Monday, September 22, 2014

Accelerate Your Startup | Matt Cartagena Interview

Ever thought of applying to a startup accelerator like Y Combinator or Techstars? Notable companies like AirBNB, Dropbox, and Sendgrid trace their origins back to these top programs. But to outsiders, these programs can be black boxes. What goes on in those three months behind closed doors? What should entrepreneurs know before they apply?

Matt Cartagena is the VP of Marketing for VineUp and the co-author of Accelerate: Founder Insights Into Accelerator ProgramsAccelerate is the first comprehensive guide to leading accelerators and the authors interviewed 150+ entrepreneurs who have gone through the top programs. He generously agreed to share some insider tips and illuminate the world of startup accelerators.

In the interview we cover questions including:
  • Are accelerator programs a boon or a distraction for your startup? Are they worth it?
  • What are the most valuable things that entrepreneurs take away from accelerators?
  • What are the secrets to getting accepted into the top tier programs like Techstars and Y Combinator?
  • How can you best leverage your accelerator to advance your startup?
  • What are the biggest mistakes founders make vis a vis accelerators?
  • Are accelerators replacing MBA programs as the standard for entrepreneurial training?
  • What can authors learn from entrepreneurs and vice versa?
  • How can you leverage Kickstarter, Twitter, and social media to launch a bestselling book?
  • What was it like to publish with FG Press? (FG Press also published Uncommon Stock)
  • What's on Matt's reading list?
Matt probably knows more about accelerator programs than almost anyone around and it was a pleasure tapping his brain. Check out the interview and let us know what you think!

Oh, and make sure to join the 700+ creative entrepreneurs in my inner circle by entering your email below. You'll get all the juicy details about my upcoming book, articles, interviews, reading recommendations, and other exclusive content!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I'm shaking in my little space boots

Yup. Space boots. Little ones. Perfect for shaking in.
Seriously, I'm terrified.

I mean sure, there's excitement too. And relief woven in there somewhere. Today I finished writing the rough draft of my second book, Uncommon Stock: Version 2.0. I sent the manuscript over to FG Press and a small cadre of beta readers. The story ripped itself out of me and onto the page. It's the sequel to tech startup thriller, Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0, which came out on March 5th and has been described as "John Grisham for startups."

Did it feel good to get the sequel on paper? Hell yeah. The characters continue to surprise me and the plot took twists I hadn't anticipated. Mara, James, and Mozaik are in a whole lot of trouble. Oh, and Mara's at Burning Man right now so you won't be able to reach her.

It was a fantastic rush to type the last "." But it also scared the shit out of me. Writing a second book is a whole lot different than writing a first one. I wrote 1.0 for myself. I was going to be the only one disappointed if I didn't finish it or the book never saw the light of day. But with a sufficient dose of blood, sweat, and tears, 1.0 did indeed launch.

And what a launch it was thanks to you guys. We didn't spend even $1 on marketing but you sent us to a top ten debut in our category. We have 50+ five star reviews on Amazon, earned great coverage, received shout outs by top authors and tech folks, and established special partnerships with leading organizations like TechCrunch, TechStars, Evonexus, The Startup & Tech Mixer, Startup Books, and others. More than anything else, receiving outreach from readers has been far and above the most energizing part. Messages hit my inbox from folks talking about the story and what it meant to them. Many others demand a sequel ASAP. Seriously, there's no better way to make an author's day.

And that's exactly why I'm shaking in my little space boots. What if my beta readers point out irreconcilable problems in the plot? What if my editor finds a fatal flaw in character motivation? What if fans don't like it? You know all those movies where the originals are awesome but the sequels suck? That is NOT what I want.

I've planned Uncommon Stock to be a trilogy from the beginning. My dearest hope is that each episode gets better and better. It takes time and effort to develop craft as a writer and I want to pour more and more of myself into the story. We're planning for a December 3rd launch date for Uncommon Stock: Version 2.0 and I'm going to be working my ass off between now and then to make the book the best it can possibly be. You deserve nothing less.

In the meantime, I could use your help. Good books find new readers exclusively through word-of-mouth. All our success so far has been 100% due to you guys. Every recommendation you make over happy hour, every review you write, every time you gift the book to someone, they all make a huge difference. Then a little lightbulb appeared over my head. If readers are my ambassadors to the world, why not ask them for ideas?

