How to Kill Ideas and Still End up Ahead: the Art of Stepping Away

I’ve been working for a guy named Vitaliy Rizhkov. He has been the founder Finic, which has been like an incubator for the companies I’ve worked for in the last 7 months. Not sure if you’ve been keeping track, but last week I went from Hipture to PICR. Crazy exciting move. The story I see unfolding with Vitaliy reminds me of the book I’m currently reading.

If you haven’t read the book by Tony Hsieh- you probably should. The book, Delivering Happiness: a path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose is about the story Tony tells about himself moving from being a kid into adulthood. It is his life laid out, his strengths his weaknesses, and the development of the mindsets that have lead to the creation of huge companies. A casual read that really gets into his story; I feel like I’ve had a long coffee break with the guy. Tony is very inspirational. And very much akin to the story I’ve recently experienced a crazy move by my boss.

Last Monday- the Hipture project was shut down. Our Kickstart was 120% funded, and Vitaliy yanked the cord. So many people were left adrift. I can’t describe how disorienting the whole thing felt.

We had an all hands meeting on Thursday where Vitaliy explained the situation. It really reminded me of the way Tony Hsieh describes the game of poker. Tony goes into some detail about his belief that poker is akin to starting a business. He lists of ways that Poker is similar to creating a business. I’ll just list a few bullet points:

-Table Selection is the most important decision you can make.

-It’s okay to switch tables if you discover it’s too hard to win at your table.

-You need to adjust your style of play through the night as the dynamics of the game change. Be flexible.

He describes that building a business is very similar to sitting down to a poker table. The dynamics between your skill level vs your competition’s dictate your potential for winning. Not all tables are created equal, and strategically moving from a table you can’t win at is appropriate. It’s not that you can’t win individual hands, but being able to win in the long term. It’s easy to get caught up in the hand, and sometimes you just have to accept that it’s time to stand up and move to a different table.

In my mind, it was like Vitaliy was playing at two tables at the same time. Somehow this game allowed you to play both tables with the same bankroll. On the Hipture table, he had a decent hand. We payed the blind to see the flop. The hand was ok. Our Kickstarted got funded, but it was lackluster. On the PICR table, he gets a REALLY good hand. Instead of waiting to see how things played out on the Hipture table, he folded and pulled his money out to go all in on PICR. It’s good to be flexible and embrace the changes. Especially when they are they right move. (Sorry if you don’t play poker and completely miss the analogy. You should try it out, very interesting game.)

Vitaliy believes in the work fast, fail fast system. It’s akin the Jordan’s “you can’t make the baskets you didn’t shoot” but with the business focus. Not dawdling over a decision, but moving forward with confidence. So, you’ll see me working hard and fast with PICR. I’m still involved in working with influencers. I’ll still be on Instagram quite a bit. No dawdling with indecision. I really look forward to what this week entails!

If you are a photographer, you HAVE to sign up. You really don’t have a choice. Like… at all. PICR is a game changer. Get in early, and get in while the getting is good. For all of those people I worked with on Hipture, let’s keep things going. I think there’s still plenty of crossovers.

I’m curious if this is a common thing that people experience? Have you ever worked at a startup? Tell me about your craziest pivot? How did it turn out? Let me know! I’m super curious!

Social Influencers: Working the Instagrams

If you’ve watched me over the last couple of weeks on Instagram (@mDimitry) you’ll have noticed a sudden increase in my activity. I’ve gone nuts on the liking, following, commenting. In some ways, Instagram has become my whole life during my free time. And it’s because it’s a big feature of my work experience right now.

And I can’t believe how much fun I’m having. It’s absolutely insane, it reminds me of Myspace, but in all of the good ways. There’s this solid feel of the wild wild west, gold rush, with a solid feel of 1920’s fashion and music mania. Instagram is tons of fun.

The reason behind all of the activity is work-related, of course. I’ve been working on Hipture. Hipture is a mobile app that allows you to take photos directly off of your Instagram, or camera roll and have them printed and framed. It’s easy, simple, clean, and beautifully engineered from the ground up.

We’ve launched a Kickstarter and it’s chugging along. That whole process is very interesting. So much preparation, so much effort. It is incredible how much work is involved.

Where do I come in? We’ve been trying to create a buzz among social influencers. I’ve emailed 100’s of people in the last month. Cold emails- trying to generate interest and support. We’ve been trying got get our actual product into people’s hands and they would share them on their feeds.

I’ve managed to have some posts from some pretty awesome Instagrammers. Here are some of my ‘successes.’

It’s amazing that there are so many websites and apps popping up for printing @instagram photos. Many of them produce excellent work but I’m shocked that none of them do anything with framing. Frames have the ability to greatly enhance or distract from a photo, and many people often choose the cheapest option that does poorly displays their beautiful work. I’m stoked there’s now an app like @hipturelife where you can seamlessly create a framed photo collage of your own photos in just minutes. They sent me this collage of a few my photos from my first trip to Yosemite National Park last year with my good friend @stefanjunir. The frame and print are both gorgeous! Check them out when you have a chance. Their Kickstarter just got funded! #letsyosomewhere

A photo posted by Joey Brantley (@oddsome) on

So why have I been working with these specific Instagrammers? Because they are social influencers. What is a social influencer? Anyone, everyone. You are the social influencer, your brother Charlie Brown is a social influencer. That’s the beautiful thing about the social web. It literally means everyone. It is incredibly empowering. You no longer have to be a movie star to influence society.

