I Won’t Sign Your NDA

Don’t ever say this:  “I have an idea and I need your advice.  But first, can you sign my non-disclosure agreement?”

 

I’d love to help brainstorm or share my insight on your idea.  I’m not going to sign your NDA.  This is why:

 

1. Your idea is worthless

Ideas are plentiful and cheap.  Yours is not special.  What is special is the ability to turn that idea into reality.

Execution is all that matters.  Stop wasting time protecting an idea that isn’t real yet, and spend all of your time making it real and amazing.

The exception to this rule is ideas built on a ton of domain knowledge.  Science heavy, or an industry niche.

 

2. There’s no time to waste

The best protection for any idea today is to build it better and faster than anyone else can.

Don’t waste the little time you have.  Start building your idea NOW.  If the idea is as “original” and “amazing” as you say it is, prove it.

 

3. I’m not going to steal it

I’m not stealing your idea.  I’m too busy working on my own ideas.  That’s why you want advice from me.

 

4. Secrecy sucks

If your idea is awesome, I want to share it with people I know that can help you.  You want me to share it.  That’s how you’re going to find amazing minds to help you build it.

 

Now get out there and build your fucking idea!

 

Cookie Marketing

Last holiday season I was chatting about marketing with one of Newaya’s partners. They said that their best marketing tactic was sending freshly baked cookies to clients. Both existing and potential. I was dubious at first, but I tried the idea with my own flare and it worked.

Last year I sent my favorite trainer drone to many of Newaya’s referral partners as a ‘thank you’ for their business. Because the gift was simple and also unrelated to our primary business, I think the gesture stuck in our partners’ minds. I got a lot of thank you messages and all of those partners are still working with us today.

This year I’m going to send some holiday cookies and see how it works. I’ll let you know.

How to Start a Startup

The folks behind Y-Combinator (pretty much Sam Altman) are doing a class at Standford.

If you’re interested in starting a company, or even further, in startup culture, I would highly recommend following along with this class.  This is the first time (that I’m aware of) that some of the smartest people in the tech/startup world have put together a class at a university.  The class is at Stanford and every piece of it aside from physically being in the classroom is free on this website.  This world is getting so radical.

http://startupclass.samaltman.com/

Startup School 2013 – my takeaways

This was my first year attending Y-Combinator’s Startup School. It won’t be my last. The line-up of speakers had a lot of hot names, but every talk was interesting. Some were inspiring. Here are my favorite snippets from each speaker:

  • Phil Libin (Evernote) — Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. Persist.
  • Dan Siroker (Optimizely) — Use the hell out of your customer’s feedback.
  • Ron Conway (SV Angel) — Entrepreneurs have to mature at an alarming rate to keep up with their company. Learn quick.
  • PG + Sam Altman office hours — Be open to letting your idea evolve.
  • Chris Dixon (A16Z) — The best idea for a startup looks bad to everyone else. How ironic. Knowing a ‘secret’ is very important.
  • Diane Green (VMWare) — Make people’s lives easier. They’ll love you for it.
  • Balaji Srinivasan (Counsyl) — Change comes from voice within or voice by exit. Voice by exit is powerful en masse.
  • Chase Adam (Watsi) — Work on something that you care about more than yourself.
  • Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) — Hire people that you would want to work for.
  • Nathan Blecharczyk (Airbnb) — Pick ONE metric. Focus on it.

2013-10-19 10.16.00 HDR

Every entrepreneur should learn how to code

Heads up: I’m pretty much regurgitating what Paul Graham said in this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDA0t49AaZ4&t=7m37s.  Go watch it, it’s phenomenal. This post is my own experiential take.

I’ve spent the last six years looking for coders to build my ideas.  In 2009 I stole a friend’s business model for a Photoshop to HTML service.  I even went as far as hiring the SAME web designer he used to build his site.  That business failed because I was a bad friend and an idiot, but it was failing anyways because I couldn’t write a single line of HTML or CSS.

In 2011 I hired a few iOS programmers to help me build apps that I had ideas for.  The simple apps got finished and did just okay.  The complex app that we tried to build got abandoned and rejuvenated twice.  It never shipped.  That was 50% bad team leadership on my part and 100% me not knowing how to build anything for our app.  I was the ‘visionary/marketer/team leader… yeah, right.

There are a handful of other projects where, if I knew how to code, I could have at least built a shitty prototype in a few days.  Instead these projects took months, and the things that other people built for me were often shitty anyways.  Full disclaimer: I still can’t code, but I’m learning Ruby on Rails and it feels incredible to know that I’ll be able to build from an infinite box of virtual legos soon.  Here’s why I think every entrepreneur should learn how to code:

 

Being the “idea guy” is bullshit.

