Category: Observations

It’s No Secret, Your Presentation Matters

If you can't see the image, you're missing a picture of a guy blowing a very long horn. He's dressed in lederhosen and calf socks. His presentation matters.
Sunday Morning Alpenhorn Presentation by John via Flickr

How you present your business, your story, your offer is no secret. In many cases, it’s the presentation that matters.

The voice you use, the magazines your content appears in, the social channels you engage in. Your presentation is the articles, blog posts, and white papers you publish. It’s the videos on your web site and on YouTube.

A consistent message presented regularly builds and engages your audience, and can increase trust.

In my humble opinion, presentation is also about reminding your audience that you are present and that your product or service can solve a very real problem they are having.

A few weeks ago, I asked my readers to take part in a project to help a product I’m working on creating. They asked me a number of questions, I provided answers.

Q. WHAT DO YOU DO TO ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE?

A. If you’re already blogging or sending emails, go back through your logs to figure out what your audience has been most engaged by. Look for patterns. They should be obvious. Create new content based on those patterns.

Maybe you don’t have a lot of content. In that case, survey your audience (like I did to create this post). Run surveys on social media targeted at your ideal audience. Pay for ads on Facebook. It’s the easiest, fastest, most inexpensive way to target very, very specific audiences.

Q. HOW DO YOU INCREASE INTEREST TO EXPAND YOUR AUDIENCE?

A. Use social channels to promote your content. If you must, pay to promote your content on those channels, they allow for very specific targeting.

Q. IS THERE A GREAT WAY TO RE-ENGAGE OLD CLIENTS?

A. Run a reactivation campaign. Remind the ex-clients of the successes you had together. Describe your new products or services, and how they can solve new problems. Also, remember that you can never stop marketing to old (or new) clients.

Let me know if you have any questions.

How to Create 10,000 Jobs?

How do you create 10,000 jobs?

Train 500 brewers.

Originally, I was going to write:

Train 10,000 teachers.

Without teachers, you can't create jobs.
The US of A need teachers.

Despite the overwhelming need for teachers [1], the profession currently is looked down upon in the United States and people don’t understand that if you don’t invest in education, you’re not investing in the future. (Cynically, I understand the reason the United States doesn’t emphasize education more is that an educated populace is harder to control *cough* I mean, govern.)

I was also going to write:

Train 10,000 farmers.

Winslow Homer's painting harkens back to a hallowed time
Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in the Field shows something we desperately need – farmers.

It might not sound like a sexy profession, but it is a growth industry and will be for some time. By 2050, we’ll need to feed a planet of 9 billion people. And we’ll need to do it in the face of severe climate change and water shortages.

The American farmer is on average 58 years old.

This is of concern because no matter how much automation, robotics, and big data impact farming, you still need people to run those farms. Food security is an issue

So, I looked at the question a bit differently:

What would be the minimum number of people we could train to have a massive impact on jobs now and in the future?

[Digression: When we talk about creating jobs, we’re talking about creating employees. Others have pointed out, no employers wants to hire employees. Plus, most people hate their jobs. This is a big part of the issue with current job growth models. So, instead of talking about creating jobs, let’s talk about creating entrepreneurs and business owners. Luckily, this is something that Americans excel at.]

So in thinking about the answer, I thought about sectors that are currently experiencing high-growth and create value with fewer people.

Right now, biotechnology makes up nearly 3 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. It contributes more to the US GDP than mining and utilities – and almost as much as construction.

Over the past decade, biotech grew on average more than 10 percent per year, much faster than the rest of the economy. Biotech also requires fewer people to create significant value.

If you can imagine a small team developing a valuable medicine, an industrial enzyme, or a modification to a plant – all of those are potentially worth billions of dollars.

For most people, biotech is scary [2] but brewing beer is not.

Brewing is biotechnology…

distilled to its simplest form (and yeah, I did intend that pun). Fermentation is the oldest form of biotechnology and we’ve been doing it for 9,000 years

Back in the day, brewing was a respectable profession.
Brewing in the Middle Ages

A brewer takes ingredients that have little value separately – water, grain, and hops – and creates something of value. (That sounds a lot like pulling money out of thin air, which is what good entrepreneurs do.)

