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September 4th, 2014

The Myth / The Reality

It’s very easy to become obsessed with the supposed glamour of running a company instead of actually doing the work – the unglamorous, tedious, hair-pulling fucking work.

Over the past few days, all over my Facebook stream, I can see pictures of entrepreneurs looking successful, when I know for a fact that they are not successful at all. It’s weird, and it creates a strange broken mirror effect. But of course, it’s inevitable.

In 2004, I had just started podcasting, and was lucky enough that I ended up being one of the first podcasters in the world. Good timing and a decent radio voice had given me my big break. Not bad.

But what happened after that is far more interesting. I ended up quitting my job, focusing on doing my podcast full-time, and failed. I had accumulated a ton of credit card debt over a few years, gone through some RRSPs (Canadian 401k’s), and was at a pretty bad place after a while of doing this – pretty deep in debt for a 24 year old. It was really hard, and then suddenly, I had gotten a break while working at a homeless shelter, of all places. I got an email from my podcast company saying I had made something like $10,000 in two months.

“Holy crap!” I thought. I had never seen that kind of money in my life before. Ever. Suddenly, my life had turned around. From one day to the next, I was no longer in debt, and I wouldn’t have to start over. I had crossed the dip.

But up until that time, I was basically faking it til I made it. The exact same thing I accused people of, above, when I posted that on my Facebook wall a few days ago.

As soon as I posted it, the deluge of comments was crazy. I got a bunch of private messages. “I’m faking it right now!!! I’m miserable!!!” And then I got a bunch of questions asking me if my startup was doing alright.

Lucky for me, it was. I couldn’t tell them then, but our numbers were great, and I was announcing in the next two days that Breather had raised $6mm in venture capital from RRE Ventures (this is public now). But the crazy part is, from the perspective of all the people on the internet, failure and success basically look the same until that final moment when you discover the truth. Nobody knows the difference. We’re all trying our best to be the duck – looking super cool above water while paddling like crazy underneath.

But ducks were born to swim. Most of us have no idea what we’re fucking doing.

The main concern isn’t playing the game – I guess it’s natural, although I’m sure it can be lonely at times. The problem is that the endorphin rush of fake success kind of feels the same as real success, for a while. It’s why you and I post selfies every little while. Feels good to look good! Oh man, am I great.

Well, not really. You’re like everybody else. So remember to actually get the work done, not just impress others with photos of what internet celebrities you’re hanging out with. That’s how you actually get to enjoy it later. Or at least, that’s what I see on my Facebook feed.

* Filed by Julien at 6:13 pm under random

November 17th, 2013

How To Name Your Company

(Also on Medium here.)

Basic thesis: Everyone’s mind is crowded. Your idea needs space in the brain to survive. The right name enables this, and more.

Here’s how to find a great name— for your company, your project, or whatever else.

Why I wrote this: I’m really good at naming things, for a few reasons.

One, I spent years looking at domain names around 2007-2008. I know the domain name industry inside and out. I’ve looked at and bought and sold thousands of names.

Two, for some ineffable reason, I am great at simplifying things down to their component parts.

Three, I am hyper picky about what makes a good name, both visually and verbally.

Four, I have successfully found names for several of my projects that are absolutely world-class. See: Breather, The Flinch, etc.

10 Rules on How To Name Your Company

1. A good name is simple. But more than simple, a great name goes to the base of what the company does, both describing it and expanding on it.

Example: The process of naming Twitter by Noah Glass is described in Hatching Twitter, which was recently released. Regardless of how close to the truth it is, “twitter” describes it perfectly, as it is a short, irreverent/irrelevant sound. From this, the idea of birds emerge, making it even better (but honestly, it could have been anything).

2. A good name is a noun, and its use can be shortened to either make it into a verb or a noun.

Example: My startup Breather is a network of rooms for work or rest, which at one point were called “Breather rooms,” but which since have been shortened by users to simply be called “Breathers,” as in “I just rented a Breather.” This makes word-of-mouth infinitely easier.

3. A good (domain) name passes the phone test.

Example: Re: (Fiverr.com)

Person 1: “Oh yeah I just used this service Fiverr.”

Person 2: “Fiver, awesome.” (Types it into phone.) #FAIL

Oops. Your service better be damn good if people are willing to spell it out every time.

Funny story actually, a VC I was recently meeting with literally typed in Brether into his browser to search for us, because he had already assumed my company was spelled wrong. He was shocked we owned Breather.com. Another side note, some people (I’m looking at you Jason Calacanis) have rules around investing or not based on how good your name is.

