The Howey Test vs The Token Taxonomy Act: Regulatory Clarity or More Uncertainty?

Freeing Crypto from the Bondage of a 72-Year-Old Law?

That header above makes a great headline but executing the concept is proving to be easier said than done. The Token Taxonomy Act (TTA) is splitting opinions among leading blockchain legal experts. The big question is whether the newest version of the TTA can deliver the regulatory clarity it promises to protect consumers and investors and encourage cryptocurrency legitimacy and growth in the blockchain industry.

Centralized finance is entrenched in legal traditions established in the 1930s which blockchain technology is disrupting across the board, from securities definitions to smart contracts to the SEC itself. In an interview with CNBC, head of the Blockchain Association and crypto-lobbyist Kristen Smith summed up the ongoing difficulty we’re experiencing in the transition saying, “These decentralized networks don’t fit neatly within the existing regulatory structure”.

So why have current crypto regulatory efforts been described in the CNBC report as analogous to fitting “square pegs in round holes”? In this article, I will unravel some of these tangled legal issues to help blockchain startups and investors make the most prudent informed decisions concerning the state of crypto now and what we may be facing in the immediate future.

But before we look to the future a brief history lesson is in order.

What is the Howey Test?

The key question in the debate is whether or not the TTA can indeed provide “regulatory certainty for businesses, entrepreneurs, and regulators in the U.S.’s blockchain economy” as promised by its bipartisan sponsors when it was introduced in April of 2019. Or are we better off as blockchain participants sticking to the tried and true Howey Test for categorizing most coins and tokens as securities? 

As things stand now, the IRS has already classified trading crypto-assets as a taxable event and the SEC has declared that most do seem to pass the Howey Test, and are therefore subject to securities regulations.

This regulatory burden clashes with the anti-authoritarian nature of the crypto-world. 

Bitcoin was originally intended to bypass third-party regulation altogether, relying instead on the distributed ledger’s built-in, decentralized security characteristics for internal regulation. 

Blockonomi founder, Oliver Dale, tackled the ICO/Howey Test correlation in his informative article, clarifying just how cryptocurrencies became recognized as securities after the German DAO group’s token was hacked in 2016.

The Howey Test is the result of a 1946 Supreme Court test case in which Florida citrus groves sold to outside investors by the WJ Howey Company were then immediately leased back to Howey who would harvest and resell the produce. The court ruled that the deal constituted an investment contract and investment contracts qualify as securities. Any financial instrument classified as a “security” then falls under the purview of the SEC. The Howey Test provides 4 criteria for an instrument to qualify as a security. They are:

  1. Investment of money
  2. Expectation of profit
  3. Common enterprise
  4. Profit generated by a third party

It seems that in many cases, digital tokens qualify as securities using the Howey Test. Passing the Howey test means that tokens should be subject to the same securities regulations as defined by the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, with all of their attending requirements for registrations, independently certified financial statements, management description disclosures, and regulations for secondary trading.

The TTA proposes to change all that, but as we’ll see, some industry watchers think we could be jumping from the frying pan and into the fire.

What is The Token Taxonomy Act of 2019?

Here’s the official summary for H.R.2144, the Token Taxonomy Act Version 2.0 straight from www.congress.gov:

A BILL

To amend the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to exclude digital tokens from the definition of a security, to direct the Securities and Exchange Commission to enact certain regulatory changes regarding digital units secured through public key cryptography, to adjust taxation of virtual currencies held in individual retirement accounts, to create a tax exemption for exchanges of one virtual currency for another, to create a de minimis exemption from taxation for gains realized from the sale or exchange of virtual currency for other than cash, and for other purposes.

The bipartisan pitch sounds like the passage of TTA 2019 (version 2.0) is a no-brainer, one sure to induce instant “cryptophoria” in the blockchain community, but some leading blockchain legal minds disagree. 

The original version of the bill was presented to Congress late in 2018, so late that it “never really stood a chance of getting anywhere” according to Guillermo Jimenez’s report at Decrypt. Jimenez cites crypto-attorney Gabriel Shapiro to support his evaluation that TTA version 2.0 is actually worse than the original.

Shapiro stated, “I can’t imagine legislation that is worse for blockchain entrepreneurs, regulators or markets than this!” Shapiro was joined by Wall Street veteran Caitlin Long who tweeted that the “watered down definition” of digital tokens was so vague it removes any “taxonomy” from the bill. 

Worse, the bill claims federal preemption over state blockchain legislation, such as the legislative effort Long championed to make Wyoming “the blockchain state” and would wipe state token definitions off the books in up to 15 states where tokens have been or will soon be clearly defined.

Benefits of The Token Taxonomy Act

Most of the objections from certain crypto-focused lawyers have to do with “vague definitions” and “difficult to apply elements” in the bill. 

No doubt, the legislative transition will be a long evolutionary process, and TTA version 2.0 is just the first critical step. The TTA, for many, is a diamond in the rough worth polishing.

For the crypto-community, the primary objective of the bill definitely makes TTA worth pursuing. Excluding digital tokens from the definition of a “security” removes a major logjam and reinforces the original spirit of decentralized financing intended when Satoshi Nakamoto introduced Bitcoin in the revolutionary white paper in 2008.

