Category Archives: Theories

Where are the raves?

Take a look at the Rants and Raves section on Craigslist.   Guess what???? — there aren’t a lot of raves.   Just rants.  And more rants.  It should be called "Rants and more rants."   how come no one wants to say nice things about their neighbor, the cashier at Starbucks, or the girl they went on a date with?

James Currier pointed this out to me and it got me curious — is this becoming increasing true?

More and more on the Internet, the microphone goes to the person that can make the nastiest comment, be the meanest, be the bigger gossiper.   And worse are the anonymous comments … often all that comes out is bitterness and vitriol.   

Until then, I’ll be waiting eagerly for the new "raves and more raves" section on the web …

The “time problem” with being helpful

Continuing on the theme that you can buy time, I
got the following mail from a friend of mine today (names and locations obscured
to protect the innocent):

I wonder if
I can ask your advice on something (which, admittedly, will be somewhat

For the
past few months, I’ve noticed I field (as I’m sure you do as well which is why
I’m reaching out to you) about 10 requests a week from people who want (a)
general career advice (b) help marketing their new startup or blog or (c) an
actual job in new media/traditional media/press/etc.

wants to meet (a) for lunch [which is impossible because of work commitments
and meetings all day], (b) for drinks [also impossible unless I let this
interfere, in a big way, with social plans] or (c) for
brunch/coffee/drinks/etc. on the weekend.

At first I
took calls during the week, but that is no longer an option because of
work.  For the past 3 months, I’ve pushed everything to the weekend
days.  But for weeks upon weeks I’ve found myself in back to back meetings
all day, every day, giving marketing and job advice Saturdays and Sundays.

So, I’m not
sure how to handle this and wonder if you have any advice. 

I realize I
personally would never be even close to where we are without the unending,
brilliant and generous advice of people like you and other incredibly busy
people. But I also realize that working
all day during the week, then giving marketing and business advice every
weekend, is not sustainable. I would
really love and appreciate any advice (and sorry to burden you with this!)

think we all go through this.   the bad news is — there is no good
answer.   But there are time hacks to fit helping people into your
life. More in this on a future post …

2012 Predictions

I recently went to a retreat where they asked all the participants to make a non-obvious prediction for 2012.   here are the ones I submitted:

Math and number puzzles will overtake crosswords … reminding America of when salsa overtook ketchup.   

The legal drinking age in the U.S. will be 18 again causing teenagers to become utterly sober and move, en masse, to Saudi Arabia … where drinking will be cool again because it is illegal there. 

Every major presidential candidate will support gay marriage … to show their solidarity the Republican nominee and Democratic nominee will marry their daughters to each other.    

2011 is the coldest year on record … global macro hedge funds make a killing investing in manufacturers of leg warmers.

How common is adultery?

In the Economist a few weeks ago there was a review of a book about different nation’s notions about adultery.   According to the book the country with the highest percentage of males committing adultery is Togo (37%) and the two countries with the least adulterous males are Australia (2.5%) and Switzerland (3%).

In the study, the percentage of men are those who are married and who have cheated on their spouse in the last 12 months.   It was determined through extensive surveying and might be flawed.   

The numbers seem scary.   Take Australia, the "best" nation with only 2.5% of men committing adultery in the last 12 months.   Is it me, or does 2.5% seem alarming?   Imagine, in the very best place for fidelity in world, 1 in 40 men still cheat every year!  Really unbelievable.   I would hope it would be more like 1 in 200.   am I just naive?   

math and shakespeare

I was at a dinner party not too long ago and one of the other attendees did something very interesting … he chastised one of the guests for not really knowing Shakespeare.   Then, a few minutes later, this same chastiser was bragging about how little he cared for math and science — he said other people could focus on that.

Is Shakespeare really more important than math and science?

Too often people think what they know is REALLY important and what their ignorant of is something easily done by others.

