Take the Initiative

It seems so often that young kids don’t know where to start when it comes to standing out from a crowd, specifically to a business they might want to work for. I’ve learned through personal experience that it often is in the candidates’ hands to show off their skills through value-creation for the company even before the first interview.

To drive my point home, here’s two stories, one of a fellow young developer and one of my own, on how value was made for a company before the word “interview” was even thrown around.

My Story

When I was 15 I found out about a long-form messaging app called Jot (changed to Chalk later). I thought it was absolutely amazing but it got a bit tedious to type those long paragraphs on the iPhone. I decided to message the founders to see if they had any plans to make a web app and to my dismay they said no. So I set out to make one myself.

That same day I started to reverse-engineer the app’s API endpoints through a proxy on my Mac and then built those into a backend that I made in Node and Express. After that I built a quick frontend that resembled Jot’s iOS app and started using it for a day or so to test its functionality.

After a few tweaks and making sure I was happy with it, I messaged the founders of Jot to see if they would be interested in a Skype call to demo it. They were very impressed that I built an entirely functional web client without any API documentation and only a few days later I accepted an intern position at the company.

Stefan Stokic

Stefan Stokic was 16 at the time when he decided he wanted to get the attention of Shark Tank investor and Silicon Valley legend Chris Sacca. Instead of just sending him an email asking to chat, Stefan went ahead and made a website that listed all the job openings at Lowercase Capital’s companies. He shot Chris a link and both Chris and his partner, Matt Mazzeo, replied and showed their appreciation for Stefan’s work.

Chris was so impressed with Stefan that he actually mentioned him in a recent interview. Stefan went on to become one of the two youngest entrepreneurs ever backed by Y-Compinator with their company, Silk.



As you can see, though both of these stories are different, they both share a common theme: creating value before the company even hired us on. It’s important to show that you’re different than the rest of the group of applications in the pool by going above and beyond what the company expects, truly wowing them. That doesn’t mean you have to make a whole application or website to prove your value. It might be as simple as taking some product photos for them or even designing a logo.

Value Proposition

As part of the Praxis bootcamp, we’re tasked with creating a value proposition for a fictional company. Here’s mine for Pattiegonia, a clothing company specializing in outdoor gear.

Hi, Pattiegonia team.

I’ve been a wearer and advocate of your products for a number of years now, and have visited your website countless times. I’ve come up with a few things that I think could improve your engagement and increase sales that I could help you out with:

1. Think about the funnel.

Presently you just have one CTA on the hero section of your landing page; the rest of your home page is occupied with product videos and photos, but no way to actually get to the “shop” part of the website without scrolling.

This could me remedied by a simple re-design of your lander. I have experience in both web design, development, and e-commerce and have built sites that have engagement rates surpassing 90% and would love to talk over some concepts that I’ve drawn up and attached.

2. Improve quality of media.

When selling online, photos and videos are the closest your customers get to actually being able to touch and see the product. This means that it’s imperative that you have high-quality photos and videos that show off the craftsmanship in your clothing (which I can attest to).

As a photographer with experience in the fashion industry, I went ahead and took some photos of models in your clothing and posted them to my Instagram. I’ve received dozens of messages asking where to buy the clothing and I’ve pointed them all in your direction. I’m sure the photos will have the same effect on your website.

If any of the points I brought up resonated with you, I’d love to talk more about possibly working as an intern with Pattiegonia, either remotely or on-location, to help increase website engagement and sales.

Look forward to hearing back soon,

Noah Buscher

Copywriting Exercise

As part of the Praxis program, we are tasked with breaking down the copywriting of another website, post, or publication. For my text I chose part of Everlane’s about page and applied that to another clothing manufacturer.

At Everlane, we want the right choice to be as easy as putting on a great T-shirt. That’s why we partner with the best, ethical factories around the world. Source only the finest materials. And share those stories with you—down to the true cost of every product we make. It’s a new way of doing things. We call it Radical Transparency.

This section helps me to see what makes Everlane different than other clothing brands. The copy talks about Everlane’s emphasis on the importance of sourcing ethically and showing us, the consumers, what that all entails, calling it “Radical Transparency”.

We spend months finding the best factories around the world—the same ones that produce your favorite designer labels. We visit them often and build strong personal relationships with the owners. Each factory is given a compliance audit to evaluate factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and environment. Our goal? A score of 90 or above for every factory.

They follow that strong introduction by assuring us that they don’t sacrifice quality of product because they go about production ethically, making sure that each factory is providing amenities to their employees and abiding to the law.

At Everlane, we’re not big on trends. We want you to wear our pieces for years, even decades, to come. That’s why we source the finest materials and factories for our timeless products— like our Grade-A cashmere sweaters, Italian shoes, and Peruvian Pima tees.

Everlane wants to show us that they weigh quality much more over quantity. They think it is better to own a small quantity of well-made clothing, as opposed to a constantly-shifting closet full of poorly-made, trendy clothing articles.

We believe our customers have a right to know how much their clothes cost to make. We reveal the true costs behind all of our products—from materials to labor to transportation—then offer 
them to you, minus the traditional retail markup.

Showing us the cost of producing the products gives consumers an increased level of trust, assuring them that they are getting the most value out of every dollar they spend with Everlane. And they want us to know this isn’t some sort of gimmick… we have the “right to know”.


