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Over our half way point and leaving Canada

I’ve been MIA on this blog for some time, mainly because I’ve been exhausted from the days’ events and the last thing I wanted to do was open the laptop and write. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had downtime and some nice quiet evenings, but the way I’ve preferred to spend that time is in front of a fire with a glass of wine, or tucked up in bed watching a movie, or playing Drop7 (very addictive game that does not require the internet). Also, Tovah has been doing such an amazing job writing about our adventure on her blog, that it’s given me an excuse to go dark on my blog.

My last post was about reconnecting with my family on this adventure; that’s still the case 6 weeks later and I’m still loving it. I sense Tovah wondering if I’ll go back to work, and we’ve talked at times about what I want to do next. It’s hard to describe why, but I’ve been avoiding thinking about it. I certainly have a world of options and some very exciting opportunities with a few companies I’ve briefly talked to already. I guess I’m not ready to plug back in yet; my time frame to jump back in the game is the end of the year once we get back to Atlanta. For now I just want to experience these moments, live without a worry, without knowing where my future will take me and my family. When the time comes, I’ll know what’s right and what feels right.

So, as we leave Canada and begin our Pacific NW segment, here is a quick summary of what’s felt right over the last 6 weeks:

Looking down on the clouds as we drive through glacier national park (US side, going to the sun road) and my daughter saying “It looks like the sky fell down”.
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Watching Deer roam around our camp site without a worry, even if our dogs wanted to chase them.
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The kids love Canada, but what they love even more is their grandparents visiting for 10 days. It was great to have Dee and Joel join our adventure, and our bridge playing skills improved too.

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Celebrating our 10 year anniversary with a pretty adventurous hike in Glacier Park (Canada) and then staying at Chateau Lake Louise without the kids (thanks to Dee and Joel). OK, they visited the first and last day- I think London liked the room. Oh bliss, did I mention how much I love room service and how much I miss fast internet connections.

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London loves trains.What’s even more sweet is that he wants to hug you or hold your hand when he hears a big train. I think he gets a little scared at first and then can’t stop yelling “choo choo” with a smile. And I love London Hugs.

Look at Tovah’s face, she so loves being on a horse. What’s even better is when the horses are all around your camp site. Checkout Tovah’s latest post about an awesome ranch we stayed at.

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Finding remote 4X4 roads with amazing views that are hard to capture in a video or photo.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a few panoramic photos of the stunning landscapes we’ve seen in the past 6 weeks.

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One month on the road and a new Jeep!

I’m in Missoula, MT as I write this post; it’s been a month since we left Atlanta on our adventure with our two kids (Nina & London) and our two dogs (Stella & Chai). My wife, Tovah, has been doing an amazing job writing about every segment of our trip on her blog (www.gypsyspirit.net) and I encourage you to check it out – she is a much better writer than I am!

So what can I tell you after being on the road in an RV for a month with kids and dogs? Well, for starters, I can tell you I don’t miss work at all, and in-fact, I haven’t given it much thought. To be honest, I haven’t thought about work because this trip has consumed our lives and every waking moment we have. It’s fun, but it’s hard work, especially with young kids and dogs. Driving 4 – 6 hours in an RV (that’s now 55 foot with the new Jeep we are towing, read Tovah’s post on how we ended up with a Jeep) requires a decent amount of concentration, not to mention entertaining a 3 year old and a 1 year old during the drive (Tovah has been a rockstar entertaining them while I drive). At this stage I can listen to the words of Frozen, Bolt, and Dora the Explorer and envision the movie or the scene. Once we get to a new camp site, we need to level the RV, extend the slides, hookup the RV to power, water, sewer, cable (not that we’ve been able to watch any TV), and battle trying to get a decent WiFi connection (thank god for our MiFi and Verizon LTE). I’ve also gotten pretty good at un-hooking the Jeep tow bar, moving the child seats back and forth between the RV and the Jeep, and figuring out how to use the new braking system. So yeah, how could I have time to miss work – all I do is work!

Driving days can be hard for sure, but I wouldn’t trade it in for anything because from the RV, we have an amazing view (huge glass wind shield and high up), and we’ve seen some amazing landscapes as we’ve travelled though several states. From the rolling hills of Tennessee, to the surprisingly beautiful landscape of Kansas, to the jaw dropping beauty of the rockies, and rugged wilderness of Wyoming and Montana, it’s rarely boring.
IMG_0029 Along the way we’ve winded along breathtaking canyons, rivers and lakes with farms and ranches bordering them, we’ve seen cows, moose, elk, bison, deer, and countless of our personal favorite, horses (especially when they are running along side us). We’ve tried to use smaller roads rather than big highways, and this has worked great for us as we get to see more of the rural side of America (good and bad) and I think enriches the overall experience. Of course my trusted navigator (Tovah) has also had to check to make sure these routes don’t have any bridges under 13 foot and since towing a Jeep, our RV (named Gypsy) has found some of the country hills and winding roads a little tough. It would have probably been easier and faster on a major highway, but that’s less fun!

