2013 Lessons Learned (Often the Hard Way)

Two years ago, I began spending the days before New Years reflecting on the lessons I learned that year. It’s a comforting way to recognize how I’ve grown, and it makes me feel hopeful about the year to come.

Here’s are my hard-earned lessons from 2013. As my Grandma says, education is never free.

1. Acknowledging and accepting full responsibilities for mistakes removes their power over you and grants you the ability to move forward.

2. Listening deeply builds good relationships fast. (I am committed to talking less in 2014.)

3. Life can end in an instant. Be safe.

4. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine your life differently than it is. But if you open yourself to change, share your desires, and surround yourself with people who have access to opportunity, big things can happen.

5. YouTube has piano tutorials for most every good song. Spotify is packed with great piano covers.

6. Consistently helping others builds large networks that grow in power over time. And it feels really good, too.

7. I am better at recognizing unhelpful habits, but realize that this is not always enough to change them. (I need to exercise 3-days a week in 2014, even if that means injury requires new ways of exercising.)

8. Injured? Don’t procrastinate about seeing a doctor.

9. Live in the moment. Communication tools are a modern miracle – and a curse if they chip away at quality time with others.

10. I learned the qualities I value most in a relationship are warmth, optimism, easy forgiveness, intelligence, openness, and a love of engaging the world.

Wishing each of you a year full of health, growth, joy and beauty,
David

Edelman’s New Site Is Up!

Just in time for the 60th anniversary, our family business has launched EdelmanHome.com! For the first time, we have begun the ambitious project of putting all of the quarter million home products that we carry online. Here are some of the catalog highlights:

We are also creating educational tools to support designers, architects, builders and sophisticated homeowners. Recent topics include:

As we move forward, we are committed to continuing our commitment to extraordinary service by helping your home design projects succeed, from conception to realization, using convenient web-based tools.

If you have any feedback on the site experience, email me at david@edelmanhome.com.

Jo Hair: a Cut Above the Rest!

I’ve seen Shelby Hersch almost every month since I was 10. Shelby is, in my opinion, the best barber in the world. He has great stories, an always-on sense of humor, and provides an extraordinarily high level of service. As far as the top of my head (and uni-brow) is concerned and a good half hour of conversation, you can’t ask for anything more. So I was very excited when he asked me to assist with his first website for Jo Hair.

I’ve become an increasingly big fan of WordPress for quick web design over the last few years, and jumped at the chance to quickly create a new site. It took about 10 hours to setup WordPress, identify a mobile-responsive theme (Executive Theme by StudioPress), gather the content, implement it, and troubleshoot any bugs. The result, I’d hope you agree, is a great Jo Hair website. The lesson: WordPress has made it easier and easier to create a beautiful, highly functional website.

Thank you to Shelby for decades of great service and conversation. I am very glad that I could assist your project and will be back in touch as soon as my hair grows another few millimeters.

Couch to Marathon: Getting From Zero to Running

I was never an athlete, except for a brief burst of activity when I was in eight and ninth grade. Other than that, I’ve been closer to a couch potato for my first 30 years. Last spring, after my 30th birthday, that changed. Today, I want to share how normal, non-athletes like us can go from couch potato to running the Chicago Marathon in 18 months.

Get Running

Steve Jobs, the visionary who created the iPhone, gets a lot of credit for my running. So do the developers of the Get Running iPhone app. The app does what I could never do on my own: it got me started really slowly. Three days  a week, you put on your running clothes, pop in your headphones, and run when the app tells you. In the first week, you spend just eight minutes running and about 15 walking each day. No run is longer than 90 seconds. The first day felt easy.

Over nine weeks, the program slowly increases the duration of the runs. There were two or three days during the program where I felt I was pushing myself. That was the exception. On most runs I felt like I could not only do that activity, but I could run more if I wanted. But I didn’t. I held back and followed the program.

Ten weeks after I began, I did my first 5k, the Ohio City Run & Crawl, and finished in 25 minutes and 59 seconds. I felt good physically and fabulous mentally. Three miles felt like a marathon, but I did it. The bar crawl that followed was fun, too.

Racing Matters

When a friend suggested that we run a 10k, I told her she was nuts. 6.2 miles is a lot farther than 3.1. The thought of finishing the 5k and running back the way we came was madness. In a moment of weakness, I registered for the Towpath 10k. I knew if I signed up, I’d do it. The fall run takes you through the densely wooded Cuyahoga Valley and along the Ohio Canal as the most gorgeous fall colors surround you.

Signing up for a race kept me going. I looked at the calendar, mapped out how far I’d need to prepare, and got started. Without an event to shoot for, I wouldn’t go on. If you are looking to get in shape, my biggest recommendation is to pick a race and signup. Without it, it’s too easy to slack off when you’re feeling tired.

I’ve been surprised by races. When I signed up, I was worried about being slow and embarrassed. I was worried about looking like a failure. But now I know better. The running community is full of people at every level, shape and size. It’s not competitive, but cooperative. Everyone is there in a spirit of unity. No matter how slow you feel, you’ll be welcomed and supported. So don’t be afraid to register: sign up with a smile. It may seem inconceivable, but it will be fun.

