Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Business

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

Uber vs. Lyft – My Experience with Both Ride-Hailing Platforms

Until a few weeks ago, I was always an Uber rider and never tried Lyft. But in light of all the bad crap that has happened at Uber over the past few months, I decided to give Lyft a try. Here are some thoughts about my experience with both platforms.

Mobile app user interface

Both apps offer similar-looking screens, but the experience certainly differs. Here are the initial screens for both apps, captured on a Monday morning:


My first impression is that while the Lyft app tells me that there’s a driver only one minute away, I don’t see any cars on the map. On the other hand, there are plenty of Uber drivers close by. This may be because Lyft’s map is zoomed in a bit more. Regardless, this visual is an important aspect of the interface that gives me a feeling of comfort that Uber has more cars on the road. Seeing fewer cars on the Lyft app is a pretty common occurrence, from my experience.

The next thing that I notice is that Lyft makes it easier to request a driver. The primary call-to-action is “Request Lyft,” and all you have to do is tap that button and a driver will be summoned.

Uber, on the other hand, has a few more options on the screen, and its primary call-to-action is “set pickup location.” It takes an extra step to hail a ride but gives you some options before you raise your hand. After setting your pickup location, you are sent to the confirmation screen:

Uber Confirmation Screen

Here you’re able to get a fare estimate, which you can’t do with Lyft. This is a nice feature that helps you make a decision on whether you ride an Uber or spend a little less money by taking Metro. You can also enter a promo code before booking a ride.

After the ride is over, both apps have similar screens where you can rate your driver. Lyft allows you to tip your driver, while Uber doesn’t.

In-ride observations and informal driver surveys

I learned a good deal during my Lyft rides by observing the driving environment and chatting with the drivers. I’ve only taken seven Lyft rides in the last few weeks, so the sample size is small. This certainly wasn’t a statistically significant experiment, but it gave me good insight into both of the ride-hailing companies.

During my rides, I noticed that all but one Lyft driver was also an Uber driver, and the one who wasn’t said he applied to Uber but didn’t get accepted. Interesting.

I asked all of the Lyft drivers who also drove for Uber what they thought about driving for both companies and which they preferred. Again, this isn’t a big sample size at all, but here are my survey results:

  1. All of the drivers said that Uber gives them more business. They mentioned that the number of rides that Lyft provides is growing, but Uber is still ahead by a big margin.
  2. All of the drivers also said that Lyft treats them better with respect to driver support and culture.

I believe that the overall rider experience is a bit more seamless with Uber, but the difference isn’t enough to foster any kind of loyalty. Because of Uber’s recent bad behavior, I’ll likely check Lyft first the next time I need a ride.

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

Overhear and Hustle


I recently had coffee meetings on consecutive days and in both meetings, I was approached by people sitting close to me who overheard my conversations. While sometimes this can be disruptive, in these instances, valuable connections were made and products were actually sold. I really appreciate the hustle of the people who overheard my conversations, so I wanted to write about them.

First, I met with someone who was interested in helping out with ribl. We met at Starbucks to get to know each other and toss around some ideas. During our conversation, we stumbled upon the topic of fashion and technology, and at that time, a guy sitting next to us overheard us and started talking about how he’s trying to grow the fashion ecosystem in DC by building District House DC and invited us to upcoming events. We all traded contact information and pledged to keep in touch.

hustle-everydayThe following day, I had coffee with a local venture capitalist and we discussed startups that were interesting to us. We started talking about content and publishing companies, and immediately a man who goes by the name DanielDaPoet walked up to our table and talked about how he spent a few years in jail and was now rebuilding his life by publishing memoirs. He pitched to us a $5 pamphlet of poems that he wrote about his time in jail, and the VC and I each bought a copy. He also asked whether we would help market his products, and we traded contact info. I appreciated and am inspired by the hustle of Daniel.

Meeting and working in public spaces like coffee shops can foster serendipitous encounters. Your conversation may be overheard and people may interrupt, but sometimes these interruptions can be helpful and inspiring. One day, you might be that person overhearing another conversation and benefitting from it.

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

Photos courtesy of Wayvs and Danger Zone Beatz


Guest Post for Thorn Technologies – The Week in Tech: Cyber Monday sales breaks record, major hacking of Sony, and more

Cyber Monday

Check out my new guest blog post on titled “The Week in Tech: Cyber Monday sales breaks record, major hacking of Sony, and more.

Today we highlight the Cyber Monday sales record, the major hacking of Sony, Girl Scout cookies online, and Uber’s big raise.

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

Photo courtesy of alila33 on Flickr.

Contrarian Thinking for Startups – Recap of Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One”

zero to one

I recently finished reading Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, and it’s a must-read for anyone working on a startup or any product in general.

Peter Thiel was the founder of PayPal, co-founder of Palantir, an early investor in Facebook, and runs Founders Fund, an early-stage venture capital firm. Needless to say, the dude knows his stuff about startups.

His viewpoint is quite contrarian to mainstream thinking, which is a big factor why he is so successful. Some interesting questions and points that Peter makes in his book include:

  1. What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
  2. What valuable business is nobody building?
  3. Competition should be avoided.

Let’s dig into each of these a bit more.

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

The most contrarian question of all is likely the hardest to answer. The point isn’t to purposely think the opposite of what the crowd thinks; rather, it’s to understand how you can think for yourself and be different than everyone else.

I think Pandora is a great example of this. Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, iPods and MP3 players were ubiquitous and Apple was reinventing music with iTunes. Who would have thought then that people wanted to just listen to music streamed to your computer that some algorithm selected?

What valuable business is nobody building?

This is the business version of the first question. If you can answer question #1 and build a valuable business out of it, you’re going to be successful.

The key word Thiel highlights here is “valuable.” In order to build a valuable business, you need to both provide and capture value.

Let’s go back to the Pandora example. While the company certainly created value for its users, whether it could capture any value was in doubt for a long time. High music royalty fees nearly toppled the company, but Pandora was able to strike deals to pay musicians fairly and sell enough advertising to capture value. It’s now a thriving public business, pulling in over $239 million in revenue in the 3rd quarter of 2014.

Competition should be avoided.

This tenet is directly related to a business’ ability to capture value.

Thiel compares the airline and search industries to make his point. Airlines, like United and American, provide a lot of value (they move many people from place to place) but captures very little (they make a paltry margin, if any). Google, on the other hand, creates much less value but captures much more (it’s worth 3x more than all the airlines combined). And the reason for that is that they’ve basically achieved a monopoly in search.

For startups, competition sometimes is considered to be a good thing, as it sort of validates your concept and shows that the customer demand for your product is high enough for other companies to want to build it.

Apparently, Thiel is thinking contrarily again.

If you found this recap interesting, you’ll certainly want to pick up the book and read it entirely. For anyone interested in products, startups, or just a different way of looking at things, it’s an easy and interesting read.

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