Good Idea? Bad Idea?

16 05 2008

Last week I wrote a post about why you should share your ideas, with the bottom line being “If you’re scared you’re going to get screwed, you’re never going to get laid.”  In the comments Young and Frugal, and Brazen Careerist reader JRandom prompted me with a great question, which I will answer to the best of my ability.

So what happens after your ideas get a good listen and are rejected? Do you keep pushing them? Do you modify them in light of skeptical criticism? Do you take them elsewhere? Or what?

Throughout my entire senior year in college I poured my heart and soul into a business plan with three other people.  We knew our concept was amazing, and we all still believe it to be amazing.  I’ll even give you a three word pitch on it right now: Healthy Fast Food. 

We entered this plan into a few nationwide business plan competitions and everyone loved it, but we never won.  There are many valid reasons why we didn’t win, after all who wants to invest in a restaurant concept, with low margins, run by four college kids with no experience?  These flaws aside, the biggest thing I learned from this experience is that ideas (business plans in particular) are living, breathing, and growing things; they need constant attention and you can’t get ahead of yourself.  We met with investors and executives daily to pitch and pick their brains on our concept, which would lead to us re-writing our 30 page plan and reworking our powerpoint many many times.

For us, putting the plan aside was a matter of time and money.  We didn’t have the money to put into it, all of us would be jobless upon graduation, and 2 of us were getting married a month after graduation (my wife was on the team).

At the end of the day it all depends on how you feel about your idea.  Deep down, I think we all know whether our ideas are good or if they are crap.  The key is how much thought you have put into it’s execution.  How many people you have talked to about it, talking with other people gives you different perspectives.  Someone may find a fatal flaw in your plan, but if you have the passion for your concept you can work to find a solution. 

The bottom line is that we don’t possess our good ideas, they possess us.  Once you are possessed you have true passion to keep trying, when you are knocked down, you get up you take your passion to someone else to try again.

Howard Schultz was possessed by Starbucks.  He was possessed enough to pester them until they found a place for him in their company.  He was possessed enough to move from New York to Seattle.  And when he had the opportunity to buy and grow Starbucks, he was passionate enough to spend a year trying to raise $1.25 Million.  And it was his passion for his vision that led him to pitch the concept to potential investors 242 times, just to have 217 say no.  But in the end it didn’t matter that 217 said no, it mattered that about 30 said yes.  (Source)

What happens if you are possessed by a bad idea?  I don’t know, and sometimes people do just need to learn to give up, but next time you are in a plane, reach in the seatback in front of you and read the SkyMall magazine.  It’s full of them, and it goes to show that even some bad ideas can still make some money (assuming that people buy anything out of there).

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Why You Shouldn’t Be Scared To Share Ideas

8 05 2008

 

A key trait of millennials is that we love to be entrepreneurial, we love to take on new tasks, but most of all, we need to know that our ideas are appreciated or at least given the time of day. Being a millennial, these traits are some of the main reasons why I started this blog.Jumping into the workforce where all of my co-workers and bosses are Gen-X and Boomers has been challenging. On one hand it really hasn’t been difficult to impress them, but on the other hand there is no free-flow of ideas. All the people around me seem to think that good ideas can’t come from the bottom of the corporation, and that they always come from the top. Needless to say, it has been a frustrating environment for a millennial to work in.

A couple weeks ago I had a Jerry McGuire moment at work and wrote somewhat of a manifesto for the company, and I must say that it felt great. And it felt even better when I shared it with my boss and I wasn’t fired, in fact he agreed with me! He then proceeded to fall into my generalization that good ideas only come from the top.

Never forget that the free-flow of ideas is something that millennials thrive on. We can build on each other, we can help each other, and maybe some people will start to listen!

All of this takes me back to a phrase that my entrepreneurship professor taught me (one that is impossible to forget):

If you’re scared you’re going to get screwed, you’re never going to get laid.