Let’s take what we’ve learned from the formula we made from Everlane’s copy and apply it to Forever 21’s social responsibility page copy. This might be a challenge as F21 is known as a fast-fashion monolith in the industry, and doesn’t put much emphasis on the quality of life of factory workers.

Just as a consumer has choices, at Forever 21, we take our business choices seriously, including in the way we obtain the products we sell. We strive to have a positive impact not only within our stores and corporate family, but also upon hundreds of vendor manufacturing facilities throughout the world which make our products, as well as on their employees.

We see these choices as part of a work in progress. Sustainability efforts can be challenging and difficult, often hampered by limitations in technology, but we are trying to take the steps in the right direction.

Here’s how I re-wrote it in the style of Everlane’s about page copy…

At Forever 21, we think that picking the right material sources for our products is just as important as picking the right size shirt. Though we work with hundreds of manufacturing facilities around the world, we strive to maintain a high quality of life for our factory workers.

Picking the right factories to work with is always a challenge, but one we’re up for. We take into consideration many factors, such as: wages, working hours, and working conditions before we decide to start working with any new companies.

How I Made This: Blank Canvas

James Charles has always been a huge inspiration for me, so when I saw him release his Blank Canvas look, I instantly thought of tons of variations I thought would be fun to do with friends. I instantly called up my friend Luke from Develop Model Management and my MUA friend Sisalee to work together to create our own version of this:

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Sisalee, being the wonderful woman she is, instantly started thinking of ideas for how to re-create the look using the materials we had, She ended up painting half of Luke’s face with black body paint, blending over top of it with foundation, and then, using a combination of skill and liquid foundation, created the “dripping” effect.

While she was working on makeup, I was creating the lighting and backdrop with the two softbox lights almost perfectly in-line with the model. I shot at a fairly high aperture to capture all the fine details of the makeup.

After about thirty minutes of trying out poses and expressions, we decided that the makeup should be the main focus of the image, so we opted for a straight-on look with an inquisitive but serious stare.

Going in Photoshop, I only did some minimal work. The paint didn’t extend as far down his chest as I preferred, so I used a combination of the stamp tool and paint brush to fill it in a bit. I also used the repair tool to remove some stray foundation splatters against the black base layer.

In Lightroom I simply added an inverted radial filter with some negative exposure, sharpened the image, and toyed around with the levels a bit until I got something that I was happy with. Skin color consistency was very important for this photo so I wanted to make sure that I matched it as closely as I could to natural. Here’s the final image:

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That’s really it! It’s a pretty simple look with the high-production-value appearance. I know I speak for all of us when I say Luke, Sisalee, and I had an amazing time working on the project.

Would have you done it the same way? Let me know in the comments below!

How I Made This: When the Party's Over Photo

17 year-old Billie Eilish just released this amazing music video for her track “When the Party’s Over” and after seeing the thumbnail, I was instantly inspired to create a photoshoot based on the video mere hours after its release. It’s worth a watch (thank me later).

What intrigued me the most was the black liquid effects that they used extensively throughout the video. I was very curious as to how they did they and after analyzing the video and with some help from other viewers, it appears that she had a fake skin later on-top of some tubes that connected to hidden pumps that forced the fluid up near her tear ducts.

I called up my friend Xanthe and asked if she was interested in doing a shoot that night, without me even knowing exactly how it was going to take place. After she said she had a few free hours, I sped over to a craft store to get some cheap metal chains, eye droppers, and a white t-shirt. After Xanthe arrived we played scientist by mixing different combinations of charcoal powder, flour, and water until we had an opaque liquid with a somewhat oil-like consistency.

As for the background I only have 53” paper backdrops so it was barely wide enough for her to sit on, but we made it work out. Unfortunately, after some test photos with the white shirt, it proved to be too monochromatic, so I let her borrow a black hoodie I bought a few days prior.

It was then time to start posting and setting up the lighting… I ended up doing a two-light setup: my personal go-to. Xanthe sat on the paper on the ground with the lights at 45 degree angles towards her to cast a small shadow on the ground. When it was time to take the photo I set the camera on a tripod, dropped some of the solution by her eyes, and hopped behind the camera to capture her posting. After repeating this three or four times, I was certain we had a few photos to work with.

After exporting the files to my laptop, Xanthe and I selected our favorite that I then proceeded to edit by cropping the photo to only the paper and then extending the background. I touched up some of the artifacts and then sent the file over to Lightroom to be processed and exported for mobile. Here’s the final image!

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If you have any other questions that I didn’t cover in this article, feel free to drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!

Out of the Wild

This post is the second part to my Into the Wild article talking about my solo journey westward for a few weeks as I learned more about myself and this beautiful country I call home.

So 4000 miles and 52 hours of driving later, here we are. I’ve barely gotten a moment to breathe between unpacking and shooting portraits, but I’m already gearing up again to head out to Colorado on Monday. I just thought I’d take a minute to talk about my journey and some things I though were worth sharing.

