Lessons Learned from Two Years of Bootstrapping CMX and our Plans for the Future

This is post #3 in my 365 Writing Challenge. Subscribe to follow along.


It was Sunday, November 17th, 2013 when Max Altschuler and I sat down at the W Hotel in SOMA to watch football and discuss an idea for a new conference. A couple hours later, we shook hands and decided that we’re going to give this CMX Summit thing a shot.

I remember being really afraid. I had never run a conference before and had no idea where to begin putting one together. There had also never been a community focused conference at the scale of what I envisioned before. I wasn’t sure if we could pull it off.

Two years later, I couldn’t have possibly imagined how far it would have come. We have now hosted 5 conferences totaling over 1500 attendees, launched our publication that has reached over 130,000 professionals and brought in over half a million dollars in revenue (and a little less than half a million in costs). We’ve done this all completely bootstrapped with a team of 2 (at a time).

Today I’m proud to say the community industry looks significantly different than when we started.

There are more companies investing in community than ever before and community professionals are starting to see their work as part of a larger discipline. The amount of confusion around what community means for business is on the decline. And businesses are generating insane amounts of value for their business and customers through community programs.

We certainly don’t claim responsibility for all of the advancements in the space as we’re just one of many key players, but I’m very confident that the hard work our team put in has had a significant impact on the direction, definition and perception of the community industry.

CMX’s existence certainly hasn’t been with extreme struggles however.

Our first NYC conference almost completely flopped, and we almost lost $50,000. We were able to get it to just over break even by making some big last minute changes and bringing on some last minute partners who went to bat for us when it mattered most. It was one of the scariest times of my entrepreneurial career. CMX being completely bootstrapped, that $50k deficit would have come out of our pockets, put us in debt and probably ended the company. Until a couple months ago, all of my credit cards have been maxed out and I wasn’t taking a salary (I got paid when the company made money).

As a founder and CEO, I’ve found myself tested over and over again in more ways than I’ve ever had before. After one year, my cofounder Max decided to switch his focus to his other company Sales Hacker because it was doing really well and that’s where his real passion is. I fully support his decision Max is still an active advisor for CMX, but I’ve definitely felt his absence. Being a solo-founder has been an incredible weight and a huge learning experience.

In this time, I’ve become acutely aware of my own strengths and weaknesses. As is often the case for early stage CEO’s, my weaknesses can become the strengths and weaknesses of our company. Luckily CMX has had the help of amazing people along the way, namely Carrie Jones who started out contracting for CMX, and has grown to become a true partner and part of the heart of this company. She’s one of the most passionate and driven people I’ve ever worked with. She compliments my weaknesses in many ways, without which CMX would look very different today. I’m incredibly grateful to have her on the CMX team.

With all this,  I wanted to take a minute to reflect on some of the hard lessons learned from challenges I and CMX have faced.

I’ll also share some of our plans for the future at the end of this post.

Let’s dig in…

Lesson 1: Leadership is a Moving Target

Yesterday I wrote about my own ambitions to become a better leader. The tough thing about leadership is the game is always changing. What makes a great leader one day may be completely different the next. Especially as your team grows and your company matures, your expectations as a leader will change.

There are some aspects of leadership that come very natural to me. I’m good at getting people really excited about the community industry and I have my moments of storytelling greatness. Where I struggle is in having a clear plan (I’m more of a freestyle type) and so without a clear plan, it’s hard to have conviction for that plan. Without conviction, you can’t earn respect and leadership is all about respect.

This year our theme will be discipline. Being disciplined in our routines, in our plans and in our conviction to those plans.

When you’re in a leadership position, just remember that the game is always changing and you don’t always have to have all the answers. What’s important is that you’re clear about your plan and your values, and that you have conviction for those values. They’re the one thing that should remain steady.

Lesson 2: Writing your Values Down isn’t Enough

We have a super clear vision and mission at CMX (see here). We reference it constantly and it serves as our north star. We also have a doc of our values, but we haven’t has as much success applying them to our work. I take a lot of inspiration from companies like Buffer and Zappos who live and breathe their values.

