Entrepreneurship is hard, so don’t claim that it’s easy.

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Entrepreneurship has definitely become cooler and cooler in the minds of Millennials during the past 10 years: Facebook was founded in 2004. That gave the Millennial Everyman hope that he too could start a multi-billion dollar business and retain ownership of it to the end. Then, the 2008 stock market crash and subsequent recession erased the traditional job opportunities that Millennials and the respect of America had grown entitled to.

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, majoring in English and History. Why? Because I was told by countless professors and mentors and business people to “study what I loved.” In retrospect, I should have probably focused on Marketing or Computer Science in tandem with one of my two humanities choices, but c’est la vie, those days are behind us. Now, Millennials are unemployed in record numbers, and many see “entrepreneurship” as the only way out of unemployment. Plus, entrepreneurs wear t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops to work year-round, and don’t have to answer to anyone…

But let’s get this straight: Being an entrepreneur is hard work. It is far more difficult to run your own company than it is to be a cog in a wheel at a large corporation. There are many late nights at work, far more sleepless nights of nervousness, and you never know where you will be in six months time. Plus, working on weekends isn’t the exception, it’s the norm. That’s stressful, and it’s really not for everyone, despite what some pro-entrepreneurship organizations would have you believe. (Yes, many entrepreneurs become depressed from this stress too.)

Before I started SkillBridge, I had worked at 3 funded startups and started 2 of my own businesses. Both businesses “failed” in the sense that they never were acquired by anyone else, but they were both incredible learning opportunities and earned me a bit of money along the way.

However, as I wrote on LinkedIn, you are NOT wasting your 20s working at a large company. My article says, “Many of my most intelligent friends from the University of Pennsylvania and other fine institutions started their careers at Google, McKinsey, or other large tech or consulting firms. Some of them are still there — and those who stuck around seem quite happy. For example, my good friend Josh Steinberg works for Google and now lives in Tokyo, his dream city, and has traveled all around the world, on Google’s dime. My other good friend Anastasia Leng founded Hatch.co after working at Google for 5 years. Neither of them would change a thing about their 20s. They were able to pay off their student loans, travel, and live excellent lives.”

Alas, there is also a grammar problem in the world: You don’t have a “startup” if you are not seeking to scale your business. You simply have a small business, and that is an excellent accomplishment. No, your nut butter stand may never achieve the scale of Nutella, but it’s cool that you can derive income from it.

Second, there are so many “pre-revenue” entrepreneurs out there, who are great at selling themselves but once you dig a bit deeper realize they’re all fluff. Putting up a LaunchRock page for your idea doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. Go build something, and then tell people you’re an entrepreneur. Go assemble a world-class team, and then say you’re an entrepreneur. Go make enough profit to live off of, and then call yourself an entrepreneur. Too many people out there are selling this entrepreneurial dream but not detailing the amount of work involved to create it. Sorry kids, there are probably 100 people out there with the same killer app idea that you have, yet having the idea is only the beginning. Strategy and execution are everything.

I wouldn’t change anything about the path that I chose, because I value adventure and not knowing what is around the next corner. However, there have been many times when I’ve been ready to turn in my towel. Unless you can tolerate this on a regular basis, you won’t be going too far as an entrepreneur.

ClassPass, Fitness, and Data = The Perfect Storm

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It is rare that I advocate so strongly for a brand (other than SkillBridge of course), but ClassPass is truly amazing for the urbanites out there: For $99 a month, you get to take 3 classes at any of dozens of fitness studios in New York City. Typically, these classes cost $25-$40 each, so if you go 4 times in a month, you’re already saving yourself quite a bit of money. From yoga to cycling to bootcamps, there’s something for everyone on ClassPass.

As a dude, I admittedly had some reservations about joining, thinking it would be all women in the classes. However, this isn’t the case at all.

Some things that I like about ClassPass: Easy reservation system, synching classes with Google Calendar so I don’t forget about them, and solid descriptions of classes. It’s also pretty easy to cancel classes (more than 24 hours before they begin).

Additionally, I love that in many of my ClassPass classes, such as the ones at FlyWheel, there’s a data driven approach. I’ve hit 280 as my “Power Score” at all of my Flywheel classes this month and next month I”m pushing for 300.

Another bonus: I’ve discovered great gyms, teachers, classes in and around my neighborhood that I didn’t know about! Hat tip goes out to my friend and fellow entrepreneur Anastasia Lang of Hatch for first telling me about ClassPass and saying how awesome it was.

Boyhood, America in a Post- 9/11 World, and our Techno-Frenzied Future.