We haven’t stayed at any camp sites that I could drop everything to live on; this has been somewhat of a disappointment as a lot of the camp sites are glorified parking lots. Having said that, there have been a few that are off-the beaten track (typically ranches or state parks) that have been nice and I expect we’ll stay in some amazing places as we head into Glacier national park, and then into some remote areas of Alberta, BC, Washington State, and Oregon.

What has been particularly amazing on this trip is seeing my kids experience new things and grow in front of my eyes. The smile on Nina’s face (my 3½ year old daughter) as she rode a horse for the first time,
London’s excitement (my 1½ year old son) on a train through a ranch to see Bison, the kids on their first carousel ride, going to a rodeo and eating Pie with ice-cream for the first time, riding our bikes with them in the chariot behind us, finding bumps in the Jeep and hearing London’s squeals, getting sweet hugs and hearing Nina whisper each night, “I have a secret to tell you- I love you the mostest to the moon and back“, watching London learn how to climb, say new words every day, and find new ways to make my heart melt as I watch him grow…so many moments and memories to treasure.

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What’s crazy is that in the last month, I’ve spent more time with my wife Tovah and the kids, than the last two years. The last two years have been crazy for me with work (lots of traveling) and an EMBA (weekend classes and studying in the evenings). I’ve also had to adjust to being around the kids 24/7 which is not the easiest sometime, especially during bath and sleep time (keep in mind we are living in 300 sqft RV). Tovah had taken on so much with the kids over the last 2 years to allow me to work and pursue my EMBA, I really don’t know how she did it. She’s also helped me ease into this, knowing I wasn’t used to being around the kids for long stretches. This trip is a crazy concentration of parenting, we both have little to no breaks, no in-laws to help (Very grateful Joel and Dee), baby sitters (except one night in Bozeman, thanks Katy Walker Osterloth), pre-school, no nights out with friends, etc. Tovah and I have always been a good team, this trip has really showed how well we can handle stress, parenting, and backing each other up instinctively. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and have found ways of complimenting each other, I forgot how naturally this is for us. That’s not to say that living in 300 sqft doesn’t have it’s challenges, we both need a little break from each other and the kids sometimes. Taking the dogs for a walk or going for a bike ride with the kids has helped the other person get a little break or a much needed shower. Tovah has and continues to be the core of our family, she is my love and my life and I’m so glad she’s my partner on this adventure.

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Yes, we bought a 38 foot RV for a epic trip across the NW and Canada

Eight weeks ago l parted ways from my corporate gig as CEO of BLiNQ Media and have been planning an epic summer trip with my family. My wife (Tovah) and I decided we wanted to see some of the great National Parks in the Northwest US as well as Western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia). We started off thinking we could just rent Airbnb’s and travel with a rented minivan, but soon realized traveling with our daughter Nina (3½), son London (1½) and our two dogs (40 lb and 80 lb) wasn’t going to be easy. So we then had the brilliant idea of doing this in an RV and it solved a lot of the space issues and gave us a lot of freedom to travel. We looked at renting a 22 foot RV but we needed to get something bigger and it was more cost effective to just buy something, especially for a 3+ month trip. Within 10 days we went from renting to buying a brand new 2016 Forest River Georgetown 364TS. IMG_2476It’s an amazing RV that gives us a floor-plan and features that’s perfect for our little adventure. Prior to this experience, Tovah and I knew nothing about RV’s; I can tell you I learnt so much in that 10 days and buying one was an interesting process, especially as its a new model and we’d never seen or test driven one (did all our research online). I can also guarantee that this is the first RV of it’s size (38 foot, with our bike racks it’s 42 foot) to enter the Sherwood Forest neighborhood in Midtown Atlanta. And yes, I was able to back it into our backyard.

We worked with a local RV dealer called National Indoor RV Center (who have been amazing and i’d recommend highly) to special order the RV from the manufacture. It took around 3 weeks to deliver and since then we’ve been doing some test runs to make sure we know how to operate it and get used to living in a smaller moving house on wheels. We’ve also added some safety features and made some tech modifications that will make things easier. As I’m a tech geek, I figured i’d share some of these if anyone was thinking of doing what we are about to do.

