Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Copreneur Competitive Advantage

Recently, with great honor, 1X57 was named to Washingtonian’s 2011 Tech Titans list as an Entrepreneurial Couple. It got me thinking about the growing “copreneur” phenomenon as more women embrace the role of entrepreneur and more people start their own businesses following what Richard Florida describes as the rise of the “creative class.” Entrepreneurial coupling is certainly not new. There have been very successful businesses started by couples – like Cisco’s Len Bosnak and Sandy Lerner, or Rina and Will Stein of Philip Stein. But there seems to be a stigma about mixing business with pleasure or putting all your proverbial eggs in one basket (Wall Street Journal did a good write-up of the perils of running a business with your significant other).

It’s always puzzling when people discover Steve and I are not only business partners but also “romantic partners” (or vice versa). I encounter a mixture of surprise, skepticism, and an element of “Are you crazy?” followed by a “How’s that working out for you?” People seem genuinely shocked when I respond with how much I love it. But I do. And to be honest, I’m always a little taken aback by the dubious responses I receive from strangers.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. It can take its toll on you – physically, emotionally, psychologically (I love The 11 Harsh Realities Of Being An Entrepreneur). Getting a business up and running takes a lot of time and energy. If it fails, if you don’t succeed, you have no one else to blame but yourself. And when you do succeed, you’re the one steering the ship – success only brings bigger waves, stronger winds and less chartered waters.

I would hate to go at it alone. I love that the person I trust and respect and admire the most in the world is the person I get to work with every day – that no matter what challenges we face, we’ve got each others back, for better or for worse. Yes, we have our ugly moments, times when it literally feels like laser death-beams are shooting out of my eyes or Steve is conjuring the power of the robot overlords to have lightning bolts strike me down from the sky whenever we have a disagreement. But we work through it. And to be honest, I’ve always been an advocate of “fishing off the company pier.” As a workaholic, loving what I do, it just makes sense. There are only so many hours in the day. The separation of business life from personal life seems like a very inefficient approach to time management.

I think of other entrepreneurial couples I know in DC, like Leslie Bradshaw and Jesse Thomas of Jess3 or Jen Consalvo and Frank Gruber of TechCocktail, who like Steve and I, genuinely seem to be having fun growing their business, embarking on their entrepreneurial adventures together. I can’t imagine Jess3 without Leslie’s business acumen and sheer ‘fire in the belly,’ or TechCocktail without Jen’s savoir faire and diplomacy. Then I think of friends who are going at it alone and how they genuinely seem to crave companionship and suffer from not having it. I think of the final line in Clay Christensen’s award-winning HBR article: How Will You Measure Your Life?

Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”

Love, companionship, family, intimacy – these are the things that make life worth living, at least for me. All the fame and fortune in the world seems utterly worthless if I don’t have someone to share it with.

Steve and I are best friends first, business and sexual partners second. If anything, this anchors and strengthens the latter because at the core is trust, commitment and communication, qualities essential to any business relationship. And we complement each other. There are things that come naturally to Steve that I struggle with and things that I do really well that he doesn’t. Some of the best and most successful companies in recent  history involve “Founder Pairs” – Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, Steve Jobs and Steven Wozniak, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. So I see our copreneurship not as a liability but a competitive advantage.

I’m curious what others think or have experienced. What are the keys to successful copreneurship? What makes it fail? What are the biggest risks? Is copreneurship more a competitive advantage or a liability?

Leading into the Future: Why the U.S. will look to Japan, not China

On Wednesday night, ~75 futurists gathered for an engaging meet-up at Public Bar in Washington, DC. Patrick Tucker (@TheYear2030), senior editor of THE FUTURIST magazine, spoke briefly, as I had invited him to share a little about his experiences while on assignment in Japan during the past six months.

In an email response to Shashi Bellamkonda (who snapped some fun photos of the evening) on why he ventured to Japan, Patrick wrote:

…in searching for a picture of what the United States will look like in 2050, don’t look to China.  The story of the emerging superpower is one we’ve already lived.  China will industrialize, build factories, grow its middle class, and assert its interests on the international stage.  For all the menace that Washington projects onto the government in Beijing, too often we forget that China ’s ascent is the story of  America’s rise a century ago.  A more accurate picture of our later 21st Century might be found in Japan, a nation grappling with enormous national debt, insufficient natural resources, waning geopolitical influence, and the oldest population in the Industrialized world; 22% of the country is older than 65.

Japan is still the future. But the future is not what it was.

Japan’s aging and shrinking population is a lethal combination for economic growth according to many outside observers. Older populations draw down savings rather than reinvest, and they strain public services and government budgets, a particular worry in Japan where the debt to GDP ratio is above 200%.

Japan, however, is also a world leader in green product design, hardware design, and personal robotics.  In the coming decade, Japan will leverage its technology and design strengths in an attempt overcome its economic and demographic challenges.  Japan’s success or failure in this effort will be instructive for other developed economies with aging populations.

