Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Open Letter to SOPA Supporters

I've been thinking a lot about SOPA this week. I even watched some of the hearings which was really discouraging. If you're not up-to-speed, watch this 4 minute video:

Or, if you want a funnier version, watch this video by The Colbert Report.

I read a post by Dave Delaney this morning which links to Seth Godin's list of corporations, lawyers and boards who want to break the Internet. As I read through that list, I started to get really fired up. You should contact your representatives about this. But how about taking it a step further? How about contacting the companies directly responsible? Here's my open letter to them. If you agree, please send it along to them or create your own. As always, please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Dear Media Conglomerate:

What is your legacy worth to you? What do you believe about freedom? Please don't let short-sighted greed destroy both.

Your lobbying and support of Protect IP and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a sad and desperate move. I used to think this legislation was about piracy. Now I think it's about control. Old media is passing away. New media will not be centrally managed. You were born in an era where creators of art needed publishers to survive. Today, those creators are the publishers. Just this week a comedian made over $500,000 in 4 days on his own. You weren't needed. Your control over media selection and distribution is a thing of the past.

The free-market economy (which you have benefited so greatly from) only works when entities are allowed to be born while others adapt, pivot or die. Just like Blockbuster and Barnes and Noble, you're at a crossroads. You have to adjust in order to survive. By that's not the direction you're going, is it? Instead of playing fair and adjusting your business to serve the changing needs of your customers, you're trying to change the rules. You incentivize government staff members with cushy jobs to draft legislation in your favor. You are spending money to create a system which gives a scary amount of control to the government (and those with a strong team of lawyers). Doesn't that go against the ideals of our founding fathers? How is that not corruption? Do you think small businesses like mine can afford to police our servers or risk being shut down because of one criminal? Do you really expect us to put our trust and the welfare of our families and customers in the proper interpretation of this vaguely worded bill?

I watched some of the hearings this week and it was almost embarrassing. Some of the biggest supporters said things like "I'm not a nerd" and "I don't understand all the technical details." When faced with clear concerns from expert nerds who do understand the details, they could not give a concise response. It's almost like they are pushing this bill forward as quickly as possible because of some other agenda or force behind the scenes.

Could that be you?

Is piracy a problem? Yes. Are there ways to solve it using the free-market economy and not arm-twisting our government officials to pass legislation they don't understand? Yes. Look at how much the music industry has changed in the last 5 years. Delivering products in the way customers want will help the piracy issue. Prosecuting criminals will also help. It's naive and irresponsible of you or the government to think this legislation will fix the problem. Hackers and geeks understand this stuff way better than you ever will, and they will always find a work around to do the evil things they've pre-determined to do. What we can do is arrest them for breaking existing laws and use them as public examples of thieves stealing from artists.

Please, understand the long-term affects of what you're doing here. It's a scary place to see your control over something slip away. Show us your integrity by rising above that fear and adapting to the new realities of media distribution. Don't erode our freedom. Don't destroy your legacy in our minds. How can we do business with you if it costs us our freedom?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How Living on a Boat for Two Years Shaped My Life

Edit 2016-08-25: this post now lives on Steemit! Join up and give it an upvote. Thanks!

I have concerns about our culture and its need for "comfort" above all else. Entitlement is running rampant. How are we building character?
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
Romans 5:3-4
Adventures - my home in 1994
When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents ran into financial trouble and we had to sell our house and move on to a 48-foot sailboat named Adventures. Sounds exotic, but it was anything but. We were out on a mooring and had a nasty El Niño that year. I can remember the rain soaking me to my socks while picking up family members at the dock via our dingy. You could say we were early adopters though, since we were the only ones I knew who had pagers. To get home, we had to drop a quarter in the 15th street pay phone, send a code of "15", and hope whoever we paged wasn't taking a nap.

There were 5 of us on board. My brother was off to college, my sister and I were two years apart and my little brother (11 years younger) was there along with my parents. We didn't have much money and sometimes used the oven to heat the boat. I got used to reading and doing homework by oil lamp. I'll never forget the cold showers. By a sick twist of fate, I also broke my arm in half that year (I still have two plates and 11 screws in there). We had no TV and little entertainment. Prior to 1995, I hated reading. But that summer I started with Tom Clancy novels and the Dark Tower series and ended up reading 13 books. I found a love for reading that has served me to this day.

I learned how to make due with what I have. I learned some of the true values of life. One Christmas on that boat, having no money, we all wrote each other letters detailing how much we love, respect and appreciate one another. To this day, that was one of the best Christmas I've ever had.

Real life, the love you have for family and friends, doesn't change whether you are with or without money. What does change (if you let it) is your character and your sense of entitlement.

That's a lesson I could only learn having been with money and without it. True character can't be bought or borrowed. It has to be earned via the experiences of life. Don't complain about your circumstances. Instead, look for opportunities to implement perseverance. Take note of the character you're building and ask yourself if it could be built any other way.

You can only know what you're made of when you're truly in the fire. Don't jump out too quickly. Comfort isn't always worth the price you'll pay in the long run to miss out on the character you need.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Story of a Self-Replicating Post

We need to do away with the term "go viral" and replace it with something else. I want to encourage people, not give them a cold.

If you're into social media, you've probably read a bunch of blogs about how to write something that "goes viral" and you may have actually tried it. Did it work? Chances are, it didn't. I've often thought if I could just craft the perfect Tweet, I'd get hundreds of RTs and everyone would think I was... significant? I think that's what I was going for, but that's a different post for another time.

I realized this week, there is a lot more that goes into it than just the content. Take Sunday's post on Klout, for example. I thought it was a good post but I didn't get any retweets about it when I published it. Afterwards, I tried an experiment to inject myself into some relevant conversations by searching for Klout on Google+ and contributing some comments. Two of the posts I found were on a site called In order to comment, I had to make an account. Later I noticed you could add your blog RSS feed so I did that, updated my profile and went to bed.

Monday morning I started seeing some tweets about my post... but they weren't going to my blog, they were pointing to my article on Social Media Today! I was so stoked! I had been published. Monday and Tuesday of this week were so much fun. As of this writing, there are over 1,360 views and 360+ tweets on the article in less than three days! That may not be "self-replicating" to you, but for me that's the closest thing I've ever done.

How did it happen?

We've already established it wasn't just the content. Few people know about my blog, so positioning is important. Social Media Today (I've discovered) has a pretty loyal following of people that trust their content and want to share it. Granted, the content was relevant and did tie into some important emotions around trust, self-worth and a sense of identity... but remember, the content itself didn't cause it to spread. It was more than that. It was also timing and luck.

There's a lot of buzz about Klout right now. Did I try to "jump on that bandwagon" like many of the "go viral" posts suggest? Honestly, I didn't. I had once tweeted a picture of my Klout score dropping and when I noticed it jump up again I snapped another shot and thought, huh, that would be interesting to blog about.

