The Learning Log #2 – How do you grade yourself?

We all grade ourselves by different measures:

  • For some people, it’s as simple as how much money they make. When their net worth is going up, they know they’re doing well.
  • For others, it’s how much money they give.
  • For some people, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better.
  • For others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives.

– from pg 30 of “Anything You Want” by Derek Silvers, Founder of CD Baby

I’d never thought of it that way before. Maybe that’s why some of us are in a flux of constantly doing things, and yet constantly feeling like we haven’t accomplished much in life. When we raise our grades in one measure, we find ourselves looking at the other measures and going “well, but I haven’t done X.”

Maybe that’s why some of us struggle with our parents. We’d write home happily about the lives we’d touched in the community, only to be given the failing grade by them because we weren’t already making the big fat paycheck they’d hoped their college educated child would be making.

So how do you grade yourself? Are you measuring your success by your standards, or someone else’s?

The Learning Log is a reflection of the lessons I pick up while reading my books. I hope the points picked out will inspire you as much as they’ve impacted me.

Entrepreneurs Unpluggd in Chicago!

The first ever Entrepreneurs Unpluggd event in Chicago, organized by Stella Fayman and Tim Jahn, was a relatively intimate gathering of like-minded individuals, brought together to hear the stories of some of the most successful online business owners around. Since I’m on a journey to starting a media social enterprise of my own, I figured it’d be a really good learning opportunity. The lineup for the night? The founders of,,, and Pretty impressive stuff!

Missed out on the event? No worries. Here’s a quick re-cap of what went down:

Genevieve Thiers – SitterCity Logo

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

  • Started what’s essentially a for parents and caregivers when she saw a pregnant woman walking around campus flyering for a nanny.
  • Startup cost was $12K and it was just her and her laptop for the first 4 years.
  • Marketing your online company has 3 stages: Grassroots level -> Direct Marketing -> Brand Marketing
  • Pitched herself as the “babysitting expert”, which later landed her 6 segments on The Today Show.

YSL: She’s essentially taken what people were already doing, and put the process online. Brilliant.

Dan Ratner – ContactKarma Logo

“Customer = someone who pays you for stuff.”

  • Started a service for finding vendors your friends use. Site’s still in beta.
  • Selling to small businesses is just as hard as selling to big ones
  • Get the customer to tell you what they need
  • Talk about your product. A lot.
  • Sometimes intuition is not the same as reality

YSL: Interesting concept that’s kinda like and facebook rolled into one. Injects some fun into searching for services.

Mari Luangrath – FoiledCupcakes Logo

“People love opportunities to interact with other people with common interests.”

  • Found there was no bakery around that would deliver cupcakes to her without charging exorbitant delivery fees.
  • Started this online cupcake store 1.5 years ago with social media as her only form of marketing
  • Targeted office admins because they wanted to sell by the dozens. Who organizes parties? Who has $$?
  • Hire people who are smarter than you

YSL: Those cupcakes look delicious. Keeping them in mind for my company’s next event! I loved the way they handled a mistake they’d recently made. It’s a great example of what to do.

Ross Kimbarovsky – CrowdSpring Logo

“Look bigger than you are.”

  • Wanted to help small and mid-sized businesses find graphic design services more easily
  • Found first buyers by paying friends to post projects on their site
  • Held a public project where designers were invited to compete to design the crowdSPRING site.
  • Had to very carefully manage the backlash from the design community because they were changing the way the world of design worked.

YSL: I love this. Crowdsourced design services. Just what I’ll need for when I revamp my website! Discovered them when they featured JJ’s List on their blog as one of the top influencers in the world of crowdsourcing.

Matt Maloney – grubhub logo

“Find a good partner who brings different perspectives and skill sets to the company.”

  • Started online food delivery directory in 2004 when he got sick of pizza delivery from this one place
  • Started with 2 people in his house
  • Customer Service must be at the core of his business.
  • In case of a screw up, make the resolution A LOT better than the problem.

YSL: This is the only service that I’d actually used before the event. Definitely made my being sick and unable to go out to buy food a lot easier to manage. Their ads are peppered all over the trains… which I would imagine has paid off well for them, since that’s how I discovered them in the first place.

What a great event. Thanks Stella and Tim for organizing this. I can’t wait for the next one!

Why it’s time to ditch disposable bottled water

When was the last time you bought a bottle of water from a store? How much did it cost you? A dollar? Maybe two?  How much would it have cost you to fill your own non-disposable bottle with tap water? $0.002.

Maybe you thought that with the pretty pictures of snow-capped mountains on the labels of these bottles, the water you purchased had to be from the clean, pristine streams of mountains from a land far far away and therefore worth the price. Sorry to burst your bubble. Nearly 40% of bottled water is simply filtered tap water. The bottled water industry is not only charging you almost two thousand times more for the water you can easily get from your running tap, but is also causing health problems for people who have to breathe in the fumes where these single-use plastic bottles are manufactured. Add that to the detrimental effect on the environment we have when we dispose of these bottles and they end up in landfills.

