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?


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!

3 Quick Tips To Improve Your Photography

Photography is a talent that can be beneficial to anyone from any walk of life. If you’re photographing a moment with your family or a product for a company you work for, knowing how to use a camera and take good photos is a crucial skill. Here’s a few tips to start improving your photography right away.

Think About Composure

Don’t just pop right up and start snapping photos haphazardly. It’s smart to be more thoughtful where subjects are placed in your photos. This is called composure and is central to creating a good photo. A photo with the subject in the center is technically “well composed” but often boring… that’s where the rule of thirds can come into play. With the rule of thirds, imagine splitting your image into three columns and three rows. Then place your subject where one of these lines intersects. It makes the photo feel balanced, yet thoughtful.

Lighting, Lighting, Lighting

The word photograph quite literally means to draw with light. That should clue you in that lighting is one of the most important and fundamental aspects of photography. With that said, it’s also what a lot of people get wrong. Here’s a few tips for different kinds of lighting…


If the lighting is cloudy, I find this idea for taking photos as the light is soft and there are no harsh shadows that could throw off your image. In my opinion, it’s pretty hard to get lighting wrong when it’s cloudy. Just be sure to expose your image properly!

Direct Sunlight

If it’s bright out and there are harsh shadows, you have to be a bit more thoughtful about your subject placement. I like to place my subject in the direct light and then expose for the highlights. If you’re photographing a person, I have them close their eyes and then I count: 3… 2… 1… and have them open their eyes just for a second so I can catch them without squinting.

On-Camera Flash

Sometimes you don’t have the option of shooting outdoors and you have to make do inside. I personally don’t love the look of the pop-up flash built into some cameras, but if you have $30, it doesn’t hurt to go out and buy a speedlite that you can put in your camera’s hot-shoe. This instantly makes your life easier and you can simply point the flash towards the ceiling (that’s ideally white) to bounce the light off, giving you a softer look for your subject.

Think About Colors

The color palette of your photography is just as important as any painting’s color palette. You should be thoughtful about what colors are being captured. Two looks I really like are monochrome: where there is only one color present in and image, and contrasting colors: where some colors in the image clash with each other, giving the image more of an eye-catching appeal.

Usually the colors are determined by one of two things: the environment or the model’s clothing (as I usually shoot portraits). After determine what color has to be in the image, I work backwards to decide what colors I should add or remove from the scene.

The best way to improve your photography isn’t by reading blogs like this, however - it’s by shooting photos yourself. What are you waiting for? Get out there and start creating.

Tools for the Modern Nomad

With more and more of our generating working remotely, people are starting to realize that they aren’t tied down to a physical location anymore - they are free to wander and work from all corners of the Earth. How many people actually bite the bullet and travel themselves, however, it up for speculation. If you’re on the fence about wanting to get out and adventure more, here’s a list of tools and gadgets I use to help my explore.


The apps I use on my excursions have proven to be just as important as the physical tools I use. They help me plot trails, find campsites, locate cheap gas/food, and call for help if needed. Here’s the most essential I use when on the road:


This app helps you plot out long trips by giving you the option to add/remove cities, calculate cost of gas, see nearby POIs, and more. Not something I use just for a quick weekend adventure, but it definitely comes in useful when I’m driving for a week or more.

Pocket Earth

If you’re going off the grid, this one’s a must-have. Pocket Earth allows you to not only download road maps but also trails, topography, and more. Catalog campsites, paths, and pull-offs for easy access. This app has saved my butt a few times in Colorado when I’ve lost reception and I’m miles in a dense forest. After you download maps, Pocket Earth relies on your GPS to determine location/heading, keeping you on track.


Looking for the best local trails can be such a hassle. Googling “best trails near me” is unhelpful at best and local guides are often outdated or just simply hard to find. AllTrails allows you to filter tons of trails near you by popularity, length, permitted activities, and more. Definitely an app to download for anyone looking to take their exploration to the next level.


This app does pretty much what the name implies. It helps find cheap gas near you so you’re always paying the lowest amount, which can truly add up over thousands of miles. I’ve been in locations where the total difference in gas just by driving an extra mile is $0.50/gallon! Just think of all the Starbucks you can buy with that saved cash.

Dark Sky

Weather always is a factor when traveling. It can make or break your trip in an instant and can make the difference between what you want to pack and what you have to pack. Dark Sky is an amazing app that allows you to see minute-by-minute plays for rainfall, temperature, and more. It’s hyper-local and even notifies you before rain starts so you can stay dry.


