Relationships: No regrets

This post is about failed relationships, and it's something that is atypical for me to write about for a couple reasons:

  1. I'm a guy and guys don't typically talk about relationships, especially in a public forum.
  2. It highlights one of my failures/vulnerabilities and the internet is typically a place where people only put their best foot forward (myself included).

I've been through a couple relationships over the past year, neither one of them easy for me to get over when they ended. I tend to romanticize over relationships more than most guys, partially because my motives in relationships differ. I don't date much (nor casually), and when I decide to pursue a relationship, it's only after I know I could see a future with that person. Shortsighted relationship vision is a huge emotional draw and quite frankly, I think my time is better spent elsewhere.

Recently I was able to get together with an ex for a casual dinner to catch up and see what we've learned from both our relationship together and the relationships we've had since. It stinks when a relationship ends, but if you can look back and largely remember the positives about what you learned from your interactions and from dealing with the other person, I'd chalk that up to a win. I learned so much about how to understand and deal with emotions (especially the ones that don't make sense and where the desired response is completely opposite of my fix-it nature) and just really how to be a man.

We both agreed that our relationship together helped us "grow up" in a sense and prepared us for our ultimate relationships in the future. Even though there are a lot of painful memories, especially after the relationship ended, I have no regrets from taking a chance. Ideally heartbreaks don't happen, but the reality is that that's not possible. For one reason or another, somebody is likely to get hurt. It's impossible to get close to someone without finding out that you might not be good together - even if you have the foundation of a friendship, and there's no fool-proof way to eliminate that risk.

I post this partially as a motivation to myself that making yourself vulnerable is a risky business, but one that is totally worth it. It doesn't feel good to get your heart broken but if you don't take the risk, you're missing out on something potentially beautiful. And I would know about missing out, because I was void a relationship for a solid 4 years, largely because I was too scared to take any risk (all while blaming it on being "too busy").

I'm also thankful this ex and I are able to be friends following a long term relationship. One of the worst parts about a break up is the fact that it can destroy a friendship, and the risk of that is inevitable. The reality is that following a breakup, it's painful to even think about the other person because of the memories that it stirs. But I'm glad I was willing to risk a friendship for the chance of it blossoming into something greater.

Stepping out and taking the risk of vulnerability is something that doesn't come easy for me, but now I know I won't look back years from now and always wonder "What if?". Relationships are tough, especially when you set your expectations as high as I do. I have no idea what's in my future; I'm just thankful that this year, I finally risked my emotions and the feelings I guard the closest to give love a chance.

Traditional car dealerships are a thing of the past

Car dealerships.

What comes to mind when you hear that phrase? To me, I think of pesky salesmen, cheap linoleum flooring, fluorescent lighting, and the smell of rubber. And everybody has a story about the painful process of buying a car. I can't imagine being the only person to have the same feelings to the typical car dealerships as I do. That's part of the reason why I was so confused when Chevrolet came out with an ad campaign last year that was shot entirely inside a dealership.

In fact, several of the commercials in this campaign began with a faint loudspeaker of the receptionist calling in a salesperson from outside. The campaign did a great job of making you feel like you were there, including the throngs of lonely salespeople standing around. But is that really a good thing?

Even Toyota got in on the action recently, running their own campaign of commercials shot on the set of a car dealership.

I might be more attuned to the subpar experience of the stereotypical car dealership than most (since I seem to complain about more things than most), but there's something about a dealership that defies these norms that flips the typical visit to the car dealership around from being a dreaded experience to one that is looked forward to.

Tesla is one example of a company trying something different. Rather than building dealerships in normal places like auto centers, they've focused on being where you already go. Here in Orange County, Tesla has a store in Fashion Island, one of our upscale, outdoor shopping malls. They've got another dealership a few miles away on Pacific Coast Highway amidst other boutique shops. But even when you visit one of their locations, it doesn't feel like a car dealership. They've got one or two cars out on display, and you can't take them for a test drive. The purpose of these stores is to inform you about their vehicles and show you what's coming.

Of course, this model doesn't work for all car companies. Tesla (currently) offers two models and sells to a high end market. Car makers like Chevy have quite a few more cars than that.

But still, not all dealership experiences have to suck in the way that we are used to. The pictures below are of Newport Lexus in Newport Beach, CA.

Newport Lexus is my dealership of choice after I bought my Lexus. It feels nothing like a car dealership, despite having rows and rows of cars out front. When you walk inside, it feels like you're walking into the lobby of a 5-star hotel. The rest of the experience isn't far off from that. The retail areas and coffee shop and lounge make it a place you want to visit on a regular basis. The free car washes are nice, and I try to make it in at least once a week to enjoy this perk of getting my car serviced there.