That was it: positioning, timing and dumb luck.

Are there professionals who can bust out incredible content everyone needs to share every time? Maybe. Seth and Simon come to mind, but they have an established brand to lean on. There may be some tricks to it, but I honestly don't think anyone has it fully figured out. Who can say for sure what's going to get shared?

So moving along with our story, I asked a friend if I should reply to everyone who shared my post and thank them (which I try to always do for this blog). She told me how when her guest post went huge, she did thank as many people as possible. I work for myself and I can make the time, so I thought... what the heck. How long could it take?

Today I spent hours individually thanking over 200 people on Twitter.

Was it a good use of my time? Maybe not. I've got a company to help run, a team to lead and customers to serve. But I also thought, how many other opportunities will I have to reach out to hundreds of people on Twitter and thank them? I used a search tool, organized all the names in a spreadsheet (because I'm a nerd), and started thanking them one at a time.

It was time consuming but I think it was valuable because I learned more about Twitter. I've been learning a lot about Twitter lately because I want to better understand social media and how more people can be served by my business through it.

You may find some of my observations today amusing:
  • Some people tweet way too much without saying anything.
  • Resharing Mashable is not a social activity.
  • Your Twitter feed should be more than an RSS feed. Tell me what you think.
  • If you call yourself a social media coach and you're not "social" online, you're doing it wrong, and you're leading people nowhere.

Beyond what I learned, I also grew and stretched. I had some great conversations via Twitter extending the ideas already discussed. I also got some new followers. Most importantly, people encouraged me to keep writing. I got a sense that my ideas mattered to real people and they thanked me for writing them.

At the end of the day, that's what causes something to get shared. Someone has to care about it.

Some comments I'd love to see below:

What's a better term than "go viral"?
Have you ever had a post self-replicate? What was it like for you (and can you share the post with us)?
Do you feel some people are missing the "social" part of social media and just using it as an RSS feed?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Don't Trust Klout

There was a lot of hubbub on the interwebs when Klout recently changed their scoring algorithm to make things more accurate. The problem is, they still haven't figured it out and according to this ZDNET article describing the craziness, your score does actually matter for your career and possibly the level of customer service you receive.

Since I first heard about Klout, I've been worried people may use it as a sort of online "credit score." I worked for Dave Ramsey for almost 4 years and completely agree with his opinion on the "I-love-debt score". Unfortunately, people still use credit scores like they matter.

Your Klout score really doesn't measure how good of a "friend" you are or how healthy your online relationships are. Much like a credit score, this "score" isn't really trustworthy and doesn't really matter. But it will be used like it does.

So why is that a problem? Like the author of the ZDNET article above, my score (and probably yours as well) can get screwed up without a moment's notice. If people make decisions based off that score because they trust it, where does that leave us? I changed nothing in my online activity and consistently saw my score tanking:

For a while I figured the new algorithm thought I was "doing it wrong." I was a little curious about no Google+ activity showing up for my account and confused because I hadn't changed anything. Prior to the algorithm changing, my score was consistently going up.

Then all of sudden this happened:

I'm still not seeing any Google+ stats, but how come I'm "doing it right" again? That's obviously not the case and to Klout's credit, they are up front about their issues:

That's all from last week alone. As it stands right now, I just can't trust the score. More and more systems are integrating with Klout but if the number can't be trusted, is that a good thing? Twimbow, for example, has it conveniently available every time you view someone's profile:

So am I Klout basher? No, not at all. If I didn't think it was important, I wouldn't waste time blogging about it. Klout has taught me a lot about Twitter and social media in general, but they still have a lot of work to do. For example, their "influential topics" is laughably broken. They are now trying to get users to do the work the computers are failing at by giving each other "+K". I think that's a good idea, but please don't share all of them with your Twitter stream. That gets annoying really quickly.


Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
Believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of.
noun.  confidence - faith - credit - reliance - belief
verb.  believe - confide - rely - credit - hope

My point here is that the score can't be trusted. Don't let it turn into a credit score. If you want to know how well you're doing with social media, count the number of smiles and laughs you have between friends. Count how many times a conversation goes from online to offline and back again via your posts.

If your score is low, don't be discouraged. Dave Ramsey's credit score is 0 and he's perfectly OK with that. Learn what you can from it, but don't let it determine your social value online. Klout claims to measure your influence online. It simply can't do that today and so for now, by the definition, I don't trust it.

What do you think? Can Klout be trusted? Does "scoring" social media influence have any value?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Blogging Is the Mental Projection of Your Digital Self

I read a great blog post recently which uses Simon Sinek's Start with Why idea (check out this Ted Talk if you haven't already) and applies it to blogging. Stanford Smith, the author, challenged readers to comment on why they blog. Since I'm fairly new to treating this blog more seriously (can I even say that while being hosted on blogspot?), I was happy to at least have an answer:

I blog to encourage others.

But it's more than that... I blog because it's an extension of who I am. Like The Matrix, it's the mental projection of my digital self. In real life, when I hang out with some people we discuss world view, faith, belief, marriage, parenting and relationships. With others we talk about e-commerce, the latest technology trends, entrepreneurship and working from home. In all those situations, I want to encourage others because that's who I am and who I want to be.

My friend Kenny tweeted this the other day and I'm still stoked about it. It's one thing to think you're an encouragement, but it means a lot more coming from someone else. But I'm not always an encouragement. In fact, I've hurt many of my friends deeply because of my passion and lack of wisdom in situations where I think a bulldozer is needed but a scalpel or just a listening ear would have been better. I'm still learning and this blog is part of that process.

This blog is part of my why. I want people to live life on purpose. I want to encourage them to find why they were born and go after that purpose with everything they have. If telling my story along the way helps people do that, then I'll keep telling my story to whoever will listen.

In this blog you'll see me writing about things I'd probably talk about if we were having lunch together. As best as I can accomplish it, this blog is a representation of who I am. You may disagree with my ideas but that doesn't mean we can't learn from each other.

Do you have a personal blog? If so, share a link and let us know what your why is. Is your blog an accurate representation of who you are?

As always, I appreciate your other thoughts because your ideas help me grow.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How $1,100 in Fraudulent Charges Encouraged Me

I was recently surprised by a "please see attendant" message on the gas pump after swiping my debit card. What the...? I had just used it for lunch the day before. I went home, checked my online activity and everything looked fine. My bank was closed for Veteran's Day so I couldn't call anyone to figure out what was going on.

The next day it was all too clear what had happened.

22 transactions from an iTunes store in Luxembourg for $99.99 each along with one for $1 were all pending on my account. I have to pause a moment and tell you how thankful I am for having worked for and learned from Dave Ramsey. We spent years paying down debt and building an emergency fund so I can honestly say my wife and I felt no stress at all in that moment. For 90% of my life, seeing $2,200 of pending transactions would have caused a major freak out. Financial peace is a real thing and it's awesome.

Ok, back to the story...

