tag:watilo.com,2013:/posts Cory Watilo 2021-06-04T00:41:13Z Cory Watilo tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1565683 2020-06-27T17:21:54Z 2021-04-05T16:56:51Z Facebook’s community standards censorship has far-reaching consequences

Update: After some retweets about this issue, my domain is finally unblocked. (More details at the end of this post.)


Facebook censorship has effectively barred my business from their platform and is materially impacting the livelihood of my customers.

For the past decade, I’ve run an online portfolio business on the side called FolioHD. (You get a subdomain on the platform to host your portfolio, like mine at watilo.foliohd.com.) The entire foliohd.com domain has been banned from Facebook and Instagram because someone shared something that Facebook didn't like.

Unfortunately I have no insight into the offending content, and the offending content can be anything from a nipple to now apparently even a MAGA hat.

Now I am personally blocked on Instagram from liking photos or sending DMs. I can’t sign into my company Instagram account. And Facebook has reached into my Page’s support inbox, removed private message between myself and customers, and has blocked my website's integrations to import photos from Facebook's and Instagram's APIs.

How I noticed

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my personal Instagram and double-tapped a photo. Instead of seeing a red heart, I received this message.

Tapping “Tell us” simply says, “Thanks for reporting this issue.”

In my Instagram bio is a link to my personal portfolio, watilo.foliohd.com. Because of this link, I effectively became completely blocked from interacting with anyone on Instagram.

As the result of a single person sharing a link to a portfolio that Facebook deemed to have offensive content, they have now blocked the entire foliohd.com domain.

It even prevented me from sending direct messages with ANY links.

In order to restore my personal Instagram account, I’d have to remove the URL from my bio.

Using Facebook’s Sharing Debugger confirms the URL was blocked on the entire Facebook ecosystem.

Facebook has a way to report this issue on their developer site, but of course we know where those messages go. (A giant black hole.)

The problems don’t end there. Since Instagram has been seamlessly integrated into the Facebook ecosystem, any account containing a blocked URL on Facebook has related consequences on Instagram.

I can’t sign into the FolioHD Instagram account, because Facebook won’t send a security code by email, presumably because it has foliohd.com in the email.

But it gets worse: Visiting the FolioHD Facebook support inbox has led me to discover that Facebook is removing private messages between customers and myself, because they contain a link to foliohd.com inside of them.

I’m thankful I don’t rely on the Facebook support inbox, but I do have an auto-reply set up for anyone who sends a message there, directing them to contact support via foliohd.com.

Since Facebook is blocking links, that auto-reply no longer gets sent.

Any social posts created through a Buffer-style service, even using a bitly link, gets posted briefly, then removed, with no notice.

This has also shut down FolioHD's integrations for importing photos from Facebook and Instagram. Now my customers get errors when trying to use our importer which is hosted by Filestack.

And the worst part: there is no way to resolve this.

Now my customers can no longer share links to their websites within the Facebook ecosystem. They had nothing to do with this, and yet their businesses are being affected.

My ask

My request to Facebook would be to reconsider how they handle sites with user-generated content, in the same way Google handles it in their index. If a subdomain contains offending content, it shouldn’t poison the root domain and every other subdomain.

And Facebook should probably never weasel their way into private company inboxes to remove content retroactively. You break the trust of any business by pulling these kind of moves. How can we rely on you for anything if your censorship is a moving target?

And if anyone knows how to get Facebook to fix this, please let me know. Short of filing a lawsuit, I’m not sure how to get this resolved.


Update (July 14, 2020): After discovering Facebook also rescinded my API access (which my customers rely on), I decided it was time to take legal action as a means to get it unblocked, in the hopes of just getting my issue forwarded to the right department who could fix it. But as a last-ditch effort, I reached out to a few friends at Facebook and put out a request for help on Twitter, and a few retweets later, foliohd.com has been unblocked. I really wish there was a better way to get this resolved, but at least fortunately in my case, it's fixed. At least for now...

To anyone else who runs into this problem, this tip may be useful (as was provided to me in a DM):

  1. Go to business.facebook.com, click Billing, then (?) in the bottom right.
  2. Describe that you're having problems placing an ad because your domain name is blocked.
  3. I was told it takes about 3 days for them to respond and fix it.

I don't believe this was the resolution in my case, but I'm hopeful it will be useful to others who are stuck in purgatory by the Facebook machine.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1337941 2018-10-30T19:54:41Z 2020-05-19T14:30:32Z The worst design trend of 2018: Stacked, label-less navigation

App designers are always trying to stay on-trend. The problem is that sometimes these trends tend to take design backwards from a usability perspective.

The last horrible design trend (2013)

A few years back when Apple decided to change iOS icons from filled in to outlined (in iOS 7), many believed this to be a step in the wrong direction, as outlined icons increase cognitive load.

The image and quote below are from Aubrey Johnson's analysis of the change:

Take a look at the example above. The red lines indicate areas where cognitive load is occurring. Your brain traces the shapes on the first row an average of twice as much. Your eye scans the outside shape and then scans the inner line to determine if there is value in the “hollow” section.

Forcing users to spend more time to decipher an icon is never a good thing, and unfortunately, many designers have followed this trend "because Apple did it", which is a horrible justification.

The latest horrible design trend

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1193314 2017-09-23T21:37:41Z 2020-03-22T03:44:45Z A free UX review for Postmates

The vast majority of the hip, cool Silicon Valley-based startups have products that work decently well.

The one outlier in this category is Postmates. I have no idea what they're doing over there, but every time I try to use it - between errors, poor UX decisions and outright bugs - the whole experience is a disaster. And this is from a company that has raised over $326 million!

So in an effort to improve the internet and not just complain, here's a free UX review for Postmates:

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1193178 2017-09-22T22:17:18Z 2020-03-22T03:45:17Z An incredible customer experience

I spend a lot of time ranting about businesses that treat customers poorly. I have a rule on Yelp that I have to post more positive reviews than negative, and while this isn't Yelp, I figured it was time to highlight someone doing something right.