Safety Additions

  • Tire On – The Georgetown 364tS has six 22.5 inch wheels (which are big). in the event of a blowout on the front wheels the tires can come off quickly resulting in a horrific RV flipping (see this video). This product prevents the tire from coming off in an event of a blowout and reduce the risk of flipping the RV.
  • Tire monitor sensors – My landscaper, Stan, asked his sister (experienced RV’er) for some advice for us before we take off on our long trip and one of the items she mentioned was a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). I bought the (TireMinder A1A) and installed it before we left on a test run to Cape San Blas (beach vacation that’s a 6+ hour drive). The normal pressure on the RV tires are 90 PSI but the monitor alerted me that the rear inside right tire (dually tires) was only 45 PSI; I would have never noticed the inside rear tire was low otherwise. I bought a portable air compressor called Porter-cable (highly recommended) and got the tire back to 90 PSI. However, by the next morning the TPMS system showed the the same tire had gone down to 79 PSI. We’d planned to leave for the beach in the RV that afternoon, so I called the dealership who arranged for someone to come to our house and fix the tire (again National Indoor RV Center have been amazing). Turns out the issue was a valve stem extender that had a slow leak and the tire was OK. I check the TPMS system before we leave any stop and it can alert me to any issue with any of the tire pressure or temperature issues while driving.
  • Child seat harness – RV’s don’t have the same safety requirements as cars, and although the Georgetown 364TS has seat belts, they are not designed for kids’ car seats. So, we had the dealership make some modifications so we could safely lock down the car seats to a secure anchor point.
  • Bunk Bed Guards – A big reason we bought the Georgetown 364TS was the bunkbeds for the kids. We didn’t want to setup the sofa-bed or dinette every night so the kids could sleep; the built in bunkbeds give the kids a permanent place to call there own. However, the bunkbeds are designed for adults or older kids); i.e. you can easily fall out if you roll over, and that’s very likely for our 3½ and a 1 ½ year olds. I solved this pretty easily by wrapping some MDF wood in nice fabric and wedging it in to act as a guard. Problem solved – kids are not falling out of bed and can still get it to the bed by crawling through the rungs in the ladder.

Some tech I added

  • WiFi Ranger – Because we are constantly moving from one location to another, signing up for WiFi at each location or determining if the WiFi signal/strength is any good can/will be problematic on many levels. For one, entering a new WiFi code for every device (iPhones, iPads, laptops, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, etc.) will get old fast, and with some camp grounds having WiFi only near the registration office, it’s unlikely we’ll get good signals. Lastly, I could use my MiFi, but cellular bandwidth can cost a lot (or not exist in remote areas), especially if we are streaming a bunch of shows (Game of Throne’s season finale anyone? this Sunday! I can’t wait). I found a solution to all my worries. It’s called WiFi Ranger, and it’s perfect for RV’s. I bought the mini pack that includes an Antenna called WiFi Ranger Sky2. The Sky2 mounts on the roof of the RV and can extend your range up to 2500 feet, boosting a weak signal from a distance. Sky2 connects via PoE to a pretty smart router called the WiFi Ranger Mini. The Mini integrates with the Sky2 (but can also find it’s own short distance repeaters) and will tether to my Verizon LTE MiFi via USB (and power the MiFi). The Mini will prioritize a WiFi signal (from the Sky2 or itself) based on signal strength, security, etc. If it can’t find a good WiFi signal it will then go to the MiFi, but will continue to prioritize a free WiFi signal if it becomes available in order to save my MiFi cellular bandwidth. Additionally, the Mini also has a multi-WAN feature that can blend multiple signals together and create hot standby’s incase one WiFi or cellular signal goes down and load balance them all. I also configure it to shut down the MiFi based on the amount of bandwidth my Verizon plan has. If that wasn’t enough, the Mini creates a signal private SSID (called Choudhury-RV) that all our devices connect to (regardless of the WiFi source) and creates an internal network the internal devices can use regardless if you have an internet connection or not (see Plex Server below). The Mini will also attempt to say yes to T&C on WiFi splash pages automatically or if it requires you to enter something, you just have to do it once through the WiFi Ranger control panel and all devices get instant internet without having to check a box or see splash screen. Pretty sweet.
  • Plex Media Server – A big thank you to Marc Kagan for this awesome suggestion. I’m running Plex on my laptop and have my movies, music, and photos mapped so the Plex server can make those available through any device. If your are not familiar with Plex, you need to check it out; the interface is kick ass on desktop, iOS, Android and on other devices. Additionally, Plex just reads your files, determines what they are and downloads additional information such as movie thumbnails, trailer, and meta data of the movie, actors, directors, etc. Because the Plex server just runs on an internal network (the WiFi Ranger Mini), i don’t have to go out to the internet to stream anything to any of my devices. I can use a browser to play any of the content Plex is mapped to, but in most cases I find a Plex app on mobile devices, smart TV’s, Blue-ray players, etc. As an example, in order to view movies on the TV’s on the RV (we have 5, btw, which is crazy), I bought several Amazon Fire Stick that can run the Plex app, so now any TV, even a stand-alone TV not connected to the internet or internal network, can easily stream content from the Plex server (different content per connection). As a side-note, I chose the Fire Stick over chromeCast, Roku, and Apple TV (although i also have an Apple TV in the RV, as I’m a die hard Apple guy) because it’s generally faster, ties easily to my Amazon prime account (free Movies, TV shows, Music, and storage) unlike the Apple TV, has Netflix, Sling TV, HBO, PBS kids, and a whole lot more for $39.
  • Automatic – Again, my friend Marc Kagan hooked me up; he gave me a beta version of Automatic he’d been testing out before they released a general release product. Automatic connects to my vehicle computer system via a standard connector (the one used by your mechanic to figure out why the check engine light is on). It connects to your phone via bluetooth to the Automatic app and can give you all sorts of info, such as the shit gas millage I get from the Ford V10, or that I applied the brakes hard one time today. It can also notify folks if i get in an accident (including the police) and of course I can get notifications on the engine light vaults and clear them myself if I want to:-)

Our journey began Thursday June 11th and I hope to share some stories on this blog as well as Tovah’s blog www.gypsyspirit.net. In fact here is Tovah’s latest blog post; so follow us both and let’s see where this journey takes our family.

