Quicker than I thought it would be. Since graduating from Chicago Booth, I’ve been lucky to call San Francisco my home. A place where I can walk out my front door, bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and ride along the rocky cliffs of Marin. Where I can ski Lake Tahoe in winters and hike through Yosemite in summers. Where kitesurfing in Santa Cruz, kayaking in Tomales Bay, and drinking wine in Napa are all within an hour’s drive of my apartment. I knew San Francisco was the city for me, so when a consumer drone startup in Berkeley called 3D Robotics offered me a job the day before graduation, I accepted on the spot.
Living in San Francisco appealed to me for many reasons. Like New York or Chicago, San Francisco attracts ambitious people who are eager to grow their professional careers. Yet unlike those other cities, San Fran is surrounded by endless outdoor getaways, which in turn attracts people with a love for adventure and exploration. I knew this combination of nature and professional opportunity is exactly what I wanted in a city, and during the time I’ve lived here, SF has delivered on both fronts.
After a year of helping 3DR build out its drone operations, Apple hired me to manage the iPad Display supply chain. Both companies taught me how to be an effective operator, but each in its own unique way. While 3DR forced me to be scrappy and get things done on a limited budget, Apple showed me how to manage a global supply chain serving hundreds of millions of customers. Working at Apple made for long hours and challenging work, but I always found time to see my friends on the weekend. Come Saturday morning, we’d speed across the Golden Gate Bridge in search of hiking trails that led to hidden beer gardens, or head East over the Bay Bridge to kitesurf the warm waters of Sherman Island. A new NorCal adventure awaited us around every corner – all we needed was a full tank of gas, a few granola bars, and the energy to get up and go.
San Francisco inspired me to become the best version of myself. Hidden dirt paths through the Presidio inspired me to start running – I’m on track to run 600 miles this year. Co-workers described storybook windy roads through Marin’s Redwood forests, so I bought a bike to start cycling. Spending time with my health-conscious friends motivated me to cook more and eat healthier. I said yes to nearly every invitation that came my way, and people said yes to mine. San Francisco is a city filled with Yes People – people who jump at the opportunity to explore a new place, be active, be outside. They will always try something new, even if it scares them a little. I certainly self-selected into these types of friend groups, but point is, they were pretty easy to find.
After two years of growing my career, establishing my friend group, and improving my physical and mental health, I felt like I had finally built a quality life for myself in San Francisco. Everything had somehow fallen into place, and I was happier than I’d been in a long time. I thought to myself – this is home.
And just as I had that thought, a Boston-based private equity firm offered me a job. An incredible job, one I couldn’t say no to. So I said Yes.
I never expected to leave California so soon. But life brings constant change, and I believe the best way to keep growing is to embrace that change. Saying goodbye is bittersweet – I’m thrilled to be starting a new job with an incredible firm, and delighted that my parents are now within driving distance. But I am heartbroken to leave San Francisco, a city that has given me so much. I became the best version of myself in California, but that doesn’t mean I can only be my best version in one place. Now that I’ve learned what lifestyle keeps me happy and motivated, I’m excited to create my new life in Boston. Kite surfing on the Cape, hiking in the White Mountains, and skiing in Vermont are all within driving distance of my new front door. All I need is the energy to get up and go.
So for now, goodbye San Francisco. You made me laugh. You made me cry. You taught me to eat healthier, to be more active, to say Yes more. You gave me an incredible group of friends. You gave me a best friend. For these things and many, many more, I will forever be indebted to your beautiful city. I promise to come visit you often, my friend.
I recently watched Sheryl Sandberg’s graduation speech on how to deal with life’s biggest adversities. It’s a powerful talk, and I’d encourage anyone reading this to watch the whole thing.
Many of us have lived through adversity like this, my family and I included. My mom and dad both went through divorces in their early 30’s before meeting each other. In 2008, my younger sister Keenan passed away while on a trip to Nepal. More recently, my longtime girlfriend and I went through two separate breakups. It’s telling that these profound adversities are all people-related, not profession or material related. The people we surround ourselves with give us the love, strength, and energy to become our own great person, so we can go on to do great things. They provide meaning to our life. So when one of these people we care so deeply about vanishes, that love, strength, and energy they gave us seems to vanish with them. That’s where I think the seemingly unbearable pain we feel comes from.
