Getting Organized: Why the NRA Always Wins when 80% of Americans Support Stricter Gun Control

I recently read this piece that said that charted the decline of union membership and the decline of american middle class incomes over the past 50 years. At first, I was dismissive: correlation does not equal causation. Unions & Income Graph
A few days later, I watched an episode of the newsroom where they continued to ridicule and underestimate the Occupy Wall Street movement. Of course Aaron Sorkin and the audience know that Occupy would will eventually become a huge movement, so the point of the story was to explore how the media first struggled to grasp its importance.  But the crux of the characters’ argument against the Occupy protesters was that they weren’t organized. No clear leaders or spokespeople, and no clear demands. The protesters would argue that this groundswell movement was a response to problems too great, and emotions too fundamental, to create a short list of demands. And that it was part of their communal idealogy to not designate any clear leader. The producer argued that they need organization, clear and reasonable demands, and a spokesperson, in order to interface with the political system and the press in a way that will bring about real change. She didn’t state it that clearly, but that’s how I understood it. And that resonated with me.
A few days after that, my very liberal cousin Pavni posts something that I had never really considered before: an anti-gun lobby that rivals the NRA.
According to the NYTimes, The problem is that congresspeople who might otherwise stand up to the NRA are afraid of attacks by SuperPACs. In 2012, the NRA outspent the Brady Campaign (the leading anti-NRA lobby) 73-to-1. And today, the financial might of the NRA is so well understood that the mere threat of being targeted is enough to keep congresspeople from talking about gun regulation.  Why didn’t I know that? Why is the NRA a household name but the Brady Campaign isn’t?
If the Brady campaign were better funded it could act as a counterweight to the NRA and put money behind congresspeople being targeted by the NRA, or even go on the offensive. But the Brady campaign would spend that money on advertising, with the hope of winning votes. So my first reaction was that we should all donate to the Brady Center. But then, I realized – if money is just a proxy for votes, why not go directly to the heart of the matter and organize votes? What about grassroots mechanisms of organizing voters?
Again, I came back to this idea of “getting organized.” Perhaps the millennial generation isn’t apathetic – that isn’t the right world. They are empathetic, and filled with rage, but they are disillusioned by traditional organizations and political parties and traditional press. They express frustration on social media and through groundswell movements like Occupy – they think of unions only in the context of history books and stories about Teddy Roosevelt and factory jobs. Unions sound old fashioned and depressing.  The only organizations this generation can relate to are student groups in high school and college – most of which are merely bullets to put on resumes – nothing that truly made a difference. Unions aren’t sexy. And no other organizations have sprung up to organize Millennials to get them to vote. No new machinery was developed that existing politicians can make deals with in order to deliver these groups at the polls.
So perhaps it is a legitimate point that the wealth of entry level workers has declined because of the decline in uinons. Perhaps the important function unions once served was to be that piece of political machinery that protected the interests of entry-level workers and worked with political leaders to counteract special interest powers of the wealthy.

Organic Growth Hacking: how to build quality customers from seed stage

Image It’s really fascinating going from a company with a few thousand users (SoFi) to one with over eight million (Scribd) – the skills required to be a marketer – or a growth hacker – at these two companies – are sometimes very different. As Director of Acquisition at SoFi, I took the company from a few dozen customers to a few thousand in less than a year. That required some really scrappy tactics that no one is talking about. Uunfortunately I think today the challenges of early stage growth aren’t being talked about enough – and growth hacking focuses too much on tactics that are primarily going to help companies that already have millions of users. I think that’s a misrepresentation of what will truly help budding marketers at early-to-mid stage companies that aren’t lucky enough to have millions of MAUs.
Semil Shah wrote a recent guest post in TechCrunch, and spoke specifically about distinguishing between inorganic growth-hacking tactics and more organic, qualitative, often-offline tactics. This begins to drive toward the question of what are these early-stage-growth things that startups should be doing? One example: at one startup when we wanted to get students to finish signing-up, we actually called them and asked if they had any questions we could answer. Imagine the CFO of a startup calling a 22 year old on their cell, answering a question, or walking the question over to customer support to find an answer. A lot of startups tell stories about this. But I don’t see anyone in the marketing community embracing these practices. They are more than a publicity stunt – they imbue your company with a sense of substance and quality that is hard to measure but perhaps crucial to establishing organic growth.

Where do MOOCs go from here? Non-Traditional Education and Apprenticeship

I’m not sure where MOOCs go from here. I’m just thinking “aloud.” One way to think about this is to explore the question: “What purposes do traditional top tier universities serve?”