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Goodbye Promenade Building

Yesterday was my last day as CEO of BLiNQ as we moved forward with the merger of PointRoll, Shoplocal, and BLiNQ Media. I fully support this move as I believe it will make all three companies much stronger in the market place as a combined company and properly leveraging the strong content and data assets owned by Gannett. At the same time, it was hard to make the decision to part ways with the people at BLiNQ and G/O Digital; I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a number of them, and I’ll miss working with them and wish them all the very best as the units come together in the coming months.

I was originally hired into BLiNQ to access the business, re-stabilize the unit, and determine a new vision for the company in a post acquisition era. I’ll leave it to my peers in the industry and to Gannett to determine if I accomplished my objectives.  From my stand-point, I’m extremely proud of what my team was able to accomplish in less than a year; what’s most gratifying to me is that the product strategies and vertical focused pivot I put in place at BLiNQ will be used as the blueprint of the new combined company.

Reflecting back, what’s amazing is that I’ve been at the Promenade building in Midtown, Atlanta since 2004.  First we moved Spunlogic into the 17th floor (from Zonolite Road), then sold Spunlogic (2008) which become Engauge and moved up to the 22nd floor (2010), then sold Engauge to become Moxie (2013) still on the 22nd floor (2015 Razorfish moved into the 22nd floor, space looks great Patricia Camden-Peterson), and lastly, I moved down to the 12th floor as the new CEO of BLiNQ Media (2014). That’s 11 years of great memories and experiences I just said goodbye to.

So what’s next for me? No idea yet, but what I do know is that I’d like to take a little time off. The last 19 months has been pretty crazy for me. Selling Engauge, helping integrate Engauge into Moxie, undertaking an Executive MBA and finishing it a few months ago with an awesome international residency in Vietnam and Thailand, moving from Publicis and taking on the BLiNQ role as CEO, having our second child (who is awesome), and generally traveling a lot and missing out on family time. Wow, pretty crazy when I think back.

Before I jump into the next work adventure, Tovah and I will be heading to the beach for a few weeks and then we are planning an RV trip across the US, Pacific NW, through British Columbia, Yukon, and Alberta. Yes, you read it right, an RV, and no, I’ve never been in an RV before. As we plan more I’ll write about it, but that’s the plan for now.

The Idea and a great product before anything else.

A colleague of mine at BLiNQ Media, Zack Adams shared a series of lectures by Sam Altman called “How to Start a Startup“. The first lecture (video below) provides some great insights for anyone considering starting up a company or part of a company that operates like a start-up (Like BLiNQ). Sam’s lecture on the importance of an idea and especially on getting the “product right” was relevant to me in my role at BLiNQ Media. It’s a big reason I took on the role and why I’m excited about BLiNQ’s feature and ability to create great product for a specific type of customer.

The fundamental lesson Sam points out is that you need a great product you can stand behind before you purse anything else. Great press and articles about the CEO, your company, your past, or speaking engagements, etc. should not be a priority until you have a product you believe in and a mission you and the company can drive towards. Success and/or fame will come only until you’ve build a great product and your obsessed with it’s perfection. It’s an important reminder to any entrepreneur or CEO. I hope to embody this believe at BLiNQ.

Enjoy the video.

If you want to change the world

Some friends shared a post on Facebook about a commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven at University of Texas (Austin 2014). I just watched the video on Youtube and it’s inspirational and humbling. The video is a little over 19 minutes, but worth taking the time to watch. Great speech, hope you enjoy.

My favorite lessons are #6, #7, #10. Which ones did you like?

 

My first few weeks as CEO of BLiNQ Media

On May 12th 2014 I started a new adventure as CEO of BLiNQ Media, and 18 days later I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made to take this role. I feel incredibly privileged to be leading a group of very talented BLiNQers who have welcomed me into their family.

The past few weeks have been fun, and I’d like to share some highlights.

HelloRajMy first day started off with opening remarks to the company. Hopefully I made a few folks laugh and I gave everyone insight into who I am, what my leadership philosophy looks like, and what they could expect from me. I also felt it was important for them to know right off the bat what I expect from them. I  introduced them to a feedback report called 15five that I put in place to gain insight each week from our folks and I can tell you, it’s been very insightful to listen to our people and understand the wins, frustrations, and ideas that come from the hard working group of folks, spread across the country.

Outside of conducting some 1-1’s (still have a lot more to do), I also got exposed to the core products, future products, team structures, tools, financials, HR + Recruiting, and more. What you’d typically expect. I can tell you, BLiNQ has some exciting things in the oven I can’t wait to share soon, but more importantly we have some incredible solutions today and a group of talented professionals using our tools to deliver incredible results for our clients.

Over the last few weeks I also had group breakfasts, lunches and drinks with the majority of the staff in Atlanta and New York. I had a blast getting to know folks and hopefully they got to know me as well. I learned some interesting things.

