High School Startup Talk (how-to)

This past Friday was Career Day at Ankeny Centennial High School (the high school near me). They invited me to talk about what I do in my career. I gave them several options (software engineer, consulting, entrepreneurship/startups). I was asked to speak on entrepreneurship.

Rather than just talk about me, I thought it’d be more fun (for me, but especially them) to show them how to create their own successful startup businesses.

In one of the three sessions I told the students that I was considering setting up some kind of extra-curricular “create your own startup” class, where I would mentor high-school-level students and help them create a business over the course of a semester. There seemed to be a lot of interest in it, so we’ll see where that goes.

The slides for my entrepreneurship talk are shared for viewing on Google Drive.

Feel free to use that for the basis of your own discussion of startups.

I won’t go further into the content of my talk here because I’d really rather devote several blog posts to the various points in the future.



Make Your Goals Positive

I’ve studied quite a bit about the psychology of goal-setting over the past several years.

One way to improve your ability to attain your goals is by making them “positive”. And by that, I’m not referring to the end result being some positive, or beneficial, thing (although it probably should be, right?).

If you want to accomplish something, change your behavior, break a bad habit, establish a new habit, etc., defining the proper goal should be one of your first steps.

It’s important to phrase your goal in a very specific way.

To begin with, try making SMART goals that are:

  • Specific – well defined and not vague – so you know more specifically how to proceed
  • Measurable – so you can tell how you’re progressing and whether you’ve achieved your goal
  • Attainable – otherwise, what’s the point? If it’s not realistic, you’ll just be discouraged and won’t work to achieve it, or you’ll be demoralized when you don’t reach it.
  • Relevant – it should tie in with your broader life goals and help you become more like the person you want to be.
  • Time-bound –  a deadline can add a sense of urgency and help motivate you.

Then you should definitely write down your goal on paper (or at least in some file that you look at on occasion). This makes the goal more “real”. Also, if your goal is somewhere where you’ll see it on a regular basis (like written on a post-it on your bathroom mirror), the additional reminders will make you more likely to work harder on it.

One thing people often don’t think about, but should, is exactly how the goal is worded. Specifically, your goal should be written in a positive way – to incite you toward a behavior – that is, “doing” something rather than “not doing” something.

As an example, if you wanted to stop yourself from eating so much junk food, do NOT set a goal like, “I will eat less junk food” or “I will not eat junk food”.

To explain why, try this: for the next 60 seconds, try to not think of elephants.

See? It’s impossible. The phrasing of the goal itself is making you think of the thing you’re trying to avoid. If your goal is to not eat sweets, then while working on your goal your brain will constantly be thinking about sweets and thus sabotaging your efforts.

Instead, think of some other behavior that you can substitute for the behavior you’re trying to replace. Or think of some new behavior that could impact your ability to behave the old way.

If you’re trying to eat better, try a goal like, “I will eat five cups of vegetables per day”. After eating all those vegetables you might not have room left for sweets. Or how about, “I will drink 16 oz of water before each meal.” To be complete, you might want to say it like this, “Every day until April 15th, I will drink 16oz of water before each meal.” Then by April 15th, you may have established a new habit.

Switching from a negative to a positive phrasing can take some work to figure out at first for some goals, but ultimately is a rather simple change that can have a big effect on your ability to get what your after.


My Health Motivation

We’ve all heard stories about people who were once overweight and unhealthy that turned things around dramatically and became very fit. I think in all these stories the individual had some sort of “aha” moment that triggered in them the necessary motivation to change their lifestyle.

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been exceedingly unhealthy or overweight, but about a year ago I did have an aha moment of sorts that caused me to dramatically change my lifestyle as it relates to my health. Since then I’m down about 20 pounds to a more ideal weight and feel better than ever.

This aha “moment” took several months (perhaps longer) to come together. It all boiled down to this: based on certain things I’ve been researching and learning about over the past couple years, I’ve come to the expectation that within the next 30 years, people will defeat heart disease, cancer, and the other ailments associated with aging. I could go into why I believe this, but that would take at least another blog post. Hopefully I’ll write that some day.

Anyway, if we assume I’m correct (and I of course believe I am), what does that mean? In thirty to forty years or so, the age-related ailments (including cancer and heart disease) that kill people today will not kill people. So if I’m alive in 40 years, I can expect to live much longer.

The key point here is that I still need to be alive and reasonably healthy when these breakthroughs happen. Some breakthroughs might happen within 20 years. Some might take 50 years.

By making small lifestyle changes that historically might have increased longevity by a year or two (and the healthy portion of my life by around 10 years), I might make it to the point where I can take advantage of these new medical technologies and increase my lifespan dramatically.

After coming to this realization, I just needed to learn more specifics about all the things I could do to be more healthy. Then I put that learning into practice. That’s also a good subject for another blog post or two.

As an example, for years I used to drink a couple cans of Mountain Dew per day. About a year ago (when my aha moment hit me), I just stopped one day. And it wasn’t hard at all – because I had a new, very powerful motivation.