First thing Monday morning I called the bank, who directed me to call Apple, who said they need a charge back request, which can't happen until the transactions actually post to the account. By Tuesday about $1,100 worth of transactions cleared and the rest were rejected. Wednesday afternoon was spent at the bank. After almost an inch of paperwork and the police report I had to file just to get the process started, I finally had a charge back in process (the money was refunded less than a week later).

A week or so later, I got an email from saying their site had been hacked and payment card information was compromised. Well there you go.

So how could this experience possibly be an encouragement to me?

I was encouraged because it reminded me why I care so much about, and have spent years of my life working on, security. At, we're almost fanatical about it. We spend a large portion of our revenue constantly improving our systems and ensuring we're with one of the most secure hosting facilities available. We've done extensive penetration testing and we're finishing up our audit (last week) to become a PCI Level 1 Service Provider. Are we invincible? No. No one is. But we've spent years and more money than I want to say taking this issue very, very seriously.

If you run a business that processes payment information (or you're thinking of starting one), please, do yourself a favor and read our wiki page about PCI DSS. If you don't treat this seriously, it can destroy your business. The fines alone can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the damage it does to your brand and your reputation.

I'm not mad at Gary Vaynerchuck or at Wine Library. Their staff is going through hell right now and they are doing a great job, including a personal phone call I received after replying to their email. What I am upset about is that this didn't need to happen. They are good at wine. It's what they do. They should have left the e-commerce security to professionals because it's what we do. Having an in house team wasn't enough in this case.

If you're building an online business, please do your homework. Know the full costs and risks involved with using a hosted or self hosted solution. If you don't use FoxyCart, find another secure hosted solution or use tokenization so payment card data is never stored (which, I'm happy to say, Wine Library's new website takes advantage of). Another option is to offload everything to PayPal or Google Checkout. Don't take these risks on yourself unless you have a team of people dedicated to security.

I now have personal experience with the drama created when a payment system isn't as secure as it should be. It's really frustrating. I'm encouraged because I believe the business we've built will spare hundreds of thousands of people from experiencing what I went through.

Your customers deserve to trust you with their payment information. Don't let them down.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How to Make an Entrepreneur Mad:

Edit: 8/24/16 a version of this post now lives on Steemit

Demonstrate an entitlement attitude.

That is the quickest way to frustrate an entrepreneur.

Every successful entrepreneur I've ever met believes nothing is owed to them. They believe in personal responsibility and making things happen. They believe an idea, hard work and perseverance can accomplish anything and, more importantly, nothing can stop them. They believe everything it takes to succeed is already in their hands or they are actively executing a plan to obtain whatever is missing.

They don't believe in hand outs.
They will not let themselves be victimized.
They don't make excuses.
They don't feel entitled to anything by anyone.

But what about the entitlement mentality of the "kids these days?" I know, I know, that sounds like a question our parents would have asked... But it is worth talking about. Are we becoming more and more entitled as a country? What will that do to our culture in the generations to come?

I feel like we need frontiersman training. Buy an ax, a gun and find some wilderness. Now go build a home and provide for your family. That's part of the foundational thinking of this country and I'm afraid we're losing it. We are a nation of innovators, but we'll only stay that way if we train ourselves to drop the entitlement mentality and go build something.

What are you building?
Are you waiting for something and if so, why?

Monday, November 07, 2011

How I Made Twitter Fun After Ignoring It for Four Years

140 characters. Couldn't be simpler, right?

Wrong. Or maybe I'm just really dumb. Or both.

When I first signed up for Twitter in 2007, I seriously didn't get it. I thought it was stupid and didn't use it. Much later I found TweetDeck, and some things started to make sense. It became fun, friendships formed, and now it's a daily source of humor, education and joy. This post is about what changed.

If you're looking for an expert's perspective on how to use Twitter, you're in the wrong place. This is less of a "guide for Twitter newbies" and more of a "Twitter newbie's experience making it not suck" after about four months of active learning.
Me, Ignoring Twitter for Four Years

Twitter is an ecosystem; a virtual world of rules, resources, etiquette, style, humor and friendships. Learning how to use it can be overwhelming, kind of like finding a seat at the lunch table on the first day of school.

But it's also a lot of fun.

Here's what I figured out. I hope it helps you also:

Find a Tool You Like
I started with TweetDeck (which I still use on my mobile), but now I'm using Twimbow which I love. Hootsuite is also really popular.

Start Local
Connect with people at conferences and meetups in your area, then Google their name and location later to say hello (if you didn't already grab a card with a Twitter handle). It's amazing how you can enhance real relationships by throwing around ideas on Twitter. The next time you hang out, you'll already have things to talk about.

Start With People You Know "IRL"
Invite someone to lunch and get to know them personally as you begin your Twitter relationship. Their tweets will mean so much more to you now that you've met them in real life.

Reply Often
Figuring this one thing out changed everything for me: only people who follow both you and the person you're replying to will see your reply. So go for it! Interact with people, tell them how you feel and what you think. Encourage them, laugh with them, tell them you appreciate them. You won't be flooding all of your followers so don't hold back.

Join a Conversation
See a good conversation between friends? Jump in! Twitter is like a party and if your friends were chatting up one of your favorite topics at a party, you'd jump in also. The trick here is to contribute something worthwhile. Don't be that awkward party-goer who says, "HEY GUYS!!!" just a little too excitedly.

Use Twitter Lists
I included this because everyone tells me they are key. Honestly, I'm still figuring out the best way to use them, though I have setup a bunch of private ones. I told you I was a newbie.

Set Up Some Searches
Find a few conference speakers you really enjoy (preferably from your local BarCamp) and set up some searches using their Twitter handle. That's a really great way to learn quickly because you'll see how they reply and interact with their followers and how those followers respond.

Should You Follow Back or Not?
This discussion may be older than Calvinism vs. Arminianism... There are strong opinions on both sides, but I think #TeamFollowBack is a mistake. Who you follow defines the value you gain from the network. Choose wisely. Don't be sad if someone unfollows you and don't feel bad about unfollowing someone who isn't making your stream awesome. If you don't agree, leave a comment and let's chat, but first read these blog posts from Michael Hyatt and Chris Brogan.

Is It OK to Automate / Schedule Tweets?
Here's another big discussion with passionate opinions on both sides. As a general rule, automation seems to be highly frowned upon. That includes automated direct messages when someone follows you or auto responding to keywords. Scheduled tweets, on the other hand, seem to be loved by some and ridiculed by others. As with everything else in this post, I'm still learning, but I've settled into using bufferapp to only schedule links to blogs and resources. Everything else, I think, should be part of a real time conversation.

