We’re All Jerks Sometimes.

Wow its been a while since I’ve last posted.  Have had a lot to write about and not much time to actually do it.  Tonight won’t be a long post either, as I still have some foursquare work to crank on.

Quick story: Went to Washington Square Park to eat lunch today and road my bike over- standard two minute ride.  While sitting on the grass a news reporter (I believe from the NY Post) came over and asked me a few questions about the DOT’s new “Don’t be a Jerk” campaign, complete with billboards and PSA’s attempting to teach cyclists how not be.. well, JERKS.  The campaign begs the question, are cyclists really jerks?  There is obviously no clear cut answer.  Yes, some cyclists are jerks; running red lights, biking against traffic, or riding on the sidewalks with no regard for anything else around them except things bigger than themselves, ie. cars, busses, trucks, and cabs.  Cab drivers fall into a whole separate category of drivers, just like NY vs NJ drivers, but thats a whole different argument saved for another day.  The point is that some cyclists are deliberately jerks, some are entirely law abiding, but most are only jerks when they have to be, usually out of pure self defense.  The problem is that most pedestrians that have never ridden a bicycle in Manhattan have no idea what its like to constantly be looking over your shoulder for the next cab deliberately trying to pass as close as they can to you without actually hitting you.  We’re fast, but not as fast as vehicles.  And the facts don’t lie: Cyclist collisions with pedestrians caused zero deaths in Manhattan last year.  The same cannot be said for automobiles which caused nearly 270 deaths. 270 people were hit by cars and died, but cyclists are still the jerks.

The “Don’t be a Jerk” campaign has done nothing but strengthen the false illusions that all cyclists are deliberately jerks on the road.  What the DOT needs to do is strike a balance of blame between all of the parties involved. Pedestrians are equally as guilty of J walking, crossing on red lights, opening doors into traffic, etc.

Not the first time we've seen this..

The same is true for vehicles: speeding, running red lights, parking illegally, and pulling into bike lanes.  That said, it should be noted that police are not above the law.  If they want to dish out tickets to cyclists that don’t have bells and lights on their bikes so be it.  But I would love to know how to dish it back to cops equally as guilty.

Saddle Protection

My girlfriend bought me a new saddle.  Needless to say its beautiful. Brooks B17 Special in dark green leather with copper rivets.  Easily one of the best additions to my bike, but unfortunately one of the easiest parts to steal as well.

I can’t imagine locking my bike up only to come back five minutes later to find my saddle jacked. Unthinkable and yet very probable.  I would estimate a good thief could remove my saddle in under two minutes with the right tool.  And who am I kidding, the right tool is no more than an allen key.

So heres the problem; I’ve done a ton of research looking for the right way to protect my saddle from theft and everything has come up short.

Here are the options I’ve come up with so far:

Buy a Quick Release

It sounds great: inexpensive, easy to install, and secure.. at first. Lock up your bike and bring your seat post and saddle with you. And then you realize all of the random times when you just want to ride out to go shopping or something.  Then what? Take your saddle into every store. As if carrying around a 12 pound Kryptonite lock wasn’t enough, now I get to carry my saddle everywhere I go after I lock up.  Not to mention if you forget you have that quick release.  Leave it on the street once, and a three year old child could be walking away with your saddle in under 30 seconds.

Lock it up with an old bike chain

Green B17 Special Brooks Saddle

One word. Ugly. I know its the most effective way to lock up a saddle, and most bike stores will even do it for free.

But seriously, you couldn’t pay me enough to put that on my bike. Besides, the distance from the saddle to the seat stays is way too long to even think about making an old chain look cool.  Simplicity is an art.  One wrong part could ruin the entire dream and thats why its out of the question.

Buy a Removable Flex Cable

Fail. They will cut it in a minute.  Two more minutes and the seat is gone.

Wrap it Up in PlasticScott Amenta CitySpoke

Yikes, clever idea, who would ever think to steal some crappy seat wrapped in an old plastic bag.  And its weather proof too, albeit terrible looking. Unfortunately it can’t be trusted at all, even when combined with any of the other options aforementioned.

Buy a set of Locking Skewers

At first I thought this was the best option out of all of them.  Totally invisible and pretty difficult to work with for the majority of bike thieves.  Plus the set will lock both my wheels and possibly my headset- A great bonus considering I only lock my front wheel usually. However, a bit more research shows just how poor the locking skewers really are.  For one, I read that a universal wrench could probably unscrew even the best of locking skewers. Moreover, the set only locks the seat post. Bleeh.  Did OnGuard or Pinhead or any other lock company not realize there is another bolt attaching the saddle to the seat post?  How is that possible? Whether a thief unscrews the saddle or the seat post with the saddle, they still win.  And I still lose.  It might look like a deterrent, but I definitely don’t trust it.