Civic Duty

I just can’t get over how blatant the republican politicians around the country are being about how much they don’t care about their constituents – including those that voted for them.

There’s of course those in the federal government trying to ram things through as fast as they can before people notice what they’re doing. But there are also problems at the state and local levels.

One main example is South Dakota – one of the most corrupt states in the country. On election day, voters passed the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act. The purpose was to stop the bribery going on in their government. Within days of the new legislative session starting, the South Dakota GOP used emergency powers to repeal the new anti-corruption law. I read through some of the finer points of it and the only problem with the law was that it made it difficult for politicians to accept bribes.

The GOP government in Iowa is acting the same way – proving again and again that the voters are irrelevant. A couple recent items are 1) their net reduction in funding of public schools (again) and 2) their work to remove workers rights on collective bargaining.

At a recent hearing on the collective bargaining bill, a police officer stated, “Half of law enforcement folks I work with are Republicans. And we voted for Republicans because of conservative values. But we didn’t vote for Republicans to get stabbed in the back while we’re trying to dodge cars and bullets.”

I don’t personally have a horse in the race on the collective bargaining issue, but I do care about education, a lot. Education is one area where this country (and Iowa) has been slipping recently. I feel for those in the public education system in Iowa since these two issues combined must feel like a personal attack. Teaching is hard enough. People say, “we could always use more good teachers.” Are these legislative choices going to help or hurt the education of our children?

Iowans have been showing up in large numbers at hearings at the capitol, and at a legislative forum in Ankeny, IA. It doesn’t seem to be doing any good, however. They’re being pretty brash about saying they won’t make changes no matter what their constituents think.

A reason for the GOP’s actions? Money. Plain and simple.

At the Ankeny forum, Iowa state representative Kevin Koester indicated one sure fire way to fight back, saying that he’s “on the ballot every other year, and that’s one way you hold me accountable.”

In this last election cycle, a way higher percentage of registered republicans went and voted compared to other groups. So if you don’t like what’s going on with our government, get your ass to the polls next time!



Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

I went through a bunch of old photos and put together some thoughts of my dad for Father’s Day. I’m sure there’s much more I could say, but the photos were only from a specific time span, and I wanted to get this done before next Father’s Day. He’s done a lot for me and my ten older siblings and I wanted to do something to let him know how much he’s loved.


Hi Dad,

Thanks for giving me your good looks…


…And showing me how to look cool.


(Pat and Marty may have helped a bit too).


It seems I started emulating you when I was very young.


Seriously though, you were a great role model. You provided a place for us to live…

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…and you kept us fed.


I always had a safe place to sleep…

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…even on trips in the Winnebago.

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You kept me clean…


…and mostly out of trouble.


You taught me how to drive a car…


…and a boat.


You taught me how to grill…

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…how to mow the lawn the right way and otherwise take care of a house…

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…how to take care of a garden…


…and a family.



I always had everything I needed to be happy…


…like licorice…


…and balloons…


…and snow suits…


…and toys…


…and apparently lots of presents.

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There was lots of love between us kids…




We learned to be very close…


…and to take care of and stick up for each other.

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I learned the value and enjoyment of traditions…

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Your adoring kids had lots of good times to celebrate.




I learned from you that I can fix Anything…


…or build Anything…


…or, did I mention, fix anything?



You lovingly took care of all of us kids – from your first (is this Rose?)…


To your last – me (not to mention all your grandkids and great-grandkids).



You watched over me when there were more exciting things going on.

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You worked very hard to provide for us. I’m sure you felt a lot of pressure at times…


…and I’m sure it was tiring.



Although I live in Iowa (and you in Minnesota)…


…and we talk mostly by phone…


I wanted you to know that as our family tree continues to grow, I’ll always remember where I came from.




Because of you, there still is, and will always be a lot of love in this family.


You helped inspire me to be the best dad I can be.


Happy Father’s Day, Dad!


Anti-Corruption Mayday PAC

Mayday logo

If you would like our country to work for the people again, please read…


There are a lot of problems in this country and many improvements could be made – if there wasn’t so much corruption in government. Any issue that affects the majority of citizens (Republicans, Democrats, and otherwise) is ignored while the richest 0.1% pay the politicians to do their bidding and legislate loopholes to make them more money. A new study shows that the US government is no longer a democratic republic, but an oligarchy representing only the super wealthy. The issue of money in US politics must be dealt with before any “real” issues will get any attention from our legislators.

Here’s an idea I had… If I had a $Billion dollars, I’d bribe 51% of our legislators into passing anti-corruption laws. Think of it as fighting fire with fire, or as paying the ransom.

Now, it appears Lawrence Lessig, a very well known and respected anti-corruption activist, attorney, professor, and author, is planning to do something quite similar – except his idea is a bit more thought-through. :)

He’s creating a Mayday SuperPAC that “normal” US citizens can belong/contribute to. The sole goal of the SuperPAC is to achieve fundamental reform of the corrupting influence of money in politics. “We’re going to kickstart a SuperPAC big enough to make it possible to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016.”