Over the past few years, microbreweries have exploded. In Brooklyn where I live, I’m surrounded by three – Brooklyn Brewery, Other Half and Sixpoint. New York City counts more than 30 breweries.

Americans live, on average, less than 10 miles from a microbrewery
Image source: beerandwhiskeybros.com

I can’t find the stat, but I’ve read that all Americans now live within ten miles of a microbrewery.

What are the trickle down effects?

A microbrewery employs at least a few people. They have to buy the grain and hops which someone has to grow and process that requires more people, some farmers.

New York State once was the leading producer of hops. Now it's Oregon and Washington.
Hops growing on Long Island

For example, New York state used to be the epicenter of U.S. hop production. The industry, destroyed by mildew-related disease and Prohibition, moved West. But now, the New York hops industry is re-emerging. (It’ll take a while to make a dent in the industry, NY grow only 300 acres, while Oregon and Washington State are growing some 400,000 acres of commercial hops). The microbrew boom is driving the farming of hops.

But doesn’t that mean the market is saturated?

I don’t know much about the specific outlook for breweries but since it involved biotechnology, making the jump from brewing to fermentation would be a small leap. The next leap would be to distributed biological manufacturing.

Back in 2001, Rob Carlson described distributed biological manufacturing as means of producing many of the things we used today. That means people who are trained as brewers can easily learn to brew items that are potentially of much greater value than beer.

Adidas Futurecraft is made of spider silk and is completely bio-degradable.
Adidas is the first shoe company to use completely sustainable, vegan, super-strong spider silk.

For example, Bolt Threads is one of three synthetic biology companies that has genetically engineered yeast to produce spider silk – one of the strongest materials created by nature. That silk can be used to produce jackets, shoes, and bulletproof vests. And those are only a few of its uses.

In 2015, Stanford researcher Christina Smolke made the news for engineering yeast to produce opioids. Today, it takes one year to produce hydrocodone from poppies that are legally grown in Tasmania. At the time there was some debate as to whether such technology would be abused, say by drug cartels. The bigger debate should probably have been how do you give access to people who have no access to painkillers. Smolke and her team started a company, Antheia, whose mission is to make and fairly provide medicines to all who need them.

It’s not a stretch to imagine brewers being able to produce very high value products very easily.

So, if you want to have a massive impact on the economy, train 500 brewers.

[1] I am happily married to a public school art teacher and come from a family of educators.

Update: Right after I posted this, Forbes ran an article which projected cannabis industry jobs would surpass traditional manufacturing jobs by 2020. Update 2: A month later, Fortune ran a story claiming the future of food would look a lot like brewing beer.

[Thanks to Johnny Bohimer and John Cumbers for their contributions and advice on this.]

Karl Schmieder 1981

30 Things I Did Before Turning 30

In anticipation of my 54th birthday, I answered this question on Quora:

What are the 30 things you did before turning 30 in your life?

