The Iron Man

54,55,56, Oh! The pogo stick record had just been broken by yours truly. It had not been broken for weeks and was the first time in a long time I held the title. Boy was I excited. It’s not often you beat the iron man, and when you do, you celebrate!

As I gloated about being the new champ, a stray dog came to join the party. Something was off with this dog. Instead of happy yelling he pouted quite softly. As we pet him and tried to see what was wrong we finally saw, there was what looked like a baby coming out of his ass. We had no fucking idea what to do so we ran home slightly terrified screaming like little girls OH MY GOD did you see that OH MY GOD!?

It was a fun day. I got called home for bed, I gloated a little more about my accomplishments and ran inside. The iron man spent the rest of the night practing, tuning his approach long after I had left.

We met at the stop sign again the next day, pogo sticks in hand. As we walked to the end of the street we saw what looked like a large tree branch in the road. We hadn’t left that there, this was our block, who put It there? As we got closer we realized with amazement that this log came out of that poor dogs ass. It was the size of a coffee can. After some screaming, astonishment, and dissection we got down to pogo business. 41,42,43 oh beat that I said confident even if he could beat that I still had the record. But then, as if I should have been surprised, 43, 44…55,56,57…74,75…,97,98 ohhh! My record had been shattered. You see, if the iron man had a goal there was no competing. It’s just the way it was. You learned to appreciate It and admire him for it.

When we were kids we were the nobodies, the loners, the rejects.  While lunch tables were grouped into clicks like the jocks, the nerds, the band geeks, or even the regular dudes, we sat alone.  A strange group of kids with no clear meaning or any discernable quality to group us together and none of us gave a shit about that.  While each of us had things we were good at, like drinking or drugs, guitar, running or art, somehow we managed to group together and continue on the path to mediocrity.  Except one, the iron man. The iron man was a great athlete but didn’t stick with the jocks.  Instead of playing football he chose to run on the track.  Although talented he was not the best runner in the county. But he had a new goal and while most of us spent our weekends getting drunk, he spent his weekends practicing relentlessly.  it wasn’t long before he achieved his goal of becoming county champ in several categories.  Day in and day out his name would be heard over the loud speaker at school for achieving some new record or helping the team reach another milestone, but no one ever have the iron man the credit he deserved and he never bragged about it or show bloated.  He just trained to be the best he could be.  While most of our high school tried so hard to tell us how amazing they were with everything they did, the iron man just showed us with results.

As we went away to college he’d earned tremendous scholarships and earned a spot on the college roster. As the year went on he achieved great academic and athletic success. But the path everyone takes was not for the iron man.  If he was going to make an impact in this world it was not going to be by sitting in some class learning from someone who had read some books and never actually done anything.  He was going to learn how he always did, by setting a goal, working his ass off and achieving greatness.  So he quit college with almost a full ride and near perfect grades .

When we turned 19 he was offered to take a test to become iron worker in the big city. He aced the test. A few months later he started his career as an iron worker just before his 20th birthday. He quickly excelled to be very well respected in his field. I was at a party one night 50 miles away from the city and got talking to a few guys. One of them was an iron worker. Knowing the chances were slim I asked anyway, “i know an iron worker named Jim Brady, do you know him”. These hard ass Brooklyn dudes lost their tough guy accent and hard attitudes and gushed over the question ” You know brady?” They said, “that guy is crazy”. “He’s a machine”. “Makes the rest of us look bad”. ” He got kicked off my job for climbing 20 stories without the security rope”. The stories of legends.

We spent most of our early years talking about girls, but very little time actually talking to them. Eventually, as real life set in he began to talk to girls a lot more. Soon he found the one. They were head over heels for each other. I saw a look on his face I hadn’t seen before, calm and truly happy, maybe it was the face of achievement. After I first met her I lost touch with Brady for about a year. He was off being ‘all in’ on his next goal. About a year later we met at a party they were so happy and so complimentary to each other. I knew they could make each other happy for a long time. Until one day. She had found God and that left little room for the sins and risks the iron man brought to the equation. She had gone all in.