They each have a page laying out all of their values, and so that’s what we did too. The thing is, that’s not enough. I think we’ve failed to really integrate our values for two reasons:

  1. Our values sound nice but aren’t really unique to our culture and personality
  2. More importantly, we don’t hold ourselves accountable to applying our values

The first one is a more obvious issue, though apparently it wasn’t obvious enough for us to fix it until now. Simply put, don’t just put words down that sound nice. Choose values that really speak to who you are, what makes you unique, what makes your weird, and paints a picture of the best possible version of your organization.

The second one is where most fail with values. You write them down and they sit there in a google doc, rarely looked at again. How can you make them something that bleeds into everything you do? How do you integrate your values into every decision your team makes, every interaction they have and every product they build?

A few ways we’ll be working to improve this:

  • Actually print them out so you see them every day
  • Specify how to apply your values in your daily activities
  • Ask team members to share how they’re applying the values to their work
  • Review them with every person you interview and revisit them with every employee regularly
  • Give props to your teammates when they exhibit your values

Lesson 3: You Need Deliberate Communication Rituals

Communication is an area we will always be working on improving. I’m a firm believer that communication is the most important part of building a company.

When you fail at communication, you become less efficient, you move slower and you risk negativity going unnoticed.

I’m an extremely open person. I get a rush from being transparent. If you ask me anything I’ll give you an honest and open answer. Because of that, I figured that communication in our company would be good. I could breed a culture of transparency. Wrong…it doesn’t just happen. You need to make communication happen. You need to create a space for it.

I learned this lesson very clearly with the help of my team. Early last year we were all working very hard and I was pretty heads down all the time getting stuff done. The thing is, a lot of the work of the CEO isn’t seen by others. Setting up operations, managing financial docs, taking a lot of meetings with partners…these are all things that take a lot of time for me but my team had NO idea what I was actually doing on a daily basis.

We fixed this in with two processes:

  1. EVERYTHING goes in Asana and anyone on the team can see all the completed and upcoming tasks of other members of the team
  2. Daily updates in Slack where every morning, we share what we’re working on that day and how long each thing will take. We also share when we’re available to be interrupted that day and when we shouldn’t be disturbed

We’ve done other things to improve our communication. Our team does weekly 1-1’s which are focused on giving honest feedback and share our feelings openly. It’s tempting to start talking about projects instead, which happens often, but you have to try to avoid it.

We’ve also started doing team retreats twice a year. I hope that as our company grows, and we get more resources, we can invest more into these kinds of experiences as they’ve proven to be invaluable for team building and keeping the company direction on track.

This is still a work in progress for us. The daily updates are hard to stick to. I learned quickly that if I don’t do it, no one else will. So being disciplined and forming good habits is key for communication.

Creating more communication rituals is going to be a priority for us in 2016. We’re about to start trying this one for showing gratitude.

Lesson 4: Bootstrapping is a Slow Starter

I’m really proud that we’re bootstrapping CMX and that we’ve been making revenue since day one. Having been in the startup grind for 7 years, I’ve had my share of rapid growth startups, raising capital and pursuing the unicorn dream. This time, we’re doing it different.

I still have massive ambitions for CMX to be a fast growing, successful company. The reality is that bootstrapping a company makes it incredibly hard to grow quickly, simply because you can’t hire until you’re making enough money to pay them.

If you raise a million dollar seed round, you can build a core team of 4-6 people pretty quickly. The CMX team has remained at 2 people since we started. We’ve accomplished an incredible amount with such a small team. Of course we’ve had the help of some amazing advisors like Robin Spinks, Hiten Shah, George Arabian and Bastian Vidal, as well as contractors like the Reinventing Events team for conferences and devs and designers we outsource to, but the major bulk of the work done at CMX has had to be done by two people who are getting paid very little.

