Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in 2016

There has never been a more exciting time to do what I do.

Never have the markets been more fluid, more atomic and never has the need for clarity in intent and brand value been more essential for a company’s success.

Being able to connect globally with businesses on a daily basis and add my own point of view to their decision-making process is honestly a gift. The market’s personal one to me.

There is a renaissance of marketing happening right now, redefined for a new era.

Grounded in but something new from what preceded. Grounded in but something more simple and basically behavioral than the data driven imperatives that drive most of our business decisions.

I realized mid last year that I’m squandering this opportunity for myself.

Throughout 2015 I had been spending a lot of time working with my investment LuliTonix from an operational perspective.

I seriously love what this company is doing.

It’s making a difference and riding the massive swell and influence of the wellness trend. Forging a true community brand with corresponding revenue in a still evolving market.

But I’ve decided to change–not my support or board level ties with LuliTonix certainly –but my operational involvement.

At the core, I want to do what I’m great at and what makes me happy. I’m fortunate that they are the same.

I want to move big ships in game changing ways. Provide strategic direction for exploding ideas through gravity defying upswells.

By DNA I’m a brand and market builder in the tech space.

I thrive where tech innovation meets emerging markets.

Sometimes this means selling stuff made out of atoms, sometimes it’s a platform. Very often it’s been business-to-business and consumer software but always creating a runway for the dream of a different world.

That’s the world I work in, crafting communities that can become markets.

And LuliTonix has a visionary CEO who can do better with me as an advisor rather than an operator.

So—

For those in the food world, LuliTonix is recruiting a president. Ping me if you are interested or have ideas and I’ll connect you to the right people.

For myself, I’ve been hard at this change for months now. And flexible as to where it takes me.

I’m forging relationships with some contemporaries, both on the financial and bigco brand auditing fronts to do some joint projects.

I’m refocusing my thinking, doubling down on my core intuitions on how to create and leverage communities.

And a pet project figuring out a structure to work with seed and venture funds to advise cross their portfolios adding what I do one on one in a more scalable way.

I’m simply stoked.

Getting up at dawn every day, blogging, doing intervals at the gym with This American Life as my daily mantra of storytelling in my head.

And—rewriting for the third time now—chapter one of a short ‘something’ about my decade long love affair with artisanal and natural wine.

To everyone, and to the unknown opportunities that are always surfacing, I’m raising my glass to a truly great year.

One month in and already over performing.

Homage to my grandfather

3312md-004

I woke up very early to a raging blizzard outside and the quiet flickering of the Yurseit candle in my dark apartment.

Forty years ago today, Pop, my grandfather passed.

One hundred eleven years ago, he climbed down the ladder of a ship from Russia, a very young Yiddish speaking boy who had traveled alone to New York to find a better life from the shetls of Eastern Europe.

It’s been so so long—and my mom’s recollections are shrouded in very aging memories—that fact and fiction are blended together.

In truth, my memories of him and a few black and white photos are all that I have.

He was, along with my dad, the epitome of what it meant to be a good man growing up.

Pop entered Ellis island as Ycze Ruvyn and walked out and made his way to his relatives in Philadelphia as Sam Rubin.

He lived on Rivington Street when it looked like scenes of early New York in the Godfather. He moved to the South Bronx, then to the West Bronx off the Grand Concourse where the picture above was taken in the 30s.

This was a guy who drove a horse drawn cab in the early days and spent the majority of his life working on sewing machines in the garment district.

3312md-011Who dressed like a businessman in clothes he tailored to work on the line, sewing pieces of clothes together year after year.

He worked hard, loved his family with a passion, loved life and seriously considered himself the luckiest person in the world.

He considered America the land where dreams came true.

Never went to school. Never got an education. He never complained about anything.

Stories and memories abound.

How during WW2, three families lived together. My mom pregnant with my older brother, her brothers wife, Pop and his wife and of course the dog. It was over two years till the men came home from the war.

How he walked to Philadelphia by himself, just a kid speaking only Yiddish to find relatives when he got off the boat.