I’ve always dreamt of just riding off into the blue sky, nothing but open road and opportunity ahead of me, so when I set to make plans for this trip, I intentionally left a lot of gaps in the timing and locations. I knew the basic cities I wanted to visit and that was about it. I gave myself two weeks, a budget, and a carful of non-perishable foods. I just expected to fill in the blanks as I went along, writing my own story while I was living it. Though I ended up spending more time with people that I initially intended, by all intents and purposes, it was a solo trip. Of the 14 days I was gone, I spent 8 of those sleeping in my truck or at shared Airbnb to save costs.

I would definitely say the biggest personal realizations happened on the road alone. Driving through the desert canyons with only the moon to guide really puts life into perspective in a way that meditation alone hasn’t enabled me to do. One of my biggest goals on this journey was to becomes less reliant on the presence of others for happiness and I would say I attained that, or at least an idea how to. The notion that happiness comes from others is totally self-inflicted and not true in the least, I came to realize. It’s all internal, with others helping draw that out of you through interactions.

Additionally I wanted this to be a bit of a test to see how I liked “life on the road.” Stated more tangibly, it’s been on my mind lately to take some time to trip extensively either around North America or Europe and support myself by freelancing remotely and through the goodwill of others. I really think it would be beneficial to do so from a self-growth perspective - I learned and retained a lot more behind that wheel than I have from the formal education of my past. How am I expected to learn and absorb the teachings of others if I don’t truly understand myself?

On a different note, I was pleasantly surprised that my truck held up quite nicely to all the abuse the road threw at it. From the icy plains of Wyoming to the blistering LA heat, I never had a single component break. My own technical issue seemed to be startup issues camped at Big Sur, CA, but I believe that was just caused by poor fuel grade, so I’ll brush that under the rug for now.

I will definitely say that that trip gave me a taste of a lifestyle I greatly desire: one of constant movement, exploration, and adventure. I’ll surely be doing more of these semi-brief trips in my future and will post more about them here.

Honestly, Not for Everyone

So, as many of you may have heard, Nebraska just came out with a new slogan: “Nebraska: Honestly, Not for Everyone.” Just going to leave that here for you to ponder over for a minute. Keep in mind this slogan is designed to try to attract tourists and visitors to this fair state. It… doesn’t seem to do a good job at that from first glance.

Though I’ve lived here for a grand total of six years now and have made more of an emotional investment here than anywhere else I’ve lived, I’m not a Nebraska native, but I will always stick up for this state when others talk bad about it or are misinformed. When I say this slogan I was at first confused, then sad, then motivated. First off, to the small Colorado studio (who shall not be named) who created this campaign, I think you’re stating the obvious. You could tack on literally any person, place, or thing before “… Honestly, Not for Everyone” and call it a day. Lazy marketing if you ask me. But that’s besides the point as obviously there was enough people in our state capitol to approve the campaign so we can’t point fingers here.

Then, I was saddened. I feel like lately Nebraska has made some great strides into becoming an inclusive location to live and work. Sure, we don’t have any sprawling metro areas like LA or NYC, but we make up for that by the amazing quality of people and sense of community you get when you move to Nebraska. Here, there’s no judgement. Everyone is seen as human and you help a neighbor out instead of trying to one-up them. It makes the state such a pleasant place to live in, knowing the whole population has your back and you got theirs. Seeing such an exclusionary tagline made me feel like we took a step backwards from all the progress we’ve made and broadcast that to everyone around the world. The slogan has undeniably been drawing attention, but not the kind Nebraska deserves.

Finally, motivation kicked in. Me, in addition to the hundreds of other creatives that call this state home, have really pushed to make Nebraska the place we see it has the potential to be every day through our work, interactions with clients, and how we go about our daily lives. Sure, maybe Nebraska isn’t for everyone, but what is? I just want my state filled with great humans, positivity, and, of course, Runzas. I won’t let a five-letter phrase take that away from me nor will anyone else who truly calls this state their home.

So for those of you who truly don’t believe me, I implore you to come down and check out Nebraska for yourself. For whatever it is some think Nebraska is lacking in, we make up for it in amazing people, our communities, and some Midwestern manners that might even shock a New Yorker.

Belonging

Ever since the first year of my life I’ve moved, on average, once every two years. This has been by my family’s choosing, of course, but hasn’t come without its fair share of struggles. Though there’s been both ups and downs to this kind of nomadic lifestyle, I want to briefly touch on two topics that have been weighing on my mind lately and have prompted me to splay my thoughts out in this post: friendship and belonging.

Whenever I move somewhere new, it feels like a fresh start: an open invitation to make myself out to who I want to be and create a community around myself that reflects my values and that I can rely on. So often I take my friends for granted: they have been there for me when business issues are weighing heavy on my mind and also when my favorite artist comes to down and I need a concert buddy with an hour’s notice. With that said, however, I would say there are two types of friends in my life: “superficial” friends and lifelong friends.

Superficial sounds like a harsh word to describe someone I would truly call my friend, but my definition of that is of someone who shares common interests me, but I don’t feel like I connect with on a deep, emotional level. I rarely get pretty deep emotionally with many people regardless, but I want to be sure the person I’m discussing what’s on my mind can empathize and hopefully even offer some advice, solicited or not. That brings me to lifelong friends: those select few in my life who I know get me on a level deeper than just a mutual love of Tycho or ramen and know when I’m not feeling 100% (and vice-versa).