But the beauty of Newport Lexus is more than just the nice building and the perks; it's the people. I have never met such friendly people who really get to know you. Because I visit once a week for my car wash, I've built up friendly relationships with many of the staff members who greet me by name when I arrive. And when it's time to get my car serviced, I look forward to the day I get to drive in and see everybody. And now I can't picture myself buying a car from anywhere else. They've succeeded because they've built a relationship with me and won my loyalty.

Everything about the experience at Newport Lexus is fantastic. When I go through my list of things I hate about the typical car dealership, I realize I find none of them at Newport Lexus, which makes me wonder, why do so many other dealerships not care about the experience of their customers? I think we are slowly seeing a trend toward offering perks at particular dealerships. Some now advertise free washes on weekends or free coffee when you stop by. But are these perks the tipping point to get people to come back?

As we see in nearly every industry, monumental improvements in the norm typically come from the top down. It makes sense why Tesla (as a company) and some other high end dealerships have radically changed the way they sell cars. I'm just looking forward to the day where linoleum floors, endless options packages and packs of salesmen with bad ties are a thing of the past.

How Cory is tired of the media demonizing success: Phil Mickelson edition

It disgusts me how much the media demonizes the wealth of successful people.

Phil Mickelson got flak this week for saying new federal and state tax rates would prevent him from joining in on a deal to be part of the San Diego Padres new ownership group. He explained the new tax code would force him to make "drastic changes".

On Sunday, Mickelson explained, "If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent."

His comments were perceived "insensitive", so he apologized.

"I think that it was insensitive to talk about it publicly to those people who are not able to find a job, that are struggling paycheck to paycheck," Mickelson said. "I think that was insensitive to discuss it in that forum."

Do you mean to tell me that the average golf fan was offended by Mickelson's comments? I find that hard to believe.

It's likely he wouldn't have apologized for his comments if he weren't so demonized by the media. This post written by golf writer Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press is written with an extreme left slant, riddled with sensationalism that I wouldn't even call journalism. (If I gave him a press badge at an event, I'd make sure his badge labeled him a "Blogger".)

The same day, Tami Luhby of CNN published a post titled The truth behind Mickelson's taxes. She leads with the title, "There's no doubt that Phil Mickelson pays a lot in income taxes as a California resident, but it's not as much as he thinks." Her article breaks down what he pays in taxes and guesses he pays a mere 51% instead of Mickelson's quoted "62, 63 percent". Whoop-de-do, Tami.

I think people in the media (not to be confused with journalists) fail to remember what successful people do with their money. Mickelson runs a foundation with his wife called The Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation that focuses on education and family issues. They partnered with ExxonMobil to develop a curriculum for teachers to help motivate students in math and science. He has also contributed to many other charitable groups, several of which benefit wounded veterans. And yes, he'll get a tax break for that. As he should.

But for the media to demonize Phil Mickelson's success personal opinions on taxes in golf is short-sighted and pathetic. It's disappointing that legitimate news publications feel it's okay to report in such a way where their posts contain a subtext of intentionally derogatory language against someone who voices an opinion contrary to their own, while labeling it as reporting.

Sure, Mickelson has a great job and we're all jealous. I just wish the media would keep in mind that the wealthy don't leach.

Obama, taxes, investors, and capital: Why raising taxes hurts the startup industry

TL;DR: The startup industry largely supports Obama who wants to increase taxes on the wealthy. Raising taxes on the wealthy directly affects the amount of capital available to entrepreneurs because when investors pay more in taxes, they have less money to invest in new startups.

The internet startup "industry" is built off the fact that there are investors who are willing to write checks to entrepreneurs to create new businesses. Startup incubators like Y Combinator and TechStars have been able to fund a large number of businesses because investors have been willing to put their money at risk. In fact, the current total value of companies Y Combinator has funded is around $10 billion. In essence, the startup industry is the perfect example of how investing should work.

It's no secret that most people in the startup space support President Obama, and here's why I'm baffled by this: Obama wants to significantly raise taxes on everyone making over $250,000/year, and not just raise income tax but drastically increase taxes on investment returns. The problem with taking more money from this group is that it takes away money that would otherwise be invested in startups. Why does the startup community want to increase taxes on their own investors? What could have been used to fund a startup now goes to paying more taxes.

I don't think this correlation is made very often. When people in the startup space think about rich people paying more in taxes, I don't think it's associated with the very same people who are funding their startups and paying their salaries.