Keep your nice saddle on your desk at home and just ride around with the $20 one that hurts Your Butt on every bump.

Doesn’t sound very fun but looks like the only option for now…

Suster’s Lessons

I listened to Mark Suster speak at NYU last week.  Suster is a General Partner at GRP Partners and writer of the very popular blog “Both Sides of the Table.” He made a lot of interesting points about how entrepreneurs should think about their ideas, their businesses, their teams, raising money, and an array of other challenges.  I thought I would share a few things he described that really hit home. **Note: the following are a combination of Suster’s points mixed with my own impressions.

Solve Big Problems

Too many business ideas are not really businesses at all.  They are merely features of other businesses that already exist.  Don’t be just  a feature.  Look at problems that affect a large market and find some creative solutions to fix it.  Just because facebook or Google could do what you’ve thought of doesn’t mean you need to find something else.  If anything it means that you’ve discovered a problem and a market with real potential.  Don’t waste time building features that the Mint.com of whatever will be adding to their own platform 6 months down the road.

Follow the Puck

When building products do not lose sight of your market.  I’ve been interning at foursquare for just over a week now.  The thing that has impressed me the most so far is how focused the entire team is on the product, and most importantly how their product fits into the market. The conversations that take place to make sure that everyone is on the same page in the roadmap are really what sets it apart from its competitors.  Every employee shares the same long-term vision for the company, but keeps track of short-term goals and knows exactly the role they will play in its development.

network up

Suster explained that one should always be conscious of the necessity to consistently network up the chain of command (hierarchy of influence, etc).  It’s an interesting philosophy, which I agree with up to a point.  My only issue is that networking for the sake of networking can be dangerous.  Knowing a lot of people can be a great thing.  But networking should be viewed as an even exchange between both parties.  Reputation is always at stake.  Failing to follow up, not returning a favor, or just simply using a person to get ahead is wrong and will almost always come back to bite you.

Don’t believe the hype

Stay off TechCrunch. Yes TechCrunch is on my BlogRoll.  Yes I read it a few times a week. No I dont treat it, or any sites like it as if I’m going to discover the next big idea on it.  TechCrunch is hype and it can destroy entrepreneurs who may have actually had real potential.  Stories about getting a hundred thousand users over night after launch or raising millions of dollars from a few VC’s with only a minimum viable product make great news.  And that is exactly what they are, Great News.  The other thousands of startups that are struggling for attention, users, money, etc. are what running a startup is really like, but almost never depicted.

Top Priorities for serious entrepreneurs

I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs over the past couple months. Some are really exceptional; true visionaries who leave you with no doubt that their company is going to be very successful.  And then there are those who miss the mark entirely.  I’ve realized while working at NYC Seed, the two most difficult challenges faced by every entrepreneur. To most, theoretically, both tasks are blatantly obvious.  However, the actual accomplishment of these first two challenges is what sets a serious entrepreneur apart from the everyday dreamer

The Opportunity: Identifying new  innovations that are right for a particular market is extremely difficult.  There are essentially two frameworks for learning about a market/industry to identify problems or inefficiencies: work directly for a company or research. Both are time consuming, and neither is perfect. Working for an organization will give you a pretty good representation of the problems the employees and company faces everyday.  It also validates you as a credible source; an industry “expert” of sorts.  Performing research requires numerous conversations with industry professionals with the hope that they will shed some light on their needs.  This approach allows for a much broader perspective of the market, but requires a certain level of skill in identifying real opportunities.  Discovering opportunities cannot happen over night.  It takes time.  In fact, a serious entrepreneur never ends the search for new opportunities.  Customer’s needs change too quickly.  Successful companies adapt to what the market will hold. Focusing only on the product can be deadly.

The Team: Creating the right team takes a lot of hard work and patience.  Finding partners that believe in your own capabilities as much as their own is undeniably a difficult task.  The right set of co-founders will make or break a company.  It’s the first thing any right-minded investor evaluates immediately after the pitch.  The best duo, without a doubt, is one business minded, market oriented, sales driven guru and a technical co-founder.  Teams that can build a product, sell it to a customer and repeat this process a thousand times over are serious entrepreneurs.

In a future post, I will dive deeper into some of my own experiences evaluating opportunities and seeking a co-founder.  This post was not meant to provide too much detail on either subject, as there is clearly a lot to discuss.


