The Power of Ubiquity

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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I remember once telling an artist that if you want to be in the music industry, you need to be ubiquitous. Turns out the same is true for tech and startups. Who knew?

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk here in Atlanta during which Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital talked about how she broke into VC and how she’s driving her vision forward. As much as I enjoyed the talk, this post isn’t about that discussion. It’s about what transpired after.

After the Talk

Up until then, I’d been lucky enough to converse with a few of the amazing people at Backstage, other than Arlan. I’ve had a wonderful experience getting to know Partner & Chief of Staff Christie [Pitts] and Backstage podcast producer Bryan [Landers].

As neither Bryan nor Christie were in attendance at this event, though, after the talk wound down, I proceeded to go say hi to Dianne [Cherrez] and Chacho [Valadez], other Backstage team members I’d only interacted with briefly on Twitter. I received almost the same response from each (as if it was practiced ha!): “Adam…oh you’re Adam Marx! From Twitter!”

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Both were fantastic to meet, and clearly integral parts of the Backstage team. While other attendees asked Arlan questions, I spoke with Dianne about the normal stuff; how she got involved with Backstage, her role there, exciting things Backstage has going on, etc. During the course of our conversation, she matter-of-factly quipped, “You know, you’re just everywhere on Twitter…I don’t know where you find the energy.”

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the point she was making stuck out to me: ubiquity matters — people notice.

Why Ubiquity Matters

When you’re setting out to build your network, whether it’s your Minimum Viable Network or a more mature version, ubiquity is a key factor in that network’s success.

It’s important to keep in mind that the term “ubiquity” might itself be somewhat of a misnomer; it’s not about actually being everywhere at once, all the time. It’s about appearing to be ubiquitous.

One reason that people remember ubiquity is precisely because of the immense time commitment it requires. Time is energy (and, as always, time is money)—indeed, time is ultimately your most precious commodity. Your time and attention are what businesses want, and what dwindle as you check off the basic boxes like your spouse, family, friends, coworkers, etc.

When people perceive you as ubiquitous in relation to their project or mission—especially when it’s characterized by a positive dynamic—it’s a (sometimes subconscious) recognition that tends to stick with them. 

Ubiquity and Reality

Of course, you can’t actually be everywhere at once, all the time. People are realistic and only an irrational person would believe otherwise.

Rather, it’s about creating a perception that you devote a significant portion of your time and energy (as much as one could ask, or even more) to something you’re really passionate about. This might be tuning in to a podcast weekly to tweet constructive thoughts (something I enjoy as well), volunteering one of your professional skills across a variety of projects (for me, editing and proofreading), or simply promoting a company whose product and/or mission really resonate with you. This type of long-term commitment to a mission creates the perception of ubiquity.

Ultimately, this is how you want people to think of you; as someone who just seems to consistently pop up at the right times. You don’t need to be associated with every project; but by being open to working on new opportunities, the natural side-effect is a quality of associated ubiquity. This creates a positive feedback loop of potential. 

The More People Create…

The wonderful thing about ubiquity is that as people create more things and start more projects, more opportunities are had to further one’s reputation as a thought-leader, team member, and colleague.

No doubt, many of these initial opportunities have the potential to germinate into extended relationships with the right cultivation. In this sense, the ubiquity becomes self-fulfilling; the more you “pop up” and people know you, the more people want to know you. This dynamic becomes naturally and iteratively expansive.

In the end, ubiquity is about a constant collection of “small victories” rather than pursuing a “one-and-done” approach to the opportunities before you.     

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

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2018: A New Year with New Goals

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Perhaps the last picture I’ll post with my trusty iPhone 4S

2017 is over and 2018 is now here. That’s a good thing; last year was a tough one. A few very close relationships ended, and after a few years, I closed my first company. But I also learned that there is life after failure.

So here we are now in the new year, and I’m excited to start working on a bunch of new things. Here are some of the things you’ll see from me in 2018: 