Other major benefits for the digital token trade under a new TTA are the tax breaks cited in the bill summary. Active token traders can reap the rewards of tax exemption when exchanging one virtual currency for another, not to mention the tax break for tokens held in IRA accounts.

For the US economy, the ramifications of passing some version of  TTA 2019 go far beyond the lucrative tax incentives which the bill provides for individual crypto investors. 

If the regulatory confusion isn’t cleared up soon, harsh status-quo regulation under the Howey Test could drive the central hub of blockchain to other countries in Europe and Asia where the technology has been embraced.

The chief rival for the US is, as always, China, which leads the world in blockchain-based projects. 

According to the bill’s sponsor Congressman Warren Davidson, “Without [the Token Taxonomy Act], the U.S. is surrendering its innovative origins and ownership of the digital economy to Europe and Asia.”

Davidson cites the early days of the internet when Congress resisted the temptation to over-regulate while providing certainty as a model for achieving a similar win which will “unlock the blockchain industry” and secure the US position as a blockchain leader. His “light touch” regulatory philosophy harmonizes well with the original intent of blockchain innovation.

The Howey Test is not the answer but the TTA, in some form, might be.

Productivity

Let’s face it.

If you’re the average person, you’re spending a decent amount of your work day doing things that are unproductive.

Facebook
Reddit
Twitter
Snap
Insta
Texting
Reading, watching, or listening to the news
Casual conversations
Answering non-scheduled phone calls
Answering emails immediately as they come in

And the list goes on
…and on
…and on.

No wonder you’re not productive.

How do I know this all to be true? Because it was me not too long ago.

I thought that being ‘busy’ was the same thing as being ‘productive’. Well, they’re not.

Here’s what I started doing to boost my productivity:

Task List + Calendar

I use Trello + Google Calendar to organize my tasks and schedule my day. I literally block out almost all of my day with tasks to help me stay focused and on topic.

Here’s a blank Trello board that you can copy and use.

Now, you don’t need to use Trello. If you just to want use the Calendar, that’s fine.

But personally, I prefer to check boxes as I go as it’s a response that let’s me know I’m getting important work done.

Here’s a breakdown of exactly what I do:

1: Morning Bookend (5:00am - 5:45am)

The tasks that I complete immediately upon waking up are setup to help me start my day right. My morning bookend, which spans for about 45 minutes, include:

  • 8oz of water (within 5 minutes of waking up)
  • 5 minutes of stretching
  • Some type of wake-me-up (coffee/tea)
  • 10 minutes of self-improvement (reading, videos, audiobook, etc)
  • 10 minutes of writing (blog or video content)
  • Review my plan for the day (that I setup the night before)

2: Personal Health (6:00am - 7:00am)

For those of you who always complain of being tired or not having enough energy know that it is hard to consistently be productive.

Because being productive requires energy and mental clarity. 

And one of the best ways to increase your energy and mental clarity is through exercise.

For me, this means hitting the weights at the gym. For you, it should mean whatever gets your body moving: walking, running, biking, yoga, weight training, etc.

Your mind and body are your greatest asset. Take care of it and you’ll be able to take care of a lot more.

3: Most Important Tasks (7:30am - 12pm)

After clearing my mind through exercise, I’m ready to take on the most difficult tasks for the day. These are the tasks that I identify as the “absolutely-must-get-done-even-if-others-don’t”:

  • Most important task one (often involves sales)
  • Most important task two
  • Most important task three

In most cases, I try to avoid scheduling meetings during morning hours (unless absolutely necessary) as meetings often interrupt the day and reduce productivity

4: All Other Tasks (12:15pm - 5:30pm)

Only after all of the most important tasks are complete do I move on to my “other” tasks for the day.

This list can be a wide range of items from meetings, phone calls, non-critical emails, and social media (for work).

I do make sure that I add in at least an additional 30 minutes of self-improvement. I typically listen to an audiobook at this time. Check out what I’ve been listening to. 

5: Family / Friends (5:30pm - 9:00pm)

After all, life isn’t just about work. It’s OK (and recommended) to stop working and spend time with those who matter to you most.

It may seem ridiculous to add this into your task list and calendar, but it’s not. It’s a simple reminder everyday that you should put down what you’re doing and shift your focus to loved ones.

I either have this set up as a block of time or as specific activities that we’ll be doing.

6: Evening Bookend (9:15pm - 9:45pm)

I close out the day by doing the following:

  • Write in journal (at least one thing that I learned today and 2 – 5 wins for the day, no matter how small)
  • Plan tomorrow: create tasks in Trello and schedule them in my calendar
  • Bed by 10pm

If you want to build something like this into your daily routine you’ll need to make it a habit. 

And although you may have some initial motivation, remember that you need consistent motivation until the habit is built

Try committing to doing this (or something similar) for at least 3 weeks (because, according to research, it takes 21 days).

Comment below and let me know if you plan to try out a similar schedule to mine or if you already do something else to keep yourself productive. 

Crypto Resources

This post is continually being updated.

I’ve been getting asked quite a bit about how to buy Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and other ‘alt’ coins.