As Sheryl says in her talk, it’s how we deal with these adversities that shapes who we are. When Keenan died, I didn’t know the proper way to grieve. Maybe I was too young, or maybe you never know how until you’ve been through a tragedy once before. When my girlfriend and I separated, I felt just as heartbroken as the day I found out about Keenan. I felt the same emptiness I did when Mom and Dad sat me down on a hotel bed in New York City eight years ago to tell me my sister was gone. But this time, I recognized the pain, and though I let it consume me for awhile, I knew it would eventually get better. And it’s starting to.
A few weeks ago, I emailed my sister Devon congratulating her on landing a summer internship at HBO. She is an incredibly smart girl and has a very bright future ahead of her. Our parents have given her the love, strength, and energy to do great things. As an older brother, I couldn’t be more proud of her. But as an older brother, I cautioned her that she will almost certainly face profound adversity again in her life. My only advice was to not let the sadness consume her, and know that whatever pain she feels will not last forever. She should remind herself of all the happiness and opportunity she’s been blessed with in other parts of her life. Devon is incredibly resilient, perhaps more so than anyone else I know. She will use that resilience to find strength when hardship comes knocking.
In taking my own advice, I want to remind myself of all the happiness and opportunity I’ve been blessed with. I don’t say this enough, but I’m so grateful to have such a wonderful and loving Mom, Dad, and sister. I can always count on the three of them to be there for me, no matter what. I am who I am today because of them.
Thank you Mom, Dad, and Devon for all of the love and support you’ve given me these past 30 years. I do not take it for granted.
I wrote my last blog post four months ago, and a lot has happened since then. This post will be a reflection on the last four months and an update on where life has taken me after business school.
In June, I graduated from Chicago Booth. My time in b-school brought with it many firsts. I lived in a new city. I traveled to six different countries I’d never been to. I started a company. I made new lifelong friends. I learned new skills that will make me a better worker and manager. And I eventually landed my dream job building drones in Silicon Valley.
Looking back on the whole experience, I feel like it went by way too fast. People often jokingly refer to business school as a two-year vacation. But for me, it was much more than that. It was my time of reflection and self-discovery. A time of figuring out what made me most happy, and what I really wanted to do with my life. I had a great finance job before school, but it didn’t fulfill me in the way I had hoped it would. I felt driven to create something useful that didn’t exist in the world, and I needed time to figure out what that something was.
Business school gave me that time. Given my passion for videography, it’s no coincidence that I started a company to help people create amazing videos. It’s also no coincidence that after school, I joined a company that builds flying robots designed to help people capture amazing videos. My two years at Booth gave me the time, network, and skills I needed to weave my passion into my career. For that, I am very thankful.
Some of you are probably asking, “What about Activid? Are you still working on it, or shutting it down?” It’s a good question, and I’ll try to answer it as best I can.
I launched Activid 18 months ago with the idea of connecting talented freelance editors with people who wanted their video edited. For most of my time at business school, I dedicated myself to creating this marketplace, hoping to one day help thousands of people create amazing highlight videos of their vacation, wedding, or other life event. Within the first three months, I recruited dozens of talented freelance editors, led a team of ten web developers from initial design to product launch, and started accepting paying customers. It became clear early on that finding talented editors (the supply) would be easy, while building a large user base (the demand) would prove much more difficult.
Activid grew quickly in the beginning, but did not experience the sustained, accelerated growth that every founder hopes for. The company was unable to find a solid product-market fit, and Activid’s growth rate did not support the personal and financial investment going into it. So when I received an offer at the end of school to join one of my favorite companies, 3D Robotics, I knew I couldn’t say no. The opportunity cost was just too high.
It’s for these reasons that I chose to shut down Activid and pursue new challenges. Even though Activid did not become the huge success I had imagined, I’m certain that a business like Activid will exist in the very near future. It could be another startup, or it could be a big company like GoPro, which has a vested interest in getting people to share their videos online. Either way, I hope someone builds this marketplace soon, because I will be their first customer!
One of my biggest interests since college has been videography. I’ve said this many times before on my blog – I believe that video has the power to tell a story in a way that pictures simply can’t. Video taking and video editing is my form of art. And I almost always take video with a GoPro.
