Summer GoPro Videos

I recorded a whole bunch of GoPro video last summer, and I finally got around to editing some of it this week.  I had so much fun shooting the video – especially with my friends Tyler and Rob on Cape Cod – but always found excuses to not take some time to edit it.  I still have a bunch more to work on, but I’m glad that I made some progress.

This video is from a weekend I spent with my friends Tyler and Rob on Cape Cod.  They got into GoProing our activities just as much as I did, which made for a really fun trip.

 

I shot this video on a late afternoon when my parents and I went for a ride around Pleasant Bay.  The conditions were perfect, so I decided to strap on a wakeboard.

 

During my trip to Europe in August, I visited Interlaken, one of the extreme sports capitals of the world.  Every direction I looked, people were base jumping, paragliding, mountain biking, or sky diving.  Obviously, I wanted to get in on the action.

Chicago Startup Weekend

I recently participated in my first Startup Weekend here in Chicago.  The goal of the weekend was to pitch an idea, form a team, and launch a startup in 48 hours.  That last part is obviously a bit of a stretch, but its still a lot of fun to see how much progress a team can make in two days.

Of the ~150 people that participated, 60 pitched ideas.  Everyone voted on the best ideas, and the top 18 were chosen to move forward for the weekend.  Luckily, one of those ideas was mine.  I pitched my video editing company, which a lot of people seemed to like.  The rest of the participants then formed teams around each of the 18 idea people, depending on which idea interested them most.

As a group leader, I found that Startup Weekend was just as much an exercise in people management as it was a platform to launch a startup.  Eight people joined my team, and while most of them were a pleasure to work with, a couple were not.  Managing eight personalities who have never met or worked together before was a challenge, especially since lots of skill sets overlapped.  In this situation, my team members outnumbered the required job responsibilities, so while some people felt redundant, others seemed left out.  I tried my best to assign everybody a role so they felt valuable, but eventually I had to focus on my own work and hope that others would proactively find something to do.

By the second day, our team started to gel.  People became more familiar with each other’s work style and communication improved dramatically.  For me, it was definitely a good feeling.

The competition ended with a five minute presentation given by each team to a panel of judges and a 150 person audience.  Our team didn’t place in the top three, but we did receive a $1,000 award in the form of QA and testing consulting advice from Outpost.  Not bad for 48 hours of work.

Startup Weekend was full of ups and downs, but overall I had a great experience and met some really cool people.  I learned a little about managing others, and a lot about managing myself.  Both are equally important, I think.

Here is a recap video of the weekend:

Drone Diaries

A few weeks ago, I bought a DJI Phantom 2 Drone on Amazon.  I’ve wanted one for quite awhile, but I kept questioning my own judgment for contemplating such a ridiculous purchase.  After a few test flights, though, I can say with certainty that buying a drone is probably the best decision I’ve made since coming to business school.

To be clear, this thing is way more than a toy.  It’s primarily used by videographers who want to shoot aerial footage at a much lower cost than other options (like hiring a helicopter).  The Phantom 2 flies up to one kilometer high at speeds north of 25mph, and responds to commands instantaneously.  The controls take a little getting used to, but if you ever played N64 Goldeneye as a kid, it won’t take long at all.

First Flight

On the Tuesday night my Amazon package arrived, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.  I placed the box on our kitchen counter, grabbed a knife from one of the drawers, and slowly began cutting through the tape.  After unpacking and assembling the different pieces, I decided that I couldn’t wait until morning to try it out.  My roommates watched as I placed the drone on our kitchen floor, both hands clenching the remote control in anticipation of first flight.  I powered up the battery, turned on controller, and shielded my eyes from the tornado of dust swirling around the propellers.  After a few seconds, I slowly pushed the left joystick forward, and the drone began to rise into the air.

My excitement was short-lived.  Within six seconds, I lost control of the drone and it  immediately crashed into the wall.  Should’ve seen that one coming.