And after my short rant on Facebook about people trying to take advantage of friends and family by putting them through sales funnels and webinars on “How to Buy Bitcoin and Make a Shit-Ton of Money”, I decided to put together a short list of resources.

To be clear…

**This post is NOT about**:

  • Recommending that you invest any money into cryptocurrencies, ICOs, or token sales
  • Helping you get rich quick
  • Suggesting that you invest in an ICO or token sale
  • Recommending specific currencies or “coins” to buy into

Please, do your own homework. Investing time and money into something just because there’s a lot of loud noise surrounding the topic, does not mean that it is best for you.

Resources

Twitter. Follow reputable experts in this space. To name a few:

Crypto-news sites:

Reddit. Reddit communities are often excited about the topic that the subreddit focuses on (if you’re unfamiliar, a subreddit is identified by the text after the /r/ in the URL – for example, reddit.com/r/bitcoin is a subreddit about Bitcoin). There can be great information found within these subreddits, but be careful of buying into the ‘hype’ posts about all-time highs (ATH), ‘just HODL (meaning, keep holding and don’t sell)’, buying, and/or selling. I caution to browse these subreddits for the most informative posts only, which are usually stickied at the top and highlighted green:

If, after doing your own research and coming to your own conclusion, that you’d like to get involved, here’s how to get started (finish reading the entire post first):

How to Buy BTC (Bitcoin), ETH (Ethereum), and LTC (Litecoin):

Coinbase – this is the easiest way to get started. Go to coinbase.com to sign up and begin your verification process. They will walk you through the steps of what is needed to verify your account, such as confirming your address, bank account, email address, and phone number. This may take a few days mainly due to bank verification.

Once you are verified on Coinbase and get your feet wet, you can move over to their trading platform, Coinbase Pro. It uses the same login as Coinbase but the fees are much lower. I recommend getting comfortable on Coinbase first.

How to Buy ‘alt’ Coins:

You’ll need to use another exchange such as Bitstamp, Binance, or Bittrex. There are others as well. I personally prefer Binance (referral link) or Bitstamp. Whichever you sign up for, follow their onboarding steps to get setup properly. Important: Binance will be closing trading to US residents as of Septmember 2019. They will be launching a separate platform for US based users soon.

Note that these exchanges require you to trade using BTC (sometimes ETH & LTC are available to trade), so you’ll want to be set up on Coinbase/Pro first.

From there, you can use your Coinbase account to transfer BTC to your wallet on the other exchange. Once the BTC transfer is verified and deposited to your wallet, you can use that BTC to purchase alt coins.

Security

Look out for scams and phishing sites. This can be avoided by entering the direct URL of the site you wish to visit. For example, if you want to login to your Coinbase account, it’s best that you type in coinbase.com in your browser. Doing a search for Coinbase on a search engine may display ad links that may not be representative of the actual site you trust. At first glance, the site may look legit, but it’s actually an attempt to steal your information.

Always enable 2FA (two-factor authentication). Use an app such as Google Authenticator (Android) (Apple) or Authy to generate unique codes for you each time you log in, buy, or sell. Although added security measures may seem cumbersome, they are certainly worth-while.

Consider getting a hardware wallet. Often referred to as “cold storage”, hardware wallets such as the Trezor or Ledger Nano are secure ways for storing your coins offline.

It should go without saying, but don’t ever share passwords or security codes from an authenticator app with anyone, not even support teams from exchanges, and use strong & unique passwords for your accounts.

If there is anything else that you’d like me to cover or add to, please comment below.

5 Principles of a Strong Presentation Style

presentation style

Anyone can be a designer with the tools available online. The unfortunate reality, however, is that not everyone can do it effectively.

Designing is more than putting relevant information on slides in a coherent manner. You need a strong presentation style to relay information in effective and memorable ways.

Developing a style isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Applying basic principles can help level the playing field between amateur and professional designers. Think of these principles as tools; using them correctly will make it easier to achieve your goal.

What are these tools and how can they be used in the design process? Let’s examine five basic design principles and how they can develop your presentation style.

Contrast

Our brains are wired to recognize patterns. The desire for uniformity goes back to our evolutionary history when a sudden change in the landscape could be life or death.

Whenever a pattern breaks, the brain instantly draws our attention to it. By adding contrast, a designer can use this knowledge to draw attention to essential information, creating a strong presentation style.

Contrast is a powerful tool because it can be implemented in numerous ways. Use different sizes, distances, or colors (black/white for example) to draw attention to a graph or picture that drives your message home.

Using Contrast in Text

A strong presentation style relies on using contrast to highlight words and phrases. Words in bold will instantly demand the reader’s focus.

Italics are a subtle form of contrast and is used to draw attention to something. You should also use italics when referencing a movie, book, magazine, or other similar titles.

Underlining is another form of contrast and can be used to highlight important text.

These styles should not be over-used. They are meant to emphasize important concepts in your presentation and to draw attention to ideas. Overusing contrast can weaken its benefit and irritate your audience, causing them to lose their concentration.

Best Uses of Contrast

A straightforward presentation style is usually your best bet.

Your audience should know the purpose of a presentation from the beginning. There will be various ideas that act as key points supporting the thesis.