  1. Learned to skateboard ramps and pools. Memorized every ditch and was part of an informal word-of-mouth network that knew when a new ramp appeared in Ventura. Convinced my parents to drive me to skateparks all over Southern California, so I skated a bunch of the first-generation classic parks. My home was Oxnard’s Endless Wave with it’s odd, over-vert double-pool. Favorite trick: Frontside air. Second favorite: Inverts. Pool Skating Will Never Die. Biggest lesson I learned from skateboarding: Always get up after you fall. That applies to pretty much everything in life. Fail. Get up. Try again.
  2. Lived in Lausanne, Switzerland for a year, where I studied French. That would inspire me to improve my German, learn Italian, study other languages. I was also part of a Swiss skateboard team that toured that small country.
  3. Took piano lessons for 13 years. Practiced every day. Played in recitals twice a year. Learned to play the trombone in high school, taught myself saxophone. Played in a free jazz punk band called The Love Shortcut that played high school parties – probably to the dismay of the kids that were there to drink and have under-aged sex. The band turned into several solo performance art pieces and later, to readings at poetry slams. I learned that if you put your mind to it, you can pretty much learn anything.Karl Schmieder 1981
  4. Had crushes Fell in love. Had my heart broken. Finally kissed a girl. Eventually had sex but didn’t have it again for a long, long time.
  5. Learned to do it yourself. Skateboard culture with its emphasis on self-reliance gave way to punk rock and its Do It Yourself aesthetic. I would eventually grow bored with punk music philosophizing but never with self-reliance and DIY. This would inspire the way I approach business. See the Lesson mentioned in #1.
  6. Saw tons of live bands during the hey-day of early West Coast punk. Favorite venue: The Whiskey A Go Go. Favorite show: 45 Grave opening for The Cramps. Kept seeing a steady diet of bands in Boston, Denver, New York, and wherever I happened to be traveling.
  7. Started a lawn care business so I could pay for my skateboard habit. Took jobs as a glazier, a lab assistant, a Spanish-English translator, a transcriber, a temp. Learned that I could get a job in 24 hours if put my mind to it. Also, learned that even if I worked for someone, I eventually was going to be my own boss. Call this early lessons in entrepreneurship.
  8. Read far and wide, learning that I like bold ideas and works of the imagination. Focused on science fiction and science fact which inspired me to study science and become a science writer.
    Over Junipero Serra’s shoulder
  9. Moved from my hometown of Ventura to Riverside for college, to Boston, New Orleans then Boulder and Denver for grad school. I miss Ventura every day.
  10. Spent way too much time putting off the real-world by staying in school. Got a Master of Science in Biochemistry, a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, took more writing classes. Eventually decided I needed to learn business, took classes on selling and marketing.
  11. While working on that MFA, studied with Keith Abbott, Kathy Acker, Fielding Dawson and Allen Ginsburg.
    Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs.
  12. Started keeping a journal. I knew I was going to write but it was my father who suggested it might be nice to keep a journal while traveling. I did and continue today, 30 years later. I have boxes of journals in my basement and on my shelves. I rarely look at them, but occasionally look for ideas I had in the past. I figure I will eventually either plunder them for something worthwhile or throw them into a landfill.
  13. Traveled alone across Europe, mostly in German-speaking countries because I wanted to learn German.
  14. Interviewed a bunch of German experimental musicians, published those interviews, along with reviews of live shows and records. That was the beginning of my writing career. But I didn’t get paid for a published piece of magazine writing until my mid-40s.
  15. Made a guest appearance on a surreal experimental record with Frank Dommert and HNAS because I happen to be in the right place at the right time.
  16. Taught myself Italian because I had a friend who lived in Chiasso, I wanted to speak with to Italian girls, and I thought it’d be fun. Did better with the Italian than with the girls.
  17. Saved my money so I could move cross-country. Moved to Boston because I didn’t have the guts to make the leap to New York City even though that’s where I knew I belonged. Justified Beantown by telling myself I’d work at a biotech company, instead waited tables, took odd jobs, and taught myself to write.
  18. Drove cross-country in a 1970 Karmann-Ghia with my ex-girlfriend’s dog. Realized there’s a reason why Americans prefer big cars. If your parents or your girlfriend live on the other side of the state, driving a small car is no fun – you want a land yacht.
  19. Taught myself Brazilian Portuguese while living in Boston. I was inspired by David Byrne’s Brazilian compilations and the professionals that had emigrated from Brazil to work in restaurants. Made some great friends. Again learned that you can learn anything if you put your mind to it. Also, learned that if you don’t practice what you learn (Portuguese in this case), eventually you forget.
  20. Danced a lot. It took me 20 years to realize how much I enjoyed it and how important it is for all of us. Zumba classes occasionally fulfill this now. We don’t dance enough. You need to dance.
  21. Spent a lot of time angry or depressed and lonely. It took me years to realize that bars and dance clubs, drinking and drugs, and spending money are distractions from the real work of writing.
  22. Eventually realized I could write about what I loved and carve out a unique niche. Used that idea to create a network in New York City. I called every health care public relations agency, interviewed at thirty, and was offered jobs by six. Moved to New York.
  23. Shortly after I started working in public relations, realized it wasn’t going to work for me and remembered I would need to become my own boss.
  24. Taught other people how to get a job by networking directly with decision makers.
  25. Spent every night after work writing five novels and ten screenplays. Collected a stack of form rejections, got close to publishing one of the novels, realized I needed more time to figure out what I was going to write. At the same time wrote dozens of short short stories, published a few, and threw away all the rest because they were all terrible.
  26. Accumulated credit card debt that took me way too long to pay off and learned that it’s too easy – way too easy – to get into debt.
  27. Hiked and camped and learned to appreciate nature.
  28. Learned to listen to myself. I didn’t always pay attention but I definitely listened.
  29. Came to appreciate my parents and my sister, realized I was very lucky to have grown up where I did, speaking Spanish at home, with a pair of pretty great people. My father was a meatcutter who taught me how to work hard; my mother was a Spanish-English interpreter who taught me to use my imagination and creativity. We lived modestly but always had what we needed.
  30. Met the girl of my dreams, chased her from Boston to Albuquerque to New York City and married her.
Karl + Kristen. 1995. 2017.

