, which is a win in itself, and laid the foundation to grow in the future. I met a bunch of people who really loved the app and want to help promote it. And I learned that SXSW is not the be-all, end-all for tech startups; it’s only a step in the process.

I’m not usually this short-sighted, and I think the fatigue and time away from home just wore me down. The ribl team and I are in this for the long haul and SXSW is only the beginning of a long, fruitful journey. Running a startup is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t go it alone

If you’re attending a conference to promote your startup or company, do not do it alone. Don’t do it!

First of all, SXSW and many other conferences are so big that you can’t possibly get the most out of them if you’re working by yourself. You can only put up so many stickers and talk to so many people, and it won’t be enough.

Second, because promoting your company is such a grind, you’ll want to have someone to lean on and speak with when you’re tired and worn out.

Third, it sucks attending events and showing up at parties alone. It’s much better when you have that other person you know will be by your side.

This is the same for startups in general.

There’s just too much to do, and you likely don’t have all the skills you need to build a successful business on your own.

Building a startup is a grind, and you need that shoulder to lean on when times are tough.

And knowing that your co-founder(s) will be by your side will make the journey all that more enjoyable.

Businesses with multiple founders are more likely to succeed for the reasons above, so don’t try to do it alone.

Care a little less sometimes

One of the reasons why I got so down at SXSW was that I care A LOT about ribl. The development of the app wasn’t where we thought it would be and we didn’t garner as many downloads as we wanted, and the combination of this lack of success with the passion I have for the company really dampened my spirit.

I realized that sometimes you just need to disconnect and care a little less about your work. When I took time away from SXSW on Sunday and Monday, I spent time with the friends at whose home I was staying. We ate some great BBQ, hung out at Zilker Park, and just relaxed. I also went for a run to clear my mind. And even though ribl was still in the back of my mind, I was able to disconnect a little bit and enjoy Austin outside of SXSW.

The same can be applied to the everyday grind of building a startup. Running a business can be an all-encompassing endeavor and if you don’t disconnect sometimes, burnout will be inevitable. Make sure you set time aside to exercise, take a vacation, and relax. Go out to eat, have your friends over, and turn off your cell phone. Care a little less sometimes.


SXSW was a great event at which to promote ribl but it certainly had its side effects on me. I learned a lot about how not to burn out at multi-day conferences, and these lessons can be applied to the everyday grind of building a business. If you remind yourself that startups are marathons, having a co-founder is a great thing, and caring a little less can really help, you’ll avoid burning out.

What do you think about my experience? Do you have any stories or additional tips to avoid burnout? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Photo courtesy of

Guest blog post for CEA: Should Non-Technical Startup Founders Learn to Code?

Check out my latest guest post for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) titled, “Should Non-Technical Startup Founders Learn to Code?

If you’re a non-technical founder looking to start a startup, you’re at the mercy of software developers whom you need to build your product. To avoid this problem, should you learn to code?

Learning software development is a huge time and mental commitment and your decision basically comes down to one question – is this the best use of your time? Read more.


I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

What motivates you?


What motivates you? What lights a fire under your ass to get things done? Here are some of the things that get me going:

  1. Progress and momentum – just a little bit of progress each day, in any form, goes a long way.
  2. Creating change - being able to witness my impact on a project, event, or person inspires me to create more change.
  3. Collaborating with smart people – they open my eyes to new insights, approaches and techniques and help me improve.
  4. Getting stuff done with hard-working people –  people who just put their head down and crank out work are inspiring.
  5. Great ideas – many claim that ideas are worthless. While I agree that ideas without execution are worthless, great ideas are the beginning of unforgettable journeys that change the world.
  6. A cause – believing in a cause and a singular mission gives me direction in every decision I make and every thing I do.
  7. Seeing others succeed – when I see others succeed, I want to join them in their success.
  8. Taking risks – if I’m not taking risks and getting out of my comfort zone everyday, I’m not making the most of my time. I like taking risks and love seeing others do the same.
  9. Goals - setting and documenting clear, quantifiable goals (like my 2015 New Years resolutions) forces me to stay motivated to achieve them.

What motivates you to get things done?

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

The 3 Most Impressive Products I Interacted with at CES 2015

The International Consumer Electronics show is a massive, overwhelming experience. With over 3,600 exhibitors spread out across 2.2 million square feet of convention space, it’s impossible to see all the products the show has to offer.

There were a few big themes – connected cars, smart homevirtual reality – and most of the show floor was dominated by huge corporations like Mercedes-Benz, Intel, and Oculus. But being a startup guy, I focused on some of the smaller brands and products that many may not necessarily know. Here is a short list of the cool products with which I interacted.

