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Sunday, May 3, 2015

We ARE Just HUMAN

Aslam Najeebdeen, CEO at Frontcube
This post is in acknowledgement of my very dear friend Aslam Najeebdeen. Why? -- because we must acknowledge and support people in our lives -- for no reason at all. Love and help others and good things will happen.

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I met Aslam in early 2011 via a Ruby on Rails IRC chat room while trying to find software development help. I was one of the founders of a startup called Feedgen, which we were incubating at SF-based Angelpad. We had just raised a little money, but not enough to hire engineering help in Silicon Valley so we went offshore -- Aslam was based in Sri Lanka.

At first I didn’t interact much with Aslam because he was doing mostly front-end CSS, HTML, etc -- and my co-founders were handling that stuff. I do remember our Skype interview and couldn’t help but feel that this guy was special.


We were about 8-9 weeks into going full-time into building Feedgen and participating in Angelpad. We were having a tough time finding our MVP and I found myself having to keep us focused while frustration was building. However the one bright spot was our front-end guy Aslam in Sri Lanka.


Demo day eventually came and passed and after a series of atrocious VC meetings, things were looking grim and time was running out for most of us on the team. My two co-founders decided to pursue more stable work situations which I completely understood that they needed. I on the other hand was not going to give up without giving it my absolute all.


After my co-founders left I was struggling to figure out the next move towards saving Feedgen. I had no money to pay Aslam anymore and was trying to salvage the great work that he did on the front-end -- so I scheduled a Skype call with him. That call was life changing -- it solidified a friendship that is still alive and kicking to this day.


During the call I mentioned that my co-founders were moving on and that I had no money to pay him, but that if he believed in me that I promised good things would happen. I asked him to be my cofounder, take equity, and completely redesign the UI/UX to make it his vision, while I find a back-end guy to help us build.


Aslam accepted. And we began working.


Over the next several months Aslam and I went through hell and back. I was working full-time to survive and pay contractors to help Aslam. Of course, we kept getting ripped off by offshore contractors, who when they did deliver on time it was always buggy, not to scope, or frankly didn’t work. We spent nearly every night connected to each other via Skype. We shared in each other's joys and sorrows. We learned about each other’s culture. We virtually met each others families. I learn about his Muslim traditions around payers and fasting, and he tolerated my emotional and philosophical rants on life and meaning.


Eventually, no matter how much we tried, Feedgen ended up failing and the first year or so after that was very hard on both of us. Our courageous attempt at building our business left us broke financially and at very low levels of sadness. Luckily Aslam had a loving and supportive wife who was there for him and I had my family and a great friend named Jim Payne who gave me a gig at MoPub, which saved me in more ways than one.


It’s been 5 years now since we were first met and Aslam has become a distant brother. We both kept fighting in the game of life.


I went on to have an exit with MoPub to Twitter, built an organization called Sales4StartUps, which allowed me to stay connected the the world of startups, sales, and innovation, and now launched my latest product called Dashtab -- which by the way was inspired heavily by Feedgen. We overcame some very tough years and made it through as better men.


Aslam went on to grow Frontcube, one of the most innovative web consultancies outside of the Silicon Valley while being based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Frontcube works with companies ranging from large media organizations like Al Jazeera to hot Silicon Valley startups like Mobile Action -- and of course I’m a lifelong client.


However, there are very few weeks that pass that we don’t communicate. Aside of never having met before, Aslam and I share a very real connection and understanding of each other.


My friendship with Aslam transcends business. It’s who were are as basic humans. Our friendship represents something special in the world today. It’s a space where a 33 year old Cuban-Filipino entrepreneur, who was raised Roman Catholic in Miami, FL bonds with a 30 year entrepreneur from Kandy, Sri Lanka, who is a Muslim, and lives so close to nature that I can hear the animals sing during calls at times.


We represent what’s beautiful about the human experience. That despite all the darkness that exists in the world, promoted in the media, seen in everyday life, you have two guys who on paper are so different and in some cases suppose to fear each other, who are connected and don’t see religion, race, or distance, but are bonded by being who they are, just human.


In fact, Aslam reminds me of the goodness that exists in the world. He reminds me that the spirit of entrepreneurship is a human thing not an American thing or even Silicon Valley thing. It doesn't see race, religion, location, or academic background. It’s a beautiful representation of our desire to dream and belief that we can change our lives and live the lives that we want to live.

To my good friend Aslam Najeebdeen, thanks for your support, loyalty, friendship, and love. 