Many of you have blogs, newsletters, podcasts, companies, press outlets, social media followings, forums, audiences, book clubs, and other communities which you maintain or participate in. These are great avenues for getting the word out about a new book. No platform is too humble or grand. So if you have any ideas or suggestions or just want to help with the launch, email me (elpeper [at] gmail [dot] com) with answers to the questions below:
  1. What's your name?
  2. What community do you have in mind (blog, magazine, mailing list, event, etc.)?
  3. What's your relationship to that community?
  4. How would you like to help?
Thank you for all your ongoing support. You guys are the best and I'm one lucky writer.

Oh, and make sure to join the 700+ creative entrepreneurs in my inner circle by entering your email below. You'll get all the juicy details about the new book in addition to my reading recommendations and other exclusive content!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Alternative Ways To Work In The 21st Century

Just another day at the office...
Work just isn't what it used to be. The days of cubicle farms, standard career ladders, and pension plans are over. Instead, competition for top talent rivals the NFL Draft, freelancers write code from Thai beaches, and recent graduates tremble at the roller-coaster prospects of modern employment. How can we thrive in the face of so much uncertainty?

This is a topic that's very close to my heart. As an author, I spend a lot of time wrestling with my next story at home and on walks (the sequel to tech startup thriller Uncommon Stock). As an adviser to entrepreneurs and investors, I'm usually found in a decked out conference room or mircro-roaster coffee shop. I'm allergic to structure. In fact, I've worked independently since university and doing so has exposed me to some of the top business leaders, creators, artists, companies, and venture investors out there. Plus, if my productivity starts to nose-dive, I go on a run at 11AM.

But I'm not special at all. In fact, there's a whole new generation of professionals who are turning Corporate America on its (well-groomed) head. They are redefining what work means, tackling big problems, and achieving desk-defying success. And those hoping to doff the suit-and-tie before the next TPS report might want to pay attention.

Eric Schweikardt is the CEO of Modular Robotics. Not only did he start a robotics company after finishing architecture school, he established manufacturing in Boulder, CO with better economics and outcomes that in China. Modular Robotics' Culture is designed to be as fun as their products. They've turned operational tasks into games and you have to be careful in their office or you'll trip over a golden retriever.

Jessica Semaan is the CEO of The Passion Co. She is following her dream of helping others achieve theirs. She is building a business around helping people transition from corporate to creative and her programs are based on concrete outcomes, not cute slogans. Her cohorts could supply a few dozen additional examples for this post.

Cammy Houser was a Co-founder of Given Goods. She switched out of the well-trodden strategy consulting path to start a philanthropic online marketplace that touches people around the world and is a proud member of the Techstars mafia.

Ryan Orbuch is a Founder at Basil and the Designer of Finish (Apple Design Award 2013). By designing the #1 bestselling productivity app on the App Store when he was 16, he's living proof that the 21st Century definition of "work" is changing fast. He's been featured in The New York Times, TEDxTEEN, SXSW, and he graduated in June from Boulder High School.

The list could go on. Matthew Inman and Hugh MacLeod are reimagining what being an artist means by striking out on their own. Hugh Howey and James Altucher are doing the same for authors. Jodi Ettenberg quit her job as a corporate lawyer to travel the world and is now a top blogger. Michelle Miller left JP Morgan to develop and produce The UnderwritingAttorneys, designers, programmers, copywriters, and professional service providers of all kinds are going freelance. Tim Ferriss and Dan Pink are changing our notions of work with books like The 4-Hour Workweek and Drive that examine the science of motivation and the mechanics of millennial career ambition. Project-based, autonomous, purpose-driven collaboration is becoming the norm.

Businesses are embracing Results-Only Work Environments, unlimited vacation policies, and remote working. Companies that don't are finding it harder and harder to attract and retain talent. People like Dilbert but they don't want to work at his office if they can avoid it. More and more folks are seeking and finding lucrative alternatives and doing remarkable things. You can too. At the end of the day, life is a Results-Only Work Environment.

If you're interested in learning more, I'll be interviewing Eric, Jessica, Cammy, and Ryan at the upcoming Startup & Tech Mixer on August 8th in San Francisco. I'll have some books on hand to sign too. It fills up fast and once the tickets are gone, they're gone. So register here today.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I do

I used to not believe in marriage. It always seemed to be a silly institution established by out-of-date religious organizations and later co-opted by secular governments. Why would a piece of legal paperwork affect the kind of relationship you have with your partner? It certainly increases your risk profile for that relationship ever going south but outside of that, what's the point? Taxes, perhaps? In the US, it can simplify filing with the IRS. It all seemed hopelessly banal, a far cry from champagne and kisses.