So I was in Jersey City, NJ - just across the water from Manhattan, with the French Bulldog in tow. Since I didn't exactly want to leave her for more than a few hours, I looked up doggy daycares in the area. Turns out, there was a highly-rated place not too far from where I was staying, so I took her in to check the place out. (It's rare you see a place with 5 stars on Yelp, but this is one of the few.)

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1188738 2017-09-04T15:40:07Z 2020-03-22T03:46:49Z How Silicon Valley's elitist mindset affects product design

TL;DR: Did you know you can't plug a Pixel phone into a TV to mirror your screen? Google purposely left this feature out because they want you to buy a Chromecast and have decided that wireless is the future, and to not build for the thousands of edge cases in the meantime.

Silicon Valley decides how we use technology. Since they make the products we all use, they have the ultimate say about how we will use our devices. Overall, we benefit from the decisions they make for us - in how we are forced to embrace technological advances that they deem necessary.

Adobe Flash is a great example of something that Apple and Google collectively decided to force out of the market, due to security concerns, battery life issues, and more (if not also for competitive reasons). While I don't know anyone who firmly believes Flash should still be around, it's a marquee example of how Silicon Valley businesses altered how we use technology because they decided it was in our best interest.

But where is the line between what's "good" for us, and what they say is good for us?

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1139538 2017-03-17T19:08:10Z 2020-03-22T03:49:18Z Redesigns: Stripe UI 👍🏼, Stripe UX 👎🏼

When companies produce redesigns, the intention is usually to make things easier to use, make features more discoverable, and often to provide a visual refresh. As we all know, people don’t like change, so usually their is some level of revolt. This revolt usually subsides over the course of weeks or months and everyone moves on. But not always...

Stripe recently released an update of their dashboard. Initially I didn’t like it, but I decided to give it some time before passing judgment. It’s now been 2 months, and I still believe this is a huge step backwards in terms of usability. Stripe has managed to add additional steps to many steps of my typical workflow. Here are a few examples:

Dashboard
The old dashboard had 3 charts visible at all times: Volume, Charges and Customers Created. It was great to be able to quickly glance at all 3 metrics. 
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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1111972 2016-11-30T17:56:07Z 2020-03-22T03:47:25Z Hotwire Express: The amazing support team that is no more

May 2010 in Memphis, TN: I open the door to my downtown hotel room. It smells a bit musty, the floors a bit creaky, and the noise from the street is surprisingly audible for a hotel of this rating. I reach for a complimentary water bottle to discover that the bottle's security seal had already been broken, indicating the bottle was already consumed and then refilled.

All this comes after my first impression, where I had trouble getting into the hotel in the first place because they lock their doors at night to keep the crazies of the night outside.

I felt uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. And I didn't want to stay here for the next 3 nights that I had booked. Turns out there's more to Memphis than Beale Street!

So I called Hotwire. I spoke directly to a Hotwire Express support representative in the United States. After listening to my story, she explained that Hotwire doesn't offer refunds or exchanges (which I knew), but due to my history with them, they were going to rebook me in another hotel at their expense.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/1107202 2016-11-11T00:35:33Z 2021-01-07T02:30:36Z "We're all about tolerance, unless you disagree with us."

I'm deeply disappointed at the response that the Presidential election has evoked from my industry. Today, the CEO of a food delivery service, Grubhub, wrote a letter to his employees that essentially paired Trump voters with "hateful politics" and, while he didn't directly say it, inferred that if you support Trump, you should resign.

Everyone has a right to their own opinions, but in the same letter, he contradicts himself by saying, "I firmly believe that we must bring together different perspectives ... including ... cultural or ideological preferences."

The mantra of the left seems to be, "We're all about inclusiveness, unless you disagree with us." The hypocrisy of this mindset is ridiculous.

This party of "tolerance" is the same party whose supporters ruthlessly beat up Trump supporters. Before the election, anti-Trump demonstrators protested right here in Orange County by destroying police cars.

Quite honestly, I'm sick and tired of the hypocrisy of the left. Tolerance and inclusion needs to extend beyond the things that they agree withIt seems as if they lose all civility when people disagree with what they've decided is the difference between right and wrong.

Democrats have put themselves into this frenzy by misinterpreting statements by Trump and assigning new meanings to things he's said. Let's look at three Trump statements and analyze them without yelling and screaming at each other.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/971088 2016-01-14T21:42:13Z 2020-03-22T03:48:07Z iOS design is falling apart

In recent years (really, the post-Steve Jobs era), the designers on iOS have become lax. In an effort to add new features or "improve" design, they have crippled usability and crammed buttons into places that shouldn't even be places. And without someone like Steve Jobs to send them back to the drawing board, these train wrecks now make it into production. A few examples:

"Back to App" button

When clicking a link that takes you to another app, iOS now crams a "Back to ____" link in the status bar. There are several problem with this:

  • Can't check my reception - If something isn't loading, I don't have an easy way of troubleshooting the problem.
  • Can't see if I'm on wifi or cell network - If I'm clicking on a video link, I might want to double-check to make sure I'm not going to eat through data from my cell plan.
  • Way too small of a tap area - If you read even Apple's design best practices (under Hit Targets), they'll point out that you should allow a good amount of padding for finger tapping.

And now they're a "Forward to ____" button?! Great, now I can't check my battery or diagnose why my sound isn't playing. ("Am I connected to a bluetooth device somewhere?")

Google solved this adequately within their own suite of apps, like in Chrome, by overriding the app's Back button with a button that would return you to the Google app where you came from - a very elegant solution.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/896091 2015-08-21T17:29:50Z 2016-01-14T10:43:07Z My thoughts on $TWTR, senseless IPOs, and public internet companies

I just read this headline: Twitter Falls Below IPO Price as Concerns Mount Over CEO, Growth source

Surprised? I sure hope not.