4. (A corollary.) A good domain name is worth any price you are capable of paying.

Example: Breather.com cost me $7,500, which is a steal, and I bought it the very same day I thought of the word. Likewise, your company’s Twitter handle needs to be easy to obtain as well. I consider those to be the primary ones. FB, Google+, all the other stuff, don’t worry about it.

5. Combinations of two words are ok, and can even be great (though Facebook is actually one real word). With word combos, it has to roll off the tongue, which means two or three syllables, but almost never four.

Example: Microsoft and Pinterest, ok. Shopkeep, awesome (based on a real word). CreativeLive, started by my buddy Chase Jarvis, is a good exception to the not-four-syllables rule.

6. Now I’m looking at you, French people. If your company name sounds like English to you, but sounds fucking weird to native speakers, choose something else for God’s sake. A random invented word is better than the stuff you made up.

Example: PearlTrees? Wtf. SoundCloud? Absolutely.

7. Do not, I repeat, do not name your company very similarly to another startup, especially a successful one. 

Example: … I have one. But they’re kind of friends, so I’m keeping it to myself. :|

8. If you can’t come up with anything, try changing one letter from something you really want, or something that sounds like a real thing.

Example: Mustbin. I haven’t looked up what they do, but if it’s not about wish lists, I retract my recommendation.

9. You can find a good name just by free writing, and doing so for an absurdly long time.

Just keep writing and writing. Seriously. Do it in a text file. Keep writing until you reach 10,000 words. The right name will come along, as long as you keep writing.

Example: Just trust me, this works.

10. Look, eventually, none of this will matter. But right now, it matters a lot. Your company name is your identity. Think about it for a LONG TIME.

Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

Check out more of my blog, my free book or add me on twitter. Also, we're hiring. Check that out.

* Filed by Julien at 11:22 am under business

November 6th, 2013

9 Ideas About the Future

Here are a few ideas about what the future could look like.

I wouldn’t consider these holy writ; more like provocations to think about.

A. Bitcoin becomes extremely popular, replaces gold as a stable currency because of its algorithmic, predictable, stable nature. Bitcoin ATMs on every block.

B. Home Depot becomes a giant room, 2% of its usual size, with 3D printers in the back that just print out whatever it is that you want. No more inventory.

C. Amazon does the opposite. Opens warehouses that become showcases for the few things you have trouble ordering online… fridges, etc.

D. Your smartphone becomes your wallet, your ID card, your keys. Segments society into smartphone users (who have access to the best services), and non-smartphone users (who don’t).

E. Social networks become generational, with each successive generation abandoning the previous one and software using more highly viral methods to reach the generation that is not yet captured. See: Snapchat, WeChat. Eventual boom/bust cycles cause great instability. OR…

F. Social networks obtain permanent place in the stage of life of the participant. i.e LinkedIn becomes the dominant circle when your work life starts to gain in importance, then declines once you retire. Etc.

G. Google Fiber threatens to put all other telecom providers out of business as a result of their intent to “organize and make available all of the world’s information,” theorizing that slow internet prevents access to information. Anti-trust legislation follows. See Jason Calacanis’ Launch list for more on this.

H. Wars develop for each location a piece of hardware can exist: the eye, the wrist, the hand, the desk, etc. Nike probably wins the wrist. The rest… I mean, hey, hard to bet on anything else but Google.

I. Increasingly peer-to-peer services replace everything, as they create efficiencies where middlemen are unnecessary. Offices (obviously), restaurants, tours, travel, flights… everything. And remember, the inevitable end result of all technology is omniscience and telepathy. Or extinction. (Only slightly kidding.)

* Filed by Julien at 6:35 pm under trends

October 29th, 2013

Peak Advertising - When Ads (and Content) Become More and More Useless

I came across this paper the other week via Chris Dixon’s Twitter account describing a possible phenomenon: Peak Advertising.

Who knows if it’ll end up being true or not. But it makes some sense and it’s worth discussing.

If you’re familiar with Peak Oil, you’ll inherently understand this too.

Here’s the theory.

Key indicators for online advertising effectiveness have declined since the launch of the first banner advertisement in 1994. These declines are increasingly placing pressure on even the most established businesses in the space.

These developments suggest important (and potentially painful) implications for market structure, privacy, and authenticity online.

