An Object in Motion…

object in motionAn object in motion tends to stay in motion

One large iced green tea, one small extra-hot, hot chocolate. It’s the sweet and sour of this drink combination, the hot and cold duality of their natures that I love. I’m sitting in the same Starbuck’s that I have spent many a late night brainstorming the future of Zirtual at—the idea that started in a similar coffee shop in Las Vegas two years ago and has grown into a 25 person company based in the heart of San Francisco.

A year ago, when I was living in the Tenderloin, subsisting off of Ramen and Red Bull dropping $5 for two drinks at Starbucks would have caused me physical pain. I pinched pennies like nobody’s business and still do. Even today I feel a little silly/guilty over the indulgence of buying myself my two beverages when I’m just one person.

Regardless, as I wait to pick up my friend at the nearby BART station I decided to drop into my old haunt and enjoy a beverage—or two—and reflect on the last 18 months of my startup life.

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How the Sharing Economy Will Change Your Life

sharing economy It’s an unnaturally warm day in San Francisco, a pleasant breeze wafts in through an open window while the faint sound of traffic is drowned out by a oscillating fan. In the last hour, Chloe – a Zirtual Assistant – has seamlessly booked a client’s last minute travel itinerary for South by Southwest, scheduled 5 meetings for various people and coordinated in-person errands for an SF based client through TaskRabbit.

It’s sounds like multi-tasking, but it’s also collaborative consumption. Chloe handles several clients who assign various tasks throughout the day, she acts as a personal concierge to some and an executive assistant to others. This is all made possible by the sharing economy.

It’s something that we don’t think of as adults, especially busy professional ones, but the collaborative consumption trend is more popular than ever and it’s just getting started.

What is Collaborative Consumption?

Simply put it’s multiple people sharing one thing for social, environmental or financial reasons. It’s been around for a long time – think boarding houses in the 1850s – but only in more recent years has the trend been identified and actually lauded as a better way to live.

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25 Quirky Things to be Thankful for

things to be thankful for Be Thankful: I’m writing this from a hotel room in downtown Charleston, West Virginia. My brother mentioned, as we were walking back from a sumptuous dinner at Le Chili’s, that center of this city reminded him of a post-zombie-apocalypse movie – hello Appalachia.

I’ve had a hell of a time getting here. 10 hours, four airports SFO > DEN > IAD > CRW, lost tickets, misplaced bags – it would be oh so easy to bitch. But instead I’m going to be thankful. I’m surrounded by family I haven’t seen for ages and have a chance to reflect on this last year and all the things I have to smile about.

Being thankful, or grateful, is hands down the best way to live. You’ll live longer, be happier and enchant others with your positive outlook versus boring them to death with your whining. So in honor of Thanksgiving I wanted to jot down 25 things that I’m truly thankful for and maybe you can be too.

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Lessons Learned: 5 Traits Needed for Success

lessons learned

When I came to San Francisco, almost a year ago today, I thought I had a decent understanding of starting a business in the internet space. I had been “working online” since I was 19, doing everything from selling jewelry on eBay to social media consulting, I look back now and blush over my deep, unsettling ignorance.

In the last year I have learned more about starting up in the real world than I thought was possible – the crazy part is I probably haven’t even scratched the surface. When people say “it isn’t easy” they aren’t lying, they’re being generous. If I did a slideshow of what I’ve gone through in the last year to get Zirtual from non-existent to what it is today – you wouldn’t believe me.

I have lived in hostels, I have taken advantage of complimentary breakfasts at places I’m not staying, I have cried late at night prostrated on my desk, I have worked out of Starbucks, I have walked 3 miles in the rain to a meeting and arrived soaking wet because I didn’t want to spend the money on a cab, I have hustled, I have begged, I have borrowed, I have done everything but steal – unless you count aforementioned free-breakfast noshing stealing – then I’ve even done that.

I say this, to scare you, and in reality, I’m toning it down because you can’t understand what a year of non-stop hustling feels like from reading one blog post. Why do I want to scare you off? Because the few people who are true entrepreneurs out there and have what it takes to chase their dreams won’t be scared.

They’ll read this and focus on the I’m-almost-out-of-the-woods part, not the year in exile… and you my dears are the type of people who must chase your dreams. You must become entrepreneurs and you must follow your visions – because you are a rare breed and 99% of your cohort will never be able to do what you do. Because of this you probably possess…

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Read, Write, Evolve.

read, writeThis blog has changed my life. I came to this realization while wandering the sunny streets of San Francisco’s Mission district with Ev, a fellow blogger & friend.

I can’t trace it back to one point in time, but I do know that when I first put finger to keyboard my world was thrust into a trajectory that would forever change my life.

Though school did very little for me over the years – except breed in me a contempt for the privileged – I did learn my two most cherished skills there: how to read and how to write. Arguably the most life-changing, yet hopelessly under-utilized skills any person can possess.

Read.

I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been devouring books, listening to someone read to me or enjoying an audiobook while I drove. When people ask me “what’s the one thing you’d tell an aspiring entrepreneur” I tell them to read.

I used to read behind smoky bars, flipping through the pages of business books with a highlighter in one hand and a cigarette in the other. My patrons would be sucking down stiff drinks, feeding bills into machines that didn’t care whether or not they were sinking their kids’ college tuition into their mechanical abyss, all the while I read – highlighted – read some more – made notes – and served shots…

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How to be Special: Believe & Persist

Brainstorming session at Zirtual HQ held in the kiddy-corner of our shared office space.