These specific Instagrammers happen to be into photography, travel, hiking. These are people who love to explore the real world, take pictures, and then post them on Instagram. A lot of the team I’m working with at Hipture relate, and felt that that would be the best way to get our name out to that demographic.

What’s cool is that these guys have enormous loyal followings. It’s so neat how following your passions, fostering excellence, puts them in a place of prominence.

The prominence that gives them all sorts of great opportunities, including getting free swag. And that’s what brings me back to why I’ve gone crazy on Instagram. It’s the swag, my friends. Swag.

How to Get Rich Quick, or Die Trying.

I’ve been with my company for a few months now. I recently noticed that haven’t blogged nearly as often as I would like. And since I’ve cleared this blog of all of the old content, this site has become mighty bare. I’ve wanted to kind of follow my progress through the business world, but by the time I’ve learned something I’m moving on to a new little bit.

I have been learning a ton.

So, the company I work for does internet marketing. This has become my field of study, my playground, my obsession. The internet has been one of those things that my family got when I was around 14. It was already well on it’s way to being the crazy beast we see today. AOL chat rooms, forums, email chains. Text based mmo games. I even remember setting up my first online community in order to post and share homework.

I’m sure everyone my age can remember the Myspace experience. I remember those crazy people that started become famous on it. Bands, musicians, artists were one thing, but then you had people like Dane Cook, Katy Perry, and my favorite Tila Tequila who could be said to really have gotten their fame over developing followings on myspace. Youtube was a game changer. There are YouTubers that make millions.

As the amount of people using the internet continues to grow, and the opportunities to make money online along with it. Now the title of the post is “how to get rick, quick.”

The secret is this: you can’t, without like winning the lottery or building something that explodes because it’s just that awesome, get rich quick. But you can, slowly. There are a lot of different ways to do it too. But I think they all start with a basic understanding of how things work.

The internet is huge. Like, like really really big. There are millions of websites two billion people use every day. Just think about that for a moment. They are reading thing, clicking like, buy, check out. They are spending money across the world.

I often think of the internet in terms of our water cycle/ ecology. I’m sure they analogy will break down moments after I start writing about it. But it involves clouds, and flows, and gravity. In this analogy water is money. Topography dictates where the water flows, as well as falls. Some regions get more rainfall, and others less.

Mountains form huge barriers that cause rainfall in some regions, which then is driving by gravity into streams and creeks. Those are funneled into rivers, or sink into the water table, or hit lakes, or go back to the oceans.

The ecosystem, the life, is sort of the internet. Forest retain water, and actually increase rainfall by keeping the air over them cool, which leads to precipitation. Givers give rise to ecology, and irrigation is artificial and effective- so long as you maintain it.

Channels in which water flow grow deeper, unless they are filled with silt. The bigger they are the more likely they to spread out and create marshes. All of it is connected.

We want to build a system that has weight, and collects water, and retains it. It has is vibrant and provides a habitat for our families, friends, family. You know what it reminds me of? Beavers. The trick is to be a beaver. Beavers build dams that force the water to slowly flood an area, which then causes natural wetlands that are entirely unique and vibrant ecosystems. Over time, they become stable, but initially they take a ton of work.

Here’s a full length documentary on beavers from animal planet.

If we have a ton of funding, we could perhaps build synthetic damns. Perhaps eventually we should, but initially we can start by using soft materials. I think of that as content online. I have another blog that I don’t really post much at anymore. It does have something like 80 posts. With out any effort, the site gets around 20-50 visits per day. And it’s entirely personal, entirely benign, and yet it is something. It’s like the random debris that forms at bends in creeks. Eventually, if I keep writing and adding to it, the the sheer amount of crap I put there will pool water. Money.

The difference between a debris dam and a beaver dam is very little, and primarily focuses on organization. Putting up a bunch of content is one way to make money, but putting up a very organized bit of content will also make you money. Both require quiet a bit of work.

Most people are like fish, they just swim in the stream. They pump water in and out of their gills, but that’s it. So let’s leave the analogy- because it’s beginning to wear thin. 😛

It seems to me that in order to money online, without building a actual company like Etsy, or Amazon, or what ever, is to build up good content. I’ve been working on this online advertising thing and I’ve noticed a HUGE lack of actual content that is relevant to the subjects I am interested in. Which is primarily online marketing. I have skimmed through forums, read countless blogs, signed up for news letters. I’ve watched youtube videos.

And most of the content it is itself is marketing for marketing. The weird thing is that apparently the only people who know how to do this stuff are doing it, and they don’t want to create competitors; but want to make money off of the competition by creating the feeling like they are about to reveal the secrets.

And I’m no better. I’ve learned a lot in the last few months; but I signed a contract to keep it on the DL. haha.