I’ve known one person that can pull this off.  I can’t.

There are a million ideas out there.  Yours might be great, but what really matters is execution.  Great idea + bad execution = crap.  Bad idea + great execution = gold (maybe) — because likely along the way of executing, your idea will evolve into something that’s actually valuable.  Either way, ‘maybe gold’ is always better than ‘definite crap’.

Knowing how to build things greatly improves your chance of executing well.  It also just makes you so much more valuable to the company.

 

Things you build yourself will always be better.

Your idea hopefully alleviates pain somewhere.  Your intimate knowledge of that pain is your biggest asset.  When you try to outsource the building of your pain killer, you have to describe the pain to whoever you’ve hired.  They never experience the pain for themselves. How fucked up is that?  The people building the solution don’t even have the problem.  Yikes.

This is why we always hear that successful companies came out of tools that the founders built for themselves.  When you build a solution for your own pain, you build it right and you build it fast.  Then you make it better.

 

Coding is the fastest and cheapest way I know of to build magical things.

Building tangible magical things like electric cars and reusable rocketships takes a lot of people’s money and time, and a lot of bureaucratic paper movement.  You can build great software by yourself in your basement with a mediocre computer.

Almost every day in 2013 I find a new plugin or website that makes me say “holy shit! I can do X ten times faster with this!”  That’s valuable magic.  As starting entrepreneurs ( ones without gobs of money) building software is the fastest and cheapest way to create real value for users.

 

Entrepreneurs are heralded as scrappy individuals with great ideas and great hustle.  They bring people together to solve problems, and that’s fantastic.  I’m just learning, over time, that an entrepreneur who knows how to build version 1 of his/her product will have a business with customers way faster than the entrepreneur that has to hire a web design firm to do the same thing.

As my friend Scott would say “A hacker that can hack code and can also hack business is dangerous!” I sure wouldn’t mind being dangerous.

 

 

Unlocking an AT&T iPhone Just Became 60 Times More Expensive

unlock-iphone-att

Since the release of the iPhone 5S and 5c the price for unlocking AT&T iPhones has skyrocketed. Six weeks ago Newaya could unlock any AT&T iPhone for $0.50 – $2.50, depending on processing time. Today the cheapest unlock available is just under $30, and the faster unlocking services cost up to $60. This is wholesale pricing.

Why?

The most convincing reason we’ve heard is that AT&T is trying to prevent users from buying the iPhone 5S or 5c and immediately unlocking it for resale internationally. Apple and AT&T have tried to fight this trend in multiple ways over the past few years. This is effective, and it’s causing huge problems for wholesale iPhone buyers/sellers.

Why you should upgrade to the iPhone 5S (even if you don’t want to)

Apple started shipping the iPhone 5S and 5c just a couple weeks ago. The iPhone 5S has a fingerprint reader in the home button and a handful of upgraded internal components. The iPhone 5c is essentially an iPhone 5 with colored plastic on the back. Neither of the phones boast significant updates for most everyday users, but you should still upgrade to the iPhone 5S if you have an upgrade available with your wireless carrier. Here’s why:
 

The latest iPhone is worth a lot

The iPhone holds its value over time stronger than any other cellphone on the market. When I started Newaya in 2010, I would buy back used AT&T iPhone 4 models from customers in late September for ~$500. The AT&T model of the iPhone 4 was released in June, so this was four months post-release. In October 2011, 12 months later, I was still able to pay customers up to $250 for their used AT&T iPhone 4 models — that’s AFTER the release of the iPhone 4S. Remember, this is for a phone that most customers originally paid $200 for when they signed a 2-year contract. Being able to sell something for $250 after 16 months of use when you paid $200 originally is pretty righteous, right?
 

You could sell your new iPhone and make a $300+ profit

Even though Newaya has grown and we have more costs today, we’re still paying customers up to $500 for the iPhone 5S immediately after release. That value will certainly come down over the next 12 months, but there’s a good chance that an iPhone 5S will still be worth $200-$300 when the iPhone 6 is released. Since the iPhone 5c really isn’t much of an upgrade, it’s value is not as significant: Newaya is currently paying up to $350 for a lightly used iPhone 5c.

