Get a Life

If you’re an entrepreneur, here’s one piece of good solid advice from another entrepreneur: get a life! Really though, seriously, for realz – get a life. You are not the most important person to walk the earth. You are not a big deal. You are not the next ______. You are not defined by your title, your network, the value of your founders equity, the extent of your LinkedIn network, your facebook friends, your twitter followers, your contacts in the VC community, the fact that you know Arrington or Scoble – who gives a shit about any of that! Ya know who cares? You. And that’s it. None of it matters, man! Get a life!

What defines you is the life you lead outside of work, amongst your family, and your friends (true friends, I mean). Entrepreneurship does not define who you are. It does not define you as a member of society, as a member of your community, your family, your friends. When you die, no one will say “wow, she was a great entrepreneur.” Your gravestone will not say “fantastic entrepreneur.” If it does, that’s just sad and pathetic.

I am an entrepreneur, but first I am Ben. I’ve always tried to maintain that perspective, and I’m fortunate to have friends and family who help keep me grounded, who slap me upside the head when I need a slap. And that happens here and there, for sure. But I’m usually the first person to slap me upside the head – I usually know when I need a reality check, I’ve learned.

So who are you? No really, who are you? What defines you as a person?

During these incredibly challenging economic times, what matters is not how many hours you’re putting in at the office – it’s how smart you are at working. Sure, it’s important that we all work hard – yes, we must work harder and smarter. And just because you work a lot doesn’t mean you’re working hard! There’s a very big difference. But now, more than ever, it’s also important that we practice some balance, some harmony – start with your family, your friends, some hobbies, do some of the things we enjoy outside of work. Put even more emphasis on balance.

What are those things? Spending more time with your family? How about going to see live music? Maybe its reading, painting, writing? Or is it skiing, bicycling, hiking, basketball? As long as it’s healthy – do it, and do more of it. And start right now.

Boston Startups Looking for Office Space

Back in May of 2007 CitySquares moved into TechSpace here in Boston’s South End. Unfortunately, TechSpace closed down their Boston location a few months ago. But we’re still here! We, and the other tenants, just have a new landlord. Some things have changed a bit but if one things for certain – the price has dropped substantially and we’re as happy as ever.

It’s quiet here though – there’s lots of empty offices and we’d love some company! There are small offices that are perfect for just one or two people, and there are larger offices that can accomodate a dozen people. There are conference rooms here that we all share, there’s even a pool table.

If you’re a Boston area business looking for a real office space with all the fixin’s of a business environment, let me know and I’ll send you over to the new landlord and make sure you get special care! I have nothing to gain here except having more neighbors!

Oh, the space is very funky too – great for Internet companies, media companies, startups, non-stuffy businesses.

Some of our awesome and friendly neighbors:

SCVNGR– SCVNGR is an interactive texting scavenger hunt that uses proprietary cellular technology to send out clues via SMS (short message service). The SCVNGR service enables the players to access several useful features such as texting SCORE to receive real-time results on how they are faring against other teams or texting HINT to SCVNGR’s short code to receive help solving a particularly tough clue.

Advantage Reprographics – Advantage Reprographics is dedicated to eliminating the cost and headache in managing document histories, printing and delivery. We focus on tailoring custom software to help streamline print output. We have State of the art printing and scanning equipment by Oce and HP, used to turn around the highest quality, right away! Give us a call and we’ll be right there to help you out.

PFL Printworks – CD & DVD duplication, Posters, Flyers, Press Kits

Exxcel Model & Talent – Exxcel Model & Talent is a full service model/talent agency representing models of all types such as female/male fashion, commercial print, child and plus size. Talent representation includes actors for film, television, commercials and theater, as well as singers and dancers.

Brand Networks – “If your Brand is ready to hit the social scene, we’d like to help. Our BrandFans methodology will ensure you network with the right people. Our BrandSolutions are social technologies that connect you with your fans. And we surround it all with BrandServices from social and creative humans just like you.”

SEEDA – The South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) is here to assist companies looking to set up and grow their UK and European operations from a base in the South East.  Our purpose is to promote the growth of the economy and creation of jobs in this dynamic region of the UK.  We provide professional, free and confidential advice and our service can save your company valuable management time and money.  SEEDA works in conjunction with UK Trade & Investment.