Of course, I did much more than this.

Who Takes iGEM Seriously?

This past week iGEM startup PvP Biologics closed a $35 million round with Takeda.

Last year, in June 2016, Ginkgo Bioworks raised $100 million. The company was founded by a team that participated in the first iGEM competitions.

The iGEM startup page lists some 19 startups that originated from the competition.

While Christopher VanLang is right that is “an excellent teaching tool but not likely taken seriously by academia,” I believe it’s more important than we realize.

The Origins of iGEM

As outlined in Rob Carlson’s excellent Biology is Technology, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition grew out of an independent activities project course in synthetic biology at MIT in 2003, which in turn was inspired by a circuit design course taught at MIT in the last-1970s.

It was organized by Tom Knight, a senior scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and an early participate in designing the Internet precursor, ARAPNet, Drew Endy, and Randy Rettberg, an engineer and former exec at Sun Microsystems and Apple, who now serves as president of iGEM.

In 2003, the idea that biology could be engineered was still a radical idea. (For context, 2003 was two years after the dot com bubble of 1996–2001 crashed and two years after 9/11/2001.)

In 2004, the first official competition included students from Boston University, Caltech, MIT, Princeton University and the University of Texas, Austin. The students that participated created the first rudimentary genetic circuits.

Over the years, the student projects have grown increasingly complex.

The competition has grown internationally and the number of participants has grown exponentially (in 2016, there were more than 5,000 participants from around the globe).

Disclaimer: I Am a Long-time iGEM Fan

I had been following iGEM since 2010 when I started looking to synthetic biology as a way of applying Internet business models to biotechnology. I attended my first competition in 2016 as an observer and to accompany my son, a high school senior who was a member of the GenSpace team.

I was lucky enough to speak with teams from across the United States, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan and Mexico. I watched presentations from teams solving real problems using biology and demonstrating that biology can solve impossible problems.

In addition, as part of the competition, the teams had to engage with their communities. To me, as a science writer, this is one of the most significant benefits of iGEM: high school and college kids learn about synthetic biology but also help dispel myths associated with biotechnology. (Not to mention every team is contributing to the BioBricks project.)

What’s fascinating is giving kids the tools of engineered biology is that they are able to use their imaginations without the constraints of the science they will likely learn in college. This is an important creative exercise. (The new BioDesign Challenge does something similar with design students. It will be interesting to see how that evolves over time.)

I walked away impressed.

Maybe iGEM isn’t taken seriously by academia, but it is taken very seriously by the kids that participate. At some point someone will write a history of iGEM or follow a team reality-show style. It could make for some very compelling, dramatic storytelling.

If iGEM is a leading indicator of what is possible in synthetic biology, then the future is very bright indeed.

My Three Words for 2017

3 Words: Bolder. Creative. Authority.
Me in front of the Frank Gehry at Novartis HQ, Basel. Summer 2016

Chris Brogan is an inspiration. If you study internet marketing, you’re bound to run across him. He’s smart, honest and prolific. Anthony Iannarino had him on an episode of In The Arena, where he discussed his book, The Impact Equation. I subscribed to Chris’ newsletter and read every word every Sunday morning.

A few days ago, Chris mentioned he chooses three words to guide his success every year. Here’s his blogpost on the subject. The idea is to choose themes that overlap in all the important areas of your life.