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing the new Richard Linklater film,Boyhood. Boyhood is unique among films in that it was shot over the course of 12 years. The film starts in an America that was still contending with the post-9/11 world and continues through to the modern day. Boyhood is full of nostalgia — the soundtrack is excellent — and you’re likely to hear lots of “oooohs” and “aaahs” and “I had one of those…” while you’re in the theatre, but that is really just the beginning.

Similar to how The Wonder Years captured the 1960s in a beautiful way for my parents’ generation, Boyhood does this for Millennials. There are many themes and motifs in this film that resonated with me. Here is my analysis of a few of them:

Economic hardship — Life is expensive. From paying bills to putting kids through college, our world is expensive. You may have wanted to be a musician, but sometimes you’re forced to put those ambitions aside to take care of your family, as it is necessary to pay the bills. (At SkillBridge, we have certainly provided supplemental income for hundreds of consultants, and it is our hope to continue doing this for many years to come.)

Forgiveness — Moving on is a trait that is undervalued. It is necessary to forgive to move forward. As we see in this film, Ethan Hawke’s character goes from being a 30-year-old bum to a 40-year-old family man. Sometimes people make decisions based on timing, and these aren’t the right decisions, but people shouldn’t be punished forever for decisions they make when they are young.

Personal growth — Not everyone makes the right decisions when they are young. People become single parents, people fail to study subjects that are relevant to their careers, and more. These should all be considered learning experiences. You can go back to school to study the subject that interests you. You can raise your children to become fine people without a spouse. And you can pursue your passions, even when some people may discourage you from doing this.

America — Living in New York, I often forget about America’s natural beauty. America is vast. In such a large place, people have differing opinions on politics, religion, etc. This diversity of opinions, whether we agree with them or not, is what makes America interesting and sustainable in the long-run. The American Dream is still alive, and with hard work and dedication, it can still be achieved.

Family — Families grow, families shrink, and the dynamics of the American family in particular is changing. As we see through Patricia Arquette’s character and her significant relationships with three different men — none of which works out for her in the long run — relationships have become more transient, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fulfilling.

Immigration — America has long been a land of immigrants. Those who work hard, succeed. It may not be easy, but it is still possible. Nothing happens overnight. Life isn’t one big reality show.

Technology — For better or for worse, technology has grown to be an essential part of our lives. In some places within America, technology still lags. You needn’t be tethered to your iPhone for six hours per day, and there is still quite a bit of beauty in the world, but technology is improving so rapidly that we forget to make time for nature and the other wonderful things that our world offers us. Let us use technology for good, and not for evil.

Life is short — In one of the final scenes of this film, Patricia Arquette’s character starts to cry, as she realizes that she will now be an empty-nester, her kids grown up and moving out of her home. Of course Millennials tend to “return to the nest” at higher rates than previous generations, but this film really puts things in perspective. Enjoy your life, love the people who are close to you. Be thankful to your parents and the other adults who made you who you are.

If there’s one film you should see this summer — dare I say this year — it isBoyhood, as it encapsulates so many of the ethos that have guided our lives since the turn of the millennium.

It’s been a while. Things at SkillBridge have really been picking up…

I have so many thoughts, and not enough time to share all of them. Business at SkillBridge has been excellent, and we are in the process of growing our incredible team. Riding this startup roller coaster has surely been an adventure, and I promise you there will be more amazing things to come. Here are a bunch of recent articles that mention me, SkillBridge, or both:

1. Creating A Consulting Middle Ground 

2. The Most Sought After Job Applicants

3. The Sharing Economy Is A Win

4. SkillBridge is the Bridge to Global Talent

And a whole bunch of other articles that I have authored, primarily for Fast Company:

1. Will you be prepared when 40% of our workforce is contingent? 

2. Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Hire A PR Firm

3. Secrets To Hiring Great Interns

4. How To Make A B2B Company Less Boring

5. How White Collar Professionals Can Make The Sharing Economy Work

It’s been an incredibly busy (but fun!) summer here in New York City. Expect more updates soon.

Hiring MBA’s by the Hour | Inventing Work 2.0 with Skillbridge

I’m feeling very honored that Tim Wut wrote about me and SkillBridge in TechZulu:

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A few scenarios for us to consider:

You’re looking to grow the business and want to scale into new territory. You need to research the possibilities in a new landscape but your personal research has been well, a bit fruitless. Perhaps it’s time to raise a round of Venture Capital funding and want a pitch presentation a bit more composed than the dusty Keynote you put together last year for your friends and family round. All the while, you have product to maintain and a team to manage, but the very thought of hiring a VP or consulting firm makes you cringe.

