Today is Election Day. 

It felt like it took forever for this day to get here and then time sped up once we hit November 1st. 

Please vote. Don't use ignorance as an excuse for voting because it's 2018. Google has all the information you need. So does DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo, and practically any other website. Use them to educate yourself and then go vote. 

"Not voting is another form of voting."

Frasier, Platinum Doors, and Being Black in Technology...

Not many people know this about me but I absolutely love the TV show, Frasier. For some reason, high-brow dry wit does it for me every single time. I've been thinking recently about the episode "Door Jam."

Now in it, Frasier accidentally receives a letter that was meant for his neighbor. It's a fancy invitation to a place called La Porte D'argent. So of course, Frasier and Niles are desperate to find out what this place is. Turns out, it's a day spa that you can only get into with an invitation and if your name is on a list. After a bit of subterfuge, the brothers are "accepted" in.

The entire experience is fantastic. They're raving about how great everything was... when Frasier notices an acquaintance heading for a Gold Door. He goes to say hello but the door closes in his face and Frasier is told that that particular room is for Gold Members only. Naturally, the brothers want to know how to get into the Gold Room and so after some hemming and hawing, Roz gets them in through a connection. 

They get into the Gold Room and the shit is fantastic. They absolutely love it. And as Frasier's eyes adjust to the light, he notices a Platinum Door. He goes to take a peek inside when an employee tells him flatly that he's not allowed in there and walks away.

"Please remain in the Relaxation Grotto... have crueler words ever been spoken?" 

Not one to be told where he can and cannot go, Frasier is insistent on finding out what's on the other side of that door. And so he hoists Niles up in his arms, kicks open the door, and finds himself.... outside. Near the dumpsters and right next to mountains of trash as the door slams behind them.


Now this isn't an apples to apples comparison but being Black is tech, at least to me, feels a lot like being at this goddamn day spa. You somehow get an invitation to the most exclusive club you've ever heard of.  You get in and it's great. You start getting to know people and making connections only to find out that there's a Gold Room.

So you use those connections to get into the Gold Room and you fucking love it. It is literally the best thing you've ever experienced. Until you see that goddamn Platinum Door. What the hell is behind that door? You go to find out when someone tells you that you're not allowed in there.

Fuck that, you say. I belong in that Platinum Room and who the hell are they to tell me otherwise? So you barrel through, only to find out that you're surrounded by trash. Lots and lots of trash. It's not at all like you thought it would be and not only are you surrounded by trash but you have no way of getting back into the Gold Room, AKA: The Relaxation Grotto.


Like I said, it's not totally apples to apples but sometimes it feels like there's always another goddamn Room that I'm fighting to get into in this business. I've get into the spa and some might even consider YCombinator to be the Gold Room but all I can see is another door that I can't get accepted into and my fear is that eventually, I'll end up being surrounded by nothing but trash.

Here's a Youtube clip of the part of the episode I'm talking about.


I turned 33 today.

I woke up, had a solo breakfast at La Madeleine, and tonight I'll eat dinner with my mom at this fantastic Italian place in Montrose.

And that's it. No gigantic celebration. No "candid" shots of me in some far off country or city. None of that. Which is wild because usually I bust my ass, trying to create some memorable day so I can post it on social media and say something philosophical about life and how great the past year has been. But for some reason, I just don't feel like doing it anymore. It's fucking exhausting.

32 was a year of ups and downs. And that's what it's always going to be. I'll never have an up year where every day I was up. My goal is that the up days outweigh the down days but some days are meh and some days are really down. Trying to make it seem like everything is always sunshine and roses just feels fake to me now and I don't want to participate in that kind of ego inflation.

I'm proud of a lot of things I did this year. I have a long way to go in my mind but I'm constantly learning how to celebrate the small wins. And according to my best friend, 33 is my Jesus year. Which I had never heard of before she said it, but I absolutely love it.


Oh and here's a picture of me and Raelee at our favorite sushi spot. I don't think she remembered my birthday though. I just think she wanted some sushi & mochi and knew I would pay for it. :-)

10,000 people is enough for me.


A wise woman once said...

"Sam, we've been married for two years and we've moved 16 times. Now I'll go with you any place you want so long as you don't ask me to live in a big city. 10,000 people is enough for me."

That woman was Helen Walton. And I'm pretty sure you know who her husband was. 


I just started listening to "Made In America" and that little tidbit fascinated me. Sam would've built the first Walmart in St. Louis had it not been for his wife. But because she put her foot down, he built it in Rogers, Arkansas. A city with no more than 7,000 people living there at the time.

This gave Walmart the chance to start as a little fish in a little pond. It didn't go head to head with the Sears and JCPennys of the world because Sam's wife dictated where they would live which gave him the ability to fly completely under the radar. And by the time they knew the Walmart name, it was too late. 