Existing alternatives appear at present to be insufficient to replace lost revenue from near-future declines in the value of display, search, and mobile advertising.

Ultimately, the economics of the web will necessitate pivotal decisions about the financial underpinnings of the Internet in the decades to come.

Let’s rephrase: Users are becoming more sophisticated and clicking on ads less than before. Ads are less effective, and are plagued by click fraud, driving prices downward. This will eventually becoming such a problem that it will threaten entire businesses (Twitter, FB, whatever else) we have come to take for granted.

These businesses will therefore have no choice but to begin invading users’ privacy further and further to help target their ads.

Due to the nature of math, companies will also create massive monopolies / oligarchies to create efficiencies, allowing them to remain profitable despite these problems.

Whether it turns out to be true, well… it’s interesting either way, isn’t it?

All the more reason to do things while they work. All the more reason to attempt new things to gain advantage now, while they work.

Here’s the full PDF in case you are curious.

* Filed by Julien at 4:03 pm under random

October 25th, 2013

Wanna Start a Company or Raise Venture Capital? Listen to Rap Music


It’s pretty much undisputed at this point there is a connection between successful venture capitalists & entrepreneurs, and listening to hip-hop music.

This is totally unscientific, of course. But it makes total sense to me now.

I don’t know when it started, but these days, I’m seeing it everywhere.

And I know it’s crazy, and I know I’m making something out of nothing here, but I sincerely believe that there is a correlation between ambition and listening to rap.

Here’s Ben Horowitz (of A16Z, investors in Instragram, Airbnb, etc.) talking about how Kanye West’s Stronger helped Ben process “11th-hour, late-night auditing mishaps that almost stymied the $1.6 billion sale of Opsware.”

We also know that Horowitz’ love of hip hop was a factor in the firm’s $15M investment in Rap Genius, a rap lyrics site that is trying to be the meta-data layer above everything (actually a cool idea).

Here’s Mark Suster (a well-known blogger and VC) relating his entrepreneurial experience to 8 Mile.

Pretty sure Fred Destin listens to it even though he claims his main influence is Crystal Castles.

And hey, here’s Shervin Pishevar (Uber, Tumblr, etc.) tweeting out Pusha T lyrics. Clearly I’m onto something.

Am I just seeing things? Maybe.

But I’ll tell you what listening to outrageous, sometimes super arrogant music does to you.

It pumps you the fuck up. It makes you feel capable— like you can take on the world.

I think that either ambitious people listen to hip-hop, or, rap makes people ambitious. You decide. But check this.

A lot of rap actually is about business.

Let’s take an easy one: 10 Crack Commandments by Notorious B.I.G.Sure it’s about slinging crack-cocaine. But it also actually offers good advice.

Not kidding.

[Rule] Number 2: Never let em know your next move

Number 4: Never get high on your own supply (never believe your own press)

Number 7 (this rule is so underrated): Keep your family and business completely separated

Other songs teach you about haters, about spending too much money, or focusing on yourself instead of others.

Now, a lot of people might say it’s a bad idea to take advice from egomaniacs.

Nonsense! I think there’s something to learn from everyone, as long as you consider the source before deciding. (I also think this about crappy self-help books btw.) And hey, they did make money, they clearly know something.

Anyway if you wanna get yourself hyped-up, here’s my top 5 tracks to get me super enthusiastic.

And in case you’re wondering about my credibility well… this was before your time, but although I am the whitest man alive, I did have a hip-hop radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio. So. :)

Anyway, enjoy! Now go do something amazing.

* Filed by Julien at 4:39 pm under hip hop

October 21st, 2013

How to Deal With Arrogant People

I was mid-way through writing a post about this when I realized I had already written one in 2010.

Regardless, here is my take on the issue from 2013, since I wrote it already. :)

It will always happen that you meet nay-sayers, disbelievers, or just straight up rotten, arrogant people.

No matter how far up or down you are on the food chain, there is always someone who thinks they are better than you. It never ceases. Trust me.

And no matter what stage you’re at, it’s especially true when you’re starting a new project.

When you start something, no one cares.

They don’t understand your dream, they don’t care about it, and further, they are often too busy, too in their head and defending their position, to care. Evidence be damned.

So get used to it. It happens.

What I want to give you today is an attitude to take when you meet these people, one that helps you stay calm, respectful, and composed.

The attitude to take is – “We will meet again, and when we do, things will be different.”

Use it like a mantra. Here’s what this does.