Vulgar, yes, but it’s also memorable and true. Say you have a business idea, but you’re too scared to share it with people. Then nothing will ever happen (unless you know every aspect…marketing, development, financing…). But say you start sharing it with people, maybe a rich old guy at Starbucks wants to invest, maybe your friend knows a few people who can help you out, or maybe someone helps you build on the idea. Either way, you’re ahead!

But what if someone steals my good idea? Why do you care if someone steals your idea? If it’s your idea I hope that you will have more passion for it than someone else. Sure, greed is a motivator for some, but businesses that are looking to cash in from the start rarely do well. Remember, you can’t fake passion. Entrepreneurs with a passion and a vision are the one’s that surpass expectations. What do Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, Dell, and Starbucks have in common? They all started out with passion and visions, and all are still run by the people that put them on the map. Did other people try to steal their ideas? Yes, absolutely they did, but the people who conceptualized from the beginning have done better. Also, remember that imitation is just another form of flattery. Note: Howard Schultz was not the founder of Starbucks, but it was his vision that grew it from a few stores to what it is today.

 

 





Me?…Top 10!!??

21 04 2008

I’ve been writing a blog for about 3 months now and am very pleased and surprised to have seen my readership grow exponentially.  All of this has occurred organically by my reading and participating on other bloggers websites, and the grace of google (although someone found the site by searching for “how to ask out a married woman” today…which is somewhat bothersome and comical.  I hope he learns to haggle). 

I’d like to think I’m a decent writer, I know some of my connections may be a stretch sometimes, and my ideas don’t always flow, but I try.  Some of my posts have been much bigger hits than others, but that’s the way it goes!  I’m just thankful that people have actually found me!

Eventually Ryan Paugh of Employee Evolution found the site and invited me to be a somewhat of a syndicated blogger at his new start-up Brazen Careerist, which he co-founded with Penelope Trunk (Author of Brazen Careerist, the book) and Ryan Healy, also from Employee Evolution.  So that is what the large B on the right is for.  Brazen Careerist is an awesome site with tons of Gen-Y Bloggers covering everything from life, to money, to careers.

Now I am honored to say that I have been listed as a top 10 Gen-Y Blog by people I have never met, nor do I have any connection.  Their goal was to include marketing related Gen-Y blogs, which I am not…but according to them:

“While you are not are a marketing blog, we both feel that you are sharing something unique with the millennials, and God knows our generation needs all the financial advice we can get.” 

Amen.  They are kind of harsh to Y&F on their website though, but I must admit, I’ve been in denial, I now must own up since someone actually wrote it…my site is ugly and is hard to read (not an issue if you are subscribed to an an RSS Feed or E-mail Feed).  I will be revamping my site in the relatively near future, so keep your fingers crossed.  And if anyone is good at that type of thing and would like to help please contact me (daniel [at] this website dot com).

Regardless, I am honored to have been included on the list, and I sincerely thank Jess Neill and Ryan Stephens for including me!

Also, if you feel so inclined, I’d appreciate a vote on their site!  Or if you like one of the other blogs there, feel free to vote for someone else, Employee Evolution is on their, and I almost voted for them, but I figured a little self promoting couldn’t hurt :).





Does The Size Of Your Image Equal The Size Of Your Debt?

31 03 2008

Our society has a perception complex. We are raised to judge and compare ourselves against others and our perceptions of other people become our own reality. We are trained from an early age in this regard. In school it didn’t matter if I got a “C” on a project as long as it was in line with the other students in class. Even on a set scale where everyone knows that an “A” is the best, we judge ourselves against our peers, not the scale. It only mattered that I was considered as smart or smarter than the other kids in the class.

By no means do I consider myself to be smart, but the fact that I am a clean cut, in shape, nerdy looking guy, who can carry a conversation on just about any topic, has really helped me out in life. My image allows other people to come up with their own realities of who I am, and I have found that for the most part, people consider me to be a mature young guy with a good head on his shoulders, though if you read young and frugal you already knew that (I kid). And for the most part I work at my image because I want people to walk away feeling that way about me.