When the first DJI Phantom drone came out a few years ago, it became my ultimate GoPro accessory. Discovering totally new ways of capturing video led to my avid interest in drones. So when I thought about what companies I wanted to work for, 3D Robotics (the largest U.S. drone maker) was at the top of my list.
I joined the Operations team at 3DR three months ago and have loved every second of it. I’m building products that I love, growing and managing a global supply chain, and learning from some seriously talented people. So far, I’ve spent roughly half my time in Asia helping to develop the company’s supply chain from scratch. People in China do business very differently than they do in the U.S., and understanding how to work in this new environment has been a challenging but fun learning process for me.
(At our factory in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.)
Like I said, a lot has happened to me in the last few months. A new job, a new city, and many new challenges. I’m extremely happy with where I ended up, and I’m excited to see where this next stage of my life will take me.
If you record video of a vacation or experience, it needs to be edited before it can be shared. Otherwise, your video will be boring and no one will want to watch it.
There are two ways to convert raw video into a shareable format: 1) edit it yourself, or 2) get someone to edit it for you. There are plenty of software tools to help you with the first option, including iMovie, GoPro Studio, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premier Pro. But many people find these programs difficult to use, or simply don’t have the time to edit video. As a result, DIY editing software is not a realistic option for a large portion of the population.
Which brings us to Option 2. Talented freelance editors exist all around the world, and if they were easily accessible, people would be willing to pay for their service. I’ve spent the past year building Activid in an effort to bring these two groups together. Activid gives customers access to high quality and affordable video editing, and gives freelancers access to more consistent and higher paid projects.
Now let’s think about a video editing marketplace in the context of GoPro. One of GoPro’s biggest brand marketing objectives is to getting more people to share their videos online. To encourage sharing, the company has invested heavily in GoPro Studio, it’s DIY editing software. But many GoPro users have neither the time nor the skills to do their own editing, which means a good chunk of GoPro video never sees the light of day.
This is why GoPro should create a branded online marketplace that connects GoPro users with talented freelance editors. I’ve always felt that GoPro should explore this, and have written about the idea before. Unlike Activid, GoPro already has a loyal following of users who would be thrilled to offload their video to a GoPro-certified editor.
Imagine the following scenario. You just took a bunch of GoPro video on your weekend ski trip. At the end of the trip, your video is automatically uploaded via Wifi to your GoPro cloud storage account. Using your phone, you create a new project called “My Awesome Ski Trip” on the GoPro Marketplace app. You select the weekend’s best videos, choose a 2-day turnaround, and hit “Complete”. An editor then downloads your footage, edits it, and sends you back a polished-looking video two days later. Pretty slick, right?
This could be a lucrative stream of revenue if GoPro decided to monetize it. The company could take a percentage of each edited video, or charge customers and editors a monthly subscription fee to join the platform. Or, they could choose not to charge anything and simply benefit from more people sharing GoPro video online. Either way, creating a video editing marketplace seems like a no-brainer for GoPro. I hope they start exploring this idea, if they haven’t done so already.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a devoted GoPro user. I’ve been filming with GoPro cameras ever since the HD HERO Original was released in 2010. During that time, I’ve seen how each successive model has improved upon the one before it. Their latest model, the HERO4 Black, is a truly professional grade camera that produces stunning quality video. Yet, while the HERO4 is a big step up from the HERO3+, it still leaves many features to be desired.
Here is my newest video, shot mostly with the HERO4 Black during the Chicago Booth ski trip to Vail, Colorado.
After a week of using the HERO4 Black, here is my summary of its biggest improvements over the HERO3+, as well as my wish list of features for the HERO4+/5.
4K video recording at 30fps.
This is the obvious one. The HERO4’s new image processor now lets users record 4K video at a usable frame rate of 30fps, versus 15fps with the HERO3+. This is an impressive addition, and when used in the right way, it can produce amazingly high quality video. But for several reasons, I tended not to shoot in 4K, and it’s worth explaining these reasons to understand why 4K might not always be the best option.
1.4K-30 doesn’t allow for slow motion playback. I like editing a lot of my ski footage in slow mo. Since 30fps is currently the highest frame rate offered in 4K mode, and slowing down 30fps video produces choppy playback, recording in 4K simply wasn’t an option for me.