How is it then, that the average American drinks about 200 bottles of water a year? Convenience.

“I want water and I want it now.” so you walk into the nearest 7-Eleven to purchase one.

“I’m too lazy to carry my own non-disposable bottle around.” so you leave the house without one.

Well, i think the first step to change is to educate yourself with the facts. The Story of Bottled Water does a great job in 8 minutes explaining it.


And if you’ve got time, catch the great documentary Tapped. I first saw it at the Talking Pictures Film Festival last year and was amazed by all the things about the bottled water industry i never knew. Think of it as the Food, Inc. movie for water.

And if you’re wondering now about which reusable bottle to get that’ll be safe, durable and eco-friendly, I highly recommend the stainless steel line from Kleen Kanteen. Not made from plastic, so you don’t have to worry about BPA leeching into your water. Not made from Aluminum, so you don’t have a liner that makes your water taste funky. Their factories practice fair labor standards, and 1% of all their sales go towards the planet. It’s a small sacrifice in convenience for a hundred times the benefit in return. Ditch that disposable bottled water today.

This entry was written as a part of Blog Action Day 2010, an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion.

The Learning Log #1 – Delivering Happiness – your universe

“Envision, create, and believe in your own universe, and the universe will form around you.”
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (page 85)

From the book

At this point in Tony’s account, he’d just organized the millennium countdown party of a lifetime in a penthouse he’d bought just to create a place for him and his friends to gather and meet new people. (Kinda like Central Perk in Friends) Because of his love for the rave culture that included values like Peace, Love, Unity and Respect, he went all out to re-create everything he loved about warehouse rave parties he’d attended outside, in his loft. Fog machines, colored lights, lasers, disco balls, black lights… he bought them all.

The party was going smashingly well with several hundred people lost in the music and strobe lights, until he noticed a shrill alarm sounding. The fog machines had set off the smoke alarms for his entire building. It was 3am. Two fire trucks came rushing to the building with their lights flashing only to discover it was a false alarm. But all was fine, the firemen burst out laughing and wished them a happy new year.

As Tony leaned out one of the open windows to watch the firemen return to their trucks below, he stared at the lights on the fire trucks that were still flashing. Then out of nowhere, he heard a female voice. “Isn’t this amazing? You created all of this… You could have done anything you wanted, and you chose to create an experience that people will remember forever.”

The Story

Anyone who’s read about the Zappos story would know that they’re all about company culture. “A service company that happens to sell shoes,” was how Tony put it. Through the process of growing his company, he stayed true to a list of core values. A list that he was willing to base all hiring and firing of staff off, regardless of job performance. Visit their website now and you’ll find a cool music video they’d put together for fun, and a ton of pictures of all the good times they have in the office. To encourage learning and self-development, they’ve got a library of highly recommended books that all employees and visitors are free to take.

Zappos was born just over a decade ago. I look around and I see too many of us dragging our feet in the morning, reluctant to head to the office. How was Zappos able to build a place that every one of their employees loved, and I mean really loved, being in? We’re talking about a place that will pay their new employees $2,000 to quit at the end of their training, to ensure that they’re there for the love of the job and not the money. Wow.

That, to me, is a universe that was almost unheard of in the past. A universe that had to be envisioned and created by those who were daring enough to take the path that wasn’t already laid out for them. Tony knew what it was like to be working in a place he had to drag himself reluctantly to, and was determined to create a universe of his own to change that.

The Lesson

Looking back, when I think about the places to which I’d felt the most loyalty towards, and the most willingness to go the extra mile for, they were all places with particularly strong supportive cultures, a shared sense of pride, and a high level of respect for everyone, regardless of seniority. A shining example: Kartemquin Films.

Why do I still speak of my internship at Kartemquin as my best internship experience ever? Maybe it’s the special weekly 3-hour workshops organized just for interns to learn from each staff member. Maybe it’s their great willingness to teach, all we had to do was ask. Maybe it’s the level of respect we were shown, where they actually took the time to get to know us as people. Us coming back on weekends and off days to help at events was always optional, never assumed or forced (which probably served as even more motivation to go the extra mile to help). My internship may have ended 5 months ago, but i’m still getting work through Kartemquin referrals.

Those who pass through the doors never really leave. And you’ll notice that the sense of KTQ pride never really goes away. People may not always remember what you say or do, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.

I sometimes ask myself why I never jetted straight off to Los Angeles or New York after film school just like the majority. I hate to cast blanket stereotypes, but something about the stories I heard of the dog-eat-dog world out there has created a sense of inertia. Why keep myself surrounded by people whose attitudes and work ethics I do not agree with, and be miserable, when I can architect one of my own where it’s both a happy and positive place to grow?

Thank you, Tony. I really look forward to exercising my universe-creating powers. :)

The Learning Log is a bi-weekly reflection of the lessons I pick up while reading my books. I hope the points picked out will inspire you as much as they’ve impacted me.