  • 😎 🎸 I’m working on a new music project (company? 😎 ). That’s right — after a badly needed six-month hiatus (maybe longer?) from actually running a music-startup, I’m gathering feedback on a new idea which is incredibly exciting. So far, feedback has been very positive. Discussions with a select number of artists as well as a few journalists, founders, and confidants have yielded an ever-clearer perspective on how this can grow. I’m excited to read more people into this as the year progresses.
  • 📝 I’m working on editing a very special document that I’m extremely excited to finish. I’m a word-nerd, and in editing this piece, I can honestly say it’s been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve done in my professional writing career.
  • 📝 🤘 I have an avalanche of new music articles written and in the works which I can’t wait to see published. Some of these will shake things up (I hope), but hey, what’s the point of being a music journalist if you’re not a little punk about it? 
  • 📝 📽️ I’m working on writing a rough draft of a screenplay (no, really!). Last year, I was kicking around an idea which I thought could be fun to work on, and over the last week, I’ve started mapping out characters and basic scene dialogue. I’ve never done a screenplay, so I am more than happy to have collaborators!
  • 🙋 🙋‍♂️ 🙌 🤝 I will start driving harder towards being more central to the discussions on sexual harassment and how to fix the issues we have before us. This is less of a “me” thing, and more something I am incredibly passionate about; I am open to collaborating with anyone on projects which will help with the goals of creating a paradigm with more meritocracy, equality, and egalitarianism. 
  • 😎 🎙️ I’m incredibly excited (and flattered) to have an invitation to be on a few podcasts starting this year — because I don’t talk enough as it is ha!
  • 🤔 📝 I’m working on plans for a new guide which will (hopefully) excite word-smiths everywhere; more on this project in the coming months. 
  • 📝 📖 I’m writing a pseudo-review of a book I’ve been reading which has changed my perspective on so many things, and has similarly confirmed a lot of the mantras which I try to live my life by. This will be out by the end of January.
  • 📝 🤝 I will be releasing many new articles in my Minimum Viable Network series.
  • 🎸 😉 I’ll be doing more work with artists (some have asked me to manage ha!) — maybe there’s a producer-credit in my future.  
  • 🤔 📖  There are a few of my past articles which I have been toying with revising into a rough pitch for a book. Let’s see what the year brings. 
  • 😄 I will be exploring more speaking opportunities.
  • 😎 🤘With the 2017 list out, I’m ready to start working on the new “100 Awesome Independent Album and EP Releases You Probably Missed” list for 2018.
  • 😄 🙌 I’m excited to start having * Many * More * Conversations * — I’m all about creating new things, and I look forward to picking up new projects throughout the new year, both with current partners in crime and new draftees.

Thank you to everyone who helped me pull through 2017. Your support means more than you know. Now, on to 2018!

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

The New Founder-Seed Reality: Cash, Vision, and Structure

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One of the pieces which made the rounds last weekend was Fred Wilson’s assessment of early stage startup funding. More precisely, the decline in seed funding over the last few quarters, down from the peak in 2015. This was followed by a post from Jason Calacanis, which expanded on Fred’s initial thesis and took a deep dive into how he applies those dynamics to his own angel investing strategies. I’m not going to rehash these posts. However, I will muse for a little bit on what I was picking up reading between some of the lines. 

Over the last few years, and in the last year especially, I’ve begun to think deeply on how augmenting one’s approach to networking and pitching can open up doors which otherwise remain shut. In this case, the doors in question are those into an investor’s or angel’s office. Part of what has been so difficult for founders in the recent climate is that with all the money that’s been sloshing around, it’s been all that much harder to differentiate oneself. So while the seed slowdown might fill some with dismay, it’s an opportunity.

As Fred and Jason point out that this is an opportunity for new investors to get into the game and fill the gap left by investors moving further up the river, I’m going to argue that a similar opportunity exists for founders, if not as clearly exhibited. In an industry where everyone knows everyone, sometimes standing out can be much harder when there are certain expectations (prerequisites?) flying around.

Let’s be honest; people pattern-match because it’s human nature. But this nature can create blind spots—these blind spots in turn create new opportunities. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and I think the things which Fred and Jason are pointing out here—expectations of and desire for revenue, cash efficiency, a maturing business structure—run in tandem with the opening of a door to be able to now differentiate yourself in ways which previously seemed more difficult. As Hunter Walk notes, you do this by being CRAZY. Part of it is having CRAZY numbers; if you don’t have these (yet), you better have CRAZY vision.

Vision is ultimately what makes any company; without vision, you have no mission, and you have no real reason to execute. People don’t execute like hell on something they’re ambivalent about—they execute like hell on visions they see clearly and problems they’re obsessed with solving. I think the posts from Fred, Jason, and Hunter work so well in tandem because they begin to identify potential parameters for what the new seed environment might look like:

  1. Vision
  2. Cash efficiency
  3. Maturing business structure

Without each previous component, the following ones would be lacking. The new environment we see developing before us will be leaner, grittier, and ultimately more hostile towards companies which can’t lock down cash efficiency and a structure which matures with their growth.

But my gut tells me that the kind of founders which angels and seed investors are really looking for—the hungry ones who have great, obsessive visions—are exactly the founders who thrive in this type of environment. It’s precisely in these types of gritty, lean environments that the CRAZIEST visions tend to germinate. I think this new landscape will be interesting to watch for those truly CRAZY visions and how the new crop of founders differentiate themselves to communicate them.  


Music for this piece:

  • Savage Garden – Savage Garden
  • Master of Puppets – Metallica
  • Head for the Door – The Exies

The Most Important Acronym to Your Networking

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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Fun Acronyms

Acronyms make things fun. And things which are fun and useful? Those are the best. When it comes to building your minimum viable network, there is only one acronym that matters: A.B.C. 