Emotiv Insight

Emotiv is a company that builds neuroheadsets, which allow you to control things in the real world just by thinking about them. Yeah, pretty crazy. I tried on the the Insight headseat; check out this super nerdy image of me wearing it:

Mike wearing Emotiv headset

Using the headset, I was able to maneuver a car across a short racetrack just by imagining the car moving in my brain. What what whaaaaat?!?! The process worked as such. First, after putting the headset on, the Emotiv employee captured my brain activity at baseline – when I was thinking about nothing. Then he captured my brain activity when thinking about the car moving along the track.

After the setup, I was ready to roll. When the Emotiv employee said “Go!”, I concentrated on the image of the car moving, and then it moved. Mind…blown.

Headsets like these are primarily used for research purposes at the moment, but I believe there’s potential for partnerships with companies like Lumosity to better track and improve brain fitness.


HZO is a company that manufactures waterproofing solutions for consumer electronics. They’ve worked with Nike Fuelband and many other consumer electronics and wearables manufacturers to fully protect their gadgets from exposure to liquid.

HZO isn’t making waterproof cell phone cases or anything like that. They’re a nanotechnology company that is waterproofing electrical components from the inside so that gadgets can be fully immersed in liquid for an extended amount of time and still work. Check out their display on the show floor below, where a TV is completely buried in water and still works perfectly because the internal components are protected by the HZO waterproof coating:

HZO tv at CES2015- front

HZO at CES - back

The HZO technology isn’t an exciting, hands-on gadget, but it may be the most impressive thing I saw on the show floor this week.

ImmersiON VRelia

Virtual reality was a huge deal at CES and many industry analysts believe it will be the next life-altering technology. By the looks of the ridiculously long line at the Oculus booth, many attendees seem to agree.

ImmersiON VRelia at CESInstead of waiting on line to try Oculus, I visited the booth of a company called ImmersiON VRelia. While Oculus builds high-end, expensive headsets for intensive applications like gaming, ImmersiON VRelia is making VR more accessible by creating an $89 headset and mobile app ecosystem that turns a large smartphone, like the Samsung Galaxy Note or iPhone 6, into a VR experience.

Using the ImmersiON VRelia headset and app, I was able to walk through a virtual home and explore the living room, backyard, kitchen and bedrooms. The company is primarily working on educational applications but I believe that real estate and mapping are natural extensions of the technology.

Honorable mentions

Here are other products that I played with that were pretty interesting:

  1. Blast Motion – a sports video analytics platform for golf, baseball and exercise
  2. Meccanoid – build your own robot friend
  3. Wowwee – artificially intelligent robots


I wasn’t able to demo the majority of gadgets at CES but did get my hands on a bunch of cool products. Emotiv, HZO, and ImmersiON VRelia were the most interesting and I think these companies are on to something big and hope to hear more about them in the future.

CES is the equivalent of an amusement park for nerds just like me. I had a great time checking out the products of our future and hope to do so again next year.

What do you think of these products I mentioned? If you attended CES, what products did you think were interesting? I’d love to here from you in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

A rookie’s first day at the International Consumer Electronics Show

CES sign

Holy shit.

More than 3,600 exhibitors. Over 38 football fields worth of exhibit space. 150,000+ attendees. The Consumer Electronics Show is massive, and all this happens right in the middle of the typical Vegas craziness.  I’m here to check out some cool products and do some networking. Here’s a recap of my first day on the scene.

The preview

The madness actually started a few months ago. Because I guest-blog for the CEA, I was able to acquire a Press pass to the show, and since September, I’ve been getting bombarded with 50-100 emails per day with requests from companies asking me to visit their booths and press releases about new product launches. It’s nice to feel wanted, especially when you’re a bush-league blogger like me, but it’s been a little insane. It was just a foreshadowing of what would happen here.

Furthermore, as soon as I touched down in Vegas, it was lines, lines, and more lines. I flew in on Monday night around midnight and the taxi line was 200 people deep. Even the check-in line at the Luxor had about 50 people on it at 1AM. Nuts.

The first day

The first session I attended was the conference’s opening keynote, where Ford presented the cool stuff that it’s doing to increase mobility around the world.  The Ford Innovate Mobility Series is a group of contests that reward innovative ideas that help solve transportation problems. Solutions like car sharing in India, parking apps in LA, and other creative answers to transportation and congestion were spawned from the program. But they couldn’t solve the traffic jam that happened right after their presentation:

CES crowd after keynote

After the keynote, I walked through the exhibitor booths at the Sands Expo and saw a few cool products. Here are some highlights:

  1. IMG_20150106_102848I checked out company called Future Robot that, well, builds robots. For what use I’m not completely sure, but this one on the right was “dancing” to Gangnam Style. Weird.
  2. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a connected product. I saw a booth for a connected heated shoe insole, a connected tennis counter smart watch, and connected toothbrushes. This stuff is cool but who needs it all?
  3. I heard the words “we’re running a Kickstarter campaign” 100 times in just 10 minutes of walking around.