We’re two years in now and we’re just now getting to the point where we can comfortably hire 1-2 more people. We’re bringing on a few Global Partners next year who will help us fund our initiatives to advance the industry and that will help us give CMX the resources it really needs. Every day I still feel a temptation to go out there and raise more money from investors. Having more capital to play with would make life a lot easier. But it will also limit the kind of company we can build. Just because it’s easy doesn’t make it the right move.

Just know if you want to bootstrap your business, and you don’t have a boatload of your own cash that you can put into it, get ready for a long, slow grind.

 

Looking to the Future of CMX and the Community Industry

Heading into 2016 CMX is the strongest it’s ever been.

Financially we’re becoming more steady with the help of new products and partnerships that are bringing more predictable revenue. Moral is high and we’re planning to make some critical hires in the next couple months to grow the team. The CMX community is growing organically every day, and we’re seeing more members take on leadership positions to bring events to their own cities.

We’ve developed a lot of trust with the community industry and we still have a ways to go. We want to become indispensable to community professionals. Our focus is on creating as much value for them as possible. It drives every decision we make.

Because we’re bootstrapped and not a startup, we’re not expected to grow our profits exponentially, and can focus on growing CMX slowly and specifically. I’m incredibly proud to be building this kind of business. I expect CMX to be around for as long as the community industry exists and to be built on real value, and real revenue.

Now we’re ready to take CMX into the next phase of our long term strategy.

The last two years have been all about building the community. We put the priority on hosting events, building the online community and creating a ton of content for the community industry. We knew that the biggest thing the industry needed was a sense of unity and access to more information.

It’s put us in a good position where most in the industry know and trust us. We don’t take that trust lightly, and serving the community will always be what drives every decision we make.

Now that awareness and understanding of community strategy is increasing we can begin the next phase, establishing community as a discipline.

We already launched our first online training course, which sold out in a week and has a long waiting list. With that validation we’re going to continue to develop the industry’s most comprehensive education and certification program. This will be a huge step in legitimizing the industry and creating a set of standards for community professionals to live by.

In addition to online training, we will be building out our matchmaking program to help companies recruit world-class community talent and formalizing our consulting and workshop offerings to help companies plan and execute a complete community strategy.

Eventually our plan is to develop the technology that community professionals will use every day to be more efficient in their work. I don’t think the industry is quite there yet, but it’s getting there quickly and when it’s ready, we’ll be ready too.

Onward!

A Simple Model to Measure and Improve your Leadership Skills

This is post #2 in my 365 Writing Challenge.


If you’re a founder, leadership is probably a topic that runs through your head every single day.

The success of your company is directly related to your ability to lead. We’ve seen companies with different office building classification types that live and die by their leadership. We’ve also seen all different kinds of leaders…good, evil, outgoing, soft-spoken etc.

So it begs the question, what makes a great business leader?

There are a lot of models, books and theories around leadership. Today I’m going to refer to this recent post from Mark Suster that really inspired me, Some Thoughts on Leadership Going into 2016.

Like the title states, this isn’t a research backed leadership model, they’re just based on Mark’s opinion based on his experience. Mark is a seasoned entrepreneur who has sold two companies and is now a well respected investor who has seen a lot of CEO’s go through the trials of building a startup. So I trust his perspective when it comes to identifying leadership.

In his post, he lays out 7 elements of a great leader:

  1. Sense of Purpose
  2. Conviction
  3. Relationships
  4. Team Building
  5. Communications
  6. Empowerment
  7. Presence

In this article I will:

  1. Do a really quick review of each one with a quote from Mark’s post and my quick interpretation
  2. Share how I’m making this model actionable

Let’s start with the quick reviews…

1. Sense of Purpose

“If people don’t know the mission there is no way to achieve the objective and you end up with a team pulling in 100 different directions – even if only by small amounts.”

This is the “why” behind why you’re building your company. It’s your vision, mission and values. It’s your culture.

Your purpose is your north star that acts as a lens through which you make decisions, and the guide rails that keep your team aligned and on track.  Most experts, Mark included, would recommend you codify your sense of purpose. Write it down, make it specific, and revisit it regularly.