The thing is, however, I don’t have many lifelong friends at all… that’s not for a lack of amazing people in my life, either. I think it’s self-inflicted and plays into how much I feel I belong in a community. With the constant knowledge of my next impending move always on the horizon, I feel as if I have a fairly strong apprehension to make deep emotional roots in a community and “drain” my emotional mote, so-to-speak, allowing potential lifelong friends to enter my life. I think that it’s no coincidence that the majority of my life-long friends have known me since I was young. My youthful state of mind then was less risk-adverse and was more open to possibility. I would like to think the same is true of myself now, but after some introspection, I’m  afraid not.

I’ll be moving for my Praxis program in just a few short months now and have decided that I’m going to build a bridge over my protective emotional mote for the little while longer I’m here. Though it might take more time than I have here to totally drain the apprehension I have left, I can start by allowing more people into my life and saying yes to more connections that I have been. Even though I might be hurt in the process, there’s only one way to find out.

Don't Say There's Nothing to Do in the Doldrums

Finding motivation has always been a unique challenge for me. I seek it out in various ways, from pushing myself when my peers succeed to having an intrinsic drive to manifest a concept (be a photo project, app, etc.) to just digging deep to find some meaning in my work to proceed with developing it. With that said, however, there are points in my life where all might be going swell: clients are coming in, I’m hitting deadlines, and I’m getting great reviews when all-of-a-sudden… Wham! I get slapped in the face with a wave of existential nihilism and, at least for the time being, lose motivation to work.

This has been a pattern throughout my entire teenage life and has always been a blessing and a curse for my work life. On one hand, as I touched on earlier, the sudden dread and notion of worthlessness of my work compels me to drop the ball and cease continuing with editing this girl’s senior photos whereas on the other hand the lack of implications if I fail, knowing any damage is contained to this instance of my life and that I have, when given a healthy dose of perspective, nothing to lose pushes me forward.

Crop the photo a bit, increase exposure two stops, export.

Wham! A contradicting wave hits me yet again. It says “Hey ~ what’s the point of editing this girl’s seniors… you have limited time in your life and she probably won’t look at these photos a year from now anyway.” I think. Both points are probably true but before I could even think of a counter of my own…

Wham! “Noah. Listen. You’re already 19. You’ve lived 20% of your life already and have nothing to show for it. There’s kids out there who already have sold apps to Apple by the time they’re 19 and you can’t even finish editing this senior session.”

I feel like I’ve been uppercut from multiple directions. Everywhere I turn there’s signs telling me I’m going down the wrong path. It seems like there is no way out of this conundrum. This reminds me of a song from my childhood…

At this point it seems I’m stuck in the Doldrums: a seemingly inescapable place of bleakness and gloom. I’m quite familiar with this place as I’ve spent many days here, pondering my existence and dreading the work to come. This is a life of complacency, laziness, and boredom. I feel even more choked than when I was being twirled around by the fleeing existential thoughts. I need to escape.

It turns out, for me, what’s worked best to find my way out of this dreary place is a combination of fear and reward. To hoist myself up and give myself a bit of a slap in the face, I remind myself that the only thing worse than being stuck here is the repercussions of not following through on the work I set out to do. Angry clients, poor reviews, and rushed work at all things I’ve had a taste of in the past and frankly, to me, it’s nightmare fuel. I can take criticism for sure, but a client who is upset just because I couldn’t keep my promise gives me a knot in my stomach. This puts the latter to get out of the Doldrums in my reach.

To climb that latter out, however, I remind myself of the rewards of finishing my work. A stress free day, payout, and the time at the end of the day to work on passion projects motivate me to put the pedal to the metal and grind out whatever it is I need to do that day.

Though this cycle might be unhealthy if kept up due to the undue stress that seems to accumulate with each successive trip into the dreary pit, it’s a system that seems to be working for me. Perhaps you frequent the Doldrums as well… what are your ways of getting yourself out?

Car Camping: A Beginner's Guide

When I say car camping that might conjure up images of sleeping under the fluorescent lights of a Walmart parking lot with foggy windows. Not so! Car camping is a great way to see the country on a budget and have a great time doing so. Here’s what I’ve learned that I think is important for anyone looking to camp in their car to know.

Window Coverings

Window Coverings are something that should be so obvious but is very often overlooked when car camping for your first time. Making sure that you have privacy in your car is essential and might help to give you some peace of mind. As I drive an SUV, I have eight windows to cover: windshield, front l/r, middle l/r, back l/r, and rear. My current system consists of the following: one command hook in the upper l/r corners of the middle, back, and rear windows. I then cut up a large piece of felt I bought, added some holes for the hooks, and hang the sheets when it’s time to hit the hay. I then toss a blanket over the front tow seats to block the view from all the front windows.

“Will I be able to breathe?”

Yes. Cars are not hermetically sealed an as long as you keep your vents open you should be able to breathe quite easily. If you have more than one person in the vehicle or are in a climate that’s somewhere between 64-74 degrees, I’d maybe recommend opening the sunroof a crack or dropping the windows by an inch or so to allow for increased airflow.

