Confessions of an Angel Investor

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Yun-Fang Juan, Silicon Valley insider, angel investor and a former FaceBook lead engineer, has seen some questionable ideas turn into gold. You might have heard of them: Google, Facebook and WhatsApp.

The WhatsApp Lesson

Back in 2010, Yun-Fang Juan, a Silicon Valley insider and co-founder of Stealth Startup, was at a Mountain View taqueria with her husband Keith Chiem. The high-powered couple was sharing a meal with Brian Acton, a long-time friend, former Yahoo! colleague and best man at the couple’s wedding. Acton was working on a new messaging app on iOS that he said he could turn into a billion dollar business. The new app had a couple thousand users, a steadily growing user base, and the company wanted to hire more engineers. Acton was trying to recruit Chiem, and Chiem was interested. But with a background in statistics, Juan ran the numbers—doing a back-of-the-envelope analysis. Maybe Acton would be able to build a $100 million company, but she gave his chance of turning it into a billion company a multiple of 0.1%. After taxes, she estimated, her husband’s equity in the company might be one or two million dollars.

Now that might sound like a lot of money to most of us, but Juan who had worked at Yahoo! and Facebook and her husband had already cleaned up with Yahoo! stock and would do so with FaceBook holdings. So Juan told her husband: “If you want to work with Brian because he is a brilliant guy, do it. But it makes no sense to do it for the financial rewards.”

Juan’s husband passed on the offer.

Two months ago, Acton’s little messaging app, WhatsApp, sold to Facebook for $19 billion.

Juan called it an “expensive and humbling lesson.” It reminded her of times in the past when she had seen other business models with what at the time seemed to be limited potential—that is until they went on to become multi-billion dollar companies. Continue reading

How to Use the Science Behind Habits to Sell (Anything!) Better

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We often think of our habits as quirky things we do over and over again without really thinking about them–twirling a lock of hair, checking a cell phone on the way out of the subway, leaving the toilet seat up or down. But when we are selling a product or service, those repetitive actions are exactly what we want people to indulge in.

Be sure that when someone plows land in Farmville or clears jelly off the board in Candy Crush–over and over again, because they can’t stop playing–there is the sound of joyous ka-chinging in the Farmville and Candy Crush boardrooms.

So is there a secret to triggering habits in people so that they’ll engage and keep engaging with whatever it is you create? Pete Trainor, Associate Director UX at SapientNitro, believes that there is. And in his recent fascinating SXSW Interactive talk, “The Neuroscience of Success,” Trainor shared some of the principles that he has distilled over the years from psychology, behavioral, and experimental economics and observations of the human animal: himself. Continue reading

The Circle and the Dot: A Metaphor for Life

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What if a school principal told the truth about a test?

Because of the No Child Left Behind Law passed in 2002 our daughter and all of her classmates have spent the last couple of months preparing for tests that may (or may not) measure their intelligence and their ability to think critically.

Our daughter’s teachers have little idea what will be on the test. The test makers have given the schools very few details about what the questions will be or how they will be phrased. It’s something like training for a mystery Olympic event—on opening day you may be asked to pole vault, synchronize swim or run the 440.

The kids will sit their tables, taking these tests for 70 minutes a day for a total of six days.

By the way these kids are in third grade.

Continue reading

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Superachiever?

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From “The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well” (Plume/Penguin)

For our book, “The Art of Doing,” we interviewed over three-dozen Superachievers in business, entertainment, the arts, tech, science and sports, about how they do what they do and discovered that talent is just the beginning. It’s what you do with that talent that matters. Find out if you have what it takes to be a Superachiever.

Buy “The Art of Doing” hereSignup for “The Art of Doing” free weekly e-newsletterFollow us on Twitter. Join “The Art of Doing” Facebook Community.  If you’ve read “The Art of Doing” please take a moment to leave a review here.

Some of the Most Fascinating Humans In New York, Collected In One Place

'This guy was dancing for tips on the sidewalk. I asked him to try and put all his skill into a single move, and this is what I got.' Brandon Stanton, "Humans of New York"

‘This guy was dancing for tips on the sidewalk. I asked him to try and put all his skill into a single move, and this is what I got.’ Brandon Stanton, “Humans of New York”

When Brandon Stanton’s photo project of the Big Apple’s interesting characters grew beyond his original vision, he followed it straight to bestsellerdom.

[Our original article on Brandon Stanton ran in Fast Company last Fall. Recently Brandon was at SXSW for a book signing for his best-selling book, Humans of New York, and a talk on everything he's learned about audience building, crying alone in his bedroom, the magic of social media and the difficulties of standing out in a world where everyone has something to "like" and "share." Brandon himself says that he thinks he "has some special insight into building a large following around a new idea. But may have just gotten lucky, and could be completely full of shit..."]