That is so f**king awesome.

Voice AI and Robots

TechCrunch just wrote an article about Clinc, an Ann Arbor-based startup building voice AI.

What they're working on further emphasizes my growing sense that the future of low paying jobs, that used to go to high school kids and retirees, will be replaced by some combination of voice AI and robotics.

You can see it in Creator, the restaurant that has robots making burgers. And you can definitely draw a line between Uber and Lyft and how much money they're putting into autonomous driving. It'll take a little bit longer than expected but I'm sure we'll get there.

But if you're in high school right now, the best thing you could do for your future, is to learn how to code because the jobs of my past will not be the jobs of your future.

Sabbatical &

So for the past 6 months, I've been taking some time away from the startup world. Didn't apply for any jobs. Instead, I've been challenging myself creatively.

I became a screenwriter. Not with the sole intent of selling one for $$$$ but really as a test to see if I could actually produce, from scratch, a good story. Something that would intrigue a person reading it within the first 10 pages.

The final verdict... not bad.

While I absolutely love the process of writing and the flashes of brilliance that would happen whenever I was writing dialogue, one of the things I also learned is that it's not as easy as I originally thought it would be. My respect for screenwriters has now grown tenfold thanks to these past six months. Unfortunately, this also means that I won't be the next Aaron Sorkin or Brian Koppelman or Spike Lee.


But it was during this time, I had an idea that just wouldn't go away. You know how we see those Halloween pop up shops every year? Like Spirit Halloween and Halloween Express. Why don't they have the same thing for Christmas decorations?

Each year, Americans spend over $9bn dollars on Halloween decorations.

Wanna guess how much is spent on Christmas decorations? 

Nearly $20bn.

So I'll create a Christmas decorations pop up shop. But how do I do this? I don't have the money to rent a storefront. I don't have the money to build out said storefront. And I don't have the money to buy inventory. So physical retail is out. How else can I do this?


A little backstory: I've been going to home decor stores since I was in middle school. Garden Ridge which is now called AtHome has been a mainstay in my life and I know the stores well. One of the things I also know is that AtHome doesn't sell their inventory online. They moved a billion dollars of product each year and none of it is sold on Amazon or anywhere else on the web.

But... they do have their entire inventory online. You just can't buy it. You have to go to the store and buy it. So I'll pull a Jeff Bezos. I'll build the store online and fill it with Christmas decorations from AtHome and when someone buys, I'll drive to the store, buy the item, and ship it to them.

Holiday decorations are a bit harder to sell than books but thank God for Facebook and Instagram ads.


So there you have it. That's what I'll be doing from now until the end of the year.  I'm doing it by myself as another test to see if I can do it. Shopify has made the process a little easier so I'll build it using them. And I already have the perfect name.

Wish me luck!

Keep pushing!

Life is fucking hard.

No one taught me this as a child. I was given the same path as I'm sure many of you were.

Go to college. Get a good paying job. Settle down with a woman five years younger than you (thanks dad). Live a life filled with security.

My parents sheltered me from just how hard this shit is. I was shielded from what it means to be black in America. And to be quite honest, I really wish they hadn't because nearly every day, I see something that I didn't even think was possible.

Being black in America means you have to work twice as hard. Prove yourself twice as often. Or just throw your hands up and give up. Settle for life a few rungs down on the ladder, appreciate the little you have, and never worry about clawing your way to the top ever again.

How many of our parents decided to do that? How many of them looked at the way the world treated people of color and they decided to opt out forever? Do you think they regret their decisions? My dad wanted to move to Los Angeles and write music for a living. My mom, she wanted to be a famous novelist. But he stopped writing songs 30 years ago and she hasn't written a chapter in decades. Their lives have been undeniably filled with happiness. But there are times when I hear the disappointment in my moms voice that she didn't become the first J.K. Rowling.

The truth is, I was not born into a family of risk-takers. I am going against the grain. By trying to do anything in technology, where failure is high and opportunities are low, I am going against my genetic make up. My biological need for security.

This path is filled with panic attacks, depression, failure, as well as fits and starts. One minute you're up and the next you're down so far that it looks like up to you

But keep pushing.  Because all you need is one phone call. One email. One interview. One chance encounter to change your path forever. 

J.K. Rowling said it best --

"it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all - in which case, you fail by default."

Word Of Mouth is still the best growth hack

So I just moved into my new apartment which means I have a long list of shit that I need to get done. I bought my couch, picked up some groceries, and unfortunately, had to set up my WiFi. This means I was forced with the choice of whether I wanted cable or not.

Here in Houston, at least the part of town I live in, you have two choices. Comcast or U-Verse. Which is basically like asking me if I’d rather be kicked in the balls or punched in them. Both options suck for multiple reasons.