2. Conviction

“Great leaders have deeply held conviction in their strategy and plans. Codifying what you believe is one thing but sticking to your plans is another.”

This is your ability to stick to your sense of purpose and your plan.

If you think of any great leader, you can see their conviction very clearly. They have their set of principles and they stick to them. That’s why people respect them, even if they don’t agree with them. It’s their conviction that allows them to make hard decisions.

3. Relationships

“People will accept being overruled or will accept compromises or will live through cut-backs and downsizing or whatever else is thrown their way when they trust and respect you. And this comes from hours and hours of investing in personal relationships.”

If you’re a people pleaser like me, you want everyone to like you. That’s not what Mark’s talking about here. In order to make everyone like you, you have to make everyone happy and that isn’t always possible. Leaders are faced with incredibly difficult situations every day. What’s important is that people respect you so that when you do have to make a hard decision, they trust that you’re making the right choice even if it doesn’t positively affect them. Respect is built on trust. Trust is built by putting in the time with people and really understanding their needs.

4. Team Building

“The hardest thing as a leader of teams is to know when it is time to “hire above” your existing team and when it’s time to let your team members try to develop into the next role.”

Great leaders surround themselves with great people. They know they can’t do it all alone and they’re aware of their own weaknesses. Building the right team is critical to building a successful business.

Mark describes one of the hardest decisions when building a team is whether to hire above your existing team, or give existing members an opportunity to grow into the role.

5. Communication

Great leaders tell people what they’re doing and why. They are transparent about the goals and objectives of the organization and they’re willing to tell people how the company is doing against those goals.

Communication is at the core of any healthy relationships, business or community. “Communicate early and often” is the rule of thumb you’ll hear in the startup world. This can be a tough one for a lot of leaders because they want to take the weight of the challenges on their own shoulders. It’s hard to communicate bad news. Communication also isn’t one of those things you can do reactively. It has to be a habit, building communication systems into your business routine. People can’t help you if they don’t know what the problem is, and you’re not doing your team any favors by not telling them the good and the bad.

6. Empowerment

You may have a strong sense of purpose, a great and differentiated product or service and a great team surrounding you but if you don’t learn to empower your team you’ll never be as effective of a leader as you should be. Empowerment is exactly what leadership is: It’s about setting the direction for the team, assembling talented players and then letting them execute to their fullest abilities.

Founders are used to controlling everything. So when it comes time to build a team around you, it can be hard to give up that control. In some ways I struggle with this too. Pretty soon I’m going to have to give up owning the core offering of our business (our conference) so I’ll be put to the test again. Empowerment isn’t just about giving people ownership over a specific area of the business though. It’s also about creating an environment where people feel like they have a voice, that they play an important role in the organization and that they have a level of autonomy.

7. Presence

“…great leaders are present. They show up in the office. They respond to email. They get involved in laborious staff meetings. They get involved in hard product decisions. They give good news and bad news personally. They know when morale is down because they are living it. They lead from the front…”

This isn’t a hard one for those of us who are bootstrapped or working with extremely limited resources. But eventually, once you build a team, it may be tempting to take your hands out of the day to day operations. There are a lot of entrepreneurs who like to travel and take extended periods of time off. That’s fine if you need that to be happy (to some extent I do too) but it won’t help your leadership. A leader is putting in the time as much or more than any other member of the team.

Making the Model Actionable

I was really inspired by these 7 elements as I felt they aligned well with my own beliefs around leadership. I often think of leadership as this one singular thing, but seeing it broken down like this made it easier to wrap my head around.

