An Open Letter To The Mayor Of Miami Beach

Dear Mayor Levine,

This week you shed a spotlight on the Miami Beach startup community and spoke on it’s behalf to a nationwide audience. 

Unfortunately, the comments you made are inaccurate and completely contradict the immense efforts and progress many of your city’s residents have made to make South Florida a place where early stage technology companies could be built.

The first issue I, and many of my peers have with your comments, is that you carved out and isolated Miami Beach as it’s own community in the tech scene. 

That’s not how it works when it comes to establishing a “hub” or a collective community where entrepreneurial activity can flourish.

If you look at all the work that’s been put in these past couple of years to make South Florida a place where technology companies today are built – it’s not about an individual city, or a territory in particular, but about the collective efforts of like-minded people, and the most successful technology regions in the country think similarly. 

San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto,  Mountain View, and Menlo Park represent a unified community called Silicon Valley. That’s the model. Cities band together and when the people who are active in pushing forward our community talk about Miami as a startup scene, we do not think in territories or in individual cities.

In the future, when speaking about the technology community here, I respectfully request that you do the same and represent us accurately.

In the minds of the community, our scene stretches from Miami Beach to Miami, Wynwood to Brickell/Downtown, Coral Gables to Coconut Grove…and the list goes on. 

We have been acting this entire time as one community and we will continue to do so.

In an attempt to clarify your comments you mentioned in a recent tweet that your words were, “taken out of context”. 

Well, that may be so, but you as an elected official should not use those types of words when representing your city especially words that run such a high risk of being misconstrued.

Effectively, your words just deterred all of those prospective Washington Post readers (a nationwide audience) outside of Miami, who are not able differentiate between Miami and Miami Beach, from considering South Florida as a viable and attractive place to start a tech company.

Yes, I completely understand you were referring to Miami Beach on its own. And yes, I agree that Miami proper might be better situated for startups when compared to the Beach due to a variety of reasons. 

However, the problem is only locals understand that difference of municipality, while many folks who live outside of Florida do not.

Heck, the national media still thinks that LeBron James and the Miami Heat play in South Beach!

The fact of the matter is, your comments go directly against what many passionate people in both Miami and Miami Beach have worked tirelessly to achieve, such as non-profit Refresh Miami and The Knight Foundation.

As a city in its own right, Miami Beach is booming with tech activity. We see it on a daily basis. As just one example, Rokk3r Labs is a technology portfolio company that partners with startups on a cash/equity basis to bring their products to market and is located smack dab in the middle of Miami Beach on Lincoln Road.

I’ve personally seen many folks come to Miami Beach from all over the world and walk down Lincoln Road not to buy clothes or to eat at the restaurants, but to get to the 8th floor of 1680 Michigan Ave. and pitch their startup idea to people who are actually helping them build it here – in Miami Beach.

You need to make it a point to meet with folks like Rokk3r before making statements such as the ones you made. They’d be more than happy to have a conversation with you and you don’t have to take my word for it – you can hear it straight from them:

In addition to all of this (and this really surprised me), you didn’t attend SIMEMIA – a conference held a few months ago right in the middle of Miami Beach and was one of the best tech/startup events we’ve ever seen here in South Florida. 

image

Since you weren’t able to attend, let me tell you what you missed:

  • Over 600 total attendees that support South Florida as a technology hub. 
  • 75+ investors/VCs from around the world representing over $10 Billion in investment dollars looking to invest in South Florida (including Miami Beach) based startups. 
  • 55% of attendees were C-Level executives of technology companies – some of which are household names.
  • Companies that attended were able to collectively raise $500,000,000 in investment dollars just in the last three years. The one thing they all have in common?  They we’re all able to do so located right here, in the technology hub that you just portrayed as being “the dumbest idea in the world.”

SIMEMIA was an incredible showcase of everything Miami Tech has going for it (and yes, that includes Miami Beach) and if you’re not going to attend what is arguably the premier tech conference in your own city, then you shouldn’t take an authoritative stance on the tech scene as a whole. 