So now what?
  • Wondering what to tweet? Think useful, encouraging, funny, inspiring, interesting, personal, unique, thankful, helpful, educational and fun.
  • Share links to what you're reading and what you like.
  • Retweet your friends when you get that, "I wish I came up with that!" feeling or to help them spread the word.
  • Proof read your tweets. Twice. Then read them again. Look for any possible double meanings you didn't intend and reword your tweet around them.
  • Leave room for comments or old school retweets (120 chars is a good length to aim for). I used to tweet right at 140 characters every time which caused any retweets to look like a 13-year-old's text-message-version of my original tweet: "luv u! k thnx bye."
  • I've already talked about not claiming your own awesomeness so I won't elaborate here. Just don't do it.
Ultimately, it's all about communication and relationships. Use common sense. A good rule of thumb is: Would this be annoying in real life? It'll probably be annoying on Twitter also.

Be friendly. Be humble. Be yourself.

Most of all, don't forget your first mention and your first retweet. Think about how fun it was. Keep that feeling, share it with others and don't expect it all the time. I never want to get to a place where it takes 5 retweets to feel as good as 1 retweet does now. If someone likes something I said enough to share it with their friends, that's an awesome compliment! I never want to take that for granted.

Want to learn Twitter together? Give me a follow and a reason to follow back.

Here are some friends I really appreciate who have taught me a lot about Twitter: @kennysilva @travisro @jwd2a @kacythedude @jwidmer @lauraclick @joey_strawn @tylerlclark

Here are some posts about using Twitter from people who actually know what they are talking about:

Here are some more resources I've found interesting as part of my Twitter newbie journey: (lots of opinions on this also, but it helped me learn) (Also helped me learn and see progress) (It has Angry Birds built right in! How awesome is that!?!) (I've been using this one for months) (I need to use this more) (Another interesting one I'm still toying with)

What would you add from your first impressions of Twitter?
What other Twitter tools and resources do you find useful?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Real Authenticity Requires Negative Feedback

Right now you have a negative opinion of someone and they don't even know about it.

That's a pretty safe statement to make, because even if you think you don't, you probably do and just don't realize it. We all make small (and large) judgments about the people we meet and the friends we keep. Someone who knows more than I could probably trace it back to an ancient tribal survival instinct or some such thing.

Regardless of why we do it, I'm hoping we can do it better. I want people to be real with the good and the bad all the time. That's true authenticity and it leads to true, meaningful friendships.

Yesterday, I received an incredibly encouraging complement. You can read the whole thing if you want, but in summary it said some nice things about me being a servant and about my future as a successful entrepreneur. I was so encouraged, I wanted to celebrate that feeling with my friends so I tweeted about it. I wasn't claiming my own awesomeness, but genuinely excited about something significant that I will remember for a long time.

Two quick tangents: I love how Cal Evans did his Friday Follow. He started with the why. Please, emulate that. Don't just tweet a bunch of names. Secondly, I think it's interesting how we celebrate ourselves in some situations (wedding, graduation, birthday, etc) but at other times the same, "Hey look at me!" attitude is kind of sad and smells of insecurity. Hopefully I'll get a pass for my tweet (and this blog post).

So, back to my story... This complement was from a relatively new friendship so I could have written it off. Instead, I received it and was encouraged further by a retweet from Bill Lloyd, someone I deeply respect and have worked with for 6 years in both CA and TN. He added: "Couldn't agree more."

Needless to say, I was on cloud nine all day. I still am today. To be known as a person who serves means I'm not completely getting in the way of God using me to help others. It means some of the sharper edges in my personality are softening. It also means I need to be careful:
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. - Luke 6:26
If I only surround myself with people who speak well of me, how will I ever grow? If something about me offends people and I don't have a way to learn from them and change (if appropriate), how many people will I miss the opportunity to serve? (note: I'm talking from a be all things to all men perspective, not a reed blown in the wind perspective)

Here's where you come in.

I want you to click here and take an anonymous two-question survey. If I've ever done anything, said anything, tweeted or blogged anything that bothered you in the slightest, here's your chance to let me know about it with all the safety of anonymity. Go on a rant! It's OK. I asked you to do it.

I need your feedback because I always want to grow and change. I want to serve people who, right now, probably can't stand me and I'm not even sure why. I want to hold on to the encouragements I receive while seeking feedback on how to improve further still. I want connections, acquaintances and friendships that are real and authentic. Since my view is always skewed, I need outside observers.

I need your honest feedback.

If you're bold enough and want to dialogue directly, skip the form and just drop me an email. For more info on the value of trust, authenticity and accurate feedback, I highly recommend The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

So what do you think? Do you want constructive, honest feedback also? Instead of paying who-knows-how-much money on a 360° leadership assessment, you can be up and running with your own form rather quickly. Click documents from your Gmail account (it's 2011, you DO have a Gmail account, right?) and then click Create and select Form. It's really easy from there. Let me know how it goes!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Is He/She the One?

When I was single, I used to get so frustrated at married people who would answer my "How did you know?" question with, "You just know."

I resolved to never answer that way. Ever.

And then I met Corinne. We've been married 7 years now and it's been absolutely incredible. During our courtship (yes, we actually called it that), I struggled with my resolution because I really started to believe she was the one I would spend the rest of my life with and I didn't (at first) have a clear answer why. I knew I had to be sure for myself and in the past there were other girls, why was this one different?

I think I discovered something that might help you understand the, "You just know" answer. It's something I've thought a lot about over the years and after sharing it with a couple single guys last night, I thought it would be worth blogging about.

If you're a Christ follower, here's an exercise for you:

How do you know you're going to heaven?

How do you really, really know? The answer to that question is very similar to the answer about knowing who your spouse is. Your answer my vary, but here's mine:
  1. The Bible
  2. The Holy Spirit
  3. The input of family and friends I respect
  4. Wisdom from spiritual leaders (pastors, mentors, etc)
I trust in what the Bible says about my eternity based on my confession of faith and the fruit in my life (i.e. positive change to be more like Christ). I know the Holy Spirit is speaking to me and directing me, confirming my conviction of faith. The encouragement and perspective from family and friends who's lives I admire is also critical. Finally, input from people who have devoted their life to studying God's word and serving others is invaluable.

That's how I know I'm saved, but it's also how I knew Corinne was to be my wife.

Did I flip open the Bible one day and see our names etched together in a heart? No. But I did see Psalm 37:3-5:
Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
When I read that verse, I knew Corinne was the desire of my heart. I had put in the time to cultivate faithfulness, to give up my desperate "is she the one?" search and trust God. I remember fasting and praying one Saturday before proposing. I had to be sure. The Holy Spirit was with me that day, encouraging me to move forward. It wasn't a deep emotion; I wasn't weeping or singing or anything like that. I just submitted my heart and my will to the Spirit and left everything open to correction. I remember talking with my parents, my family and friends and my pastors. By the time we started dating, no one could convince me otherwise. Corinne was going to be my wife.

I just knew.

If you're single, hopefully this information will help you know too. It's not about an emotion, it's about conviction, truth and faith. It's about you and your best friend and the plan God has for you both.

