The Self Contained Fowardable Story

Chris Fralic is a partner at First Round Capital in New York and a master of email introductions. While most people get bogged down in their inboxes, Chris has a nifty trick to make communication more shareable. He’s called it the self contained forwardable email.

Say you’ve met Chris and he mentioned a friend of his named Joe who invests in blockchain startups. Since you’re currently working on a blockchain based identity system, you’d love to meet Chris’ friend. Instead of asking Chris for a traditional introduction where he has to send two additional emails, you should send him an email that he can easily forward to Joe without having to write anything new.

Your email might sound a little something like:

Chris, 

Great to meet you on Tuesday. I appreciate you taking the time to provide some feedback on my startup. You mentioned your friend Joe has made some investments in the blockchain space. My company is growing quickly and recently landed a contract with Liberty Mutual. We are looking for potential investors and I would love to speak with Joe. 

Thanks,

If you’re Chris and you’re receiving hundreds of emails each day, the traditional introduction model is a lot to ask for. Sending an email to Joe, waiting for a response, then sending a generic email introducing the two parties takes a while. Imagine instead that you receive the above email and all you need to do is forward it to Joe. It’s simpler. It’s more efficient.

This is the essence of virality. It’s easy to share. Your self contained forwardable email will never be viral in the way that Kony 2012 was, but it’s powerful in its own arena.

This is just a micro example of how all ideas spread. The easier you make it for someone to tell your story, the more they will tell it. So what’s your story and how easy is it for people to retell? Digging deeper, when someone tells a friend your story, what is it signaling to their peers?

There’s a bizarre and beautiful art display in Pittsburgh called Randyland. It started by one guy, Randy, who had a passion for public restoration. He started cleaning up a rough neighborhood garden by garden and sculpture by sculpture. One day there was a big brick building with a yard behind it that was going to be torn down unless someone bought it. Randy gathered up the money and bought the plot that became Randyland.

With a lot of paint and even more enthusiasm, Randy transformed that lot into a public art garden worth talking about.

First of all, if you go to Randyland, you’re going to take pictures. So when you tell someone about your trip to Pittsburgh and how you stumbled upon this eclectic art show in some guy’s backyard, you will inevitably show them the pictures. Oh, and if you’re lucky, Randy will come out and tell his story first hand. Then, he’ll start offering to take pictures and you’ll end up with a few selfies featuring Randy himself, just like this one:

After all is said in done, you have a story worth telling to your friends. Not only is it a neat story, it also says something positive about you as a person. It says you’re the type of person who likes obscure places and values public art displays. You’re the type of person who goes off the beaten path and doesn’t spend their whole day in a stuffy museum. You’re the type of person who truly explores new places and meets people like Randy.

The Randyland story is a self contained forwardable story. It’s a story on platter that you can’t resist telling someone.

How are you crafting a story that’s so easy to share, it’d be foolish for someone not to?

 

Building a parachute

They say entrepreneurs jump off the cliff and build the parachute on the way down.

Sometimes it’s more like jumping off the cliff and hoping your team finishes the parachute in time. It’s not a solo pursuit.

It’s much scarier when you forfeit control, but it turns out a team can build a parachute a lot faster than one person.

A vivid and fond memory

I have a vivid and fond memory of a middle school ski club trip to Cranmore mountain.

The snow was horrible. Few of my friends went. None of said friends stuck with me, though that was partially my choice. They were off in places I didn’t want to go.

I found a trail I liked, so time after time I rode the lift with strangers. Carving down alone just to do it all again.

I look back on that trip with great longing.Going against the grain is never easy, but it’s often worth it to stay true to yourself. It can be a lonely trip, but sometimes those make the fondest memories.

For now

Perfect for now

For the now is forever

What you need to get started

It’s not easy to condense entrepreneurship into just a few words. But I’ve had to do it and the best I can come up with is: problems, ideas, actions.

Seeing problems, imagining ideas for solutions and taking action is the essence of an entrepreneurial mindset. What’s critical to that equation is that you need all three. If you only ever see problems, you’re just a complainer. If you only ever see problems and imagine solutions, you’re a dreamer. But, if you’re able to see problems, imagine solutions AND take action, then you’re an entrepreneur.

Taking action is by far the hardest because it makes us uncomfortable. Remember what Aristotle said:

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

Most people would rather not take action in order to avoid potential criticism. But, without the action, you can’t be an entrepreneur.

In my workshops, I push hard to get students to think of a small way to take action. I found a great question combo in order to get them thinking more creatively about how they could make progress right away.

The first question is: what do you need to get started?

To this most students reply, “money, donations, connections, a developer” etc…

The next question is: how might you get started without any of those things?

Then students get creative with responses like, “I could email my principal. I could ask a friend who owns this business if we could partner. I could sketch out the app on paper.” etc…

The first question doesn’t elicit actions, but the second does. The responses to the second question are the seed of what will turn into the next steps that will really hook someone on this idea of entrepreneurship. Once they actually send that email, or partner with a business or host the lemonade stand, then they’ll get the bug.

When teaching entrepreneurship, my goal is to get students to feel the magic. There is a large degree of empowerment that comes when you realize you could actually send an email and start making change happen. You don’t need anyone’s permission. It’s entirely up to you. No need to wait for more money, more education or some blessing from an adult.

To start, you don’t need any of those things. All you need to do is act. Progress begets progress. Forward motion is hard to stop. Take your first step forward and just keep moving.