Before you pass judgment on our scene again, I invite and encourage you to come out to Refresh events, to swing by The LAB Miami, to visit Rokk3r Labs, and to attend all the outstanding tech events when they come to your city.

On top of all that, please visit local companies more often. Here’s a great service by a Miami Beach based startup called MapYourStartup that will help you get around town: http://mapyourstartup.co/

You called the idea of Miami Beach being a technology hub, “the dumbest idea in the world” and then went on to add, “People cling on to things that are not the highest and best use for their city. Miami Beach is never going to be a high tech hub. As much as it sounds great, it’s sexy, that’s not who we are.”

I’m sorry, but political figures don’t get to tell communities who and what they are. Our actions, desires, as well as our overall goals for the future tell our political figures exactly who and what we are. 

With that being said, the ball is in your court. I respectively ask that before speaking about our scene that you come out, in person, to see just who and what we are.

Sincerely,

Will Weinraub (born and raised in beautiful Miami Beach)
CEO/Co-Founder of LiveNinja (a tech company that’s incredibly proud to be Miami-based)

Dear Google, Thanks For Copying My Startup But You’re Doing It All Wrong

Dear Google,

Today is the day and you finally released “Helpouts” to the public. Congratulations.

Just the other day my team and I at LiveNinja were wondering what was taking you guys so long.

I believe it was much earlier this year when we noticed your employees signing up for LiveNinja and then after TechCrunch leaked your plans it all seemed to make sense.

I’m really happy a small team based out of Miami was able to inspire you in the way that we did and it’s really great to see you guys publicly in the mix at last.

However, I gotta say, now that the veil has been been lifted off of your product and you made your big launch – I’m pretty underwhelmed.

I had high hopes you guys were going to take a similar concept and crush it out of the park. It would have been an awesome validator for the entire space.

However, you didn’t crush it out of the park.

No. This is more like a squeeze bunt back to the pitcher and you’re out at first base.

What I’m seeing when I look at Helpouts is some of the exact same mistakes we made over a year ago, while our company was still in private beta.

As you can imagine, we’ve learned a lot since we launched LiveNinja publicly, and when you see what we are about to release over the next few months, you’ll realize that you built Helpouts all wrong.

Will people buy some of these Helpouts? Yes. No doubt. But it’s not going to scale in the way you hoped. Not like this.

At LiveNinja, we live for this space. Everyday we’re constantly learning and iterating over our product to better serve our users.

We are extremely passionate about this mission and we’re excited that (with the launch of Helpouts) you believe it’s a mission worth pursuing. I just hope that you, as one of the most renowned companies in the world, will take it as seriously as we do.

In other words, please do not let this be just another product experiment.

I would really hate to see Helpouts go the way of Google Answers, Buzz, Wave, and others. It would be a huge disappointment. I know the people of the market you’re serving very well and they deserve better than that.

With this market, you’re dealing with a very specific set of people that want advice over live video AND that are willing to pay for it. You’re also dealing with a set of people that NEED tools like this to generate sustainable income for themselves.

Unfortunately, I worry that you just don’t know that market well enough yet to serve them properly and deliver them repeated value on a consistent basis.

Google, look, I love ya. You play a huge role in my digital life and provide me a ton of value each and every day. When we heard you were moving into our space, it was more flattering than anything else. I really love competition, and as a competitor I only want to compete against the best of the best. It’s like Mike Tyson in his prime saying that he wants to box with you.

But while there is no doubt that you’re one of the greatest companies on the planet – this product (so far) is not your best work.  You can and should represent this space better. I think what you, LiveNinja, and all of our other competitors are trying to build is incredibly important to the future of the economy and the overall concepts of the workforce as a whole.

People need these types of tools and they need the people who are building them to want them to exist in the world more than anything else. They need the people building them to make it their life mission to deliver it properly and thoughtfully.