Second Flight

Before taking the drone out for a second flight, I did some Googling to educate myself on any applicable laws.  Turns out there are several.  First, airspace above 400 feet is regulated by the FAA, so that’s the upper limit for amateur drone fliers.  In addition, operating a drone for commercial use is currently prohibited in the U.S. until the FAA figures out how to regulate them.  Which is why the FAA goes around busting awesome guys who deliver beer with drones.

It’s unfortunate that the FAA chooses to impede innovation in this nascent industry by not keeping up with technology.  The FAA is not expected to provide regulatory guidance of any kind until September 2015, at the earliest.  There are literally hundreds of commercial drone applications just waiting to be explored by large companies and entrepreneurs alike.  Beyond professional photography and Hollywood movie-making, drones have a myriad of uses: infrastructure inspections, crop monitoring and optimization, search and rescue, oil spill monitoring, police and emergency services, sporting events, package delivery, taco delivery…the list goes on.  Hopefully, commercial drone laws will be enacted soon, so that people can start exploring and commercializing some of these exciting uses.

Here’s a video of my second flight in Millennium Park.

Final Flight

Last weekend, I brought my drone to Lake Tahoe to film my friends and I skiing at Squaw Valley.  I captured some pretty awesome footage, and complete strangers started following me around the mountain to watch the aerial performance we were putting on.  On the way back home, we stopped by Lake Tahoe, and I pulled out the Phantom for a quick flight over the shoreline.  It was a beautiful day – sunny, no wind, and a crystal clear lake.

Midway through the flight, my drone stopped responding to remote control commands.  It began descending at a rapid pace, and despite my RC instructions to elevate, it crashed into the shallow water, breaking the gimbal and camera.  The drone bounced back up off some rocks, but the impact must have caused internal damage.  It began wandering aimlessly through the air without any ability to be controlled.  Eventually, my precious drone drifted into a tall pine tree about 40 feet up and plummeted to the ground.  The GoPro camera ripped off, and parts of the drone blades were scattered around the crash site.

I had a feeling this day would come, I just didn’t think it would come so soon.  There are still so many things I want to film with my Phantom.  And I was just starting to get good at flying it, too.  Oh well, I try not to dwell on the past.  Maybe I can fix it, or maybe I’ll just stick to ground activities for a bit.

I won’t be deterred for long, though.  Soon enough, my drone will rule the skies of Chicago once again.

Activity Tracker Survey

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends to complete an online survey about wearable activity trackers.  174 people filled out the survey – far more than I was expecting.  To everyone who did, thank you!  You can see a summary of the survey results in the SlideShare presentation below:

The results are clearly biased towards people of a similar age, education and socioeconomic background as myself, but I still think the answers reveal some interesting patterns.  To start, I’ve listed a few statistics, some more obvious than others.  They aren’t particularly actionable, but I found them interesting nonetheless.

    • Males are 2.5 times more likely than females to buy a tracker because they like using the latest tech gadgets
    • Females are 28% more likely than males to track their diet and exercise habits
    • Males are 2.3 times more likely than females to share their weight (duh)
    • Females are 59% more likely than males to wear an activity tracker
    • Of people who wear activity trackers, females are 17% more likely than males to consider design and style important
    • Jawbone UP Band owners are 53% more likely vs. other activity tracker owners to consider the design/style of their tracker very or extremely important

If I were a Product Manager at Jawbone, one area of the survey that I would study is the relationship between how often people exercise and what features they find most useful in an activity tracker.  For example, of survey respondents who don’t own an activity tracker, those who exercise a moderate amount (3-4 days/week) would find tracking their diet, exercise, weight, sleep patterns, and calorie burn 28% more useful than those who exercise a lot or a little.

I interpret this to mean that people who don’t exercise often have fewer metrics to track, and are therefore less interested in tracking them.  At the same time, very active people are comparatively uninterested in tracking metrics, perhaps because they are more aware of their habits and don’t need a written log.  This finding coincides with actual purchasing behavior – of the three different exercise clusters (0-2, 3-4, and 5-7 days/week), those who exercise 3-4 days/week displayed the highest percentage of activity tracker ownership.