There’s a fine line between gadgets helping you get the most out of your travels and gadgets over-stimulating you so you forget to enjoy the trip itself. My list here is fairly sparse and lightweight and that’s defiantly intentional.

GoalZero Yeti150

This little beauty is basically that battery bank you use to charge your phone, but a hundred times bigger. Though it’s pretty hefty and weights a ton, it can really save your life on the road. Not only does it have two USB ports but it also has a car-style port and an AC plug, allowing you to charge your phone 25 times or your laptop twice from a single charge of the unit. And once you’ve drained the Yeti, simply plug it into the wall or connect it to a solar panel bank to charge it in just a few hours!

Bose Mini Soundlink II

I carry this speaker with my everywhere. Camping alone, ever for the most seasoned outdoorsman, can get bit spooky, and nothing helps me get to sleep than some music. The quality you’ll get out of this is much better than out of your phone speaker, and the charge holds for over 12 hours.

Black Diamond Headlamp

There are tons of models of these, so you’ll need to pick which is the best option for you, but the various brightness modes along with the red light really sell this headlamp for me. It has an astounding battery life and is solidly built. I never hit the road without it.

I hope you found at least one new tool to add to your traveling arsenal in this list! Feel free to comment your favorites down below!

Book Review: To Shake the Sleeping Self

I don’t read many books. Typically any books I read are because they are assigned or required for some reason. It’s not that I don’t like books… I often just can’t find the time or don’t make time to sit down to read. This time was different, however. My friend and mentor Wyn Wiley gifted my a book by an adventurer by the name of Jedidiah Jenkins (as he notes himself in the book, quite a sing-song name). The subtitle for the book is: A Journey From Oregon To Patagonia, And a Quest for Life With No Regret. Sheesh that’s impactful. So I began to read the book. And finished it in three days.

Jedidiah has an amazing way of writing that really pulls you into the narrative and makes you feel like you are along for the ride with them. His timeline of the journey is eloquently woven in with flashbacks and stories that supplement the story perfectly: one of adventure, self-discovery, exploration, and introspection. Few books I’ve picked up before have given me as much motivation as this one has, forcing me to do some reflection on my own life and see what I can do to make sure no time is wasted.

Perhaps this is because I can relate to him on a number of levels, being a free-spirited, gay, adventurous photographer raised in a Christian household Jedidiah’s story is one I can connect with, even decades apart: one of internal struggle and a need to find out what this life is about. And though the idea of a quest to find out answers to questions like “Who am I?” and “What are we here for?” sounds so cliche and over-done, I’ve come to realize that there aren’t many people who actually put their money where their mouth is and follow through with their plans. Though one might not need to bike to Patagonia to discover what life has in store for them, hearing this story can be empowering to anyone of any background.

Overall, one of the best autobiographies/travel journals I’ve ever read.

You can purchase a copy of the book on Amazon.

Why Midwest is Best (For Startups)

When most people think of startups, Silicon Valley is probably the first location that pops into their minds, and rightfully so. For the past few decades, developers and businesses have flocked to the Mecca of tech companies to be with the likes of Apple, HP, and other tech giants. Not to mention the growing startup community, (supposedly) amazing coffee, and like-minded people.

What many don’t realize, though, is that the Midwest is one of the fastest-growing tech scenes right now and it’s not to be overlooked.

Recently Forbes reported the fastest growing states for tech jobs in 2015. Here’s the top four states in the list, along with their annual growth (Source: Forbes):

  1. Minnesota: 8.36%

  2. Utah: 5.75%

  3. Nebraska: 5.22%

  4. Michigan: 4.47%

Notice something similar about three out of the top four states? That’s right: they are all in the Midwest, and with good reason, too. Why would so many young engineers want to work in these locations, you ask?

Cost of Living

In case you have not heard, living in San Francisco is kind of expensive. Just take a peek at this to get an idea of the average cost of typical items there compared to other locations.

The average cost of living in Midwest states, on the other hand, is among the lowest in the nation according to CNBC.

Michigan came in at 7th cheapest state to live in while Nebraska came in at a close second at the 8th cheapest state. And what about Minnesota? Even though it may not be one of the cheapest places to live (though it’s still in the top 30), Minnesota was named 2015’s Top State for Business, and for good reason too… The Twin Cities are constantly adding more to their technology infrastructure and this helps to attract modern startups looking for an equally modern home.


Though many may fear the Midwestern states for their frigid winters, some companies embrace it. Businesses with large data-centers, such as Facebook and Google are flocking to the midwest to build warehouses that take advantage of the chilly temps in order to reduce server operation costs and get land for nothing when compared to the cost in and around larger tech-hubs.