My three words for 2017

Bold. 

An ability to take risks. Smart risks. Bold and bolder suggests stepping outside my comfort zone. It means connecting with new people, testing new things, and moving faster. It’s an acknowledgement that status quo isn’t enough, that the clock is ticking. It’s a call to action.

Creative.

I’ve composed music, written and published fiction, and created art. I am a professional storyteller. I help define strategies and solve problems. Creatively. The idea here is to expand and stay focused on my creativity. The science I write about and help companies market always needs more creativity. What I do as a creative will reflect positively in all other aspects of my life. Interestingly, (at least to me) “The Creative” is also one of the interpretations of the first hexagram of the i-ching. It is so important that the authors of this ancient book of divination put it first. Creativity drives all.

Authority. 

This word suggests two things to me. It suggests knowledge and expertise on a subject. It suggests leadership. I have 20 years experience as a strategic copywriter, have been in business for more than 15 years, have more than 10 years experience as a digital marketer. Authority is a reminder to myself of my experience and experiences, and my need to deliver value always. Authority also includes the word “author.” That’s important as I co-author my first book of non-fiction.

What are your three words?

A Brief, Personal Reading List – Fiction September 2016

Y the Last ManI recently shared this reading list with thesalesblog author and sales guru Anthony Iannarino. Anthony’s extremely well read but admitted he didn’t read much fiction. Here’s what I wrote him:

I grew up on science fiction and have read a lot of it and admit it’s inspired my career. But I’ve also read a lot of magical realism, international fiction, juvenile/middle grades (thank you kids!), binge-read mysteries and have a soft spot in my heart for trashy novels (like those of Lee Childs, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susanne).

Mostly, I like books that explore an idea, but the books that I’ve read and reread the most times are:

pedro_paramo

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, a very short, very Mexican book that has blown me away and inspired me every single time I’ve read it. At this point, I’ve probably read it dozens of times. It’s considered to the book that defined the magical realism genre and  inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write One Hundred Years of Solitude. The book was so influential on Marquez that he could recite long sections of it from memory.

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. It’s his shortest novel but you can get most of his themes and big ideas there: paranoia, consumerism, American exceptionalism, and layers upon layers of mystery. Pynchon is probably most famous for Gravity’s Rainbow, written in the 1960s. It’s been couple of decades since I read that monster tome but parts have stuck with me. I haven’t gotten to his newer work but have been looking forward to reading Inherent Vice for a long while.
Neuromancer
Neuromancer by William Gibson. That’s the one where cyberspace is defined and first explored. It’s a fast-moving thriller/mystery. Been a while since I reread but it’s an old friend. I’m also partial to his Pattern Recognition, which is about marketing (just reread this summer) and Idoru (which you might enjoy since a rock star marrying an AI is part of the story). His last book, The Peripheral was a thought-provoking look at our not-so-pleasant near-future.

Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, a 1960s SF novel.

51lnx5lhjl-_sx330_bo1204203200_
Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard. I’ve read most of his novels — there’s too many to list — and this one’s about a pair of 1960s drop outs trying to pull one big job. If you’re a movie fan, Out of Sight with Clooney and J. Lo is the best adaptation of Leonard novel. It’s also J. Lo’s only great movie role, though John Travolta is great in Get Shorty, and you can see Leonard in most of Tarantino’s films.
Y the Last Man
 Y! The Last Man, which is a series of graphic novels about a plague that kills all but one man. He has to deal with women who have to deal with rebuilding the world. It’s awesome.
All The Birds in the Sky
Most recently, I read All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupo — highly recommend those. Earlier in the year, I was blown away by Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I’ve also been rereading Octavia Butler.
I track what I read on a couple of Pinterest boards. This one shows books I’ve read and reread, you’ll notice a fair amount of J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut. I can steer you to the best of those if you’re interested.
Ballard, Burroughs, Dick, and Vonnegut were huge influences on my thinking when I was writing fiction. Ballard and Burroughs were masters of description and people making their ways through unreal situations. Dick was one of the most prolific SF writers (Blade Runner, Minority Report were based on his books) and his influence is wide. Vonnegut’s view of the American condition is among the most critical and hilarious.