Favorite Tech Purchases of 2017

I made a few fun purchases in 2017. Here’s two that captured my attention…
AirPods
They look ridiculous but man are they useful.  I love them over all my other headphones because they
  1. They connect to my phone every time, immediately and magically.
  2. The charging mechanism is genius. Having the storage compartment be the charger is so smart.
  3. Siri is nice on it. Every day, as i’m walking out of work, i pop them in my ear, hear a little noise that notifies me that they are on and connected. I then just double-tap the side of the earphone and say “Call Diane” and, having no idea where my phone is, a call is placed to Diane. It’s a big of magic.

Apparently, i’m not alone. The customer satisfaction surveys around these are off the charts – 98% from all customers with NPS of 75 and many people believing that this is the best Apple invention since the original iPhone.

 

Apple Watch
I usually get a new iPhone every year so i can experience the latest and greatest. I spend hours a day on my phone and i justify the cost by this time and usage. However, this year’s lineup of iPhone X and 8 didn’t seem to be the latest and greatest. Sure there’s FaceID but having a new way to unlock my phone isn’t a reason to buy. There’s the big screen of the X, but i already have a 7 Plus which has a big screen.  So, i wasn’t buying.
I WAS impressed with the new Apple Watch. It seemed that they had put the phone into the watch. This seemed like the new phone to experiment with. I also could imagine a future as: Apple Watch + AirPods + AR glasses = iPhone is just a battery pack that I never take out of my pocket. So, if that’s the case, I wanted to see what this future looked like.
I do enjoy it. Some observations
  • I have the LTE option so I don’t need my phone ever to get calls or texts or updates.  While that’s cool and I do leave my phone at my desk at work all of the time now, I am rarely that far away from my phone. So, i never get the chance to really test this feature.
  • The battery life is great. I can go almost 3 days without a charge.
  • I do wish the watch was smaller. It’s too fat. I want a version that’s slimmer and has half the battery life. I’d be okay with that
  • The exercise app is the killer app for me. It keeps me putting it on every day as i want to see my steps, stands, and calories and how it measures up against other days. I’ve always been a sucker for gamification and motivates me.
PS: Shout out to my parents and wife for getting me both of these as birthday presents. You guys rock.

The Lewhouses in 2017

We had a great year. Here are some highlights…

Hunter
He’s really grown a lot of this year. He’s thoughtful and curious. He has a deep love of animals. His favorite animals this year, in order, were his 2016 favorites of the colossal squid, and then spent the bulk of the year idolizing bats (specifically the Somoan Flying Fox bat which has a wingspan of over 7 feet) and recently he’s super into dinosaurs. He continues to be more cerebral than physical. He’s much more content to sit on the couch drawing than kicking a ball or playing on the playground. We did get him riding a bike later this year. This is hard because it’s so hilly where we live that we can’t go out out front door and ride but rather have to drive to a school or area to do it. We had some issues potty-training him this year but he’s now past that and, in almost all ways, a big kid now.

Sasha
Wow, what a year for her. She’s now talking and convening her thoughts and emotions so well. From a personality standpoint, she’s a force. She’s very strong. She wants what she wants and like what she likes. She’s not afraid to speak up and lead. She often loves to step up and start telling Hunter what to do. She’s super active. From the moment she wakes up, she wants to get out the door and go running and play. She likes to try to keep up with Hunter and does so pretty well. She doesn’t like fruit or vegetables at all (sorry about those genes, sasha). She loves the color pink and is very particular of what she wears and picks out her outfit everyday (Hunter, by contrast, does not care at all). She’s still a total daddy’s girl but increasingly is all about mom too.

The Family
With Sasha getting to 3, we are emerging out of infant zone. The four of us can now take a drive and all talk in one conversation. We can sit at a table in a restaurant and get through the meal without disaster striking. Heck, we’re even talking about a road trip and feeling excited about it. We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and it looks glorious. I think 2018 will be a great family year.

Diane
She had a huge year. She started a new job at a startup (30 people) called Peerspace. Peerspace is a marketplace similar to Airbnb that offers locations for offsite and events. She’s responsible for host expansion and is loving it. She also crushed being a mom this year. Hunter and Diane have a special bond that is truly great to see and Sasha is typically Daddy’s girl, she currently obsessed with her.

My Job
At Airbnb, there’s a new business unit and I’m running the product group for it. The role was quite a change for me as I am being stretched in new ways. It’s exciting but also exhausting. We have a launch coming up in 2018 so stay tuned.