Single? Are you a mess of emotions looking for the one? Got any questions or comments you need to get out there? If so, leave them below.

Married? How did you "just know"? Did you follow a similar process?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Don't Claim Your Own Awesomeness

No one likes a blowhard. That's not a revelation. It's well documented in the most published book in history:
Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men;  it is better for him to say to you, 'Come up here,' than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.
Proverbs 25:6-7

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.
Proverbs 27:2

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 14:11
My business partner and I recently decided to use the "Co-Founder" title instead of "President" or "CEO." A lot of small companies use "C-level" titles but do they really need chiefs if they aren't yet leading a tribe? Some companies set up huge booths at conferences trying to appear bigger than they are. Others seem to expect more recognition than they receive. Don't get me started about the companies that do this and don't yet have any revenue, let alone profit.

We all seek recognition and significance, but what's the best way to go about it?

Don't pull a Ron Burgundy and expect people to know you're a "big deal." If you have to tell someone you're important, to them, you aren't yet. Let them figure it out on their own. They'll be super excited about the discovery. Same idea for retweeting compliments... a few here and there are fun for your friends to celebrate with you. If you overdo it, you come across as insecure.

As for your brand and your company, work your butt off to become known but do it with a phenomenal product and incredible customer service. Instead of expecting people to know who you are (and being disappointed to find out otherwise), see how good it feels to be pleasantly surprised. There have been numerous times over the last few years where I've been at a conference meeting new people and when I answer the "What do you do?" question, I get a super encouraging, "We love FoxyCart!" response.

Just yesterday, Brett and I were walking back to my car after BarCamp Nashville and someone in the parking lot stopped us as we walked up the stairs to say, "Do you guys work for FoxyCart?" (We were rocking our company t-shirts.) We got to meet and be encouraged by Chris from Site Mason. He had just parked and hadn't attended the conference we just sponsored. Brett and I felt like rock stars because we didn't have an expectation that our logo would be recognized by someone on the street.

In summary:
  1. Be humble.
  2. You're not Ron Burgundy. Don't try to convince someone you're a big deal.
  3. Given enough time (and excellent service), your brand will be known for its true value.
  4. Stay focused on serving others and improving your product, not on being recognized.
  5. Set your expectations to be regularly encouraged instead of frustrated. 
The tortoise always beats the hare. Take things slow and steady and by the time you're ready for the big stage, your character will (hopefully) have grown enough to handle it. To be clear: I don't have the answers. I struggle with pride, insecurity and man-pleasing, but I'm learning over time and as I do, I plan to share my thoughts here.

For more great posts on humility, check out Kenny Silva's blog:
How do you feel about humility, significance and building your brand? Please leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter or Google+ to start a conversation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Are Your Running the Heat and the A/C at the Same Time?

I noticed this "for heating only" thermostat recently while attending Journey Church at the Factory in Franklin. It got me thinking, do they ever accidentally run the heater and the air conditioning at the same time?

There is another thermostat across the room (for some reason I took a picture of that also). Two separate systems that, if activated together, could battle each other to see which one could waste more energy and accomplish nothing.

A small inner voice seemed to whisper to me, "Haven't you done the same thing?" It's funny how hard we work to "provide for our family" while at the exact same time denying them the real provision they need: our time and attention. I was so convicted by that little control panel that I snapped a picture and decided to blog a reminder.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about focused intensity for short periods of time. One of Dave Ramsey's 7 baby steps is to get your debt snowball rolling and go after it. Corinne and I paid off a boat load of debt doing exactly that, but the key is focused intensity over a relatively short period of time (generally two years or less). Now I'm not going to go on and on about having "balance" in life, because, well, that's kind of a joke. We all do what we have to do to get things done. The important thing, I think, is to keep in mind the why. Why are we working so hard? Why do we choose to spend time doing the things we're doing?

Are we really living life on purpose?

Ensure your why makes sense and you're not working against yourself. If you build the business you've always dreamed of in the name of "providing for your family" only to find yourself divorced with kids who hate you then you've basically been running the A/C and the heat at the same time. All you'll have to show for it is the bill.

This idea is not only important for your family but also for your company. You have to start with the why and make sure everything else lines up. Simon Sinek has an excellent Ted Talk on starting with why that you should really watch.

What do you think? In what ways are you running the A/C and the heater at the same time?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

First Impressions Part 3: Have a Plan, for Planning's Sake

Five weeks ago, I took the plunge. I left the job I love and became a quitter. This is the last part of a series on my first impressions working for myself. If you haven't already, check out part 1 on working at home with kids and part 2 on managing your time.

This post is about having a plan. You do have a plan, right? Quitting your job and going on your own requires a plan. The thing is... it's not the plan that's important. As Eisenhower famously said, "I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." Corinne and I went over the budget over and over again. Our income was about to be cut in half and we had to know what that would be like. So we maintained two budgets for a few months, running the numbers "as if."

Now that we're on the other side, it's been interesting. For one, I didn't plan on having so many lunch meetings (they rock!). Though a lot of great people have actually bought me lunch (you know who you are, thanks!), I had to adjust things a bit. Having spent more time recently in the budget, I was more familiar with it and knew what changes could be made (such as dropping our wine club... still a bit sad about that one).

Along with the finances, expectations have to be planned out. For example, my business partner knew I'd still be working in the mornings for Dave Ramsey. My wife expected me to spend Saturdays with the family. My son wanted more play time. My teammates needed more communication and feedback on development. Knowing in advance what expectations would exist has helped me adjust to meet them.

Finally, plan your calendar. I never had to use Google Calendar much because my calendar was pretty basic... come home, spend time with the family and get to work. If something else was going on, it was the exception, not the rule. Over the past five weeks I've jumped into all kinds of great events around this city and it's been incredible. I've started to build some new friendships and make some great connections. I had to convince my wife to ditch the day planner and go digital (hooray!), but I wish I had done that sooner. I wish I had planned out some events beforehand and let my wife know which nights she'd have to put the kids to bed by herself.

All in all, it's been fabulous. Probably one of the greatest things I've come to realize is that each night I can plan a different alarm clock time for the next day. I can adjust based on how I feel, how late it is and what my goals are for the next day. I have flexibility, a form of freedom you don't really appreciate until you have it. I'm so very blessed and I can't wait to see what else I have in front of me to learn.

In summary, make sure you have a plan for:
  • Your finances
  • Your expectations
  • Your calendar

Feel free to leave a comment below even if it's just to say hi. It always makes me smile.

If you have any questions about this or any other post here, please feel free to contact me on Twitter or at luke.stokes at

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

First Impressions Part 2: Where Did All My Time Go?

Four weeks ago, I took the plunge. I left the job I love and became a quitter. This is part 2 of a series on my first impressions working for myself. If you have kids, you'll probably enjoy part 1.

Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

Cute, huh? I really like the video. Speaking of getting distracted by videos... this post is about figuring out what the hell happened to all that "extra" time I was supposed to gain by working for myself at home. After all, I was commuting a half hour each way, leading a team of developers, acting as a technical lead and the only store developer. And that was just my day job. After dinner and on Saturdays I'd work my tail off building FoxyCart and put in another 15-25 hours adding up to a 55-65 hour work week.

I should have plenty of extra time now, right? The answer isn't surprising... I still have 24 hours each day, just like I did before. Luckily I started early on tracking every minute of my time working. I use Harvest and I love their "time is money, track it wisely" tag line. This is so, so important. It helps you track progress and understand your strengths, weaknesses and areas where you should hire more help.

Track your time.

It only takes a second to tab over, click a button and move on. Here are some of the categories I use most:
  • Communication, INTERNAL: IM, Email, Project Management, etc.
  • Communication, EXTERNAL: Clients, existing partners, VIPs, emails, IMs, phone, etc.
  • Billing
  • Support: Email
  • Support: Forum
  • Programming
  • Product Management
  • Personal Development

Did you notice that last one? I track that as "non-billable" and found some of my time going there. When I'm being paid by someone else to get things done, I'm working. It's as simple as that. My time spent doing anything else is stealing. If that seems extreme to you, read Dave Ramsey's new book EntreLeadership and you might understand where I'm coming from. Working for myself has changed things, though. I feel liberated to stay connected to Twitter (probably too much) and read a few blogs here and there. I'm loving it!

It didn't take long to realize that my time clock often didn't hit 8 hours by the time I was ready to eat dinner. This confused me until I started taking stock of what really happened that day. Here are some things I learned:
  • Lunch meetings always take at least 2 hours. They take even longer if you're meeting with another entrepreneur who also isn't "on the clock" with a boss. I hadn't planned for that. I didn't factor in the drive time either. I've come out of my shell a bit more and been privileged to attend some great meetups like the Nashville PHP User Group, Geek Breakfast, NashBurger, NashCocktail, 1010, BarCamp's SpeakerUp, etc. not to mention some fantastic one-on-one meetings.
  • Sometimes I'm doing the really important things that I never allowed myself to do. For example, last week after a great lunch meeting downtown, I was able to visit some friends at Vanderbilt hospital whose brand new baby was sick. He's home now and doing much better, but that was an appointment that I was so, so blessed to make. Meetings like that not only build deeper friendships, but they improve my whole quality of life.
  • I was spending more quality time with my family. As I mentioned in part 1, wanting more time with family is probably the number one desire we'll have on our deathbed. Knowing that, let's make up for it now. Eating lunch with my family and putting my 2-year-old son down for his nap (after stories, lying down together, etc) was actually taking 1.5 to 2 hours on some days. As long as I'm willing to get up a little earlier to make up that time, it's well worth it. We also reclaimed our Saturdays and enjoyed a day at Cheeckwood, the zoo and a bunch of other free Mrs. Cheap events.
  • Sometimes life just happens. I've learned to embrace the craziness. For example, Monday and Tuesday of this week I was out with a head cold and my wife had a crazy muscle spasm in her neck (turned out to be something called torticollis). After a few meetings with the chiropractor, Corinne's doing much better but the result was two days of no work because I had to drive her around and take care of the kids (while blowing my nose non-stop). The team took up the slack and life goes on, but it's good to keep in mind these things happen.
So that's where my time went. If you're preparing to make the jump to being self-employed, don't assume you'll have a bunch of free time, you'll just choose to spend your time differently. Be prepared, have a plan and track your time.

Speaking of having a plan, that's what Part 3 is about. As Eisenhower famously said, "I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." I hope you come back to check it out and leave your thoughts.

Where does your time go? Do you track it or am I a little crazy for doing so?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

First Impressions Part 1: Working from Home with Kids

Devon and Aria (July 2011)
Four weeks ago, I took the plunge. I left the job I love and became a quitter. Instead of giving advice as a tried-and-true work-from-home expert, I thought it would be fun to post my first impressions. What surprised me? What did I learn before I had a system in place? How stressful was the transition?

Hopefully this short "First Impressions" series will help others who are about to dive into full-time entrepreneurship and give them a raw perspective on what it's really like.

Devon (December 2010)
Part 1: What's it like working from home with kids?

I've heard different theories on this one. Some say if you have young ones you absolutely have to get an office outside of the house. Others told me to try and make it work for as long as possible. For myself, I grew up with my dad working from home since I was three, so I knew it could be done, I just didn't know what to expect.

Right now, I'm working out of a little desk set up in Aria's room. She's with mommy all day, so that works rather well. This past week, I even tried working in my "normal" place on the recliner in the living room. There's just something about "working" with my feet up that I totally love.

At first Devon couldn't understand why dad was home and not playing with him. Previously, though I was working two jobs, when I was home and he was awake, we were hanging out. Now he was throwing fits on his bad days and on his good days sticking his fingers under the door while saying "fingers? fingers?" over and over again to get my attention.

Someone suggested I get a sign to let him know when I'm in "work mode" and put it on the door. Great advice! I soon realized he already made up his own sign because he would often ask, "Glasses off?" Every time I'd stop working and roughhouse with him, I'd first take my glasses off. That's now his sign.

I could tell more stories, but listing out the things I've learned from my first four weeks may be more helpful to you:
Aria (September 2011)

Devon and Aria (September 2011)
  1. Have a sign to let your kids know when you're working and when you're available to play. This helps with expectations and creates a simple reason why daddy can't play: it's because his glasses are on.
  2. If possible, occasionally take a few minutes, clock out and give them some attention. They will be way happier (which means mom is happier) and you'll have an extra dose of joy to power you through the afternoon. At first they'll be really upset when it's time to go back to work, but that's where #1 can help.
  3. If your wife asks for help with something, take a break and help her. Corinne pretty much never needs any help, so this one is easy for me, but the few times I've pitched in have been well worth the interruption in my flow.
  4. Enjoy yourself! Don't ever feel guilty about taking a few minutes off to spend time with your family. This is why you are living the dream! On your deathbed, no matter what you accomplish, your family will be the only thing you wish you spent more time with.
  5. Keeping #4 in mind... Get to work! Your customers need you to be productive. You have to have a system that keeps you focused. Good headphones are a must, especially when the babies are crying. Sometimes this means you just have to be an ogre and tell your kids you can't play right now. Earlier I mentioned clocking in and out. I'm serious about that. I'll share more in part 2 of this series. If you didn't clock enough hours or reach your goals for the day, consider putting in a bit of time after the kids are down, and you've spent time with your wife. You can also get up earlier the next day and work while everyone is asleep.
I hope this gives you some ideas. Above all, have some fun! One of my great joys is eating lunch with my family and putting my son down for his nap. We read stories, lie down together for a few minutes and it's absolutely wonderful. Lunches take an hour and a half now, but I was losing an hour a day commuting, right? I quickly learned to be careful with that math because the time simply disappears.