One, it makes you feel like you’ll get your comeuppance. No matter how badly someone treats you, you’ll be in a position of higher power later. This is immediately calming / reassuring.

Two, it makes you think twice before being an asshole back. Because you’ll meet again, you’ll want to be graceful instead of defensive. (Usually people act worse when they know it’s a one-off.)

In effect, you are using your future position to secure your present state of mind.

Try it next time you’re confronted by rudeness. It works.

* Filed by Julien at 11:17 am under random

October 9th, 2013

Your marketing job is about to become an engineering job. Get used to it.

There is so much happening, so fast, in the world of marketing that I would never have guessed as a “social media guy.”

First, the rise of the growth hacker. This is a term familiar to basically all people who work at startups, but few outside of it, as of yet, yet it means that engineers are taking marketing jobs left and right and will continue to, basically forever, because they’re better at it. This post was over a year ago and still everybody acts like nothing has changed.

Also, there is the fact that marketing is largely becoming about algorithms, instead of catchy jingles. How it’s become about optimization instead of “grand openings” or “launch dates.” Data instead of instinct.

Third, there is the destruction of “influencer marketing,” and the realization of how destructive it can become to try and seek out attention when a product is, at the outset, broken and / or uninteresting.

There are so many more trends like this, all basically pointing to the fact that your marketing job is about to become obsolete.

You are about to be replaced with a junior engineer, 23 years old, maybe without a degree, who makes half of what you make and gets better results. It’s just going to happen.

God help you if you actually got a marketing degree.

Conclusion: We have no choice but to evolve.

“Community” is not enough.

“Influence” is not enough.

Nothing but quickly shipped, highly interesting product, rapidly iterated and tightened with viral loops will get you where you need to go.

Segue into a quick story.

I am on a marketing panel in Montreal a few months back that Ray Hiltz set up about content marketing, I think. Doing my thing, which is generally to push the envelope.

I start saying that people have to go further and do more, that their stuff is usually more boring than they think it is, and that they have to try harder.

Another panelist asks me why. And this is when I begin to channel Aaron Wall from back in my SEO days.

The answer as to why we should be doing everything harder, better, faster, stronger is because otherwise, your competition will.

So it’s not really about you, but about the ecosystem. You have to be the #1 player, because the #1 player gets all the spoils (80/20 rule works in SEO and everywhere else).

And you only become the #1 player by beating whatever would become #1 otherwise. Your competition is at your heels.

And here’s the thing. Being more hardcore doesn’t mean you’ll win. It just means you get a shot.

Back to my point, which is about engineers vs marketers.

The world is becoming increasingly directed by machines. Those machines are only partially comprehensible to non-technical people.

Non-technical people are realizing they can create viral products exclusively through tweaking and that is has little to nothing to do with or advertising awards or “viral videos.”

They realize that they can sell their companies by doing this and make more money than the next guy.

Two types of engineers begin to emerge: the highly technical, build-hard-stuff engineer, and then the half-engineer, half-marketer, whose job it is to build things like the first Craigslist hack that made Airbnb take off. (Note: It wasn’t a viral video that made them popular.)

And this is the guy that wants your job. And If you don’t believe me, you should believe Fred Wilson who just blogged about this today: If You Aren’t Technical, Get Technical.

I don’t know about you, but I am personally regretting my “I’m too lazy to work at math, engineering, and science” attitude from high school. I was good at it, but I was lazy. Listen to your parents, kids.

So what’s the solution?

Personally, on my team, I like it when people go to Codecademy, even if they are not technical, and especially if they interface with engineers on a daily basis (hint: everyone interfaces with engineers). It not only gives them an impression of code as craft but also lets them understand the why behind everything.

As a bonus, they can become vaguely technical, or about 5% technical, which as we all know is infinitely better than zero. P.S.: HTML does not count as technical.

For you, personally, the marketer reading this, just like the engineer, you have two options:

A. Become the half-marketer, half-engineer that the industry will shortly demand.

B. Do the opposite and become so high level that you only strategize. Think Mitch Joel, Seth Godin, and all those other guys. They are the soft skills guys, and they are good at it.

But here’s the thing: you can get to a high level of B, and you’re good– but only the 1% truly profit here. No one’s dying to give away options in companies where people are spouting truisms / truthiness on blogs. Only the A guys get that. They become Dave McClure. The B guys get to run agencies. Your choice.

Hope I made you think. Cheers.