2. Shooting in 4K drains the battery quicker. This is because the processor works harder to process more information being captured by the image sensor. The HERO4’s battery life is already dismal, and since I only had one spare battery on me, conserving battery was a high priority. Cold weather conditions also decrease battery life, so being on a ski mountain didn’t help either.
3.4K video requires more compression. The HERO4 has a maximum bitrate of 60Mb/s. Bitrate measures the amount of video data that can be collected from the image sensor, processed/compressed by the image processor, and stored to the memory card each second. To illustrate the importance of this, I’ll give an example. Say I record a video in 1080-30 with ProTune on. Then I record the same exact video in 4K-30. For both videos, the camera will process data at its maximum bitrate of 60Mb/s. However, for the 4K video, it needs to process four times as much data because the image is four times as large! To achieve this, the camera uses compression techniques to reduce the amount of information it needs to process, which results in some image quality loss. When there’s not much motion occurring in the video, image quality loss isn’t too noticeable. Still scenes, slow pans, tilts, stable tracking shots, and time lapses are great examples of when 4K really shines. However, during high motion activities like skiing, compression blocking can be a problem.
Outside of these performance-related issues, there are a couple other considerations to keep in mind when filming in 4K.
4.4K video generates larger file sizes. In order to capture and store higher quality 4K video, the HERO4 Black processes information at a higher bitrate of 60Mb/s. This higher bitrate translates into larger file sizes. To give an example, the size of a one minute GoPro video captured in 1080-30 (ProTune off) at 30Mb/s is 225MB (30Mb/s ÷ 8Mb/MB x 60 seconds), whereas the same one minute video captured in 4K-30 is 450MB. That means 4K video takes up 2x as much space on your micro SD card than 1080p video, effectively cutting your recording time in half. It also takes up more space on your hard drive once you transfer your files to your computer. The decreased recording time wasn’t a huge issue for me, since I was transferring all of my videos to my laptop at the end of the day. But for people filming in more remote areas who can’t offload their files, this should be something to keep in mind.
5.4K video requires much more processing power to playback and edit on a computer. When I tried watching 4K video on my old MacBook Pro, playback was extremely choppy. Editing it wasn’t even an option. So, I upgraded to a new iMac 5K and 6TB external RAID hard drive in order to more easily work with 4K footage. This was an expensive purchase, proving that the HERO4 Black is really meant for professional users.
6.4K video is difficult to stream online, and not many people have 4K monitors. Today, very few people have an internet connection fast enough to stream 4K content. To fit through current bandwidth pipes, a 4K signal is often compressed to the point where it can actually look worse than a good 1080p signal. Additionally, very few people own devices that are capable of displaying 4K content. So even if you’re watching a 4K video, you likely aren’t getting any better picture quality. As bandwidth and compression algorithms improve, and as 4K devices become cheaper, these problems will slowly start to disappear.
New battery compartment design.
The HERO4 battery compartment is built into the bottom of the camera and features an attached quick release door that makes battery swapping much easier. I frequently need to replace batteries, and often dropped the battery compartment door of my HERO3+ during a swap-out, so this redesign was a welcome improvement. The one (small) downside is that you now have to take the camera completely out of its housing in order to access the battery compartment. During activities like skiing, removing the camera can expose the inside of the housing to snowflakes, which adds moisture and can fog up the case when you close it back up.
Easier to replace housing backdoor.
With the HERO3+, I felt like I was about to break the housing every time I forced the backdoor on and off. Replacing the backdoor was very difficult, and I watched many others struggle with it as well. On the housing that came with my HERO4 Black camera, I find backdoor replacement to be much easier. Maybe I’m just getting better at it, but I really think GoPro tweaked the design.
Improved menu navigation.
The HERO4 features a new menu that’s more intuitive to navigate compared with that of the HERO3+. Settings are now linked to what mode the camera is currently in, which cuts down on the number of button clicks needed to find the setting you want to change. Because there are now so many video and photo capture options, this was likely a necessary modification. One additional improvement could be adding a physical “Back” button to the camera. I hate when I accidentally pass by the option I want to change and need to scroll all the way through the menu to reach it again. I do this all the time, and it frustrates me. A back button (or scroll wheel?) would solve this problem.
Addition of manual control settings.