Contrast should be used to point out the thesis and key points. The audience will be able to form a solid outline of the ideas in the presentation by looking at what you have highlighted.

Repetition

People have used repetition since the beginning of time to drive points home and increase an audience’s ability to remember key ideas. Repetition will reinforce ideas and build a strong presentation style.

This concept goes back to humans looking for patterns in everything. Breaking patterns using contrast will draw attention to certain points, while repetition keeps the central idea at the forefront of the presentation.

You can use repetition in numerous ways. Using slides to maintain a presentation’s theme will maintain unity. Using the same font for your text will achieve cohesion for your slides. You won’t need to change fonts if you use the contrast tips listed above.

Repetition of Phrases or ideas

Another method of repetition involves using a phrase or idea in numerous ways to hammer it into the audience’s memory.

Using analogies is a great way of utilizing repetition. If you are doing a presentation about writing, you can compare various writing techniques to a toolbox. Repetition would be a hammer because it is used to “hammer” a point home to the reader.

Phrases are easier to use but also easier to over-use. A good rule of thumb is to only use a key phrase every three to four slides in a presentation. For analogies, you will want to subtly slip in a reference every couple of slides to keep it in the audience’s mind.

Repetition is essential for a strong presentation style when used properly.

Best Uses of Repetition

Think of what the overall theme of your presentation is. This theme should be the driving factor of your presentation style. You can then draw a parallel to something that the audience will remember and recognize.

Recognition is important. If you are designing a presentation for a group of business professionals, using video games as a theme isn’t a good idea. Your theme has to be relatable. Know your audience and cater to them!

Design with the overall picture of your work in mind and use repetition to “hammer” it home. Just remember to remain true to your presentation style.

Balance

Your presentation should never look like it was thrown together at random. Every picture and word should have a purpose.

Balance focuses on individual slides instead of the overall presentation and helps determine how different elements fit together. The best way to achieve balance is imagining your slide as a grid. Connect images via an invisible line to other elements.

There are two types of balance that you can use to improve your slides:

Symmetrical

Symmetry is all about harmony. If you draw a line down the middle of an image and both sides are the same, the image has symmetry. Placing two images next to each other that are the same shape will achieve the same effect.

If you have a pie chart on one side of a slide, don’t place a square next to it. This layout will look as though you randomly placed the objects there. With letters and numbers, make sure that one side isn’t overloaded while the other looks barren.

Being symmetrical might seem like it counteracts contrast, but it doesn’t. You might argue that the circle/square example above could be a form of contrast by drawing attention to one shape instead of the other.

You should ask yourself “which item am I drawing attention to?” If the point of emphasis is not obvious, then it isn’t contrasted, it’s sloppy. Never sacrifice symmetry to draw attention to an element.

Asymmetrical

Asymmetry is when two sides are not equal but are balanced. Having a large square on one side of a slide and four squares forming a bigger box on the other would be an example of this idea.

You can use asymmetrical principles to achieve contrast without sacrificing balance. Place a larger image on one side of a slide with minor points bringing balance in smaller boxes.

Using Proximity to Achieve Balance

Ideas that are related to each other should be placed together. Ideas that are separate should have space between them. Proximity is very important when attempting to contrast an idea and maintain balance.

If you are comparing two ideas and need them on the same slide, group them together with supporting points on each side. Using proximity will let the audience know they are separate without interrupting the balance of the visual.

Best Uses of Balance

EVERY slide should be balanced. Imagine your slide as being split into four pieces, and make sure there is something that connects them together. The connector can be something as simple as a background image.

From there, as you place your images, make sure that each image adds to the overall picture and doesn’t look as though there are four themes on the page. Use symmetry for a straight forward approach or asymmetry if you are attempting to contrast one element from another.

Maintaining balance will keep your presentation style looking professional.

Use Colors That Fit Your Presentation Style

Picking colors based off of what makes a presentation look “pretty” undermines just how important they are.

Various colors have been shown to impact people’s moods and memories. Depending on your audience and the subject of the presentation, design slides with this in mind to maximize their impact.

Some of the better colors to use for professional audiences are:

Blue

The color blue represents stability and reliability. Studies have shown that workers in blue rooms are more productive than in rooms of other colors.

Green

The color green is associated with nature and has a calming effect on people. Researchers have also shown that green is a great color to use if your subject matter is difficult because it enhances reading comprehension and speed.

Orange

Orange is an exciting color that is perceived as energetic and warm. It is often used to draw attention to things but should be used in a limited capacity as it can be an eyesore.

Using the proper colors is critical for your presentation style.

End With A Call to Action

If you want to show off your presentation style, a great ending will do it for you.

A call to action is a statement that inspires the audience to do something. Anytime you’ve read an article online you’ve seen a sentence at the end asking the reader to leave a comment or contact a company. Those sentences are calls to action. You’ll see one at the of this article as well!

CTAs are a great way to engage your audience and gives them something tangible to hold onto after the presentation. There are many forms of CTAs, some obvious and some subtle.

“Call now!”

“Leave a comment and like!”

“Let’s get out there and vote!”

Your call to action will depend on who the presentation is for and the purpose of it. Many designers will be attempting to sell a service. If this is the case for you, don’t fall into the “buy x product now” routine.

