Category Archives: Personal

When Death Feels Like A Good Option

It wasn’t until after I seriously contemplated suicide that I was ready to handle a $30 million check.

I closed the doors of my first start-up in the summer of 2001. I was throughly broke, depressed, and feeling the burden of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of other people’s money. Loneliness, darkness, hopelessness… those words don’t capture the feeling of the profound self-doubt that sets in after a failure. Loneliness. Darkness. Hopelessness. Those words describe the environment of depression. Self-doubt? That shakes you to the core and starts a fracture in your identity that makes you question if you should even exist anymore.

Then, a few short months after closing up my dreams, the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was 23-years-old, just a year older than the late Ilya Zhitomirskiy of Diaspora. It started a descent down to a depth I never knew could exist. Whatever it was, it was over. I knew things would get better. It probably would get better, but I just lost the energy and will to try. Until that point, my life had been a series of struggles and successes. Life was hard, but if you worked hard, if you suffered, if you lived for your dreams, it wasn’t supposed to end this way. There were plenty of examples of winners. People were getting funding, going public, creating change. Was I not meant to be an entrepreneur? Will I never get to pursue my dreams again?

I spent a week in my room with the lights off and cut off from the world, thinking of the best way to exit this failure. Death was a good option — and it got better by the day.

I don’t remember why I left my room. The most meaningful act I performed on my long climb out was to leave that room. It was the best decision I made in my life. I left that room and I got back to my job managing a very dysfunctional Internet radio startup where I was the cause of the dysfunction. It was a actually a positive thing that I left that room to leave a really bad situation to go to a bad situation.

It wasn’t for several months that death no longer became an option, but leaving that room and dealing with reality was the best antidote to a make-belief world where life just wasn’t worth it. When I was fantasizing about death as the panacea, the harshness of reality actually helped — it presented me with problems that I could actually solve.

9 years after I left that room, I would call Brad Feld to invest $30 million in my odd-ball company. Before I picked up the phone, I thought long and hard about losing that money — every single penny of it. And I was OK with it. Failure is an option, and a real risk. Failure and risk something entrepreneurs understand well, and learn to manage. However, death isn’t an option, it’s an inevitability. And before I die, I want to take as many swings at the fence as I can.

For those of you who struggle with this, I’d encourage you to keep walking out that door everyday.

Ilya, I’m so sorry that we didn’t know. From a long line of entrepreneurs who suffered alone and quietly under our own self-doubt, I wish I could talk to you and tell you to bash the shit out of your own self-doubt, or just even slink away with your tail tucked between your legs — either way, the world would have let you take more swings at the fences.

Google Plus Hangout Meme Template

Google Plus gave us hangouts, and a meme was born.

Here’s the template if you want to make your own. Right-click, save as. It should be editable in Fireworks.
The poster’s image thumbnail is 48×48. The hangout members are 32×32. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

Some of my examples:

Why Are We Still Consuming News Like It's 1899?

We’ve witness a torrent of nature- and man-made news in 2011. And if I were a betting man, the range and impact of the events to come will make news even more essential to all of us. But reading all this news started to bother me, not only because of what was happening in the world, but because the experience of consuming news sucks. For the past new months, I’ve been thinking about this problem (unconnected to Cheezburger).

As my friend Dan Sinker said: “We’re still delivering the news in the same way since the Civil War.” He’s right. The pace of news may have gotten almost real-time (radio, TV, social media), but we still consume the same basic product.

News Sites Are Limiting Themselves
Currently, news sites have many problems. The limited amount of space on news homepages and their outmoded method of presentation poses big problems for the distribution of news as well as consumption by the public. Even though it’s been more than 15 years since the Internet became a news destination, journalists and editors are still trapped in the print and TV world of message delivery.

The traditional methods of news-writing, such as the reverse pyramid, the various “editions” of news pose big limitation on how news is reported and consumed. Unfortunately, internet-based changes such as reverse-chronological blogging of news, inability to archive yesterday’s news, poor commenting quality, live-blogging, and others have made news consumption an even more frustrating experience.

