Adventures of a Startup CEO

I love when brands have bold taglines, ones that can be used against them.

I gave a talk at Showtime a while back and had to praise them for their tagline “Brace Yourself,” which was way better than earlier taglines like “No Limits” and “Hollywood Hits No One Else Has.” I told them that having a tagline that can be used against you keeps your team honest.

You’re walking down a dark alley. Brace yourself.
We got the results of your MRI. Brace yourself.
Dad, do you remember that guy you told me not to date? Well…brace yourself.
This is your captain speaking: our landing gear isn’t working and we’re out of fuel. Brace yourself.

My tagline for ComicMix was “We’ve got issues!” and my tagline for Crowd Fusion was “It serves you right.” If you have a 9-hour outage and TMZ and The Daily are offline, you’d better believe that all the headlines will be a joke about “It really does serve you right for choosing Crowd Fusion!” A bold tagline makes you work a little harder to avoid that ridicule.

My site’s original tagline was “A brief history of time from the Big Bang to the Bangles.” I loved the Stephen Hawking book when I was getting my physics degree and I felt like discussing the history of mankind up through the ’80s would give me plenty to blog about.

Then my site’s tagline became “Now with 20% more sincerity!” Of course, if you have to preface what you say with something like “honestly,” then you’re either about to lie or you’ve been lying all along.

My newest tagline is “Adventures of a Startup CEO.”

Some of you have pointed out that I stopped being a startup CEO last June when we acquired Ceros, which already had a great CEO. So either I’m going to write a whole lot of posts about what I learned in my five years as CEO of Crowd Fusion or I’m going to be a startup CEO again soon.

We’ll see.

Concessions and a dangerous slide

Years ago, I saw Sam Rockwell play Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. It was the incredible story of the Gong Show host and his actual secret life as a CIA assassin. (Or was it all a fantasy? No one really knows.)

Years later, I saw Sam Rockwell again as Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2. I didn’t really make the connection that it was the same actor.

A month ago, Niki and I saw The Way, Way Back. It’s one of the best films we’ve seen in a long time, about a kid with family problems who sneaks off and works at a water park while on vacation in Massachusetts. The guy who runs the park is played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell. At this point, I’m a fan.

A few weeks ago, I watched The Seven Psychopaths on a flight back from L.A. It starred Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson. It was dark and disturbing and I loved it. Now I’m a superfan.

As we were leaving Cape Cod last Sunday we decided to look up that water park from The Way, Way Back. It’s called Water Wizz and it wasn’t far from the road we’d be taking out of town. In the movie, they took great care to make it look way more remote than it really is. In reality it’s right next to a major road and it’s surrounded by fast food restaurants.

It was wild to be there so soon after seeing the movie though. A great coincidence.

Aura without migraine

Maybe I’m going deaf.
Maybe I’m going blind.
Maybe I’m out of my mind.

We were eating lunch during our Cape Cod vacation last week when my eyes started going nuts. The whole room looked like someone had dragged a paintbrush up and down through a painting, making zig zag lines. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, but these lines wouldn’t go away.

This lasted for fifteen minutes.

Towards the end of the episode I wondered if I was having a stroke. I tested doing things with my right and left hands. All good. It seemed to be in both eyes, but maybe it was only in my left. I didn’t think to test that.

Niki drove me to the ER. I am smart enough now not to tell doctors what I’ve already self-diagnosed via Google and WebMD. They hate when you do that. The doctor checked my eyes and said it was most likely an optic migraine — a subject I had just become an expert on via Wikipedia.

Here’s the deal. I’ve never had a migraine headache before. When people get those, sometimes they have strange sensory precursors called an “aura.” These are things like blurred lines in your vision or phantom smells and tastes. If you get those and then you get the headache, you just had a “migraine with aura.” If you don’t have the crazy sensory opening act, just the headache, then you had a “migraine without aura.” Or you can be like me and have your eyes go nuts with no headache at all. That’s an “aura without migraine,” or an optic migraine.

The next day I saw an eye doctor just to be sure that it was not a detaching retina. A good friend of mine just went through surgery for a detached retina a few months ago. It’s pretty rare for people our age. I was lucky. Mine was just the aura. In fact, my eye doctor said he gets these optic migraines too and, after the panic of the first one, you get used to them.

Interactive brand content

The Ceros product team moves so quickly. New major versions of the world’s best brand publishing SaaS platform appear every few weeks.

I mentioned that Ceros added custom canvas sizes in the latest release, but there was so much more.

The product added 28 new font choices. The team solved some incredible cross-platform font parity issues. They added 54 animation effects and now you can chain these effects together and set them to repeat.

I used to describe Ceros to people who hadn’t seen it before as “imagine someone dropped InDesign into Google Docs,” but InDesign is really just a layout tool.

Soon I’ll have to start saying “imagine someone dropped Flash authoring software into Google Docs!”

Designers can collaborate in realtime on interactive, shoppable brand content — all in the browser, all autosaved and served from the cloud.


Duck and cover

In 2005, we created a blog to cover Live8 in Philadelphia as a joint venture with AOL. In many ways it was a test of how we’d work together when they acquired us later that year and both sides passed the test.

The first thing I always remember when I think about Live8 was that I got to meet Don Cheadle, but the musical highlight was Stevie Wonder. He doesn’t tour often and he was amazing. In my final post at the end of a long, draining day I reviewed his set and I joked that he did a great cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song Higher Ground. I also said I loved his version of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Superstition. I didn’t make it clear that I was joking, so of course the commenters went off on me:

You are clearly an idiot.


LOL on the Higher Ground attribution. How old is the author?