Check out Part 2: Where did all my time go?

I'm only four weeks into this and I have a lot to learn. I may come to find some of the ideas above don't work in the long run. What has your experience been? If you know someone who works from home or if you've had the privilege to do so, what advice would you give?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

5 Keys to Preventing Marketers and Developers from Pissing Each Other Off.

For almost three years, I was privileged to lead the web marketing development team (or WMD's as we liked to be called) at the Lampo Group. That provided a unique opportunity to better understand what often trips up communication between development and marketing teams. More often than not, I was the one doing the tripping, so I learned a lot. I shared a few things with some marketing folks over burgers recently and figured it might be helpful to others as well.

Without further ado, here are 5 reminders to keep your marketing and development teams working together smoothly:

  1. Don't let your lack of knowledge for the technology details come across as not valuing them.
    If you say things like "nerd stuff", "geek stuff" and "code magic" with a roll of the eyes or a hint of condescension, it will be picked up on and it will hurt your credibility with the developer team. They may have spent years in school and countless hours researching and learning online to understand the "tech stuff" while others were out doing more socially interesting things. Respect that investment and be sure to communicate how much you value their abilities and the complexity involved.
  2. Don't say things like, "It's just copy/paste, right?"
    80% the same can be very different than 100% the same. It can be like saying, "Remember that Ferrari we had you build last month? We'd like to use it to transport about 40 people at once. What's that you say? A Bus? No, we can just use the Ferrari. It has wheels, an engine and a steering wheel and you already built it. That should be fine." If you ever need a reminder of what's really going on "under the hood" have them show you a few thousands lines of code every once in a while. Just for fun, have them show you how if they mistype even one character the entire thing will no longer compile.
  3. Include the developers when planning out the project.
    Developers are often like artists with a wide range of brush types and paints to work with. Involve them in the process, communicate what your ultimate goals are (not just your immediate ideas for reaching them) and let them work as partners, not order takers. The timelines, the budget, the objectives... those all need to include the development's point of view. For example, if you didn't schedule time for testing and remediation in the project plan, you're probably going to miss the deadline.
  4. Learn what is expected of you and treat it seriously.
    If you're given an admin interface that is confusing or you're having trouble figuring the system out, make sure you let the developers know and ask them to help you learn it. Take notes, write procedures or ask them to make changes but no matter what, don't simply abandon it. Few things frustrate a developer more than building something and then finding out later no one is using it. In my experience, developers love helping people and solving problems. If it doesn't get used, the problem hasn't really been solved which makes them feel like their work wasn't valued.  Or worse, that those making the priority decisions didn't think things through.
  5. Developers are usually very specific.
    If you ask them to do X, Y and Z and assume they will understand that (obviously) 1, 2 and 3 are also needed to complete the project, don't be surprised if you only get the last few letters of the alphabet. Be specific. What you may see as skipping a few annoying, unimportant details a developer may see as a critical lack of planning.
In a nutshell: Respect is the currency of knowledge-workers. Pay well.

  1. Don't assume you're the only one who cares about the user (and, thus, the user experience).
    Most developers like to be arm-chair marketers, but notice how few marketers try to tell you how to optimize that recursive method you've been working on? Bring your opinions and experience but keep in mind there is probably a lot to a marketing campaign that you know nothing about. There may be 20 different plates spinning all at once and, if you happen to see one crash to the floor, give the benefit of the doubt and assume the other 19 plates were more important.  
  2. Develop a deep, genuine respect for your marketing team and communicate it often.
    The marketing team's ability to promote your work pretty much pays for your salary. Don't ever assume they are ignorant or unintelligent. Chances are, they know more than you, just in different areas. For example, they probably understand people better than you. You work with code all day, they work with people all day, that's just the way it is. That means every gesture or comment you make, subconscious though it may be, communicates to them how you really feel. If you don't completely respect what they do or if you don't know how to communicate that respect, it will seriously hinder your ability to work well together.
  3. If you get invited to a brainstorming meeting, GO!
    Yes, you'd rather be coding, but meetings are important. When invited, participate, but don't say things like "can't", "won't", or "not possible". Remember, you're the miracle worker so just about anything is possible given the right budget of time and money. It's your job to let the marketing team know what's reasonable given all the parameters. More often than not you have a solution that is not only faster and cheaper, but it also better meets the needs of the campaign. Also, don't get frustrated if they are bouncing around 10 different ideas before landing on something and needing your input, that's just how they work.
  4. Don't go into the details unless you have to.
    Even then, have some metaphors to explain what you're talking about. I honestly suck at this. It's not uncommon for me to go way overboard with technical details either to stroke my own pride or to say, "see how hard that was?" Usually it's best to have the details on hand and ready, but just communicate the summary in a way that fits the audience: not too watered down so they feel patronized and not too technical so they feel stupid.
  5. You are employed to help generate profit or further the cause, not just write code.
    It's very frustrating for a marketer to hear you missed the deadline because you rewrote the application 3 more times just because the code "didn't feel right" the first time. I'm all about refactoring when it improves performance, security or maintainabilty for constantly changing components, but keep in mind that even 1.0 code released to serve your customers is far better than perfect code no one ever uses.
In a nutshell: Good marketers work their asses off. Give them a break and serve them well. 

Want more on this topic? When thinking about this stuff, I stumbled upon a similar post from 2009 written by Jon Samsel.

This post is already too long and there are way more than 5 things to keep in mind. Got some great ones of your own? Please include a comment!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meeting incredible people, building real friendships: how BarCamp Nashville got me out of my shell

Hello and welcome to my addition to BarCamp Nashville's Blog Tour. Hopefully you've already read Kasey Lawrence's great post followed by Nashville Scooter's recent addition.

It's no secret I'm a geek. I was a geek before it was cool to be a geek (as in, before they were making all the money). After moving to Nashville in 2006, one of my biggest challenges wasn't my anti-social geekdomit was my split focus. I worked for a ministry organization, followed by the Lampo Group (Dave Ramsey's organization), all the while building my own company with my business partner, Brett Florio.

I worked really hard to stay "under the radar" about having a company. I couldn't let everyone know because I was unavailable to help our customers during the day. I chose not to connect with my peers which put me in a self-created shell, locked up tight.

That split focus has recently improved as I've become what Jon Acuff calls a Quitter (but you can read about that story later). What I want to blog about here is how last year's BarCamp brought me out of my shell and into some great relationships.

My BarCamp experience started with a regular meeting of entrepreneurs including Joel Widmer, Kenny Silva and others. Last year Kenny was in charge of obtaining sponsors and, as the master influencer he is, he not only convinced our company to sponsor, but also convinced me to speak. I could already feel my shell starting to crack. With barely enough courage to attend the SpeakerUp, I was honestly feeling way out of my league. How could I consider speaking at an event I've never attended? What about the fact I've never spoken anywhere else?