PPW

Not Quite Copenhagen

I picked up the most recent issue of New York magazine the other day while shopping at Whole Foods when the cover caught my eye.  I’m not one to sporadically buy magazines at the point of purchase for groceries but I couldnt help myself after seeing the words “Bikelash” plastered across the front.  I would think its pretty rare that a bike lane lands a five page story, plus the front cover of any urban magazine, especially one from NY.  The PPW bike lane did just that.

I would encourage anyone interested in the dispute over the PPW lane or just the growth of NYC biking in general to read the article.  Unfortunately it is a little bit one sided, especially at the beginning where the author (although a cyclist) focuses in on the views of anti-bike lane proponents.  It isn’t until the continuation of the article at the back of the magazine (pg. 91) that the good stuff is presented.  One of my favorite quotes, written about the 9th ave bike lane, which was originally met with fierce opposition until tempers slowly dies down was this; “there is something infinitely joyful in putting foot to pedal, something intoxicating about not being bound to the whims of a bus driver or subway conductor or thick tangles of crosstown traffic.  Whipping down the street, completely protected from the cars zooming by just a few feet away, may be the closest any New Yorker comes to flying” (Matthew Shaer). While not presenting anything factual to back up the need for bike lanes in NY, it is certainly an accurate testament to the feelings held by NY cyclists riding in a protected bike lane.  Now imagine a world where those lanes no longer exist.  Not such a pleasant dream when you’ve lost your wings.

Goldy

Saw this bike outside NYU Stern the other day.  It’s cool but also makes me glad that I didn’t go with the gold rims on my bike.  Putting those colors on a track bike is just begging to get it stolen.  This bike probably cant move too fast anyways.  The owner, whose name unfortunately I didn’t get, won the bike at an Equinox raffle and explained that it was pretty poorly built, ie wrong brackets, oversized stem, and cheap knockoff parts made in china.  Either way its an attention grabber, so I suppose Equinox won on that front. Decide for yourself!

Checking-in to foursquare 3.0

Foursquare 3.0 logoI went to bed last night anticipating the release of foursquare 3.0.  I woke up this morning and looked out my window hoping it would be snowing, for it indeed felt like Christmas Day.  I opened up my freshly charged HTC Incredible (nothing short of its name) to find the fantastic new update for foursquare.  Feeling like a 6 year old who just got a new Nintendo 64 (you all remember those days) I dove straight into it.

It’s well understood that foursquare has a long road ahead of itself in its quest to grow to the likes of facebook and twitter with hundreds of millions of users.  In my own view, sharing location, can be a bit daunting.  Even if you are not publicizing that data, the very idea that someone else behind the scenes can track where you have gone may be too progressive for mainstream America.  That said, simple gaming mechanics, virtual badges, and mayorships were clearly not enough to bridge the “security” issues and attract a larger network of users outside of the tech-savvy early adopters.  Admittedly, even I stopped checking in for a few months because the value proposition was not high enough for me to pull out my phone everywhere I went to share my location.  Alas, foursquare has certainly been focused in the past year on improving this experience.  At approximately 2AM this morning they released foursquare 3.0.  There are only two words to describe the new release. GAME CHANGER.

I’m not going to go into detail about all of the new features they have integrated into the platform, reason being that anyone with an account should upgrade immediately to try it themselves, and anyone without a foursquare account is at a pure loss.  Anyone with a Blackberry should just throw their phones away now and save themselves the hassle of having to wait another few days/weeks.  I will say that I found it quite refreshing to see a product delivered to its users whose features really touch upon the founders’ original vision; “making cities easier to use”.   Foursquare 3.0 doesn’t just make cities easier to use, it makes cities more interesting.  How often have you gone to the same restaurant or bar because you couldn’t think of anything else off the top of your head in a particular neighborhood?  Gone are the days of repetition.  The beautiful thing about the foursquare “explore” tab is that in a way it transcends the recommendations  you find on any other service (yelp, google, urbanspoon, opentable, etc). In a way, it feels real.  The things foursquare and other users are telling you to visit are personalized based on your own preferences, i.e. where you have checked in before.  This is important for one reason.  The incentive for me to to check-in has been multiplied.  Knowing that the service is getting smarter to better help my ability to explore areas or venues I’ve never been to is really rewarding.  I love services that get progressively better the more you use them.

Anyways, there is a lot more to say about foursquare 3.0 and I will probably write another few posts once I really start to use it in the next few weeks.  In all, I’m excited, if not proud, that foursquare has stuck to its vision and delivered an exceptional service that is an amazing first step to changing the way we interact with each other and our city.  To read more about the new release, I strongly encourage everyone to Dennis Crowley’s post on the foursquare blog.