You have to tell someone why they should do something while making it seem like it has been their idea the entire time. Planting the idea can be done by either asking a question before a CTA or by stating the benefit to the consumer. A strong presentation style makes this part easy!

How To Make A Great Call To Action

If you are selling a product, think about what the product does. Every product has something that sets it apart. Imagine that you are doing a presentation for a pillow company, one that makes the “best pillow ever!”. What makes it the best pillow?

Perhaps it is designed to stop neck pain and is backed by a guarantee. After your presentation, which will include statistics about neck pain and how this pillow fights it, you will need to make the consumer believe that they want this product and that they decided they wanted it long ago.

You could say “Call 1-800-Pillow now!”, but that wouldn’t drive it home. It’s too sale-sy. If you want to blow away your audience with your presentation style, go big with the ending.

A better approach would be “Don’t you deserve to wake up well-rested and pain-free? Of course, you do! With our money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose! For better sleep and a higher quality of life call 1-800-Pillow today”.

You’ve laid out your case as to why someone needs this product and convinced them that it was their idea to get it by asking a question and answering it for them.

Bringing it All Together

Mastering these five principles of a strong presentation style takes more than reading an article. The best learning technique is trial and error.

If you are an amateur designer, try different things out before jumping head-first into the pool. Give yourself mock assignments and put together presentations that you can show to family and friends. Don’t be afraid of criticism: it’s what makes you better.

Keeping these techniques in mind will help you as you master your craft. Once you feel comfortable, there’s no limit to where you can go.

If you are a student, you have two major advantages that many don’t: you will be able to master these techniques in front of a live audience of students and your professor, and companies love to hire students because of the benefits they receive.

Use These Advantages to Make Money

Being a student is hard. In between exams, studying, and trying to find work that actually pays, there isn’t much time for anything resembling a social life.

That’s why we’ve set up a marketplace for businesses to hire students for design-based projects. Companies get energetic and tech savvy students that are willing to go the extra mile, and students get paid work and experience that they can do at their own pace.

Motivating Yourself & Building Habits

build habits

If you plan on achieving the goals that you’ve set, you’ll need to build good habits. But building habits isn’t all that easy. Think about the last time you tried to establish a good habit. It may have been to…

Work on your side business before or after work.

Make 10 extra sales calls each day.

Go to the gym 5 days per week.

Eat healthy every day.

Quit smoking.

Put x% of money into savings.

…you get the point.

It’s like on New Year’s Day when everyone has their resolution plastered on social media and within 1 – 2 weeks, they’re right back to where they were on New Years Eve.

Why is that?

It’s because motivation is short-lived. Although motivation is the foundation for building those habits, you need consistent motivation until you can develop a habit.

So, how do you motivate yourself to do anything?

A few years back I was into fitness. I still am, but back then, I was really into fitness. Like you could “use my abs as a washboard” into it.

I knew that in order to achieve my fitness goals, I’d need to build habits that would allow me to achieve those successes. That meant consistently getting to the gym before my workday started and eating healthy 90% of the time.

If you’ve ever tried to get in shape, you know that it’s easier said than done.

The first thing I did was build the habit of getting up 1 hour earlier than I normally did.

This meant 6am.

Although I can now get up at 5am without a problem, this was a difficult task for me then.

Just like the New Year’s resolution, the first few days were simple. But once the initial burst of motivation ran out, I needed help.

That’s when I used the sound from a motivational video as my alarm and then immediately watched that motivation video upon waking up.

“Rise and Shine” is the video that I watched every single morning.

It may sound ridiculous, but it worked.

I’ve learned that good habits can often be used in multiple aspects of life. Below I’ll outline steps that you can take to build habits and you’ll see how they can be applied to both fitness and your professional life.

Let’s dive in.

Change Your Perspective

Fitness: Find a reason to workout that doesn’t directly relate to fitness and nutrition. For example, if you have children and you want them to see you as a healthy and fit role model so that they mimic the path you’ve taken to care for your body, use that as your reason to stay consistent.

Business: Instead of chasing the almighty dollar, do your work for the reason of good. Meaning, don’t work more to sell more and ultimately make more. Do great work that is truly beneficial to others and the rewards will follow.

Set Short-Term, Realistic Goals

Fitness: If you want to lose 100 pounds, you’ll need to set smaller goals before achieving that. Try setting a goal for every 30 days, such as losing 5 or 10 pounds within that window. It’s more likely that you’ll hit it, which is motivation in itself.

Business: The same above applies here. If you need to grow revenue this month by 10%, figure out what that number is and break it down to the week or even day. Instead of it meaning “I’ll need 12 additional sales this month”, it could mean “I just need 3 additional sales this week.”

Start at the Same Time

Fitness: Just like getting up and going to work or school at the same time each day, you need to do the same for your workouts. This will help drive consistency as you’ll build fitness directly into your daily routine.

Business: If you work a 9-5 job already, this may be a no shit suggestion. But if you have a “side business” that you’re trying to grow, then apply this to allocate the proper time needed to accomplish tasks. For example, if you typically wake up each day at 7:30am and leave for work by 8:30am, start getting up at 6:30am to give yourself an additional hour to work on your side business or other tasks that need to get done.