It continues to astound me that websites with a large user base and trajectory seem to be a good enough reason to go public. Many of these sites are the fad of the month but happen to catch mainstream hype at just the right time.

Zynga, anyone?

Let me say this: Because you write software and attain a large audience and good traction and get decent mainstream press, these reasons alone are not a good enough to go public.

There's a catch-22 in the internet business: Salaries are often subsidized with equity. This traditionally works well with traditional, brick and mortar companies. We're talking about companies that build hotels, chains like Starbucks, or the company that makes the straws that we all use in our Starbucks drinks. But it seems as if internet companies now feel pressured to cash out or go public because of the amount of options they've given away to their early hires, and the number of people relying on them who expect an exponential return. Also layer in the fact that VC firms expect to turn theoretical value on paper into real, cold hard cash in a relatively short period of time. As a result, you're left with a whole slew of companies who aren't ready to be scrutinized in the public financial market.

The old criteria for an IPO candidate used to be businesses with remarkable traction and revenue trajectory. But when the internet came along, everything changed. Suddenly, companies could see exponential growth almost instantly. (Come on, that's pretty easy. When you go from 0 to X...) But as we've seen, that doesn't necessarily ever last. Anybody remember the .com bubble? It almost seems like user adoption maybe isn't the best metric for long-term financial success. Crazy!

Back to Twitter...

For those who don't remember, Twitter didn't start out as a startup with hopes of ever going public. In fact, the founders of Twitter, in 2006 at the time it was created, worked at a podcasting website, Odeo, and things were headed downhill. They realized they needed to reinvent themselves and ended up creating the concept that Twitter is today.

When it comes down to it, Twitter is a marketing site where its audience (users) is sold to advertisers. Let me say it differently: the users are the product and the advertisers are Twitter's customers. Unfortunately, that's nothing unique to Twitter, nor to many internet startups and their stocks that have flatlined. Twitter hasn't built a railroad, nor a coffee chain like Starbucks, nor those straws that we sip out of every morning on our way to work. How is Twitter different than Facebook, from a monetary perspective? Not much, except that Facebook has done it better. Twitter has built a website that millions of us visit on a daily basis (and yes, I use it all the time) but when it comes to financial investors who don't understand crap about the internet, they're looking at a different metric. "Did you hit the growth potential we expected? Did you hit the advertising dollar figure we were looking for?" If not, you're screwed.

"But Cory, what about company X that was super popular?" Let's take a look.

Groupon:

Hmm, what about Retailmenot? (Whaat? Retailmenot is public? Yes.)

Are we sensing a trend?

Oh, one more for you, ladies and gentlemen. Yelp:

In Yelp's case in particular, when their user growth and revenue flatlined, they had to find other ways to keep the charts looking like hockey sticks (up and to the right) and that's when it came out that sales reps were writing negative reviews about businesses, then calling them to upsell them to a plan where they could manage their reviews. How's that for a business model?

So for those of you who put money into Twitter, or Yelp, or Groupon, just because of their upward growth... did you really think they would become the next Google? Or Apple?

Put your money into a company like Salesforce, a company that continues to spread its tentacles into the hearts of businesses across the world. Put your money in Tesla, a company that's changing how we build cars. Or give your money to Google or Amazon, companies that continually create products that increasingly hold the data that we all depend on. Dropbox is an ideal candidate for an IPO - an established business with customers who pay for their services directly, and who continue to expand into other markets (B2B) as they become a more mature business. Uber is another company that has reached such critical mass and has such a large customer base with potential to move into other markets that they also will do incredibly well at an IPO.

Let's move away from putting our money into companies that rely on us visiting their webpages, to survive. Real intellectual property is created when a company builds something better and more unique than anybody else.

I wish companies like Twitter, Groupon and Yelp stayed private. These companies are immensely useful for a large audience, but when those growth numbers wear off, they shouldn't be penalized by investors who don't understand their value. Instead, they should stay private until the point where they are such a critical part of our lives where growth metrics don't matter, and instead, we value them upon their contribution to our lives.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/892199 2015-08-10T18:46:07Z 2015-11-25T04:04:49Z An open letter to Flightcar

Dear Flightcar,

I tried. I really tried. When I found out about you, I was stoked. "Finally!" I thought, "A company that's going to disrupt the miserable car rental business!" And in theory, the concept is great. The only problem: The car rental business is a customer service-intense industry. Translation: your customer support has to be on point.

Unfortunately, the customer support department at Flightcar seems to be largely non-existent. (Quite frankly, this is the last thing I expected from a well-funded Silicon Valley startup with top tier investors.) But before I detail my laundry list of personal experiences (including the phone call that put me over the edge), let's check some recent tweets.

Notice the timestamps on these tweets. These are all from just the past few weeks.

The quote from @andrewjiang is spot on: "The human element is broken."

I can safely say the encounters I've had with the people at Flightcar (non-sales related) have been some of the worst experiences I've ever had with support teams. We're talking along the lines of AT&T, Verizon, and dare I say Comcast?

Flightcar, you have to fix this if this business is going to continue.

The encounter I had tonight is just icing on the cake, but before I get there, let's just review some former personal experiences with Flightcar that come to the top of my head. (These are largely the same as many other complains that can be found online. Just read some Yelp reviews or do a search for @flightcar on Twitter.)