If you used your upgrade to buy an iPhone 5S today for $200 and sold it immediately to Newaya for $500, you would make a $300 profit. This is simply not possible with other smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy models and HTC’s One unless you’re willing to assume the risk and time of selling the phone yourself.

bottom line: If you have an upgrade when the new iPhone comes out, use it. Your carrier is handing you several hundred dollars worth of subsidies, and they are worth the very most when the latest iPhone is released. If you don’t want the new iPhone, sell it to someone like Newaya or on Craigslist, eBay or Swappa.

3 Lessons My Dad Taught Me, But I Had to Learn Myself

My dad’s lessons on business and life always turn out to be true and valuable. Usually I don’t listen the first time around, and I end up kicking myself. These three have been big in my life lately.

1. It’s important to be uncomfortable

I hated my first year in college. I didn’t know the new city I was living in and I did a crap job of working to know it better. There was a mental block towards new experiences in this new place.

When I went home for the summer after year 1, I told my dad that I wanted to transfer to a university back home. He wouldn’t let me. He said that I needed to make an uncomfortable place comfortable. That the process was important. I reluctantly went back for a second year.

4 years later I love Colorado. It’s a really special place for me to be living and building a company. I couldn’t  see the opportunity for this place to be great when I moved here because I was personally uncomfortable. Getting over that unfamiliarity is the first threshold in learning anything new. The faster that you can get past it, the easier it will be to pick up new skills and explore new places.

Now I try to get uncomfortable wherever and however I can.

 

2. Focus sucks at first, then it works

Towards the end of college I had a lot of things going on. School, app development, starting a company, and helping my friends with their companies.

Dad has always been cautious but supportive about this. He encourages me to have different seeds planted, but he doesn’t believe in multitasking.

For a long time, I thought I was great at multitasking. I’m not. Other people might be great at it. I’m still not. And that’s okay. Better, in fact that I know what I’m bad at.

At first things went great. But when each thing got bigger, I was spread way too thin. It’s hard to do a lot of things really well.

In the last nine months I’ve honed my focus onto just one project: Newaya. It’s the main thing I’m thinking about day to day. The transition is hugely liberating and Newaya will likely have grown 2.5-3x from 2012 to 2013. Legit progress, yo.

 

3. Business happens over time (life does too)

I used to feel that in the information age, long-term relationships and conservative business growth fell by the wayside to rapid software iterating and viral growth.

Dad tried to explain this a hundred times. My feeling was wrong. Super wrong.

A genuine portion of Newaya’s growth comes from the fact that the company has been around for 2+ years to date. I now believe that it takes at least 1-2 years for other people and companies to see that you’re really serious, and are not going to abandon ship for another project or interest. This is especially pertinent to folks that have a lot of hobbies and ideas.

Depending on the industry and your sales cycle, you might meet a potential customer on day 1 of business that doesn’t need your product/service until day 500. Make sure you stay around until day 500, it’s really fun to turn these connections into customers.

Die Behind a Shitty Desk, at a Great Start-Up

Last fall I attended a conference for start-up entrepreneurs – with speakers that talked about things like “What not to do or say to a venture capitalist.” It was fun, and super educational. The best thing I heard all day, though, was an anecdote that a tenured entrepreneur had to share. This guy was in a room full of suits.. Even I was wearing a suit. He had on jeans and a messy polo shirt. A real entrepreneur.

The guy shared a story about a mentor or friend of his that was visiting him in the office one day. Apparently this friend had been quite successful and was rolling in the dough from good investments and IPOs. But the friend had an epiphany of sorts. His friend walked up to his desk, grabbed the edges of the old table and exclaimed: “I want to die behind a shitty desk at a great start-up!”

I thought that was really great.

So today I got my first real office desk. I paid $55 at a thrift store in town. It’s actually pretty sweet, depending on which angle you look at it from..

The Green iPhone Story

The Beginning

I started Green iPhone in the fall of 2010. Over the summer I was working as a Macintosh Technician at a store called MacHaus in Anchorage. This was after my first year of college at Colorado State in Fort Collins, CO. For fun that summer, I began buying used iPhones on Craigslist, doing some refurbishing to them and unlocking them, and then reselling them. Back in 2009 I had seen how most iPhone 3G owners immediately upgraded to the new iPhone 3GS, and had their old 3G iPhone available to sell. I figured that the same thing would happen upon the release of the iPhone 4. It did. Eventually I was buying five to ten iPhones per month. This was a great source of supplementary income over the summer.

When I headed back to Colorado for my sophomore year, I started thinking that the iPhone refurbishing operation could be more serious than a hobby. The market showed that this could be a legitimate business. Many people wanted to sell their old iPhones after upgrading or switching carriers, and many people wanted to buy used iPhones without contracts.

