In this first “Ask Me Anything” episode, I try to answer a question from my buddy Phil. He and his wife are expecting their first child in the next few weeks, and he sent me a prompt asking about how to prepare for being a dad. Thank you, Phil!
A first generation immigrant from Colombia, Jack has built a thriving business helping clients create buildings, brands and strategies through The Power of Design. I can’t wait to share this inspiring conversation where we cover a lot of ground, including:
Jack’s big podcasting milestone, and what he’s learned from his experiences podcasting so far.
Jack’s incredible story of coming to America and getting into the architecture business.
The Power of Design, and why it’s important.
What architects actually do.
Jack’s thoughts on self-doubt, and pushing through adversity.
Three approaches to bidding on work and considering pricing, differentiation and value proposition.
Time management, and what it means to actually be “productive.”
Jack’s “car analogy” for achieving balance in life.
How to improve relationships, and the importance of building trust not just with others but with yourself.
Why Jack doesn’t have any nonfiction recommendations for me.
How Jack plans to “Do Better This Year” by trusting himself more.
Dino H Carter is the founder of D Branding in Hollywood, California. With over 20 years of experience in marketing and branding, Dino has developed a unique philosophy and approach to these disciplines. This was such a fun interview – we covered a number of topics including:
Marketing vs. branding: what’s changed over the years, and what’s stayed the same.
Unique challenges and opportunities in the cannabis industry.
The three most important questions to ask yourself when branding, and an overview of how Dino helps clients answer these questions using The W System guide.
The interplay between Trust, Values and Relationship when building a brand.
My wife is from West Virginia. We typically drive up from Charlotte a couple of times a year to visit her family, and when we do I always get a Mountain Dew Code Red to make sure I stay alert during the drive. It started out as a joke – the first time I ever visited her family I happened to buy one on the road. We were staying at The Greenbrier that night, and Liz was horrified to see that her boyfriend was wandering around the hotel lobby, brushing shoulders with the socialites holding a half-empty bottle of Code Red in his hand, and a tradition was started.
Fast forward to the summer of 2020, and I’m making a drive up to West Virginia by myself for once, a quick run to pickup some furniture from my in-laws. I stopped to get gas near Ronceverte, and thought I’d grab a quick Code Red and snap a picture to send to Liz before getting back on the road:
As I took the picture, I heard a low voice rumble behind me:
“It’ll shrink yer peter.”
I turned. A tall gentleman, about my age, wearing a trucker hat and an impressive beard, had just stepped out of his Ford F-150 and was staring right at me.
“What?” I was sure I’d misheard him.
He gestured toward my drink. “That Code Red. That’ll shrink yer peter.”
…I wasn’t sure what to do next. His comment didn’t concern me nearly as much as the severity with which he said it. I tried making a joke in an attempt to get a smile out of him. Not the type of joke I thought I’d still be making in my 30’s, but what can I say – these are strange times.
“I’m serious,” he snapped. There was a pause, and eventually he shook his head and walked toward the door.
I got in my car. I hesitated only slightly before cracking open my Code Red and taking a swig. I stared, dumbfounded, at the entrance to the convenience store. And as I watched the door slowly shut behind my new friend, all I wanted to do was roll down my window and shout the one question that was burning inside me:
“Why aren’t you wearing a mask?!“
Guys, I had big plans for 2020 – and the wheels fell off in March. Working out was the first thing to go. Then I started sleeping in later. I stopped planning my mornings, I stopped intermittent fasting, I stopped reading.
And eventually, I stopped writing. The last bastion of my 2020 goals, one night I just told Liz that the post I’d drafted wasn’t up to par and I didn’t want to publish it. After writing every week for well over a year, I decided to take a week off. One week turned into two, which turned into a month, and now, two months later, I’m dragging myself back to the page, kicking and screaming.
I went through ups and downs last year, but it never stopped my writing. Why was this so much harder?
I think the reason I haven’t written anything over the past few weeks is that, starting in March, it seemed like there was only one subject to write about. Then in May, there was one more. To write about anything other than those two things felt trivial at best, irreverent at worst. And lacking the energy, the courage, and the chops to write effectively about either one, I wrote nothing.