* Filed by Julien at 8:54 am under trends

August 30th, 2013

5 Things I Changed to Present Like Steve Jobs

God, what a link bait worthy title. I’m both disgusted and impressed with myself at the same time. :)

Anyway, I realized something recently.

I’ve only done a few presentations– about half a dozen– since I’ve launched Breather. Some have been big (Google, Le Web, etc.) but others have been tiny.

But as I got offstage the other week at #Inbound13 in Boston, I realized that my style of presenting has changed significantly since Le Web this past June. And it changed because I deliberately wanted to present my company the way Steve Jobs would do it.

The Ideal Way To Do a Product Launch

Why would you want to present like Steve?

Well, as it turns out, if you want to present something you consider revolutionary, then that is exactly how you should be doing it. Why? Because Apple has a tendency to produce products that revolutionize their industries (at least in the public eye).

But here’s the thing. Presenting something that might be revolutionary, but isn’t yet is extremely difficult. You have to create, and fulfill, a sense of anticipation at the same time. In case you’re wondering, this is super fucking hard.

It’s hard because, right at that moment where you’re watching it, you don’t know for sure whether the iPod, iPad, etc. is revolutionary or not. It’s just a gadget.

But by presenting in just the right way, you are able to create that sense of anticipation.

Here, if you’re really interested, watch Steve present the iPod. As you watch it, think about what it is that the iPod became– but more importantly, look at how Steve had to present, that day, for you to assume that to be true.

Sidenote, you’ll also notice here that Jobs is kind of presenting to an audience of stockholders also. He’s saying Don’t worry, this thing I’m doing isn’t risky. It’s a sure thing. But what else is he doing that you should do?

1. Speak slowly

One thing that you’ll notice is that Steve doesn’t have a lot of talking he actually does. He has only a few points, and he goes deeply into them. That’s it.

If Steve is up there for an hour, he can literally present 3 things during that hour. He does it both by speaking slowly and by using the rest of the stuff, below.

2. Translate the technical

1000 songs? Who gives a damn? What I need to know is that 1000 songs is my whole library. I mean, I already know this, but Steve tells me anyway just in case.

He also tells me how fast Firewire is. An entire CD in 5-10 seconds. Man, that’s fast!

This is one trick I learned a long time ago, and I the first time I did an amazing presentation, it’s because of this one tip.

I had presented this super complicated wifi music box (called a HAL) at an event. Nobody cared about it, even though it was interesting, and I was really upset.

So me and my partner stayed up all night while other people were partying and figured it out.

What was amazing about this music box? Well, it connected people to new music.

So I spent 10 minutes onstage repeating the same thing.

We connect music to people. That’s all I ever said, in different ways.

At the end of the presentation, we got a standing ovation– and they bought a box. :)

3. Repeat over and over again

It’s amazing how many times Jobs says the same thing.

1000 songs in your pocket.

1000 songs in your pocket.

Did I mention 1000 songs in your pocket?


4. Speak to the press (and to the bloggers)

The other thing that’s amazing is that our guy at Apple is basically spoon-feeding the press as he is speaking. He is saying what’s amazing about the iPod because it needs to be explained.

It needs to be explained because lots of stuff isn’t clear until you’ve thought about it a lot. But once you’ve thought about it, you’re like WOW! So he wants to get you to understand the wow.

By doing that, Jobs actually magnifies his presentation. I guarantee you he has 3 talking points he wants the press to mention, and he drills down on them again and again. And again.

Did I mention 1000 songs in your pocket?

5. Compare it to everything else on the market

Steve is very good at telling us just how shitty all the other music player alternatives are.

$75 CD player holds one CD? 15 songs on a CD? That’s $5 per song. That’s the baseline. And then he tells us just how good it is compared to the baseline.

$5 is crazy! We do $0.25 a song. Lol.

In my presentation at Le Web, I do this over and over again. We found a gap in the market and we exploited it. Private space sucks, the only alternative is Starbucks. Starbucks for meetings, Starbucks for phone calls, Starbucks to relax. I said this again and again, to point out exactly what the deficiency was.

The side tip to this particular one is– only enter a market if you can DEMOLISH the competition on their offering. It’s natural.

6. Oh, and one more thing

Oh, I did say five, but I meant more… another thing, you need to actually be in awe of what you’ve created.

This one is actually hard. When I was presenting Breather, I knew that we were presenting something incredible– but it’s something that is only incredible in retrospect. Problem being that revolutionary, when just presented quickly, seems boring.

