Monthly Archives: February 2013

We’re moving to Las Vegas!

vegasI have some exciting news.  Lauren and I are moving to Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday.

There’s an incredibly vibrant tech/startup community in Downtown Vegas that’s being built up by Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, his team, and dozens of tech startups that are relocating there from around the country and even world.

Lauren’s startup, Umba Box, has been asked to be a part of the Vegas Tech community (we’ll be able to share more specific details about what this means at a later date), which is what’s initiating the move for us.

Friday is also my last day at HelloWallet.  I’ll be talking more about what’s next for me job-wise soon.

I’m really excited for this new season of our lives and what God has planned for us in Las Vegas.    I’ll be just as active on social media (including writing more for this blog) so, if you’re interested, it’ll be easy to keep track of our comings and goings.

While I’m excited for this new opportunity, it’s definitely hard to leave a city that I’ve called home for almost 7 years now.   There are so many people who I’ve met over the years that have been such an incredible blessing to me and Lauren.  I can’t do or say enough to repay how thankful I am for how much you’ve contributed to our lives.

Also… can’t leave without saying how so incredibly proud I am of all that’s happened during my brief tenure in DC with the local tech community.  I remember when Social Media Club was one of the only meetups and Peter Corbett, Joe Price, and I would sit around a conference table with 10 other people pontificating about the future.  Now the DC Tech Meetup commands an audience of 1200.   I remember when I could count all the startups  on one hand.  Now there’s new ones popping up everyday.   I’m excited for the future of the DC Tech community and I’ll be actively tracking its progress.

I’ll definitely be posting more about what’s happening in Vegas.  If you have any questions feel free to post a comment to the blog or drop me an email – jthorp@gmail.com

And if you’re ever in Vegas, holla.  Would love to meetup.  :)  XO!

Monetize your sawdust

Back in 2009, I attended the Ryan Carson produced Future of Web Apps conference in Miami, Florida. There 37signals co-founder Jason Fried spoke an interesting truth that’s resonated with me ever since.  He told everyone to “monetize your sawdust.

When a lumber company creates wood boards, there’s sawdust that falls to the factory floor.  That sawdust gets swept up and used in the creation of other products.  The lumber company is monetizing their sawdust.

He challenged everyone to look at the by-products of the work that they’re doing for their business and look at ways they could potentially make money or generate new opportunity off of them.   For 37signals, the examples were the programming framework Ruby on Rails and a book that was essentially a group of their past blog posts.

When I was at Clearspring (now called AddThis), we were working on getting our sharing tools on every website we could.  Over my tenure we saw the usage grow from 200,000 domains to over 11 million (and its even higher now).  While data about a specific publisher was never made public because it was private to that publisher, we realized we had all this interesting aggregate data about where and what people were sharing and searching for online.

That aggregate data was incredibly marketable.  We took the aggregate data about the state of the different social & sharing services on the market and went to the tech media.  They wrote about it and the story always talked about how the data came from AddThis. Initially, we were just taking screenshots from Microsoft Excel charts.  Eventually, I got our creative director looped in and he started making us super sexy infographics, which the media ate up even more.

I didn’t have a marketing budget.  I wasn’t trying to arbitrage Google or Facebook ads in order to drive traffic.   I was monetizing our sawdust.  Our aggregate data was a view on the world that no one else had.  It was great.  We’d do a data-related announcement during the lull between product announcements. We wanted everyone talking and thinking about us all the time.   And, it worked.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with and mentoring a number of different startups.  One of the most common pieces of advice that I give is to “monetize your sawdust.”  Look at the by-products that are created from the production of your core product.   There’s probably something there that you can sell or use to generate excitement/awareness which will help make you more money.

The most important thing I learned in college.

When I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology, I took all kinds of interesting classes. I was brimming with knowledge from classes on Java programming to legislative process to the wines of the world.

But the most important thing I learned in college wasn’t how to start a method in Java or the differences between oaked and unoaked Chardonnay. I learned how to learn. I learned how much fun learning was. My intellectual curiosity was more than reinforced. It was a cultural norm amongst everyone who attended (and survived.)

In one of my classes, we had the project of learning a new programming language (or Web technology) and teaching it to the class in 2 weeks.  What?!? My partner and I showed the class how to build something in XForms.  Heh!  Oh Web technologies that no one use anymore. :)

In today’s technology age, things are constantly changing.  Everyday there’s something new popping up that solves a problem more effectively than what existed in the market before.   To survive, you have to be ready and willing to adapt.

A big part of my career thus far has been helping to evangelize how the different innovations can be used to help solve existing business problems.   I was just showing some colleagues the other day how to do something and they wanted to know how to do this other thing.  I think they were surprised when I said I didn’t know how.  I just hadn’t spent time to figure it out yet but left the room challenging them to jump into the unknown, try it.

Don’t let what you don’t know or haven’t experienced scare you? Life is one big ever-changing learning experience.  Embrace it.   Never stop asking questions.

I always want to be learning, growing, and being put into situations that are uncomfortable and I want to be around people the feel the same.  Otherwise, things just get boring.

Don’t use your smartphone in a movie theater, during the movie.

Last night, Lauren and I went to go see the new movie Identity Thief with Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.  It’s HILARIOUS.  We had a great time.

The one blip on the evening was these 3 teenagers sitting in the very front of the movie theater that were playing on their smart phones the entire time.  At one point, they were evening taking photos of each other with the flash on, during the  middle of the movie.   It was infuriating.

I’m the biggest fan of technology, especially smartphones.  This was just a complete lack of consideration for anyone around them, for how their actions were affecting us.