  • We have 5+ competitive fencers. One of them was a Junior Olympic fencer. What other company has that many fencers, really? 4 of them were on the same group lunch table and didn’t know that about each other. Amazing.
  • We have a lot of talented musicians, folks who love to travel, folks who love to dance, folks who love to act.
  • One of the guys in Atlanta is actually from Atlanta, in-fact his family have been here since the 1800’s.
  • One of the ladies was Wonder Women at Six flags, not saying who.
  • Our engineers are bad-ass in so many ways. A lot have creative outlets, crazy good at math, and ridiculous at ping pong.
  • We have someone who played professional poker in Vegas at a very young age, made a good amount of cash and put it into a 401k. Actually, that’s not true, he did make a lot of money, but no idea if he actually put it into a 401k, that’s something I might do. Not… Maybe a BMW i8 and a “round the world ticket” again ;-)
  • One of our new team members in the Chicago office got engaged last weekend. Congrats!
  • Everyone loves dogs, some more than others.
  • Everyone has a unique background, with a different journey that has brought them to BLiNQ.

What’s amazing about BLiNQ is that you don’t realize how great these people are and the potential this company has, unless you are in the company. From the outside, the perception is so different and I’m here to change that! Yes BLiNQ has had some hard times (and some great times), but the past is behind us and ahead of us we need to be fearless and forge a new future.

I invite the staff of BLiNQ, their family and fiends, our trusted clients and partners, and supports to come on a new journey with me and to discover a new BLiNQ.

Thank you,
Raj Choudhury
CEO – BLiNQ Media

Bittersweet goodbye – Spunlogic – Engauge – Moxie

Today (May 9th 2014) was my last day at the agency I co-founded nearly 16 years ago (November 1998); it was bittersweet and difficult to leave my work-home.

After 15 years and 6 months with the “same” agency (Spunlogic, Engauge, Moxie), it’s time for me to explore a new chapter in my life/career.  I’ve loved the agency from the day I co-founded Spunlogic (from a backpackers hostel in Toronto, Canada) with my college roommate, Jeff Hilimire. It’s part of who I am, in my DNA, and it will always be in my heart.

On May 12th 2014 (this coming Monday), I embark upon my new adventure as CEO of BLiNQ Media in Atlanta. I’m truly excited for this next chapter and will continue to write of my experiences. Nonetheless, for tonight, nostalgia compels me to formally bid farewell and share some of my favorite memories from a wonderful career in an agency I created.

In no particular order, I’d like to say goodbye to the following.

  • Goodbye “Beer cart Fridays,”-  probably my biggest contribution to the agency :-). I may need to implement this in my new space.
  • RIP Netsuite, OpenAir, and Central Desktop – The almost perfect agency systems I put in place with the hard work of some amazing folks at the agency (Dave Burke, Mark Unrein, Jenn Leahy, Jenni McDonough, Victor Wise, John McElroy) and our vendors (especially Mark Fordham from Central Desktop, Carolyn Turley and David Sussa from Netsuite Openair).
  • Adios Suite 2200 at Promenade, the crown of my career, and a space I hope inspired our people to thrive and enjoy the work space. Special thanks to Gensler (Erin Greer ), HITT (Erik Kandler), and JLL (Mike Dolan) and Collier (Brenden Welch) for making the space speak for itself.
  • My red chair and desk that I’ve had for 10 years, I know Kelly Ruggles (best Office Manager ever) will find a good home for them (and not throw them away!).
  • Fun crazy trips like the Spun Cruises (the entire agency on a ship together, you can only imagine…), Tennessee leadership trip (moon bow experience and everyone getting drunk on the bus), and some of the more interesting executive retreats (I’ll say no more).
  • I think I was good at was throwing parties and the more control I had of the budget the bigger the party:-) Halloween parties, Casio/Speak easy holiday parties, Paris on Ponce, etc.

Above all, the hardest goodbye was to the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. I wish all my friends success in their careers and personal lives and hope we cross professional paths again. Thank you for teaching me, evolving with me, laughing with me, and forgiving my bad spelling and grammar. By being the best you can be, you’ve brought out the best in me.

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CES 2014 – Raj’s picks from the show

I just spent last week at CES in Las Vegas and had an absolutely amazing time. This years trip to CES was a little different as I had access to Publicis Groupe events and private parties. Needless to say, I’m just now recovering from the parties!

Here are some of the highlights from CES for me.

