a storm is-a-comin'

Clean up your shit

I’ve just started reading „The Hard Thing About Hard Things“, a book about personal experiences building startups by Ben Horowitz, well-known to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as a partner of Marc Andressen at a16z. It’s the best business-related book I’ve read for a long time.

Although on a different level, I have experienced pretty much the same as Ben has: the ups and – even more often and more distinct – the downs of running startups. Ben has co-founded Loudcloud, sold its hardware unit to EDS, went on with the software unit named Opsware and sold that to HP a few years later. What sound as a success story – which it definitely is, looking at the final sale – is more a roller-coaster thing garnished with near bankruptcies, massive layoffs, and more. Most of the time, Ben and his colleagues must have felt rotten – even the day before the IPO is described as one of the darkest days (because of the circumstances of the financial crisis, a very bad valuation, etc.).

I don’t know Ben personally, but what I know of him is that he comes across as youngish, positive and active guy – always smiling and offering advice to fellow entrepreneurs. And this is the most compelling aspect of his book: he has seen it all (besides going bankrupt) and he takes it easy. Apparently he always accepted situations and circumstances as they were, and then tried to give his personal best to survive even the darkest business moments.

Being an entrepreneur, at some time there will be this situation you always wanted to prevent. Either you miss revenues significantly and won’t get your next round of financing closed, or your product relaunch leads into disaster: most of your existing customers react furiously, delete your app and cry foul on social media channels. Being the guy in charge, you are the one to go through that fire, first. Ben offers good advice here:

„If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nibble.“

Means: if you have to experience a very bad situation, don’t try to prevent the smaller, additional negative outcomes, but tackle them all – directly. If the situation is bad, very bad – you don’t have to act as if some of its aspects were still ok, but take full responsibility, act transparently, and show the world that you fucked it up. And then, start changing the situation.Regard it as something that can help you to start afresh. Shit is shit but it can be put away. Just look at the modern dog owner, happily tidying up his pet’s excrements, getting applause from bystanders for being socially responsible.

A few years ago, being the CEO of YiGG, a news aggregation site, I oversaw a relaunch that was ultimately important, should become the company’s basis for significantly higher revenues and should be the narrative basis for our future exit story.

It flopped.

After weeks full of hard work, we launched at 3am, when everybody besides us was asleep. I went to bed and advises my wit not to wake me before 10am. She woke me up at 8 – our Director of Communications was on the line: „Michael, it’s terrible – they hate the new design.“ I wanted to time-travel, but unfortunately I had to go back to work and eat shit.

My key takeaway form being an entrepreneur is that there is nothing (business-related) that might kill you. If you are an entrepreneur by heart, you will have the perseverance to use obstacles against themselves. And – trust me – there’s nothing better than having successfully cleaned up your own shit. So – go and read Ben’s book, and then act accordingly.

Ammersee

Think Small, Achieve Big

Getting-things-done tools, or goal-setting by breaking big goals into smaller, more achievable ones, have been very fashionable in the management field lately. A different perspective, but the same aspect of becoming more productive, is the “Lean” approach, as in Lean Management or Lean Startup. All those approaches are based on one fundamental principle: think small.

The flip side of all goal setting techniques is the limited size of the belief someone has in accomplishing that goal. If you set yourself big goals but you don’t really belief in accomplishing them, you won’t be successful. Even if you break your big goal down into smaller ones, you know that there is this big goal somewhere in the background. The danger is that you know you just use the technique because you wouldn’t accomplish this goal straightaway – a classic cognitive dissonance.

My personal approach to reaching my goals is a different one: I think small, very small. I think so small, that my goals become one with my actions. For me, every single action is a goal itself –  you could call it ‘goal-action-identity’. Or, you could see it as a changed perspective: for me, a goal isn’t something I want to achieve in the future, but it’s exactly that what I’m doing right now. This might sound strange at the first glance, but this goal-action-unity implies several personal benefits:

  • Actions are consciously performed: if you think about what you’re just doing, and this action is what you want to do at this moment, then you act consciously and you put as much quality in your action as possible.
  • No stress involved: if your actions contain high quality then this is the best you can perform at this moment and consequently, there is no need to be stressed since you couldn’t fill this moment with something better.
  • Actions and goals are here and now: you don’t have to look into a (brighter) future, towards better actions, better conditions, or accomplished goals. There’s nothing you have to do first, before you can start accomplishing your goal.