As the dinner progressed, I asked a question to the other nine guests: you roll 5 dice, what is the probability of getting at least one four.   Turns out, no one knew.   Now granted, it is actually a hard question for someone that hasn’t studied probability … the smattering of Stanford B-school and Harvard Law School grads hadn’t studied math and statistics in college like I had.   And one can get through life fine without knowing simple probability … just like many get through life without knowing Shakespeare.   

Whether it is the Monty Hall problem or the Birthday problem, people have a real lack of understand of their chance of something.   Maybe that explains gambling.   Or playing credit card roulette.   it seems math and science is quite important for any learned person to master.

Now I don’t know much about Shakespeare … but it isn’t something I brag about.   In fact, I see that as one of my deficiencies that I’m not proud of.   So I get taken aback when people feel that what they know is so much more important than what they don’t know.   

Do you trust your gut?

Most people trust their gut. I think it is because one’s gut is usually right. On a technical level, a gut is a collection of prejudices, biases, and pattern matching — and that turns out generally to be correct. So your gut is usually right (certainly more than 50% of the time). But 100%?

So … should you trust your gut?

I think some people have an unusually good gut and they should trust their gut. But my guess is that most people think they have a better gut then they do.

I personally don’t trust my gut … especially not with people. I often find that when I meet someone I judge them wrong. I’m an optimist and I often over-estimate people. Sometimes I under-estimate people and am pleasantly surprised.

Hiring is an area that I never trust my gut. In fact, most of my bad hires in past have been because I went with my gut instead of taking the time to use real analytics.

And while I love the book Blink (by Malcolm Gladwell), I don’t think the split-second decisions are always the best ones. Especially on non-obvious things. For instance, I love math and probability problems (especially the Monty Hall problem) — and “gut” answer is almost always wrong. In the case of the Monty Hall problem, almost everyone I have ever asked gives the wrong answer (there are only two choices — so it is weird that 98% of people pick the wrong choice) … and when I ask them why they are picking their choice, they usually answer “gut.”

That is not to say there is no place for a gut … there is likely a good place if you truly have a good one. But for an analytical person like me, rock beats scissors and brain beats gut.

Spending patterns of youth predict adult money management

My friend Rebecca Wahl has a theory that how one spends money as a kid is a really good predictor of how one will treat money as an adult.

The theory goes that if you are fast and loose with money (spend it before you got it) when you’re 6, you’ll likely do the same when you’re 36. and if you’re putting it all away in your piggy bank when you’re little, you’ll likely be adding to your Charles Schwab account when you’re a bit bigger.

Or so the theory goes.

I tested the theory out in a very unscientific way by asking 20 people and the results generally to prove Rebecca’s point.

However, does that mean that people’s personalities are set in stone from a very young age? Can someone change his personality?

it is opposite day

random thought: you should throw out any piece of postal mail that says “open immediately. Contains time-sensitive documents.”

if you really want to get someone to read your mail, the envelop should say something like:
“do not read. this is not important enough for you. throw in the trash immediately.”
— i bet that letter would have a 90% rate of being read…

Two lessons from my first entrepreneurial ventures

I did my first two start-ups when I was 7 and 8. One was an economic failure. The second was an ethical failure.

LemonadestandWhen I was seven, I launched a lemonade stand. Auren’s Lemonade was a big hit with the neighbors. I set up the stand in the corner of the street and it sold like hot-cakes. I was rich. At least I felt rich. I probably only made a few dollars after a long day, but I felt really wealthy.

The next week, it was really hot out … so I decided to do lemonade sequel. But this time my dad charged my for the lemonade can (the Tropicana frozen kind), the plastic cups, the ice, the poster-board for the sign, and made me rent the table and chair for the stand. Luckily he did not ask me to pay parent taxes.

Needless to say, I lost a lot of money that day and Auren’s Lemonade officially filed for bankruptcy. But it was problem the best lesson I ever learned.

The next year, my friend Blaine and I decided that we were going to become multimillionaires selling cigarettes to kids. This was the unethical business. We figured that neighborhood kids would gladly pay $0.25 for a cigarette so we only had to sell 4,000,000 of them to become the first kid business tycoons. We had already decided what car we would buy our parents. We were eight years old going on Rikers Island.