Write Everything Down

Fitness: Perform an exercise? Write it down. Eat something? Write it down. By keeping a log of everything you do, you hold yourself accountable. Want to know why you gained 2 pounds? Check back to the log 4 days ago and see “ate entire package of Oreos.” Bingo.

Business: I personally keep a journal next to my bed and write down 3 – 5 successes that I had for that day, no matter how small. This helps to keep your mind in a good place – no matter the obstacles you may have faced – and mentally prepares you to keep moving forward. Write down your wins.

Partner Up

Fitness: Find a friend or family member that has similar goals to you and workout together. You’ll hold each other accountable and keep things competitive.

Business: If you happen to be freelancing or working on a business project alone, it sometimes helps to find others to work near who are doing the same. It can relieve the feeling of loneliness and reduce stress and anxiety. It’s one of the reasons that coworking spaces are on the rise.

Listen to Music

Fitness: Not slow music, but tunes that get you moving. Get pumped up and jam out (no, I didn’t mean this) before and during workout sessions.

Business: This will ultimately depend on your preference for music and sound while you work. Either create a playlist that helps you focus or create unique combinations of sound using Noisli.

Change Up the Scenery

Fitness: Getting bored at a gym? Go to a playground, or beach, or your living room. Change up your surroundings while you workout to keep things fresh.

Business: Bored sitting in a cube or home office? Find a coworking space, a coffee shop, or anywhere that is different that will still allow you to focus.

Put Money on the Line

You’re more likely to follow through with something if you’ve already paid for it or if there’s a chance you’ll lose money.

Fitness:  Hire a personal trainer, buy a custom nutrition plan, or get an online subscription. Pay first, train after.

Business: Give a friend or mentor $100 to hang on to and only get it back if you do the exact tasks that you say you’ll do. It doesn’t mean that you can’t fail in achieving a goal, but it forces you to take the steps required to potentially achieve that goal.

You Have to Want it

Fitness & Business: Ultimately, none of the above matter if you don’t want it badly enough. Tell yourself everyday that you want it. Literally. Out loud.

Bonus Tip

Fitness & Business: If you “don’t feel like it” one day, commit to exercising or working through a task for just 5 minutes. More often than not, once you get going, you’ll follow through with the rest of your session.

Your goal is to get to the point where small boosts of motivation will lead to good habits.

Have other tips or want to share success that you’ve had? Let me know in the comments!

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Build It and They Will Come [But Will They?]

retire early

“Build it and they will come” are certainly words that hold no truth in the startup world.

When I first had the idea for Boonle, a design marketplace for students launched in 2015, I thought that running a startup wouldn’t be that difficult.

I mean, come on, a quick browse through TechCrunch and you’ll see companies that are pulling in multi-million dollar funding rounds and highlights of billion dollar valuations.

What could be so hard?

I’ve got it! I’ll build out the idea I have, raise a bunch of money, and get an article posted on all of the giant tech blogs.

Problem solved.

Acquisition in the millions is on the horizon.

Retirement by 35… just as I planned.

retire early
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@jakobowens1

Now that I’ve been in the game for a couple of years, my past thoughts are beyond laughable.

Truth is, many soon-to-be founders have this same mentality, both on raising money and launching a successful product.

Have I raised a bunch of money? Nope.

Had a successful exit? Nope.

But I have gone through the process of getting started and there are things that I wish I knew then that I can now talk about with others.

Please don’t build it and assume they will come.

They won’t.

Here’s the reality of getting started.

You need to build something that matters.

You often hear people say “follow your passion” and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Bullshit.

Yes, it’s certainly better to do work that you love vs work that you hate.

But if your passion is to make snow angels in the sand, you most likely don’t have a business model. And without a business model, you don’t make money.

Last time I checked, businesses need to make money to survive.

The flip side is hearing “solve a need” and business will flourish. This one is also partially true.

Yes, solving a need will yield more revenue, but if you don’t have the passion to go with it, chances are you won’t make it in the business very long.

That’s why having a passion for what you’re doing and solving a need is your ideal situation.

Because starting a company is hard.

Really hard. I’ve tried before and have failed.

You have to put in the work.

Long hours.

Less sleep.

Stress.

Less family time.

Less time with friends at the bar.

You get the point.

So if you don’t have passion to go along with your idea that solves a need, you won’t be able to deal with the “hard” part of starting something new.

Did you know? The majority of startups fail because there is no need in the market!

 

 

How do you validate your startup idea?

Validating an idea can be an in-depth process. But here’s a high-level overview:

Start with the basics. This means doing various Google searches around the topic of your idea.

  • What’s already out there?
  • How does your solution compare?
  • What’s the search traffic like?
  • Are there recent articles published on the topic?

Talk to people. Not just family and friends. They are biased and will most likely not provide you the feedback that you’re looking for. Go to networking events and talk to potential customers about what you’re doing. See what kind of interest there is.

  • Will they pay for it?
  • Can they use it?
  • Better yet, will they buy it now before it’s even built?

Market research. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to your public library. They will often provide very expensive research data to you for free!