But the truth of it is this: Do it. Just do it. Like Shia LeBouf said in that crazy video.

And I will. I plan on bringing you what information and knowledge I can, and am allowed to. I’ll try to do it in an organized form, nothing like this post. I’ll try to be more consistent with it. And I’ll try to do lots of it. I’m going to work hard at it, while gaining benefit from experience and actual revenue ; hopefully.

Small Changes, Conversion Rate Maximization

 My latest project in the business world has been to learn everything I can about Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). The two programs I’m using at the moment are Optimizely and CrazyEgg. Of course, I’ll also be using Google Analytics (GA) and our own results.
 These tools are incredibly powerful for any website owner with existing traffic looking to fine tune the user experience (UX), as well as increase the flow through their conversion funnel.
 But they have also taught me a life lesson. It’s all about life lessons with me, isn’t it? Imagine this; I’ve had a test running this week, I made 5 changes to the website I’m working on. If you’ve seen the site, you know that they aren’t very big, a little text, a number, slight variation in positioning.
 These variations I’m running against the original. I’m measuring engagement and conversions. These changes really aren’t that big, but the differences that they create in a traffic stream are huge!

 As you can see, the statistical significance measurement hasn’t yet given me the green light to make permanent changes to our site… but it appears that it is moving that way. But… I stress… the changes I am testing are tiny. And yet, one of them has a 35% difference against the original.
 It makes me think about our interactions and behaviors in the world around us. Consider this, our behavior and personality is exposed to tons of people every day. I like to make sure to go out everyday into the public. I go for a coffee every morning, work during the day, and go climbing in the evening. I’ll go to church on the weekends, and go out with friends at night. Add in driving to all of those places.  I see, and am seen a myriad of faces. That’s about, this is a guess, 200-300 faces on a slow day.
Don't make me make you Smile In the parlance of Internet marketing, simply being seen is an impression. If a phrase or number change can create a huge variance in the rate of engagement on a web page, what does that say about the way we present ourselves?
 I think about the image I present to those around me and the way that it affects them. What happens if I smile more?

As a server in a restaurant, my ability to look a person in the eye while conveying value allowed me to make sales. In a closed environment like that I could see quick results to my interactions. But with a larger group of people, small changes would take time to be noticed.

Who knows what sort of changes a group of people could make in a community. I see my boss Vitaly push ahead with his idea with transparency, and I think to myself, “Hey! That’s a great idea!”

I get a few people to read my post, and then they go back to his post and read his comments. They move to be more transparent in their lives about the things they are working on; without “the fear of other people copying them.”

Maybe they decide, hey this Dimitry guy is interesting. I’ll work with him! 😀

That’s my hope. 

Learning Curve

 Week three. 
 Today, we shot a bit of a commercial. A bottle of scotch may have been used as a form of payment for one of my ‘actors’. We are working hard to be able to push this thing to TV.
 Who would have thought, even a month ago, that I would be shooting a commercial with a really good friend of mine? And the person doing the shooting, another friend!

 It’s a small world, and I love it.
 As I wade through the world of online marketing, I am learning a whole new language. I am learning about industries that I vaguely knew existed. I’m dealing with people several levels over my pay grade.
 It is intimidating, and yet invigorating.
 The conference was fun as much fun as can be expected when you are frantically trying to meet everyone in the room, establish a business relationship, while being aware of how much money you’ve spent to get and stay there for the few days of the event. This is a bit of work.

 And that being said, I appreciate the people that have stepped out, and given me some of the time from their busy days to educate me.
 Also, Google. Thank  you Google.

 Wikipedia. And a few other web resources.

First Day, Carlsbad

 Today wasn’t my first day at Yosto, but it was my first day as fully dedicated to it. Vlad and I are in Carlsbad California at the CFSA (Community Financial Services Association) conference. What a beautiful little city, and what a beautiful day. It is always fun to jump into a new project. I love learning about how my industry’s business flows day to day, its practices and common procedures.

 Since starting with the company I’ve spent the last two weeks doing nothing but gearing up for this conference. On the CFSA’s website, it describes itself and its mission as “a national organization dedicated to advancing financial empowerment for consumers through small dollar, short-term loans. It was established to promote laws and regulations that protect consumers, while preserving their access to credit options, and to support and encourage responsible payday advance industry practices.” The industry is highly controversial, and yet it is a creation of economic pressures. Something like 12 million people used payday loans in 2010, according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s paper on payday lending. (Payday Lending in America, Who Borrows, Where They Borrow, and Why.) 

I found the following video quite interesting. Dennis Shaul, CEO of the CFSA on C-SPAN talking about CFPB’s efforts to regulate Payday Lending.

 The CFSA is doing good work. There is a large population of Americans that suffers from a lack of access to credit, and payday loans are one of the very few options available. Our current  banking models do not fill the need, and self regulation of this young industry is incredibly clever. I love seeing an industry that is as… controversial as this one having a introspective direction. Understanding that the consumer’s welfare ultimately makes them more profitable.
 A strange experience.
 I met some great people. Had some fun conversations. Ate some good food. Ran around. It’s been a good day. Here’s a photo to make you jealous. Sorry, not sorry.