Of people who don’t own a tracker, here’s how likely each cluster is to eventually purchase one:

    • 0-2 days/week (“infrequents”): 62%
    • 3-4 days/week (“moderates”): 61%
    • 5-7 days/week (“avids”): 39%

Infrequents and avids don’t find as much benefit to tracking health metrics, but of non-owners, infrequents are 59% more likely than avids to eventually purchase a tracker.  Said another way, infrequents have the lowest current penetration rate, but the highest potential adoption rate.  If Jawbone promoted an alternative feature of the UP Band that appealed more to this segment, perhaps they would be more inclined to adopt.

One option is to target infrequents by promoting UP Band’s social network features.  Many people consider UP Band’s mobile app and social network features to be the best of any wearable tracker, yet only 23% of owner respondents claimed much benefit from their friends wearing the same tracker.  (This might indicate that wearable device makers aren’t educating consumers enough on the social element of trackers before they make the purchase.)  However, going one layer deeper, infrequents are 43% more likely than moderates or avids to consider the social element important.  It seems that even though respondents as a whole care little about social features, those who do care tend to be infrequents.

Therefore, a Jawbone marketing campaign that highlights the fun of following friends’ daily activities and offering encouragement through in-app messaging could drive UP Band sales within the under-penetrated infrequents segment.  To gain conviction around this hypothesis, I would want to conduct a follow-up survey that asks non-owners, “If your friends owned a particular tracker and you could friend them through the device’s mobile app, would you be inclined to buy the same one?”

Jawbone could narrow its marketing campaign even further by targeting female infrequents.  Of people who don’t own a tracker, females are 74% more likely than males to monitor their physical activity with a smartphone app.  This means that more females are already using some form of technology to monitor their activity, and are therefore more open to wearing a tracker.  It makes sense, then, that of non-owners, females are 31% more likely than males to eventually purchase an activity tracker.

Just how big is the total U.S. market opportunity of this segment?  There are 112 million Americans who are 18-44 years old, Jawbone’s likely target age demographic.  Half of this population is female, which cuts the group to 56 million.  Going further, 28% of all respondents reported exercise frequency of 0-2 days/week.  A recent survey by watch retailer Timex yielded similar results, reporting that 33% of respondents exercise less than two days/week.  (My survey results are likely skewed lower due to a younger sample respondent bias.)  Multiplying 56 million by 30% yields ~17 million American females aged 18-44 who exercise 0-2 days/week.  At an average selling price of $150, the total market opportunity is roughly $2.5 billion.

Which is to say, “infrequent females” represent a large and under-penetrated segment of the population, and Jawbone would be well served by tailoring its future marketing campaigns towards this consumer group.

Religion in the Modern World

A few weeks back, my roommate Gideon and I got to talking about religion.  He’s Jewish and I’m Catholic, but neither of us are really practicing.  My family attended mass every Sunday when I was young, but that regularity dwindled with each passing year.  Now, mass is reserved solely for Easter and Christmas Eve.

I never looked forward to mass because I found it boring and repetitive.  My parents probably felt the same way back then, and I know they feel that way now.  However, they wanted to raise my sisters and I with religion in our lives so that we learned basic moral principles, and had somewhere to turn if we needed a little extra support.  (Religion also came in handy when us kids asked questions like “How are babies born?”)  Religion provides children with an early moral compass and serves as a source of guidance and strength as they get older.  I agree with my parents’ choice to raise us as Catholic and will probably do the same when I have children someday.

At the same time, I struggle with whether or not I believe in God.  I’m not really sure if a God exists, but I do believe there is a higher power of some sort.  I also believe in the concepts that Christianity teaches, which mainly revolve around the Golden Rule.  Treat people the way you want to be treated, and all that.  This concept is fundamental across the teachings of every major world religion, but because of how my education was structured, I only learned it in the context of Catholicism.