  • What are the trends in the industry that you’re entering?
  • Is it growing?
  • How large is the market?
  • Is there room for you to enter and take a big piece of it ? By the way, no one ever wants to hear “if we just get 1% of the market…”.

 

Build an MVP.

Not sure what that is? Go and read The Lean Startup before doing anything else.

Once you’ve done that, if you need help building your MVP, source freelancers to help you with the skills that you lack. There are countless platforms out there to hire writers, developers, and designers on the cheap.

 

Test. And test some more.

Now that you have your MVP done, you need to test it out. Go out and get users or customers for whatever it is that you’re selling. Then, get feedback. You need real feedback from real customers to identify real problems.

Trust me, you won’t have it all figured out with your MVP.

Analyze feedback, research more, and make changes that you feel are necessary to improve the product or service that you’re offering.

Repeat until you hit the sweet spot, often referred to as product-market fit.

You’ll eventually look back and say, “wow, that first iteration was crap.”

But you’ll be a lot further ahead than if you went with the build it and they will come mentality.

Good luck.

From Corporate Sales to Freelancer

corporate life to freelancer

Yes, it’s true. There are more and more people getting into freelancing than ever before, and I’m one of them. Not only did I enter the freelance space with very little experience in the field I began working in, my freelance career led me to starting a business helping other freelancers get started.

Here’s my story of how my time spent – beginning in college – led to a successful freelance career and ultimately put me in the hot seat of a startup for freelancers.

College Life

I was born and raised in Rochester, NY and graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology. If you read this section title, College Life, and immediately thought to living on campus, constant partying, and the occasional all-nighter before a test, you’re probably not alone.

But I’m not one of them. I often wonder what kind of experience that would have been as my situation was a bit different. Although I was enrolled as a full time student, the amount of class credits that I took always fell short of my peers. This was purposely done as I ran my own auto detail shop while simultaneously attending classes. I had a strong desire to make money and practice what I was studying as early as possible. This taught me more about business than what you can learn in the classroom alone.

Each day of the week started with either an 8am class or early work at the shop. Whichever didn’t come first certainly came immediately after, so back and forth between campus and shop was the norm. It kept me busy, but I loved it.

But as you can imagine, the workload from my classes meant that I wasn’t able to give it my all at the shop, often leading to an undesirable fluctuation in business revenue. The ups and downs of how much money I made was stressful and while others were graduating and finding “normal” jobs, I still had a few more classes to take. It was at this point I decided to close up shop, finish school, and do what most students do as they approach graduation – send out my resume in hopes of finding a job that would provide a steady income.

Corporate Life

Upon graduation, I landed a job fairly quickly at a SaaS company called BlueTie. I was an inside sales rep tasked to make 100+ phone calls per day to businesses who didn’t know the company by name – let alone who I was. I quickly learned that cold calling sucked – it was both draining and mind-numbing.

But again, this is what people did after college, right? Get an entry-level job, move your way up to manager, then hopefully into an executive level position. Climbing the corporate ladder was definitely the way to go… or was it? I began having doubts about the process fairly quickly. It was at this point that I started discussing a business idea with a friend that we ended up giving a go.

The business was called University of Student Savings – a discount platform for college students. It was the combination of a student discount card and Groupon (before Groupon’s time) that allowed businesses to sign up and offer discounts to students attending a university nearby.

I worked on this part time, mainly spending time on the website I had built using Yahoo! Site Builder (a drag and drop editor that was, at the time, impressive). It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. But hey, it was my first site and I was proud of it.

All while this was taking place, I moved on from BlueTie into another sales position at Bausch & Lomb, only this time it wasn’t cold calling 100 prospects per day. The duties of my new job were better, the pay was better, and things were looking up. I thought that this was my chance to climb the ladder, being at an established company and all. University of Student Savings was put on the back burner and eventually shut down. One of many failures.

Over the next 4 years I moved on to other sales positions. One of them was with an advertising company where I began to understand more of the online marketing space. Selling websitesSEO, and PPC packages, I quickly saw the potential as so many businesses were far behind when it came to having an online presence. Although I was enjoying working in this field, it’s not where life as a salesman ended for me.

My final destination sales position was with Groupon. At the time, Groupon was a young and highly talked about company. They were what you imagined when you thought of a well-funded start up. Headquartered in a large city (Chicago), they had flexible work areas, pool tables, ping pong, food, drinks, and more. Everyone there was young and the culture was amazing. At this point, I was the happiest that I had ever been with my work-life. I was the local rep for the Rochester market and worked from home with both flexibility and great pay.

During my time at Groupon, the need for small businesses to get online was becoming more prevalent. I had some friends who were beginning business owners and asked me to help them get set up online. With my very basic knowledge of setting up websites, I did just that.

Freelancing

After setting up a couple of websites, another light bulb went off, telling me to go back out onto my own. I guess the entrepreneurial itch never left me after running the auto detail shop.

No matter how much better my job got, I was always looking for something else. I began reading up on how you have to “take the leap” in order to leave the 9 to 5 grind. Just go for it was the common theme in my research on what to do. And so I did. I left corporate life to freelance.

Doing what? Building websites, of course.

How hard could it be? I had already built a few of them, I had plenty of sales experience, and sold into the Rochester market for years. Not to mention, many small businesses didn’t even have a website yet. I’d be able to sell websites without a problem.