So, when you are presenting, you actually need to almost be like Wow, I really think this is incredible, and be incredibly happy and almost scared of what you are doing.

If you can do this, man does it ever work. You can hear it when Jobs does it– in his voice, in his tone, everywhere.

Oh, and side note, it helps if you are an egomaniac / in love with yourself too. ;)

7. Now, the final thing.

In everything Steve does, the reveal is at the end. The whole time, you are being told about this great thing, but you haven’t even seen it!

All of Apple’s reveals are at the end of the launch. Otherwise, you wouldn’t even care!

This also helps you focus on the product features, and until you’ve seen it, you are even more open to the suggestion that this product is spectacular.

Ok, now rate me.

Here is my Le Web presentation. Regardless of how you feel about my company, take a look and rate me on how well I did. Then, when you present your cool project, you’ll be able to do even better. :)

I studied 5 of Jobs’ presentation days before I did mine, and mimicked his style as much as I could. I think I did alright.

* Filed by Julien at 3:32 pm under presenting

August 27th, 2013

… But the City You Live in Now Matters Too

I mentioned a point during a past post that I kind of want to expand upon.


Where you live is not trivial– at all. Your environment is everything for you. It shapes you. It’s made you who you are, from the people you spend time with to the very streets you are driving in and walking on every day.

Effects of Environment

Your city affects your ambition. It influences your lifestyle. It shapes what you are impressed by, which directs what you make your life about. As Paul Graham has said, a city is like a river. It is going somewhere. If you do not move deliberately, you are just going to go wherever it leads you. If you do move, you better hope it’s not in the opposite direction, or you are gonna have a bad time.

Here, let’s use an example to address that. Currently, my company Breather is looking for engineers (I mean, hell, what tech company isn’t looking for engineers these days). Since we are in Canada at the moment, here are things I am running into:

So basically, the city guides my direction and what happens to my company and the work I can do. Lucky me, I have a giant blog where I can talk about stuff, a huge network of people I can call upon, some credibility in the space, etc. But if I was a relative nobody, I would be relatively screwed. :)

Keep in mind that none of these things have to do with the quality of our company and idea, or the other people on our team or our traction, etc. All those things make the job comparatively harder or easier, depending. But we are looking at these sorts of ceilings, perhaps malleable ones, to what you can do.

This is sort of like the glass ceiling we hear about in the news: “the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”

Eventually you hit up against these ceilings, and when you do, the worst part about it is that the ceilings are invisible. Something you’re doing isn’t working, but worse, you just don’t know why. It is an unknown unknown.

I came across this with a startup CEO I was kind of informally advising a while back. Guy has a successful thing, it’s working super well, and he’s like “well, the Montreal guys have stepped up for X and Y amount” on the amount he’s raising for his company.

So I ask whether he has gone elsewhere and asked in other cities, and he’s like, “well, Toronto…” – with the impression being, not Boston, not New York, not San Francisco.

Right. This is the point at which I realize what our city’s main problem is. You see, cities are like families. When they work, they tend to work in the same way, but when they’re dysfunctional, they are all dysfunctional and broken in different ways. And Montreal is broken in the sense that this city believes it’s a big deal. When in reality, on a global scale, it is kind of a speck. People think what’s here is all that there is out there, and in this case, it’s supremely false.

This is what I mean by unknown unknowns. You don’t know what you’re missing out on because you are inside your own ecosystem, like a fish in water, not knowing anything about land or how that works. Except, unlike the fish, you can step out of your own water anytime. But most don’t. They stay.

They are vaguely aware of an outside ecosystem but they have never actually walked on land. This is actually worse because, in all senses, the map is not the territory and a false impression of what is required to succeed is worse than no sense at all.

Ok, now I’m ranting. Back to the thesis.

Technology as Walls to Innovation

So now we can look at, say, Silicon Valley and compare it to outside towns. I’m familiar with Canadian startups, and some French startups, and obviously American ones as well, and I can tell you immediately that, if you are not deep inside the ecosystem you are trying to affect, it’s going to be truly difficult to make something happen.

Let’s use the Hyperloop as an example. In case you were not aware, guys, this is where the future is going. Are you going to experience it? Or will you just read about it? Each one will affect what you are able to create.

Here’s another example: Google Fiber. This level of web access will transform what we can do. How? Only people who have it will know. Only they will have the ideas to make something that is based on it. Highly unlikely that someone conceiving of it in the abstract will know what to do with it.