But then 2014 came along. We have seven friends getting married this year (i.e. seven couples, fourteen people). That's a LOT of weddings. On top of that, we got married. Twice.

Wedding #1
Our first wedding was up in the hills east of Oakland in a gorgeous redwood grove. We wanted to highlight just the things we really care about. Two longtime family friends played live music as the guests filtered into the park. My mum and aunt who works at a nursery literally walked around Berkeley and Oakland and illicitly snipped flowers and greenery from people's yards for decorations (ninja bouquets!). A fantastic hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint from sketchy East Oakland catered with the best damn tacos ever along with favorites like guac and horchata. Our dear friend officiated the ceremony, another friend's dog was the ring-bearer, and the rest of the afternoon was packed with lawn darts, Suzie Sticks, beer pong, and kubb. Guests signed Jenga pieces instead of a guestbook. On the whole, a fabulous day the park.

Wedding #2
But like more and more couples now a days, our families span continents. My dad's Dutch, my mum's Canadian, and my extended family is scattershot all over the place. Drea's from Colombia and most of her family lives in Cali. So, of course, we wanted to do a second wedding in South America. It ended up just as fantastic and completely different. Everyone gathered on beautiful Lake Calima up in the mountains outside of Cali in Southern Colombia. Another family friend officiated the brief ceremony (I had to brush up my español). Then we dined on an exquisite array of Colombian delicacies, danced the night away to a live salsa band, planted a tree, watched Colombia decimate Uruguay in the World Cup and then jumped in the pool fully clothed to celebrate the win.

From there we took off on our Colombian honeymoon. We started by exploring the coffee growing region and Nevados National Park with our immediate families and ten friends who had flown in from overseas. Then Drea and I took off to the northern coast of Colombia where we spent a sweltering four days trekking out to The Lost City in the middle of the rainforest in the remote Sierra Nevada mountain range. From there, we stayed at a beautiful little boutique hotel and hiked through Tayrona National Park, a series of spectacular connected Caribbean beaches. Then we were off to San Gil, north of Bogota, where we rafted unbelievable Class V rapids, downhill mountain biked the Andes, walked the historic Camino Real, and paraglided the gargantuan Chicamocha Canyon. Packed with adventure, just how we like it.

During the 7 hour delay on our the flight back to California, we finally had some time to reflect. The entire experience had really changed and shaped us. We had gone into it casually. We would often say, "it'll be super low key, just a fun party." It did turn out to be a fun party. It also turned out to be low key. It didn't turn out to be "just."It was truly humbling to look out at the people that had assembled for both occasions and see so many friends and loved ones standing witness to the event. Both our friend-officiants touched our hearts with what they had prepared and making our vows before the group etched them into our souls. Wedding days number one and two have already firmly established themselves on our running list of Best Days Ever. Seeing the hoops that everyone jumped through and the lengths they travelled to attend will inspire us forever.

At the end of the day, marriage isn't an institution. Or at least, that's not the important part. Marriage is a community. It's all the people who make it their business to empower the promise you make to each other. We stood at the center of a little village and the villagers are going to travel with us for the rest of our lives. I used to not believe in marriage. But now, I do.

Nothing says honeymoon like downhill mountain biking.
I'd like to dedicate this post to my beautiful wife and best friend Drea. She's brilliant, gorgeous, and her giggle is dangerously contagious. She's packed with Colombian-grade passion and her love means the world to me. Oh, and if you're a foodie, her blog is awesome.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Paperbacks and Proofreaders

Uncommon Stock launches in paperback! We had to leap over a number of hurdles to get it out the door: beleaguered type-setters, troublesome printing companies, a little retailer known as Amazon, etc. But it's finally here and I'm thrilled to actually be holding the book in my hands, big thanks to FG Press for making it happen. Don't get me wrong, I love ereaders and I think the digital format is great. But there's something really special about holding a physical book. All those trees didn't die in vain.

Signing the very first proof from the printer.
Launching the paperback is the perfect opportunity to close out the Editing a Novel Series. All you would be authors out there now have a complete overview of the editorial lifecycle from first draft to launch day. Well, "complete" may be an overstatement but hopefully you can learn from how I bumbled through the process.

Here's your guide to the Editing a Novel Series:

Beta Readers. These friendly folks are your first defense against sucking. They triage your manuscript for big flaws and help you find your blind spots. Treat them well and you'll learn a lot.