 

Having no boss

It’s silly to think that by quitting your job, you suddenly have no boss. In reality, as Paul Graham said, “the position of boss is now open to be filled by your customers.”

Having a boss, whether its a customer or a traditional manager, means you’re going to have to make compromises. That’s the nature of most professions. When someone is paying you to do some work, you will have to change and tweak things in order to deliver what’s expected of you.

How much tweaking you have to do is up for discussion. That’s the grey area here. That is your amount of creative control and what I’m proposing is that you can make choices to increase your amount of creative control.

Consider the freelance designer making logos for $30 each. In his mind, he could make a couple vector images in 10 minutes, so $30 seems like a steal. In reality, he has to field a vague phone call from the founder of the company who is trying to haggle the price down. The founder has an idea of what she wants, but not much concrete direction.

The designer goes to work after an exhausting and inconclusive call. He has some great ideas, but can’t run with them because he has to work within the given construct. An hour later he has a few mockups that he emails to the founder. She responds the next day dissatisfied with his work. She complains that he didn’t match the vision. She actually wanted that part to be blue and those letters to be bigger.

Another day another drama and the designer goes back to work, making the suggested edits. You get the point. That process ends up taking several hours and by the end of the whole ordeal, his effective hourly rate was less than $10/hour.

Consider another case: The designer who charges $200 for a logo. It turns out, the kind of person who is willing to pay $200 for a logo is much less of a hassle than the person who is looking for the cheapest person on the market. Admittedly, there are fewer people willing to pay the higher price tag, but you don’t need as many in order to be financially stable. Also, the kind of person who charges $200 for a logo is probably pretty good, thus the client leaves them alone and gives the designer more creative control.

As people doing work, it’s universal that we like to have some agency and control over what we create. The interesting part is that there are decisions we can make and situations we can create that will give us more of this autonomy.

You might always have a boss, but you get to choose who you want that boss to be. Choose wisely.

Commodities and trust

There’s a paradox in the iPhone screen replacement business.

The shop down the street can do it cheaper than the Apple store, yet everyone still goes to Apple.

It turns out getting a new screen is not actually a commodity. A screen that’s poorly set causes problems far into the future. There are good replacements and bad ones. We’ve all had a screen that doesn’t work in the bottom right corner. You can’t click the apps or get anything to work in that region.

That is a painful experience. For a lot of people, it’s worth the extra $30 to have Apple do it right.

A company sells a promise that the screen will be good as new. We know apple keeps their promises, but the guy down the street doesn’t have the same luxury of a trusted brand.

So what is there to do?

Maybe that guy down the street is you and maybe you’re not selling iPhone screens. It’s a new app, or a service, or a workshop.

You’re not Apple and being the cheapest is a race to the bottom.

So what is there to do?

I propose you try something new. Be the most expensive, or the most fun, or the fastest, or the slowest or the weirdest, or the most exclusive. Be something, but don’t try to be someone else.

Joining the entrepreneurship conversation

I didn’t start my first business at the age of 5.

I still don’t have any kind of corporate entity to my name.

That’s not the point of entrepreneurship. That’s not a prerequisite if you want to be a part of the conversation.

The goal of all this is to affect change in a sustainable way. It’s to see a problem, imagine a solution and take action to make it happen.

So whether you do or don’t want to start your own company, the skill set is what you need to succeed in business.

Entrepreneurship is fundamentally about empathy in action. Empathy for the user, the customer, your boss or your teammate. Creating something for someone else requires both of those things.

If you can match those two skills together, you’ll always stay ahead of the game.

Make something new. Practice that empathy and take appropriate action. Who cares if there’s a fancy logo tied to it. Go out there and make something happen.

Being and Seeing Caring

I just read the line: “Why did grown ups find it necessary to tease fellow citizens who actually gave a shit? from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer.

It’s not just adults, though. I see it in middle schoolers during my workshops, and college students in campus organizations. Somehow caring about things is uncool.

No one makes it obvious they have an aversion to people who care. It’s more of an unspoken tendency. The action is as subtle as taking out your phone while someone else is hard at work. Or striking up a side conversation instead of contributing to the team. Meanwhile, someone who cares pours their focus into a project started with the intention of everyone participating.

Not caring is what forces people to stick tightly to their job descriptions rather than making an exception to help a customer. Not caring is what keeps people from acknowledging the lonely person who came to the meet-up but hasn’t met anyone yet.

Next time you see someone caring, notice it. Appreciate the extra mile they went to make the experience better. Send a thank you note to the person who spent extra time helping you out.

Be caring and see caring. Those two things will make the world a better place for us all.

When no one is home…

When no one is home you don’t need to close the bathroom door.

When no one is watching they wouldn’t ever know if you stopped at 16 pushups instead of 20.

When no one is reading you don’t need to make another blog post.

When no one is grading the assignment you don’t need to try hard.

When no one is responsible for you you have no one to disappoint.

The problem is that most of the time a personal trainer, a reader, a teacher and a parent won’t be there. It’s up to you to choose yourself. Because after all, you’re not doing it for them. You’re doing it for you.

You don’t have a trainer just to please them. You have one to get in shape.

You don’t have a blog just to fit in. You have one because you have something unique to say.

You don’t have a teacher just to get a report card. You have one because you want to learn.

You’re not here just for self-indulgence. You’re here to make the world a better place.

Remember why you’re doing this. There may not be anyone else in the room, but that’s what makes this journey so tough. Choose yourself.  It’s worth it.