That night at SpeakerUp I took a big step and wore my FoxyCart t-shirt. Mitch Canter was one of the first people to greet me at the bar and he was not only super friendly, he was actually a fan of our company! Right away, I started feeling more comfortable. The SpeakerUp team was convincing. BarCamp is perfect for people like me. I just needed to get out there and speak.

So day of, who do I see outside? Mitch is again there to greet me with a firm handshake and a big, friendly smile. I'm now thinking, "I know one person here. I might be ok." My session was in the first slot of the day, some of my Dave Ramsey developer team members were there, and I somehow stumbled through my first try at public speaking. Afterwards, I started meeting all kinds of really cool people who had more ecommerce questions. As the day progressed, I met up with Bill Butler who took me under his wing like a little lost puppy and started introducing me to just about everyone. Later I connected with Billy White via his awesome Arduino presentation. I saw Travis Robertson, Justin Davis, Mitch Canter and Joel Widmer throw underwear at the crowd while giving incredible advice about being entrepreneurs. By now, my shell was in pieces on the floor.

I met even more people at the after party including Travis and Justin who, it turns out, were not only FoxyCart fans, but also huge Dave Ramsey fans. That gave me an excuse to set up lunches with them and others over the next few months. Keeping up via Twitter, LAN parties and face-to-face meetings, I started building real relationships that I value so much today. BarCamp was the catalyst for building those relationships and bringing me out of my shell.

This year I'm looking forward to seeing people I've had the privledge to hang out with and learn from like Kacy Maxwell, Joey Strawn, Laura Click, Tyler Clark, Tim Moses, Nathan Hubbard and others. I also hope to build some new relationships with people like Chuck Bryant (who convinced me to write this post), Cal Evans, Kate O'Neill, Ben Ramsey, Jacques Woodcock... I could go on and on. If you're reading this, come find me and say hello on October 15th.

"All this and more!" can be yours too... if you're willing to show up with a smile and a handshake. Life's too short to stay in a shell. Come to BarCamp on October 15th and meet some wicked awesome people who are crazy smart and fun to hang out with. You'll be glad you did.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to hit up Laurie Kalmanson's blog tomorrow for the next stop on the blog tour.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunkmanitu Tanka Owaci!

If you've seen the movie Dances with Wolves, hopefully you're familiar with the emotional scene I'm about to refer to:


Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist have reached the head of the trail leading out of the winter camp. They have just begun to ascend when a voice, calling from afar, brings them to a halt. The sound echoes through the canyons, through the village.


Dances With Wolves...


His pony is jacked up and, as always, Wind In His Hair looks the perfect warrior. But now his face is full of stress as he screams out the message he could not deliver in person.


I am Wind In His Hair...


Everyone in the camp has stopped to listen.


Can you not see that I am your friend?


Dances With Wolves looks ready to crack.


Can you not see that you will always be my friend?

Dances With Wolves lets the unhappy echo of these words fade away before he starts his pony again. We follow for a few yards. Then the call comes a second time. If anything, more urgent than before.


Dances With Wolves...

Dances With Wolves stops. He drops his head painfully as the sound of his own name booms through his head.

I love this scene. It makes me feel something deep in my gut every time. It reminds me that true friendships are the most valuable thing in the world, that they are rare and they are worth fighting for. Professional relationships and acquaintances are great, and I truly cherrish them as well, but true, deep friendships are life-giving. Unfortunately, we often wait until we're in a crisis to discover who our true friends are.

Hopefully you have examples in your life that come to mind. I know I do. Times when my friends have carried me and times when I've done all I can to carry others.

With all our Facebook and Twitter "friends", it's easy for that word to lose meaning. Don't let it. Fight for your friendships. Let those in your life who are important to you know how much you value them. Let them know you are there for them in their moments of crisis. Let others be there for you. The deep richness of life is fully known by sharing it with others.

There's more I could say on this topic, but honestly Simon Sinek said it better. Check out his post on True Friendship.

If you have any thoughts on friendships, please share them below. I'd love to hear them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Be Human, It's Good Business

If you've listened to Chris Brogan, Derek Sivers or Gary Vaynerchuk for more than a month, you already know what I'm about to say (but probably could use the reminder). Today, successful businesses have to be human. They have to be approachable.

I snapped the screen grab to the right because it's a great example. Some guy on Twitter wanted to get in touch with THE Gary Vaynerchuk. Like most of us, he safely assumed unless you're someone important or you know someone important, you have to be introduced to get noticed. Gary's response shows this is no longer the case. The CEO's email address is no longer a company trade secret.

Derek Sivers is another great example. If you haven't read his book, Anything You Want, go buy it. You can read it in an hour and a half. He talks a lot about business being human (funny non-corporate emails, asking customers to buy pizzas for change requests and even including sticks of gum or a squid (?!) in the outgoing package if necessary).

Derek ends his book with this:
"The coolest people I meet are the ones who find me through something I've written. So if you made it this far, please go to and email me to say hello. I get really inspired by people's questions, so feel free to ask me anything, or just tell me what you're working on. I'm glad to help."
"I'm glad to help." He really means it. A couple of those 4,469 emails were to me and I'm nobody important. I get encouraged every time I remember his first reply:

Hi Luke -
Thanks for the GREAT email!  Wow!  Very cool to get to know you more. Sounds like we're kindreds! :-)
You didn't ask for a response, but just wanted to let you know how much I loved your email.
I'll definitely keep in touch. By the way, is this ( also you?
What's your twitter url?

Like Gary and many others, he generally cares and is interested in the people he connects with. He understands how people want to feel validated and important. If Derek Sivers, a man who some say changed the music industry forever, calls me a kindred then maybe I really can be successful. Even the nobodies want to feel like somebody.

Businesses and CEOs have an incredible platform to do exactly thatwhether that means delivering a steak to someone at the airport or just replying to an email to tell them you enjoyed reading their story. It sounds so simple, but it's actually very difficult to do consistently.

When FoxyCart first started, I used to get frustrated with my business partner, Brett Florio, because he spent hours and hours responding to customer support emails and forum posts. I used to think, "Dude, we can't scale that. We have to focus on marketing and sales and the website and, and, and..." Instead of firing off a quick answer to someone's pre-sales question, Brett took a look at the company's website, got an understanding for their product and his responses were usually personal and specific. He not only answered their questions, but he also asked some of his own and often included advice on how to improve their online presence.

He knew long before I did that what he was doing is marketing. A brand is the perception of your service in the mind of the customer and he was willing to build that perception one human at a time.

As we continue to grow and bootstrap this business, I never want to lose that human focus. I know there are only so many hours in the day, but our fans love us and rave about us because, hopefully, they understand how much Luke and Brett care about them. We care about their success. They are not just another cog in someone's profit wheel. They are humans and they want to work with a business made up of other humans caring for their users, validating them and making it known that they are somebody important.

What are you doing to make others feel important? How are you making your business more human?