Developmental Editing. After your beta readers have chewed up your writing and spit it back out, it's time to engage a kickass developmental editor. They will help you improve the structure, balance, and pacing of your story (fiction or nonfiction). I found the process invaluable.

Copy Editing. You simply can't do without a good copy editor. They take a manuscript and turn it into something readers might actually enjoy. Em-dashes, serial commas, consistent dialog tags, there are countless details that we take for granted when reading a book that we're not even consciously aware of. Don't you dare skimp on copy editing if you expect others to read your upcoming book.

Once you're done with copy editing, your manuscript is almost ready for game time. You probably already have your cover design in hand. You're working on setting up your different distribution channels. Maybe you're sending off a few preliminary review copies. The end is in sight. More realistically, the beginning is in sight if you're hoping to build a career as a writer!

But nothing will throw off your launch day like someone pointing out that your story starts, "Once upon a dime..." or "In tje beginning..." It can get much worse than that. The 1632 edition of the King James Bible missed a critical word in the 7th commandment and read, "Thou shalt commit adultery."

That's why you need a proofreader. Good proof readers are obsessively meticulous folks who will tease out dozens of errors that you never knew existed even though you've been through the manuscript 657 times. It pays to sweat the small stuff. No reader wants to break their suspension of disbelief because of a goofy formatting mistake. Those are the easiest things to fix and they make an unduly large impact on how easy it is to enjoy your book.

Fried chicken and waffles... and books!
It should be as easy as possible to enjoy your book. Thousands of titles are released every day and readers have limited time and an impossibly large pool of books to choose from. My goal is to delight my readers (i.e. you) in every way I can think of and make their day as often as possible. That includes checking for spelling errors.

But you want to know a little secret? Even the best proofreader will inevitably miss things. Once Uncommon Stock was released, readers immediately began reaching out to me with corrections. For example, a carabiner is a rock climbing device but a carabineer is a calvary soldier. Oh, and the colorful row houses you see en route to San Francisco from the airport are not Victorians.

Books are living things and we plan to make constant updates to Uncommon Stock with corrections and more. You guys are as much a part of the process of crafting it into the best story it can be as any professional editor.

So when you turn the last page of the beautiful new paperback, reach out and let me know all the little tidbits you find along the way and share your thoughts on the book in an Amazon review. There is always opportunity for improvement and you guys are the people I'm writing for.

Friday, May 30, 2014

How to kill a dragon

Last month my friend Brian hung himself from a tree on a beach in Hawaii. His best friend called to relay the news and suddenly I felt empty. Not a Nirvana kind of emptiness. Not at all. The news simply gave my emotions the excuse they needed to flee into whatever compartment they keep ready for times like this.

Brian and I met in grad school so I passed the news along to our program and to many of the alumni who knew him. I was surprised by some of the responses. Some broke down into tears, some denied that this could be true and questioned my source, some were enraged because Brian hadn't reached out to them for support. Everyone reacts in their own way.

Those in denial had reason to be. Brian excelled. He was an academic star, travelled the world, had a packed social life, and was doing exciting research on the impact of technology on women in the developing world. We spent many happy days hiking and rock climbing together. To all appearances, he was healthy, hearty, and happy. Who would believe he could kill himself?

Those that were angry had reason to be. His suicide didn't just leave behind distraught friends. He was a father figure to his two younger siblings (18 and 20 years old) and now they are essentially left to fend for themselves. Even if he was unhappy, how could he leave them on their own?

Those that broke down had reason to as well. Brian survived a difficult childhood and raised his siblings. Their mom died a few years ago from an aggressive form of blood cancer. His dad was never in the picture. The detectives in Hawaii turned over his journals after his death. They reveal that although Brian was outwardly happy, inside he was tormented beyond belief with paranoia, fear, and self-doubt.

The first half of 2014 has been a whirlwind. We heard about Brian the day after returning from a wonderful wedding of two close friends in Mexico. Drea ramped into her new job in San Francisco. We bought, renovated, and moved into a house in Oakland. I released my first novel. Our dear friend's visa was revoked because of a careless mistake by her employer, risking the loss of years of advanced genetics research. Her friend's toddler developed blood cancer. One of the companies I advise raised a successful Series B financing round. The tragic shooting at UCSB (my alma mater) shocked the world. I discovered the joy of roasting my own coffee. A close friend and mentor was diagnosed with brain cancer and had to get surgery immediately. I married the love of my life, Drea, last weekend in a redwood grove.