Summary of previous issues

  • The first time my wife and I rented through Flightcar, we waited for our airport pickup for 45 minutes before giving up and Ubering ourselves to the Seattle station.
  • We ordered a 2009-2015 luxury sedan and were given a 2004 Audi A6. (Build-in navigation - what I was hoping for? Fat chance.) I returned the vehicle the next day. Getting our refund took 7 emails over 8 days.
  • Deciding to give Flightcar the benefits of the doubt, we entered one of our vehicles in the monthly rental program. We were told the max monthly mileage put on the vehicle would be 1,800 miles. Our Jeep was pummeled with over 2,300 miles in less than a month, so we pulled it out.
  • Within that time period, email notifications stopped working for a portion of it and we received no updates about when our Jeep was returned or rented, and no notice from Flightcar about the issue.
  • There were multiple encounters of waiting a week for a response to emails, and on several occasions, no responses at all. On at least two occasions, I was told my emails went into the spam folder. (Seriously? The Zendesk spam folder??)
Tonight's phone call(s)

But the latest issue in my series of terrible interactions, and quite frankly, my breaking point, involves a support call about missing floor mats from the Jeep we loaned to the monthly program. Getting no response in over 3 days, tonight I decided to call.

  • I called the Flightcar support line, explained the missing floor mats, and asked to be transferred to the Seattle office so I could find out if anyone could locate them.
  • The woman on the phone, bless her heart, believing my name to be Clory, couldn't find my account. (Really? Clory?? And yes, I clarified several times but it just wasn't processing.) After the battle to get that figured out (Cory with an i like igloo or y like yo-yo?), she asked if I could describe what a floor mat is. Let me repeat, and I quote: "Can you explain more what is a floor mat?" Ma'am, I think you might be in the wrong business.
  • BUT, it gets better. After getting transferred to the Seattle office, I can overhear the male representative talking to someone (possibly the woman from the call center), but he didn't know I could hear him. Some of the phrases I overheard included: "I've seen some floor mats but I don't touch them." "Yeah that's a lost and found thing." "This is the second person who's asked about floor mats."
  • After several minutes of me listening in and waiting for him to address me, the call was disconnected. Not dropped. Disconnected.

At this point, I decided to record the call when I called back. The recordings aren't nearly as money as the first call, but you'll get the gist.

I believe the woman at the call center is the same woman I had previously talked to, though having talked to me literally 10 minutes before, it didn't ring a bell for her. And this time, she thought my name was Troy.

Once transferred to Seattle, I was again able to hear the other end of the call. He didn't say anything this time, though. And so finally, a few minutes in when I realized the rep had no intention of introducing himself to me, I decided to speak up. Sure enough, he could hear me and responded. Although, seriously, those phone skills... :-/

Toward the end of the call, we got disconnected AGAIN. Hoping to give him my phone number so he could have someone call me back in the morning, I called the support center a third time. Except this time, the call center was closed for the night.

Great. Still no resolution to my missing floormats.

I had intended to try to loan Flightcar another vehicle, but seriously Flightcar, enough is enough. I'm done, and I hope you can clear up these amateur mistakes up very soon. You've lost my business for good, and from what I'm seeing on social sites, I'm not the only one.

Thanks for listening and I wish you the best.

Cory

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/869353 2015-06-14T20:34:14Z 2015-06-14T20:34:15Z Don't waste your money on college

Student Loan Debt

I often sit in coffee shops where I overhear conversations about college, finals and financial aid. And we all know the end result: tens, if not over a hundred thousand in student loans. And for what?

Let's take a look at the typical careers for the first 10 years after graduating college: Retail clerks. Baristas. Receptionists. Independent creatives (we'll visit this one later). Or best of all, working back at a university, usually in recruiting new students, at the same school they graduated from. Do we really need tend of thousands of dollars of debt to land us those jobs? Is this what we thought college would do for us? And do we need to spend the best years of our lives doing nothing but stressing about paying off loans that landed us in this mess in the first place? If I were in that position, I would march into the administration's office demanding my money back.

Of course there is merit of a college degree for certain jobs where it is necessary to be licensed, but for the vast majority of us, it is real-world experience, not long-form Scantron tests, that ultimately decide our fate. So why do we all go to college? "You won't get hired without a college degree" is usually the retort that a parent will tell you. But now, in 2015, I think it's time to challenge that argument.

My Personal Experience

I wouldn't have gone to college if it weren't for my parents who mandated it as a life requirement. I basically went kicking and screaming. In high school, I developed a knack for video production and made a good amount of money producing live event DVDs for schools and musicals. I was fortunate enough to have parents who supported my creativity in this, and allowed me to spend a lot of time in high school developing these skills. But when it came to college, I still had to go. Naturally, I ended up pursuing a degree in communication, what I now know to be "the easy degree you get when you have no idea what you're going to do with your life."

From my freshman year, I had no interest in my classes. I cared little about "college life" and decided to find an internship as a freshman. I wanted to do something with my life! (I was required to do a 1-semester internship during college.) I think I ended up doing 4 or 5 internships in total. And for me, this was the best "career move" I could have made. I interned with a record label, a concert promotion company, video production company, and a company that build websites for the mortgage industry. I started out managing a Myspace page, then email campaigns, then a website, then doing work in Photoshop and even handling technical-sided customer support calls.

Before my internships, I had built a personal website (back in 2002 at the age of 15) but aside from that, I didn't do much with the web. But it was during my internships that I began to find a niche for myself.

Back in college, I spent the majority of my college classes sitting in the back row, building $500 websites for clients that I would find on Craigslist. Over the years, I began to build a portfolio. I had real-world skills I was able to add to my resume. These weren't just credentials on paper. I was actually building things for real people, and for a real purpose. As a junior in college, I had enough experience building websites where I was able to jump my freelance rate from $15/hour to $50/hour.

Just Do Good Work

You can compare my tract with the long-lost concept of "apprenticeship". And now we're back to a society where the focus in on production, not titles. If you can show real-world experience in many fields, you're likely to get hired, regardless of the letters behind your name. (I've never been asked for my college transcripts, and in my time of hiring people, I've never really cared either.)

Of course I'm not negating the need for college for those who want to be doctors or lawyers or work in highly regulated industries. I'm simply saying that for most of us, college (in terms of landing a career) is just a big joke now.