What had he done to deserve this? Like everything he’d done in the past he had gone all in, but this time there was nothing he could do to practice harder to achieve his goals. He changed after her.

The iroman continued working at his career but now had something to prove to everybody. He began over exerting himself at work, pushing limits even his Iron body could not handle. He ended up laid out for several weeks with a nearly broken back those first few years. He shaved his head and eye brows and attempted demand the respect he deserved. He was tired of waiting for people to get how incredible he was so he showed them with his skin head and eagle tattoo emblazoned on his chest. At this time he also started pushing the limits of adrenaline. He started sky diving to blow off extra steam. The days he felt worse he’d take more risk pulling the cord lower and lower. He started drinking excessively and fighting. He still was performing at work but he was starting to unravel.

It took many years after the September 11the bombings to start rebuilding the world trade center. When the job req came open he was at the top of the list to rebuild the most important building in the world. The iron man jumped at the opportunity. Not long after we spoke, He told me about his ambition to rebuild America’s tallest and most important monument and how he though he could really make an impact. Jokingly I said, you just want to build it so you can jump off it. He paused, thought a moment and grinned. “You maniac” I said.

It wasn’t long before the most important person building the world’s most important building was selected for a centerfold on the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Luckily that Sunday morning I bought the paper and happened upon the insert. Of course he didn’t tell me about it to show boat. There was the iron man, on top of the world’s most important building in the world’s most important city in with a full page spread in the world’s most important newspaper. I was proud.

When the day came to put the final spire on the tower he was the one to guide it into place, sealing a new achievement of building as the tallest in the western hemisphere. Crowing him one of the greatest iron workers ever. But that wasn’t enough.

Several months earlier he started plans to pull off the greatest feat NYC had ever experienced. He was going to jump off the world trade center. Hed been planning since before he was even on the job. I like to take credit for giving him the idea but it turns out he was BASE jumping long before I brought the idea to him. He’d been planning the goal for a long long time. This was not something that could be planned with haste. The potential consequences were big. He could fall and die. Or worse fall and end up in jail for years. He enlisted some more experienced base jumpers to help him with the plan. Together they planned the world’s greatest base jump.

As the day drew nearer I questioned him about it and jokingly said I’d be the getaway car, still never having confirmed the plans were real. He laughed and we went on with our chat.

“Thank the fucking dear Lord that we made it here”. The night the spire had been put in place, a crisp September night it happened.

The next day I saw on the news that a security guard had seen 2 men with parachutes land near the world trade center. I knew immediately it was him. The iron man had successfully jumped from the building which he built. The blip on the news was gone the next day and it seemed it went off without a hitch.

Out of nowhere, months later dozens of cops showed up at each of the four guys houses. They raided each of the houses and found videos of the jump. Overnight the city turned an American hero into a villain. Saying he “desecrated a monument”, never once giving him credit for building it. Saying he “endangered people on the ground”, never mentioning the combined 1000 jumps the jumpers had practiced to get to this point and the years of careful.planning. As the time passed it became clear the police were going to leak the video. Already 10’s of thousands of dollars in debt from lawyer fees the group decided to release the video on their own. Once again the police took this opportunity to degrade the iron man saying he was just in this for the publicity. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

The jumpers eventually owned up to their actions and turned themselves in. They were willing to accept the punishment for their crime. They knew based on previous BASE they’d be charged with a misdemeanor for tresspassing, face some community service and pay even more hefty fines.

The city had other plans, to try to send them away in a max security prison for 7+ years. The trial lasted over a year and was really tough on the iron man.

The iron man was cracking. Under huge financial burden and worrying about losing his job he dove deeper into his vices.

The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on trials and lawyers, trying to throw the book at the iron man. After emptying his bank account on lawyer’s fees, the iron wound up with a result he were willing to settle with in the beginning. The only winners in this case were the lawyers which combined made over a million dollars. All could have been avoided if the DA didn’t feel the need for job security and had any consideration for tax payer dollars.

Near the end of the trial the iron man moved on with his life. He got a new job. Even with this * on his resume his reputation lives on and employers are still eager to hire him any chance they get.