We've heard similar stories from many others. Hell, our friend who's an accomplished therapist said that for the first time in her life she's been talking to yoga teachers whose students blow up and throw chairs at them!

I'm not sure what's in the air but I do know what it means: this is the season of being there for each other. Drea and I recently went hiking on one of the trails we had conquered with Brian months before. More than anything else, his suicide was confusing. Why would he have gone to such an extreme? What could be done to help prevent future tragedies? We discussed the dire state of our nation's mental health system and any other take-aways we could work out.

The stigma around depression is insidious. Depression is so difficult to wrestle with because it blurs the lines between temporary mood and chronic illness, it makes friends uncomfortable and frustrates confidantes, it makes those who suffer self-conscious about telling others about it. I told Drea about how I had been moved by Brad Feld's candid writing on his own struggles with depression. By sharing the struggle with family, friends, and the public, this kind of transparency empowers others to open up about their own issues. Honesty takes serious guts. Overcoming the emotional barriers to admit and explore something that's taboo is inspiring.

Our close friend Derek told us a story last week. His six year old grandson was visiting and they were exploring the basement together. He pointed to the door on the left, "What's in there grandpa?"

"Lot's of canned foods and supplies for the kitchen," said Derek.

The grandson pointed to the door ahead of them, "What's in there grandpa?"

"Oh, those are all your grandmothers files, nothing too exciting," said Derek.

The grandson pointed to the door on the right, "What's in there grandpa?"

"I don't know," responded Derek, entirely truthfully. "I have no idea. Maybe dragons?"

"Dragons!" said the grandson, eyes lighting up. "Get me a broomstick!"


"A broomstick!"

After a quick search, Derek returned with a broomstick and handed it to the grandson.

"What are you going to do?" asked Derek.

"You're going to open the door," said the grandson. "And then I'll run in there and see what happens. Okay, go!"

Derek complied and the grandson rushed headlong into the dark room, smashing everything right and left. After a few seconds of commotion, grandpa hit the light switch, hoping that nothing too valuable or dangerous had been shattered. The light revealed the grandson stomping his foot into the floor with enthusiasm.

"What are you doing?" asked Derek.

"I'm killing the dragon, grandpa!" he said.

"But I don't see it," said Derek.

"You're silly, grandpa," said the grandson. "Don't you know how to kill dragons? If you run away from them they get bigger and bigger and you'll never escape. But if you charge them right away and face them down they get smaller and smaller until they disappear. I just squished it."

Brian's suicide shook us to our core. The Great Whirlwind of 2014 swept us off our feet. But everything that's happened this year, good and bad, has highlighted one thing: the most important thing is to be there for our loved ones. In the wake of Brian's death, an incredible community has emerged sharing stories, pictures, and help. We put together a GoFundMe fund to support his siblings and celebrate his life (all contributions are deeply appreciated). With honesty in our hearts and friends at our sides, we are all equipped to face down the dragon.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Do what matters

It's so damn easy to do things that don't matter. Inboxes grow to Godzilla proportions. Emails ferment into a slush pile of guilt and loose ends. Social media gushes content like a neighborhood full of broken fire hydrants. Happy hours and meetups whiz by like falling leafs in an autumn wind. Oh, and then there's laundry. The buzz is so seductive, so intoxicating, that it can suck away minutes, hours, days of your life. All it leaves behind are the skeletal vestiges of forgotten dreams.

Most people have a very short to-do list of things that really matter. Olympic athletes train to push the limits of their bodies. Doctors save lives. Sales people close deals. Inventors tinker. Here's my list:
  1. Craft stories worth reading. Write the sequel to Uncommon Stock. Publish posts that move the needle. Delight readers. Become a better storyteller.
  2. Help others excel. Accelerate my clients to radical success. Support creative projects. Help out friends in need. Improve people's lives. Engage with and inspire those around me.
  3. Live an interesting life. Cultivate community and serendipity. Spend time with loved ones. Pursue adventure in all forms.
Too often, I find myself messing around on Twitter or Gmail. I take meetings that fill my schedule without advancing the ball. I let calls interrupt my creative time. I allow distractions to dictate my day.

Doing what matters isn't just satisfying. When you do what matters the results speak for themselves. They become evergreen accomplishments, milestones that you and others refer to for years. When you do what matters, you become a center of gravity for excellence. Opportunities seek you out instead of the other way around. 

If I'm not doing at least one of the things on my list, I'm not achieving my full potential. What's on your list? I've worked hard to keep this post short so that when you finish this sentence, you can go do what matters.