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Your “stuff” isn’t real. (Part 2 of Calculus of Collaboration)

6 Feb

This is the second part in a series called The Calculus of Collaboration. Check out Part 1

Sorry it took me so long to continue writing this piece! HT to Katie Carroll for calling me out and getting my fingers tip-tapping away. We’ve spent the last couple of months doing some exciting stuff that we’re almost ready to reveal. And ALL of it is based on our learning and a lot of the thinking underpinning this series. Namely, identifying the real power in a people-powered network.

And just to be unequivocally clear it isn’t the “stuff.” It’s you. And me. And our friends. And our neighbors. In fact from the perspective of a peer-to-peer system, particularly before it’s gotten big enough to declare “traction”, the “stuff” in the system isn’t inventory at all. It isn’t even real.

Male bovine excrement you say? Well, in the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, “allow me to retort”

Look over here!

Startups, mature companies and even community driven initiatives who are focused on better putting to work the “stuff” around us tend to call that “stuff” by a particular name: inventory. Certainly we, ourselves have talked about the growing inventory in the SnapGoods community and the Access Economy as a whole. So have tons of other Collaborative Consumption founders. In fact thought leaders like Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh and Rachel Botsman/Roo Rogers, co-authors of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption have encouraged us to think creatively about the nearly limitless inventory on our shelves, in our garages, at our offices and everywhere else we have idling “stuff”. So why am I waxing poetic about the use of the word inventory? Because the word is actually misleading at this nascent stage in the evolution of this new kind of economy.

Merriam webster first defines inventory as:

“an itemized list of current assets: as (1) : a catalog of the property of an individual or estate (2) : a list of goods on hand

So in the most literal sense, inventory seems like a perfect word to describe how I should be thinking about the snowboard, food processor, longboard, and other gear I have listed on SnapGoods. Except the that I don’t manage that list, that inventory, the way a business does. When we think of transactions, we think of businesses and a  business thinks of inventory  or “stock” (also according to merriam webster) as

“a store or supply accumulated or available; especially : the inventory of goods of a merchant or manufacturer

And a business manages its inventory. And therein lies the rub. Even though I care about my neighbors and users, I don’t actively manage my inventory like a commercial asset. Any one of you could borrow my Droid, iPad, longboard and more, but when I went up to Stratton to go riding last weekend I didn’t update the status of my board as being used. Why? First off, because I need ginko biloba to help with my aged brain. Second, because I’m not managing my snowboard to maximize a profit outcome. It is NOT a commercial asset. It is not commercial inventory. What the picture of a snowboard in my SnapGoods account actually represents is a propensity or likelihood that I can help you out with snowboard stuff. It suggests domain knowledge. Why?

  • I probably own a snowboard  or have owned a snowboard even if the listing is old
  • I probably therefore have been snowboarding. Probably with real-live friends who have boards
  • Even if I don’t have that specific board anymore or am out-of-town with it, the very act of posting it suggests I have some leads for a person looking to go snowboarding.

This such a subtle but crucial distinction to make. A hotel manages its rooms the way a an airline manages its seats; to maximize profitability. This means constant updating and managing the tension between demand for a room and the status of that commercial asset. Reserved? Purchased? Empty? Full? In use? Users posting in peer-to-peer communities SOMETIMES generate enough income from the asset they share (a la airbnb’s inventory of homes) that users DO manage their assets like commercial inventory but that is the exception NOT the rule.

‘So what?’ you ask. Here’s the money shot: if we focus on “stuff”, we are waiting for a tipping point in inventory. We are waiting for critical mass of a bunch of people posting pictures of enough random stuff that the system makes sense from an inventory perspective. But who knows how long that takes in each local community? Instead, what if we focused on the most powerful assets of all: a person, their passion and their network. I may not have music or dj gear inventory posted in Los Angeles and I may live in Brooklyn, but I’ve got a crew out there. I can hook you up in LA even though I live in Brooklyn. How do we leverage THAT?

This is what we’ve been cooking up over at Knodes (pronounced “nodes” as in Knodes Knows) a system that understands who in your network can and will help with something. A system that creates more opportunities for collaboration and successful calls-to-action. People. Passion. Data. That’s the realest thing out there.

NEXT UP: Where’s the network effect for things?

If you want early access to the API, drop a note (developers@knod.es).

The Calculus of Collaboration (Intro): What we didn’t tell you.

7 Nov

Our math was wrong.