When I was a child my family spent some idyllic years in Mountain View, CA. We left in ’92, mere years before the internet boom began.

Little did I know as I watched our driveway disappear from the back seat of my parent’s Volkswagon Rabbit that 18 years later I’d be back, for another boom – except this time I’d be intimately involved.

We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so my mother ended up homeschooling us for some time before we ended up in Las Vegas, where I spent the majority of my formative years.

Planting the belief seed

The thing that sticks out in my mind about our homeschooling years was the refrain my mother told me and my brother constantly, almost like a prayer. She’d say, “always remember, you can do anything you set your mind to … your very special and because of that, you can do anything in the world”.

The irony of her constant praise was that as a student, both in school and college, I was mediocre at best. I was extremely dyslexic – something I didn’t get diagnosed until this year – which made my schooling experience a painful lesson in frustration and humiliation. Facts fell out of my brains like water and the only thing I could focus on through those difficult years were the “great things” I was going to do one day – because, my mother had always told me I was special.

I believed her. And I still do, but for different reasons.

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The Snowball Effect

the snowball effectI’ve been on the lam as of late. People keep emailing me asking if I’ve stopped blogging or if I’ve met my untimely demise at the hands of one of the many bipolar cab drivers in this city. In reality I’ve just been laboring over the fruits of a snowball I started packing about a year ago.

Rolling the (snow)ball

Note: my knowledge of “snowmen” and “snowballs” is limited to a purely intellectual understanding. Growing up in Las Vegas and hot-as-hell Dalls, Texas before that I have had few experiences with “snow” and still distrust it’s freezing, stickiness in general.

I was thrust into the world of snow and snowmen when I went to university in Reno. My first experience with a snowman was in the courtyard of my freshman dorms where a bunch of frat boys were building a snow phallus instead of the traditional man – shocker. Was it traumatizing? Mildly. Does it have something to do with why I avoid snow to this day? Possibly.

Regardless of my tawdry experiences with snow in the past, it’s still an awesome metaphor for building a business.

The snowman

Building a business is much like building a snowman. Both start with an idea, and both grow in direct correlation with how long, hard and creatively their builder wants to work. Both also get easier and larger the longer you roll with them. Also, when you find steep hills (or business shortcuts) you can exponentially increase your growth rate while minimizing your workload.

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Interview with Adam Toren of Small Business, BIG Vision

Can you explain a little bit about your idea of having a “big vision” when starting a new business?

Sure! As we say in the book, for entrepreneurs, vision is what solidifies their resolve when things get tough, and it’s what clarifies exactly why they want to be in business in the first place. No one would argue with the fact that, as a business owner, challenges are bound to come up. Some are small, others are more significant. Without a strong, clear vision of what you want for your company, you’re more likely to be thrown off track by challenges (especially the big ones), and you’re more likely to give up altogether. Having a big vision is about knowing what you want, and knowing that you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

Should new entrepreneurs chase passion or profits when they’re starting out? Or is there a happy medium?

It’s an interesting question, because you really need both, right? If you aren’t passionate about what you do, it’s going to be difficult to be successful. An entrepreneur needs to pour everything they’ve got into their business, and that will be hard to do for something you don’t have a passion for. On the other hand, you can be as passionate as anything about your business, but if you aren’t able to turn a profit, you won’t last.

For me, I think passion comes before profit. If you truly have a passion for what you’re doing, the profit will come. When someone is really passionate about their work, they aren’t going to let anything get in the way. No obstacle seems too big, no challenge too great. And when that’s the case, you’ll be successful – even if you have to change direction a time or two.

What in your experience is the number one or two startup killers?

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Is It Time to Change Your Flight Plan?

flight planRecently my company, Zirtual, went through a series of changes. Everything from changing our primary business model (twice) to letting a dear member of the team go.

It’s been an incredibly difficult and eye-opening period for me and I thought I could share some of my experiences in hopes that this will help some of you down the line.

It’s not where you start, but where you end up

When I started outsourcing years and years ago I would only hire contractors who were offshore. I did this for several reasons, I was poor (I had just started my first business and had very little extra cash to throw around) and I had been fed the kool-aid that you get the exact same quality of work from offshore virtual assistants as you would from someone in your home country (mine being the U.S.).

Since I always depended on virtual assistants who were offshore I started the business that’s now Zirtual based around connecting people with virtual assistants who were offshore. The quality of my VA’s had always been pretty good but I had always kissed a lot of frogs to find a few princes.

I used to scoff at people who paid $20 an hour for a U.S. based virtual assistant – thinking what a steal I was getting at $5 an hour for my Filipino assistants. Not until recently have I seen the folly of my ways – and it’s the main reason I completely turned Zirtual’s business model on it’s head to focus on U.S. based, college-educated virtual assistants.

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Do What You Love, Mercilessly Delegate Everything Else

delegateWhen I walked into the press n’ fold across the street from my S.F. abode I knew I had made the right decision, in my hand was a garbage bag full of my hamper contents and in my mind was the ideal of never again having to do the chore I detest most again: dreaded laundry.

$11 and two hours of saved time later I knew I had made the right choice – the dirty task of laundry was no longer my concern and instead I walked to a coffee shop to spend my newly freed afternoon reading and writing this very post.

What is your time worth?

I have reached a new level of self-awareness (I think) fueled by my epic laziness and my desire to walk the “Zirtual” talk in every aspect of my life. This awareness has opened my eyes to the priceless commodity that is my time. Actually everyone’s time is priceless because it’s the world’s most precious unsustainable resource.

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