The addition of manual control settings in ProTune further proves that the HERO4 Black targets professional users. I am by no means a professional videographer, but I’ve loved learning how to manually control the camera by using ProTune. Altering things like ISO and white balance was not possible with the HERO3+, and understanding how these settings affect the image has helped make me a better filmmaker. For example, I now always set ISO at 400 to reduce image noise in low light settings. (400 should really be the default, not 6400.) It would be fun to play with shutter speed if GoPro added this setting to ProTune, but I’m not dying for it.
WISH LIST FOR THE HERO4+/5
If I were a Product Manager at GoPro, here are a few changes I would suggest for the next version. Some might not be feasible due to constraints I’m unaware of, but none of them seem too far-fetched.
The GoPro screen is hard to read indoors or in low light. This has been a constant issue across all generations of GoPro cameras. Teaching my dad how to navigate the new HERO4 menu was especially difficult since he could only read it if the screen was right in front of his face (thus preventing me from seeing anything). I’m not entirely sure how a backlit screen would affect battery life, but I think it’s worth exploring. Especially if GoPro wants people to use their camera in low light settings (which, judging from their press and new launch video, it seems like they are).
Menu back button.
As I mentioned earlier, adding a physical “Back” button (or scroll wheel) to the camera would vastly improve menu navigation. I frequently scroll past the option I want to change because I’m rushing through the menu list (my friend is about to hit that sweet jump!), forcing me to scroll all the way through to reach it again. A simple way to go backwards would make my life a lot easier.
2.7K 4:3 – 48/60 video capture.
When I ski, I like shooting in the 4:3 aspect ratio to increase my chances of capturing the best shot. (The 4:3 ratio records 180 extra pixels on the top and bottom of the image, effectively capturing more of the frame.) As I mentioned earlier, I also like to film at a high frame rate (anything above 30fps) so that I can edit my videos in slow motion. 1440 (the 4:3 version of 1080p) is currently the highest 4:3 resolution setting of the HERO4 Black that can record at a frame rate above 30fps.
Now that YouTube supports 2K and 4K streaming playback, I’d love to edit videos in this higher resolution. In addition to achieving higher image quality, shooting in 2.7K allows me to crop the image on a 1080p editing timeline without losing any quality. This can be really helpful when adding image stabilization to shaky footage (will GoPro ever add electronic image stabilization in-camera?). For these reasons, I had hoped the HERO4 Black would include a higher frame rate mode for 2.7K 4:3.
GoPro recently announced plans to release a firmware update to the HERO4 Black and Silver that includes a higher frame rate for 2.7K. Hopefully they will provide a similar update for 2.7 4:3 in the near future!
Higher quality video download via the GoPro app.
I’m always frustrated when I take an awesome video, but can’t share it real time in a high quality format on my iPhone. The GoPro app only gives me an option to download videos in a low resolution format, which look grainy when I post them to Facebook or Instagram. I understand that file sizes coming out of the HERO4 can be huge, especially when filming in 4K or with ProTune on. But there could be an option to select a 15 second clip within a file (similar to what Instagram does), in order to limit the file transfer size.
To test the feasibility of this, I ran a couple quick calculations:
– A 15 second video filmed in 1080-60 (ProTune Off) resulted in a file size of ~56MB. The GoPro app transfers data from the camera to the iPhone via Wi-Fi at ~0.5MB/second.
– Therefore, a 15 second video transfer would take 1 minute and 52 seconds if kept at its original resolution.
That’s a bit lengthy, but if it means sharing an epic powder run in full HD resolution, then I’m all for it.
Slow motion and music options in the GoPro app.
As an addition to the 15-second HD clip feature above, it would be nice if the GoPro App had a simple slow motion option that automatically converted high frame rate videos to 24 or 30fps. Not only that, GoPro could include a music bank of 15-second audio clips that users could automatically set their videos to. If all of these features were available in-app, I would prefer this on-the-go method of editing and sharing to editing video on my laptop 95% of the time. After all, GoPro wants people to share their content with others, so why not make it easier for them?
Camera orientation auto-detect feature* *Even though GoPro will enable this feature as part of their February firmware update, I thought I’d include it since it’s been on my list for quite some time.