The Website

In my mind at the time, the first act in establishing a business was building a website. It only made sense to build a great one! My idea was to have a website where people could sell their old iPhones when they wanted to buy the latest model, and anyone that wanted an older iPhone could buy one that was refurbished and with no contract. It would be a used iPhone marketplace with refurbishing and unlocking services in-between!

I happened to own the www.greeniphone.com domain, because in high school I had wanted to build solar, wind, and hydro electric chargers for the iPhone, and had bought the domain to sell the chargers. I did build an iPhone solar charger [read more here], but I never set up a website to sell it. The Green iPhone name seemed like a pretty good fit for this business!

While heading back to CSU for my sophomore year, on the shuttle ride from Denver to Fort Collins, I put out a recruitment ad for a website designer. I found a great one, and we began building the Green iPhone website. It took a few months, but we developed something grand:

Business at School

I continued buying, fixing, unlocking, and selling iPhones throughout the 2010-2011 school year. All operations took place in my dormitory room on campus. Here’s a shot of that dorm room. Notice the iPhones mid-repair on the yellow cloth at the far left corner ;)

In The Dorm!

 

Sustainable Living Fair 2010

In September I snagged a booth at the Sustainable Living Fair in Fort Collins. The Sustainable Living Fair is a killer outdoor festival, focused on educating and sharing ideas about sustainability in everyday life. This was a perfect venue for iPhone recycling! My friend Jared gave me a hand with setting up and manning the booth. The most common phrase we got was “What is a Green iPhone..?” We had a blast, and the fair was an excellent experience for me in getting closer to my customer.

The Switch to Volume Selling

By Spring of 2011 I was buying 20-25 iPhones per month, I was rocking school full-time, and I had also started developing iPhone apps with a killer team. Although the Green iPhone website was helping tremendously with iPhone buyback, not as many customers were interested in using the website to purchase refurbished iPhones from me. I was still selling many on Craigslist and eBay.

Listing, selling, and shipping each phone individually became tedious as volume grew. Thankfully, the Green iPhone website served as a marketing tool, and I was approached by several volume buyers that had found the website and were interested in buying large volumes of iPhones. Selling in bulk saved a lot of time and let me focus on continuing to grow the business. I was also excited to be working with larger companies that had a larger presence, but also shared the same social mission. Here is one of their recycling centers!

Summer 2011

The summer came on quickly, and I was gearing up for a road trip to Alaska with my friends Jimmy and Jared. We drove a 1940 Chevy up from Fort Collins… Yeah, we’re crazy. She made it without any problems! For more info on that trip, check out our travel blog: www.970to907.com.

My plan for the summer had been to spend 6-8 hours per day working on Green iPhone, and then enjoy the Alaskan outdoors for the remaining 2-3 hours. I love hiking, bicycling, camping, climbing, frisbee, and exploring in my down time – so this seemed like an excellent plan. When I got back home, I started realizing just how much I enjoy hiking, bicycling, camping, etc.. The plan reversed, and I found myself working on Green iPhone for a couple hours per day at best. For me this was a great discovery about my work ethic between Alaska and Colorado. Alaska is my relaxed home and somewhat a vacation spot. Fort Collins is great for getting work done. Here are some memories from an exciting summer with a lot of outdoor adventures:

Although I had a hard time concentrating while living it up in Anchorage, I did manage to get some good work done over the summer. The buying/selling volume was low, but I kept good relationships with my buyers and developed a couple of new ones!

Back to School and Networking in Fort Collins

Coming back for my junior year in the Fall of 2011, I had two business goals:

  1. Focus on Green iPhone and grow operations
  2. Meet the right people in Fort Collins that could be mentors, advisors, friends, and just great general business connections

Thankfully, this is exactly what happened. The iPhone buying/selling volume grew back up to 25-30 iPhones per month, and I started taking anyone out to lunch that would listen to my story. If I met someone interesting, I continued to follow up with them and asked if they knew anyone I might like to meet. I tried to have a least one new meeting per week.

The Rocky Mountain Innosphere

I had heard about the Innosphere from professors at CSU, from other business owners, and from some of my mentors. It is a business incubator that helps start-ups on many levels, and it has a great reputation. I pictured a bunch of people in one large office, all working on their own businesses and brainstorming from time to time. I thought it might be 10-15 people in a small building. I asked one of my mentors that I knew was connected to the Innosphere, “Do you think it would be okay if I go to Innosphere and bring everyone lunch?”. He laughed at the thought, and mentioned that Innosphere was a bit larger of an operation than I might be thinking. Instead of taking a bunch of burritos for everyone, he suggested that I have a meeting with one of the administrative staff – and connected me!