But you don’t need to be a huge company to reap the benefits of the Midwest seasons: the beauty alone is staggering and with the changing of the seasons come a slew of events and activities.


With the recent influx of young techies, other businesses have benefitted as well. Restaurants in cities like Des Moines, IA, Lincoln, NE, and Minneapolis, MN have seen a increase in business and more are popping up all the time. Music scenes are heating up and attracting more (and larger) artists every year. Specialty stores, such as Raygun, have also seen a big boom in sales.

This, in turn, attracts more young engineers, and the vicious cycle of innovation and growth continues, benefiting the businesses, the employees, and the city.

There are also a slew of amazing places to visit, such as the Henry Doorly Zoo and, of course, the Mall of America to occupy your free time.

Existing Companies

A few startups in the Midwest beat the crowd and are now among the nation’s fastest growing, bringing with them the attention of investors and other hopeful startups.

One such example that many high-school football players are familiar with is Hudl: a platform to teams to upload video and scout others. Founded in 2006 in Lincoln, NE, Hudl is now Nebraska’s fastest growing company with 230 employees and counting.

Other early-birds include Flywheel, BuyNow, Igor, and many more.


With the still relatively-small pool of startups in the Silicon Prairie area, new companies may have an easier time finding qualified, capable employees than a similar-sized startup in San Francisco. This puts less pressure on the employee for finding a job that can support them and helps companies find the right candidates.


The Silicon Prairie could soon be the new go-to place for startups, and we’re already seeing a shift in interest with younger engineers who are looking for a cheaper, more friendly working environment.

I don’t believe that the Silicon Prairie will overcome the famous Silicon Valley hub, but that’s probably for the best: if everyone wanted to live here, the cost of living would go up and younger engineers might look elsewhere for job opportunities.

Having lived in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Wisconsin, I am a huge advocate for the growing startup scene here (as if you can’t tell by now). Feel free to ping me on Twitter if you want to chat about tech and what it’s like to live in the Midwest.

Make Travel an Investment

You could go up to many people on the street and they would likely agree that putting money in education is an investment. People often make the connection that the more education you have the more successful you’ll become, likely measured by the amount of annual income you pull in. I would say, however, there is an equally valuable investment you can make in yourself that could teach you even more than formal education: travel.

When I say travel, perhaps, images of over-the-top partying, Cancún, and late mornings come to mind and while all of those things are find and dandy, that’s not quite what I mean by travel in this instance. If travel is to be an investment, you have to go into your trip with that mindset. Go with friends who encourage you to push your comfort zone or, better yet, go by yourself. The idea might sound daunting at first, but solo travel is the best way I know to get in touch with yourself and truly prioritize the experience-gathering of the trip.

If you truly want to get the most out of travel, going the extra mile is critical. Wake up that extra hour early to see the city before rush our. Walk to the cafe instead of taking the subway to experience all the people, sights, smells, and sounds on the street. Like the famous scene with the blind man in Amélie, make a mental note of everything you pass, forcing you to consciously evaluate it and experience it, instead of just passing it on by. You might be surprised by what you find.

This does not mean that travel has to be any less enjoyable. Perhaps you are not a morning person and getting up early during travel sounds like complete nonsense. This is when you need to be open to other forms of happiness and break out of your comfort zone, opening yourself to new things. The whole point of traveling as an investment is to expand your worldview and gather new ideas and interactions to add to your bank of knowledge.

That’s not to mention what I feel is the most valuable thing you can get out of solo travel in particular: introspection. Being truly on your own in a new place with a different culture instantly makes you more dependent on yourself… you start to better identify emotions, gain confidence, and become more self-reliant. Speaking from experience, travel has made me realize that I am too dependent on others’ company as a source of happiness for myself. It’s also allowed me to see what I can do in order to be at peace with being alone. Quantifying exactly what that means is not something I’m sure I can do, however I do know that since I’ve been traveling more, being alone is not nearly as scary a proposition as it used to be for me.

In only 36 short hours I’ll be leaving for my longest time away from my friends and family: a three-week solo journey down the west coast and back. Though I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous at all for this, I was hardly able to sleep the other night with excitement. Here’s to coming days of early mornings, new faces, and lots of soon-to-be-had memories. Read more about my trip Into the Wild.

Travel can bring about wisdom, perspective, friendships, knowledge, enlightenment, and happiness. Those are all extremely valuable and all absolutely worth taking the financial and time investment in yourself. Resources spent on honest, open-minded travel are never wasted, opening doors to innumerable possibilities and experiences.