Jetpack – Jet Pack is a comprehensive web marketing package for small and medium sized businesses. Each account gets a dedicated internet marketing specialist to setup, manage and optimize for the best results. Our hands-on approach drives more traffic and provides higher conversion rates at an affordable level than full-time marketing agencies.

Congressman John Lewis Reflects

Too much history and struggle for me to possibly relate to, nor put into words. Georgia State Representative John Lewis is the last surviving speakers who spoke on the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. NBC Nightly News has a nice piece that I caught. I embed here for you. I am really looking forward to tomorrow’s inauguration, it’s a wonderful day for America, for black Americans, and for the world.

Jerry, Stuck on a Kite

Wise men are dying
and developing bubbles on their stomachs.

Fools bleed
and laugh a confident cry.

Birds sleep while flowers grow
and a walk through intimidation
tells all a tale of ego.

Chuggin’ through a day
finding ourselves in idle again, the next.

Open a window, but never one off the street,
I wanna sleep.

(originally written summer of 1994 ?)

Part of Joy Division's Legacy

joy_divisionI had a sad conversation at work yesterday with a few co-workers. I was playing a live Joy Division song. I don’t recall the song now, but Ian Curtis was lamenting into the microphone. His cries were blaring out of the speakers when one of my co-workers exclaimed with a grimace, “what is this?” I responded “Joy Division” and she remarked back sarcastically about the music lacking joy. I could only laugh and think to myself “no shit.”

I quickly started into a monologue about how influential Joy Division was and still is, and how the The Killers wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for Joy Division. Neither would Nine Inch Nails, Morrisey, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Nirvana, Radiohead, any kind of 80’s electronica, and of course New Order – all some of the best music of my time on this planet. But explain this to a handful of twenty-somethings who are more preoccupied with what Britney or the Jonas brothers did last week. Hey, I can’t hold them responsible for this though, I was like them once, so I took the time to play some Joy Division to them. I played a few songs, the requisites of course, like Love Will Tear Us Apart and New Dawn Fades. I held off on my personal favorites like Digital and Dead Souls. They took it in, mostly, and their eyes lit up when they recognized a melody or a lyric. OK, mission accomplished.

Maybe I’m a snob, and I probably am a bit, when it comes to music. I’m not alone either. I have plenty of snobby friends who dress the part and attend more shows than I can anymore. Thankfully I had another music snob  in the office who was able to back me up on these things and help school these kids.

I find myself now feeling like one of those jerks from when I was a teenager trying to educate me on the influence of David Bowie or Thelonious Monk. I guess this is a sign of aging.

I found out yesterday, from my office ally, that there was a movie released last year titled Control, about Joy Division but more specifically Ian Curtis, and directed by legendary photographer Anton Corbijn. The trailer is below. It’s next on my Netflix queue and I can’t wait! But will it make me feel old, and even more of a snoot? Who cares, at least I know good music!

Getting it Done

This week ADP stated that 693,000 jobs had been lost in the month of December, and the U.S. Department of Labor stated this morning that unemployment has reached 7.2%, a 15-year high. Those are some gigantic numbers – terrifying actually. And the Fed says it’s only going to get worse this quarter, and potentially longer. Is it any surprise? Americans have been spending spending spending for years now, piling up debt, and living their lives on a credit score. Is it because of deregulation? Who knows. The fact of the matter now is that we’re now paying dearly for this recklessness in the form of job losses, bankruptcies, foreclosures, homelessness, and much more to come.

Everyone needs to smarten up, fast. Individuals, companies, no one is excluded fro this. If you weren’t aware of this a few months ago, in late Q3, you better damn well wake up! I was shocked the other day to learn that a friend of mine is actually quite clueless about all this. He’s a bit insulated from it where he lives and in his line of work, but no one is really insulated from this. My wife works at Harvard University, which recently saw its endowment cut substantially, losing 8% or $12B. For the first time in a long time, people are losing their jobs at Harvard, seeing their pay cut, seeing bonuses and scheduled raises off the schedule. Harvard, one of the most stable employers in Massachusetts, is having these kinds of problems. Again – no one is insulated.