Running Alone Is a Bit Boring

For me, running long distances alone (unless I’m exploring a new city on vacation) is intolerable. I think too much about the running and can’t quite relax. Runs seem to take forever.

As you look for a race, look for a running buddy. Running with a friend is a great time to talk and bond. Even running quietly next to someone else is motivating. When you both reach a hill and feel like slowing down, you look at each other in your peripheral vision and keep on moving. Somehow it’s easier to know that you’re not doing it alone.

It’s also nice to have a friend to share your successes.

If you have trouble finding a running buddy, call or visit a store that specializes in running shoes. Most of them have running clubs. You meet up with a group and enjoy a leisurely, low-pressure run. It’s fun, laid back, and supportive.

Advanced Tips

  • Get a hydration belt for long runs. I used this FuelBelt.
  • Practice eating carbohydrates on long runs (over 90 minutes). I would have one little Shot Blok square every 15 minutes-ish starting around 45 minutes into my run. I never hit the wall in the marathon.
  • After long runs, try taking an ice bath! Get in the bath, fill it with cold water, then add ice. (Ice is optional, I only used it for really long runs over 13 miles.) I found that my body felt much, much, much better after an ice bath and it’s only touch for the first few minutes. Although you look funny with your legs in ice, wearing a sweatshirt and cap, and drinking coffee. 🙂

 

In Defense of Google+

I’ve seen one too many “the death of Google+” articles this week. The common theme is a belief that Google+ has failed because it is not quickly growing into a Facebook clone. In many ways it’s silly to compare a 7-year-old social network with 800 million users to a 4-month-old project, especially because Facebook and Google have very different goals in social.

Let’s stretch our brains and think a little laterally about how Google+ may grow into a unique but powerful social service. (We’ll ignore the extra $30 billion per year that Google has to spend over Facebook for now.)

Bringing Social to Great Applications

Google calls Google+ a social layer on its existing services. In the commentary, people tend to gloss over this and focus on how Google fares as a stand-alone social network. This is a mistake. I, for example, use Google+ every day now. But if you look at my feed, you’d think I barely used at all. How is this possible?

Google+ is the social glue that ties together an impressive suite of Google applications. We are just in the very early moments of that integration, but you can see the direction that they’re heading. Let’s take a quick peek.

  • Google Photos. Google is rebranding it’s excellent photo application, Picasa, into Google Photos. The ability to easily import photos, clean them up, use facial recognition to tag the participants, and then seamless upload it and share securely with Circles is amazing. For those of us that aren’t comfortable storing sharing our entire photo collections with “friends” on Facebook, this is a breath of fresh air. Why don’t more people use Picasa today? Very few people know how much is possible. That will change when Google puts it’s marketing muscle around photo sharing. Added bonus: you can get 80 gigs of Google Storage for only $25 a year and backup every photo you’ll ever take.
  • Gmail & Groups. Email was the first big social service, and no one does it better than Gmail. Google+ will ultimately provide an easy way to collaborate with groups of people (more on this below). Imagine easily conversing with your Circles inside of your email application. You could instantly create temporary discussion groups around topics like planning a holiday party. Do your typical emailing plus share photos, web pages and documents. Add in a quick video conference on Google Hangouts to nail down the details and you’ve done sophisticated and effortless planning without leaving your inbox. You could possibly do this on Facebook, but will you people really abandon their inboxes for Facebook as the nucleus of their communications?
  • Google Search and Search Ads. If I can see what sites, products and services my trusted network recommends, then I can make better buying decisions. This isn’t a big reason to use Google+ today, but in five years it will be much easier for me to sort through the clutter and find the good stuff with the help of my social circles.
This doesn’t even touch on the benefits of integrating YouTube (better video recommendations), Google Places (where do your friends hang out), Google Books (what are my friends reading), Google Music (what are my friends listening to), etc. But these are “nice to have” things in my mind. Google+’s key strength will be in improving productivity around it’s core offering. Once it succeeds there, it can worm its way into the rest of our lives.

The Next Big Features

For this stuff to take off, Google+ will need two key types of  features.

  • Circle Creation Tools. Setting up circles is easier on Google+ than Facebook, but still not effortless. Imagine if you could subscribe to someone else’s circle. For example, a teacher at school can create a group of all of the parents in the class. The trade association can provide a circle for you to use.  These shared circles would allow one or more people to organize a group that the rest could use for easy communications. Suddenly, you don’t need to trudge through your contact list to figure out who you’re leaving off. It’s just magically available. For our own circles, Google can mine our communications and use algorithms to help us sort our friends into logical groupings. Suddenly, sharing securely has gotten a lot easier.
  • Service Integration. Much of the magic doesn’t require new inventions. It’s just a matter of bringing together our inbox, our groups, our photo sharing library, and our voice/video communication tools into one interface. This is an area where Google, with its extensive experience with Google Apps, excels. Facebook, with it’s focus on social and simplicity, may find it harder to help us organize around project planning and more work-style tasks.

Five Year Prediction

We will look back at these “death of Google+” articles and marvel at how blind so many pundits were to its obvious potential.