What do those letters stand for? Simple: always be collaborating.

One of the most cross-cutting things I’ve learned from being at the intersection of music and tech is that some of the things which allow artists to amass huge, rabid followings is how they work off one another. There’s a similar symbiosis that is applicable not only to startups trying to grow their own communities, but also to individuals looking to build out a minimum viable network of supportive and engaged people.

Obligatory Musical Collaboration Examples

Think about some of the most successful artists in history; chances are whichever genre you’re focusing on, there are examples of collaborations which you may not have even been aware of. Sometimes these are some of an artist’s most well-known songs.

Eric Clapton played the lead guitar solo on The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” off their White Album. Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” And all of this is to say nothing of the prevalence of supergroups in music: Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, Derek and the Dominos, Them Crooked Vultures, Blind Faith, Sixx:A.M., Mad Season—the list goes on and on. What all of these examples have in common is that they allowed artists to meet new people (sometimes serendipitously) and create new content (sometimes even more serendipitously).

Some of these collaborations resulted in a full touring band and multiple albums (as with Audioslave and Sixx:A.M.) and sometimes it was more an outlet for the artist to simply explore a new vein of their creativity, resulting in a single album and few, if any, tour dates (as with Temple of the Dog, Blind Faith, and Mad Season). Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what kind of collaboration it should be, and what the end goal is.

Why Collaborate?

If the end goal is to disseminate your name and reputation more amongst a new network, view opportunities to collaborate on articles or podcast episodes as compensation in and of themselves. The prospect of someone opening up their network to you through a co-publication or guest spot is invaluable, especially in a niche industry. Collaborating well on such a project will also tell your contact that you’re reliable and can produce great content for their network. This is the end goal; to get them to invite you back to do it again in the future.

Other times, there may not even be a publication or launch date. It may simply be a project where someone has asked you to give some feedback on their new app or something they’ve written. In this, the goal isn’t to get your name out to their network, but to keep your name in their head. When someone respects you and values your input, they ask for your thoughts on their own content. In this scenario, there is absolutely no downside—say yes, and carve out the time to give them some thoughtful feedback.

When Collaborations Don’t Work

When you’re involved in someone else’s project, let them run the show and suggest feedback where needed and when it’s appropriate. Accept and respect that they may do things differently than you would, and may go in a different direction that you want. If that ends up being the case, simply state whatever feedback you might have in a respectful and reasonable manner, and then let it be. If it’s not your project, there’s no upside to having an argument over the details as if it is.

Some collaborations simply don’t work, either because the idea leads to creative differences or because there’s just no chemistry between the individuals. This is ok. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to burn a bridge with an otherwise reasonable ally. The same dynamic that helps to balance your allies holds true here: until there’s a problem, there’s no problem. If the collaboration isn’t working, simply acknowledge it and move on. Most times, a collaboration that doesn’t work out well isn’t a reason to burn a relationship; it’s simply a sign that collaborating with that person in the future may not be the best move.

When Collaborations Do Work

When collaborations do work, though, they can change your whole universe. This may not—and usually doesn’t—happen overnight. It takes time for new relationship dynamics to gestate and the benefits of those collaborations may not be seen for months or even years. But once you have collaborated with someone on something, two things are indisputably true:

  1. You’ve now (presumably) had a direct interaction with that person, and
  2. You’ve now created something together with that person (in this respect, feedback does indeed count as something created, since it helps the overall creation process)

These two things ultimately shift the power balance; where once the relationship might have felt unequal, it is now arguably equal in new ways as a result of the collaboration. This has an elevating effect, bringing you closer to that person, whether they are a VC, podcast host, another founder, etc. Recognize that equalizing effect for what it is.

Ultimately, collaborations should be about relationships and learning. Creating something new and popular is always a plus, but it’s never a given. Keep your mind focused on how the collaboration can strengthen your relationship with your potential collaborators on the grand scale. Similarly, it will impact and shape your reputation among others, especially other potential collaborators. This is what will make the collaboration a success or a failure.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

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Balancing Your Allies (When They Don’t Always Get Along)

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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The Potential of Dual Loyalties

More than once in the last few months I’ve encountered a scenario in which one of my friends/allies has parted ways with other of my allies. Sometimes it’s been copacetic and sometimes not, but it did get me thinking: can you have dual loyalties without being deceptive?

Often in business and life, we’re faced with decisions that require us to take sides. Maybe one person is in the wrong, or maybe one path is simply better for them. Regardless, sometimes the prospect of needing to choose sides precludes any possibility of dual loyalties. But this need not always be the case. In building your minimum viable network, you will come across situations in which two or more people you are loyal to don’t really get along. That’s ok; people are people and that’s human nature.