One morning at his new job something out of the norm happend. As he pulled up to work to park his motorcycle in his regular spot there was another bike in the way. He went inside not understanding the fate that was upon him.

That day he worked from a few stories up and noticed there was a group of people all gathering in the ground floor. As he looked closer he realized what this was, something he’d seen many times before. There was a female on this job. He’d seen this before. The group of guys gushing over this girl, all fighting each other for a one of 30 chance to be the one she liked (if she was even interested). He was not interested in that game.

Later in the day they crossed paths and she Immediately she recognized him from the news. Knowing the legend that he was in the trade, she admired him. Knowing the legend he was in life she blushed and shied away. He thought this was her clearly expressing she wasn’t interested.

At the end of the shift he went to leave. As he approached his motorcycle he heard a bike startup. He looked up to see the girl from earlier getting on her bike. She had gotten out of her work gear and was showing some skin. He liked what he saw but knew he had no chance. As he hopped on his bike he looked over and said “nice bike” which he immediately regretted. Flustered she quickly rode away. He repeated the words to himself “nice bike? What an idiot!”.

The next day he had been transferred to another site. He thought about her often, like the one that got away.

About a week later he got a message in instagram. “hi Jim, I don’t know if you remember me, we worked together for a day. You said I had a nice bike. I was wondering if you wanted to go riding sometime. Let me know.”

I knew something was up when I hadn’t heard from him in a while.finally last week met them at a party. I immediately put my foot in my mouth when I arrived as I looked at them both and asked “who else is here that rode the other bike?”.

We spent the night remminicing about old times as I filled her in about the Jim I knew. We talked until the sun came up, except of course when they were making out. Naively I asked how long have you been together, expecting the tongue down the throat to signal a few weeks max. I moved in a little over a year ago I guess. She said. I had no idea how to respond so I told an embarrassing story about the iron man. As the sun came up they walked to their bikes, arms around each other. He put on her helmet and smacked her ass. As he turned to me to say goodbye I saw a face I hadn’t seen for years before. A little happy a little calm, the face of achievement. As they rode off I knew she had no idea the incredible live, passion, and exciting times she was in for…

Ideas are worthless

I have a book.  This book contains all my ideas, each clearly laid out with pictures, a unique business plan, an implementation plan and marketing plan.  I’m not talking about ideas with no market value, rather those that have undergone hundreds of hours of analysis and tuning.  These ideas are a finely detailed set of instructions on how someone would create a company from these ideas.  And they lie dormant, worthless.  Without a champion these ideas will never become real and have no more value than the paper they are written on. 

I attend lots of meetup groups and meet many people with many good ideas.  Many of these people in the idea phase is hesitant to share their idea because they think it may get stolen.

Here’s the truth, your idea is not unique, and somebody else is probably already building it.  The only way you have to get your idea off the ground is to share it and hope someone with your opposite skill set likes it enough to join you in your venture.  We live in a time when yes it’s easier and cheaper than ever to get a business started but more important than ever to have a cross functional team extremely well versed in a number of different areas.  No longer can a guy with no design or marketing skills throw some hardware together and slap their last name on the box and sell millions of units.  No longer can we build a basic CRUD application and expect it to be so unique users will want to check it out.  We live in a world where only a blend of the most talented talents from a variety of backgrounds and personas can create anything interesting enough to become mainstream. 

Building a better mousetrap may have worked years ago but it’s just not good enough anymore. For an idea to become anything more than some scribbles on paper it needs technology, marketing, social connection, design, manufacturing, capital, customer service, legal advisement, etc.  Without people to help you with all of these items, which you cannot do all on your own, your idea is and always will be just a worthless piece of paper.

Small Pond

I love long island. I think it’s one of the most interesting places you could raise a family and I’m proud to have grown up there. There is always something to do, the city is an hour away and yet you have enough options to be whoever you want to be.

However, for a young adult looking to make a name for themselves, Long Island, or any suburb for that matter is a step is actually a hindrance to their success.

We can use a fish tank analogy. Lets say you live in a little tank, you are ambitious, resourceful, and smart. You will undoubtedly grow larger than the other fish. Congratulations, you are the biggest fish in your little tank.