Whether we like it or not, image is important in our society, and our society sees the things we appear to possess as extensions of who we are. Our friend who drives the BMW must be rich, and the guy down the street who drives a ’95 Civic with 225k miles on it must be poor (eww!).

Notice how I used the phrase “appear to possess,” I say this because if I’m leasing or I have financed a 3 series is it really mine? If it’s paid off like the ’95 Civic then of course it is, otherwise…? I don’t know, can you claim half a BMW?

All of this perception is human nature. As kids, we know that rich people drive nice cars, live in nice houses, and watch huge HDTV’s. As we grow up, and learn about money and responsibility we learn that just because we appear to possess these items doesn’t mean we are rich.

Mary and I listened to NPR on the way home from work today and we heard an interview with Moby. Moby grew up very poor, and he and his mother were on welfare and food stamps until he was 18. He knows and understands the merits of frugality, and that perception isn’t everything. He said on the radio today that earning a great deal of money hasn’t changed him and that he still shops at the same grocery store and does his laundry at the same laundromat. He says he still even has a little 13 inch TV.

When talking about his spending habits and his TV, Moby said “will watching Family Guy on a 42 or 50 inch TV make it funnier?” This practically stopped me dead in my tracks. For months I’ve been salivating over flat panel TV’s that I can’t really rationalize purchasing, but I always end up salivating and coming back around to wanting one. Mary and I even went shopping with her mother for one yesterday. I have had my dream home theater in my head for months (with a mac mini at the helm), and this one prompt by Moby made me question my motivations. Yes, Family Guy is hilarious, but A TV won’t make it funnier because it’s bigger, nor would Davidson have beaten Kansas had I watched in HD.

Why do I feel compelled to make such a big purchase? I could definitely put $1500 to better use somewhere else like an IRA/401(k) or paying down our car loan even faster.

I really can’t come up with a good reason as to why I want a new TV. We have two 20″ TV’s and they both work perfectly. Plus, I don’t really watch TV anymore! Yet, for some reason I want one that is newer/better.

Maybe I feel that our new and incredibly nice house is an extension of us and the TV is an an extension of the house that makes it that much nicer. Maybe I want people to perceive that we have made it, when we drive in our nice and practical new car to our nice new house and watch Nightly Business Report our big new LCD. But at the end of the day image is only as deep as the debt you (can) get yourself into.

Here is the anomaly on all of this, I don’t want my friends looking at our house and our car and being jealous. Sure it makes everyone feel good when other people are jealous of them, but Mary and I are in a unique situation where we are starting out in our lives and careers together. We are a dual income family with no kids (ok we practically treat our dogs like kids…but I digress). It is easier for us to afford this lifestyle. I don’t want any of my friends jumping into our lifestyle too quickly and getting in over their heads, I want them to understand that yes, we have nice things, nicer than we deserve, but we also have car payments, mortgage payments, insurance payments, property tax payments, Homeowners Association Dues, and various other things factored in.

Hey, at least we have no credit card debt! 





My Mandatory Class Proposal

11 03 2008

In college I thought I had learned everything.  I learned finance in and out, I learned economics, marketing, advertising, managing, forecasting, social drinking, networking, and every other aspect of business that I could think of.  I was a badass. 

Nope.  As soon as I started work, I ate my piece of humble pie. 

Why is it that I spent four years in college, graduating with honors and a dual degree, to enter the workforce and immediately be slammed by something that I had never been taught? 

Literally, the first thing I encountered when starting my new job was benefits, and I have never been taught benefits.  What kind of medical coverage do I need?  Should I get the basic plan, or the premium plan? HMO? PPO? Extra life insurance?  Flexible Spending Account?  Use it or lose it? How much will all this cost me? It was a very overwhelming experience.  

Who do you turn to in a situation like this?  It seemed like the benefits lady who talked to me on my first day was in the same boat I was in.  She had no idea what she was doing!  Other people asked questions and she stated the coverage that she elected.  Great.  How is a 40 year old, single mother’s elected coverage supposed to relate to a guy directly out of college?  Thank God I had a week to submit my elected coverage, because that gave me time to research and talk to my Dad.  Now am I confident in my selections?…Absolutely not. 