Depending on the situation, there’s a potential in dual loyalties that can be utilized to the benefit of all parties involved. Many times, networking contains these situations and we don’t really realize them.

But how do you identify the scenarios in which having dual loyalties won’t actually work against you? You don’t want to become known as someone who is two-faced, but rather as someone who is level-headed in the midst of a breakup, even if that breakup is not your own.

This starts with knowing the personalities of the people who are going separate ways. Do they have generally amiable and opportunistic outlooks or are they petty and thin-skinned?

Note: if it’s the latter, you probably don’t want to be around them anyway.

Until There’s a Problem, There’s No Problem

A good rule of thumb to live by is that until there’s a problem, there’s no problem.

I’ve experienced this countless times in the music industry: I’m friends with multiple members in a band, and then for whatever reason, that band breaks up. Some times are worse than others, but the main takeaway I’ve always tried to articulate to each artist thereafter is that I am still their ally, even if they no longer wish to be allies with each other. There are some times when cutting ties completely is necessary, but it’s not an always kind of thing. You will know when it needs to be done.

Otherwise, like I said, until there’s a problem, there’s no problem.

Be Above the Drama

Building a network is like working with bands: people work together, and then they don’t. But by only taking sides when it’s absolutely necessary, you preserve your relationship with both parties while simultaneously cultivating a reputation as a level-headed ally who is not interested in drama. Drama is one of the things which kills relationships faster than anything else.

Understanding the balance of dual loyalties—and how that balance is different from deceptive networking—is an invaluable skill in building a broad and deep network very quickly. Simply do all you can to take yourself out of the drama. As I mentioned, there are times to take sides, but that’s for another post.

Preserve Your Relationships As Long As Possible

Consider this: two (or more) people working at the same company or on the same project. You respect both of all of these people, and endeavor to create positive relationships with each of them. Then, there is a difference of opinion or a diverging of interests, and those people part company. What do you do?

The first question is how to identify and differentiate between the situations where dual loyalty can be a good thing and the scenarios in which it’s not worth the effort.

The quick and much too easy an answer is pick a side. But until you know how and why the separation occurred, you’re only playing with half a deck of cards. In fact, you may never know the reasons. Perhaps the split was amicable and there’s no reason to choose a side and sever ties with the other. People part company for all sorts of reasons and not all of them qualify as “bad” or acrimonious. As such, the best thing to do in this moment is simply to do nothing. In theory, this sounds easy, but it’s a lot harder in practice, as we’re wired to want to “make a move.” 

In such scenarios, the right thing to do is to communicate support to each party without taking a side in the matter. You can do this through expressing interest in their new project or direction, offering to give them feedback on a new concept, or merely listening as they vent frustration. Typically, these neutral actions will make one party feel supported in their new direction without alienating the other. The key in all of this is to remember that this is not about the deception of either party. Rather, it’s about not choosing sides in the matter at all.

This is a good rule of life, especially when building your professional network: if there’s no reason to choose sides in something, then don’t. Keep your options open as long as possible.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

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There’s Life After Failure

 

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Four Cofounders (from left): Myles, Michael, Shelley, and me

 

Two weeks ago I shut down my startup.

I called my team members, notified our users, and made the decision that it was time to bring Glipple to a close. Retrospectively, the writing was on the wall. Now is the part where you wait for me to share some zen philosophy that I could only learn through failure.

Don’t hold your breath.

Don’t Gloss Over the Emotional Toll

Yes, I did learn a lot and in the end I’m glad I had the experience. But I’m not about to write another diatribe of cutely composed “tips for closing your first startup” which you will inevitably skim through until you read the next such post-mortem blog post on Medium…probably in about 30 minutes. Because in startups, it’s become the epitome of chic and cliche to write a post-mortem blog post when(ever) your startup fails.

Ultimately, though, so many of them gloss over the emotional toll it takes on you, so I’m going to write exactly what I’ve really wanted to know every time I read through one of these posts. Frankly, I’ve only seen a few people actually brave enough to publicly tell it how it is. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading this post from Andy Sparks and this one from Poornima Vijayashanker.

I’m not really 100% sure why there’s such a fascination with failure in our business. Probably because people shape that perception of failure into a positive reflection thereafter and attempt to use it as a drive for the next idea. That’s not a bad strategy, objectively speaking. But I sometimes wonder if it creates a flippant attitude toward failure which unintentionally misunderstands human behavior.

All these post-mortem blog posts make the whole process seem relatively easy; ok we failed, but here’s our end-of-the-run coffee party, and we’re off to better things tomorrow.

That’s not where failure gets you—not in the immediate moment.

The 3AM Blog Post in the Dark

You wanna know where it gets you? Right here, sitting in the dark at 3AM, typing out your bitterness and frustration in a draft as quietly as you can because you girlfriend is sleeping in the next room and there’s no point in waking her up to share your misery. It’s not perpetual bitterness, but temporary bitterness bristles just the same. Failure leaves you temporarily raw, and if it doesn’t, you didn’t care enough in the first place.