Diet and Exercise
I ended last year strong and running a lot. That ended almost immediately in 2018. I injured my knee again in January/February and decided to take some time off. I also decide to try a new weight loss tactic. Over the past few years i had been steadily gaining weight and found myself at the beginning of the year at over 195 lbs, the heaviest i’d ever been. I have always relied on running and working out as a way to lose weight and with that being removed due to knee problems, i decided to focus on my eating. I knew I could limit my portions as that’s very hard for me to do. But, i knew that i could limit the number of meals I eat. That seemed doable. So, i started skipping breakfast starting in March. Surprisly, it wasn’t hard to do and it was very effective in cutting calories and thus weight. You can see from the graph below that 2017 was by far my most successful year as i dropped 20 lbs this year and ended at 175.

Turning 40
This was the first year i started to feel old. My knee gave out at the beginning of the year and other aches started to manifest as I went on. There’s more grey hair. Heck, there’s more hair everywhere (hello, ear hair). 40 is an interesting number as I now no longer feel i’m on the upward swing of my life. I’m hitting a middle plateau, at least physically. I’ve peaked. I’m sure i could get back to running 7 min miles, but i’m never going to again run 2 miles under 12 minutes again. I also am getting the least amount of sleep ever. With the kids waking up early and the job going late, i’m burning it at both ends. It’s been an exhausting 6-12 months, and i’m finishing the year feeling old.

That said, we had a fantastic outing to Jackson Hole with the extended family.  Check out that video:

What Success Feel Like

It’s an interesting thing.

First, the timing on an acquisition is nuts. It takes forever. The process looked like this:
We first found Buzznet. We talk back and forth with Buzznet for months about price and process. Eventually we got an offer. That was a good offer but wasn’t a huge amount. We couldn’t accept until we talked to investors. The investors weren’t happy about it but we convinced them. Then 4 weeks of diligence. Then 3 weeks where Buzznet was squeezing us by not communicating with us at all. We thought the deal was dead. Then we ran out of money, so we got a bridge loan. Then the deal is back on. Before we close I move out to LA and start working there to show good faith. We close but put a good chunk of the money into escrow to protect Buzznet from lawsuits to Qloud. Then the deal closes on and money hits my account. From the day when they inquired to acquire us to the money in the account is almost 5 months.

The entire process was months. There’s not one specific time to celebrate. By the time it finishes, you’re more relieved than ecstatic.

In truth, there wasn’t much celebrating. A dinner with the investors was it. While it looks great on paper, the deal wasn’t that great for the team and Buzznet shut Qloud down anyway so it wasn’t good for the company.

Financially, it was good for me as it gave me a nestegg and compensated me for a few years of not making any money. I bought a condo in Santa Monica, but my life didn’t change.

However, it was an experience I’ll remember forever. The things that stick out in my mind were:

  • The Qloud office in Silver Spring. It was bumping with music from Craig. The chatter from Delo and Noah was always hilarious. The swim competitions were amazing.
  • Pedro and the Romanians figuring out with a Ukranian consultant how to scale Qloud so the plugin actually worked and could ingest millions of plays a day.
  • Sleeping in Toby’s basement.  Standing in his kitchen in Frederick and thinking through the early versions of Qloud
  • The feeling of hitting the wall of no users and failure and pivoting
  • The fundraising.  Sitting in the car with Toby and blasting the Al Pacino “inches” speech. Also, the reality of getting only one offer and having to take what you can get.
  • Facebook’s platform and the growth it enabled for us. You could do so much with them at the time. It was really the wild-west.
  • The music. There was so music in my life at that time. We were discovering great tracks every day.

 

How I Built This Podcast

One of my new favorite podcasts is How I Built This on NPR. It’s a tightly edited 20-30 minutes each week with an entrepreneur about how they built their business.  They done stories with the founders of Patagonia, Zumbra, Crate & Barrel and more.  All of them are great.

The latest one I’ve heard is that of 5-Hour Energy Drink with founder Manoj Bhargava. I’ve never had the product and frankly have always looked down on it, but the story was fascinating and I found a few great nuggets in the episode.  My favorite nuggets are:

The three best characteristics, according to Manoj, for someone wanting to start a business are (a) Common sense. Don’t get caught up in MBA-Speak.  If it makes sense, do it. If not, don’t do it.  (b) Determination.  Don’t confuse passion with determination.  Passion goes away but to be succussful you have to show up every single day. (c) Urgency. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Don’t wait.