Power

Making sure your phone and electronics are always charged is always important. While I’m driving I use and inverter I bought from Lowes for $50 that gives me 300 watts which is perfect for powering my laptop. Otherwise, I have a Yeti 150 battery that can charge from on-board car port, USB 2.0 ports, or even an AC plug. The box says it can provide up to 25 phone charges or 2 full laptop charges. It’s been a life saver for sure!

Storage

Organization is key while camping out of your car. With such a small space, it’s important to have things contained so you have room to sleep. My current system is a collection of stackable plastic totes that I store food, utensils, etc. in that are kept along the passenger-side of the vehicle. It makes it easy to get food when in the back or re-stock food after shopping. I also carry all the items I won’t immediately need in a Yakima on my roof. Of course you don’t need this, but it’s nice to have the extra cabin space. I carry my clothes in a regular luggage case and then place the case on the driver’s seat before I head to bed to give me extra room in the back.

Bedding

If you think sleeping in a car has to be uncomfortable you’re definitely mistaken. I often find myself sleeping longer and better in my car than in my own bed! My setup for my car bedding is a memory foam pad that I place over-top of the stowed seats, an open sleeping bag on-top of that, a down comforter on that which can be removed during summer, and a light blanket on that. It’s a very versatile setup that I’ve used from 20 degree weather in Wyoming to the high desert in Nevada.

Gear

Make sure you bring a headlamp! You don’t want to keep your car lights on before you head to bed and risk running your battery down so I always shut everything off and resort to just using my headlamp when I’m winding down. I also recommend getting a lantern to set/hang somewhere in your vehicle to provide some extra light, especially while eating. There are also a multitude of batter-powered air filters that can keep the car just a bit more fresh-smelling in the mornings which can be handy when staying in your car for weeks on end.

Finding A Spot

Whenever I go car camping, I try to camp at distributed camping locations or parks. I very seldom camp in cities. Not only do I feel more at peace in the wilderness, but the morning views are way better anyway. To find campsites I use a combination of Google Maps, travel blogs, and Pocket Earth. I’ll find a general region I want to stop in, load it in Pocket Earth, and start looking for identified camp sites that would work to pull a vehicle into. Easy!


Camping in your car can be a great way to see the country and travel cheap! I’ve been doing it on-and-off for about a year now and would like to think I’m starting to get the hang of it, but if you have any questions of suggestions, feel free to drop a comment below!

24 Hours in Denver

This is a post in a mini-series I’ll be doing where I walk through some essential things to do if you have limited time in a new city. This edition is “24 Hours in Denver”, touching on some of my newfound favorite spots in the Mile High City.

Denver has always been a favorite city of mine, since the first time I drove through. The amazing quality of life, coffee culture, budding startup scene (heh), biking scene, sheer number of off-roading fanatics, and killer landscape has really drawn me towards it. Here’s some of my favorite things to see and do while I’m in Denver.

Cherry Creek

Cherry Creek is the crème de la crème of Denver shopping. Stop by this beautiful, new neighborhood to stop in at Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Neiman Marcus and more. There’s new buildings going up all the time and restaurants for even the most selective connoisseurs.

City ‘O City

I’m by no means a vegetarian so when a friend suggested I try City ‘O City I was a bit skeptical. From my experience in the past, I was expecting sub-par food that was a vegetarian replacement for my everyday meals. Boy was I wrong. The delicious menu coupled with a gorgeous atmosphere has made this restaurants one of my favorites in the city. A must-try!

Denver Diner

This late-night Denver institution couples a retro-diner feel with quality food served by charismatic people. I always seem to meet someone new when I’m there and have never been disappointed by my orders. This most recent time I got the PB&J french toast and, skeptical as I was, I was pleasantly surprised.

Beta Nightclub

One of my favorite clubs I’ve been to, Beta is world-renowned for its legendary Funktion-One sound system. Top EDM artist from all over flock to Beta to perform, from Deadmau5 to Rusko to Knife Party and more. They also feature an amazing lighting setup, go-go dancers, and a mesmerizing 21-foot LED screen.

Summit

Another music venue in Denver, Summit is a small club that typically hosts punk rock sets, but has been the stage for various artists such as Tycho. Very laid-back atmosphere, cheap entry fee, and great sound system definitely sold me on this place! I’ll be back for sure.

Union Station

One of my favorite places in Denver to get work done, Union Station is on the edge of downtown and has free seating, WiFi, and outlets. Bordering the commons are various restaurants, cafes, and stores. You should visit to see the gorgeous layout and architecture if nothing else.

Blue Sparrow

One of the cutest coffee shops I’ve ever been to, Blue Sparrow in the up-and-coming RiNo district in Denver has stolen my heart for it’s quaint location and killer brews. The baristas have been consistently amazing and the location is perfect to set up shop and shoot off some emails when the day starts.

24 Hours in Los Angeles

This is a post in a mini-series I’ll be doing where I walk through some essential things to do if you have limited time in a new city. This edition is “24 Hours in Los Angeles”, touching on some of my newfound favorite spots in the City of Angels.

I’ve surprised even myself with the number of visits I’ve made to Los Angeles this year (I think five now) and I never am at a loss for things to do. I will say that thought my productivity might go down whenever I step foot into the dreamy world of LA, my happiness undoubtedly goes up. Here’s some of the things I’ve enjoyed doing while in town.