Emotional pain is the normal reaction. There’s a part of you that now feels lost, and grieving is a major part of the process. That emotional toll is what makes startups different than hobbies.

It’s ok if—for a moment—I sound like one of “those” entrepreneurs who couldn’t hack it. I’ve got news for you: chances are you’ll experience this feeling too at some point—I’m just choosing to be very public about it. Because in the end I’m human, and to pretend that everything’s ok and that I’m impervious to extreme disappointment and disillusionment isn’t being strong and resilient—it’s being fake.

Tech’s “Failure” Failure

In Silicon Valley—and in tech at large—failure is a great thing. It means that you took a shot, that it didn’t work, and that you supposedly learned something very valuable to draw on for your next venture.

And hopefully these things are true, but the reverence with which we look at failure—with which we make it a club that people should want to be in or be happy to join—is pretty ridiculous. To construct a system where failing is revered—almost required—is remarkably jarring. There’s just something about it that doesn’t seem realistic or dialed in to human emotion. 

To Feel Like an Abject Failure

I believe in my heart that most if not all of the people who write the positive tweets that we read mean well. Usually they’ve been in similar situations and figured out ways to surmount challenges and failures and move on to greater successes.

But sometimes, that unbridled optimism and pragmatism—well-intentioned though it may be—comes off as disinterest and disconnect. As if one has somehow forgotten what abject failure feels like. True, it may not actually be abject failure, but it sure feels like it in the moment.

And the worst part? When you feel this level of failure, it pulls you into a place where you don’t want to speak to anyone—don’t want to admit to anyone—that your failure is real, and that your need for help is even more real. You’re even more determined to strike out again on your own and prove to yourself and everyone else that you are a “real” founder—a “real” entrepreneur—and that you can pick yourself back up by your bootstraps. Those of us who struggle with depression feel this even more acutely.

But this is a mistake.

When People Are Your Strength

In the lull during which my startup started to fade—and during which I knew in my heart there seemed little recourse to keep it from doing so—I began to pull away from people. This was a mistake, especially for me. I’m a people person, and I gain so much of my energy from talking to people and helping people. When I started to pull away, I began to lose a part of myself. Actually, I began to lose another part of myself, because I was already losing a part of myself in losing my startup.

Only through recognizing that the disappointment and disillusionment which follow failure are part of the entrepreneurial fabric can we begin to open ourselves up to other people and possibilities after failure. This is the danger in fetishizing failure and spectacular flameouts: it is devastating for those of us who draw our energy from other people. Bragging about failure in a proud way is something distinctly Silicon Valley and very much of startup tech DNA; outside that realm, doing this is simply not done in such a way, and certainly not done with such gusto.

It’s equally important to emphasize to founders that failure isn’t simply a milestone that they should mark on their startup belts as they would raising a fund or releasing their 2.0 product. Failure is debilitating and it is in these very fragile states that founders need the most support from each other. Everything is easy when it’s easy; but when things go to hell, you need to be open to grasping someone’s hand when they offer it.

When people are your strength, it’s important to remember that heading back to that harbor is precisely how you recharge your batteries after a defeat. If you’ve done anything right along your startup journey to that point, you will have formed at least a few solid connections with others in your network who you can speak with candidly. If you’ve done at least this right, all the rest will fade into background noise.

Coming Back from the Brink

And after all of this—all the nights spent in cold sweats with stomach pains worrying about money, looking yourself in the mirror wondering if you’re a failure (are you even that?), skating over the “so what do you do?” question at parties and family holidays—you find a way to crawl back. You’ve stood on the precipice of failure and looked into the depths—spat it in the face—and somehow stomped your way back onto solid ground.

The funny thing about the failure precipice? It doesn’t ever exist as starkly in reality as it does in your mind. You stepped out over the edge expecting to fall a thousand miles into darkness, only to find yourself ankle-deep in a deceptively dark pool of water. So in the end, crossing over to the other side—finding solid ground again—isn’t as hard as it seemed before. The haunting chasm was only miles-deep in your mind.

Taking the Leap Again

There’s life after failure. That’s what I’m learning. Slowly but surely I’m learning it.

Will I do a music-startup again? Probably. Will I do a number of things differently now that I’ve learned new things? Absolutely. Am I as scared of my next potential failure as I was of my first one? Not even in the same ballpark.

I started drafting this piece in my apartment, sitting in the dark at 3AM, alone with only my thoughts of failure because I thought that’s how it had to be. Or how it was going to be regardless.

But I’m finishing it now, sitting in a bustling Starbucks in downtown Atlanta, drinking a large coffee, listening to Eve 6, and emailing people, looking for my next leap. I have drafts open of the next few articles I’m writing, and my phone is buzzing every ten minutes with new possibilities.  