FastTrac TechVenture Program

Once I got connected to the Innosphere, Ryan Speir, the COO at the time, suggested that I take a business class that Innosphere was hosting called FastTrac. FastTrac is a 10-week course on business plan development and the essentials of running a legitimate company. The course was created by the Kauffman Foundation and this session was being hosted by the Innosphere from September to November. I quickly submitted an application, and was accepted into the program. [Innosphere's FastTrac Page]

There were about 15 people taking part in the class; most were between 30-50 years of age. We were separated into teams of 5 or 6 and paired with an advisor that would work with us more closely at each session. My team advisor was David Cunningham, a hilarious and brilliant businessman who is now a personal mentor and friend. In each class session we listened to a new guest speaker on a particular business subject such as marketing, funding, or accounting, and we worked on an interactive exercise which helped us discover concepts for ourselves. One of the most helpful exercises for me was constantly giving the Green iPhone “elevator pitch” and getting feedback on what I could be doing better. I learned a tremendous amount from the program, and Green iPhone became much more mature as a result of every class session.

At the end of FastTrac, each participant gave a pitch on their business and where they were moving with it. I gave a 10-minute presentation about Green iPhone, asking for more mentorship, advice, and possibly some future financial help. After my presentation, Ryan Speir offered me the opportunity to pitch at Innosphere’s Social and Advisory Group for Entrepreneurs (SAGE) event on December 14th (right during my finals week). I couldn’t pass it up.

SAGE

What is SAGE?

Innosphere’s SAGE program connects entrepreneurs with advisory teams that help the entrepreneur define and grow their business. At each monthly SAGE meeting, a new entrepreneur spends 10-20 minutes pitching their venture to a room of professional business people that are in the SAGE group. Once the pitch is finished, the SAGE group members can ask clarifying questions on what has been presented. After the SAGE group questions, the entrepreneur leaves the room and the group discusses: 1. What SAGE likes and admires about the entrepreneur and the venture. 2. What SAGE feels are the next critical next steps for the entrepreneur in taking the business where he/she wants it to go.  3. Thoughts on how the entrepreneur can address the critical next steps. When the discussion is finished, the entrepreneur is brought back into the room and the SAGE facilitator explains the results of the discussion. This concludes the formal event. During the entrepreneur’s presentation, each SAGE group member has a sheet to take notes on, and they can indicate on that sheet whether they are interested in joining an advisory team to assist the presenting entrepreneur. After the SAGE event, 3-5 advisors are chosen to be on an advisory team for the entrepreneur.

 

The Green iPhone Pitch

Several staff members at Innosphere helped me prep for my SAGE presentation by having me give my pitch and then providing feedback on how to tailor the pitch for SAGE. This was quite helpful. One of my CSU professors, Yolanda Sarason, also helped me by gathering a team of entrepreneurship professors to listen to my pitch and provide more feedback. I received a lot of fantastic insight, and my presentation kept evolving. It was somewhat nerve-wracking, but exhilarating at the same time.

The final slide presentation that I used for SAGE was very simple. It gave me just enough visual cues to explain Green iPhone and what I had been working on, but I really didn’t get to go into extreme depth. It’s hard to share everything about a business/idea in 20 minutes!

Here is my SAGE slide deck:

 

The presentation went extremely well. I enjoyed explaining, to a great group of advisors, what I’d done so far with Green iPhone. They had some excellent clarifying questions which let me elaborate on my ideas and the state of the business.

After SAGE I was set up with 4 magnificent advisors that I am still working with today!

Newaya Recycling

One of the first “Action Items” that my SAGE advisors had me work on was changing the Green iPhone name. I needed to avoid trademark issues (‘iPhone’ is a registered trademark of Apple Inc.), and I also wanted to expand beyond just buying iPhones.

In March 2012, Green iPhone officially became Newaya Recycling. I now buy back Blackberrys, Androids, and Windows Smartphones along with iPhones! I’ve also begun recycling old cellphones for free via donation. The first Newaya cellphone recycling box will be going into the MUGS coffee shop in Old Town Fort Collins this week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a lot of work, and the Newaya website, branding, flyers, business cards, and general marketing material are finally finished. I’m back to regular business operations of buying smartphones and growing the company!

You can continue following the story on the Newaya blog!