Currently, if you want to record with the camera upside-down, you need to select a setting that flips the orientation to record right-side up. The setting is buried in the menu, and since I frequently switch between filming right-side up and upside-down, navigating to it every time is pretty annoying. I always felt that adding a camera orientation detection feature that auto-adjusts orientation would solve this problem. Big props to GoPro for adding this feature!
The HERO4 Black is an extraordinarily powerful camera that has transformed the way I record my life’s most exciting moments. It allows me to share my experiences with others in a way that photos or video captured with another device simply cannot replicate. But, as with any consumer product, there is always room for improvement. Should GoPro choose to implement any of the features I suggested in my Wish List, their next camera will surely blow this one away.
In a future post, I’ll discuss some of the improvements GoPro could make to its accessories, packaging, and website, as well as propose some adjacent product lines GoPro should consider getting into.
I recently traveled to Dublin to attend Web Summit, a three day international tech and marketing event. The Web Summit attracted over 100 CEOs, 500 speakers, 8,500 students, 900 exhibitors, 1,000 journalists and 22,000 attendees from over 100 countries. At the end of the week, I left Dublin with several new insights, an increased penchant for Guinness, and even a few new friends.
I first heard about Web Summit through a Facebook ad that read “Do you want to hang out with Drew Houston and Bono?” I sat there for a moment, then said to myself “Why, yes, I do want to hang out with those people.” So I clicked on the ad, submitted my resume, and interviewed with a coordinator. Two weeks later, I was accepted as one of 75 MBA students into the Web Summit MBA Scholars program.
Off to Dublin! The Monday I arrived, our event coordinators had scheduled us a private dinner at the Guinness Storehouse, followed by a pub crawl with Drew Houston (Dropbox CEO). Not bad for the first night. The following three days were equally as star-studded and action-packed, with talks from people like Peter Thiel, Tony Fadell (Nest CEO), Brendan Iribe (Oculus CEO), and Bono. I spent most of my time at Machine Summit, a section of Web Summit focused on Connected Devices and Internet of Things companies. As I walked through the convention floor, hundreds of startups demoed their latest products and pitched me on why they were destined to be the next billion dollar company.
Needless to say, the whole thing was a bit exhausting, but ultimately it was well worth the trip. After reflecting on what I learned, here are my four key takeaways from Web Summit:
1. Commercial drones need a software platform.
Drones have boundless potential, and will soon be used for a wide range of applications that include precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection, and search and rescue. However, operating commercial drones is an extremely complex task. Therefore, companies will need a software platform that simplifies drone operation through increased automation. Jonathan Downey and the team at Airware are working to solve this exact problem.
2. The music industry needs greater revenue transparency.
The music industry’s move from digital downloads (iTunes) to streaming (Spotify) has drawn criticism that the streaming model does not pay artists appropriately for their work. However, Bono argues that streaming is not the enemy, but rather the opacity of record labels. As an example, Spotify gives up of 70% of its revenues to rights owners. The problem is that people don’t know where that money goes because the record labels aren’t transparent. If that money is not making it to the artists, then that’s a big problem. If artists could see how many times their song has been played and get paid direct debt for each play, it would be a big step in the right direction.
3. Internet of Things devices need to work together.
The Internet of Things (IoT) market is projected to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020, but many fear that lack of interoperability between devices will limit industry growth. Some manufacturers are producing closed system IoT devices that only work with other approved devices, as opposed to creating an open system that’s manufacturer agnostic. If the IoT revolution is to live up to its potential, manufacturers must embrace an open source system in which all devices can work together.
4. Wearable tech needs the tech to disappear.
Wearable technology has been hyped for several years now, but mass adoption has yet to be realized. A big reason for that is wearables are still somewhat of a pain to use. They need frequent recharging, break easily, and don’t provide enough relevant insights to be useful. In order for wearables to really take off, they should be smart, unobtrusive, and effortless. Not only that, they need to collect continuous data, and turn that data into insights that meaningfully improve our quality of life.
When I started Activid, I had to develop a business plan. I asked myself, what is my value proposition? Who is my target customer? What is my go-to-market strategy? I made a number of initial assumptions based on gut instinct, and over time, most of them proved to be wrong.