Startup life isn’t easy, and failure isn’t fun. But it’s also not the end. As Eve 6 put it:

The monster in the closet, when the light’s turned on/

Is just a jacket on a hanger and the fear is gone/

And the world keeps turning, sun keeps burning/

We are the lost and found, gonna make it through another day.

***

Thanks

I’m so grateful to my cofounders for taking this journey with me. I know we’ll have another one together some time. To all those in my support system who have listened and helped me through this dip, you know who you are, and I am more grateful than you know. You took so much time out of your busy schedules to support me, and that does not go unnoticed. You all are a huge part of the reason I can write this post with a determined smile on my face.

Lastly, to my girlfriend who has been my rock through this whole adventure, and to my parents who are always my biggest support network.

***

If you’re struggling with your startup journey, feel free to reach out and let’s talk.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

 

How a Blog Post Led to Relationship Building with Lowercase Capital

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your networking is simply to express interest in the things which interest you. Mere blog posts or tweets can lead to amazing opportunities. Part of networking is setting yourself up for mutually beneficial outcomes with others. Let me elaborate.

A Chance Message

Just over a year ago, in March 2016, I wrote an article on AngelList Radio’s podcast episode with Jason Calacanis and Tyler Willis. I got some great feedback on it, and Jason even tweeted it! But that was only the tip of the opportunity iceberg.

About four hours after I’d posted the original piece, I received a DM from Eric Willis, one of the top hunters on Product Hunt. He articulated that he really liked the breakdown I put together, and had an interesting opportunity to share with me. And just like that, I was introduced to a variety of amazing people working with Lowercase Capital.

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At the time, I had a very limited network in L.A., so connecting with Eric was incredible because of his wide range of relationships and positive reputation. Of course I accepted immediately, even as I was juggling, my own company, writing on the side, and planning to leave for Israel in a couple months.

Rule #1 when building your Minimum Viable Network: Never say “no” to opportunities which will put you in contact with incredible people.

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Just as the point of any initial meeting with an investor is to get a second meeting, the point of any serendipitous connection is to see where the relationship can take you. Good returns will follow.

The Experience: Working with Lowercase Capital

It turned out that accepting the offer to work on this new project opened wide doors. I had the incredible opportunity to speak with and learn from Matt Mazzeo on numerous occasions. I was able to again work with close allies like Kiki Schirr, whom I’d known for some time. Lastly, I met a whole host of new people who have become integral parts of my learning (through Twitter and posts) and support network. Including, Eric, Matt, and Kiki, I was introduced to Laz Alberto, Jackson Dahl, Stefan Stokic, Soroush GhodsiBrandon MayU, Patrick Hodgdon, and Ross Simmonds.

That particular project has concluded now, but the relationships have not. They’ve continued to grow over the last year, and have led to new opportunities in the interim. Retrospectively, I’m grateful for two things: 1) for Eric’s initial message and enthusiasm, and 2) that I had enough common sense to say “yes” and not let the opportunity slip by.

All this matters because it could happen to anyone; it’s all about putting yourself out there. But it’s about something else too. During our initial phone conversation regarding the project, Eric articulated that part of the reason he was interested in connecting me with the opportunity was because of my writing and editing skills, and what they could possibly bring to the venture. At the time, I was writing posts wondering if anybody at all besides my small network was reading them. It turned out that other people were.

The Takeaway: Mutually Beneficial Outcomes

The lesson here is this: project yourself as if people are always watching. That doesn’t mean don’t be quirky or don’t have fun—it means don’t be fake. Be real, win where you win, and project a magnetic quality which will draw in others.

Many times, it’s common to have the perception that if you don’t see someone following you on Twitter or tagging you in blog posts, then they must not know who you are. This is an incorrect and potentially disastrous assumption. It closes off potential opportunities for relationship-building and possibly even monetary compensation. So while the vanity metrics of how follower-count and who’s on your follower list are great for feeling good, they are just that: vanity metrics. You never know who’s lurking in the rafters, watching what you create, observing how you speak, forming their own opinions of who you are.

Networking—especially minimum viable networking—is a function of cultivating an approachable persona where people want to reach out to you because they sense confidence, competence, humility, vision, and potential. Creating such a persona encourages others—even subconsciously—to hook their stars to your own, because a rising tide lifts all ships. Whether the tide ends up being yours or theirs is almost inconsequential at a certain point, because both parties can reap the benefits of it. Creating circumstances for mutually beneficial outcomes is one of the main keys to becoming a master networker. People are naturally attracted to mutually beneficial outcomes precisely because they seem like no-lose situations.

Drawing Power from Possibilities

This was one for me.

I loved to write, and wasn’t going to stop. Working with Eric, Matt, and Lowercase could only enhance the mutual benefits. I would meet and learn from new and talented people. I would prove my skills to a new network. I would gain valuable experience in sharpening my writing for a specific project. And at the end of it all, I would walk away with more contacts than I’d started with. There was no downside.