The Problem With News

I’ll take on just three of the major issues I see with the way news is presented today:

1) Editors Don’t Know What We Already Know
Having read the last 10 updates on the efforts to cool Japanese spent fuel storage pools, I’ve noticed a very annoying problem. After the initial 3 paragraphs that contain the latest update, the rest of the article is just a regurgitation of the previous 24-hours worth of stories that I’ve ready 9 times before. Why can’t the reporters just write a short update on the latest news? If you don’t understand what’s happening, the update makes no sense. But if you’re like me and are following the news closely, I feel like I wasted my time. This update-the-last-story practice is a leftover from the days of printed newspapers and wire updates. There’s no need for this today.

2) News, Not Front Pages
The front-page of a newspaper is an iconic symbol. One that sums up a generation’s influences and chronicle life-defining events. But more than ever, those front pages, ported to the web, don’t fit the way we use the web.

Walking through the hallowed halls of the New York Times, the front pages of the Gray Lady on historic days call out like a collective social memory. Unfortunately, news site front pages have lost the cultural benefit of archiving our collective memories — I have no easy way of knowing what the homepage of CNN.com looked like on September 11, 2001. And at the same time have become less influential due to the rise of social media — we’re much more likely to dive directly into the story from a friend’s Tweet as I rely more and more on social filters to tell me what’s worth reading.

3) One Front Page For All The News That Fit’s to Print
6 billion people can’t agree on a single perspective — let alone fit an entire world of news on one homepage. Talking to news editors, it’s clear that their job performance is more and more tied to generating traffic and news front pages are their drug of choice. The more traffic you can draw off a homepage, the better you are at your job. That’s a very poor way to use very talented editors.

The web can do much than this. Techmeme is a great example of a front page for mainstream tech news. Hacker News is a great example for a developer community front page. The list of examples can go on and on. By curating the news that appears on the front page, editors and curators set a powerful tone and setting for future coverage.

Not Your Mother’s Google News

The solution isn’t Google News — even though it’s an excellent service, it’s still a thin layer of aggregation technology atop a traditional model of news and sections. When I compare Google News against the amazingly fast-shifting landscape of the news world, Google News’ strength are aggregation and distribution, not presentation.

The Thrill of the Hunt

What I’m proposing to build isn’t going to solve all presentation problems for all types of news. I am interested in tackling the most exciting part of journalism: the Big Breaking News. If you’ve ever been a journalist, you know the exact feeling of a big news hunt. This is the Moby Dick of news, the big game that turns you into Ahab.

The Moby Dick Project*

I am trying to create a dialog to raise awareness to solve this problem. This project’s goal is to create discussions around how and what we can do to solve the problems we face with news presentation today. I’m no more qualified to lead this discussion than an average news junkie. It’s been too long since journalism school and I don’t work in the news, but I would like to bring together great minds and passionate people around this problem.

Unsure But Curious?

I can’t fully explain the solution in this brief post — and I don’t have all the answers. But I hope that I have outlined the serious problems that are currently being ignored by the news sites of today.

If you’re curious to see how you can play a part in solving this problem, I can be reached at benhuh+mobydick@gmail.com.


P.S.: A reporter asked a Cheezburger employee if I was leaving the company to work on this project. The answer is a clear, resounding “No.” I love my Cheezburger and we’re just getting started. Journalism is a personal passion of mine and I would love to see others spread the message of this problem.

* Project Moby Dick was originally a US program designed to gather news and intelligence on the Soviet Union using high-altitude photography. I think it’s pretty fitting.

How I Got Screwed at Bellevue Chrysler Jeep Dodge

Everyone has their tale of horrible customer service. As the Cheezburger Network grows our Lolmart.com store, I have learned to appreciate how challenging it is to build a culture of good customer service.

This is a true story about how often the littlest things can cost businesses thousands of dollars in future business. In this case, over a 50-cent screw.

Last Saturday morning, I drove up to the service bay at Bellevue Chrysler Jeep Dodge for a recall-related repair. In addition, I asked the service person to replace a rusty screw on my still-under-warranty Jeep. The screw had been rusting for about a year now, but since I had no other reason to visit the Jeep dealer, I decided to wait until now.

“I can’t replace that,” the service rep said. “It’s attached to an aftermarket part. You could have damaged the paint when you added the aftermarket part.”