Millennials, in the new economy, hold down jobs for much shorter periods of time and tend to work as independent contractors. There is less loyalty to employers because employers are less loyal to employees. But fortunately, because many employers look for experience over degrees, that gives job seekers a lot of opportunity to stack their resume. Independent creatives - artists, musicians, and digital creators don't need college, either. They just need tangible skills that will land them a gig in this new economy.

Trade Schools

When we hired people at Preact, we looked for people with real-world skills. We did hire a couple developers who received the equivalent of a trade school certificate but who didn't go to college for a degree in their field, which I think is a great alternative to college. I really wanted to attend The Art Institute because of their focus on resume-building skills and teaching tangible knowledge about software programs, although my parents ultimately nix'd that decision. Today, organizations like General Assembly teach anything from software development to product development to digital marketing. They're not accredited, but not many people care about that anymore. That's right, you don't have to spend 2 years of college re-learning the basics about English or simple math (although these are very important and hopefully were learned by high school). I should point out: most job applications list a college degree as a requirement. However, I've never found this to be the case, instead allowing "relevant experience" as a satisfactory qualifier.

The Changing Landscape

Thanks to the internet, you can now you can teach yourself almost anything you want to learn. Between tutorial sites like Lynda.com, or Youtube, or this great resource called Google, you can learn these skills faster than ever before. No longer is higher learning held within the confines of the great walls of universities. Aside from the social aspects of college, there are few benefits for a future career than there were decades ago.

Summary for High School Grads

The massive inflation in college prices is unlikely to be stopped anytime soon. Whenever the government gets involved and starts throwing their money at things, prices never go down because they're always willing to pay out. And with the false notion that college is a requirement to survival in life, there is no shortage in kids looking to get into college. With limited supply, high demand, and a government that thinks throwing more money at the problem is going to solve things, there is no recipe for a logical solution in sight.

So my recommendation to recent high school graduates is this: Live at home for a couple more years: Save some money. Find an internship or two. Work hard. Learn as much as you can from people who are doing things. (If someone is paying them money for something they're doing, they're clearly doing something right.) Then when you have the right experience and the time is right, start jumping up the corporate ladder.

The reason businesses enjoy hiring interns is because they're cheap. The reason working for cheap is good is because you don't have a ton of expenses yet. It's a symbiotic relationship: They get the work done, you get the experience you need to climb up the ladder in society.

Stop buying into the lie that college is going to land you a great job and a successful life. The more likely scenario is that you'll usually wind up in massive debt and spend a good portion of your life trying to pay it off. Sure, you may have a fun few years meeting some new people. But I'll venture a guess you can find some new friends outside of the college experience while keeping $50,000-$100,000 in your pocket. And to me, that tradeoff is well worth it.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/841481 2015-04-16T05:27:27Z 2015-04-16T05:30:40Z The only website that closes at night

The revolutionary thing about the internet is that it's "always on". Do some shopping at midnight in your PJ's? Yep. Watch a movie at 3 AM from bed? Absolutely.

Which is why I was astonished to discover a website that has "normal business hours" and actually closes at night. Of course it would be a government website, namely the Social Security Administration.


How did I discover this?
I recently heard it's possible to estimate your future social security benefits on the Social Security website, so I decided to try it out. But following the link that says "Estimate Your Retirement Benefits", I was greeted with a CLOSED message, which is probably the only website in the world that actually closes at night.

Turns out since it's 10:22 PM here on the West Coast, I'm outside of those normal operating hours for those East Coast servers.

Seriously, what in the world?
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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/835185 2015-04-03T13:43:32Z 2015-04-03T15:57:30Z <rant> Please don't send an email like this to customer support
In this episode of "the life of a business owner..."

People say the darndest things when writing in to customer support. Here's a recent example sent in to FolioHD.

"My service is still not working. My business depends on the reliability of this website and if this can't be fixed I'll have to switch providers immediately."

Do customers think support people are more inclined to respond faster if they include a line like this? Do they subconsciously think a slight threat is going to get their problem fixed any faster?

The unfortunate fact is that 99 out of 100 times, the "problem" is a user error (at least in our case - in this particular instance, a misconfigured domain name). But when you're the service provider, it's never the customer's fault -- and I'll gladly take on their problem as if it were the most important thing in the world, but because I want them to have a good experience, not because of their tone.

There's just something inside me that hopes they don't correlate their slightly threatening tone to what got their problem resolved, because it really doesn't help.

</rant>

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/810840 2015-02-12T18:52:33Z 2015-02-12T18:52:33Z Disincentivized
  • It was announced today that illegal immigrants will now be eligible to receive back tax refunds even though they've never actually paid taxes.
  • Today I went to pick up a prescription that cost me over $100 because my new Obamacare insurance doesn't cover it. My old insurance was 1/4 the cost and covered everything.
  • I'm working on filing my taxes and am astounded at the amount of money I'm handing over to Uncle Sam. And I'm seeing less in return for it than ever before.

I'm beginning to wonder what the point is of working hard all day, sometimes nights and weekends. I work more than I should, to the point it sometimes starts to interfere with relationships and social activities and I have to constantly keep myself in check, but I've chosen to do it because I enjoy it and because I want to get ahead.

But with every action our government takes, they take away my incentive to actually try to get ahead.

Why should I work hard to pay for a $100 prescription, where if I made less money, I wouldn't pay anything at all?

Why should I work to pay my rent, when the government would chip in and help me pay for a place just as nice if I made less money?

Why is the government handing out my money who have done nothing to earn it and who haven't gone through the legal routes to be here?

This system doesn't work. The people on the low end of the pole have no incentive to work hard because they are being handed everything. And the people on the upper end have no incentive to work hard because they'll get the same benefits regardless of how hard they work.