Well, traditional top tier universities:

1) Assess quality: In a world without perfect information, hiring from Harvard and Berkeley can be used as a proxy for hiring “high quality” workers. 
2) Establish networks: And in a world without perfect information, we hire the people we know. Universities allow us to  quickly and efficiently form friendships. Alumni organizations serve to indoctrinate a shared identity and reinforce and rekindle those friendships. Business school is almost entirely geared build around the idea of getting drunk with as many past, present, and future leaders as possible.

Thoughts on Merchandising, Social Recommendations, and Content Curation

I was following the twitter of Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg’s twitter when I came across this article on curated content vs. recommendation engines. Oyster is a new startup in that hopes to become Netflix for books. As you can imagine, given my background at two different startups that aspired to be “Netflix for Textbooks” you can image I was quite interested and had some great subsequent discussions on the right mix between different types of recommendations and this area of “product discovery.” 
I looked through Fab every day for a month and found Fab pretty useless. Perhaps it was the wrong curator for me. I didn’t really like their taste and I felt like most items would just be apartment clutter. I think I might be up for trying Trunk Club if I had the money, but I’m skeptical that anyone else is going to get my “fit” with clothes. When I was redesigning the apartment I spent hundreds of hours on Pinterest but too much of it is dreaming and not enough is real pictures of real apartments executing stuff that is within reach. Same with Houzz. So discovery for me has remained very much a manual process.

Review: OneMonthRails (Part 1)

I’ve been using OneMonthRails for about three weeks. I was first drawn to the course after one line stood out to me – the line in Mattan’s course description said there was a focus on helping students get a project up-and-running quickly. At that moment, this idea totally resonated because after two months on Codecademy, I felt I was going an inch deep and a mile wide with the basic-basics of three languages, but nothing to show for it. Mattan promised a project-based approach teaching users to build a Pinterest-like app with real functionality.  I found that he’d posted a coupon code to twitter (I don’t buy anything without a coupon), and I snagged it and jumped in.

TaskRabbit Layoff – Bad Sign for Collaborative Consumption

TaskRabbit Layoff – Bad Sign for Collaborative Consumption

It seems like TaskRabbit – which offered the long tail of peer-to-peer services – is laying off perhaps 20% of its 65 employees. That’s really disappointing and troubling for me. I’m a huge proponent of the idea that collaborative consumption will re-shape the way we consume goods and services – it will make us more efficient as a whole, and will enable each of us to get by without having to “own” everything in our lives and instead renting what we need “on-demand” and therefore deploying our capital more efficiently over our life and our society’s capital more efficiently as a civilization. Therefore I was really hoping to see great things from TaskRabbit. perhaps what we can learn is that highly-focused community-marketplace startups like AirBnB – which is just doing house-sharing really well – are easier for users to latch onto, and they fill an existing use-case: “let me find a short term sublet” or “let me find a hostel or other cheap short-term accommodation in city X.” Whereas taskrabbit was “get a person to do anything for any amount of money at any time” without doing a great job with giving the user a list of potential use-cases beyond “assemble my ikea furniture” and “go pickup my dry cleaning.” 

I’m still very hopeful that RelayRides, GetAround, AirBnB, and others will prove successful. 

Talk Time

So I was checking-out my phone bill (for the first time in quite a few months, I might add). My phone bill is kinda high. It’s always been high. First it was high because I talked a lot, more than anyone expected, and one-day in 2005 Verizon called me and asked if I’d like to upgrade my plan, because I was paying exorbitant overage fees every month. So I did. Then I started texting, and so one-day in 2006 they called again, and told me I should probably be on a texting plan.

Then I got a long distance girlfriend. So when I signed a new contract, now with AT&T Windows Mobile phone (don’t ask), and a voice, data, and text plan, I made sure to get 1000 minutes/month. And to go with my shmancy new smartphone – an unlimited data plan. That seemed like enough, right? It wasn’t. I started paying overage fees, again. So I upped-it, again. This-time to 1400 minutes per month.

Then, when I went in to switch from the Windows Mobile brick I had bought to an iPhone 3GS, I signed another new contract. I would have just re-signed the same contract I had before – but the nice guy at AT&T pointed out that it was $79 for the 1400 mins/month contract, and only $69 for the Unlimited Voice plan. So I got that.

So today, after having a year to get used to having Unlimited Voice, and after six months to get good at having a long-distance girlfriend again, I checked-out my phone bill.

Total minutes last month: 3,020.
I did some quick calculations. Assuming 8 hours asleep/in the shower – I have about 16 hours of “useful-time” per day. Assuming 30 days in a month, that’s 28,800 “useful-minutes” in a month. Which means last month I spent 10.4% of my time on the phone.