We all need help sometimes – and building a business is, by no means, immune to that. Though growth/expansion/hustle can be accomplished through an immeasurable number of ways, the best way to fulfill these goals lies in an even more basic needto find good people. Well, not just good people, but intelligent, talented professionals who know what they’re doing.

Traditionally, these between a rock and hard place problems have been solved with a limited pool of expensive options – usually associated with long contracts and high billables for “MBA quality” work. For example, difficult solutions that speed and flexibility are also a priority.

Bridging the Gap and Redefining “Work”

Recently, we discovered an interesting NYC-based company who had a simple hypothesis: What if you could bring elite business consultant talent to the table without the traditional price and hurdles? What if you could combine the flexibility of outsourcing with the quality level of highly skilled strategists?

This idea, to “rent people with MBAs and other elite business consultants by the hour,” is what brings us here.

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Introducing SkillBridge

Today, we have Stephen Robert Morse, Head of Marketing and Communications atSkillBridge.co.

We discuss everything from outsourcing, MBA’s, and business, to the lessons learned in building their marketplace for connecting business professionals with the companies who need them.

Currently, their “marketplace for MBA’s and other skilled professionals” has more than 3,000 professionals with an impressive list of big name credentials. Professional brands like Bain, Barclays, Deloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton; MBA/academia like Columbia, Harvard, Wharton, etc. are reflected in their stable of on-demand, hourly paid consultants and freelancers for a number of business roles:

  • Market Research
  • Marketing & Branding
  • Investor Decks
  • Due Diligence
  • Training Materials
  • Financial Models

Company Founder, 31-year old Raj Jeyakumar, developed the concept after a nearly 7-year-long career in strategy and management consulting, topped with a volunteer trip, organized by the Gates Foundation to Kenya, where he created a marketplace for local farmers. Eventually, he went through the rigors of pursuing an MBA at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania – all the while, picking up freelance consulting work and employing his management/strategy skillset.

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SkillBridge was Built Out of Necessity

Jeyakumar, and his peers, found the process of finding freelance business consulting work to be incredibly inefficient. Thus, the idea behind creating a consulting marketplace was built out quickly, and a few months after launch, Stephen Robert Morse joined as SkillBridge’s first employee.

“I came on about six months after the website launched. Raj was the business guy, but my background was in tech and startups. Lightbox, Seamless, and Quirky to name a few.”

Stephen paints us a picture of why he got involved, and the importance of SkillBridge’s service.

Before SkillBridge, there wasn’t really a platform to provide work for white collar professionals on demand. Regardless of project difficulty, the process should be simple and easy. We wanted to create an easy way for businesses to access high quality, high talent, and elite professionals.

The other key here, Stephen explains, is confidentiality.

“Other platforms and freelancing sites lose the transparency aspect. You, as a user, will post a project, out there for the world to see, then ask for freelancers to bid their services. When you have big business decisions (management consulting, entering new markets, pricing sheets, etc.), confidentiality is a huge priority for SkillBridge.”

How It Works

An example:

“You put out a $50k project request. Then through the platform, we get in contact with the 20 best consultants who match your particular needs. We have algorithims in place to refine the matches. We send them the one page project scope, ask for the availability and timeline, then we offer the best candidate to client matches and you can set up interviews as needed.”

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Consulting: a Stagnant Industry in a Modern Age

We step back and take a glance at the consulting industry as a whole. It is a large, hulking, industry with modern needs and standards, but age-old underpinnings.

“The consulting business is something that’s remaind unchanged for nearly 100 years. Names like Accenture and Bain can charge billables of up to $20,000 a day to employ consultants that would just as easily work for $100 per hour, as long as it’s on their own terms.

We’ve found our marketplace appeals to consultants who love their work, but hate their jobs: Whether it’s the traveling, or working for clients they don’t like. To us, it’s about producing quality matches and allowing professionals to opt into jobs they’re interested in.”

Traditional hiring methods can equate to a month or longer of searching, qualifying, and hiring. Consulting projects, on SkillBridge, Stephen notes, can be submitted, answered, and candidates interviewed, qualified, and hired within 48 hours’ time.

Beyond Temporary Matchmaking

Past a simple marketplace, SkillBridge has yielded worthwhile results for career changers and those seeking flexible work lifestyles. Perhaps, professionals who are looking to get into specific industries, or most interesting: Stay-at-home parents who used to be management consultants, and MBA students looking to pick up work to fund expensive tuitions.

The profile fits accordingly for professionals who can spare 20-30 hours a week (not the traditional 50-60) to produce high level work. And in some cases, as Stephen reports, consultants have gone on to secure full time jobs for their contract employers – like the story of Anna Johnson, a Harvard Business School grad who was hired bySkillbridge as an HR contractor who helped her client create manuals for a fledgling startup’s HR team.