Welcome to the new America.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/789484 2014-12-31T04:31:43Z 2014-12-31T04:31:43Z Resort fees, dealer fees, convenience fees, and other bogus charges

Typically when we buy something, we're accustomed to paying the listed price, plus a mandated tax on the item. But recently we've become accustomed to seeing additional fees on purchases that aren't listed in the purchase price. This is already common practice for things like utility bills, cell phone bills, and car rentals. But over the past decade, this practice has extended to the internet in some incredibly shady ways.

Ever booked a hotel room and been forced to fork over an extra $15 or $20 a night at the front desk, on top of what you already paid to book the room? You may or may not have been aware of this charge called a "Resort Fee", a completely bogus charge some hotels are resorting (no pun intended) to, in order to maintain profit margins but still appear competitive on their price.

How does it work? Imaging you're filtering for 4-star hotels, then sorting by price, lowest to highest. "Wow," you say, "I found an amazing 4-star hotel for $90 a night!" Not so fast. If you look closely, you'll see a Resort Fee of something like $20 per night, payable to the hotel upon arrival. So what's going on? Well, for that hotel to appear in the top results for the price range, they lower their price but make back that amount in the form of a fee that isn't included in the price.

I recently came across an incredibly shady example of this fee on a Travelzoo deal:

"A resort fee of $15 per night is not included and will be paid directly to the hotel. This fee covers Wi-Fi, pool access, spa access (may be limited), fitness center access, newspaper, phone calls (may be limited), in-room coffee, in-room bottled water, self parking, valet parking and additional inclusions."

Travelzoo is all about great deals, but if you factor in the extra $15 you're going to have to fork over, you have to question if it's really that great of a deal. But the most offensive part is that this hotel is communicating this fee covers things like self-parking, coffee, fitness center access, and even pool/spa access! We all know even the most basic hotels have offered this forever at no additional charge. This is a blatant way to make back the profit they would have lost by actually offering a deal.

These tactics extend to things far beyond hotel bookings. Ever bought a car and thought you got a great deal? You should watch this video about the four square model, the model that every car dealership uses to make sure they make a certain profit on every car sale. Oh, and that dealer fee you may have paid from anywhere from $200-$750? Yeah, that's just a bogus fee - doesn't actually cover anything. It just goes toward making your purchase price appear lower.

Fortunately, there are some sites that actively try to give you an out-the-door price, which I really appreciate. Stubhub shows you your out-the-door price per ticket to an event. Southwest shows you the out-the-door price on an airline ticket - it includes all the bogus government fees.

I have declared war on these types of bogus fees. I try to avoid them as much as I possibly can and I hope I can convince you to do the same, when at all possible.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/767596 2014-11-10T07:37:16Z 2014-11-10T07:37:16Z "Don’t give people what they want; give them what they need."

TL;DR: This post is an incredibly petty example of how Lexus improved an already perfectly positioned parking brake. Seriously.

"Don’t give people what they want; give them what they need." - Joss Whedon

We've all heard this quote a thousand times; sometimes I use it to my advantage in my design work. It's easy to discount others opinions when you think what you've done is superior. But this post isn't about me...

I used to own a 2006 Lexus GS 300. One of the best features of this car (in my opinion) was the location of the parking brake pedal, located above where the left foot rests.

I liked the position of the parking brake because of my bent toward efficiency. I was able to park the car in an efficient manner:

  1. Left hand: on steering wheel
  2. Right foot: on brake
  3. Left foot: set parking brake
  4. Right hand: turn off car

This is in different than other cars where you might need your right hand to pull an emergency brake in the center console. (Using your right hand for two actions takes twice as long to get out of the car.) In my Lexus, all four limbs could be doing something at the same time. This sped up the process for exiting the vehicle.

Then my car got totaled.

This may surprise you, but one of the biggest criteria for my future car was a parking brake system that was as efficient as my GS 300.

I wasn't able to find anything that matched up.

In fact, it wasn't until I found the new Lexus GS 350 that I was blown away.

The 2013+ Lexus GS comes equipped with an automatic parking brake. When Auto mode is enabled, the parking brake is automatically engaged every time the car is in park.

I never would have thought of such a feature. If I were dreaming up the world's greatest Lexus, I would have asked them to leave the parking brake foot pedal in the same spot. However, they went ahead and eliminated the need to even think about my parking brake at all.

This kind of innovation is what creators - both designers and otherwise - should be thinking about. Too often are we asking others for their opinions on our designs or creations. We need to make sure we're stepping back and thinking about what our users actually need, and not what they're asking for.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/692499 2014-05-17T22:05:07Z 2015-04-21T09:26:10Z Renting a car, one of the last bastions of "the old empire"

In recent years, technology has solved most of the pain points of travel and logistics. Uber now delivers a car to you in just minutes with the press of a button. Waze gets you around traffic. Hotwire's app and Hotel Tonight let you book a same-day hotel with a couple taps. But have you tried renting a car lately?

If traditional car rental companies have been consistent in one area, it's making the process of renting a car one of the worst experiences on the planet. They've tried to innovate by adding ways to bypass the counter and head straight to your car, and now you can rent "cool" cars from some companies, but they're missing the point. In fact, in Seatac's new car rental building, Hertz has one of the most absurd solutions to making things easier: a luxurious waiting area.

When I walked by the Hertz rental counter a couple days ago, I almost thought there was a movie theater in the building. The chairs were large, there was plenty of leg room, and it was masterfully lit; the only thing it was missing was a movie screen.

Has Hertz's ability to innovate come down to simply building a nicer waiting area while your significant other stand in line?

But I digress.

I reserved a car through another company and approached the counter. I'll spare you the sob story: They didn't have the car I had prepaid for. (I needed a large SUV as I was planning on carrying a lot of people.) Despite receiving confirmation that my Yukon (or similar vehicle) would be waiting for me upon arrival, it turns out that the closest thing they had was a Jeep.

I cancelled my reservation and went to another counter.