The most interesting effect of this unity of goals and action for me is that other aspects of life have evolved in positive ways: here and there I’ve experienced nice twists where I had never expected them.

But, you might say, doesn’t that sound rather esoteric? What are the practical implications of that unity of goals and actions? Here are two examples, one I have recently been told by a business partner, and another I experienced myself during a pitch with AppAdvisors:

A big business built on a small idea 
In 2008, Fanny Auger was so pissed by spammy newsletters that she decided to launch My Little Paris, a newsletter subscription service for women interested in Paris’ restaurants, fashion and other urban tips. The original idea was to provide exactly that kind of dreadfully missed, high-quality service, to friends. In 2013, the founders sold 60% of their company for $90 million , and today the company is fully owned by Axel Springer, a German media company. What started small, as an idea to provide something very small, but in high quality, became huge within a few years. Today, My Little Paris has over 1.2 million subscribers and over 100,000 people paying a monthly fee for receiving a carefully curated beauty box.

Small is authentic
An agency pitch isn’t necessarily the part of work you love most: in order to win the assignment you have to invest heavily – you spend days or weeks of time and human resources. If you don’t win the assignment, you typically don’t know why exactly. To maximize their chances, many agencies try to see things from their potential client’s perspective and to present solutions for all imaginable problems. Being a small-sized company with a focus on consultancy, our approach at AppAdvisors is different:

  • we take our potential client’s briefing, strip it down to its core and create a solution for this core aspect,
  • we try to think this aspect through, even if time to presentation is scarce,
  • we try to see things from the perspective of the clients or users of our potential client,
  • we present just one single solution, the one we like most.

Sometimes, we win an assignment, sometimes we don’t. But every time we are happy with the result, since we believe in our solution.

These are two practical examples of how you could unite your goals with actions. There are gazillions of opportunities to align your goals with your actions. I encourage you to do it: start with simple actions and think about them as goals at the same time. Lend substance to these actions, make them important. Do that with actions of your everyday routine. And then look what happens.

The photo was taken at Ammersee, a lake in the south-west of Munich.

A Matter Of Age?

Michael Reuter

I’m relatively young. Yesterday, I turned 45, and that’s one year younger than the average German in the year 2014. Statistics say that my life expectancy is 79 years; most probably I’ll die on the 13th of April, 2048 – another 34 years to go. And yet, game could be over tomorrow. Who knows?

A Meaningful Life
However, my personal plan is to say good-bye much later – I love life, I want to experience as much as I can and I would like to play with my (prospective) grand kids. And to achieve a maximum of well-being right now as well as being able to live a decent life even as an octogenarian, I try a healthy lifestyle: I run, I do pilates (could be more often), I prefer healthy food to junk, I meditate. I don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, and I don’t watch TV. All this not to prepare myself for a brighter future only, but to optimize my well-being here and now: I live now and I want to do meaningful things instead of wasting time.

The aspect of “now” has become more and more important for me in the last years. I think the main reason is age itself: the older you get, the more you think about the meaning of life and what is still in for you. Another reason for focusing on the actual moment is your own offspring: if you see your kids growing and if you realize how fast they become young adults, then you don’t want to waste your time with some irrelevant stuff. For example, I try not to worry about things in general. If something goes wrong, I don’t offer resistance, but I’ll search for a way out – and there always is a solution. Not to worry means a daily challenge, and certainly I lose my temper regularly. But I try not to. And I’m getting better from day to day. Ultimately, every second of resentment is wasted time. A situation is as the the situation is – it’s up to me to make the most out of it.

Feeling old?
Do I feel old, then? No, definitely not – although everybody younger than 40 years would gently disagree. In fact, I feel quite young when it comes to all work-related aspects: since I work in the app economy and – together with my great partners - I run my own quantified self app, we’re active in a quite innovative and fast-moving area: you can’t really grow old here.