Often, a surprise attack is the best defense. In this case, I never expected the dealer to argue over a 50-cent screw. It was as if a kitten clawed me in the face. And poured Tabasco in the wounds. Then lit my face on fire. I fumbled my words. I could feel my face turning red, and I struggled to keep my composure. I told him repeatedly that the screw had been rusting since I purchased the vehicle. Not only that, it was attached to a consumer-removable part. In other words, Jeep created the screw so that the consumer could screw and unscrew it.

Still, the dealer insisted that I was responsible for the rusting.

I had one last argument left. “Listen, this is my first time here at Bellevue Jeep. At some point, you’re going to have to trust your customers and I am telling you that this screw has been rusting since before the aftermarket part was installed.” As I said these words, I started to wonder why I was even arguing. It was a 50-cent screw. I was just ready to drop the issue.

“I’m going to have to call my warranty manager and have them approve this warranty service,” the dealer added. “We don’t stock fasteners and you’ll have to come back if the warranty repair is approved. I’ll call you.”

The words “I’m going to have to call my warranty manager” hung in the air like a brick balloon. Impossible, I thought. This guy really thinks he’s going to have to call a manager to get approval to replace a 50-cent screw. WHOA. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WAYYYYYYYYY.

Yes way. He had to create even more work and waste more people’s time to get authorization for a 50-cent screw and he expected me to drive back to the dealership to get it. It blew my mind. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what was worse: That he didn’t think twice about wasting his company’s time and money, or that he though his customers had nothing better to do than come back to the dealership to have a screw replaced.

All this time, I was holding a list of $800 worth of accessories I was going to order from the dealer. I put it away in my pocket. The total loss of business to Bellevue Chrysler Jeep Dodge over this incident? Accessories plus future repairs and maintenance, and me spreading the word of my horrible experience to all my friends. All that over a 50-cent screw.

After some thought, I had two theories over the seemingly irrational behavior of the service rep.

  • First theory: He was an idiot with the IQ of a door stop. I would love to believe that, but it was unlikely. It takes an intelligent man to argue in the face of common sense.
  • Second theory: The dealership had put in place hard and dumb policies that made their employees behave like automatons and robbed them of empowerment. This is probably more likely.

I took this experience to heart and wanted to make sure Lolmart would never make the same mistake. The same day, I emailed our customer service manager to make sure that we would never make a penny-wise pound-foolish mistake like that. She said those mistakes happen because bad policies rob front-line employees the power to make customers happy. Over lunch, we made policy changes so that any Lolmart.com customer service rep can fix small problems on the spot without ever asking the manager.

When a business screws you over a screw, empower your employees.

P.S. He never called.

P.P.S. This was originally titled “How Lack of Common Sense Costs Businesses Thousands”, but I think a good SEO is needed on this post.

I Waited 32 Years to Vote. And I Almost Didn't Make It.

I became a U.S. Citizen only a few months ago. It was a decade-long struggle that I finally won (I’ll leave those details for another day). But by the time I sent in my voter registration information, I was told it would be too late to vote in this year’s election. I had never voted in my life and I was deeply disappointed that I would have to wait two more years.

As I watched the news on Tuesday night, the results came streaming in. ‘Another election, another time on the sidelines,’ I thought. But something I never expected was going on. King County accepted postmarked ballots as long as it was stamped before midnight, November 2nd.

“It sucks that I can’t vote,” I said out loud.

“Your ballot was sitting on the table.” My wife said.

Wait, what? King County government was much more efficient than they themselves expected. I received a Voter’s Pamphlet a few weeks ago, but I set it aside without reading since I thought I wouldn’t be able to vote. My very smart wife (who is completely uninterested in politics) actually flipped through the pamphlet.

I got my PJ-wearing butt off the couch and hurried to the kitchen. The pamphlet was gone. Before I could say a word… “I put it in the recycling bin,” she added.

And there it was. The ballot. A chance to vote for the first time in my life, mixed in with shredded bills and old magazines. Democracy smelled of dog treats and overly-ripe apples. The clock read 11:03 pm. 57 minutes left in my chance to vote.

I filled in the form as quickly as I could, making sure I was voting for who and what I wanted. Licked, sealed, ready to go. Crap. No stamp. There was no time to dig around the house.

“Make sure you pick up extra stamps!” She said as I bolted out the door.