I also like the part where he talked about leaving money to his son and why he’s leaving him almost nothing. Manoj a billonaire and he had the great quote of “If you raise your kid to be useless, than leaving him money is pointless.  If you raise your son to be competent, leaving him money is pointless.”
It’s worth a listen. Check it out.

Non-Obvious Fundraising Learnings

I’ve been a co-founder in two VC-backed startups:

  1. Qloud. We raised $3.5 million from Steve Case’s Revolution fund (sold for $8.5 to BuzzMedia)
  2. Kapost. We’ve raised $20m from Salesforce, Floodgate (SF), Cueball (Boston), LeadEdge Capital (NYC), Tango (CO local), Highway 12 (Idaho fund), Fraser/McCombs (CO), and Access (CO).

From these experiences my co-founder, Toby, and I have pitched to hundreds of VC firms and learned some non-obvious lessons. Here we go: Continue reading “Non-Obvious Fundraising Learnings”

The Lewhouses in 2016

Some things I’ll remember about 2016…

Time disappearing
I thought we were time constrained when Hunter came along. Well, with two little ones this year, aged 1 and 3, time really got sucked away from me. Less sleep, fewer workouts, fewer books read. All the things I like to do just for me basically went out the door this year. But, they were replaced with more time with my family, which was just fantastic.

Hunter
He really became a full fledged person this year. He’s now funny and clever. He has a bit of trickery and deviousness in him, but he’s shaping up to be a very kind person. His teachers at school regularly remark about how genuine and kind he is. Also, his super power this year is his drawing. He’s very creative and can draw ridiculously well. Continue reading “The Lewhouses in 2016”

Launching Qloud (Part 10 of 14)

This is post #10 about the Qloud experience.  The previous post was about about how we used got into the Facebook Platform program.  You can read that here

We decided to pivot the product to become a full-fledged music service.  We also decided to launch our new music service on Facebook before we took it to the main public.

Both decisions were correct and produced great results.  Continue reading “Launching Qloud (Part 10 of 14)”

Tinder’s Right Swipe


As a product person, sometimes you prioritize incremental improvements instead of game-changing ideas because “the big swings” take too long.  This almost happened at Tinder and the “swipe right” almost didn’t exist.

Here’s an article in Wired where the CEO and CTO recount how they talked about it.  Jon Badeen (The Chief Strategy Officer) came up with the idea after seeing it done in flash cards in Chegg.  He then showed the rest of the team.

Sean Rad (CEO): We had a five-minute conversation.  It was a cool idea, bt jon thought it would take two weeks to build.  So I said, eh, probably not a priority.  That was right after we launched.  We had a whole set of wings we wanted to do
Ryan Olge (CTO) chimes win with: We wanted to do read receipts, typing notifications, all these things

Then all of the sudden it showed up in the app.  Apparently Jon worked on it over the weekend because he really wanted it.

And now the world has the right and left swipe.



Apple’s No Jack City

Apple announced the new iPhone 7 yesterday and announced that they are removing the headphone jack.  Some quick thoughts on that…

Short Term Pain

It’s annoying to have to live in a world where my phone does not have a headphone jack as I have many different headphones laying around and to use them I have to use an extra dongle that i have to carry with my phone.  Also, for people who want to listen to music and charge their phone at the same time – a common use for Uber and Lyft drivers, this is now impossible (although i did see this solution). For all of these reasons, I think it will be a pain in the ass for many people – including myself in the short term.

Moving towards the future

I do think that the wireless technology of headphones is underrated and way more advanced than we are aware.  By forcing the issue and making these headphones mandatory, Apple will bring more and more great wireless headphones available.  I can imagine a world in 5 years where everything is wireless.

From my use of the Echo, I does seem that the only thing between the cloud and my is voice. Having a sweet set of headphones that can access it all of the time seems like the right way to go.

The use of the word “courage”

This was totally ridiculous.  Apple, even if you think it, don’t say it.  When you’re causing so much short-term pain to your customer, don’t get up on stage and pat yourself on the back. That was a dumb move.

The Apple eco-system

Now all headphone manufacturers who build a lightning connector are married to the iPhone. Doing this will result in more lock-in than ever before.  This was definitely part of their thought-process when coming to this decision.  Apple loves the lock-in.