I hope you can join us in that level of passion as we set out to serve this market of people. Because to us, delivering that value means more than anything else.

On a side note, I’ll actually be visiting Google HQ tomorrow. It’s part of the prize we got when we won Startup World: Miami earlier this year. 

If you’d like some true insights to the market that we’ve been solely focused on serving for over two years now, I’ll be happy to sit down and have an open conversation.

I should be easy to spot. I’ll be the dude rocking the LiveNinja t-shirt. (you can also email me or ping me on twitter at @willaaye​ )

See you soon and welcome to the party,

Will

ps. thanks for gmail.

Feeling very grateful. Being chosen to represent Miami’s startup scene means more than I could ever put into words.

Stop Saying You Have “No Competition”. It Sounds Ridiculous.

It’s one of the most frequent questions an entrepreneur gets asked:

“So, who’s your competition?” 

The responses that usually follow are answers that, unfortunately, are just as frequent.

The most common variations run from “Currently, we don’t have any competition.” to ”We are the first company doing this.” all the way to my personal favorite:

“There is nobody doing this, in the exact way that we’re doing it.” (yikes!)

If one of the above (or some variation of it) is your answer to that question then you need to change that. Today.

The truth of the matter is you have plenty of competition and that competition stretches across more areas than you can imagine.

For starters, most companies have two different types of competition: Direct Competition vs. Indirect Competition. 

You could write a pretty lengthy essay comparing and contrasting these two types, but heres a quick overview:

Direct Competition: In which you are competing for the same market of people by offering virtually the same type of product.

Indirect Competition: In which you are competing for the same market with a different type of product.  

For example, Burger King and McDonalds are direct competitors. They both offer burgers, fries, shakes, and a similar dining experience to the same market of people. 

On the other hand, McDonalds and Subway are indirect competitors. They are both fast food companies competing for the same market (people looking for cheap food, fast.) but their product offerings are very different. 

The thing entrepreneurs don’t usually think about is that not only are these competitors competing with each other because of the similar overlaps for product/market fit but they are competing with every other restaurant, dining option, and consumer behavior available to their potential customers. 

People staying home and cooking more? That activity is competition. 

Organic and low-carb diet trends? That activity is competition. 

The above consumer behaviors are in one way or another cutting into their bottom line and entrepreneurs building web-based business have to think similarly. Essentially, you can (and should) view anything as competition that’s taking time and money away from your product. Each individual consumer has only so much time and money to spend using web-based products on any given day. Those are the constraints every business has and it’s the arena we all have to play within.

If your target customer is spending their time online using Facebook and Twitter instead of using your product, then indirectly Facebook and Twitter are competing against you. 

It’s a simple concept, but not a lot of entrepreneurs think of it that way.

So here’s the basic truth: you have competition. Lots of it.

It doesn’t matter if it’s direct or indirect. It’s there and it’s a huge, important part of the journey.

Aaron Levie, CEO of Box said it best:

With that in mind, never (EVER!) get discouraged because you face competition. Instead, embrace it. It’s one of the best things in the world for your business. It will keep you sharp, ambitious, and in the long run will help you build a better product off of active consumer/market data.

When I first started LiveNinja, I used to feel discouraged when I came across a competitor building a similar (or even sometimes the very same) product.  I used to think it was a disadvantage for us when we were raising money, acquiring customers, and marketing our product. Turns out this is a terrible way to view things because even though that’s what our initial emotions tell us, none of that is even remotely true.

When Drew Houston of Dropbox applied to Y Combinator he didn’t hold anything back when talking about the competitors he was about to face off against. Here’s the answer straight off of his YC application:

YC: Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?  

DH: Carbonite and Mozy do a good job with hassle-free backup, and a move into sync would make sense. Sharpcast (venture funded) announced a similar app called Hummingbird, but according to (redacted) they’re taking an extraordinarily difficult approach involving NT kernel drivers. Google’s coming out with GDrive at some point. Microsoft’s Groove does sync and is part of Office 2007, but is very heavyweight and doesn’t include any of the web stuff or backup. There are apps like Omnidrive and Titanize but the implementations are buggy or have bad UIs.