If these are the 7 elements that determine the strength of a leader, I started wondering how good I was at each one. So I rated myself. For each of the 7 elements, I gave myself a rating of 1-5. Here’s what I came up with:

Sense of Purpose: 3
Conviction: 2
Relationships: 2
Team Building: 4
Communications: 3
Empowerment: 4
Presence: 4

Average: 3.1 out of 5

Not great eh? I know I’m my own harshest critic but it definitely looks like I have a lot of room for improvement. So I also wrote down what I’m currently doing well and how I could improve in each area:

1. Sense of Purpose (3):

We have a very clear vision and mission at CMX and we’re really good at sharing and applying it regularly. This has come naturally to me because it’s something that’s so deeply rooted in our culture and purpose. Where we need to improve is in the specification and application of our values. We’ve had values but they’ve felt more like vague platitudes than something we really live by. It’s up to me as a leader to get very clear about what our true values are, write them down and make them actionable. I’ve done the first two parts…making them actionable is still something we have to figure out.

2. Conviction (2):

This is one of the areas where I need the most improvement. It’s not because I have trouble committing to my beliefs or plans, it’s because I struggle with planning. You can’t commit to a plan that you don’t have. So the first step is to get a clear plan down, based on the vision I have for the company, and then work with my team and advisors to refine that plan. Once we have something specific, it becomes much easier to commit to it, and practice conviction.

3. Relationships (2):

This is the second area where I need the most improvement. If you know me, you might be surprised by this. Most would say that relationship building is one of my best skills. In many ways it is, I’m really good at putting time in with people, I’m highly empathetic and I’m good at making friends. But as Mark says, relationships isn’t just about getting people to like you, it’s about respect. It’s about making the hard decisions when you need to. My nature and need for people to like me gets in the way of this regularly. I end up becoming friends with people rather than someone they respect as a leader. This is an area I strongly need to improve.

4. Team Building (4):

Right now our team is small but strong. Everyone working on CMX, advisors, employees, volunteers and contractors, have a deep passion for our mission. They’re here for the right reasons and that’s a standard I never want to sacrifice. They’re also highly talented and ambitious. In the future, team building will be harder as we grow but right now, I couldn’t be happier with the squad we’re running with.

5. Communications (3):

Transparency is something that comes naturally to me. I enjoy sharing and being open about learnings (as you can see in my writing). Where we really need to improve is in our system for communicating regularly so that we can get things out of our heads and in a place where we can take action on it. This also ties back to the need for more specific plans. By having a specific plan we can have measures of how we’re performing against that plan and have open conversations around how to improve it.

6. Empowerment (4):

This is something that comes to me naturally as well. I enjoy seeing the people around me succeed and I want them to feel real autonomy and ownership over their work. This will be put to the test when I hand off ownership of our conference to the person we hire to run all CMX events soon.

7. Presence (4):

Again, we’re so early and such a small team that there aren’t many challenges here. We’re all executing and have our hands in a lot of projects. I’m highly present with our team. If there’s one area I want to keep in mind as we move forward is to stay present with our community as well. I don’t want to get so heads down on work that I forget to stay present with the people we’re serving.

So with this, I have a good measure of where I’m at now as a leader and the specific areas where I’d like to improve.

My plan is to go through this process every quarter to track how I’m improving as a leader, and prioritize where I need to improve in the future.

I’d love to hear if any of you give yourselves a rating and how you think about improving your leadership. Also share any other books or articles about leadership that have inspired you. Comment below.

7 Small Changes to Improve Your Productivity and Life

Photo cred: RickyDavid

I’ve been trying some different things like reading theproductivity hacks from famous entrepreneurs to improve my productivity and life in general.

Keep in mind, I’m an entrepreneur, I also do consulting and I work from wherever I want.  So I can be a bit more flexible than others who have less control of their schedules and environments.

Thought I’d share what has worked for me so far.

1. Deleted twitter and facebook from my phone.  Turned off all notifications (especially Path).

Why: Because it was a constant distraction.  I realized I actually became addicted to checking my phone. The notifications are what pulled me in.  Once I got rid of those, it really has an impact.

2. Scheduling out tasks on my to-do list throughout the day so I know when I intend to attack each one.

Why: I had a problem of letting my todo list build up.  I used TeuxDeux which was great, but my list would quickly become daunting, and I would have trouble prioritizing.  Now I just use text edit and manually manage todo lists, and I’ll schedule out slots in my day on gcal for when I will work on them.