Endeavor to view all potential networking opportunities like this. Some will work out and some won’t. But even those which don’t result in monetary compensation, or a huge hit product, will do much to sharpen others’ perception of you. And that gives you power. It gives you a chance which you otherwise might not have.

Follow your gut and say “yes” to new opportunities when they feel right.   

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

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How to Get That Coffee Meeting You Can’t Get

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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Reflecting on “Creating Value” and Reaching Out to Others

A couple weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Poornima Vijayashanker of Femgineer. We spoke about startup failure, resilience, new opportunities, and networking. During the course of our conversation, we discussed the notion of reaching out to others—particularly the idea of reaching out to influential people in one’s network “without a reason.” It occurred to me recently that there is a massive difference between reaching out to someone in a tactless way and building a bridge with someone to facilitate dialogue and potential partnership in the future. Let me explain.

Poornima and I both expressed to be fans of the mantra “create value for others before asking for it for yourself”—a notion that I was opened up to and drawn to through following Chris Sacca and others. Part of what the mantra espouses is the belief that doing things for other people leads to people wanting to do good things for you in return. It underscores the idea of good karma and proving one’s worth rather than just saying it. Sometimes, actions do truly speak louder than words.

But it also presented a challenge the more I thought about it. In my mind, part of creating value for others is recognizing the importance of their time, and treating it, as Mark Cuban would say, as their most precious resource. That understood, what if you want to get to know someone simply for the opportunity to get to know them? What if you don’t (yet) have a company or idea you want to pitch, or a fund round you want them to lead, or even an intro you want them to make for you? What if it really is as simple as identifying someone whose personality has an impact on you and wanting to cultivate a relationship with that person?

In short, how do you build your Minimum Viable Network without alienating the very people you hope to forge connections with?

“Don’t Ask to Pick My Brain Over a Coffee Meeting”

Investors always say “don’t ask me if we can meet for coffee so you can pick my brain.” I’ve heard it numerous times from influential investors who I respect. However, it didn’t match up with the private interactions I’ve had with a few influential investors myself (who shall remain unnamed to protect their inboxes). So, how do I have multiple standing offers to meet with some important people just to grab a coffee and chat—talk music—talk politics—talk relationships?

I put in time to get to know them beforehand. Before any coffee meeting was ever discussed.

I believe that when influential people say, “don’t ask me to meet for coffee or to pick my brain,” they’re not really saying “I’ll never have coffee with you.” (Though, as with all generalizations, there are always exceptions).

What they’re really saying is, “I won’t meet with you if I don’t know you.”

You Build a Minimum Viable Network Through People Knowing You

So what does “knowing me” mean?

Sometimes it means that someone in their network has recommended and vouched for you.

Other times, though, it means that they know we might share similar musical taste, a similar sense of humor, similar worldviews, and/or similar values. They’re articulating a desire to meet with people who’ve put in the time and effort to cultivate a relationship prior to the coffee meeting; time speaking on Twitter, helpful feedback on projects, and certainly time cultivating good reputation amongst the other people in their network.

This is how you get that coffee meeting that it appears no one ever gets. Be real, be engaging. If you share a similar musical or movie taste with someone you want a relationship with, let them knows. Post funny gifs, make references, lurk in conversations and make great observations—show that you have things in common on a human level outside the work paradigm.

This is how great networkers build great relationships.

Then, when you do have a specific idea you want to pursue, fund, or are seeking feedback on, reaching out to these people will be so much easier because a rapport has already been established. Not every good relationship needs to begin with a double-opt-in intro (though this is certainly one of the best techniques). It is possible to build great relationships on the backs of numerous coffee meetings where you just shoot the breeze with a sought after investor—but these will take much more time and care.

Be prepared to be patient, and always reciprocate good karma with good karma. Be humble in valuing someone else’s time, and it will speak louder than any idea you try to pitch in the moment.   

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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What I’ve Learned from Chris Sacca: Value, Empathy, and People

TL;DR: Life is all about relationships. A reflection on how Chris Sacca’s notions of value and relationships have shaped my views on business and people.

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I was debating whether or not to write this a post under the Minimum Viable Network banner, but in the end it seemed that it was better as a stand-alone thought process. Frankly, I was going to save the whole reflection for another time, but sometimes when you have to write it out, nothing else suffices.

Creative Minds

No doubt that most of the tech and VC world is talking about Chris Sacca’s retirement from VC today. And while I won’t pretend I saw it coming, I also can’t say that I’m 100% surprised by it. Growing up, working, and socializing among artists and creative individuals, one thing I’ve come to accept as true is that truly innovative minds become restless and constantly seek new adventures and challenges.