Where I Find Inspiration

Good artists copy; great artists steal.

- Picasso

Agree with this infamous quote or not, it’s true that all artists, whether they realize it or not, are influenced by the work of their predecessors. This extends through all disciplines of art, from songwriting to photography to painting. I often get asked where I find inspiration for creating new scenes for photography or editing styles for video, and I think the answer is more complex than I even realize myself.

On a conscious level, I know that when I am looking for new ideas for shoots I often turn towards creations like album covers, other photoshoots, music, music videos, and even objects in stores that catch my eye. I might combine multiple ideas I have and I’ll throw ideas I don’t use into a document that I can reference later when I am feeling drained of inspiration.

Sometimes, even, seeds of concepts are born through pure happenstance — moments of inspiration. Perhaps it might be an accidental click of the shutter. Some of my favorite works have happened by experimentation and randomness instead of “conscious” effort or inspiration, however that begs the question: is any “new” concept original?

Personally, I think not so much. Even if you are making a conscious effort to not adhere to an artist’s work or style, you are still being influenced by them by definition. The simple act of viewing one’s creations subconsciously implants the memory of it into your creative process therefore influencing you. Wether you decide to go with the mainstream or not, any small exposure to outside influences can change the way you create.

If only uses a small diopter and pays attention to a small community, it might appear that someone is quite original indeed. However, if one widens their scope it becomes evident that their idea is quite common. This is especially evident after the advent of the internet, making it easy to research ideas and concept across thousands of miles and transcribed decades of the human experience.

Of course, you’ll always have some element that is new or changed from what has been done previously. This is the definition of innovation. We might never find two snowflakes that are identical, but there are only so many possible ways they can form. There might be some overlap of creations and concepts, but that should not scare us away from experimenting and testing new concepts.

Why I Joined Praxis

I realized that even though I am already a fair amount into an apprenticeship program known as Praxis, I never really went in-depth on why I decided to join the Praxis program instead of going to college. Perhaps now, though, I can supplement my choice with my experiences two months in and give some honest feedback about what I’ve picked up on so far.

So before we truly begin, let me state that joining Praxis was definitely a last-minute decision, but one that had been in the works for some time. Let me explain… I knew most of my life that college wasn’t the right choice for me. Though I like to consider myself smart, I don’t thrive in a structured educational environment and I much rather prefer (and gain more from) an environment that encourages exploration, creativity, and free thinking. College, in my opinion, creates the guise of giving you those things, but it’s only because the restrictions from the high school environment are merely lifted a bit, giving you a taste of what life can truly be like.

The thing is, though, that I was already enrolled at a university and paid my deposit, with class approaching only weeks away. If I found out about Praxis even a week later than I had, I likely would not be here right now, typing this post…. I would be in a dorm studying for the chem test with my friends tomorrow. Luckily, however, I was able to put my name in for Praxis and crossed my fingers that I would be accepted into the program. And after a few weeks of writing, interviews, and emails, I was beaming with pride when I received a message that I had been accepted. That very day I got a refund for the deposit (with a bit of work) and un-enrolled from the university.

The months since have been a whirlwind of excitement, adventure, and self-growth. I’ve taken advantage of being able to work on Praxis modules remotely (coupled with the fact that I’m a freelancer) and traveled as much as I’ve been able to. As I noted in my About Me video (that I had a blast filming in Colorado), you are very limited in where you can go in college.

With that said, however, the Praxis advisors warned us about FOMO from seeing our friends in college having fun and studying together. I’ll admit that there are times I wish I had the luxury of having the next four years planned out for me and a regimented schoolwork schedule in place, but it’s a double edged sword. Part of the beauty of Praxis is the fact that I don’t know what I’ll be doing in a few years (let alone a few months) and the sense of adventure and excitement I get from that is worth it alone.

I also feel “safer” being in Praxis than if I was just going straight into the workforce… I know that amazing Praxis team and my cohort has my back and we’re all in this together. Not to mention that I’m learning a lot of skills that are important to have in the industry that I just wasn’t even aware of before. Those two things, coupled with a supportive family and great friends has really made this whole experience amazing.

As to why I decided to join Praxis, as I touched on earlier, I need room to create and express myself and colleges (even the most liberal) put limits on what you can do, but with Praxis is initiative-based which means I’ll get out of the program what I put in. I see myself as a self-starter and intrinsically motivated to perform, so Praxis only appears to be part of the natural progression of my career path.

In all, the past few months in the program have been as blast and I’m so happy I decided to go this route. I’ve already grown so much since starting and I know only more amazing experiences are in store for the future.