Malibu

I feel like I don’t need to really even say much here, but this city near LA famous for it’s pristine beaches, gorgeous houses, and even prettier sunsets is a favorite of mine. Once you’re done shopping ‘till you drop at Malibu Village, you can recline with you friends (or by yourself!) on one of the many public beaches around the city to watch the sun set over the Pacific ocean.

Abbot Kinney

This somewhat-famous road in Santa Monica stretches diagonal from Brooks Avenue to Venice Boulevard. It’s full of amazing local stores, cute boutique restaurants, and some of the cutest coffee shops in the city. I’d book out at least an hour or two to walk down both sides of the street to see the sights and smell the smells.

Larchmont Bungalow Cafe

This cute boutique eatery on Sunset Boulevard was a favorite brunch spot of mine in the city. Fairly priced, great atmosphere, and a friendly wait-staff really sealed the deal for me. Not to mention the eggs benedict I ordered was done to perfection, down to the sautéed spinach. Definitely going to make a point to visit this again!

Echo Park

A great place for a stroll with a friend, Echo Park features a large “lake” (the equivalent of a Midwest pond) that takes up the majority of the space. Water lilies and ducks pockmark the surprisingly clean water, and you can even rent a swan boat to cruise the lake with your lover.

Club Avalon

This unique nightclub was one of the 18+ nightclub establishments that was brought up, specifically for its Thursday night parties. It’s gone by many different names over the years, but has remained a favorite of the younger Hollywood and WeHo crowds. Great sound system, go-go dancers, and more LCD panels than a Best Buy make sure you won’t get bored.

Koreatown

Home of some of the best food in LA, I spent two nights in Koreatown with friends, meeting amazing people and trying some of the local food. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area and pro-tip: Airbnbs here are surprisingly cheap and are centrally located so you can venture off anywhere in the metro without too much hassle.

Runyon Canyon Park

By no means a secret of LA, Runyon Canyon is a very popular hiking destination for tourists and locals alike and for good reason. The views are fabulous at the top but the trails are easy enough for beginners yet just challenging enough to give the seasoned hiker a good time.

24 Hours in San Francisco

This is the first of a mini-series I’ll be doing where I walk through some essential things to do if you have limited time in a new city. This edition is “24 Hours in San Fransisco”, touching on some of my newfound favorite spots in the Bay Area.

San Francisco might be known around the world for the intense startup culture, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz, however there is so much more that the city can offer if you’re willing to dig a bit deeper. Here’s some of my favorite things I did during my time in the city.

Tip: A Clipper card can get you anywhere. Purchase one ($3.00 fee) at a metro station and use it for trains, subways, and busses around the Bay Area. Super useful if you’re not one to carry a lot of loose change.

Boba Guys

If you like bubble tea, this place is an institution. There are a few locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, but it all started right there in the Bay Area. Their extensive boba menu is complimented by an always-friendly staff and unique locations. My favorite personal order is the jasmine milk tea with tapioca balls, organic milk, and 75% sweetness. Absolute bliss!

The Castro

There are so many amazing restaurants, clubs, and shops in this district that it would take multiple articles to cover them all, so I’ve taken the liberty of just suggesting you visit The Castro and see it for yourself. As the more-or-less unchallenged gay capital of the world, this San Francisco neighborhood is home to a rich history, vibrant nightlife, and gorgeous architecture.

Palace of Fine Arts

This might be the most “touristy” thing on this list, but the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts is a sight to behold. Situated close to the Golden Gate Bridge in Presidio, this beautiful piece of architecture is something that photos just can’t do justice for. I walked around the theatre twice by myself, marveling in the ornate sculptures and figures atop the massive columns.

Dolores Park

This centrally-located park in San Francisco is a great hangout for locals and tourists alike. You’ll see quite the variety of folk there participating in all sorts of various activities. There are also tons of facilities there such as tennis courts, basketball courts, and an open field. And if your four-legged friend is with you on your trip, bring them ~ it’s a very accompanying park.

San Francisco MoMa

See iconic masterpieces in this beautifully designed modern art museum featuring works spanning from the surrealist works of René Magritte to pieces fabricated by local artists as recent as this year. It’s newly redesigned as well, so if you’ve been in before, no harm in checking it out again!

Downtown Berkeley

If you’re looking to get out of the commotion of San Francisco for a minute, just use your Clipper card to take Bart to Downtown Berkeley! It’s a cute, art-filled area full of culture and vibrant people. There’s some great food options there as well, such as Berkeley Social Club which is know for its delicious breakfasts and great atmosphere.

Focus

Focus is something I struggle with every day. I think it’s both a blessing and a curse: it allows me to see plans and ideas through but it also holds me back from moving on to new projects and concepts. I always wonder to myself: am I spending too long on this project and is this project really what I should be pursing right now?

To me, time is the most precious thing we have and wasting it isn’t an option. In hindsight I would not say that time spent possibly “beating a dead horse” of a concept is wasted time, primarily because I don’t think there’s been a time in my life where I’ve done that, but, as I see it, the amount of perceived progress on a project has an exponential inverse relation to the amount of time spent on it. For example: you might feel extremely productive getting a website set up, building an MVP, etc during the first few weeks of a project, but as you iterate and build out features and spend hours fixing bugs, it seems to me like the time isn’t being spent as efficiently as possible.