I started Activid because of a personal problem – it took way too long to edit my own GoPro videos. I figured there were countless other people like me who film lots of GoPro video on their ski or surf trips, but never get around to editing and sharing them. With that assumption in mind, establishing partnerships with sports equipment rental shops and adventure travel outfitters seemed like a perfect strategy. (Just picture a group of friends who filmed a weekend ski trip and return their equipment to the local rental shop. Or a family who took video during their Backroads trip to Hawaii). In return for promoting Activid, these businesses would gain free marketing (their logo would appear in customers videos) and also receive a portion of each sale. Not to mention, they’d be adding a service offering that many of their customers would find value in.
Over a three week period, I cold called hundreds of rental shops and dozens of adventure travel companies. Some expressed interest, but most did not. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see value in offering a video editing service to their customers – it seemed like such a logical pairing. Perhaps the free marketing and commission weren’t big enough pulls, or maybe they worried about the quality of our videos. Both are valid concerns, and maybe they need to see more traction before committing to a partnership. Either way, I think this could be an effective go-to-market strategy in the future, but not one that’s available to me right now.
After failing to establish any large partnerships, I refocused my efforts toward direct marketing. But first, I needed to validate my belief that the GoPro and action sports market was indeed the right market. To test this, I flew to Colorado for the GoPro Mountain Games, with the goal of promoting Activid to thousands of attending GoPro users. Approaching complete strangers to pitch them my service was a big challenge for me. I felt like a sleazy sales guy that I myself would try to avoid. But as each day passed, I gained confidence and got better at making my pitch more efficient, informative, and friendly. That weekend, I talked to over 400 people and handed out more than 600 promo cards.
Upon returning to Chicago, I eagerly waited for new orders to pour in from all the people I talked to who expressed excitement about Activid. But to my disappointment, only a handful of people that I spoke with actually submitted video. I asked myself, “Why did so many people vow to use my service, but so few actually convert?” A conversation with a fellow GoPro user shed light on this question. He remarked:
“Most GoPro users record video with a specific goal in mind, such as creating a highlight compilation of their ski trip. They’ve watched other GoPro videos on YouTube and believe they can edit their video themselves, even though most won’t. The simple belief that they are capable of such editing reduces their willingness to pay for an outsourced editing service. In contrast, a mother who films her four-year-old’s birthday party harbors no illusions of editing her own video. Therefore, her willingness to pay is not reduced by the thought that she can do it herself.”
I had discovered that my primary target market believed they could and would take time to edit a great video themselves, and didn’t want to spend money on someone else do it for them. This realization forced me to reevaluate who I should target, so I reviewed what types of projects had been submitted to Activid over the past month. Many came from parents who recorded video during a family trip or event. Several others came from small business owners (like an African safari company) who wanted a promo video for their website. Activid solved a real need for these two customer groups, and it was clear that I should redirect my focus towards them.
Launching an early version of Activid allowed me to study which customers used the service, and how they used it. If I had waited to launch a more robust version, I would likely still be focusing on the GoPro market. Similarly, reaching out to rental shops and travel outfitters taught me that I first need to focus on direct marketing. I’m sure that I’ll continue to learn more as new customers come in, but for now, I think I’m on the right track.
This summer, I have been working full time on my video editing startup Activid. It has been an unusual summer for me – for the first time, I’ve needed to set my own hours, make my own deadlines, and define my own objectives. None of it has come easy, but each challenge has helped teach me something new. I’ve learned just as much about myself and how I work as I have about starting a business.
It wasn’t the easiest decision to work full time on Activid this summer. At business school, there is a very structured process in which students recruit for internships, work at a large company over the summer, and either accept a full-time offer or re-recruit the following year. I watched all my friends go through traditional MBA recruiting while I sat on the sidelines, knowing I wanted to follow a different path. At times, I even felt irresponsible not taking advantage of Booth’s Career Services, effectively foregoing the one resource students value most. But then I would remind myself, that’s not why I came back to school. My goal upon entering Booth was to learn some new skills, meet smart and interesting people, take advantage of Booth’s entrepreneurial resources, and use the summer to try my hand at starting a business. Thus far, I’ve accomplished all four, so I feel like I’m off to a good start.