In my time identifying as a writer, poet, journalist, painter, artist, founder, I’ve heard people who don’t quite understand the pull describe it as “lack of focus” or “a desire for obstacles over happiness.” But that cheapens the real feeling that we contend with; it’s not about lacking focus or not wanting to be happy. Just the opposite—it’s about finding happiness and meaning in new adventures and letting those new teachings sharpen our focus and perspective on life.

I’ve had the unique opportunity of speaking to Sacca just once, and in that short exchange, I saw in him what I’ve described above. And it made me want to get to know him even more.

There’s a myth popularized by artist biopics that truly creative people prize art/winning/results above all else, especially relationships with others. Sacca proves that to be dead wrong. In so many ways, the greatest creators and innovators were great because of the relationships they cultivated, most times with oft forgotten people in the background. Van Gogh had his brother Theo to support him and keep him (mostly) sane, Jim Morrison had his long-time companion  Pamela Courson, and in many ways Steve Jobs had Wozniak (certainly not forgotten) to keep him balanced for a time.

Relationships don’t distract from incredible achievements; they are what make those achievements possible.

Relationships Define People

So what does any of this have to do with Sacca? Everything.

My first thought reading Sacca’s retirement post wasn’t “oh no, but I wanted Lowercase to fund my next company,” or “but why walk away, you’re winning.”

It’s simply: “Money or no money, I still want to know Sacca because of the things he’s espoused over the last few years which have shaped my perspective in tech and business, as well as life.”

I’m more grateful to Erik Torenberg and Product Hunt than I could even say for facilitating the aforementioned encounter. In life, sometimes the most transformative experiences can come from the most serendipitous opportunities, and that was certainly true here. (A full reflection on this experience for the Minimum Viable Network is forthcoming when the time is right.)

So why has listening to Sacca and reading his posts been “so transformative?” Because his notion of creating value for others before asking for yourself, prizing empathy, and networking through conviction have become central tenets to how I think.

Core Tenets

In creating the idea of the Minimum Viable Network, so much is centered around the concept of creating value for others, cultivating deep relationships through empathy, acting as a support network when your friends and allies need you, and projecting magnetic positivity and opportunity. When I talk to artists, I tell them to go out and project a powerful, positive persona—that’s what attracts people. In helping a good friend of mine prepare for a lecture on ethics at Syracuse University (happening tonight!), I told him to emphasize empathy, and that power will come from a conviction for honest networking.

To other founders who now tweet me and ask how to get into tech and startups (why they tweet me is still a mystery haha), I say simply: Go and create ridiculous amounts of value for other people; don’t worry about “getting your’s” right now.

Karma comes around when the time is right. Focus on making yourself so magnetic to others that they can’t not know you.

I’m Richer for Seeing Life Through Relationships with People

I’m in so many ways richer for shaping my perspective on life around these core ideas. I’ve had the good fortune of building an incredible network of friends and allies, seemingly through just running my mouth and doing things for other people. The irony? It was never a “strategy” I was employing—creating value for others to create value for myself. It was—and is—simply doing things for others because I can, and because I want to. But like I said, karma has a funny way of keeping track.

So at the end of all of this, where am I?

Still positive, still excited, and still looking forward to my first coffee with Sacca, whenever that might be. In tech as in music, everyone seems to know everyone, and reputation is everything. So I have total faith that people who endeavor to help others will see their paths cross at some point. Until then, I’ll keep learning, keep building, keep creating value, and keep empathizing with others.

Life is relationships. And relationships happen at the most serendipitous of times.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Be Resilient in Your Networking

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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Don’t let people get you down. I know that’s a pretty “duh” statement, but it holds true for so many aspects of life. Particularly those which you never thought would be the ones to turn negative.

Part of networking—and especially building your minimum viable network—is understanding that things in life can sometimes change on a dime, and not letting that reality affect your personal edge. It’s sometimes harder to deal with things that you assumed were going to be positive things—a new gig, a new introduction, a new assignment which was supposed to be your big break—than with the things you knew were a long-shot anyway. We’re wired to assign certain values of ease to the things we set as goals, and the ones which show more promise are supposed to work out well. But that’s not always the case.

The trouble comes in when those disappointments—the ones which were supposed to be big breaks—turn your personality from positive and magnetic to dour and cynical. When that happens, you end up losing twice; you lose the initial opportunity, and more importantly, you end up losing out on future networking connections which might yield new opportunities.

When these things happen, remember that tomorrow is always a new day, and that the whole point of networking is to open yourself up to new possibilities. Any one potential new contact could mean a huge payoff down the road, but it only ends in a good place if you continue to project an opportunistic mentality. It’s ok to be disappointed, that’s a valid emotion and part of life. But don’t let it rule your entire outlook thereafter. New things arise, and by building out your minimum viable network, you will be well-conditioned to take advantage of them. Be resilient in your networking.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

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