I continued to peruse the show floor and stumbled upon Fifty Cent promoting his SMS Audio products with Engadget:

Fifty Cent

I attended another session put on by CNET called “The Next Big Thing – New Realities,” which focused on how virtual reality and augmented reality are going to impact our lives soon. Right now, gaming is the most prevalent use of both VR and AR, but there are many use cases on the horizon that should catapult these technologies into the mainstream. I’ll definitely keep my eye on these technologies, as they can have a huge influence on our lives.


In the evening, I attended the Showstoppers event, which is kind of a mini-show within the overall CES conference. This event only had about 100 companies exhibiting and a large amount of media attendees, so it gave the companies a way to cut through the clutter and noise.

This was a really fun event. Not only was there was a nice spread and open bar, but the limited amount of companies and attendees and the intimacy of the venue allowed me to actually have real conversations with others and try a lot of the products on display. I’ll highlight some of the coolest products I interacted with in another post.


Overall, day 1 of CES was pretty crazy and full of crowds, sensory overload and glimpses into the future. I’m already exhausted but it’s been really fun so far. And there’s still two days to go!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Reflecting on 2014, Resolutions for 2015


Happy New Year!

Damn, that was quick! Another year comes to an end, so it’s about that time to look back at my 2014 resolutions to see how I did, and create new ones for 2015.

2014 Resolutions – How I Fared

I made four resolutions at the beginning of the year that pertained to work, health and family. Here’s how I did.

1) Seriously get my startup going: It’s going!

We’ve been working hard on ribl over the last couple of months. We alpha-tested the first version of the app and continue to make improvements, and the second version should be ready for testing in two weeks. (If you’d like to sign up for email updates and help us test ribl, please click here and enter your email address. Thanks!) I’ve been prepping our marketing plan and building out our promotional assets. Things are moving.

2) Drop five pounds: Pounds dropped!

I trained pretty hard for the Philly half marathon and Super Spartan in September. Combine that with eating well, I lost about seven pounds and felt great. I’ve gained some of that over the holidays, but that was to be expected.

3) Avoid alcohol for two weeks every quarter: Fail!

Dammit! I completed this for the first three quarters of the year but completely forgot about it for the last three months. I’m really disappointed in myself because these two-week “cleanses” weren’t too tough to accomplish, and they actually felt pretty good. I just totally forgot to follow through. My bad.

4) Start a family: Mission accomplished!

Here’s proof:

Ultrasound 20Oct2014

 Resolutions for 2015

Here are my resolutions for 2015:

1) Publicly launch ribl and gain over 100,000 users

We’ve applied to the SXSW Interactive Accelerator and if we’re accepted, we’ll publicly launch at SXSW in March. If we don’t get accepted, we’ll likely launch around the same time or even earlier. Regardless, we’re extremely excited to get ribl out there.

That 100,000 number is completely arbitrary and probably a stretch, but what the hell – let’s go for it anyway. It’ll provide a goal to work towards and hopefully attain.

But who knows if the concept of ribl will even stay the same throughout the year. We’ll work hard to find product/market fit even if we have to deviate from the original idea. So while we obviously would love to attain this goal, we’re cognizant of the fact that things can change very quickly in the startup world and we’ll adapt to make it work.

2) Measure more

In my past jobs as a corporate consultant and marketer at the Washington Capitals, I spent a ton of time poring through various data to extract insights for my clients and projects. While I still do a bit of data analysis, I don’t spend nearly enough time on it.

So whether I’m assessing performance for my clients’ websites, ribl, or this blog, I’m going to spend more time, likely in the range of 4-8 hours per week, to dig much deeper into the numbers and learn more about what I can do to improve my work.

3) Avoid alcohol for two weeks every quarter

Yeah, this one again. This time I won’t forget.

4) Be a great dad

Last but definitely not least. Vicky and I are expecting our baby girl in mid-May and I am going to be the best dad I can possibly be. It will be difficult to quantitatively measure my performance on this resolution, but Vicky can be the judge of how well I do. :)

What do you resolve to accomplish in 2015? I believe that writing your goals down, especially in a public forum, helps you stay accountable. So I’d love to hear about your New Year’s resolutions in the comments.

Here’s to a great 2015!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Image courtesy of Huffington Post