  • Qualcomm’s Gimbal Platform – This is a context awareness platform using beacon technology as well as mobile app to create pretty much any awareness situation you can think of.
  • Cisco Retail Solutions – Cisco had some amazing concepts showing how they could connect the entire retail experience with beacon’s, tracking camera’s, and some pretty amazing store level and executive analytic’s (user foot track patterns, inventory, transactions, etc.). They had partnered with Aero Scout for the beacon technology.
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  • Street Line – Pretty cool stuff when it comes to parking and other data for urban areas. Saw I nice demo with them and Cisco.
  • Google Fiber – I was lucky enough to attend a private meeting with Google to learn more about new products in the market. Outside of getting a nice pair of Google glasses, one of the best road maps I saw was for Google Fiber. Alot of us are familiar with Google Fiber, so I won’t bore you with the details, checkout the site. What’s amazing is the approach Google is taking to dominate the Fiber network not only in the US, but in other countries that have poor infrastructure or countries that have a monopoly (higher prices as a result). If you don’t own Google stock, you should, this one division will dominate the world in 5 years and give Google a diversified portfolio outside of just search. Some interesting terminologies I learned from Google; they call neighborhoods “Fiber Hoods”, their retail stores are called “Fiber Space”. The Google VP in-charge (Milo Medin) of the division was telling me that he has seen credit ratings for cities increase because of Google Fiber (installed city), he also told me that if a house in a Fiber Hood signs up for Google Fiber (free internet), that account stays with the house, so if you sell the house the new owner gets Google Fiber as well, this helps home values and rental values. Not to mention, a city that helps bring in Google Fiber (make it easy for Google in install) gets free fiber to schools, libraries, etc. Milo was clear to point out that he only goes to cities that make it easy for him, it doesn’t matter about the size of the city. Amazing stuff from Google, including how they roll out and install a Fiber Hood. Continue reading
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What’s on my current pre-order product list

Over the last 12 to 16 months I per-ordered a number of products and have received them. In general I’ve been really happy with what I got. Pre-ordering is becoming more common, but I’d say that I’d never really done it until I went to CES a few years ago and got excited about specific products I saw. What’s accelerated this even more is sites like Kick Starter and others that have introduced new products/ideas and built confidence in purchasing products pre-release/pre-review.

Here are my top 3 pre-order products I’ve received:

  • Nest – Love it and works perfectly in my house.
  • DropCam – I have 2 of these in my house and have given them out as gifts.
  • Leap Motion – This has been OK, it’s not delivered on the wow for me, but I enjoy using it as entertainment.

Here are my My current pre-orders:

  • Coin – I’m really excited about this card. I hate all the cards I carry in my wallet. Hoping into get this summer 2014.
  • Airo –  Man, this is cool, I’m not into fitness, but know what my body is consuming and tracking this all to help me live well simplifies how I track this and why I won’t do this today. Hoping to get this in fall 2014.
  • Tesla Model X – I’ve been excited about this SUV. I put in my pre-order in early 2012. This is a big purchase item for a pre-order that I haven’t seen/touched. I can’t wait. Hoping to get this in early 2014, we’ll see.
  • August – I loved the design and simplicity of this home lock system. Lots of new products coming out, I’m hoping this one is the winner and it simplifies life again. Hoping to get this in early 2014.

What else should I consider?

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Back in School getting my Executive MBA

I never thought I’d go back to school, yet I just took the crazy, and somewhat unplanned, leap and enrolled at Georgia State University, Robin College of Business to get my Executive MBA.  Many of my friends, fellow entrepreneurs, and investors questioned why I was doing this.  It’s a fair question.

I’m 37 years old, co-founded an agency, successfully sold two agencies, and have No Limit Ventures, LLC as an investment vehicle for start-ups I believe in. Is an EMBA valuable for someone like me or should my time, effort, and money go towards something else? Another fair question.

Here is why I decided to get an EMBA.

  • I know I can do more in life/work.
  • I really only know one industry very well and wanted to broaden my knowledge.
  • I only know what I know, and I don’t know what I’ve never been exposed to.
  • I want to validate what I know and improve on it if I can.
  • I need to better understand and speak the international language of business, accounting and finance.
  • I want to be exposed to other types of thinkers (people from other industries, company sizes, career situations, etc.)
  • I have context I can apply in classes and discover alternate methods of decision making and learn even more from my past mistakes.
  • I’m playing to win!

The EMBA I’m doing has a strong focus on global business and accounting. It will take 17 months and is based in the Buckhead campus. So far I’ve enjoyed every moment of the program and I’m learning more than I’d ever imagined. Most importantly, I’m discovering my passions again!

A special thank you to Marc Kagan, my friend that introduced me to program and gave me the inside track. Ken Bernhardt, my mentor who logically helped me make this decision. And finally and most importantly my wife, Tovah Choudhury who’s encouraged me and supported this decision knowing I’ll have less time to devote to our family (oh and we are having our second child in November).

Thank you all for the support and encouragement. This is the right decision for me, I hope it helps some of you make similar decisions.

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Jeff Hilimire – Memories to Share

My friend Jeff Hilimire and my first business partner is leaving the roots of the company we co-founded some 14 years and 10 months ago today. It’s a sad moment for me (and him) as we’ve shared a journey and this is the first time in our professional careers we’ll be apart. We have been close friends from the day we met 17 years ago and I know we’ll always be close friends regardless of our professional lives.

I met Jeff in August 1996 when I was an international exchange student at UNC in Charlotte, NC. Jeff was my roommate and we quickly became friends. At the time Jeff was a straight A student, great at math, tennis, computers, and a master of Tetris (really, the guy is bad-ass at Tetris). He was dating his high school sweet heart, Emily (his wife and the rock now behind him), and was the oldest brother to sisters that all looked up to him. His family took me in as another member of the family, especially his mum who welcomed me into a country I knew little about. Jeff’s commitment to his family has never waivered, and I’d say it’s been a model for a lot of us who know him and his family well.