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A Changing Work Landscape

To date, SkillBridge has grown quickly with over 300 projects under its belt, and more coming in at a steady pace – all in 9-10 months of a baseline MVP launch, and a major site redesign in February.

“We want to validate the need for intermediate-priced consulting services, mainly in helping small businesses grow to the next level. It’s geared towards companies who don’t necessarily have budgets to hire McKinsey or Bain.”

We discuss the landscape at large, and some of the shifts they’ve been seeing in the space.

The try before you buy model has been a huge value on both sides. For the consultant (and they’ve all been there), when they walk into the first day on the job at a company and think to themselves {oh no}. For clients, they want to make sure they’re hiring for a position that is necessary to improve their bottom line.”

Company-side, control of the scope and timing of their projects is essential. In answering my question of what kind of companies are using their service, Stephen and his team have found the list to include private equity and venture capital firms, and large startups who are past the bootstrap level – like, say, Warby Parker in its earlier days.

Companies at this size often prefer to hire consultants for things that are not core to their businesses, with an emphasis on growth and scale.

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Lessons Learned

As a relatively young company, SkillBridge has seen its fair share of familiar startup bumps along the way. From one client who sent checks late to unreasonable project scopes – the team has gone the route of prioritizing customer service for its consultants and customers.

“To maintain quality, we’ve used review and scoring systems that take into account every part of the hiring process, from answering postings and interviewing, to verifying LinkedIn profiles and work portfolios. It’s an arduous process, but until we’re a huge company with a sterling reputation, we need to focus on customer service.

The lesson that we’ve learned is that there are talented people out there who are motivated not solely by money, but by engagement and meaning in their work. People are willing to work for less money when they know their work has a high impact.”

And with that, we close our interview with Stephen Robert Morse of SkillBridge. For more information on their services, be sure to visit their website to learn more!

Tired Of Hustling As A Freelancer? These Companies Will Find Gigs For You (For Free!)

An excellent piece, on me, from Forbes:

If you are ever in need of empathy for your plight as a freelancer or contractor, you should talk to Stephen Robert Morse.

As Head of Marketing, Communications, and Advertising at SkillBridge, a company that links independent contractors to companies searching for help on a specific project, he’s been studying the flaws of freelancing as we know it.

“Right now the system is broken,” he says. “If you are a consultant you spend 50 to 70 percent of your time hustling for work, and 25 percent of your time actually doing the work.”

If you’ve worked for yourself, you know exactly what he is talking about. The days spent emailing everyone you know (and don’t know) asking whether they have any work for you. The parties spent focusing on collecting business cards, rather than enjoying the music and cocktails. The hours spent dreaming up the most revolutionary, dynamic business ideas that a client may or may not want. And because it is a numbers game – for every one assignment you get, you have to pitch many, many more – there is no rest for the weary.

Then there is the fact that so much of succeeding as a freelancer is who you know, not how skilled you are. “People say, ‘I need to hire a consultant,’” explains Morse. “So they turn to their business partner and say, ‘Hey, do you know anyone who is a writer?’ And the other guy says, ‘Yeah, my buddy is. Let’s bring him in.’ That’s not going to get you the best work.”

Luckily for freelancers and independent contractors, there is a batch of startups trying to rectify these problems. They are creating virtual, merit-based systems that connect talent to companies that are looking for it. All you have to do is sign up, put your best face forward, and let them find work for you from their database of clients.

With Morse’s help I created a guide to these startups and how you can succeed in the new system they’ve created.

Choosing your company. While all of these companies have the same mission of creating a marketplace of talent for clients, they have important differences. Some are only looking for specific types of freelancers. MBA & Company and HourlyNerd, for example, only want candidates with MBAs, while Contently wants journalists. They also vary in what type of work they want to provide clients. SkillBridge brands itself as an alternative to Bain or McKinsey, a place where clients can find management consultants for specific projects. Contently works for brands looking for storytellers. So it’s important to do research to find out which company you should sign up for. (At the same time, you shouldn’t be afraid to sign up for more than one since it increases the chances of finding good work. “You have to be in it to win it,” says Morse.)

How to sign up. 

These websites need a lot of freelancers; the bigger the talent pool, the better people they can find for their clients. So they make it super easy to sign up. SkillBridge and MBA & Company. allow you to register through LinkedIn. oDesk asks how to upload a resume as well as write a quick summary about yourself. I’ve signed up for many of these sites and none take more than half an hour. And the best part: no fees! (The client pays a cut to the matchmaker.)

How to get the best assignments. 