11:12 pm. 48 minutes left. As my Smart Car approached the Queen Anne post office, I got a call from Emily. She let me know that there was only one post office in the area that would be accepting ballots until midnight. And it was all the way down in SeaTac. She would serve as my dispatch and text the address while I was on my way.

I punched the gas and the Smart Car responded as if it was just a suggestion. The tiny, 1 liter, 70 horsepower engine took its sweet time pushing me to 60 MPH. The excitement and impending deadline pushed adrenaline through my body. My vote may not matter at this point, but I was going to do what I couldn’t for the last 32 years. I was almost sweating. But that just turned out to be the temperature set too high. I turned down the heat in the car.

During the drive down, I thought about how I would explain my impassioned driving to the police if I got pulled over. A white Smart Car flying down Highway 99 probably stands out like an alien spaceship in a Walmart parking lot.

‘Yes, officer. I was speeding. But please just write the ticket as quickly as you can. You see, I’ve waited 32 years to vote and I have just minutes left. In fact, could you consider giving me an escort?’

OK, maybe not. I mean, how fast can a 9-foot plastic car go?

The post office on 32nd Street was buzzing with activity and Democracy would throw up one more hurdle. A decrepit Camry was parked illegally in the handicapped spot, taking a space and half, and there were no other spots left. I gingerly squeezed the Cheezmobile into whatever opening was left by the crumbling Camry. I wanted this badly.

Stamped? Check. Return address? Check. Sealed? Check.

But before I handed the ballot over to be postmarked, I paused to savor this hard-earned moment and asked the mailman to take a picture. It was 11:37 pm. 23 minutes to the end of Election Day 2010.

Ben Huh and Voting for the First Time on Nov. 2nd, 2010 at the SeaTac post office

P.S. And I got the extra stamps just like my wife wanted. America, and the Huh family, slept well that night.

Hello, I'm an iPod Nano Wristwatch. (Review)

iPod Nano, the watch

8GB Silver iPod Nano, clipped to a replacement watch strap.

After struggling to find a watch that was inexpensive and interesting, I asked the Twitterverse for suggestions. One idea jumped out: wear the new multi-touch iPod nano as a watch.

Doing a little search reveals that this idea isn’t exactly original, but since I have never met anyone else wearing an Apple watch, it met the interesting part of my criteria. And at $149, it would be cheaper than many watches. So I picked up a silver 8gb model, paired it with a $10 watch replacement strap and voilà! I now wear the painfully geekiest watch of all time.

I have now worn the watch for about a week, and here are my observations from experience.

THE GOOD:
– It actually looks pretty good. Several strangers commented that my watch was beautiful, without even realizing that It was a nano. It’s about the size of an oversized men’s watch, so it does look awkward on women’s wrists.
– No need to plug your headphone into the iPhone in your pocket. Having the iPod attached to the wrist, where it is far more accessible makes using the iPod features that much easier. Also, I’ve broken at least one iPhone headphone jack by sitting awkwardly on the phone.
– I was afraid that the nano would not hold securely enough to the wrist strap. But so far, no problems.
– The nano contains a pedometer, a stopwatch, photo album, and a radio (with time-shifting functionality). Pretty cool for a watch. 
– The multi-touch navigation is very intuitive and makes one-handed use efficient. If you are a lefty, wearing it on the right wrist will help.
– There are two choices of watch faces: the white dial and the black dial.

THE BAD:
– Its not waterproof, or scratch resistant. In fact, we probably take the waterproofedness of our watches for granted when we wash our hands or walk in the rain. I don’t know how much moisture or splashing the nano can take. I’m not in a hurry to find out. 
– Since it’s clipped on, the nano sticks out about 1/2 an inch above the wrist. Which makes it highly prone to scraping against something. It also gets snagged often when I’m trying to put on a jacket or a shirt.
– In order to see the time, you have to press a button to wake the display. It’s a necessary throwback to old school digital watches, circa 1960s. But when the display is off, the all-black face does look nice.
– While the battery life has been exceptional, it’s not going to last 2 years without a recharge. I now have yet another device I have to plug in at night. If I don’t use the iPod features, the nano will last 3 to 5 days without a charge. I have yet to need to recharge in less than 24 hours despite all the demos I have given.
– A wire that runs from your wrist to your ears feels quite strange. Give it enough slack or you could yank the earphones out while making some hand gestures. 
– While the nano is using the iPod features, the nano will automatically show you the iPod screen when awaken (even when the iPod is paused). It takes at least two swipes to see the time on the home screen. It’s not intuitive to know how to make the nano display the clock app on wake. PRO-TIP: To “close” the iPod app, the playlist must end. In other words, pick a single song to play and skip to the end.