3. Start every day with a workout of some sort.  Sometimes just pushups, sometimes a run, sometimes Yoga.

Why: Starts every day off with a win. And I feel better.  Yoga has especially been amazing mentally and physically. Highly recommend trying it.

4. Working in smaller chunks.  Usually something like 11-1.  Then again from 3-5.  Then again from 8-10.  I take time to walk around, read, paint, draw, watch tv, work out again, etc…

Why: If I sit in front of a computer too long, I start to lose focus and end up wasting time.  Plus, I wanted to pick up some of my old hobbies.  Painting has been great.  Gets the creative juices flowing, which helps as an entrepreneur.  Yoga in the middle of the day has also been a good way to reset my mind.  I try to spend some time outside every day as well.  Walking around, or at the top of Bernal Heights for some contemplation time.

5. I wake up early and make a point to not check my computer or email until I’m ready to start working.

Why: I used to wake up, and immediate open up my computer.  Before I knew it, it was 12pm and I hadn’t even put my clothes on (I got them from the Linenshed linen clothes and from the Fifth Collection Chanel store ) which is super classy.  And I’d usually waste a lot of time just perusing news stories.  I found that if I wake up early and spend an hour or two doing something else first, when I start working, I know exactly what I need to get done.  I open my computer with a purpose.

6. I switch up my workspace every couple days.

Why: I think it’s because our moods change, the weather changes, the things we need to do change.  Having the flexibility to choose a place that suits where my mind at and what my needs are has helped me a lot.  Sometimes I work from home and sometimes I go up to the Le Web office.  Sometimes I work out of Wix Lounge (Which has an AMAZING deck and is free) and sometimes I work out of a coffee shop (usually Haus).

7. Listen to Classical music while I work.  I’m listening to Mozart rock out right now!

Why:  I love music.  Maybe too much.  When I listen to music with words, I get really into it and can lose focus on what I’m doing.  Classical music has no words, it’s consistent, it makes for great background music and it’s inspiring.

Hope at least one of these changes might help you too.

Would love to hear what has worked for you. If you have a good one to add to the list, leave a comment.

Build a Company Around your Lifestyle, Not the Other Way Around

I met an entrepreneur in Iceland named Haukur. We spoke a lot about entrepreneurship and the challenges that we each face. We spoke for hours, but one thing he said really stuck with me.

I told him that a big dilemma I sometimes face is that I want to travel the world, but I also want to build a legit company. I don’t feel that it’s possible to build a real company and constantly travel since you won’t be in one place to bring the team together and you won’t really be able to dedicate the time needed to get a company off the ground.

He told me I was looking at it the wrong way. He said “your goal shouldn’t just be to build a company, your goal should be to be happy, and that you should focus on building whatever it takes to achieve that goal.”

There’s this common perception that in order to be a happy entrepreneur, you have to raise a lot of money, build a large team, change the world, etc… If you’re not shooting for the stars, you’re not successful enough to be happy.

The thing is, the entrepreneurs who have succeeded in that regard did so, because that’s what made them happy (or it didn’t and then they still weren’t happy). That doesn’t mean that the same thing will make you happy.

First, figure out what makes you happy (not easy). Then, build around that.

So, if traveling is what makes you happy, build a company that allows you to work remotely at different hours.

If your family is what makes life worth living, make sure you build a company that allows you to spend as much time with your family as possible.

If building a massive company and working long hours truly is what makes you happy, then that’s what you should do.

There isn’t any one way for everyone to build a company, but there is an ideal way for you to build your company, and that’s by building it for the life you want to live.

Entrepreneurs are who they are because they envision the life they want to live, and they make it happen.  They envision a world they want to live in, and they pursue that vision.

And yes, it’s still possible to build billion dollar companies while also spending a significant amount of time with family and friends, doing things that make you happy. Martin Varsavksy proved it (click to watch his video at Le Web).