At 21 years old, Brandon Stanton—the creative force behind the immensely popular photo blog Humans of New York—had flunked out of college (earning a combined score of zero on his five courses). Kicked out of his parent’s home, he was doing drugs, working at a dead end job at Applebee’s and living in his grandparent’s basement in Atlanta, Georgia. He was also convinced that he was going to write a bestseller.

Stanton described the unanimous reaction of his friends and family at the time: “They all said, ‘What the hell is wrong with Brandon? What a loser!’”

But now, not even a decade later, Stanton, 29, has eventually achieved his dream with over three million blog followers and a #1 bestseller. Continue reading

How To Be A Superachiever: The 10 Qualities That Matter

Forbes created this video and a feature article based on an interview with us.

What do actor Alec Baldwin game-show champion Ken Jennings and baseball icon Yogi Berra have in common? That’s what husband-and-wife duo Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield set out to discover. For their upcoming book The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well, they interviewed 36 star performers that climbed to the tops of their various fields.

The full article is here.

 

Buy “The Art of Doing” hereSignup for “The Art of Doing” free weekly e-newsletterFollow us on Twitter. Join “The Art of Doing” Facebook Community.  If you’ve read “The Art of Doing” please take a moment to leave a review here.

Do You Have What It Takes To Be the Most Fabulous You? Simon Doonan Wants to Know

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“Why the hell wouldn’t you want to be one of the fabulous people, the life enhancers, who look interesting and smell luscious and who dare to be gorgeously more fascinating than their neighbors?” Simon Doonan asks, rhetorically of course.

Part-pixie, part-provacateur, Doonan, is Creative-Ambassador-At-Large for Barneys New York, an author, bon vivant, window dresser, fashion and style commentator with the soul of an artist and the DNA of Diana Vreeland.

Although it may be the last thing on our minds as we race out the door to our jobs or important meetings or—gasp—the office holiday party, Doonan encourages us to stop. Think. “Dressing down,” he says, “is a crime against humanity.” (What would he say to the scandalous Silicon Valley hoodie mob?)

Instead, Doonan encourages us to evolve our own brand of unique glamour. “It’s a process of self-discovery,” he told us in an interview for our bookContinue reading

Superachiever Connie Rice on Partnering with Enemy Number One

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How to fight for Justice

When we spoke to civil rights activist and lawyer, Connie Rice (second cousin to Condaleezza), for our book, Rice gave us a manifesto on how to fight for justice.

In her mission to serve what she calls the impoverished “invisible people” of L.A., Rice had waged war for decades against the entrenched power centers of L.A.—the city, the LAPD— with innovatively crafted lawsuits. But after time she saw that although she was winning in the courts, she was losing in the streets.

Rice told us: “If you see a need for change, you have to ask yourself, ‘Who has the power to get it done?’” Continue reading

Superachiever Secret Power: Humility

 

Illustration of Alec Baldwin, Robert Carlock and the "30 Rock" writers by Josh Gosfield

Despite his often bombastic personality, Alec Baldwin was the epitome of humility when it came to the writers of “30 Rock” Illustration by Josh Gosfield

The very concept of humility can make us queasy. In this self-promotional era of social media flaunting and positive thinking, to be humble can seem to put us at a competitive disadvantage or seem hollow. As Jane Austen put it, “Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility.”

To understand humility, it’s helpful to first take a look at its mirror image, pride. Not the kind of pride in which we maintain a healthy self-regard or feel satisfaction in a job well done, but the excessive pride of what 17-century philosopher Spinoza described as “thinking more highly of oneself than is just.”

In Christian teachings pride was condemned as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But according to modern research, pride is the result of a dizzying array of cognitive distortions from illusory superiority to egocentrism, including a host of skewed tricks of the mind such as the confirmation bias, hindsight bias, overconfidence phenomenon and gambler’s fallacy. Numerous studies have shown that we construct and reconstruct our opinions, memories and self-worth relative to others in order to flatter ourselves. In other words, pride is our default setting, causing us to warp the raw data of reality in order to convince ourselves that we are better than we actually are. Continue reading

The Art of Spending: Don’t Spend Less, Spend Smarter

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Our Q & A with behavioral scientists Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

There’s no escaping the avalanche of advice from financial gurus on how to make, save and invest our money. But when it comes to spending money, you’re mostly on your own. In their book “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,” behavioral scientists Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School set out to fill that need. With data-driven research, they give us practical advice on how, why, when and where people can spend money to help them achieve the ultimate goal of happiness. Continue reading