I’ve been following Lessig’s work on this issue for years and I’m pretty hopeful about this effort. Watch the video at MayOne.us where he explains it all.

The PAC’s goal for 2014 is modest – in order to learn what we can achieve: “In 2014, we want to make fundamental reform the issue in 5 congressional races. From that, we’ll have a better sense of what victory in 2016 will take. And we’ll put Congress on notice that in 2016, we’ll be back.”

This moon shot won’t be easy or cheap. But it is totally worth it.

They’re taking pledges “kickstarter-style” – so that if they don’t hit their fundraising goal, you’ll get your money back.

Please contribute and spread the word.


On the Pledge page, you can choose to put your money toward “Whatever Helps”, “Republicans Only”, or “Democrats Only”. I chose “Whatever Helps” when I made my pledge (and I recommend you do too).


Thoughts on NestMint

NestMintlogo_taglineNestMint is a new “idea-stage” equity fund for startups in Iowa.

I was recently asked about my thoughts on NestMint. Specifically: “Do you think it’s valuable to the community? Why? What impact do you foresee this investment fund having on the overall economic health of our startups in Iowa?”

I’m no expert on the subject, but here are my thoughts:

I definitely think there’s value to the community in NestMint. To me it feels like the money portion of a startup accelerator.

Prior to business validation, most entrepreneurs use their own money and possibly money from friends and family to start building their company.

Before NestMint, the standard advice to startups (in Iowa) thinking about raising money was to “build it first and prove the business (via traction, etc.) and only then seek angel investment”. That’s still good advice (and that’s what I’m doing with Locusic), but doing it that way usually means building the startup part-time. That’s because you still need to keep your day job to earn a living – unless you’re fortunate enough to have three to six months worth of living expenses in the bank. So, because you’re only working on the startup part-time, things take a bit longer. And because you still have a day job there’s less of a sense of urgency to make your startup succeed, so things take a bit longer still.

NestMint gives another option for early stage startups in Iowa – especially for younger entrepreneurs whose expenses are lower. Seed, or idea-stage, financing from NestMint could allow a startup’s founder(s) to focus 100% of their energy and time into building their new company. And when you’re able to go “all-in” there are many psychological effects in play that pressure you to succeed (or not fail).

Possible negatives:

The requirements to apply seem a bit onerous to me – specifically the business plan and financial plan. It’s a bit ridiculous to require a “plan” for a startup at the idea stage, since you really don’t know what you’re building yet. Your plan will most likely be flawed, so if you precisely follow it you will most likely fail. Startups at this stage need the flexibility to pivot to different business models as they learn new information about their customers, market, etc. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the NestMint fund might be a bit out of touch with the dynamic nature of startups. But knowing that Mike Colwell and Tej Dhawan (two key supporters of the Iowa startup ecosystem) are involved with NestMint, I bet I just don’t understand enough of the details about these requirements, or what they mean by “plan”. The site alludes to a plan “template”, but it hasn’t been posted yet.

Contrasting with an accelerator:

A startup accelerator, like Y Combinator, Techstars, Gener8tor, or the new Iowa Startup Accelerator, provides similar amounts of financing for startups. Y Combinator hopes to get one “home run” out of the 50 or so startups they accept for each “class”. Y Combinator accepts only the best of the best of early stage startups from around the world, they provide world class mentoring, and their startups are immersed in a culture of other startups all working very, very hard to achieve success.
NestMint will only be accepting applicants from Iowa. They may accept applicants from early-stage companies other than high growth potential startups. It’s unclear (to me) what kind of mentoring or other scaffolding will be in place, if any, to help their companies succeed. I hope the NestMint investors are realistic and the fund won’t be called a failure if it doesn’t get the same rate of return as a world-class accelerator.
To me it seems a bit easier to apply to an accelerator than for financing from NestMint. Although, it might be easier to actually receive financing from NestMint than be accepted to an accelerator.
Accelerators usually require the startup to relocate to near the accelerator’s location, at least temporarily. With pure financing from NestMint, an Iowa startup could stay where they are – around the resources, talent, and potential customers they already know.

I’m interested in or curious about:

  • what kind of additional mentoring, if any, that NestMint financing recipients will receive from the people backing the fund.
  • which kinds of businesses, besides high growth potential startups, will receive funding.
  • what additional burden does taking this funding put on the entrepreneurs (e.g. paperwork, reporting to the partners, a board seat?).
  • for the more successful startups that receive NestMint funding, will the people (managers, investors) behind NestMint help those startups secure additional (A round) financing?
  • terms – as I write this, the investment terms for entrepreneurs hasn’t been posted to the NestMint site.
  • Are there restrictions on how the founders can spend the money?
If the fund continues to invest in startups over the next several years (and they evolve and work out the kinks during that time), I think it could be a key contributor to the success of the Iowa startup community.