You’re a brilliant entrepreneur and I am so happy to see Frontcube continue to be great.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bigger Than Business

I arrived in Silicon Valley for the first time in 2006 when trying to raise money for a social travel startup that my partner and I bootstrapped from my graduate school apartment in Tallahassee, FL. We had decided to pack up and head to the "motherland" to try to raise money and recruit engineers. I remember trying to find engineers to work on equity cause we had no money and VCs at the time were not buying our argument.

Since those days we have both learned a heck of a lot and have both gone through success acquisitions; he was at Mint.com that sold to Intuit and myself at MoPub which sold to Twitter.

For as long as I could remember, I have been obsessed with entrepreneurship and startups. Over the last 12 years, I can't recall a day that has gone by that I have not at least thought about this topic. However, what I have also learned is that no matter how much "success" you seem to have, it's never enough.

For me I've always had some startup idea to dive head first into and kinda ignore the other aspects of life. What's crazy is that I never really understood the power of having a balanced life. And that life really is...well, has to be bigger than just business. I began to truly understand this after my startup Feedgen went under in 2011.

After so much excitement, having gone through the Angelpad incubator and making so many great contacts; we failed. And what was even worse was I woke up to a life that had been dominated by an obsession with startups, and was now questioning it all; it was a scary place to be. I had realized that there had to be more than just building startups and that business was so incredibly risky and volatile that there was no way that I could derive total happiness from it alone.

Since I had that epiphany I wake every day reminding myself to pursue a balanced life. I began doing things like riding my bike through the beautiful roads of Marin County, CA and becoming more aware of nature. I started to read books about Buddhism and doing more yoga. And I think that the most important thing that I began to focus on was that life was bigger than business and that I was not defined by business success or what I did. And although I literally have to remind myself of this on a daily basis, the awareness of it and the option to choose is very empowering.

Now don't get me wrong, I struggle with my ego, insecurities, and mistakes; I can assure you that I have a lot of the above. But what I also have is the awareness to work through these things and find resolve. Happiness and balance is a daily practice. You don't just achieve it once and you're done. It takes work, time, and dedication to the process.

We are not defined by only one part of our lives. We are the sum of our parts and experiences. As entrepreneurs we can still be passionate and inspired by what we create, it's kinda how we are wired anyways, but we must also remember that life is bigger than business. Find a balance, be more than just your venture/s, and perhaps you'll find success?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Poem: The Wise Entrepreneur


In the past I wanted to start a company just to start a company. To give myself meaning.
To make myself proud of I.
I didn't care if it was a great idea, really; and just rushed into it head first.
I just wanted to BUILD SOMETHING.
I just wanted to PROOVE SOMETHING.

To Who? -- To Myself and The World.

Then it became about proving those who saw me fail, wrong.
I Just wanted them to see that I was indeed great.
I needed validation.

This was the rookie.
The rookie entrepreneur.
My next venture will be done smart.
I will be selective.
I will not loose my mind over it.
And I will not allow it to define who I am, but merely be a component of the balance that I strive to achieve.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Life’ish Thoughts: PEACE


My last blog post was all about my perspective on how life, love, and entrepreneurship mirrored each other in so many ways. Its crazy how much I believe I have grown as a human being over the past two years; a two year period of tremendous experiences across all facets of life.

My awareness has caused me to think about life as this journey that really has no definite answers or destinations. What we can all agree upon is this wanting to be happy and fulfilled. A few years ago I did some consulting work for a very wealthy NYC hedge fund CEO; who I admired for quite sometime. I went into that gig thinking that a lot of money, a big office on 58th St and Lexington, and all the power you could want would equal happiness and fulfillment. What I ended up observing saddened and confused the hell out of me. How could this be? – I thought all those guys with private drivers and $20million dollar apartments were super happy. What I found was an empty man who heart had been buried by ego, money, and a loss of perspective. It hit me hard because at the time I had been using the pursuit of financial success as my guiding light in life. What was I supposed to do? -- Abandon all pursuit of financial, career success and go work at a minimum wage job? What I also observed on that extreme was a world plagued with the same heartaches, emptiness, and issues.

So what now? -- could it be that happiness had nothing to do with how successful you are? My observations of both extremes indicated that perhaps the topics where different, however the discontent existed on both sides.

I had always encountered joy from the thoughts associated with the pursuit of success. However this new realization had thrown me into a small existential crisis. It actually forced me to start thinking about and really trying to remember the other things that used to make me happy and fulfilled.