WISHLIST 
– I’d love to be able to buy apps made for the nano. Digital watch face? Voice recorder? Tamagochi?
– Bluetooth. Less wires sticking out of my wrist, the better. I am not Spiderman. Also, how about an app that allows me to see who is calling on my iPhone on my nano watch? Bluetooth would be a requirement for that.
– Search by gesture. Instead of scrolling through hugh lists of song names, I’d like to be able to write the letter on the surface to input words into a search field.  
– I’d gladly pay for a wristwatch case for the nano that would remove the clip and make it a little less likely to scratch.

BOTTOM LINE:
I may still be more interested in the nano watch’s novelty than it’s practicality, but I would absolutely recommend this idea. And I’ll be counting the minutes until Apple adds nano apps to the app store.   

From an iPad (Sry 4 teh typoz)

Ben Huh
CEO & Founder
Cheezburger Network

http://cheezburger.com/sites

Top 5 Travel Lessons Learned Spending 50 Nights in Hotels

It’s about 7pm on September 10, 2010. I’m sitting on a hard steel chair at another mega-airport looking for ways to kill some time and charge the laptop. Last night, I spent my 50th night in a hotel room this year.

Two hours ago, in a series of coordinated hand foot movements I took the entire contents of an Apple store, a dozen chargers and cables including a folding power strip, clothes for almost every occasion, and countless other items past security in two, neatly packed TSA-approved bags. And I didn’t even have to take out my toiletries or my laptop. It was like a scene from Up In The Air — complete with the disdain for all those civilians with the Dora the Explorer bags holding up everyone else.

Before the end of the year, I’ll have spent almost three solid months on the road. And the road has taught me many lessons. I’ll list 5 practical ones here.:

Lesson #5: Memorize this sequence of taps like you memorized Control-S: Wallet, phone, laptop bag, carry-on, boarding pass.
Just before I check out of my hotel room, I tap each of these: W-P-L-C-B. Just before the cab leaves me behind: WPLCB. This helps me to never forget the vitally important things I need at every checkpoint. It’s like saving the game at a save point. Remember: Wild Pelicans Like Canned Beans.

Lesson #4: Before starting a routine, confirm that it is, in fact, routine.
I spend 95% of my time renting from the same rental car company. The remain 5%, I just mistakenly assume that it’s the same company. It’s really hard to get an Avis bus to pick you up from the Hertz rental center — especially if you’re running late to an important meeting. Routine is the enemy if the routine doesn’t contain safety checks.

Lesson #3: Book once, check the timezone twice.
If I accept a meeting request for 10am in SF while I’m in Chicago with my calendar timezone set to Eastern time, did it get added correctly? Today, I showed up to a meeting at a TV studio 3 hours/timezones early. Yesterday, I accidentally made it on-time to a bus because a meeting was cancelled, saving me from being an hour embarrassingly late because I forgot Indy is in Eastern, while Chicago is in Central. Whew!

Lesson #2: Take the pill you intended to take.
Clearly separate pills if they look remotely similar to each other and take them one at a time. Not many frequent travelers talk about this, but I usually carry a small pharmacy’s worth of pills. A couple of types of allergy pills, sleeping pills, zinc, vitamin C and various cold-fighting remedies, etc. I don’t use a pill-box. I put them in ziplock bags since they take up less space and when pills bounce around in a hard container, they tend to crack and powderize. As you can imagine, mixing up the sleeping pill with the allergy pill can wreck havoc on anyone’s schedule.

If you think all of this is overkill, or I have some kind of obsessive compulsive behavior, just wait until you show up at wrong rental car center looking dazed and confused because you took the sleeping pill (instead of the vitamin C) on the plane by accident. And then you realize that you’re missing your wallet because you left it in the bathroom back at the airport. Why? because you rushed there to pee since the flight you though was just an hour was actually a 2-hour flight (timezone change) and by the time you woke up (sleeping pill) and realized you had to go, the flight attendants wouldn’t let you. (This, uh, happened to someone I know.)