This applies to startups too, of course. In fact, I’d say it hits us harder and faster than most other businesses. And that brings me to my point. CitySquares has been hit by all this. Sales are down as small businesses were reacting to the news in September and October, and as they refocused their energies and also smartened up. Sales are down, cash flow is down, some of our customers have gone under, some have been unable to pay their bills. Nevertheless, we’re seeing our way through this. We have an amazing tribe here at CitySquares – some extremely dedicated and passionate people. These qualities were demonstrated this week when I asked everyone to take a pay cut. The result? Some people took bigger pay cuts than they were asked to! And another thing – everyone stayed. Attitudes are great, everyone is as committed as ever. It’s just amazing to me.

I learned so much this week, as a CEO and as a Founder. I learned about employee psychology, I learned about my own abilities as a leader, as a CEO, as a founder. I learned even more about buy-in, about the difference between a decision and a choice.

So, CitySquares underwent pay cuts this week and I can honestly say that on this blog with pride, and with my head held high. Because I know that our team is prepared to do what it takes to weather this storm. Because they understand that paycuts for everyone means no one gets let go, everyone stays. And this tribe is aware of the same goal we’ve had for the past two years – the goal that’s now within 5-6 months from happening – the goal of cash flow positivity. The only way we can make that happen is if everybody here is on the same page, and that has not changed. Everyone here must work towards the same goal! Cash flow breakeven, in this market? In this economy? Outstanding! Show me a business that’s within 12 months of cash flow positivity, and I’ll show you a business that gets it. But show me a business that’s not making changes, not making the necessary cost reductions, not doing everything to ramp revenues and I’ll show you a business that’s in a lot of trouble.

Another thing, we wouldn’t even be here talking about this right, nor ever even arrived at this moment in time, if it weren’t for our investors, our angel investors from eCoast Angel Network and other outside investors like Jonathan Kraft, Mark Cuban, even my own father, among several others. We’re truly fortunate to have such fantastic individuals behind this company. Angel investors are special and its easy to forget how important they are to the economy, to the capital systems, and to the world of entrepreneurship. Angels make it happen.

So, there you have it folks. The truth as bare as it comes! And that’s what my blog entry from earlier this week was about – the difference between decisions and choices. Decisions I had to make, and choices that I had to give to the staff. There were difficult, very difficult, decisions that I had to make, along with our board of directors. These decisions lead to other decisions, and choices, for the tribe – and this week they all chose to help each other, to make the necessary personal investment, to protect each other.

Monday was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had at CitySquares. Today is one my proudest.

life is suffering, so is this hell?

Most, if not all, monotheistic religions believe in a moral dualism. That is, a Good and an Evil. Some of these religions also tend to personify these forces, and give these personifications their own domains – heaven and hell.

Wikipedia’s entry for hell says it pretty succinctly:

In many religious traditions, Hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife…

In Buddhism, and other eastern religions, dualism can best be explained by Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that together create the whole. One cannot exist without the other. There is no “heaven” or “hell” in Buddhism or other eastern systems.

Yet in Buddhism there also exists the four noble truths, of which the first is called Dukkha. Dukkha is loosely translated to English as suffering. This first noble truth states, basically, that life is suffering. Period. Simply put. Life is suffering.

My question is this, and its the same question asked by countless philosophers, theologians, and religious scholars for centuries:

Is this hell?

According to Dante Alighieri there are 9 circles to hell. Maybe we’re stuck in one of thbraccio_lucasignorelli_paradisesanbrizio_clr_full_1499-1502_itallyese circles of hell. Perhaps the demons that are torturing us are not of physical form. Perhaps these demons are inside each of us, torturing us, relative to our own deserved level of hell.

Yet if this is hell, it would imply that there also exists a heaven, and a place of eternal bliss and happiness. Why isn’t this that place, heaven? Because we are, in fact, all suffering.

For those who don’t believe in heaven, according to the world’s most popular and time-tested belief systems, it’s hard to argue that this is hell. You must have one to have the other. Likewise, if someone doesn’t believe in God, this can’t be hell either.

So, I ask you, is this hell? Defend yourself. Speak intelligently.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]