Contrast this with a huge tank, the size of a football field. You start small and vulnerable but if you’re meant to, you quickly grow into a substantial size if you survive. The same fish in the small tank has grown three times larger in the big tank, as a result of nothing else except their environment.

Lesson: Recent grads, if you want to grow to your potential, start in a place where you have the most opportunity and the most to lose. If you start on Long Island your career options will be limited for the rest of your career. If you start in NYC you’re potential will be limited only by the size of the fish you want to become.

 

Accountability

In the first part of my resume I list accountability as one of my greatest strengths.  I also pride myself on my ability to listen to feedback and act on it.   Recently I encountered a situation that showed weakness in two of my greatest strengths.

As a project manager I often have to gather troops to meetings they don’t wish to attend to work on things they have no interest in working on so our client gets what they want.  It was a Sunday morning, my day off, and I had scheduled a meeting with our senior offshore team.  I checked their acceptance in outlook shortly before our 8am conference call and they had all confirmed so I dialed in and waited.  5 minutes into the call the cofounder of  the company joined and was visibly unhappy that I was the only one on the call. The other attendees had forgotten and we cancelled the call.

After the call, the cofounder IMd me “please prepare better for the next meeting”.

Are you serious? This really ticked me off. Here I was working on my day off taking extra effort to get things accomplished and still I needed to prepare better?!

It turns out, after some reflection and rewriting this post a few times, he was right. H is the cofounder, he has full accountability of the company’s success. If people don’t show to a meeting it’s his duty to lead them to show up. For me, as his second on command, it is my job as well. In a startup, “i did my job, I setup the meeting” just isn’t good enough.  You’ve done your job once the meeting has happened.  If I am to be a leader, scheduling a meeting is certainly not leading. Setting expectations, meeting expectations and following up when these expectations are not met are all parts of true leadership.

Lessons learned from a startup failure

When I tell people the story of ReQey I often get the type of response you’d expect if you told them you’d gone snowboarding and broke a leg. It’s kind of “I feel bad” mixed with “what were you thinking, I told you so”. The only way you can keep going as an entrepreneur is to tell yourself it was a learning experience and learn from your mistakes.

ReQey was poised to become the next big disruption, possibly upending an entire billion dollar industry.   Capturing pictures of your keys using your mobile phone and being able to make a copy at any time could prevent 10’s of thousands of lockouts annually and after many other failed attempts, should have been my pathway to a startup success story.  Instead, a competitor beat me to market, out innovated, and out marketed me.  I wanted to write down some of my thoughts so I don’t make the same mistake next time and so other’s might learn from my experiences.

In 2001 I came up with the idea for ReQey when I got locked out of my car.  Before camera phones with only $5 to my name, my only option was to call my mom to scan me a copy via email.  I then printed it out, taped it to a blank key and cut a key with a file.

Fast forward until April 2012, after 8 years building software, when I finally figured out how to implement the solution.  I started building the technology and business plan.  By July I had enough in place to start pitching my idea at local business competitions.  Although I didn’t get accepted into an incubator program I was approached by an Angel Investor who graciously offerred to invest enough to get a prototype built.

Mistake #1 – I thought the prototype would be easy enough to build on my own and I had saved about 10k to finish the build and I thought giving up 5-20% was way too much so I didn’t take the investment.  I kept building it myself and added some outsourced expert labor  and got a prototype built finally by December, almost 6 months after I had been approached by the Angel.

Mistake #2 – from July – December I focused all my time on build.  I let my connection to the Angel dwindle and started thinking of other ways to get to the next step.

Mistake #3 –  My business plan projected $500,000 in annual revenues maximum so I was hesitant to raise venture money, becuase at such a low valuation I didn’t think they’d  be able to get their 10x returns without taking all my equity.  