Have you ever used TaskRabbit? What about Hotel Tonight, Lyft, or Circa? If you do not use any of the services of the present, than you will certainly not be able to imagine the future. (Disclosure: I’m an investor in Circa. Pretty proud of it too.)

How To Step Outside Your City

In order to win over the standards of your city, you must do things differently.

1. Behave differently than they do. Individuals inside of a city are obviously not identical, but they tend to have a pattern, reinforced by the goings-on in the city itself. Same way that a zombie doesn’t know it’s a zombie, most people don’t know their own pattern. So find it (the river I mentioned earlier) and go not against the grain, but across it. 

2. Meet and interact with more people from elsewhere. Dave McClure (disclosure: he’s an investor in Breather) is great at this. He knows 500 Startups isn’t Y Combinator, so he doesn’t try to be Y Combinator. Instead of a Silicon Valley market, his market is the globe. 500 Startups isn’t the Yankees; it’s the Oakland A’s. A different technique to get an edge, in the same market, with less money and prestige.

3. Use geo-arbitrage to compete in another market. A great way to go across the grain of your own city is to directly compete with another city using your own advantage. For example. hiring Indian programmers remotely may be bad, but if you are actually in Bangalore, then it’s great. In Canada, government innovation credits, though they are nothing but the government buying jobs, can be quite effective at helping you compete– especially if you’re competing in a different market than Canada. Same with visas– it’s much easier to get them in Canada, and you can use that to your advantage.

4. Deliberately interaction with weird things. Do not use the typical services your city is used to. Almost everyone here seems to still read branded papers (La Presse, The Gazette, etc.) Ain’t nobody got time for that. Do it differently.


This post is getting long, so I just think I have to end it.

Conclusion is, you are going where your city is going. See the people around you, in this cafe you’re sitting at? You will become them unless you deliberately become something else.

Your decision. Make your move.

* Filed by Julien at 5:31 pm under cities

August 26th, 2013

Coming Soon: A Totally Mechanized City

I’m totally fascinated by this imaginary article from the future on TechCrunch about Uber.

It’s moments like these when you realize what cities will become in the future. Seriously.

Driverless cars– no drivers will ever be able to compete with the lowering of prices that will occur when you make robots drive cars. The margins skyrocket, the staff goes down– for a business, almost nothing but good things occur. Uber just hit a $3.5B valuation and they don’t even actually have driverless cars yet. Imagine when they do.

But that’s just one aspect of what cities will look like. You can forget for a moment whether you think my company Breather will win or not, but someone will win the “smart lock” war and will build a network from it. That’s a billion dollar company for sure. You have to be braindead not to see that.

Ok, so far we have automated software-as-a-service type lock and car networks. What else could be automated? Cross-country shipping / truck driving? What other basic, “all-American” industry will be totally overturned by the internet of things? Auto repair? Farming?

More precisely, which one won’t? You will be left with fully automated processes, often with just a human watching, to make sure everything is ok. This is actually what Uber’s city HQs look like, by the way. They are central brains, often with ex-traders in them, buying and selling cars as needed.

Because once you turn it into software, the industry and its components can be bought and sold, almost like stocks.

So let’s look at the city of the future. Once you realize that driverless cars are possible, happening, and will become a service, you realize that so much more is possible than was ever imagined. The city becomes a pulsing machine that just happens to have people in it. And what’s ironic bout this is that those people are actually inventing more machines.

Think about that.

The city is a machine, with people in it, which are mostly working on building other machines (software and hardware) to help us build better machines.

Is this starting to seem weird yet?

Technology creeping into cities is inevitable, and it will happen at a pre-determined rate, largely based on hardware advances as they occur.

People driving cars will become like books– they will be a luxury for the rich.

Conversation from 10 years in the future?

Rich guy A: “I prefer paper– it just feels better.”

Rich guy B: “I use a driver– it just feels better.”

Tell me this isn’t going to happen. Tell me that, when your employer can send an autocar to drive you to work, it won’t. This basically means everyone will be taking “public transportation,” except it’ll be private public transportation that comes to you. You’ll be able to use it to read or work.

And what happens after that? Well, who knows. But I have a few more bets I’m willing to take.

If you’re curious about the future of transportation in cities, you should also look at the app, Transit. It’s basically perfect if you don’t drive. Check it.

* Filed by Julien at 6:18 pm under cities, trends