Now because I'm familiar with Comcast, I chose them. My bundle of WiFi and Cable was going to cost me $132/month. Comcast was nice enough to rent me their DVR for $10/month as well as one of their janky routers for $11/month. 

I have 150 channels, the majority of which I will never watch.

I was out with some friends last night when I begin ranting to one of them about how much I hated Comcast. Here's what he said next.

Have you heard about YouTube TV?

Of course I’ve heard of YouTube TV. Everybody has. We’ve seen the mobile ads and the billboards and the hundreds of other ways Google is pushing the service down our throats. But I’ve also heard of Sling TV (which sucked) and Hulu TV, and literally every other streaming service out there. So I wasn’t convinced. Not until my friend, with a drink in his hand, proceeded to pull out his phone, open the YouTube TV app and show me how quickly the channels came up, how many options there were, and the ability to DVR your favorite shows. We spent a good 5 minutes talking about how much he liked the service.

And then he told me the price. $40 bucks a month. Now my friend has had cable his whole life I think. But when they wanted to raise his monthly bill from $160 to $210, he cut the cord. $210 for two DVR cable boxes and a router.

Long story short, I signed up this morning and so far so good.

As I was doing so, I thought about how awesome it was to get first hand experience. It wasn’t the ads that sold me. It wasn’t the godforsaken popups that come every time I open YouTube. It was word of mouth. It was someone who tried it, loved it, and wanted me to know about it even though he got no discount or credit from me signing up.

But you know what else mattered.Google has made a really good product and is charging a fair price for it. That's your moat. Your differentiator. Just make a good ass product. All the marketing in the world will not save it if your product or service is for shit. None of it will matter in the long run if you don't make something people want.

Airbnb consistently wins my business because the service is good. I can book a room for multiples less than a hotel would cost me and I actually enjoy my stay.

Uber and Lyft win because they have built a good ass product. One where I don't have to worry about a cab driver passing me by for being black or going to a part of the city they don't want to go to.

And so far, for 40 bucks a month and all the channels I actually watch, YouTube TV is a good ass product.

Oh and a big, hearty::middle finger emoji:: to Comcast. You will lose in the long run and you’ll definitely be hearing from me soon to cancel my cable subscription.

CLEAR but for everything!

Earlier today, I read this article...  CLEAR for beer Techcrunch

It scares and excites me for so many reasons:

Imagine a cop pulls you over and instead of asking for your license and registration, he simply holds out a tiny scanner that scans your thumbprint or fingerprint in order to verify your identity, the expiration date on your license, and if your insurance is still valid.

Imagine being able to get your food stamps with just your thumbprint instead of an EBT card. You walk into a grocery store, load up your cart, and at the checkout lane, instead of swiping your card, you just put your thumb on the scanner and it instantly verifies your food stamp balance.

Imagine checking into a hotel with just your thumbprint. They verify the credit card attached to your CLEAR account and hand you the hotel key.

Imagine renting a car, buying chips at a casino, picking up a prescription at your local pharmacy. Basically anything that requires any kind of physical card or slip of paper could be disrupted with CLEAR.

CLEAR will become the place where you store your physical identity. You won’t need to carry your credit card, debit card, license, social security card, state ID, or any other form of identification. Your fingerprint will become your identification. In this future, you will only need yourself and your phone.

Sounds insane, huh? Sounds kind of exciting too, right?

Now imagine that kind of power in the wrong hands.

Imagine what a government such as our current one would do with that kind of information. They'd create a national registry of every American. 

Don’t get me wrong. CLEAR getting into beer is not a signal that they intend to do all that... well except for what the CEO said.

“We see a frictionless future where people no longer need to carry cash, credit cards or IDs with them.”

The future is exhilarating. But with great power comes great responsibility. I just hope CLEAR is up for the challenge.

This needs to exist...

When are we going to be able to live in one city while experiencing another?

Here's what I mean:

Right now, as I sit in front of my Macbook, I'd love to be able to strap on a VR headset and experience a New York City sunset. I could be positioned on a stoop, listening to the chatter on the streets, the honking of cars as they drive by. If you ever have the chance to walk through Downtown as the city starts to slow down, take it. It's magical. 

Wouldn't that be amazing? Maybe it's pouring down rain where you are but the beaches of Bora Bora are just a VR headset away. Of course I can't imagine it could be the real thing. That would require someone being there live and willing to share that view with you. Maybe through a pair of Spectacles. LOL.

But you could also do something like what Google Street View did but for sounds and at different times of the day and in different parts of the city. Just in case someone wants a different preference.

That would be really amazing. It might already exist and if it does, let me know. For now, I'll just sit here and think about how much I would pay in order to experience that. Spoiler Alert... a lot.