As I once talked about in front of a crowd of smart ny tech and design folks, humans keep reproducing.  There are more people every day (what up 7 Billi??) and those people (that’d be you and me and us) produce more waste, manufacture and consume more durables and more rapidly diminish our dwindling resources. But you already knew that.

In fact here at SnapGoods HQ we’ve been tackling this challenge in a specific way. We’ve been making it easy and safe for people to rent the things they need from people nearby. You’ve got a scooter and aren’t using it. I need to run errands for the day, and I’d happily pay $50 for a scooter to speed things up. You make money, I make my life easier and a little bit funner (yup, funner). SnapGoods keeps everything safe. But you already knew that too.

At first glance it sounds like what we’ve built is a way to manage, track and transact around inventory. In fact it sounds like that should be our focus. That’s what we, like many of the other services in the P2P, collaborative consumption, access economy space thought when we started. Meh.

PLOT SPOILER: a focus on static supply (“inventory”) or demand is incomplete and pretty close to incorrect. We have to be more than the sum total of growing “inventory” (more on the air quotes in a second). We have to be more than matching and listing. It turns out the entire fate of the Access Economy rests on re-arranging the variables into the right equation.

If a system focuses solely on inventory, it optimizes for ‘1+1 equals 2’ math. However, when it prioritizes people, it changes the math. In actuality, 1+1 should equal 2000 or more. This is the promise of people and the calculus of collaboration.

In order for Collaborative Consumption to become a standard consumer option, systems like SnapGoods have to build around the true wealth of the system: not the supply (“inventory”) or demand but rather the people and the networks those people bring. Is Jim’s scooter as valuable to the SnapGoods community as Jim and his knowledge of where to find a scooter and what to do with it? Hint: people beat stuff every time…plus people are better for conversation. And beers.

Here are three big things worth re-thinking that we’ll explore: Inventory, Networks, People.

  1. Inventory – “Inventory” isn’t real in a peer-2-peer system. (in the way it is be for hotel rooms or rental cars. That explains the air quotes)

  2. Network – There is no such thing as network effect for inventory. (I.e. linear growth for inventory, not exponential)

  3. People – It’s always about people. Their lives, their passions, their data, their behavior, their problems, their solutions.

    Boom. I just amazed your mind. Do NOT miss the next installment.
NEXT UP: Inventory: Why the stuff in your house isn’t real…

We’re Hiring…But Not if You’re Looking for a Job

1 Nov

I was inspired to make a flowchart after a conversation with my Co-Founder. John had spoken with a candidate who seemed on the fence about whether he wanted to get a job at an established company or pursue his passion and build something amazing with a small team at an early stage startup. Such different things that I couldn’t even begin to enumerate them all so I decided to make some visuals. Feel free to comment on what I’ve missed.  Add your own.

Bottom line. We’re hiring. But I WILL NOT hire you if you’re simply looking for a job. This is an adventure. It’s a pursuit of passion. It’s a calling to build something that changes how people live. It’s long nights. It’s weekends. It’s what you think about even when you don’t “have to be thinking about it”. It’s a commitment to surprise even yourself with your creativity and ingenuity. And it’s a lot of damn fun working with a wonderful team of tech geeks, biz creators, and awesome investors who love to shake things up. But it sure as hell ain’t a job.

So click on the flow chart and see if you’re cut out to come join us. We’re hiring. Position descriptions here (http://bit.ly/qSdtvL).

So you want to work at a startup?

Invest in We

12 Aug

Stocks are down. Unemployment is up. The debt crisis looms large and our financial markets are flagging.  Moreover the profound lack of consumer confidence promises a double dip recession as our policymakers and leadership struggle to figure out how to keep the lights on without pissing off voters. Gotta get them votes!

We can point to bullheaded Republicans tactics on the hill as my good friend Stuart Tracte did this week while hosting his always fun show Beer Diplomacy TV with myself and URDB (now Recordsetter) CEO Dan Rollman on as guests. We can cast aspersions upon the spotty and recently uninspired leadership of BHO.  We can look backwards to the unbelievably irresponsible fiscal decisions made during the Bush administration that contributed to the largest deficit the world has ever seen. But I’d rather talk about you. And me. And We.

Our salvation will not begin in the West Wing or on either side of the aisle of the Senate. It will begin with us.  It will begin with the citizens of the United States demonstrating to our leadership that we are willing committed and able to begin to save ourselves. How? Through collaboration, ingenuity, compassion, experimentation and dogged goddamn determination to not be victims. What I am suggesting is neither easy nor pain free, but it sure beats waiting for the Deus ex Machina to swoop down and save us.