It wasn’t until about 3-4 years later, after leaving NYC for San Francisco, did I start thinking about the idea around perhaps happiness actually being at peace with not knowing all the answers. That happiness was actually about peace.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Life, Love, and Entrepreneurship

Food for thought: Success is in the eyes of the beholder

I’m 31 years old. Since I was a kid my mother tells me that I always had a curiosity and passion to build, invent, love, make music, and make friends. She reminded me of the time I tried to build a small boat from scratch. How I designed it on paper (I still remember it looked more like an airboat -- which was probably appropriate being that I was from Florida), built the frame with plywood, and then sealed it with fiberglass coating. Too bad it sunk quickly once we placed it in the canal near my childhood home! About 2 years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a substantial amount of time with my mother --- yep at 30 years old I was bunking up with my mom and during those several months she shared so many stories that started to bring the puzzle pieces together. I must note that I had 
practically been on the road for the past 13 years and had not spent this much time with her since I was a child. Her stories answered questions like why can’t I stop thinking of ideas and always wanting to start or build things?  Or why can’t I hold down a "real" job? Why did I spend my 20's starting companies that only led to misery, frustration, and financial instability? Why I left home at 17 years old to explore the new and unknown? Why was I never able to be like so many of my friends and loved ones who were totally comfortable with adhering to status quo? Her stories and companionship surfaced so many memories, both inspiring and challenging. It was one of the most valuable times of my life. 

Its special how as we get older and we begin to look back at our past, while experiencing our present, how much clarity and growth one encounters. I was brought up by an ex-hippie, Cuban immigrant, ex-monk, musician, psychologist in a father and an amazing artist, musician, dreamer, entrepreneur, Filipino immigrant, incredibly loving mother. And let me tell you, the apple does NOT fall far from the tree. As I get older the answers to the questions that I have been asking about myself for so long, seem to not be as far as they used to be. And I have come to realize that, for myself, sometimes the answer is a resounding "its ok not to know the answer Jorge". As an entrepreneur and head of sales at a startup, I oftentimes have to remind myself of this very concept: its ok not to know the answer. My team and I will do our best, follow the path we believe is correct and learn along the way.

When I was 12 or 13 years old I had finally learned how to play the guitar from my parents -- they both play -- and I picked it up by observing them perform and a few guitar lessons. This new found passion led me to do what any entrepreneur would do: I started a rock band. I don’t remember much of Cobain's Veins (my first band, named after the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana) other than how awful we were and the logo, which was painted on the bass drum of our set. You see that was the first of many bands I started and was part of over the years. As time progressed I started to realize the elements that were really important in a band. Things like, how important a solid drummer was, practice, and the power of discipline. Of course, at the moment I was unaware of what was happening: each band I started, had a greater chance of succeeding, not because the talent was better or the song selection, yet because I was already aware of what NOT to and what to be aware of. Many times as young entrepreneurs, we are so eager to build something based on a great idea think we have -- and often times the ideas are wonderful. What you realize through "failures" is that it is only through them that you truly become ready to succeed. It is only through getting burned that you are aware that the fire is painful. As entrepreneur you realize how important the fundamentals are, yet these lessons are only learned through challenges.

During the evening of August 24th 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit Miami, FL and destroyed the home I grow up in; while my mother, father, and I were in it. We almost lost our lives that evening. I was 11 years old and this was the first time life didn't make a lot of sense and completely threw my awareness for a roller-coaster ride. Shortly after, I had experienced a very close family member struggle with health problems, which completely threw me for a loop. Needless to say, these were challenging moments for my family and I. As I moved into my teenage years I struggled with many questions around many topics about life and it’s meaning. Unfortunately, I spent more time trying to find answers to my questions rather than focusing on my studies during my middle and high school years. This posed a challenge when I got to college. It was one of the first challenges that I had to face on my own as a young adult which was related to my developing the habits necessary to succeed in my "career life". Because I had not performed up to my expectations, pre-college; I was now determined to win. I realized that it was important for me to focus on the task at hand: doing my very best every day, every class, and every opportunity I had to learn. Before I knew it I had made it through 6 years of higher education, completed graduate school, yet most importantly found the canvas to the art that I would be dedicating the next 10 years of my life to: entrepreneurship. As I mentioned above, the 10 years that preceded my graduation of college had been very personally challenging, yet again, what I was not aware of was the growth that I'd been incurring. I had blindly overcome many challenges, a lot of which sit at the core of our humanity and emotional framework. The same challenges we all confront at some point in our lives. These challenges come with different names and have different faces. As an entrepreneur, you will be confronted with some of the most painful challenges you have ever faced while building or operating your business. I can promise you this; your character will be exposed to yourself and perhaps others. Your ability to overcome in a healthy and compassionate manner will determine your success. What does it matter if you make a million dollars yet loose your soul, health, and spirit in the process?
 