I'm thankful to the people who have invested in my startup. Because of the capital we've received, we are not only able to start a business, but actually hire people and create jobs! (Politicians says that the government can create jobs, but in reality, more available capital helps fund more startups who are able to create jobs.)

The shortsightedness of wanting to tax the rich to solve our problems needs to stop. Government is wildly inefficient at most of what it sets out to do, and it's not the answer to most of our problems today. I hope more people in the startup space will wake up to the fact that higher taxes on successful people (namely, our very own investors) is completely counterproductive and will do nothing but hurt our industry and future innovation in the long run.

Why I'm removing TechCrunch from my RSS reader

TechCrunch used to be the best place for tech news, but it has since turned into a place for personal vendettas and opinion pieces. I present to you three examples from the past week:

In the first example, writer Gregory Ferenstein goes on a personal attack of Chick-fil-a. Most of the first four paragraphs have nothing to do with technology, and are inserted simply to frame Chick-fil-a in a negative light. The tech angle to the story was apparently how Chick-fil-a marketing created a Facebook account as a marketing tool. But half of the article is about a "Same Day Kissing Protest" which has absolutely no relevancy to tech news, nor the story at hand. The writer uses this opportunity to promote an event for a cause in which he personally believes. This is far from objective news reporting that TechCrunch was built around.

Example #2: Writer Sarah Perez spends six paragraphs complaining about the speed of Gmail.

Gmail is unusable. The other day, I counted how long it took Gmail to perform basic functions: open an email, do search, and expand a thread. On a high-speed FiOS connection, on an Internet where clicks translate to immediate actions, it’s incredible to watch Gmail struggle to even function. 10 seconds to perform a search, 14 seconds to open an email message, 10 seconds to expand a conversation thread.

Unfortunately for Sarah, the problem she experiences is the complete opposite of 99% of people who use Gmail. I can't vouch for her problems because I don't have the same volume of email she talks about. And judging by the comments, no one else agrees with her either. Again, this is another solid example of a writer personally attacking a company based on her own experience rather than writing an objective story with any research or fact checking.

In example #3, Matt Burns posts a screenshot about a new format of the Google search results page in which the filtering options were moved above search results from the sidebar.

I’m honestly torn over the new design. On one hand I love the vertical layout. My mind never fully embraced the search tools being located on a sidebar. Now, with the tools positioned directly under the search field, I find it’s a bit more natural to change the parameters of the search. But at the same time, it feels very repetitive to have the category bar located a few lines under the black Google product bar. Plus, there is an awful amount of whitespace flanking either side of the search results.

This tech writer has somehow missed the memo (with reporting from his own site, mind you) that Google is killing the top black bar. The end goal is not to be repetitive, but to find a new alternative that performs as well as the existing top black bar. Regardless, I find it a complete waste of time to read an entire paragraph about his personal opinions of how Google's search results page should look.

How is any of this technology news? Under Arrington's watch, TechCrunch was the most credible, most interesting tech news read on the web. Today, it's the TMZ of tech.

If the new direction of TechCrunch is to become a place where tech news takes a back seat to opinion pieces and unresearched assumptions of writers who choose to rant about their own problems, then that's fine - I can go elsewhere for my tech news. I just hadn't seen the official memo.

Just focus and get it done (and some notes from @ValioCon)

Last weekend, I attended the 2nd annual ValioCon in San Diego. The first happened just over a year ago. When I introduced myself to fellow designers, I listed off the latest things I had built and some well-known sites or projects that people could associate with my name.

But as I introduced myself, I found myself giving the same introduction as I did last year. Why? Because I haven't "released" anything new that I've been working on in over a year. I'm ashamed.

That's not to say I haven't done anything. I've been busy all year. FolioHD is gaining traction like crazy. I redesigned Bandzoogle's site manager platform. I did some work for Zillow. I've sold lots of premium Posterous themes. I'm now doing some pretty exciting design work at Kelley Blue Book (on a contract basis). Most importantly of all (to me), I've worked on exciting new projects of my own like The Mux and Less Neglect. But neither of those have been released yet, simply because they aren't finished. And surprisingly, those are the projects I've wanted to finish most of all.

During the conference last year, there were other designers who teased upcoming releases of their own products. Fast forward to this year. They still haven't been released either.

I don't know what their reasoning is, but I know I don't have many excuses. I simply need to focus. It's quite honestly embarassing to me that I have so many unfinished projects on my plate. Itn fact, it's a big problem of mine. I will half-finish projects, then get excited about something new and move on.