CigarettesBeside for the problem of selling toxins to other kids (for some reason, this did not bother us at all), there was the big issue that we did not have access to cigarettes. And even if we could buy them, they were expensive and would really cut into our margins.

So Blaine has the brilliant idea of collecting cigarette butts on the ground (there were thousands of them in the park) and then manufacturing new cigarettes. We gathered our product, created an assembly line of white paper, scissors, shredded dried leaves, and scotch tape. Soon we had a few hundred cigarettes and were hawking our wares to all the other kids. And for the first time in my life, I was really popular. No wonder people become drug dealers.

All was peachy until one of our customer’s parents called up Blaine’s dad. We were in big trouble. We were forced to destroy our entire supply, and write apology notes and reimburse all the kids. And I think I was grounded for nine months.

I learned my lesson.

Glad it happened to me when I was eight … otherwise I might have grown up to be Andy Fastow.

My First $1000

I made my first $1000 in eighth grade selling baseball cards.

I seventh grade I decided I was going to start a business selling baseball cards. The problem was, I didn’t yet know anything about baseball. So I started learning everything I could. Luckily, it is a sport with a lot of statistics and perfect for a math geek like me.

In shop class I made a rubber stamp to stamp out my business cards (I used to cut up small index cards). It said:

A. Baseball
[street address]
Mamaroneck, NY 10543

So I set about buying low and selling high. At the time (1987), baseball cards were an extremely inefficient market and there was a bit of a bubble going on.

I used to buy an eight foot table at the local baseball card show. Prices were initially $150 for the table. I split the table with my friend Alex — each taking 4 feet for $75. And sold a lot of baseball cards.

But I quickly realized that the organizer of the baseball card show was giving all the favorable floor spots to his buddies and we were stuck in the bleachers (sometimes literally — as these shows were often done on a Saturday in a high school gym). So while I might make $200, after paying for the table, price tags, card holders, and the cards themselves, I wasn’t making much money. Especially not when considering my time (though my alternative at the time was making $3.75/hour minimum wage job).

So instead of selling baseball cards, I tried to entertain people.
First, I noticed a lot of cards were mis-priced. If you got a 1984 Topps Don Mattingly Rookie card, it might list for $32 but it rarely sold for $20. and you could buy a near-mint condition card for $10. and dealers were stuck with thousands of these cards that hard a hard time selling for their full “value.” (of course, today prices have fallen by more than a third)

So I acquired a ton of these cards and created a grab bag. For the first show I created 150 grab bags with cards in them where the person who picks the bags could win the cool cards. Each grab bag (actually an envelop stuffed with cards) cost a dollar. I sold out in 45 minutes. The next show I had 300. sold out. I soon was selling over 400 a show.

Then I had copycats at the shows … so I added fortunes and other fun stuff in the grab bags. Everyone had to buy at least one.

And then I created a dice game. Cost $0.50 to roll dice and depending on what you rolled, you won something. If you rolled doubles you had the option of taking your card or rolling again. It was fun. And you never could sell out. After about a dozen shows I finally made $1000 in a show. I felt really rich. But more importantly … I felt empowered. The average age of the sellers at the show was about 40. I was 14. and they were coming to me asking for advice.

I’m a big believer that more kids should try to be entrepreneurs. It is really empowering. For me personally, I went from being a relatively shy kid to one with extreme confidence (maybe too much confidence).

for other bloggers out there (like Chris Yeh, Mark Pincus, Hunter Walk, Andy Choy, Ben Casnocha, Noah Kagan, Christine Herron, Pete Caputa, Dave McClure, Fabrice Grinda, Keith Teare, Chris Alden, Jeremy Dann, Bambi Francisco, Barney Pell, Andrew Boer, Aydin Senkut, James Hong, Jeff Clavier, Niall Kennedy, Zaw Thet, Pascal Levensohn, Angie Schiavoni, Sonia Arrison, etc.), I’d be interested in hearing your stories of how you made your first $1000.