Mistake #4 – In December I knew I’d have to raise money and was intrigued by Kickstarter and keeping all my equity.  So I began crafting a pitch.  A few friends were video experts so free is always better.   We began the video, spent about 6 weeks full time as none of us were really experts and sent it off to KickStarter.  2 weeks later we heard back – the verdict was they didn’t believe it could work based on the video so we needed to resubmit with more details.  At this point my video connection had donated many hours and I felt bad asking them to do more work, plus scheduling didn’t work out so well, additionally I didn’t really know how to show off the product in a better light.   Another 4 weeks went by, and another.  Months now in total since the start of the fundraising process and I had run out of money, run out of momentum.

I finally got the movie updated on my own using imovie and was ready to go live on Kickstarter.   I had been reading about some other people trying to do a similar approach and started reaching out to see why they never got it off the ground.  As I planned my prelaunch, I also inadventantly started getting more and more discouraged.  My market research started to show people were very hesitant about the idea.  I kept on track though for my kickstarter Launch in late June.  The weekend before the campaign was scheduled to go live I got an email from a friend, it was a competitor.  They had launched a Kiosk that performed the exact same functionality ReQey was scheduled to offer.  I was crushed.

Mistake #5 – I removed the kickstarter campaign and spent a week analyzing the situation.  I still had a differentiator in that I was a mobile app, they were a kiosk.  However seeing they had raised $2.3mil in venture capital made me nervous, angry, and hesitant.    This dollar amount took whatever ambition I had left.

My business model could never justify that kind of raise, how could I even compete if I couldn’t even convince myself I could be worth that much?  A years worth of time felt like it had gone down the drain.  I sat on it for a month or so and picked myself up, promised I would at least try to get what I could from my sweat equity and at least bring it to market.   Afterall I had a mobile app, they did not.

Nail in the coffin – I spent a little time rebuilding my network, getting people interested again with the intention to relaunch the kickstarter campaign.  However,always a step ahead the competitor launched a mobile app.  Not only that, but my business model called for a $2/month subscription, the competitor gave it away for free.  With no competitive advantage, no money, no way kickstarter could take off, I gave up.

in summary, the following are the mistakes that lead to ReQey failing

  • Execute quicker
  • Don’t try to do it all on your own and lose momentum trying to fill a knowledge gap, instead partner with people with different skillsets
  • Don’t be afraid to raise seed money when creating a revolutionary product 80% of something is more than 100% of nothing
  • Don’t be afraid to raise venture money – your competitor probably already is
  • If a competitor raises money, don’t let it discourage you immediately – if nothing else it validates your business model

 

Unlock your business’s potential with an API

Having worked as a software developer for many years in the credit & banking industry, I came to realize how much of the day to day was spent on maintenance. Most of my days were spent maintaining legacy systems and occasionally writing minor enhancements for existing systems.  The biggest innovation we could hope for was a few year project to put a chat system in place.   I wrote about this many times during my MBA research, mostly out of frustration.  However, in my new role at Personetics where we integrate into many different Financial Institutions, I’ve come to find this ‘maintenance mindset’ is practiced in most organizations.

In many mid-size banks, especially those built upon a system of record like FIS, Fiserv, & Jack Henry, I offer you a challenge, one that many new successful tech companies have employed: Build a set of Web Services for your organization.

Like these new tech companies, if you offer webservices or an API – you can focus on your core business while other companies and services can easily augment your platform without large development costs.

Let me give an example. Personetics can provide personalized financial insights and an automated chat to almost any Financial Organization. However, we need the bank’s data to do this effectively.

We could use the Service provider’s APIs (e.g. FIS connectware) but we don’t want access to your PII and you’ll probably want to filter out other proprietary information. Direct

We could write our own hooks into your system, scrape data from your websites, interface into your databases, which will take a lot of time (months), increase costs, and increase project risks.

Scrape

We should connect to your API that you created and control, limiting our access to your data & your customer’s secure info.

API

If you have a set of webservices we can integrate them quickly in a matter of weeks, not months. That means in weeks you could have a virtual agent to augment your live chat and support your customers better than ever before, lower operational costs, and crossell directly to highly targeted customers.  Even better, once a set of Webservices is built you can scale it to many other products/services without having to do any additional work! Lower costs, increase product offerrings, increase time to market, lower risk – “Webservices = opportunity”