Since then, I give people the benefit of the doubt when they talk about someone doing a cover of what was really their own song.

But the AP writer who reviewed a Nine Inch Nails show doesn’t seem to be joking:

NIN closed the night with a slow and smoky cover of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” which earned nonstop cheers from the crowd. Reznor was soft as he sang the song’s verses — making it the set’s highlight.

At some point, someone must have noticed the mistake because later stories have this version:

NIN closed the night with a slow and smoky version of “Hurt,” which Johnny Cash famously covered.

Hopefully they fixed that before incurring the wrath of AOL commenters.

Who can take a song file, check for piracy?

The SoundCloud man can, the SoundCloud man can.

The SoundCloud man can ’cause he checks the copyrights and makes the rights holders good.

When I wrote about the best TV theme song ever, I wasn’t planning to include a YouTube video. I wanted to upload and MP3 of Sammy Davis Jr. singing the Hawaii Five-O theme song to SoundCloud and embed it in my post as audio.

So I signed up for SoundCloud and uploaded my file. When I was done, I ended up on a listing screen that said I had no sound files. I wondered if it wasn’t done uploading or if I had missed some kind of save button. It was my first time using SoundCloud after all.

So I tried uploading the song again.

While I was waiting, I checked my email and saw this message from Sound Cloud.

Subject: Your upload “You Can Count On Me” / Case #7760336

Our automatic content protection system has detected that your sound “You Can Count On Me” may contain the following copyright content: “You Can Count On Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr., owned by Universal Music GmbH. As a result, its publication on your profile has been blocked.

You can dispute this report, if you believe the copyright content has been mistakenly identified or if you have obtained all the necessary rights, licenses and/or permissions to upload and share this material on SoundCloud.

If you would like to learn more about copyright, please visit our copyright information page.

I’ve heard of services detecting and blocking copyrighted material, but I’ve never seen one in action and never imagined it would be so quick.

Nicely done, SoundCloud.

First drafts

A good friend of mine has used an evil, but effective management trick for as long as I’ve known him.

If a designer brings him a layout, web design or logo, he sends it back for another round. Even if it’s the most amazing thing he’s ever seen. He never accepts the first version.

It doesn’t matter if Nirvana just handed him the first copy of Nevermind. If they just go back in the studio for a few more weeks and try again, 9 times out of 10 they will return with something better.

When I decided to redesign my site and start blogging again I did some mockups. Originally I had a background image under those header links. I was going to alternate it with photos from conferences I’ve spoken at or other pictures from my career. But I couldn’t get it to work right. And the thin red line for my hand drawn name wasn’t working for me.

So I scrapped the background image, which also makes the site load faster, and I used high tech design tools* to make a bolder logo.

* Sharpie pen on envelope scanned in via iPhone.

You Can Count On Me

When we were building The Daily, we built a pretty deep digital asset management system (DAM). The Daily was known for great layouts and high quality original videos, but it was also amazing for audio. Not only could the editors upload audio files to use in their articles, but readers could leave both text comments and audio comments.

Crazy, right? People were singing comments into their iPads!

I have no idea what we used for testing image and video uploads. But for audio, there was only one MP3 that could handle the job: Sammy Davis, Jr. doing the Hawaii 5-0 theme song. The one with lyrics!

Check it out on YouTube, it’s life-changing:

If you get in trouble, bring it home to me.
Whether I am near you, or across the sea.

I will think of something to do.
I’ll be on the lookout for you.
And I’ll find you — you can count on me.

And don’t you let ’em get you, up against the wall.
‘Cause I’ll be there to catch you, and I won’t let you fall.

Call me if they hit you below.
Call me when there’s nowhere to go.
And I’ll be there — you can count on me.

And if they all desert you, and you start to bend.
You know I won’t let them hurt you, and I don’t pretend.

Don’t call if you’ve got nothing to say.
Don’t call me if you just want to play.
But call me on Devil’s Day — you can count on me!

Matchbox Twenty at Jones Beach

It’s okay to make fun of Matchbox Twenty. Although they were originally described as radio-friendly grunge, they’re a mainstream rock band. In fact, they named their greatest hits album Exile on Mainstream — both a nod to the Rolling Stones double album Exile on Main Street and a joke about how they’ve been “banished” to middle-of-the-road massive commercial success.

I’ve always loved Matchbox Twenty, but I didn’t really think about why until Niki and I saw them at Jones Beach last week.

I’ve met Rob Thomas twice — both times eating in Westchester. I’ve seen his solo tours at Live 8 which we live-blogged in 2005 for AOL, at the Beacon Theater from the front row and again at Jones Beach. And we’ve seen Matchbox Twenty three or four times. Rob’s duet with Jewel on Stop Dragging My Heart Around and his surprise appearance with Santana for Smooth were two of my all-time favorite Jones Beach memories — and I’ve seen more than 50 shows there.

But when Rob said he was going to take us all back to 1996 for a few songs from their debut album it finally clicked.

Along with Alanis Morissette and Gin Blossoms, Matchbox Twenty was the soundtrack of the year I met Niki.

Seventeen years of Niki coincides with seventeen years of Matchbox Twenty.

That’s a great start.

August 17, 2013 setlist:

She’s So Mean
How Far We’ve Come
3 AM
Real World
If You’re Gone
Long Day
I Will
So Sad So Lonely (my favorite song of the night)
English Town
Bright Lights

Jumpin’ Jack Flash (it was better than you’d think)
Back 2 Good (where drummer Stacy Jones switched instruments with guitarist Paul Doucette who played drums on the first 3 Matchbox Twenty albums)