This is foolish, I know, as it’s not productive to keep creating new projects every few weeks and dropping them, but it still doesn’t help me maintain focus on arduous projects completing the “grunt work”, so-to-speak. I’m no stranger to following through on projects for months on end, but that doesn’t mean that I maintain the same level of interest or excitement as I did when I first started working on the concept. So I’ve done some thinking and I’m going to list off a few things I think that I’ll start implementing so that I see more projects through to the end.

Verbally Commit

This might annoy my friends and family, but I think that telling people what I’m going to do will force me to follow through if I like it or not. Having someone else there that is at least aware of my intentions might provide some motivation to finish.

Create Lists

I want to start creating physical task lists for projects. That way I will be able to see my process in a more quantifiable way. Of course, I’ll need to keep up on adding more tasks and removing them as I work on aspects of a concept.

Provide Updates

Similar to the first point, providing updates on the progress of a project to groups like social media followers will give me more reason to follow through. Possibly, even, they would provide feedback on what I’m doing and what I could improve on.

Remind Myself

Remind myself of how good it’ll feel once I’m able to push the site live, hit publish, or whatever I need to do to finalize the creation and share it with the world. I feel like this is the best source of intrinsic motivation.


A downside of a curious mind is that it constantly wanders. I need to allow my mind of roam free at times but learn to put a leash on it when the time it right, not pulling too hard but still ushering it in the right direction so that I have some fruit at the end of the journey.

Why I Post to Unsplash

For many photographers, when they distribute their photos they would prefer to have some sort of monetary compensation for their work, which is totally understandable. You can’t really pay the bills in exposure, if you know what I mean. With that said, however, I still think it’s important to give back to the community by providing some Creative Commons work on websites such as Unsplash.

I’ve been posting to Unsplash for a few years now. If you don’t know what the platform is, it’s a free-to-use photo sharing site that allows photographers to post photos with tags and Unsplash helps designers and anyone who needs stock images find them! It’s a really smooth system, and if you photos are good enough, Unsplash will even feature them on the home page.

This might sound like the photographer is not getting much out of this while the users coming to download the free photos are reaping the benefits, which might be true in some cases, but in my experience I’ve seen my photos all over the internet from MSN to FastCompany to Business Insider to PopSugar and ad campaigns for companies like ScholarshipOwl and Clearasil. Not only is it rewarding to see your work using like that but also it allows you to include those as portfolio samples.

In one case, even, a t-shirt printing company that produces for a large European fast fashion store reached out to me to ask if they could place my image on one of their graphic tees. Now, not only is my work on over 35,000 shirts, but they also compensated me as well and I now have a great relationship with the company with more work coming out in the future.

I’m not saying to go into this with the hope that your photo will be sold internationally, but this goes hand-in-hand with the concept that you get out what you put in. I think by giving back to the community not only are you making the world a better place but you’re setting yourself up for success in the future as well.

Traveling on a Budget

Travel doesn’t need to all be about high-rolling and big-spending. You can travel almost anywhere on a tight budget and have fun doing it too! Here’s a few ways I’ve found to save money on the road…

Gas Station Hot Water

It’s not as bad as it sounds… at 99% of the gas stations I’ve come across there’s been a hot water spout on the coffee machine. Simply bring a thermos and fill it to your heart’s content! Here’s a few things you can do with that…

  1. Steep tea

  2. Brew coffee

  3. Make oatmeal

  4. Heat instant noodles

  5. Add to bouillon for a hot meal

You just have to great creative with it!

Bring Your Car

This one is pretty case-by-case, but if you’re not driving to far and you have a lot of people, drive instead of flying! As long as you pay attention to how much you’re spending in gas, it can be a really economical way to travel (especially when the alternative is renting a car or taking a ride-sharing service everywhere).

Be Flexible

If you want to fly instead of driving, be open to different dates for flights! The cost per ticket can vary hundreds depending on demand, so keeping an eye on that is crucial. Also, as most know, booking more in advance is usually always cheaper than booking the night before.

GasBuddy

If you choose to take the car-route, I’d recommend using an app like GasBuddy to find the best prices in your region! The cost per gallon can vary as much as $0.50 even over the course of a few miles, so it’s totally worth checking before you pull up to the pump.

Camp

If you have a multi-day road trip, don’t be afraid to camp instead of paying for an Airbnb or hotel! It is a great way to learn about the region and makes for some amazing memories, especially with friends!

CouchSurf

This app allows you to connect with locals who would be willing to put you up for free! It’s a great way for them to meet new people and a great way for you to make new friends and have a place to sleep.

Pack Food

This one seems obvious, but many people tend to glaze right over it. Packing your own food to have on the road and to cook when you get to your destination can save a ton of time (and stress) especially when you pre-plan your meals! And you you choose to eat out a few times (which I highly recommend) try to go to local restraints that you won’t be able to try anywhere else.

Free Things

Once you arrive somewhere, you don’t need to go blowing through money like hell. Instead, try doing some free things like going to parks, museums, going hiking, checking out markets, etc!