We have tools as a body of connected citizens that FDR and his contemporaries could not have BEGUN to dream of.  Ways to connect. Ways to learn. Ways to collaborate. Ways to motivate. Pictures and video to convey the diversity of human experience and tools to comment and compassionately educate.  We can and should hold our leadership accountable but it is to ourselves and each other that we must look to find new ways to thrive.  Technology is a small part of it. A commitment to change is the engine.

On Healthcare System: Yeah, it’s broken. But many of our citizens’ health issues stem from a systemic lack of interest in holistically living better. You don’t have to eat Tofu 24/7 but how about you strap a fitbit to your hip and start to take freakish pride in skipping that taxi and walking the long way around. 500 calories burned here. Increased liver function there (save it for Whiskey Friday with my homie Baratunde). Things like heart disease and Type II diabetes are NOT strictly genetic.

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Frank Hu, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health found that a brisk walk for one hour daily could reduce the risk of type II diabetes by 34%.

17million americans have diabetes. If there were 6 million less people spending on co-payments for Type II diabetes at approximately $2500 per year, that would be a savings of  $15 BILLION for the American people PER YEAR. Yeah not small.  So go find people you like to work out with via services like Fitlink, or Mysportspartner or get your competitive juices going throwing down with your best friends across the globe via Nike+ or Weightloss Wars. Your body, mind, pocketbook and I will thank you.

On Jobs: Not being able to make a living for yourself or your family is unspeakably terrifying and so it is extra important that we take advantage of the shifting landscape of what “employment” actually is. The expectation that you will join a company (in any industry) and work there forever is simply not realistic. Embracing flexibility is your best friend and the new world is a world full of people who learn to ply their trade as contractors even as they look for full time employment.  Freelancers union has made a point of organizing and empowering the non-traditional workforce.  Moreover it is not only companies who are in need of freelancer or contractor services. Companies like Taskrabbit and Agentanything are connecting non-traditional service needs with non-traditional service providers; providers like you! Willing to grab someone’s dry cleaning or pull together a test prep outline in between looking for more traditional employment? Well, there are folks who will pay you for that. How about teaching online? Tutoring locally in non-traditional areas like breakdancing or DJing?  There’s a market for all of this stuff. Go make some money on the skills you’ve never thought you could monetize.

On Spending: No secrets here. We’re stretched thin and as a result have less dollars to spend which in turn means we can’t buy as much. Bad right? Wrong! Well mostly wrong. We now have systems like SnapGoods.com that allow us to grab the stuff (gadgets, gear, equipment) that we need but can’t afford from other people nearby. It also provides a way to monetize the stuff you’ve already spent on. Call it collaborative consumption. Call it Rentership Society. Call it the Access Economy. Whatever you call it, understand that people will pay you to use the stuff you already own and SnapGoods will keep it safe.  There are other amazing services like and Loosecubes and Getaround dealing respectively in desk space and cars that literally will help you monetize EVERYTHING.

On Education…well, I could write on this for an entire post (and will) but suffice it to say that activation, involvement, transparency, community and communication are key areas of opportunity and technology is pretty good at facilitating ALL of those.

Your portfolio of stocks, bonds and mutual fund shares may fluctuate. You may be short or long the NASDAQ and you might believe we are in a tech bubble. Whatever your outlook on the market or your level of faith in our leadership I would ask you to seriously consider at least one more investment. Us. We. Each other. The tools exist and the opportunities abound for us to begin to save ourselves. So what are you waiting for? Jump on Linkedin, Facebook, twitter and even Knodes to start finding the opportunities to connect and collaborate more effectively and profitably.

So I walk up to a VC and say…

28 Jul

…’You like Hip Hop.’ A statement. Super simple. Super confident.  I hadn’t googled this. I hadn’t bugged his office. And I’d never met the man. But somewhere, somewhen recently, he’d talked about spinning his favorite hip-hop cuts in the awesome and currently trending turntable.fm. And Knodes knew that.  It knew that because it had searched across my various social networks (twitter, linkedin and facebook) analyzing my connections and the conversations digitally happening all around me. So when I was looking for people to whom I’m connected (followers, following, friends, etc) chatting about Hip Hop (I wanted authentic TRUSTED opinions), Knodes informed me that this VC (whom I follow on Twitter) is fairly high up in my “Hip Hop Knode.” That’s Whoa (as Black Rob would say)

Then we talk about how I use Knodes to save me time when I’m looking for perspectives on companies, people and products and he says ‘I need that.’ FTW.