Having had this experience, I propose a mandatory class for all college seniors, regardless of their major.  This class would be taught jointly between a few different departments and would touch on topics that everyone will face after college:

  1. Résumés and cover letters: writing and critiquing
  2. Interviews: How to sound like a better you
  3. Benefits: The pros and cons of certain coverage
  4. Insurance: Life, Car, Home
  5. Personal Finance: How to Budget, and Don’t let your ego use your wallet
  6. Retirement Planning: Yes, you’re 21, but you won’t be forever

I propose that this class be mandatory for all college seniors because regardless of major, everyone will face these issues after college, and not everyone will have someone close to them bail them out (Thanks Dad!). 

I realize that all of these topics vary by person, but having someone lay out some basic guidelines that you will be tested on is something that I think everyone can agree on.  For instance: If you start out saving/investing 10% in a 401k/IRA/Roth IRA when you are in your early 20’s, you will be set for 80% income replacement when you retire (USAA Magazine), and your housing expense should be a maximum of 30% of your take home pay (many financial professionals).  Basic guidelines like these can educate people and make them more aware of their situations. 

I had great professors in college, but unfortunately only two of them did any sort of rundown on personal finance, and both of them were hurried on the last day of class.  In a few of my classes we worked on our résumés, but everyone thinks their way is the best, and I ended up with a few different versions to appease a few different people.  Interview sessions were offered by Career Development Services.  The key word “offered.”  Few people took them up on it. And I know quite a few people who graduated college with a great deal of debt.  Why?  Because they could pay off all their cards when they got jobs. 

I think a mandatory class along these lines would have a great impact on the future leaders of our country.  And maybe, just maybe, it may help make frugality a virtue again.





Setting An Example

9 03 2008

Everyone has a different meaning of wealth.  Some people would cite having friends and a loving family in their definition, and while most people do want this side of wealth, everyone would still love to have tons of money.  Some people publicly acknowledge it and others secretly dream about what they would do if money weren’t an issue.

Imagine this: you own a multi-billion dollar international corporation.  There really are no limits to what you can do. 

You don’t need to worry about retirement like the average person, you’ve set up a trust for college educations for your whole family, many generations down the line.  You’ve bought your beach house in California, your ski lodge in Aspen, your loft in New York City, your mansion in the Hamptons, all with matching cars of your choice, and the necessary Gulfstream to fly you to all of your residences.  Now what?  Jewelry?…eh, you’re over it.  More cars?…you can really only drive one at a time.

When does having tons of money become a burden?  When does it become a disease? You’ve done all the cool stuff that everyone dreams about, although I would really love to swim in a pile of gold like Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tails (a whoo-ooo!).

At this point you can really only do two things with your money.  1. Make more of it or 2. Be generous.  Most people (I hope) would turn to charitable causes.  I know I would probably start a foundation a la the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Yes, it’s shameless and self-promoting to name a foundation after yourself, but you’ve done well, I don’t think anyone would mind if you tooted your own horn a little bit, especially if you’ll be giving away billions of dollars.

Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that no one knows who you are?

But I have billions, I own an international company! How can no one know who I am?  I’m getting ready to start a foundation, how am I supposed to name a foundation after myself if no one knows who I am?

Because you’re smart.  You are Chuck Feeney.  You founded Duty Free Shoppers and you placed all bank accounts in your foreign wife’s name so you would avoid paying taxes.  As a result, no one knows who you are.

Fortunately for Mr. Feeney, his wife didn’t take him to the cleaners when they got divorced.  She only got $100 Million…and a few houses…and a plane.

What did he decide to do with the rest?  He gave it away, anonymously.  He founded Atlantic Philanthropies in Bermuda so he could avoid U.S. disclosure laws.  His foundation has donated to many schools and to many causes.  Upon the sale of his company, he had all of the proceeds ($8 Billion) put into Atlantic Philanthropies with orders that it all be spent by 2016.