Travel can actually be cheap! As long as you’re smart about how you spend your money, travel to almost anywhere on a budget is possible. Feel free to shoot me a comment below if you have any questions or other money-saving tips.

Creating an Engaged Email List

When creating a startup, I feel it’s essential to create a passionate userbase before your product launches. This may be in the form of speaking at conferences, personally emailing potential users, or creating a landing page.

Personally, I opted for the latter. It’s simple and accessible for a recent high school grad in Nebraska: yours truly. Cole Townsend and I went through a few iterations of the design, but we finally settled on a hero-style landing page with a CTA before the fold. It’s easy to visitors to understand and translates into amazing conversion rates. Not to mention it looks pretty fucking great.

Before I launched a platform for designers and developers to link up called Meet, our waiting list had around 5,500 people, and that’s without a press release. Here’s a few tips that I have gained to creating a passionate subscriber list and getting 10x industry average open rates…

Stay human — I know it may seem very difficult to scale, but this is a big one. Be sure that if you’re not personally emailing subscribers yourself, you take the time to answer any questions or comments they may have. You’re never too good for that.

Stay humble — When you’re gaining visitors and subscribers, don’t obsess over the numbers. Your main focus should be on creating a passionate userbase that cares about what you have to say.

Stay simple — Don’t spam your users; think quality over quantity. Try and send them weekly, or semi-weekly updates.

There’s no huge secret to creating an engaged userbase, no online service you can subscribe to, and no seminar you can attend. At it’s core, it’s all about creating content (or a product) that people care about. Not everything you touch will turn to gold, especially when you’re in a startup. Trust me.

Why I Drive a Land Rover

Land Rovers - the name embodies adventure, exploration, trail-blazing, and decades of amazing history. The Land Rovers of today have changed quite a bit since the first Series, but a lot has stayed the same. Here’s why I love my always-breaking, gas-guzzling, dinged-up Land Rover LR3.

We’ve Shared Adventures

Though this one isn’t distinct to only Land Rovers, any car that you travel tens (or hundreds) of thousands of miles with really can grow on you. I haven’t went so far as to name my car (surprisingly) but I can tell you that I’ve been in some pretty sticky situations and the Land Rover has gotten me out of every single one of them without ever needing to call for help. My truck has crossed deserts, scaled mountains, crawled up rocky washouts, and has lived to tell the tale.

At this point the LR3 feels like a trusted adventure companion: someone that I can always rely on, that I put my confidence in, and I know is always down to explore.

It Breaks. A Lot.

From their inception, Land Rovers have never been tied to the word “reliable” unless “not” is plastered before that word in the sentence. I carry a full-stocked toolbox with me everywhere I go just incase something goes wrong (hint: it usually does). From a leaking air suspension to a broken alternator to a dirty throttle body to a sagging headliner (all in the past two months), it’s forced me to familiarize myself with the inner working of the truck so I’m able to fix issues as they arise.

As many have joked before, Land Rovers make even going to the grocery store an adventure because you never know what’s going to break. Taking them to an actual Land Rover dealership is pricey and time-consuming, so people like myself often just resort to sourcing parts and fixing them theirselves.

It’s Big

Being six foot three, I’ve always had a hard time fitting in sedans. So when I traded in my Chrysler 200 for the Land Rover, I just assumed all SUVs had that much space. Definitely not true, I came to find out. Even with the second row of seats up, you still have 44.5 cubic feet of storage space to pack whatever your heart desires. Personally, when traveling long distances, I’ll stow the second row put my air mattress in, giving me enough room to actually lie down and not feel squished.

Of course, there are some downsides to the size. You’ll start to notice if you have a roof rack on, almost every parking garage is off-limits and tight parking lots are a lost cause. Since buying the truck I’ve become somewhat of an expert in parallel parking and locating open street parking. Who knew?

Cupholders.

If there is anything the LR3 is lacking, it surely isn’t cup holders. The vehicle has eleven of them. Eleven. That’s over five times what my Chrysler had. You don’t know just how much you need cupholders until you don’t have enough of them. Don’t ever take them for granted.

It Goes Anywhere

With 4-wheel-drive, low-range, grappler tires, HDC, smooth-as-butter power steering, Terrain Assist, and a raisable suspension (you heard me right), I’ve never gotten the truck stuck, and I’ve done some pretty eyebrow-raising things with it. The closest I’ve ever been to being stuck was when I was teetering on a rock on a trail in Colorado. Two wheels were off the ground and the other two could’t get traction. I thought it was done for, but just then the Land Rover made a beeping sound and raised itself just enough to allow me to slip off the rock.

After looking into it more, if the vehicle detects it’s stuck on a rock it’ll raise the suspension past the highest user-enabled level temporarily so you can get traction on all wheels. Brilliant.

It’s Honest

This one is probably the most subjective of the bunch, but I with LR3s are just honest vehicles. They forgo all the glam and shiny-ness of cars of the same era and focus on utility, capability, and comfort. I’ve seen plenty of Jeep Wranglers decked out with huge wheels and a crazy lift-kit, knowing well they had never seen a rock once. LR3s, on the other hand, seem to look best dirty.


I have a bit of a Land Rover love affair, sure. But can you blame me? If you ever get the opportunity to drive one (or even purchase one yourself) tell me about it in the comments!