This concept doesn’t just apply to founders, it also applies for employees.  Employees will be happy if the way they want to live a happy life is in line with the culture of the company.

Some teams have worked really well without an office, with everyone working remotely. Others have tried that and fallen flat on their face. That’s not necessarily because it wasn’t right for their company. Most likely, it just wasn’t a match with how the people in that company wanted to live a happy life.

We’re entrepreneurs because we don’t like living by someone else’s agenda. We want to live and work by our own agenda.  It should be an agenda that makes you happy.

Yes we want to help other people and improve lives, but by ensuring your happiness first, you might actually succeed.

Why I Left NYC for SF, and Stayed There

 

 

I have lived in NY my whole live and lived in NYC for almost 2 years.  I’ve lived in SF for 3 months.

Zaarly moved me out to SF.  When my work with Zaarly completed a couple months ago, I had the choice to go back to NYC.  But I stayed.

Naturally, in San Francisco I get asked the question a lot.  “Which city do you like better?”

My answer usually goes something like “They both have their upsides and downsides, their charms and their shortcomings.”

I wanted to talk a little bit about the biggest differences specifically for entrepreneurs.

Of course “it depends” will always be an apt answer to some extent, but overall, if you’re a first time entrepreneur, there’s nowhere else you should be.  Go to San Francisco.  Here’s why…

Serendipity is king.

Entrepreneurship is very much about serendipity.  Founders meeting each other, an idea coming out of thin air to disrupt an industry, meeting someone that changes your perspectives…  out of serendipity comes creativity and action.

Serendipity, or luck, isn’t something you can fully control, but it is something you can impact.  You have to work hard to be lucky.  You have to put yourself in the position for serendipity to occur. You have to be in the right place. Take my story as an example.

I’m an entrepreneur at heart.

I had the first opport and became a cofounder and partner.  After that, I joined Zaarly.  Zaarly moved me out to San Francisco.  When I parted ways with Zaarly, I knew that my next big move would be to start my own company from the ground up.

I have a list of ideas for companies, and some of them didn’t even suck.  But nothing was really compelling me to take action.  Nothing was keeping me up at night.  Over 2 months went by and still nothing.  I’ve been consulting to be able to work with different amazing companies and help them solve their community challenges.

I knew serendipity would have to hit soon.  In SF, every single day you meet a new entrepreneur.  You can’t throw a rock in SOMA without hitting a startup office.  You can’t go to a coffee shop, restaurant, bar, concert or grocery store without overhearing a conversation about raising money, building a company and changing the world.

I’ve been living in a sublet apartment since I moved here.  It was a 3 month sublet, I was planning on financing my own apartment after with the options at https://cloptoncapital.com/apartment-building-loans/.  I chose it because of the people more than anything.  I was brand new to the city and wanted to live with people that I could potentially become friends with.  It worked, and they quickly became my best friends in San Francisco.

One day, a few of us were at the apartment just working and relaxing on the couch when I threw out a random idea.  I like to cook, but I never know what to cook and I’m overwhelmed by grocery stores, so this would be a solution to help people cook different things, eat healthy and learn more about what they’re eating.  It was a simple idea, and we started to talk through it.  It only took a few minutes to realize that this idea was the one I’ve been looking for.  Turned out it’s the one my roommate, Nadia was looking for.  Now we’re building it together.

Could that happen in NYC?  Or any other city in the world?  Yes, it definitely can.  But if you want to improve the odds of serendipity occurring in the startup world, there’s no better place than SF.  I found this apartment on Craigslist and knew very little about any of the roommates when I signed the lease.  But in SF, you can feel confident that whoever you end up living with, there’s a good chance that they’re going to be involved in the tech/startup world to some extent.

But it’s not all perfect in SF.

Taking things with a grain of sincerity salt.

There’s a lot of aggressive positivity in San Francisco, in contrast to the common skepticism that you find in NYC.  In SF, everyone is so supportive of each other, almost to a fault.  It’s a great positive vibe, but it can be somewhat insincere.