I will write about those things, although I’m not sure what that’s going to look like. Maybe it’ll be a blog post. Maybe it’ll be a private letter to my children, or an email to close friends and family. Maybe a book. But until then, I’ve been paralyzed by this weird mix of “what can I do?” and “what’s the point?”
Until today. Perhaps because it’s early July and, as far as 2020 goals are concerned, it’s halftime and I’m geared up for the second half. Maybe it’s because I just watched Hamilton which, coupled with an impressive fireworks show over New York City, has me feeling a measure of patriotism that I haven’t felt in a while. Or maybe it just took a brief encounter with a fellow American who was taking an urban legend about Tartrazine that I hadn’t heard since the 90’s more seriously than a worldwide pandemic to remind me that there’s only so much I can control, that I should laugh more and stop taking myself so damn seriously. But if there’s anything that these last few months have taught me, it’s this:
John Epsey is the co-founder of Defiance Ventures here in Charlotte. A software developer by trade, John has started and exited several companies and advised tech startups across numerous industries, and in this episode we talk entrepreneurship, sales, and so much more. A few topics that we cover:
How John answers the question, “what do you do?”
John’s journey to becoming a “Serial Entrepreneur.”
The importance of programming/software development as a skill set.
What makes a person, or a company, “good at selling?”
Best practices for managing projects and people.
The importance of cultivating “intellectual curiosity.”
Rachael Green is the founder of Rach Green Cocktails, and provides everything from virtual cocktail classes, to bartending workshops, to bar program development programs – all in the spirit of “making education a party.”
Rachael and I got connected through her content on Instagram (@rachgreen_cocktails), and with her background in brand management and social media strategy she was able to explain to me exactly how that happened. In addition to geeking-out on all things cocktails, we discussed a number of other topics that I’ve often struggled with: things like developing a personal brand, navigating different social media platforms, and bringing your authentic personality to your content. I learned a lot from this very fun conversation.
Andrew Wilen is Co-Owner of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen here in Charlotte. My wife and I love Chef Alyssa’s kitchen – the food is amazing, the events are fun, and Andrew and I cover a lot of ground during this episode including business, family… and of course, Festivus.
As a Charlotte local, it’s been a pleasure to watch Andrew and Alyssa’s business grow – I remember years ago first seeing Alyssa on TV doing a cooking demonstration, then hearing about their expansion into a larger facility, then reading about their new brunch options, then seeing them at the top of all sorts of lists for cooking classes and entrepreneurship, and then stumbling upon their name in a Food & Wine article just this week.
In a word, it’s impressive.
But I have to say the thing that impressed me most during this interview was Andrew’s relentlessly positive attitude. At a time when many local businesses are struggling, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen has managed to pivot and continue to deliver great products and services through at-home deliveries and virtual cooking classes. Whether he’s running a business, giving back to the community, or taking on the responsibilities of being a new dad, Andrew does it all with a smile.
Andrew, thank you so much – this interview was a blast!
Andrew’s journey after Elon, and how he met Alyssa [7:10]
How Andrew and Alyssa decided to start Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen [11:05]
Overview of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen (pre-COVID-19) [15:35]
How Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen grew into new revenue streams, and how that helped position them to pivot in response to COVID-19 through delivery and virtual cooking classes [19:05]
Andrew’s “community-first” approach to marketing [24:54]
How Andrew and Alyssa are enjoying the joys (and challenges) of being new parents and owning a business [29:38]
A day in the life, and how Andrew and Alyssa balance responsibilities and try to leave work at the office [36:35]
Big question: does Andrew get to have gourmet meals at home all the time? [39:35]
Jurgis Kirsakmens is the developer DrinkControl, an iOS and Android Mobile app used for tracking and monitoring alcohol consumption. DrinkControl allows users to easily track their drinks and convert them into standard units of alcohol. The app lets you know when you go over the limit set by moderate drinking guidelines, and see how much money you’ve spent and calories you’ve consumed with your drinks.