I never received an education in the history, beliefs, or cultural systems of other religions, and I am admittedly ignorant of them as a result.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  For young kids, religion class is partly about learning history and customs, and partly about developing moral values.  There are common moral lessons across every religion, so why not supplement children’s primarily religion class with a course that teaches Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and the ideas that connect them?  Through this course, students would receive the same type of moral development, but would also gain a much deeper understanding of other world religions at a young age.  These students would enter society far more cultured than the average American, with the ability to more easily relate to people from different religious upbringings.

I’m not advocating that our society abandon teaching children to believe in one religion.  But we live in a global world, and as people from different countries and backgrounds become increasingly interconnected, the more important it becomes for people to be accepting of beliefs that differ from their own.  Globalization is happening all around us, and its time for schools to extend our global way of thinking to religion.

Video Editing Company

Whenever I go on vacation with family or friends, I usually shoot video of our trip with a GoPro camera.  I use iMovie to make a short highlights film after the vacation is over that I can then post online and send to my friends.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I believe that video relates an experience much better than a photo album.  Even though it takes me a solid two days to create a good movie, I enjoy the finished product enough that I am willing to dedicate the time to make it.

However, there’s a reason why most people still choose to take pictures over video.  Watching raw, unedited video is awkward, and the process of editing video to create an entertaining 4-5 minute movie is extremely time consuming.  Most people are unwilling to dedicate the time it takes to parse through hours of footage, find the best clips, sequence those clips into an engaging story, and overlay music that sets the right mood.  As a result, the overwhelming majority of vacations/activities/experiences are still documented with pictures.

A New Market is Emerging

Over the last few years, the demand for action sports video cameras has exploded.  GoPro possesses a near-monopoly on this market and is growing at an extraordinary rate.  In 2011, GoPro’s estimated revenue was ~$250 million; in 2013, they may crack $1 billion.  GoPros are selling like crazy, but for the aforementioned reasons, I would speculate that only a fraction of users actually take the time to edit and upload their video to YouTube.  During a conversation I had with a GoPro employee, he told me that GoPro’s biggest long-term focus is getting video off of users’ cameras and onto the internet.  The more content that makes it’s way to YouTube, the more other people will see viral videos shot with a GoPro and want one for themselves.

Does GoPro eventually want to provide video editing services that eliminate the barrier to creating awesome video content?  Maybe.  They’ve already developed GoPro Studio, an application akin to iMovie that offers pre-loaded template themes that allow users to drop video clips into a prebuilt movie with music, titles, and other visual effects.  It’s clear GoPro understands their users’ pain points, but given the speed at which the company is growing, they may not have enough dedicated resources to tackle this problem now.

A Business Opportunity Awaits

I’d like to create a video editing company that addresses this problem.  I envision a service where people can upload their raw footage to a website, and experienced editors will turn that content into a beautiful short film.  Pricing might depend on the number of hours of raw footage uploaded, as well as the length of the final video.

I searched around the internet for competitors and discovered Videopixie and Viedit, online marketplaces that connect video takers with video editors.  In the case of Videopixie, users upload their raw footage to the site, and Videopixie’s network of freelance editors will edit the video for them.  The upside to this business model is scalability – Videopixie isn’t actually hiring any of its own editors, and instead takes a percentage fee from the transaction.  However, the downside of the business model (and one that outweighs the upside in my opinion) is Videopixie’s lack of quality control over edited videos.  Because Videopixie outsources the editing to freelancers, Videopixie customers may experience varying levels of quality depending on what editor they choose.  In addition, Videopixie is attempting to serve the entire spectrum of video categories, including action videos, music videos, customer interviews, game trailers, and so on.

If I started a video editing outsourcing company, I would do a couple things differently.  First, I would focus solely on action sports videos and other vacation videos shot with a GoPro.  Second, I would hire editors and train them on how to edit this type of footage so that all final videos achieve the same high standard.  By focusing on a particular type of video (action sports), it will be easier to train editors in a specific editing style, which will in turn help them edit videos faster.

I’m really excited about the idea, and I truly believe that there’s a market for this type of service.  I’m a big skier, and five years ago, no one was wearing mountable cameras.  Today, they’re all over the mountain. Five-year-olds, teenagers, dads – they’re all using GoPros.  I think that creating a service that caters to an unmet need in an exploding market is a good move.  My biggest question is – can the business model work?  That’s what I’m going to find out.