What was the first question business owners asked me when I was pitching? Nope, not price. It was “can I see some of your past work?” Well…no. You see, the few sites I had set up were now no longer operational or not worthy of showing off. And without a solid portfolio to back me up, it was over. Just like that. I went from a high paying sales position to making zero. I had to do something fast and there was no way in hell I was going back to passing out my resume just to land yet another sales job that I’d want to leave.

I quickly started seeking ways to build my portfolio. I reached out to friends, family, and nonprofit organizations to offer far less than market-rate website services and often, free of charge.

In fact, I still manage the website for IACKids – one of the first nonprofit sites that I set up.

This tactic worked and not only added presentable sites to my portfolio, but my website design skills were improving. The combination of these two elements changed the game for me and I have never had to look back.

Helping Freelancers Get Started

About two years into freelancing, I began to reflect on what helped me get to the point where I didn’t need a 9 to 5 and was able to generate an income on my own terms. Was my corporate experience a waste of time? Of course not. As much as I disliked a few of the positions that I held, all came with valuable takeaways that I’ve been able to apply to both personal and business situations.

But even with my corporate experience, I wasn’t able to successfully move forward with freelancing until I had fine-tuned my skills and built my portfolio. This was the final piece that moved the needle and I knew that others were going to run into the same situation.

Meet Boonle.

Boonle was started for the sole purpose of helping new freelancers get started. The goal was to provide a simple way to find work when you may not yet have a portfolio to back you up. The original model played into the method that I used to find work – less than market-rate and often, free.

Boonle originally launched with the concept that all projects posted were done as favors in exchange for portfolio building items with the option to provide a monetary tip once the project was complete. Although this worked occasionally, it ultimately failed. Registering was also open to anyone, leading to a flood of freelancers from around the world – skilled or not. This broke our mission of helping newbies get their feet wet.

Many more months of a repeated cycle of testing, feedback, testing, and more feedback, has brought us to what Boonle is today – a marketplace that connects US-based students with businesses on graphic & web design projects.

Projects are paid at decent rates, but still far less than what an experienced designer would charge. We’re leading the way for students to find real work while in college – fine tuning their skill sets and building their portfolios – just as I did. Businesses that can’t afford the highly experienced freelancer or agency can now work directly with talented students instead of sourcing their work overseas.

The question I get from students often is, “how do I get started as a freelancer?” I wish someone had shared their journey with me before I got started and I hope that my story can inspire someone else to take the leap.

7 Lessons Learned from Startup Failure

I originally wrote this post for TechDay News, published here.

 

Failure. It’s something that all entrepreneurs fear. And if you’re in the startup space, you’ve most likely heard “fail fast” as a way of learning and making quick changes to find product/market fit. Although this is true when applied to whatever it is you’re offering, there are broader lessons to be learned from others mistakes.

I’ve tried, I’ve failed, and I’ve learned. Here are my top 7 lessons learned from personal failures:

Lesson 1: Don’t Just Sell. Tell a Story.

Highlighting the features and benefits of your product or service is a common strategy often implemented in website copy and other marketing materials. Although this type of information explains what you do, it completely misses the mark on effective selling – that is, getting others to buy into your story. Storytelling taps into the emotions of the potential customer. If you strike the right chord with your story, you’ll end up seeing a lot more buyers.

Lesson 2: Don’t Be Blind. Be Strategic.

Don’t go into trying to build a business blind. Don’t think that you know how the market will react, what advertising methods will work, or what price you should charge. Do your research and put together a strategy for every step of the way.

Lesson 3: Don’t Move Slow. Move Fast.

If you’re a startup, moving at a snail’s pace can be detrimental. Not only can you lose advantages over the competition, but it can deplete your level of motivation. Be sure to move fast, but not so fast that you lose attention to detail. Find a pace that you can work within that allows you to make smart decisions while continually moving your business forward.

Lesson 4: Don’t Assume. Find a Need.

Just because you, your Grandma, your best friend, and your dog think that your idea and business model is cool, doesn’t mean that you have a valid business. Move quickly to get a working prototype (or an MVP) to test on real potential customers. Get worthwhile feedback, tweak your product and model as needed, and repeat this process until you find what truly works.

Lesson 5: Don’t Fear Failure. Embrace it.

Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations can often lead to greatness. However, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll be successful with each step you take. Try new ideas with the mindset of “if this fails, I’ll only better myself.”

Lesson 6: Don’t Start for Money. Have a Purpose.

Successful people know that if you start a business strictly for the purpose of “hitting it big”, you’re setting yourself up for business failure. As Simon Sinek religiously preaches, “find your why” (watch Simon’s TED talk). Hint: re-read Lesson 1.

Lesson 7: Don’t Do Everything Yourself. Empower Others.

Sure, when you first start, you may be the sole-proprietor that needs to do everything. But as you begin to build and have a solid story to tell, tell that story to others and build a team of people who share your vision. Empowering others helps you concentrate on your “why” and overall strategy.

As an entrepreneur, you will make mistakes, you will encounter failures, and you will grow. Learn from the mistakes made by others and those made by you and continue pushing forward towards greatness.