A couple of times during the year I give some lectures at universities. Working with students is a lot of fun and it’s a challenge, too: I want to teach the things I earn money with in a playful way that – at the same time – guarantees a knowledge transfer. And, guess what? There’s absolutely no problem at all to provide the students with interesting and state-of-the-art content, in most cases our daily work offers enough innovative aspects to surprise master students. I know I could be my student’s father, but…hey – when it comes to learning and innovation, I’m quite competitive at 45.

Wanna be younger?
Do I want to be younger? No, definetely not. I really loved being a student in Bayreuth, a small town characterized much more by its university than the Festival Theatre. But I would not want to be that student again. From time to time I envy those guys in their twenties, when they discuss their daily party plans – compared with me and my mostly business- or family-driven schedule. But, being an entrepreneur, I can quite easily arrange my days as I want to have them arranged. So – no need for being 25 again.

To be clear, if a 25 year-old tennis player comes along, he’ll destroy me on the court. And 20 years ago I did not have to do any additional exercise to keep my figure. All that has changed. But I can compensate many deficiencies with some wit and life experience.

Life Achievements
And – during the years I have adjusted some of my goals: whereas I wanted to be the best in some aspects of life, I don’t compare myself with others any more. If it comes to money, social status, or just gaining the upper hand in discussions – all that was important to me before, but isn’t today. Psychologists would argue that people lower their expectations as they get older because they have learned not being able to achieve more. My feeling is, that this isn’t crucial in my case: I just stopped to care about those things. And this is the most adorable aspect of getting older for me personally: to learn and to know what really is of importance in my life.

Important Aspects Of My Life

to be in good health
to live with a loving and caring family
to build companies with great partners
to live in the now.

Everything else is a bonus.

That’s why I don’t think I’m specifically old or young. I just don’t care at all. Not any more. And I strongly recommend that attitude. Just do it!

After all:

Happiness is not a goal; it’s the by-product of a life well lived. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

The photo was shot at Castiglioncello, Tuscany.

How I started smiling and what it changed for me

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Today is the last day of our very interesting SMILE! program. Over a period of 5 days, participants receive tasks in the explore app. The tasks are simple, but not easy: each day I have to make five people smile.

On the first day, it was easy: I could “choose” five people I would meet during the day and try to bring a smile on their facec by simply smiling at them first. That worked. Easy. Tuesday, the task became more difficult – I had to find five children and make them smile. You would say “Not a problem at all!” – but: although I managed to get re-smiles from several moms pushing their strollers (unintended, but not unpleasant at all) their offspring was too busy to join me in my SMILE! competition. And the older kids – phew – try to make a 12-year-old cool cat smile – nothing harder than that. So after I finished my first day successfully, I failed on the second. And on the third, the fourth and the last one, as well! I did not manage to make five kids, pensioners or suits smile.

By the way, although I could not make my specific target group smile, I was successful with many other people who either watched my continuous smiling or who thought being smiled at themselves.

Being a contestant in a typical competition, I would have failed in the sense of not having reached my goal. But the SMILE! program is different: After five days of consecutive attempts to make people smile, I realized several things which changed my attitude towards life in general:

  • Many people behave in an overly sober, if not downright grim and obstinate way when not being in conversation with others. Most people sit, stand or walk with pained expressions. Why?
  • Interestingly, most people immediately react to being smiled at in a positively surprised and friendly way. They seem to be relieved being freed from a certain power which forced them into some state of negativity.
  • If I had not been reminded by the explore app to smile and to target different people actively, I myself would have forgotten to smile, as well. Each time, explore notified me to smile, I realized how far away fro a smile my state of mind was. I never would have thought that.

I have reached my personal goal of the SMILE! program: I have started to smile at people – proactively, i.e. I don’t wait for people looking friendly or smiling at me. I start the “being-friendly-process”. And that’s cool – it’s a lot of fun since people around me become open, friendly, positive! There are more nice encounters with unknown people, and life feels lighter, better.