Thrifty had a Yukon XL. Great. However, at Thrifty, you can't rent an SUV directly - it's only available as an upgrade. In order to rent an SUV, you must first make a reservation online for another kind of car (like economy), then have the counter upgrade your reservation. As I stood at the counter, I had to pull out my laptop and make a reservation online and wait about 5 minutes for it to make its way through the system. (Are carrier pigeons delivering my reservation?) The attendant then had to try to upgrade me and no one knew exactly what rate she would be able to get me.

Hi. It's 2014. Is this really where we're at?

Oh, but this isn't over yet. After I get my reservation packet, I head downstairs to the garage to find the car. Three attendants and 15 minutes later, we find the SUV. First they tried to put me in a full-size car. We explained we rented a premium SUV. They said they didn't have any, but we could have an Xterra. We then point to a large Yukon sitting over in the corner. Finally we had our car.

I detail this story to make a point: Renting a car (especially if you care about what car you end up with) is still one of the worst experiences on the planet. Leaps and bounds in innovation clearly isn't going to happen with the big car rental companies, unfortunately. It's going to end up coming from Silicon Valley.

We're already starting to see out-of-the-box challengers. FlightCar gives you free airport parking by allowing you to rent out your car to others while you're out of town. But it's going to be a long, uphill battle. We've already seen airports make a fuss about UberX because it cuts out their airport on their ~$4 fee they charge to Uber Black Cars (and they make money from taxis, too). (They say it's an insurance issue, but let's be real.) Already when you rent a car at an airport, 20%-40% of what you pay goes to various local tourism taxes and, of course, the airport.

What we need is a new sort of company that starves the traditional rental car companies. Without that, we will never see real innovation, because they don't have anything to fear. When I rent a car, it shouldn't take interfacing with a total of 10 people to rent a car, especially when I prepay online.

"The old empire" of unionized industries is crumbling, but one of their remaining pillars is the car rental industry - a $10 billion/year industry. It will take some time, but that pillar is bound to come down. And I can't wait to watch it unfold.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/649003 2014-02-01T23:11:06Z 2014-02-02T00:07:47Z What you don't see when a website goes down

FolioHD went down this week due to some server problems. I happened to be in Paris, approximately 5,642 miles away from where the servers reside in Los Angeles. This tends to be a problem when you are physically nowhere near the data center and when you can't fix things remotely. The remaining two days of my vacation were spent on spotty, unreliable wifi, emailing with customers and working with vendors and contractors to bring the site back online.

During the process, I received hundreds of emails from customers. I would lump these customers in three categories:

  • Those who asked when their sites would be back online. Totally understandable.
  • The entitled customers who tell me how I am hurting their business, that this is unacceptable, they are infuriated, demand refunds, and tell me they will be going elsewhere. (I actually referred many of these customers to a competitor of ours.)
  • And then, few and far between, are the empathetic customers who are compassionate, more than patient, and understand we are working as quickly as we can to fix things.

When something doesn't work as expected, it's normal to become irritated or angry. (I remember when our electricity was out for about 3 days back in 2002. I wrote an angry tirade to Southern California Edison on my blog at the time.)

But having experienced being on the other side of an outage now, I figured I'd share a little bit about how I've spent the last 48 hours.

  • Found out about the downtime, began to diagnose the issue
  • Started answering customer emails
  • Diagnosed the problem, weighed possible solutions
  • Sent out a mass email to recently active customers telling them we're working on the issue
  • Decided on a solution, started calling vendors over Skype (from Paris)
  • Replied to all sorts of customers asking for status updates
  • Selected a vendor, asked a very kind friend to pick up some hard drives from our data center and drive them across town to the data recovery facility
  • Coordinated the purchase of new hardware to be overnighted to the data center
  • Discussed status updates throughout the night with our data recovery team as they worked to save data
  • Continued responding to angry emails
  • Flew home
  • Landed, picked up hard drives from data recovery facility
  • Drove them across Los Angeles to the data center and plugged them in
  • Got the site back online
  • Emailed active customers to inform them of the news and explain what happened and what was going to change to make sure this didn't happen again
  • Started issuing refunds and credits

The last two of days of my "vacation", I got maybe 3 hours of sleep in total. I slept with my phone in-hand, waking up to every vibration to check on status updates from our data recovery team and to triage anything urgent.

Throughout the whole process, I received several emails that were quite encouraging:

"I really appreciate your upfront and clear communication regarding this incident. Your professionalism does not go unnoticed."

"I am certainly glad that you all were able to get FolioHD back I'm action! Although it was tough, you all did an exceptional job with keeping us all informed. I am more than sure that from this conquered hurdle, FolioHD will reach new heights that will align and even exceed what you all have envisioned."

"Great communication through out your down time ... and I can tell from your email above that there are genuine, interested people at work behind the scenes, which prompted me to put this email together. Keep up the good work and all the best for 2014! "

Too often, people think of websites as machines and not people. What encourages me about these emails is that these customers actually understand that every harsh word spoken to a company is actually read by someone who has invested blood, sweat and tears into the product, and instead of using their words to tear down, they chose to be positive and understood this fact. I totally understand the frustration of those who rely on us and those who speak their mind about it, but when it comes down to it, I hope they can understand that I am just as frustrated as they are, and that their harsh words only take me away from trying to fix the root of the problem. They don't see the 22 hours days people like me put in to get things back in order.

The next time you email somebody who runs a website, keep in mind that you're dealing with normal people. Speak with civility and respect. Your words are far more likely to be heard than those who act entitled and fly off the handle.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/623756 2013-11-25T17:03:00Z 2013-11-26T23:06:26Z Want to sell me something? Here's how.

As a business owner, I cannot count the number of times I am solicited for products or services, or by recruiters looking to work with us. Over time, you learn to tune them out just like we all do with junk mail.