How on summer weekends, we would pile into Pop’s Oldsmobile and head upstate to the Catskills where my Uncle Harry had an old summerhouse. The extended family meeting there, cars full of kids, bringing bialys and smoked salmon, crumb cake and  lox. Pickled Herring and OJ.

Old lawn chairs, Yiddish banter, cigars and pipe smoke, singing and yelling and a melting pot of generations.

This is the stuff of great movies that our lives in retrospect look like if we are lucky.

Pop was the only babysitter I ever had. The man who occupied one end of the kitchen table, my dad the other every day of my life growing up.

Who early every Saturday morning insured that food from the Jewish deli and bakery were piled high on the kitchen table before anyone awoke.

Who bought the first black and white TV the family had and we would crowd into his room off the kitchen to watch–Bonanza, Million Dollar Movie and Rod Sterling.

I so loved this man.

I still do.

And he so loved his family and his life.

Quiet. Large and strong. Cigar always smoking and dangling from his really large hands.

He stands for what it meant to be brought up in the middle class.

The focus on education from people who didn’t have the privilege.

The insistence on being happy by people who found it without huge economic success. The value of family and what it meant for sacrifice, for support of the members in the face of any circumstance.

I think how fortunate I was to be brought in an age where your grandfather was a part of the life dynamic of the family.

Not down the street or someone you saw on the weekends but who was there from day one, in the room off the kitchen, at the head of the table.

There is something reverential. Something unbreakable and powerful in that connection that bridges you to the parent of your parents. To generational values and wisdom. To something that feels just so right and strong and uplifting.

To something that you lean on when you are young to bolster you. To something that you take care of as all of us get older.

I’m a bit teary as I think of this.

Even today, I can see myself as a very young boy in striped pajamas, sneaking into Pop’s room, sticking my arm in the pocket of his great winter coat, all the way to my elbow, to find the quarters that he always had there for the kids to find.

This is the very good stuff of life.

My homage to a truly great man who will live forever in my thoughts.

Rediscovering storytelling

There is something about the oral tradition of storytelling that pulls the strings of memory, personalized emotions and undivided attention in a uniquely uncluttered way.

I’m not talking about sitting around a campfire weaving tales where the touch of the flickering flames meets the curtain of darkness as the storytellers canvas.

I’m talking about the full immersion of listening to an Ira Glass podcast with buds in my ears at the gym at 5am to start my day.

I was raised in the era where radio gave way to TV, where we listened to baseball games while we did our homework. Where talk radio on car trips was the backdrop to our family life driving discussions about science and sports.

Where the natural cadence of speech and the craft of the repeating refrain, the ending with a take away summary became—and still are—the cadence of a well told yarn and the dynamics of finding the pulse for a thought.

It made me want to be a writer.

It drove me to work in pirate radio during my college days. It was my view of global politics and culture during my hippy back to the land phase in British Columbia where radio was my sole listening post to an outside world.

And for all the years of building businesses and communities on the web, driving engagement around blogs and idea walls, designing conferences and workshops, and weaving in video as a shareable object, I had simply forgotten the power of this quietude.

Till just recently.

A series of year-end promises and randomly searching out an old Ira Glass podcast that had been in my head for years have opened a perceptual door for me.

I’m rediscovering the power and whispering eloquence of waking up to shared stories in my head.

Stories that waft into my very being in ways that unfathomably fill my head with innuendos and language cues that are driving me in unexpected ways.

It is the complete opposite of starting your day looking for something of interest on the social nets.

Podcasts are an oddity in today’s fully visual world.

It’s not at all like listening to the audio of a video stream while working.

It’s more like committing to a call, yet unlike a call or a  post or movie, it requires no suspension of disbelief. It’s immediately real.

It’s yours from the first moment of silence and embrace of the words.

After a few weeks now of starting my days with tales of Sinatra, or a Taliban prisoner, or a father who recorded every phone call of his kid to manipulate reality to keep him off drugs—it’s changing my attitude completely.

It’s like food for your brain that makes you smarter.