As someone who follows technology and innovation closely, Japan is exceptionally interesting – for its cultural tradition, discipline and honor, for its love of nature in its reverence for trees and seasons, and for its exuberant development of robots. Now, in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that disabled the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, I’m even more interested in how this country will lead the way in energy innovation (for example, read  how one Japanese company is pursuing a plan to harvest solar energy from the moon). And more importantly, how the United States will partner in these endeavors.

 

You might be a futurist if…

You find the now so yawn…what’ll be hot in a few months from now meh…transporters and nanobots and the singularity can’t get here soon enough.

In all seriousness (not that I was joking in the previous paragraph), I think futurists, and futurism, scare a lot of people. And it’s not because futurism challenges deeply held precepts of traditionalists.

No, I think it’s because people can barely handle their current reality, let alone the idea of ones in the future. Of course you’re going to think Ray Kurzweil is a kook if you cling onto the past or even worse, can’t come to terms with it.

Futurists are not people who live in fear, who aren’t so mired in reality they can’t envision what the future looks like. Futurists are dreamers and even more, they are believers in their own dreams. They are inventors and they are creators and they are problem-solvers.

Wikipedia defines futurists as “scientists and social scientists whose speciality is to attempt to systematically predict the future, whether that of human society in particular or of life on earth in general.”

But I don’t believe futurists are so much predictors of the future as they are drivers of it. Thomas Edison was just as much of a futurist as Martin Luther King. They had an inherent, insatiable need to create change based on an undying discontent with their current surroundings and circumstances. To quote Edison, “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

So does future make the man or does man make the future? I think futurists make the future. One is able to predict the future by creating it. So the real question is, what kind of future do you want to create?

PS – Tomorrow (Wed, Apr 20) I predict a large group of people will gather at Public Bar in DC to talk about futurism, the future and Japan: dcfuturists.eventbrite.com

Learning To Use Adobe Photoshop

I’m super excited to start playing with Photoshop but the darn thing is scary. It comes with 14 separate applications!

I barely know how to use one of these:

Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Builder, Catalyst, Fireworks, Dreamweaver, Contribute, Bridge, Device, Extensions, Acrobat, Player, Encoder.

At least they are having fun with single word titles. What about names like Killer, Motherload, Gargamel?

Right now I feel a little lost in all of them. I can barely figure out how to do anything. It feels like I have more skills in Microsoft Paint.

The good news is I am optimistic about my skills. I’ve started learning the names of all 14 apps, which only took me a day. I even created the above graphic as a reward (took two hours).

After that I thought it would be fun to create something simple with basic colors..

Step by step, day by day I will keep getting better. I do love creating things and when I can figure out how to do something it is actually a lot of fun!

What I Learned From A Fashion Show…For The Dogs

Ok, I’ll admit it. Of all the charitable causes I could give money to, supporting a philanthropy that involves dogs walking a catwalk first seemed a little silly. There’s poverty and homelessness, domestic violence, educational gaps, hunger problems, all under our noses just here in Washington, DC alone. I haven’t even mentioned hard-hitting catastrophes like the ones that have devastated Japan, Haiti or New Orleans.

But then I had a conversation with @robotchampion that changed my mind. He rescued a dog from a shelter that most likely had been abused or at the very least, neglected. People who meet Jesse fall in love instantly. She’s one of the sweetest, most loving, well-mannered and fiercely dedicated and protective dogs I’ve met. Jesse has been one of Steve’s most trusted and loyal companions for most of his adult life – driving cross-country four times with him, protecting him from stray dogs and of-questionable-intent humans when walking alone in the city at night, guarding the homestead when he’s been away. Not growing up in a “dog house” I was fairly uneducated on canine matters; what I learned from Steve and what I went on to discover further on my own, is that humans and canines evolved over time together. Our four-legged friends are actually descendants of wolves and this transformation from wild animal to domesticated partner proved revolutionary to man. Dogs became our hunting partners, protectors of our settlements and livestocks, and our own personal mobile alert systems.

It seems we owe a lot to man’s best friend. Which is why I wanted to support the Washington Human Society in their annual benefit, the Fashion for Paws Runway Show. On it’s fifth year, this event proved to be, in a word, spectacular. And a lesson to any non-profit and business. If you build something incredible and novel, they will come. Last night, ~1,700 Washingtonians turned out (and donated ~$500,000) for a truly exquisite experience held at the National Building Museum. The catwalk, lit up like a Lewis Carroll wonderland, was MC’d by Entertainment Tonight’s Lawrence Zarian and the always elegant Pamela Sorensen. With sixty local DC models rocking the runway, the true stars were the dogs. It was miraculous how composed each little (and non-so-little) woofer stayed while marching out into a stadium-like setting with techno-beats blaring in surround-sound and photogs flashing away.

Fashion for Paws is an exemplar, a true purple cow. In a world of competing resources, it’s not enough to simply be a good cause or a good product. You must be remarkable – you must give people something remarkable. Fashion for Paws does just that. In a city where the most fashionable color is beige or black, and dogs are viewed as household companions and not Paris Hilton-style portable accessories, F4P blends the sophistication, style and glamour of New York and LA in one star-studded, stand out event – and all for a great cause. So thank you to the Fashion for Paws organizers, drivers, and supporters for a remarkable experience. It was a pleasure to see the runway go to the dogs.