Signing up doesn’t guarantee work by any means. In fact, it’s pretty competitive to get a gig (SkillBridge, for example, has 3000 consultants in its database but only 300 jobs… not a great ratio.) So you have to make your profile stand out. Most of these sites use an algorithm to suggest potential candidates to a client. The trick is to use as many key words as possible in your profile (Or LinkedIn profile if that’s the source of the information) that can be picked up by the computer. “If you’ve worked in different areas and different places, list them,” says Morse. “If you know different languages, list them. Every project is different and the more keywords you have, the more matches you will get.”

How to keep getting good assignments.

 After you complete work for a client they are asked to review you and recommend you to others. It’s key, therefore, to do a really good job on your first few assignments.  “Everyone gets rated from 1 to 10,” explains Morse. “If they are rated 8 or higher we will happily put them forward for other projects. If they aren’t rated 8 or higher we will find other people to do the work in the future.” In addition to impressing clients, you can also impress assigning editors (it’s not just an algorithm that assigns projects; there are also people who look through the talent to find the best matches) with your diligence and top-notch work. Most people, after all, rather hire tried and tested talent than a risky newbie.

Let the benefits roll in!

Morse says that if freelancers present themselves properly, they can make a living off the work they receive from SkillBridge. MBA & Company advertises that contractors, on average, receive 8,000 GBP per project, a hefty sum considering many are short term or can be done in conjunction with other assignments. I was definitely paying rent on money I made from oDesk assignments in my early freelance years. On top of high earning potential, many of these companies are offering additional benefits to freelancers. Within the year SkillBridge will be offering health insurance to its contractors. Contently runs a networking program for freelance journalists where you can meet editors and other writers. HourlyNerd offers best practice guides and business assistants for consultants who need professional guidance.

And as Morse says, all of these startups are still relatively new (most have popped up in the past few years) and will keep finding new ways to better serve freelancers. “The system is pretty f-ing good now,” he says about SkillBridge “But it’s going to get much better.”

With all the vitrol in the universe, I hate you Verizon Wireless!

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UPDATE: This must be a sick f*ckin joke. I was sent a second replacement iPhone 5 today (March 28) and it doesn’t even charge properly.

 

With all the vitrol in the universe, I hate you Verizon Wireless! (And Apple, you are a close second.) Here’s the situation:

I have been stuck on my parents’ family plan going on 15 years now. This is the predicament that many-a-Millennial find ourselves in: We’re committed to something our parents’ chose for us when we were merely teenagers.

I had the iPhone 4s from Verizon for over 2 years. Then, when it came time to upgrade to Apple ioS 7, everything started NOT WORKING. The wifi didn’t work, the phone started acting slowly, and apps started crashing left and right.

I went to the Verizon store. They said “Don’t pay to upgrade now. Wait until the iPhone 6 comes out. Try to upgrade to ioS 7.1.”

I went home, upgraded to 7.1, and the phone still didn’t work. In fact, it got worse after the upgrade.

I then visited a different Verizon store, where I was told, “Yes, we have had tons of problems with the iPhone 4S and ioS 7. We’re going to replace this phone with an iPhone 5.”

So I gave them my details, and a replacement  iPhone 5 arrived at my office yesterday. It turns out the thing doesn’t work at all. I can’t make phone calls, and when I have been able to make a few phone calls, the person on the other end hasn’t listened to me. The phone is used and scratched up on the exterior – not how I would keep my phone, and not what I expect a phone that was kept immaculately to be replaced with.

I have not been able to speak to important clients all day (as I was at a conference), as the phone didn’t work properly. It is a super annoying situation, made worse when you realize that to a large corporation like Verizon, you are worth less than nothing, even if your family has used their services for 18+ years, paying them every goddamn month.

The Verizon staff — both at the store and on the phone (after waiting on hold for 30 minutes!!) — weren’t  helpful at all, despite oodles of kindness to them. Of course, they’re ostensibly following a horrid corporate policy.

I will venture to the Apple store tomorrow, hoping to clear things up with what I think is a better organization. We’ll see.

If that doesn’t work, I’m heading to a conference a few blocks away from Verizon Wireless HQ in New York City tomorrow morning. You can bottom dollar I will be meeting with the upper echelons of their organization if I am forced to go there. Watch out, Verizon. You messed with the wrong dude.

UPDATE: I went to the Apple Store where the staff was kind of but not really helpful. They told me they’d give me a new phone for $269, which doesn’t make sense since I pay $10 a month for insurance from Verizon, and they literally just sent me a new phone 24 hours earlier. Furthermore, the phone that Verizon sent me was first used on November 18, 2012 — more than a year ago — and was thus out of warranty from Apple. I loathe this world.