What’s unique about this medium is that besides the cadence of thoughts and language, it encourages you to do something else with your body (like workout or walk).

The mental takeaway is also counterintuitive.

I listened to the famous Ira Glass podcast on Sinatra from the mid 90s yesterday while doing intervals at the gym.

Beyond the amazing story of how he redefined himself  from a struggling torch singer to a rhythmic super star and became the jazzy epitome of cool masculinity for an entire era, my takeaway was almost orthogonal to the subject matter.

With oral storytelling the medium is the message completely.

It’s like understanding the power of breathing in athletics or playing a wind instrument.  Or the importance of relaxation and poise when presenting.

What I learned is less about Sinatra and more the embrace of nuance, of rhythm and the importance of saying less when telling a story or communicating an idea. Of insuring that you embrace the pauses in language and the vagary of thought.

It’s akin to the communications truth that you need to allow the reader to find themselves, not you, in their response to what you are saying.

It’s the craft of sharing subtlety and innuendo by inpsiring the listener with open expressions of your thoughts that invite them in not shut them out.

I make my living as a communicator. My mediums are blogs, emails, the social nets and often a stage with a podium. These settings encourage too much synthesis, too many lists and a fear of leaving things open for interpretation.

I’m relearning the power of leaving open spaces and things unsaid. The importance of sharing the innate subtlety of ideas as the true power of connecting.

I’m liking where this is taking me.

I’m not inspired to become a podcaster but by listening to others—and please share your favorites—it’s made me a more careful communicator.

And a better listener not just to others thoughts but to my own.

How I fell into marketing as a career

I can’t tell whether it’s the season for introspection or simply that time of life for me.

But I’ve been preoccupied, thinking about my career as a marketer and free associating anecdotes about projects and product launches, surprising successes and some very painful duds.

Musing about the why of what I do and where it all started for me.

I’ve been thinking about how I grew up in a pre-web world, an English and philosophy major who ended up being the brand and community builder for such a broad array of tech companies.

How my natural comfort zone is at the intersection of technology and consumer behavior with new platforms for delivery and commerce but I was already a very young adult when I played my first video game on a trs-80.

I’ve wanted a big aha, like the successful salesperson who can point to themselves always hustling as a kid, or the CFO thanking their biz school professor.

It’s not that simple for me.

For years now when asked about how I came to define marketing as I practice it, I’ve used the story about my first job in tech, walking into the server room at Atari Corp, to manage their massive BBS enthusiast community.

How community as the core of how people act commercially just clicked for me.

It’s a true story but like most things of import, the backstory turns out to be a lot more nuanced and less poetic.

Very early on, I was a writer and freelance radio commentor for hire.

One of these gigs was ghostwriting early childhood education textbooks and grants for a prominent behavioral psychologist at U of W in Seattle.

I ended up managing a grant for the professor, whose funded mission was to aggregate groups of parents who were writing very early educational software programs for their special needs kids.

I created support groups for them, wrote documentation then published the software through Library of Congress.

I was a community manager of sorts, traveling around engaging with small groups of passionate parents, sharing early publishing tools, creating community platforms.

I fed organic growth for the project by marketing the very software products that I published back to their own local communities. Creating local heroes of the developers (the parents) and an interest group in schools to support the kids.

Most everything I do today was there in a very embryonic and analog state.

I was using community as both supply and demand.  Letting the innate dynamics and formlessness of these small groups gel into its own variant of a self sustaining market.

I was tapping into collective human behavior as the true essence of community.

And that marketing both internally and externally was the organizing and communications bridge between individual ideas and market connection.

This was a long time ago.

As I dug through old resumes tracking this down, I also realized that in most every brand and product I’ve built since, some nascent bit of tech was leveraged to coax out and platform developing behavior, community formation and market change.

For this instance, it was software tools but I can easily list out every data type from then to projects I’m considering right now.

It’s my definition of what ties the tech world together.

Constantly changing waves of tech but a dynamics of adoption that carries through them all.

That’s marketing as I practice it.