And that is what the SMILE! program in particular, and all explore app programs in general are about: explore learns about your behavior and encourages you to change it – day by day, in small steps. Bonus: explore is personalized: it knows whether I attain my goals and the app then sends its recommendations based on my individual behavior.

Behaviour change is one of the toughest topics in psychology. Scientific knowledge is scant. But one finding seems to be safe: the quality of a person’s well-being is better the more often this person gains positive experiences. And with specific programs based on apps like explore these small experiences can be triggered. I think that this can help people to change their behavior – something many of us are dreaming of.

The photo of this friendly chap was shot at a farm near Weilheim.

A very simple post-privacy manifesto

quantified self

In our daily work, we are regularly confronted with privacy issues: since our company Datarella provides data analytics based on external third party data and internal behavioral data gathered via our app explore, we know what it means to comply with national data protection regulations. And since we are based in Munich and most of our projects are executed in Germany, we naturally comply with Germany’s Datenschutzbestimmungen.

However, the basic motivation for our work originates with an intrinsic need of human beings: people want to know themselves, they want to learn who they are, why they behave the way they do and whether there are ways to improve their lives. For a long time, this noble task of exploring humanity was an exclusive exercise of philosophers, clergy, scientists and other intellectuals. John Doe didn’t have the means, time and leisure to go on this journey of his own discovery.

Today, since we may fly around the world with airplanes, use the internet to look up virtually anything and are always-on(line) thanks to mobile and other wearable devices, we don’t have to study sciences or be some brainy superhero to know the world in general and ourselves in particular. We are able to know ourselves not by visiting Freudian evening classes, but by collecting data about our own behavior. We weigh ourselves, we track our movements, or food intake and our somatic functions.

We quantify ourselves. In the United States, 70% of adults have tracked at least one specific data set regarding their somatic functions. And – let’s be honest – don’t you know your personal bodyweight? There you go – we all quantify ourselves. Not later than you reach your forties, you will start to care more about your body: you see the first signs of age and you ask yourself how to stay “young” a little longer.

That’s at least for the lucky ones, the healthy people who want to optimize their well-being. And then think of sick people, people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, etc. For them, any improvement of their lives quality is more than nice-to-have, but in most cases the only way to live a decent life without the sternest deprivations. People with chronic diseases are on long-term medication, often suffer from side-effects and depend on support from their physicians and the latest medical professional knowledge. The more they have to rely on others, the less they feel self-empowered. Or – vice versa- the more they can contribute to their convalescence themselves, the more dynamic that process will be.

The Quantified Self movement and with it, wearable tech, has turned the old hierarchical model of exclusive scientific knowledge – some (scientists, doctors) have the means (money, medical devices) to generate knowledge (physical examination) and to execute accordingly (prescribe drugs) – upside-down: now, the patient (everybody) has the means (e.g. $50 for a hemodynamometer) to generate knowledge (the blood pressure app) and to execute accordingly (e.g. change her behavior).

This is nothing less than the democratization of healthcare.

If you personally know people with chronic diseases and you look at the tremendously positive effects they achieve by quantifying themselves, you will never again doubt the meaningfulness and relevance of the Quantified Self. Besides collecting data about their own health, most people share their data with others. Sharing health data means providing a sound basis for research which is essential for exploring illnesses and developing innovative therapies. By sharing their data, people don’t give something away. They rather provide life-saving data to their peers, and therefore the bemefits to society clearly outweigh costs. (For privavy experts: sharing data means sharing data anonymously.)

Whether in healthcare or in other areas of life: in a post-privacy world, privacy is no longer guaranteed or even expected. Let’s face it: privacy has already been eroding on all levels. And do you know why? Privacy has reached its final stage because transparency and sharing are purely beneficial – they facilitate awareness, exploration, innovation, learning, collaboration and, finally, evolution. That’s why there’s no need to fear the loss of privacy – the benefits of transparency and sharing clearly overcompensate any negative effects.

I’m confidently looking forward to very dynamic processes in different areas of life – initiated by the Quantified Self. And I encourage you to participate in that movement! If you’re sceptically, just give it a try: start tracking some of your body functions and you will learn more about yourself. You might wonder about the consequences. And …. please stop mourning privacy – it’s over.