At ValioCon this year, I jotted down something a speaker said relating to getting things done:

Treat side-projects like a real job. Have a product schedule, deadlines, and make sure you meet them and consequences if you don't.

This is something I plan to implement in all of my side projects.

I also think it's a time management issue. I make sure I have a healthy balance of work and personal time in my life. I think it's important to rest and have fun. But in order to finish things, it's sometimes important to make sacrifices. Another speaker at ValioCon gave this piece of advice:

There's an unhealthy point in any side business where you have to sacrifice something.

Things simply aren't going to get done on their own. It takes serious focus and sometimes sacrifice if you want to get where you want to go.

Setting reasonable goals and expectations is important. If you don't, there's a good chance you'll end up in a similar situation where you look back and realize you haven't made it any closer to your personal goals than you were a year ago.

So my new goal is to release a working version of The Mux, and a beta version of Less Neglect by the time I turn 25 next month. That leaves just over a month to release two half-finished products. I think it's doable. And if I stick to a written schedule, it definitely is.

But I could use your help, internet. Hold me accountable!

Joining a startup: high salary, no equity OR "startup salary" with equity?

TL;DR: Push for stock options from companies who don't want to give them, and always avoid them from those that offer.

As a potential employee, the negotiation for equity is a great way to gauge the future of a new company.

If you know the signs, it can help you from getting screwed in the long run, potentially saving years of regret while waiting out the vesting period in the hopes the company will make it big.

It generally goes like this:

  • If founders openly offer lots of equity, chances are the company will never make it big. If you settle for equity and a lower-than-market rate, you're probably in for years of hard work that will never reap the vision you were sold when you joined the company.
  • If founders would rather pay a high hourly rate and offer no equity, chances are the company will succeed. This is a sign that there are big things at stake, and for one reason or another, they're holding their options close to their chest.

The founders who promise lots of equity by joining early are usually unintentional scam artists. They offer the world, but these founders are taking a stab in the dark (even though their idea might be good and well-intentioned) and generally have no real plan for execution. They're usually great salespeople who help you buy into the vision, but since they don't have a plan or the connections they need to make the company successful, you should stay away at all costs.

The founders who know what they're doing, have industry connections, and know their ideas will turn into profitable businesses will do as much as they can to maintain their stake. They don't need to offer copious amounts of equity because their idea and vision is enough to sell the typical prospective employee. And they're usually willing to fork over extra cash up front (market rate) to keep you happy.

(Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. But this is generally what I've noticed from my experience in the startup space.)

If you're facing the opportunity to work for companies in both categories, work for the latter who will pay market rate - who doesn't sell you the vision by promising fame and fortune. Opt for the company who knows what you're worth and pays accordingly.

The dance for something worthwhile is never easy. It's sort of like dating. If you go for the easy catch, are they really a catch? When you are forced to relentlessly persue (and then end up achieving) what you want, it's usually worth it.

The fight for equity at a company where equity will be valuable won't be easy to get. But if you keep these principles in mind and are able to fight for a meaningful stake, it's worth so much more than the equity that is freely handed out by companies that have no real future.

Update: There's some great feedback on Hacker News.

Why more companies should model customer service after Newport Lexus

There are companies who seemingly couldn't care less about their customers, and then there are companies like Newport Lexus. I've serviced my car at Newport Lexus for four years now, but the service has never been better than it is today.

Yesterday it was time to take my car in for service. I called and let my service rep know I'd be arriving in about 20 minutes. When I showed up, the paperwork was already filled out and my preference in loaner vehicles was sitting there waiting for me. All I had to do was sign the paperwork. I literally walked inside, sat down, signed on the dotted line, and walked out to my loaner. I was in and out in less time than it takes to make a latte.

It's refreshing to know that some companies still care about treating their customers right. This is the kind of level I try to give people who use the things I build, and I appreciate receiving the same kind of treatment. It's why we built Less Neglect - an amazing support tool to help us support our users of FolioHD and The Mux.

When businesses go the extra mile to make their customers feel special, the loyalty they'll have is far greater than if you simply provide adequate service. And that's what makes customers for life.

Oh, and if you own a Lexus in Socal, go visit Joey Wilchek at Newport Lexus.

We've got to do better

It's 2012 and setting up online accounts for things like credit cards, bank accounts and paying bills is still far too difficult. I spent last night helping my dad get set up with online accounts, and even for an average internet user like him, the process was horrific.

I was appauled at the number of ways web designers and developers continually make simple online tasks much harder than they should be.

It seems that few designers, developers and project managers of large web applications actually factor in how people actually use the internet.

Here are a few of the gaffes I discovered last night.