Two years ago I left everything I had in New York City and moved to San Francisco, CA to start yet another company. I was so determined to succeed. I had been accepted to a well known technology incubator and had assembled a talented team and was willing to lose it all. And I thought that as long as I pushed my hardest and didn't let anything stand in my way, whether it be health, money, etc; I was going to win this time. Well, the startup didn't work again, and I was left a broken man. 

Last summer, I met an incredible young lady on the Caltrain that at first I was just attracted to physically. As I began to spend time with her I started developing romantic feelings towards her. She began sharing stories of her life and I quickly became aware that she was not in a position to have a romantic relationship with me or probably anyone else. Months past and before I knew it, I fell in love with her. It made no sense, and till this day, I can’t tell you how I fell in love with a woman that I had only known for a few months and was just a friend. I believe that one of the most profound aspects of this woman was how she made me feel. It was a feeling that I traced back to my college girlfriend a decade before. Yet, unlike back then, I was aware of the possible outcomes and the risk I would be taking by continuing to spend time with her. And just like the timing was off back then in college, it was not in my favor this time around either. The matters of the heart can be as illogical, if not more, as being an entrepreneur often times is. However,
I think the lesson here was that in the same way that I could not just force my startup business to win, love is something that cant be forced, it just has to happen; and timing is everything. Your co-founders have to be bought in and ready to go to war. The employees you hire have to love the mission independent of your motivational speeches or personal passion. You really can only pass the baton and hope that it makes it to the finish line. Sometimes we want to build a business so bad that we ignore the warning signs and continue to try to build the wrong business. I have personally looked back and thanked life for not allowing many of my businesses to succeed, get funded, etc. There is nothing worse than having to go to war with the wrong co-founders, at the wrong time, in the wrong space. Sometimes failure was the healthiest outcome.

I believe that there is a absolutely truth that exists whether you are trying to build a business, love, or be happy in life: don’t lose yourself. When I began focusing on my health and on just being happy irrespective of business, it's crazy how the opportunities started unfolding, startup projects started working, and personal awareness began to blossom again.




Happiness is a decision that we make everyday regardless of circumstances. I believe that the pursuit of financial success is a road that all who desire it should absolutely pursue. Yet I do believe that no matter how financially successful you become it is a peace inside, achievement of love, and acceptance of the journey that makes it all worth it.

Startups will fail. Hearts are meant to be broken. Love will be given irrespective of reciprocation. Storms will tear down homes. Families structures will change, loved ones will pass, and life will confuse the hell out of you and make you question everything -- perhaps perceptually. However, this is life. And as my father once told me, once you accept that it will be difficult and imperfect, it gets a lot easier, and you may have just succeed. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Quick Sales Tip: PostWire.com for Sales Prospecting

I am always looking for new ways of improving the way that I prospect, especially when it comes to qualifying opportunities. I came across PostWire earlier this year and have to say I really like it. The way we sell has certainly evolved and contrary to many “sales experts” cold calling is not dead, it's actually just gotten easier. In the past we just had the yellow pages /other directories and a telephone. Then the Internet changed the way we live our lives – both personally and business wise. There are great ways to passively engage and qualify prospects without having to always be in direct communication with them via phone or email.

PostWire is a web service that allows me to send content like videos, files, web links, sales/marketing collateral etc to prospects, and has a comment wall to allow for collaboration.  









Here is how I use it:
  • After I get in contact with and qualify a prospect, I tell them that I will be sending them a “PostWire page”, which “contains all sorts of content like videos, case studies, blog posts, etc”.
  • Postwire allows me to share the page with as many email addresses I want. As part of the sharing process, I am able to attach a customized message to the recipients.
Sharing this PostWire page is valuable for a few reasons. Of course, it allows me to share great content with my prospects that will be helpful with further educating them as opposed to sending multiple emails back and forth. Sharing these pages allows me to create actions. The sharing of the page can be a quick and easy “next step”, and action on my part. Postwire has a killer feature that sends me an email when someone has viewed the page. This not only gives me some indication that they are remotely interested but it becomes quite interesting when they access the page multiple times. You can also set the privacy settings to allow anyone with the URL to be able to access the page. The caveat is that PostWire will not able to identify who is visiting the page yet will still send you an email that “someone” has visited your page. My colleague and Chief Marketing Office at PunchTab Angela Sanfilippo, describes PostWire as "Pinterest meets marketing collateral". 

As you can see there are plenty of useful ways that PostWire can help salespeople more effectively communicate with and share collateral with prospects. According to the PostWire team they will be adding great CRM integration features in the coming months. Things like Salesforce.com integration for example.