OK, it’s a good convo with a VC any day you’re telling the truth about loving and living in a product and the VC immediately gets the value proposition too.  But what about when you continue to see new and AWESOME use cases like seeking out influencers in your network who are passionate about particular topics? Topics like cars blocking the bike line

Well, typically, you’d blast to your followers and friends something like, “Hey, who here is pissed about cars in bike lanes and the laws that let cops ticket cyclists.”  And typically some fraction of a percent of folks would respond, not because more people don’t care but because you didn’t directly ask them and/or because they missed the tweet/status update.  But what if you could quickly do a search on “Bike Lane” commentary and passionate people?  Well that’s EXACTLY how I used Knodes today after encountering this wonderful piece of work by the NYPD.  Yes, if you’re wondering that is a cop car PARKED in the bike lane.

Right in the bike lane.  So I stopped, snapped this picture and fuming, whipped around the cop car narrowly escaping being clipped by the oncoming cars.  Now what?  Well I could tweet this myself but shouldn’t I rope in some folks with a larger audience who care about this very topic?  I whipped out Knodes when I got to my desk and looked up my “Bike Lane” Knode and lo and behold, Brian Lehrer, a radio host on WNYC had just mentioned something about this less than a month ago.  I follow Brian on twitter but NEVER would have known about his feelings on the topic because I’d missed that tweet…but Knodes knows!  The twitter conversation below is what happened next.

Ain’t that something?  I was able to target an influencer and we both benefitted. He raised the profile of something that happened to me and instead of “shouting” at him about something irrelevant to his life, I was pointing his attention to something he’d likely care about.  And because he got involved, TransportNation got involved. Boom.

Another use case in the bag. FTW.  Turning “weak ties” and limited engagement into useful connections.  I wrote a bit about the problem a few weeks ago.  What do you think? Have you tried Knodes yet? If you’d like to check out the beta, comment here and/or tweet or share this post and we’ll make sure you skip the line of folks that we’re slowly and selectively letting in.

Oh and as I might say to my new favorite hip hop loving VC, throw ya hands in the ayerrrr!

Will you kinda marry me?: The Dichotomy of Engagement

7 Jul

So on Friday, July 1st, I proposed to my FG (former girlfriend, now my fiancee…so weird to say that out loud) and after much hemming and hawing negotiating and thumb wrestling she said yes.  Feeling like a rockstar riding the high of finding and locking down (without the need for tranquilizer darts) such a wonderful person with whom to share so much I started thinking:  Conversations, thoughts, experiences. The mundane and the exciting.  The novel and the old-hat.  Our engagement really is about our interest and commitment to stay involved and ENGAGED in each others’ lives.  To communicate when chatting is inconvenient.  To give a thumbs up in support when one of us is endeavoring.  To share each others’ accomplishments with friends in order to point out how much we like the other person.  To follow each other into situations with an unspoken agreement to never break ranks.  To participate in group activities together. Wait, WTF?

Sharing, thumbs up, chatting, groups…it’s almost like the analog version of the social web.  AND THAT, my friends, is funny.  We’ve modeled the terminology of online social interactions off of familiar real-world human interactions, needs, and modes of, well, engagement.  But the big difference is that when you get engaged (hopefully) you’re doing it in a binary way.  You either are or you’re not.  Getting engaged is the ultimate commitment to a strong-tie relationship.  You take a person with whom you share no genetic material (for Bob’s sake I hope this is the case), and then make them family.  Ironic that we use this same word to talk about levels of interaction and participation online.

We live in the era of weak ties  and that’s fine (as I talked about here).  It’s an era in which we connect digitally to a larger number of people but engage with fewer and fewer of those connections in ANY way (meaningful or other).  I demoed with Team SnapGoods at NY Tech Meetup last night and talked about this a bit as it relates to a general malaise that I see in the social web world: because connecting digitally has become such a commodity we have become dangerously underinvested in those connections. They don’t mean much by themselves.  Facebook, linkedin, twitter, foursquare, meetup, gowalla, quora, namesake, snapgoods…social connections abound.

It used to mean something if you and I were facebook friends. Now, I’ve been forced to adhere to a social norm of accepting just about any facebook request that isn’t from a gorgeous scantily clad woman who has 1,200 all male friends and whose account suggests that she likes ‘dating an american mans’.  But before you reach out to friend me, know that you may wind up on the I DON’T KNOW YOU friend list. For reals.  So what’s the point?  The point is there is an opportunity in the data. An opportunity to better understand the relationships and behaviors in order to unlock real chances to make your network work for you.