How You Will Get Your Own Personal Android

Google is in the business of collecting data about you to target ads effectively.

Android is a tool to get into your mobile life and know where you are, what you’re doing, and what you want. They can use this information to target ads.

But they want to know more. As computer interfaces get more advanced, Android will go deeper. What do you see? Is your heart racing? Combine sensory and biological inputs with your search history, travel patterns, and social environment, and the ads get ever more targeted.

In 25 years, the human computer interactions will be in full bloom. Android will be an OS that sits between your mind and the world. It will be your own personal concierge.

And if the trend continues. If we can build computers onto our brains? Or into our DNA?

You will be, in a sense, partly Android. And the ads will be perfectly targeted.

Note to Self

Do what’s important.

Don’t let others suck you into projects. Make sure they truly important before committing.

Your time is your most limited asset. Use it wisely.

Goodbye, OpenX (Or Why You Should Leave, Too)

Dear OpenX,

When we crossed paths in 2007, you were everything I wanted: a free, open-source ad serving platform with a strong community. Within hours of meeting, I was serving our first real ad campaign. The future spread out in glorious possibilities. I saw the potential to grow my favorite hobby, building a community and helping people, into a full-time career.

When Google Ad Manager launched in 2008, I’ll admit that I took a peek. But you shared compelling reasons to say no to Google. Control. Independence. Flexibility. I believed then – and I do now – that there is a danger to giving Google complete access to your inventory and pricing data. Sure, they had some fancy reports. But I believed in your vision.

For the next two years, little changed. You did what I needed. In hindsight, there were warnings. I would often give campaigns an artificially early end date to get them to serve all of the ads on time. Sometimes we would under-serve, and I wouldn’t know why. But more or less, everything worked. I watched you launch your hosted platform and OpenX Market. And I was happy for you that you were developing a viable business model.

Then disaster almost struck on April 12. Hackers exploited a security whole and gained access to our system. Unlike other OpenX 2.8.2 users, the hackers did nothing malicious to us. We lost a month of stats, but no malware was served. We were able to undo the damage and upgrade to the latest version, 2.8.5.

The next week was launched two major campaigns and they under-delivered horribly. We triple checked our setup, played around with settings, and then started reading the forums. We were surprised to discover that the Campaign Delivery Engine was completely busted and had been for over six months.  The support forum was packed with months of complaints and zero (zero!) developer responses.

Then the sad truth hit me: you are an ad serving platform that cannot deliver ads! So what could I do but break up with you?

On Monday, I moved to Google DFP. It was frustrating to update our ad codes, setup our campaigns, and leave our historical stats behind. But my relief has been palpable. The ads are going out on time and with the right priority. We can finally properly forecast inventory availability. And for the first time, I can set a campaign to run and not worry about whether it will fail to deliver.

It saddens me to go. But I confess that my anger is stronger. How could you abandon your product without a hint of apology? I, like so many others, believed in you and the free ecosystem that you represented. I only hope that others can see what’s happening and jump ship before it sinks.

Goodbye, OpenX.

Regretfully Yours,
David

All Work, No Pay?

Congratulations to Manny Hernandez as TuDiabetes.org turns three! As one of the best resources in the world for people with diabetes, it deserves a raucous birthday party.

To commemorate this anniversary, Manny shared a very familiar three lessons learned. They are:

  1. Running a social network is not easy.
  2. Running a nonprofit is not easy either.
  3. Helping others is the best thing you can do in your life.

As the President of a for-profit entity, I won’t speak on point two. But I can wholeheartedly endorse his other points.

It is extraordinarily difficult to build a social network. You must reach critical mass, develop a strong culture, and empower your members to control the direction. And with growth comes a diverse set of characters. 99% of people are decent to the core, but the other 1% is toxic. Managing that 1% can twist you up emotionally and drain your enthusiasm. Along the way you deal with technical problems, growing expenses, and tough choices about which direction to go.

But you are strong. You persevere and succeed in building an active community. Cha-ching!

Not so fast. Social networks are not profitable businesses. At least not for a long, long time. I did a little back-of-the-napkin math and discovered that since December 2005, my wife and have made $6.15 an hour building Diabetes Daily. That’s not $6.15 each, that’s $6.15 combined. Split that in half and we’ve each made about $3.08 an hour.

If we were doing this for a paycheck, we would have folded before TuDiabetes was out of the womb.

Thankfully, we aren’t do this for the money. I fell in love with Elizabeth while she was in post-diagnosis turmoil. I wanted to help her. I wanted to help everyone like here. And so we built  Diabetes Daily to make life better for everyone with diabetes.

And there are other ways to get paid. Every time I read a “you saved my life” email, I get an expansive emotional payday. Sure, I can plot the future growth of Diabetes Daily and know that we will eventually make a good paycheck. That eases a lot of my anxiety, especially with a beautiful little baby girl starting preschool next year. But it’s my belief that we can give millions of people a better life that makes the 10,000+ hours worth more than $3.08.

So I fully concur with Manny. Social networks are tough to build, but helping others make it worth every bit of effort.