And the final lesson?
Be polite and exercise a little courtesy. Share the arm rest and power outlet. Let others get on or off the plane before you. Don’t tell the kid in sneakers and a t-shirt to move out of the First Class line. He’s probably me. And I’ve got more miles than you.

The Paranoid Mind of A CEO

Here’s a list of thoughts that haunt me. From talking to dozens of founders and CEOs, I know that this isn’t uncommon. Some of these thoughts are totally irrational. Some of them, totally sound. Most of them add very little value to my work.

  • Being blind-sided by a competitive threat, whether it’s an actual competitor, or market change.
  • Having a competitor out-execute us.
  • Market change that will dry up revenues quicker than we can change our model.
  • Hitting an invisible ceiling on growth, where our method just stops having any impact.
  • Missing the signs of employee apathy
  • Saying something really stupid in public
  • Taking our community granted (by myself or by the team)
  • Not planning or testing enough for a change.
  • Planning for too long and taking too long to change.
  • Being stuck in a paradox of contradictions

Well, that’s not the full list. But I didn’t want to put you to sleep — which I probably need.

My Life Goals Explained

Living Small is the New Living Large

The toughest competition I’ve ever had to deal with was The Joneses. I had never met them, but I always knew that they had the newer car, bigger house, and even their dog could do more tricks than my dog. No matter what I did, they were always getting ahead of me.

During a recession, it’s necessary, if not fashionable, to be frugal. Eventually, the boom will be back, and those Joneses will be flaunting their new found wealth at your doorstep again. Often, I get questions about how I managed to get out of $40,000 in debt after the first dot com bust. The getting out of debt part had not much to do with the bust, but more to do with the bubble.

This is how I dealt with the temptation to spend at the height of the bubble.

1) I hung out at the mall for fun.
I know that sounds crazy counter-intuitive, but I went straight to the lion’s den. I walked, walked and walked, and bought virtually nothing. Sure, the temptation was crazy strong, but after a while, I got used to it and a sort of numbness came over the desire to buy. Even now, more than 5 years later, the mall seems filled with overpriced things I don’t really need.

2) Used is a beautiful four-letter word.
I do have a weakness for cars — those beautiful, shiny, fun beasts of consumerism. Solution: I became good friends with Craigslist. There are remarkable treasures to be found in the For Sale By Owner Used car market. But then again, there are plenty of overpriced and oversized and overly loaded cars there as well. In 2004, I swallowed my own objections and purchased a sedan with 80,000 miles for $8,000. It was outdated, had scratch marks on the bumper and in a color we never imagined owning. But it was safe, reliable and actually quite comfortable. I was always a “new car” guy, but that used car showed me the virtues of buying less than I “needed”. I haven’t bought a new car since — or paid more than $15,000 for a car (while the average new car now costs $28,400). We still buy used whenever we can and sell our stuff on the used market whenever we can.

3) I ignored raises.
Sure, I got them, but I didn’t let it change my life. In other words, I didn’t grow into my salary. Of all of the things that I did, this little tactic was absolutely the most powerful force. When I was making $35,000 a year, I used to be able to save (or pay down the debt) to the tune of about $2,500 a year. I felt fortunate enough to be able to do that. It meant not buying the new car or that new gadget, while everyone else seemed to do so. But when my income grew to $40,000, that meant I almost tripled the amount of money I saved. In other words, I could get out of debt in 1/3 the time (or grow my savings 3 times faster). As I paid off my debts, we felt our spending power increase even though we were not actually spending any more money — purely because we had less credit card or car payments to make.

The alternative is pretty typical of the pains associated with the boom and bust. As people’s income grows, we end up spending it. That means we establish new spending patterns and establish a “new normal”. When the hard times come, we must cut back, resulting in painful changes to behavior and lifestyle.

To this day, my wife and I firmly believe in Living Small. Living Small (capital L, capital S) means not just spending less than you earn, but resisting the urge to spend more just as your income grows. Instead, find a sustainable spending level and stick with it. This is what allowed us to handle sizable drops in our income.

I know during a recession, it seems like you’ll never be able to save money, but when the day comes when you can start to do so, remember how to Live Small. It’ll help you to Live Large later.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.