Professor Haring, all academic and convivial as I remember him, gave me a chance, and I fell into something about myself that still drives me today.

Not with a big bang.

Not with the buzz of first love or instantaneous attraction, but with some uncanny muscle memory when you find what you are good at.

When that tool or musical instrument or the organizing principle feels just perfect in your hand. When you stand up in front of a group and feel perfectly at ease and exactly where you should be.

To the professor a lifetime ago.

To every board I’ve ever worked with.

Every CEO and VC, every entrepreneur that’s put their faith in me to lead them to make it happen anew, in a unique way.

To the people and teams I am planning on working with in the new year.

All I can say is Thank You!

It’s going to be a great new year.

Commercializing the common good

I woke up thinking about myself as a consumer and how out of whack to my beliefs my spending has been this holiday season.

How while I am passionate about a great many things from animal rights to transparency of what is on our food labels, none of this is reflected in my holiday gift giving.

How the platforms for expression and certainly the capabilities of commerce have evolved dramatically but not it appears around charities, or better said, collective fundraises for common causes.

Our very culture has changed.

Never has it been easier to share our views. Feel connected to communities. Have instantaneous access to that which delights us personally and that which collectively terrifies and angers us as a society.

And never have the building blocks of commerce been so malleable. So easily integrated, so transparent and such a no brainer to us.

Add to that the ability to wire in data to our decision-making process and we have somewhat of a perfect storm of both opportunity and capability.

So I’m wondering while on platforms like Facebook where I’m fairly outspoken about many of the things that matter to me, I find myself discovering new brands in my feed and buying everything from comfy stripped socks to boxer shorts to widgets.

Yet while I view an infinite number of animal rescue videos so far this season I don’t think I’ve made a donation.

Why when I hail a car, it’s a push on my phone but to respond to the homeless as the weather chills I need to find an ATM and drop dollars in a cup or in the guitar case of a performer in the subway?

Why there is a such a gap between the technology and commercialization of commerce and the harnessing the same to collectively change things than matter on a softer social front?

Why we as a culture have flocked to support projects on Kickstarter yet not so to channel this into causes or even societal needs?

This post is rant wrapped in a dose of holiday sentiment yet I think real.

In the last few months, contacts within my networks have battled health issues. Have gathered in sentiment to support a popular wine writer battling cancer with collective hugs and genuine feelings.

Just yesterday in a NY Times editorial it became clear that Monsanto was going to win another victory in the gmo transparency fight.

I’ve gestured support for these from the heart but honestly done very little.

I’m wondering why.

Wondering about the relationship between want and action, between commerce and the things we as consumers should be able to easily support.

And whether this commercialization of the common good is not in many ways an untapped frontier for both innovation and for change.

Whether the gap is not technology nor the intent of the consumer, but the expertise of the organizations on how to do this.

Whether they really understand the very people that would love to support them.

Those of us that are marketers have long understood that in a world wired by social nets and where communities are the markets themselves, how we approach people has changed.

The key to community commerce is about the empowerment of the individual within a broader structure of the community. It is about a collective power manifested in the importance and control of each person.

Underwear and car manufacturers, Hollywood and the wellness market get this for certain. Apple of course as well.

The first thing we learn in business is to feel good about what we are charging for. Create value, position it as want not need, and to make people feel positive about themselves making the decision to buy it.

But when donations are asked for it always feels sheepish, always a bit uncomfortable, always a big ask—when indeed it should be a natural response.
To make a difference even when they do only what they can.

I’m fairly certain that on publishing this I will get emails from buddies that say all of this is already done.

Not so.

It is not the responsibility of consumers to search for anything. It is the job of businesses whether they sell widgets or fund raise for cancer research to get the opportunity in front of the right people in the right way and make it not only easy, but also empowering.

This opportunity is I think substantial.

The reality that companies selling stuff we wear understand this more than communities we belong to is a bit crazy.

That we use Uber to get around yet in New York fundraising can still be someone ringing a bell outside the Salvation Army on 47th street is truly a paradigm of contradictions.

This is something well worth changing that could make a really big difference.