(If anyone reading this post has ideas, suggestions, or relevant business experience, please shoot me an e-mail or post a comment.  I’d really like to hear what other people think about the concept.)

Some Music Playlists

I listen to a lot of music.  My preference for what genre depends on what mood I’m in and varies between pop, country, electronic, and hipster (think Matt & Kim or The Lumineers).  I use Spotify as my primary music player because its easy to use, has most of the songs I search for, and I can listen to playlists on my iPhone even when I don’t have cell reception.  Best of all, I can listen to an unlimited number of songs for $99/year.  For that price, I would be able to download ~77 songs from iTunes at $1.29/song.  Considering I probably “downloaded” 500 songs on Spotify this year, $99/year for the Spotify service is well worth it.

Recently, I’ve been listening to lots of electronic music and have discovered a number of great electronic remixes through apps like The Hype Machine and FratMusic.  I can’t make playlists on these apps, so I need to use another music service to collect the remixes for easy access.  However, lots of obscure remixes can’t be found on Spotify, so I’ve begun using SoundCloud as well.  SoundCloud isn’t as user friendly as Spotify, but its free and has almost every remix imaginable in its database.  That makes SoundCloud a perfect complementary service to Spotify, and I’m happy to use it if it makes organizing my music easier.

Here is a playlist of electronic remixes I made on SoundCloud.  I wanted to see if I could embed the playlist into my blog and share it, so hopefully this works.

 

Here is another recent electronic playlist I created on Spotify.  It will be interesting to see which one of these embedded players will work better – SoundCloud or Spotify.

(Update: After posting this, I realized that you can only play the Spotify playlist if you are already a Spotify user.  This makes it much less functional than the SoundCloud embedded playlist, so I guess SoundCloud wins this one.)

Christmas Shopping

It’s that time of year again.  The middle of December, a week shy of Christmas and I’m racking my brain trying to come up with gift ideas that my family will actually like.  It’s a difficult process, and one that I don’t think I’m alone in.  Recently, I’ve been buying tech gifts for my parents, first because it keeps them in the know, and second because it’s better than just another button-down shirt.

This year, I went with a BIG JAMBOX for my mom, who needs a high quality and easy-to-use sound system for her new art studio on Cape Cod.  I’ve owned a regular JAMBOX for awhile and love the sound quality.  The only time I’ve wanted the bigger version is when I’m in a room full of people and the music gets drowned out.  But those situations are infrequent, and the portability of the smaller version vastly outweighs it’s volume constraints.  However, my mom won’t be moving her JAMBOX from place to place – it will always be in her studio.  For that reason, I felt that she would enjoy BIG JAMBOX’s superior sound quality.

For my dad, I bought a Nest Thermostat.  I haven’t actually tried this product out myself, mainly because I don’t own a house worthy of such a high-end gadget.  From everything that I’ve read, though, Nest is a staple of the modern smart home.  First of all, it looks awesome.  Definitely way more stylish than your typical Honeywell thermostat.  Nest learns your temperature preferences over time, which eventually saves you money by automatically adjusting the temperature in different situations (like if you’ve left the house).  You can also control Nest from your phone, so monitoring and controlling the temperature is easy even when you’re away.

I floated the Nest gift idea by my mom, and she told me, “Whatever you get him, just make sure it’s easy to understand.  Otherwise your dad won’t use it.”  That’s a great point in general, but it’s especially important to the baby boomer generation who are still young enough to be eased into the latest technology, if only they find it intuitive.  In the case of Jambox and Nest, I think that their products remove a lot of the confusing buttons and settings found on more traditional comparative devices, and replace them with a simple and elegant user interface.  I hope that my parents feel the same way (and maybe even a little tech savvy) once they unwrap their presents.

A New Online Bank

I am obsessive about tracking my finances.  When I graduated from college and started working, I created a spreadsheet to record my monthly income, pre-tax deductions, tax withholdings, 401-K contributions, and expenses by category.  Every month or so, I’d review my online credit card statements and input each transaction into Excel, which would then flow into a monthly summary tab.  I continue to track my expenses like this today.