Jeff and I had very different social lives (I think he’d agree), but one thing that bonded us was our love of the internet and the uncharted possibilities for a couple of guys who didn’t know any better. To observe us back then, we were unlikely friends or business partners; in fact, I’m not sure either of us ever considered working together. Yet, fate and pure luck brought us together a few years later and we never looked back. Continue reading

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My Second Agency Exit – Engauge is part of the Publicis family

Five years and four months after selling my first agency, Spunlogic, to Halyard Capital, Jeff Hilimire, Raghu Kakarala, and I just helped sell Engauge to Publicis Groupe (Press Release). The past five years have been a learning journey for me and I’m a better entrepreneur and executive because of my experience with Engauge. It’s an exciting time for both Engauge and Moxie Interactive; this combination creates a powerhouse in the Southeast that we’ve not seen since the .com days of the early 2000’s. I look forward to the journey ahead.

When I think back to my first agency, Spunlogic, (co-founded with Jeff Hilimire), it’s amazing how much I didn’t know about agencies in general, M&A, holding companies, operations, etc. Thinking back I’m amazed we grew Spunlogic to 75 people and sold it in 2008. I’ve always said we were successful then because of what we didn’t know as opposed to what we did know. Back then we knew how to build value for clients, but I’m not sure we knew how to build value for the agency or investors, at least not purposefully or strategically. Halyard and Engauge have taught me about the latter (creating value for the agency and shareholders) and I’m grateful for the exposure.

Here are some quick highlights of the last 5 years with Engauge:

  • I got to take a 4 month sabbatical and travel around the world. Not many companies would let you do that.
  • I managed and grew our digital division as Managing Director, built out a bad-ass office and doubled the revenues and head count (140 people) of the Atlanta office.
  • I merged the three legacy agencies (4 offices) and built new operational systems and processes.
  • Most importantly, I had the privilege to work with amazing people that I’ve learned so much from. Thank you all for the support and friendship.

As my journey continues, I’m thankful for all I’ve learned and I’m excited for what the future has in store for me.

My Five Truths

So Jeff Hilimire and now Donovan Panone have challenged me to write about my five truths. I think Drew Hawkins originally challenged Jeff, so the I’m next in line. I hope this is the first and last blog challenge from these guys. So here are my five:

Truth #1 – I have no regrets.
I’ve certainly made bad decisions, wrong choices and done some pretty stupid things. However each mistake has taught me something new or given me a new appreciation of the situation. I’m a better person as a result of my choices and therefore have no regrets .

Truth #2 – I’m a bad writer and reader.
I’ve always been a bad writer, and it doesn’t help that English was the third language I learned.  Hopefully I make a few folks laugh when they read my stuff.  Also, reading bores me and I often find myself unfocused or falling asleep. It’s not that I don’t want to get better or haven’t tried new techniques; I just don’t enjoy it and avoid reading unless I have to. Yes- bring on audio books and video.

Truth #3 – I get obsessed solving a problem.
When I’m faced with a challenge, I can’t see the forest through the trees.  This can be a good thing at times as I can normally find a solution to most things and love doing it. The bad thing is that I get totally obsessed to the point of diminishing returns.  If I’m focused on a problem, I’ll stay up all night and the next day; if someone is talking to me about something else I’ll zone it out. You can’t pull me off the project until I’ve solved it.

Continue reading

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Pave – Investing in an indivdual rather than a start-up

My friend and old business partner, Jeff Hilimire, recently sent me an article about Pave, the crowdfunding platform for investing in people. Pave’s approach differs from crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter that focus on the idea or product where you fund the startup and get ownership of the product or similar. Alternatively, Pave allows you to invest in an individual and you get a share of their salary in the future (regardless of the company they work at or start-up they are involved with).

Pave’s approach of investing in the individual certainly resonates with me. Every start-up I’ve invested in has been mainly because of the people (founders, key employees, etc.) as opposed to the idea/product. Don’t get me wrong, the idea/product matters, but not as much as the people leading the effort that are on the ground day and night. You can have a great idea, but it still takes a special type of person to make a start-up successful. So my rule over the years has been to first make sure I like and believe in the people involved before I look at the idea/product in depth.

As I perused Pave to possibly find individuals to invest in, I came across an issue that’s put me off doing anything with Pave or similar crowdfunding platforms. Although some of the folks where inspirational, everyone seemed so packaged up and put together. I almost felt like I was shopping at Tiffany’s for expensive, perfectly boxed up jewelry. A lot of the individuals looked great, knew what to say, how to act, and were all shining stars in their own right, but I came to the conclusion that these folks would do great in life regardless of my money or involvement. They’ve generated enough interest on sites like Pave and have already learned how to market themselves. I discovered  I am more interested in the diamond in the rough; someone who has all the potential but hasn’t been discovered (at least not in a shop I can browse in with the rest of the world).  I have more fun, and find more value, meeting and discovering people the old fashion way, and generating my own value as a result of what I see in the individuals I come across through my life.