But last week at Preact, something far different happened - far superior to cold calls and cold emails. We received a packet on our doorstep from a private banker at Wells Fargo. This was a cold outreach from her, but she had taken the time to learn about our company and do her research before contacting us. And the way she did it was genius: finding things important to us and mentioning them. Case in point: on our Company page, there's a reference to our near-religious love of Taco Tuesday. So what does she close her note with? "I <3 TACOS! Maybe we can meet Tuesday?"

This is the way to build relationships. Even if we're not in the market for a private banker at this point, some day I will be, and you know who will come to mind first.

Something similar happened recently after I posted a job online. Most applicants reply to a detailed job posting with a simple canned response. But I received an email from a candidate who took the time to go line-by-line in my job posting to respond to everything I wrote. In fact, he took so much time and put in so much thought to his email that I actually felt obligated to respond immediately and thank him for taking the time. Even if he wasn't the most qualified person, I'd feel more inclined to give him a closer look simply because he took the time to do something to stand out.

And when it comes to selling yourself, your product or your service, standing out is the name of the game. But amazingly, it isn't rocket science. Take the time to be personable and to do something meaningful and you'll have a leg up on the competition.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/606539 2013-10-05T19:09:39Z 2021-06-04T00:41:13Z You are no longer allowed to look at Mount Rushmore.

Dirty political tricks are finally starting to affect normal people, and I couldn't be more excited about it.

Because Republicans won't pass a bill to fund the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration decided to "make life as difficult for people as we can" and has barricaded public monuments, national parks, views of Mount Rushmore (you can't even pull over to the side of the road to take a picture of it - see picture below), and more recently attempted to block access to the ocean in Florida. That doesn't much sound like the "hope and change" we were sold on. To me, it sounds like politics as usual - maybe worse than we've ever seen before.

For years, the American people have lost more and more freedom and prosperity to a type of tyrannistic government that looks very similar to the government that America was founded to escape from in the first place, but it hasn't really affected the average, every day person... until now.

Now, the Obama administration has even decided to block access to public property that isn't actually funded by the government.

"You do have to wonder about the wisdom of an organization that would use staff they don't have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money."

This week we also saw the Affordable Care Act exchanges launch. Americans finally began to see first-hand that government healthcare plans are costing 2-4x more than their existing plans with less coverage, and people are pissed.

The government is starting to interfere with people's daily lives, and Americans are finally starting to wake up. I just hope we do something about it before it's too late.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/579638 2013-05-18T19:41:14Z 2020-07-15T23:35:24Z Eliminating the need for politics through the church

I tend to stay away from religion and politics here, but this is something that's been on my mind lately and I wanted to share it.

Recently I ran into my former (now-retired) voice teacher from high school, Bob, at a coffee shop. I was unaware in high school, but as we chatted, it became clear to me that he is a hardcore democrat. We began talking politics, as I was curious as to why he felt the way he does. He explained that Republicans are out-of-touch rich people who don't know how hard the less-fortunate have it (he lumped himself into that category).

I can't totally disagree with that.

I clarified that the main reason for his beliefs is that he feels we should take care of the less-fortunate in our country.

I don't disagree with that either.

But I see a solution that lives outside the realm of politics. Unfortunately, I think that only a small fraction of people agree with me, and pessimistically I realize that my solution is quite unrealistic in the world in which we live. But it doesn't hurt to be an idealist, does it?

For this post, we'll assume the main ideological difference that people have is the method in which we as a society ensure that everyone has "enough" and that no one slips through the cracks.

--

A couple months ago, my church decided to raise $500,000 in one weekend. They felt called to raise the money to give it away (100% would go to 50 partners, both locally and globally, with not a penny kept by the church). We blew well past the $500,000 mark, raising over $800,000 in just a few weeks. Among other things, this money went to keep after school programs for kids open during the summer, to assist a women's shelter, and to the Orange County Food Bank whose stock levels were running at 40%. (You can find the full list of partners here.) And this campaign was above and beyond the normal outreach program at my church.

Say what you will about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but no one can argue that this is such an amazing display of what the church was intended to be for the world - a beacon of light, and a community of people who love and serve the world around them.

Of course my church is blessed with the resources to be able to pull off a major campaign like this, but the reality is that far too many churches don't even try to impact their world in the same way. And this is just one of the many reasons the church gets a bad rap today.

-- 

In a perfect world where the church serves those in need around them in the same way my church strives to do, I can't say we'd have less poverty, but I do know that the government wouldn't be forced to step in. Everyone wants to help those in need; it's just the method over which we tend to argue. I think that people should be responsible for themselves, and that it isn't the government's job to take care of anyone. But this doesn't mean I don't think we shouldn't take care of the less fortunate - I do! But I believe that this is the role of the church, private organizations, and the individual.

Of course, we live in a world where people are too focused on themselves and many churches barely have enough money to keep the lights on, let alone help those around them. But when charity is run through private organizations and on a local level, there is far less waste, misuse and fraud, because people tend to make a dollar go further when there is a limited amount of money, as opposed to a national government who has seemingly unlimited coffers (thanks to ever-increasing taxes).

Unfortunately, my ideal world will never be a reality. All I can do is continue to serve and give through my church, a place where I voluntarily give because I see the impact they're making locally and globally, and hope that other churches and organizations will take notice and follow suit - and hope that people will begin to see the church as a community of people that makes a real impact for good in this world.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/588303 2013-05-12T04:23:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:14Z 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.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/476886 2013-04-29T17:58:00Z 2013-10-08T17:03:38Z 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.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/28435 2013-01-24T05:18:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:42Z 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.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/28438 2012-10-21T09:17:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:42Z 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.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/28440 2012-07-30T18:25:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:42Z 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.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/28443 2012-06-11T21:47:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:42Z 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!

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/28447 2012-05-22T17:05:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:42Z 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.

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Cory Watilo
tag:watilo.com,2013:Post/28452 2012-04-24T17:28:00Z 2013-10-08T15:27:43Z 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.

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Cory Watilo