I set up an account with Mint.com but rarely use it.  In my opinion, the Mint platform has several shortcomings that render it unusable for me – namely their inability to accurately categorize a significant portion of my transactions.  Mint also has trouble distinguishing cash transfers between accounts from actual spending, so when I transfer $1,000 from Schwab to Ally, Mint thinks I’ve spent $1,000 somewhere.  Their advertisements for various financial products don’t do much for me, either.

The one Mint feature I do like is the ability to see a real-time snapshot of all my accounts in one place.  If an online bank offered all the services I use (which aren’t very many), then I’d just keep all my money with them and avoid Mint as an intermediary.  I keep most of my money in Schwab checking and brokerage accounts, but since they don’t offer a very good rate on their savings account, I use Ally instead.  I recently opened an account with Betterment.com to easily invest money in a diversified market portfolio without having to choose the various ETF funds myself.  And I’ve also been using LendingClub.com to invest in consumer debt the same way a traditional bank would.

Which led me to thinking – why not create an online bank that offers all of these products?  Even if you ignore Lending Club, an online bank that combines the same automated stock/bond investment tool as Betterment with a traditional high yield checking and savings account would be very appealing.  I believe that a service like this would be sufficient for most people who want to keep their spending money with an online bank and also invest in a diverse portfolio without having to choose individual stocks, bonds, or ETFs themselves.

If an online bank offered me a checking account, savings account, automated investing account, credit and debit card, and reasonably powerful expense tracking tools, I would keep 100% of my money with them.  So why doesn’t a bank like this exist?

Maybe I should create one.

Instacart Grocery Delivery

The nearest grocery store to my apartment in Chicago is about a 12 minute walk away.  Since I don’t own a car, walking is my only option.  It’s not terrible getting there, but since I only go once every two weeks, I tend to stock up.  $100 worth of groceries is quite heavy, so I end up having to stop 2-3 times on the way back to give my arms a rest.  Knowing myself, I won’t even consider this an option come January when Chicago feels more like northern Russia.  (During winters in college, my girlfriend made fun of me for driving 400 yards from my fraternity to the cafeteria).  Odds are I’ll end up ordering off Seamless four nights a week, questioning my unhealthy lifestyle as I devour a box of Chinese take-out.

Enter Instacart.  Instacart is an on-demand grocery delivery service that connects customers with personal shoppers who will pick up and deliver groceries to you.  In exchange for this convenience, Instacart charges a $4 delivery fee on any order above $35 and adds a small markup to each item you purchase.  The total service charge on a $100 order is probably in the neighborhood of 6-7%, which I’m perfectly happy to pay in exchange for avoiding a trip to the supermarket.

This is not the first time a company has attempted to establish a grocery delivery service.  During the dot-com bubble, Webvan built out a sizable warehouse and distribution network to deliver groceries in a number of cities.  Its infrastructure expansion far exceeded its sales growth, and when the company ran out of money, it ultimately had to file for bankruptcy.  Webvan is now considered the largest dot-com flop in history.

Instacart hopes to differentiate itself from Webvan (and current competitors like Peapod, FreshDirect, and AmazonFresh) in several ways.  Instacart holds no inventory, owns no warehouses, and does not operate its own distribution network.  Rather, it crowdsources shoppers who pick up food from the supermarket and use their own cars for delivery.  This allows Instacart to be very flexible and launch quickly in new cities.

This evening, I had the chance to hear the Instacart City Launcher speak at Booth’s Food & Agriculture Forum.  He spoke about why they chose Chicago as the next city to launch in outside of San Francisco – one of their reasons was that it rains or snows one out of every three days in Chicago, and orders skyrocket when the weather is bad.  After having lived here for about three months, I can confirm that this estimate is about right.

I’m excited to see how Instacart grows and expands into new cities during 2014.  There is clearly a lot of demand for their service, and if they continue to please customers, there’s really no telling how big the company could get.