It also results in a lot of talk without a lot of follow through.  Everyone LOVES to talk about the projects they’re planning to work on, but finding people who are actually taking action and executing can be tough to come by.  When you want to support everyone, and help everyone else with their projects, you end up not following through on a lot of it.  You commit to more than you’re capable of actually doing.

Accessibility may be the biggest differentiator. SF is as welcoming as it gets.

On the upside of that overt positivity is the generosity with time that you’ll find in SF.  In NYC, everyone is always in a rush and can be very protective of their time.  Someone that I reached out to recently in NYC responded to my request for a 15 minute chat, saying that due to other obligations, they couldn’t chat with me for 3 months.  And they’re not exactly a “big deal”.

In SF, you can meet with pretty much anyone, whether they’re a big deal investor or a successful entrepreneur.  Everyone’s down to hang out and grab a beer.  They don’t require an agenda and a list of questions.  They just want to be helpful and keep doors open to contribute back to the community.

That accessibility and dedication to contributing to the greater startup community is my favorite aspect about the SF startup scene.  I’ve been here for 3 months, and I feel very much a part of the community.  Even more so than in NYC.

I came to the NYC startup community as a young professional and had to build a network from scratch.  It can be like pulling teeth in NYC.  People and companies just don’t make themselves accessible.

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The SF bubble makes it hard to understand real customers.

Another important distinction that you need to make if you’re debating which city to build your company in is the consumer market.  SF isn’t real.  It is very much a bubble of conversation.  Establishing a product market fit in SF isn’t necessarily replicable in other cities.  That can be true for any city, but the gap is definitely more prominent in SF.

In NYC, you’re surrounded by every industry possible and every kind of person.  If you’re looking to create a replicable model, there’s a reason they say “if you can make it in NYC, you can make it anywhere”.  The consumer market in NYC will be much more true to form.

Then there’s the talent and funding question.

As far as finding talent goes, I think it’s just as hard in both cities.  There’s more talent in SF, but there’s also much more demand for that talent.  If anything SF has a slight edge because of the serendipity factor.

As far as funding goes, SF still has an edge but NYC is getting much better.  When it comes down to it, if you’re raising money from amazing investors, you want to be able to utilize the resources that they can provide you beyond just the money.  That means you want to be close to your investors.

There are more investors in SF and they’re a lot more accessible.

Cost of Living

Forget flowers in your hair. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to have some extra change to spare. Thanks to skyrocketing home prices, and an increasingly competitive rental market, that’s the new message for anyone who is thinking about moving to the City by the Bay. Just how expensive has San Fran gotten?

Well, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, the total cost of living in San Francisco is 62.6% higher than the U.S. average—and housing is nearly three times more expensive than in other U.S. cities. Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at all the data on living expenses in San Francisco to find out who exactly can afford to live there.

San Francisco’s crazy high cost of living starts with its crazy hot housing market. Simply put, affordable housing is hard to come by in SF. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales prices increased nearly 36% in just two years, from $543,780 in 2012 to $737,600 in 2014.

That $737,600 represents the second highest average sales price in the U.S., behind nearby San Jose. There is one upside to surging home prices, however. Homeowners in San Francisco have earned huge savings through refinancing in recent years.

If you are looking to see how your budget would fare in a different city, considering the cost of living is important. It’s a good idea to see how that would impact your budget and future financial goals.

In the end my heart is very much in NYC and what’s happening in the startup community there is truly amazing.  There IS a stronger community forming every day and there is a concerted effort to open doors, increasing accessibility.

Some of my favorite startups in the world are leading the way in NYC and creating a stronger startup ecosystem as a whole.

We’re going to start off building our company in SF.  It’s a hyperlocal concept that’s actually a great fit for SF.  Also, both cofounders are here, and in just 3 months, I’ve built up a much stronger network of potential partners and investors than I have in NYC.

I know serendipity will bring me back to NYC eventually, and I can’t wait for the day when I will build my startup there and contribute back to the community.

Right now, SF is where I have to be.