You and I may not know each other well, but we probably initiated a digital connection because of mutual or at worst one-sided interest.  However the lack of day to day engagement means you will likely not remember when you come to NYC that you’ve got a hardcore native NYer in your network (that’d be me) who loves nothing more than making trusted recommendations about what to see and where to go in my hometown. #Fail.  And I may forget that you work at Amazon in the Strategic Partnerships Group, a company I may be trying to do business with. #doublefail  In these cases if you’re not communicating or engaging with some frequency you might as well not have the connections.  So what do we do?

Give up and not connect? Spend more time trolling our social networks for opportunities? OR, let the little robots in the cloud do more for us?  I realize now that I’ve been thinking about this for months even as I was preparing to fully and completely engage my FG.

And what I think I figured out for myself (others have said this already) is we only have so much room in our lives for meaningful life-altering all-in engagement with other humans.  We are not built to have 2,000 close friends. But we can have 2,000 connections with real value in specific instances.  If you want 24/7 good times and not-so-great engagement, keep liking people’s birthdays like you do with 80% of your network.  If you want lifelong, super intense commitment, find your own person or get a puppy.  BUT if “all” you want is to find value in your rapidly growing digital social network, I think you’ll find yourself needing tools that help you uncover that value.

So that’s what we’ve been obsessing about for the past few weeks.  Engagement, even as I was contemplating…my own all-or-nothing Engagement.  Weird, huh? Check out how the 800 person crowd reacted to our DEMO of Knodes (our solution) at NYTM last night…

(REPOSTED from ronjdub.tubmlr.com with Permission)

Ready. Set. Go…find me some help!

26 May

We came, We saw, We got Shot up by the Ladies.

When you need help where do you turn? Especially on the field of battle?

So picture the scenario: I’m pinned down taking heavy fire from behind a swisscheese-like structure with enough holes in it to let serious flak through.  I’ve got the enemy’s lead position identified but to take the shot I need some cover fire because the enemy’s support is laying down serious fire.  I don’t know where the heavy fire is coming from and I don’t know which of my team-members to shout to to get help or get intelligence.  Crap!  So I did what any red-blooded excitable manly man does, I leaned out to take the shot despite my not having a complete picture…and got shot up by three different assailants…fired with precision and love from the barrels of Team Ladies-Rule.  (Sidebar: the ladies were SERIOUS.  Most winningest folks on the field at Startup Shootem Up Paintball Day were the Ladies by far)

As I thought about it, this scenario became a painful (and bruise-accompanied) reminder of something that we’ve been obsessing about at SnapGoods HQ: when you really really need help (like when your girlfriend and her menacing paintball ninja squad won’t accept your surrender), even with all of the interwebs, location-based apps, smart-ish phone, and other communications tools at your fingertips, sometimes you still don’t know the right person to ask and/or the best way to ask them.

We think that the thing that we (and current tech in general) are not doing well is helping you ask the right people the right questions at the right time as it pertains to the stuff you need in a way that’s not annoying or unstrategic.  I.e. when I’m looking for a powerbook charger in Boston by South Station, there are probably only a few people who can actually help me out in the time frame I have…so why am I shouting for help from the top of a facebook wall or twitter stream to ALL my followers.

Back to the example of the shellacking I took on the Paintball field, my high-pitched screams for help were about as effective as posting a request for apartment-moving help on my fb wall on a Monday morning. Yeah…the cavalry didn’t come AND I revealed my position.  What if you wanted to start some exploratory conversations about a new job?  What if you wanted to start shopping for an apartment?  What if you wanted to borrow a bouncy palace for a surprise party?  Who would you ask?  How would you do it discreetly?  Putting together tools to help you get and give more value to your community is what we are all about (like when we rolled out the Assist button for the super connectors).

So with that, I’m off to go train for our next Startup Shootem Up Paintball Day, and continue to process the fact that my girlfriend is just THAT much better at paintball than I am.  Oh yeah, AND I’m also excited to share that you guys are gonna like what we’re cooking up.  Right question, for right person to help you with what you need.

So here are some questions:

  1. What kind of questions do you sometimes have that you feel could benefit from a better understanding of who to ask?
  2. Do you want to be a person who gets and early look at how our product is evolving because you love us (because we love you)?  If so, email snapbassador at snapgoods dot com and join the squad!