    Password Requirements

    Each site had different password requirements. Some sites required a special character like # or !, but other sites refused to accept such characters. Usually it isn't without trial and error that you realize this.

    (I've written ranted about password requirements before. I'm sure we're all in agreement that they should largely be abolished.)

    "Cancel Registration" Button? Seriously?

    Edison's registration form provided a "Cancel Registration" button their signup form, with equal size and weight as the "Submit Registration" button. I thought we all agreed this was a bad idea back in the days of the now-largely erradicated "Reset Form" button.

    Javascript Validation Gone Bad

    Another form didn't work with Chrome's autofill feature. It required the user to enter a 10-digit phone number (across three fields, of course). At the end of typing the last group of numbers, a second set of inputs appeared, requiring the user to re-enter the phone number to confirm accuracy.

    But because my dad used Chrome's auto-fill feature to enter the whole phone number automatically, it failed to trigger the javascript to show the second set of fields. This resulted in an error message telling him, "You forgot to enter a phone number" even though he already had.

    Making Answers to Challenge Questions Case-Sensitive

    This is always a bad idea. You might be surprised at how many people type things into fields in lowercase. But if you're asked to re-enter that info later (especially a proper noun)? You might capitalize it.

    "Enter Your Name as it Appears"

    Asking for bank account info, one form said to "Enter your name as it appears on your check." The name on my dad's check had his middle initial listed, followed by a period. He submitted the form and received an error message telling him periods weren't allowed.

    "If you created an account before August 18, 2005..."

    Do I even need to explain why this shouldn't even be on a REGISTER page?

    •  •  •

    Seriously, do we not even test what we build?

      My point: We've got to stop doing this. Even in 2012, we are still making web applications that still make basic tasks pretty painful. Quite frankly, it's embarassing.

      We've got to stop building for ourselves.

      As designers and developers, we sometimes get stuck in this false assumption that everyone uses the internet the same way we do. But we're in the minority.

      The next time you're building a form or creating a flow for a signup process, think through some of the issues that might come up as a result of your design.

      Watch a few people use your app. You'll be surprised at some of the things you'll see when looking through someone else's eyes.

      And the biggest point: Don't be lazy. That quick and dirty javascript validation you wrote? More people are going to be negatively affected by it than you think. Don't want to take the time to write helpers for each input field? A little clarification might save users a lot of headache.

      If you're interested in the topic of user experience and making things simple and easy for users, you should check out the book Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It's a great introduction into avoiding a lot of basic usability problems that people still encounter every day.

        My thoughts on Twitter's acquisition of Posterous

        By now you've no doubt heard that Posterous has been acquired by Twitter. It's been a great run. I've loved every minute of being around Posterous. Here are a few personal highlights:

        • Written over 2,000 posts on Posterous since I joined three years ago. I also run 15 sites on Posterous.
        • Built and released 34 themes to Posterous users, racking up over 100,000,000 visits amongst those sites; also built all of Posterous' self-branded themes and ported over Metalab's themes from Tumblr
        • Started selling premium themes at themes.posterous.com, proving there is actually a market for premium Posterous themes
        • Created themes for Alexis Ohanian, Jenn Van Grove, Dell, The Onion, Arnold Schwarzenegger, + plenty of business users and organizations
        • And of course, created plenty of internal Posterous sites like 2012 Social Media Resolutions, the Switch to Posterous campaign, the old Help site, the former College Ambassadors campaign that eventually led to the hiring of Ryan Brown, + more
        • Met a ton of great people who I talk to on a daily basis. The friendships I've built as a result of using Posterous are irreplaceable.

        I have to say a big thanks to Garry and Sachin for letting me tag along and work with them on so many fun projects!

        While this acquisition is exciting for the team, many users are concerned about the future of the platform. Posterous is being vague about what will happen in the future. Until then, I'm going to continue using Posterous the way I always have.

        However if they do choose to shut down in the future, I have no doubt a suitable replacement will rise. Dustin Curtis has been hard at work at his own minimalistic blogging platform that he currently uses at dcurt.isGooley and I have been working on an idea for a while now, where a blogging platform is a large component. It has the potential to do everything that Posterous does and so much more. (The scope of our idea is much larger.) Sign up to find out what it's all about.

        My point is, if you're thinking about leaving Posterous now, don't rush to do it quite yet. There will be suitable alternatives. There's a reason Posterous users aren't already using Wordpress or Tumblr, and should Twitter shut down Posterous, there will be a void in the marketplace.

        Regardless, I'm looking forward to what the Posterous team builds as a part of Twitter. They're a brilliant team who will do great things to further evolve the way we communicate.