Jurgis’s journey to becoming a programmer in Riga, Latvia is fascinating, and in this episode we get into everything from building apps to building companies.
Thank you, Jurgis!
How Jurgis and I got connected through my blog post [00:00]
His journey to becoming a developer, which includes starting and selling a company employing over 300 people [00:00]
How his role expanded from developer to management, marketing and other business functions, and how he managed that change [12:00]
How he got into iPhone mobile app development specifically [14:30]
His team’s first app project which, in his words, “failed miserably” [16:30]
How the DrinkControl app idea got started [20:00]
His philosophy on tracking drinks, and whether that comes at the expense of having fun and being “in the moment” [23:40]
Answering the question, “how do I learn how to code?” [28:09]
How he would approach developing a hypothetical “mood monitoring” app from scratch with no prior experience [31:30]
How Jurgis plans to “Do Better This Year” [36:00]
Habit development, working in a “flow state” vs. finishing projects [39:30]
Closing thoughts on app development and how it fits into the bigger picture of business, marketing and sales [43:00]
I remember hearing a story about a kid who was picking his nose while riding in the back seat of a car. His parents kept turning around, yelling at him to stop it. They weren’t paying attention, ran off the road and hit a tree. Both parents were uninjured; however, the kid was still picking his nose at the time of the crash. Tragically, the impact caused his finger to jam so far up his nose that he touched his brain, killing him instantly.
I’m not a scientist – whether this is a true story or an urban legend is a question I’d normally punt to the good folks at Snopes or MythBusters. But last week, I decided that it is definitely not true.
Because last week I got my first ever “nose swab” to test for COVID-19, and I’m 90% sure they touched my brain. Yet here I am, alive to tell the tale.
I’m fine. I haven’t gotten the test results, but my symptoms (which lasted about 5 days) appear to be subsiding. In the meantime, I’ve been self-quarantining in our bedroom for over a week now while my wife handles our two girls with 20% less space and 50% less help than before. Despite my condition, I definitely have the better end of the deal.
Around this time last year, I quoted Stephen King in a post about writing. King wrote that a writing space “really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.” I remember at the time lamenting the fact that I couldn’t seem to shut out life’s distractions, and wondering whether I truly had such a door. Well, now I’ve got one:
Staring at the door, I’ve been thinking about just how unique this situation is. Yes, the human race has suffered pandemics before. And yes, although technology is constantly changing and evolving, most of what we now consider the “basics” (phone, email, video conferencing, even social media) have been around for a while, relatively speaking. But at no point in history have we ever encountered such a far-reaching challenge, while also having such far-reaching means of sharing our experiences.
In some ways, it’s the perfect opportunity to develop empathy.
If the word “opportunity” sounds optimistic, it’s because I am optimistic – at this moment. I’m in a good mood. Which, by the way, changes day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been downright pessimistic. If this isolation has taught me anything it’s that I can be quite the moody person. And my perspective on all this, along with my opinion on how it should be approached, changes with my mood. I chose to write this post while I was in a good mood, because if I’m going to put something out there I want it to be positive. If the results are a little Pollyannaish, so be it.
I’ve seen a lot of back-and-forth on social media about what’s “the right way” to handle this isolation. It appears there are two camps:
You should take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and cut yourself some slack. This event has no precedent – do whatever it takes to stay sane, and forgive yourself.
You should take advantage of this opportunity to push yourself, to “pivot”, and grow – you should come out of this thing better than before.
This is a false choice, and it isn’t unique to pandemics. These approaches are not mutually exclusive – taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you can’t grow, and trying to better yourself shouldn’t come at the expense of your self-worth. I like how Gretchen Rubin put it recently: “Accept yourself and expect more from yourself.” There’s no reason we can’t do both, although it isn’t always easy.
So what am I doing? I’m sleeping as much as I can, but I’m making my bed when I get up. I’m getting dressed in new clothes every day, but I’m keeping it casual. I’m eating as much as I want, but trying to limit it to healthy foods (pizza date night notwithstanding).
If you’re getting a little stir crazy, I feel you. I am too. Keep fighting the good fight behind closed doors – there’s important stuff on the other side.