Does anyone share my point of view or disagree?

Innovation is discovering the unknown when you’re looking for it.

Engauge’s DIG group asked a few of us to define “Innovation” on the fly. I came up with “Innovation is discovering the unknown when you’re looking for it”. The beer in my hand may have helped, but I think there is something to be said about “discovering the unknown when your looking for it“.

Everyone works differently of course, but based on how I work best, here are 5 tips to help you uncover what you’re looking for.

  1. Sitting in the same room for 10 hours straight will only water down your ideas and spin you in loops. So, start by changing up your physical environment when developing concepts and ideas. A 30 minute walk outside, or going to a new coffee shop for an hour can help keep you sharp and focused.
  2. Write down the problems, gaps, opportunities of anything that comes into mind. It doesn’t have to be related to the area your focusing on and don’t try to solve anything yet. Revisiting this list will help you uncover new ways of looking at the original problem or help you find common patterns with other problems that might spurn a new innovation.
  3. Look to nature as inspiration for possible solutions. Mother nature is the King-Kong of innovation; she’s been able to continually adapt and innovate over millions of years and continues to today. We have access to information that tells this story and see what was changed and why. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find when you look at it from mother nature’s lens. Here is a somewhat related example from TED speaker Michael Pawlyn.
    Continue reading
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Start-up stages based on number of employees

I had a fun meeting with three guys from a start-up I’m looking at investing in; it made me re-live my own start-up days and I realized I’m envious of their road ahead. One of the guys asked me how to establish a culture in a start-up. My answer was, “it depends on the size of your start-up and what stage you are in”, which of course led into a discussion of what the start-up stages are.  Here is how I see the stages unfolding – what are your thoughts? I’d like to know other view points.

1 to 8 employees
The founders and the first employees ARE the culture. There is no separation. You don’t have to go out of your way to create/establish a culture, it’s already in the DNA of the company your building just by the nature of who you are, so don’t over think it.

In the early stages everyone is wearing any and every hat. If you need to figure something out, one of you will end up learning whatever it is at 3am and implementing it the best you can the next day. You’ll find that work and social lives combine, your co-founders/employees are best friends, a family, and you have each others’ backs. The start-up consumes every ounce of effort and excitement so nothing else maters. This is your life and you love it.  Most of the time you don’t have a clue what you’re really doing but that’s what’s so exciting; if it doesn’t feel that way, you are over thinking it and haven’t let go of your old life. Continue reading

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The essence of “Sought After” for Start-ups

I found myself referencing the term “Sought After” to a start-up I’m advising; I was trying to give them a good example of an essence or driving focus for a start-up or growing company to strive to. A rallying point that helps provide direction regardless of the current marketing conditions, trends, or day to day challenges.

The term “Sought After” was used by Spunlogic (agency I co-founded and sold several years ago) and was the driving focus of the agency as I think back. Jeff Hilimire (Co-founder at Spunlogic with me), Raghu Kakarala, Danny Davis, and I, really pushed this essence into the culture of the agency and what we aspired to be. We all believed and aspired to become a sought after agency. This was also brought into Engauge and I’m sure we’ll all continue using “Sought After” in future enterprises.

So you are probably wondering what the hell “Sought After” means. For me, the term can be applied to a number categories in a start-up or growing company. Here are some examples. Continue reading

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The Apple Trap – Can I think differently?

I started off on a Mac when I was 15 (1991) and fell in love with Apple’s GUI and all that was Apple. I started designing and experimenting with my Apple and always felt like a trend setter with my Mac. When I started my company, Spunlogic, in 1998, I traveled around the world designing websites on my MacBook Pro; unfortunately, what I was designing and coding always looked different on a PC (Browser hell back in the day). Anyway my co-founder and I decided to switch the agency to PC’s (January 2000), mainly because they where cheaper and it simplified things when designing and developing as a team back then.

I got used to a PC and continued using one and forgot the days of Apple for several years. During that period Apple also lost it’s mojo, at least in my opinion. Continue reading

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Widespread use of Mobile Payment through NFC just needs Apple

Apple is rumored to have well over 200 million+ users on iTunes with registered credit cards. That would make future iPhones enabled with Near Field Communications (NFC) chips an absolute dominator in mobile payments.  So what’s the hold up?

It’s rumored that Apple believes NFC standards are not wide spread enough and might be developing their own NFC standards. Although NFC has been slow to materialize in the US, the technology is pretty wide spread in Asia and Europe. 750,000 point-of-sale terminals already exist in the US, so all we are waiting for are NFC enabled devices. A number of mobile manufactures in the US such as Nokia, Samsung, Google, etc. have already released devices and it’s speculated that 50 million NFC-enabled devices worldwide will exist by the end of the year.

Apple has such an advantage with iTunes registered credit cards unlike any other retailer or manufacturing, they could literally define how we interact with NFC and make the use of mobile payments and more a reality faster than anyone. Continue reading