I’m not saying we should get crazy and ban smart phones in movie theaters.   We just need to be better about making certain actions strongly cultural unacceptable.

At the very least, from now on, I’m going to be super self-conscious about pulling out my smart phone at a movie theater.

More universities should promote careers in startups

So there was a story in TechCrunch about a partner at Sequoia Capital who said that Ivy League universities should be encouraging more of their students to go to startups. Students go to large companies because that’s what you do. It’s what everyone does.

I didn’t go to one of the Ivy’s. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology and I completely relate. Startups were never talked about. Everyone talked about wanting to go work for Google, Microsoft, or IBM and that’s what most of us did.

It’s funny. I’ve gotten together with friends who graduated around the same time I did and got to startups one way or another. The resounding opinion was, why didn’t someone tell us about how much fun startups are?

If more of us would have known, I think we would have been launching businesses in our college dorm rooms.

The iPad Mini is My Desert Island Device Too

ipadminiIn December of last year, New York Times technology columnist Nick Bilton wrote that Apple iPad mini was his desert island device.   Meaning that if he had to pick one consumer electronics device to take to a desert island, he’d take his iPad mini.

Well, for a Christmas present, my wife and mother-in-law got me an iPad mini and I have to say that I 100% agree with Nick.   It has all what’s great about an iPad tablet but it’s extra portable because of its size.    It has the power of an iPad with the size of a Kindle.

I take the iPad mini with me everywhere.  I use it to read the news when I get up in the morning and before I go to bed.  I leave my laptop at my desk and take the iPad mini with me to meetings.

One use case I was running into was standing on the subway where I have to hold on to a pole with one hand and couldn’t hold on the iPad with the other because it was too heavy.   The iPad mini is the perfect weight.

I’m really surprised that I don’t see more iPad mini’s out in the market.  Maybe the bigger iPad has gotten so much traction that folks don’t see it to be worth it?

If you’ve been holding out on getting a tablet, I’d recommend the iPad mini.

Hailed a DC Taxi with Uber

Like everyone in DC, I have a story or two or ten of how a taxi wouldn’t stop for me, once I got in the car and told them where I wanted to go that they refused to take me there, or the car was just down right gross.

I was super excited when I saw a few weeks back that Uber was releasing an update to its service for hailing a DC taxi from their iPhone app.

Last night, as I was leaving the Action Design Meetup at NPR’s HQ, I decided to give it a whirl.  Within 5 minutes, the taxi was there to pick me up, it took me home, and that was that.   The payment and tip was all handled through my account with Uber.  The car was nice and clean.  I was really pleased with how it turned out.

Uber has added a level of dependability and consistency that the DC taxi system hasn’t had to date.   I’ll definitely be using it again.

Sleeping with the White Noise iPhone App

Last night, I woke up at 4am and just couldn’t fall asleep. I grabbed my iPhone, flipped on the White Noise iPhone app, and as the white noise started. Within minutes, I was back to sleep. I slept like a rock.

If you’re not familiar with white noise, it’s bringing together a bunch of different noises together at different frequencies in a way that masks other noises.   How Stuff Works explains it better.

There have been times where the cat has decided to meow incessantly outside our bedroom door. If we let the cat into our bedroom, she plays with the blinds. So… we shut her out of the room and I just flip on the white noise from the White Noise iPhone app. I can’t hear the cat, and again I sleep like a rock.

So, having a problem sleeping? Is there noise that’s keeping you up? Grab the White Noise iPhone app. At $1.99, it’s well worth the price.

Read Randall Stross’s book “The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator”

the-launch-padThis week I finished reading the book “The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups” by New York Times Digital Domain columnist Randall Stross. He goes inside and tells the story behind the most well known startup accelerator Y Combinator, run by Silicon Valley luminary Paul Graham. It was especially fascinating to read about YC’s program after having seen 500 Startup’s program first hand last summer.

It’s interesting to learn more about Paul. Have never met him person. It sounds like him and his team get really hands on with birthing all of these companies and he’s very patriarchal in the whole process. And rightfully so, he’s helped birth some real winners… home runs like AirBnb, DropBox, and Heroku.

From the book, you hear how first hand people from around the world flock to Silicon Valley to be considered or apart of the YC program. Some of the young stars don’t even know what their startup is going to be. They just want be apart of the program hoping that at some point genius will strike and they’ll get they’re chance at changing the world.

Was also fascinating to hear the history behind some of YC’s bigger alumni names. They started YC three startups ago, are now on something completely different, and seeing success. It shows the incredible tolerance for risk that there is out in the valley, for both investors and founders.

If your fascinated by YC and want to get the inside scoop or if you wanna better understand the nature of the Silicon Valley startup machine, I’d highly recommend that ya read this book. Randall Stross is a great writer too.

People Flock to DC. Can DC Keep Up?

Read a story a few weeks ago that DC was one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the United States. It’s something I’ve seen first hand over the last 7 years with the DC tech scene. There are more people and more excitement than ever before.

But can DC keep up with the growing excitement and influx of residents? There was just a study saying that DC has the worst traffic in the country. I can also bare witness to this.

How do you build a city that scales?

As it stands, I’d imagine more & more of DC workers will live outside of DC and have some kind of serious commuting time. Heck I live in DC and it takes me 45 mins to get to work by bus.

Parking is a nightmare. The other day I drove to work cause I needed to drive somewhere after work. I had to hit 3 different garages before I found one with room. I missed our company holiday party because we spent 45 mins looking for parking and weren’t successful.

Seems like there’s some infrastructure that needs to be put into place for the city to live up to its promise.