 

Now, I don’t know Paul Graham personally, but I’m pretty sure he came away impressed by this response. Drew didn’t shy away from admitting he wanted to enter a crowded space filled with powerful players (freakin’ Microsoft and Google!) that were (and still are) actively pursuing a piece of the market he was after. That’s the type of heads on, could-give-a-fuck-less-what-others-are-doing mentality that played a huge role in leading Dropbox to where they are now. 

Like Drew’s example above, if you’re building something for a particular market of people then chances are you’re extremely passionate about it. Because of that, the next time you see a competitor in your space be excited that other people are just as bullish on the concept as you are. It means you’re onto something great. It’s further proof that both your initial assumptions and hypothesis are correct: there’s a big opportunity here. Drew didn’t view his competitor’s desire to enter his space as a detriment.  He viewed it is an indicator that the opportunity was enormous. 

Do the same for your space.

Have a competitor that just raised a ton of money from really smart investors? That’s more validation for the market you and your product are after. Other investors (well, at least the ones you’d want to work with) will see that activity as such and it will help validate your pitch. 

Worried about acquiring new users? An active competitor in your space can give you valuable data to what’s working and what’s not. It can give you insight into how others are thinking and approaching your market. It gives you a pool of people to talk to, to ask questions, and to get their views on why they are using (or not using) your product vs your competitor. This is a huge advantage. Treat it as such.

The next time you talk or think about your competition keep a few of those things in mind. Think of the word “competition” as a good thing. Think of it as something that’s going to keep your company’s lights on, rather than shut them off. The best entrepreneurs are competitive by nature. They embrace competition because they know that those who love to compete are the ones that win. 

 

“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

-Walt Disney

The Happiness Equation

Is there even such a thing? Can we really attempt to define an actionable formula for what makes us happy as human beings?

It’s a difficult exercise because the entire idea of “happiness” is of course based on each individuals perception of what that word actually means.

Yet no matter how different those perceptions are, we all strive for it. We all seek happiness, contentment, and fulfillment on a daily basis in our lives.

Through the years I’ve constantly challanged myself to figure out exactly what it is that I consider, on a personal level, happiness to be. As a result, measuring those observations and realizations over time has helped me develop a personal guideline for how I choose to live my life.

Finding what didn’t make me happy was easy. Finding what did turned out to be a lot harder.

I thought for a few years, that possibly money was the answer. That was wrong.

It’s cliche to say: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” – but it’s absolutely true.

After I graduated college, I explored a profession that was both high-income and considered to many to be “an incredible opportunity”.

As soon as I started working for that company I pushed myself because I thought that by succeeding in that position, I would in effect become wealthy and as a result: become happy.

However, there was a strange feeling inside me every time I received a paycheck. Actually, quite the contrary, there was no feeling at all. It was emptiness. Lack of fulfillment. A distinct absence of pride without any sense of true accomplishment. It was then that I truly realized that on a personal level, money was directly unrelated to my overall sense of happiness.

I can speak from experience that I’m not alone in this regard.

Some of the richest people I know are also some of the most miserable and unfulfilled people I know. I’ve met extremely wealthy people who are discontent, irritable, uninspired, and weary of wholeheartedly trusting others. Yet, some of happiest, most content people I know live on little to limited financial means. They live life for the now, they pursue their dreams, and open themselves up to believe in the sincereness of others.

The juxtaposition between those two sets of people is completely fascinating to me.

Money is important, without a doubt. However, it seems to serve as an amplifier to who you have established yourself to be at your core. Passion, friendships, enthusiasm, creativity. These are the things you should seek out and discover before you consider adding money to the mix. If you’re miserable, money won’t cure it, it will only compound it.

Thinking about that concept reminds me of an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations I watched a few years ago as he traveled through Provence, France.