He is now worth (personally) about a million dollars.  He takes public transportation, wears a watch with a rubber band, and lives a frugal working class lifestyle.  According to his friends he never really let the wealth get to him.

So, if he’s so anonymous, how do I know about Mr. Feeney?  Because he is allowing a friend to publish a book on him, and there is a great article on him in the Los Angeles Times.  Read it, it’s a great read.

I wanted to post this because I think many people think the goal of frugality is “live like no one now, and you can live like no one later.” While this is true to an extent you have to remember to stay grounded when you get wealthy. There is a point where money can’t buy you more happiness. Chuck Feeney has found this, Bill and Melinda Gates have found it out and Warren Buffet is the best example of this (more on him in a later post). Maybe being frugal is not just a phase in life but a way of looking at life.





The Curse of a Jack-of-All-Trades

5 03 2008

I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades, never afraid trying to do something on my own, and always watching and learning how to do things.  I can’t help it, was raised this way. 

From a young age I pushed a toy lawn mower behind my dad as he mowed the lawn, in elementary school I spent afternoons with my grandfather who taught me about woodworking and tools as we built (yet never finished) a rocking chair, in junior high I hung out with carpenters and contractors everyday after school as they remodeled both my grandparents and my parents houses.  I was an early adopter of HGTV, yet This Old House remains my favorite home improvement show.  In high school I, like most teens, was infatuated with cars, and as a result I can, and have done just about everything on a car, short of body work.  Through all of this, I learned and did even more as I became an Eagle Scout.  I watched, I learned, I did.

I loved these aspects of my childhood, and these aspects built a foundation for me to know how to do an extreme variety of things, and as much as I love (and Mary loves) this about me, it’s a curse.

I constantly have internal struggles as three aspects of my life make it nearly impossible for me to make a decision on any variety of things.  These three things that alone are great, seem to deeply conflict each other.

  1. I’m a DIY type of guy, born and raised, for the sake of being constructive, and seeing a finished product that I created, saving money is just a bonus.
  2. I’m Frugal.
  3. I’m a perfectionist.

As the saying goes, “jack of all trades, master of none.”  I’m a perfectionist that can’t do any of the things I love to do perfectly, yet I hate the concept of paying someone when I can do it myself, but since I know how things should be done (even though I can’t do them perfectly) I monitor to make sure things are being done right.  As Fat Bastard in would say “It’s a vicious cycle.”

This internal struggle is one of the major reasons that Mary and I decided to build a new house instead of buying an older home and having projects.  We’d rather move into a house already done the way we want it than have to live with imperfect DIY project after project.

JD at Get Rich Slowly, posted an interview with Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.  I have not read the book, but in the interview the concept of a “low information diet” is brought up.  Tim explains that the people who excel with this type of lifestyle don’t overload on information.  Instead they outsource what they can, and don’t feel the need to stay caught up.  Tim calls them “selectively ignorant,” not really knowing more than they need to.  In other words, they are the opposite of me.

I am going to try being selectively ignorant because in many aspects of my life I feel that because I know how something is done, I should do it myself.  As a result I have a handful of half finished projects, and quite a few that would look much better if I would have paid someone else to do it.

What it comes down to is focusing on the things that you truly thrive in.  If you can focus on these things, and outsource/outchore the rest to others, in theory you’ll be doing quite well in your career and in your life.  This concept is one that was first brought to my attention in the book Strengthsfinder 2.0, which has the reader take a personality test and then tells you the 5 things that you thrive in, and what type of people to surround yourself with in order to be most successful.  It is a great test/book and I highly recommend it, as it was the first publication that I read which focused on strengths and not weaknesses.

I have to begin accepting that just because I can do something myself, it doesn’t mean I should. I am excited that I won’t have any large or highly visible projects once we move, and I’m looking forward to being able to focus more on what I’m good at (like looking towards the future, advising, and teamwork), and getting better at a select few things I truly enjoy but am not great at (like writing).