Here is more information regarding PostWire:




Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Entrepreneurship is a Commitment to the Journey

I always joke around about how I have been torturing myself for nearly 10 years by being in the startup game as an entrepreneur. When I first started my career, I guess thats what you call it -- "a career", I swore I'd be rich and famous by 22, then it was 23, then it was; well, you get the point. Today, I'm 31 years old and happier than ever as an entrepreneur. Have I made $20 million dollars, nope. Do I have the mansion on the beach in Miami (my hometown), negative. Have I had a tremendously successful exit, no. So why am I happier than ever you may ask yourself?

Well, its because I understand what this whole entrepreneurship thing is all about now. For the overwhelming majority of us, its not a quick road to financial success. And in fact, if you are doing it for the glamour and fame, you are better off moving to Hollywood and trying to be an actor. For me its been a life journey. My life as an entrepreneur has grown and evolved in the way that I have grown and evolved as a human being. I was once a child and now I am an adult. At one point I thought that my drive to be a entrepreneur was all about the money; yes, I'll admit it. I consider this my youthful days of my entrepreneurial life. I thought it was a quick road if I worked hard enough and that patience was for losers. Again, part of my youthful days. You see, there is no doubt that financial success is meaningful and I still strive for it, yet money is not something that motivates long term and patience is a discipline that enables you to manage both the wins and the loses. You realize over time that this is who you are -- you are an entrepreneur. You are not crazy and must accept that this is who you are, and thats its ok to want to build your own castle as opposed to living in someone else's. You must also understand that this is not an overnight process. You will climb the mountain and run out of energy, resources, spirit, etc, -- many, many times; most call this failure. 

Entrepreneurship is a life decision. A commitment to live your life the way you want to. And for others that means being an accountant, doctor, police officer, etc, etc - and thats perfectly fine. For this whole thing called life and society to work, it requires everyone fitting into the role that they are passionate about. Yet, for you people like us, this is a life full of ups and downs. And just as in all growth processes, over time you become accustomed to these changes and although "failure" will always sting, wisdom is achieved and your spirit becomes stronger and less penetrable.  

Happiness and Balance

My friend Steli Efti Founder and CEO of Elastic Sales, talks a lot about being a happy entrepreneur. I couldn't agree more. Look its tough; very tough. Yet that cant allow you to become a bitter cynical person when things dont work out the way to planned they would. Entrepreneurship is a journey as is life. And although I am incapable of explaining to you why horrible things happen in life on a daily basis, I can assure you that focusing on these awful things doesn't help anyone. And in business, you should learn from your mistakes and difficult moments and make the decision to chalk them up as a opportunities for growth. Focus on the good that has occurred even if its hard sometimes to see it. You must fight for this clarity. After my previous startup failed, I was so depressed and discouraged that I could not see the good that it had brought. Today I am so thankful for having gone through that experience. Each venture grows your network, teaches you valuable lessons, and makes you that much more ready to run a successful company and be a good leader. 

Steli also spoke about adding meditation to his life and not working himself to complete exhaustion. I also agree with this. I too used to work myself to the point that my brain would just shut off. And although, doing a startup requires an immense amount of dedication and time spent working, it's important to focus on the things that matter and know when your effort needs to be redirected. I believe that in order to be at your best, make sound decisions, and be a great leader, you need to be able to develop the discipline needed to know when you need a break for personal development and nurturing. If you think about it, what does it all matter if you have destroyed your health, both mental and physical, in the process? -- Since I have committed to working equally as hard on my personal development including physically, mentally, and spiritually, I have not only become a better person yet have seen my career improve 10x. 

Opportunities for Growth or Growth Moments

Lastly, I want to talk to you about what I call growth moments. These are challenging moments in our lives where things might be going terribly wrong. Whether its in our personal lives or with our startup, these are moments where our character and spirit is put  to the test and many times knock us down to the floor barely hanging on. Does this sound familiar? -- If It does I am here to say that you have made it through ok. And if you are currently dealing with this, I can assure you that this too shall pass. These are what I call opportunities for growth or growth moments. The caveat is that we have to make the decision to be open to growth. Whether you have lost an important business deal, cant seem to raise capital, or experienced a startup failing, these are all opportunities to grow. Now, Im not saying its gonna be easy. Most growth comes with a little and sometimes a lot of resistance, yet I can assure you that this is merely part of your journey. Its part of the process that we all must go through as entrepreneurs. Accept it now and move forward. 

So for now, take a deep breath and enjoy the journey. This is a bumpy yet road amazing road we are on NOW and what lies ahead will come in due time...