There was one particular scene where he sat down to eat lunch with two locals that really stuck with me.

As he sits down to talk with them he begins to tell them how enamored and envious he is with their simple and modest lifestyle.

Anthony Bourdain: What the ordinary person has here is the dream of everyone in the world. Everyone wants what you have.

French Local: Do you understand that for us, when you say that, its totally absurd.

Anthony Bourdain: Of course.

French Local: Because you are telling us that the more money you have, the more you want to live like someone that has no money.

Anthony Bourdain: YES!

French Local: That’s strange.

Anthony Bourdain: And not only that, but we want to eat the food of our impoverished childhoods because everybody in some child-like way, craves a life of simplicity.

Bourdain can speak from personal experience here. The guy has money. Yet, all Bourdain wants to do is eat good food, travel around the world, and be around like-minded people. That’s centric in his formula for living a fulfilling life. Furthermore, people like Bourdain have seemed to realize that the more money we make, the more we realize how unrelated it is to our true overall sense of happiness. Not many people who have worked their entire life towards a goal of achieving financial wealth look back on things and say “I wish I would have worked more.”

It’s usually a mix of “I wish I would have spent more time with my family.” or “I wish I could have stopped and took a look around.” or “If I could do it all over, I would have pursued (insert passion-based career here) instead.”

With that in mind, I’d like to go back to my concept of a “Happiness Equation” and what I’ve been able to boil it down to.

I’m not saying this applies to all or even most people – but through my own introspection I have found that:

Happiness = The freedom to pursue what you love, with who you love, in a place that you love, without any constraints.

For me, its that simple. If those aspects are present in both my carrer and personal life, then I have fulfilled true happiness at a fundamental level.

This is without a doubt one of the main reasons I love being an entrepreneur and why I love being around other founders.

On a daily basis I talk to people with such a high level of excitement and enthusiasm, that its not only contagious, but completely intoxicating as well. These people (that I’m lucky enough to now call my peers) have skipped over much safer positions and careers because they want more than anything to be able to bring their passion into the world.

They believe that the world will be a better place because of what they are doing/building and they wont let anything get in their way of achieving it. It’s intensely inspiring and choosing to be an entrepreneur awards you this fulfillment. Furthermore, because entrepreneurship has no guidelines, it allows the individual the freedom to craft their own reality.

As a direct effect, being an entrepreneur has empowered me with the freedom to realize my own aforementioned formula for happiness.

For example, my family is everything to me. I love my wife and daughter more then I can express into words or portray adequately here as I type into this text box.

They are who I am and being with them is when I am at the peak of my happiness.

Because of this, I knew I had to have a career that provided flexibility so that nothing would get in the way of spending time together when I felt like I needed or wanted to.

At LiveNinja, we purposely don’t have set working hours or days because I feel my co-founders and employees deserve the same. If being with your family all day Wednesday makes you a happier person on Thursday then that’s what I, as your team member, want you to spend your Wednesday doing.

I pride myself knowing that my teammates don’t have to feel pressured when they want time off to do the things that add to their overall well-being and I vow to never change that as a part of our company culture.

In my previous position (which I mentioned before) I was making a lot more money yet I was consistently unhappy with what I was doing each and every day. Now, as an entrepreneur who founded his own company I make considerably less yet I’m leaps and bounds happier then I have ever been before. In other words, I can’t measure the ratio in my life of dollar amount to happiness. The two are unrelated and that’s something I am very proud of.

While I am aware that money is extremely important, don’t chase it thinking that you’ll achieve automatic happiness as soon as you find it. You’ll likely be disappointed.

Instead, create an environment that allows you to do what you love everyday and surround yourself with people you truly want to be with. People that inspire you to be great and encourage you to grow.

I have found that happiness exists within those parameters.

Laughter, friends, family, passion, drive and enthusiasm for life is achievable by just making a conscious decision to pursue them.

If you can focus on finding what makes you happy, and are then able to realize it on a daily basis – consider yourself rich in the truest sense of the word.