More than anything, this summer has taught me that it’s hard to work by yourself for 10 hours a day. When you have no one else to share the burden of starting a company with, or even to bounce ideas off of, it can get lonely. In the future, I’d like to find at least one other person to work with who shares my excitement in living through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
Of course, I learned a whole lot about starting a company, too. My college friend Dru subletted one of our bedrooms this summer, and every night for the first two weeks, he asked me “What did you do today?” He meant it as a half-joke, but he really did want to know. In the next few posts, I’ll try to answer Dru’s question and describe my summer experience. My plan is to break it into separate functions, including business strategy, product development, sales and marketing, employee management, and customer service. Most importantly, I’ll show how all this work led to one of the greatest days of my life – the day Activid got its first real customer.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, I moved to New York City to begin my first job as an investment banker. The money I earned went almost entirely towards rent, food and alcohol, but I still managed to contribute 5% of each paycheck into a 401(k).
Now that I had money to invest, I figured it would be prudent to research different investment strategies, asset classes, and how to construct a balanced portfolio. But after some investigation, I quickly realized how complex things could get. The number of investment options and strategies out there was overwhelming. I wanted to learn about them, but with the long hours I worked as a banking analyst, I barely had time for anything else.
Over the next few months, I developed a deep interest in personal finance. I wanted to find a smart way to invest my money without effectively becoming a day trader. It needed to be simpler than that.
Some more research led me to a book called Unconventional Success, written by David Swensen. Swensen is an icon among institutional money managers and has run the Yale endowment since 1985. In his book, he outlines a passively managed index investing approach for individuals that focuses on a “well-diversified, equity-oriented portfolio.” He recommends the following asset allocation:
Asset Class ETF Ticker %
Domestic Stocks VTI 30%
Foreign Developed Stocks VEA 15%
Emerging Market Stocks VWO 5%
Real Estate VNQ 20%
U.S. Treasury Bonds IEF 15%
U.S. Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) TIP 15%
In order to implement this strategy, you can purchase low cost exchange traded funds (ETFs) that track each of the six asset classes. The ticker symbols for each are listed above.
Recently, several web based investment advisors have appeared, including Betterment and Wealthfront. These tools make it easy to invest in a well-diversified portfolio without having to buy the different ETF funds individually. When I first discovered Betterment, I was curious which ETFs they included in their portfolio. Would they mirror Swensen’s recommendation?
It turns out the asset allocation is strikingly similar. A few of their ETFs are even the same as those used to construct Swensen’s portfolio. Betterment has recently expanded their ETF selection, but their general approach hasn’t changed. Like Swensen, they follow a diversified, equity-weighted, low cost approach.
I’ve been using Betterment for eight months now, and so far I really like it. If you have money sitting idle in a checking or savings account that you don’t need to access in the near term, I would suggest opening an account with Betterment. Alternatively, if you want to learn a little more about ETFs, you can open a brokerage account (I use Schwab) and purchase each of the ETFs individually. It’s a little more work to set up, but it can be fun to go through the process of buying them yourself.
All that said, this isn’t the best investment strategy for everyone out there. There are probably many other options that could work just as well or better depending on the type of person you are. But for someone like me who wants to invest in the market, but doesn’t want to check their account on a daily or weekly basis, passively managed indexed investing is a great option.
After enduring a tough Chicago winter, myself and 22 other first-year Booth students headed south to Colombia for Spring Break. I haven’t had Spring Break in six years, so it definitely felt a little like being back in college. But then again, what part of b-school doesn’t feel like college?
The week involved a combination of relaxation, culture, water sports, eating, and socializing. Our accommodations comprised two beautiful villas in the center of Old Town Cartagena. Amazing beaches, cigar shops, and seafood restaurants sat at our fingertips. The setup could not have been more perfect.
But best of all, I got to spend quality time getting to know my friends even better. Although we often hang out as a group, we’re usually together in the context of larger social settings, which aren’t very conducive to meaningful conversation. There’s still so much I don’t know about some of my best friends, and this trip gave me the opportunity to change that. Everyone has a story – so on strolls through Old Town’s cobblestone streets or over a ceviche and sangria lunch, I started learning about some of those stories. Unbelievably, each one amazed me more than the last.
Everyone talks about business school as a place that brings together talented and ambitious people, all from different backgrounds. This trip showed me just how true that is. Chicago Booth has so far been one of the best experiences of my life, and I consider myself very fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of friends.
Here’s a video I made from our trip – hopefully you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!