Next Chapter.

The last 23 months have been some of the most fulfilling months of my life. I joined Acumen Brands on January 10th, 2011. That day was one of the most exciting days I can remember. I was asked to join a small team and try and figure out the future of eretail / ecommerce. CEO, John James painted a picture of a vision that only a crazy person would jump at. Not only were his goals bigger than imaginable, but the road to get there was going to take an intense amount of work, focus and dedication. I can say today, that I am proud to have been one of those crazy people and that we surpassed those original goals and set ones that are now much bigger.

While the past two years have been everything a 26 year old could dream of early in his career, I have the strong urge to build and run my own company. From the day John hired me, we knew that these crossroads would come up at some point. John would agree, I spent more time with Acumen Brands than we ever imagined when I accepted the job. When you love something and dedicate yourself to acheiving a goal, it is extremely hard to leave before the job is done. I am confident that I am leaving Acumen having accomplished more goals than I had originally set out to do when joining.

Over the past two years, I have met and worked alongside some of the most talented people I ever imagined. I have also worked with some of the most amazing partners a company could ask for. I have been challenged unlike ever before, but learned more than any education could ever enable. I have seen opportunities and realizied strategies, that just two years ago, I probably could not have comprehended. I am excited to take the next step, using everything I have learned, the opportunites I have experienced and the people who have made such a great impact on my life and career.

Tomorrow, I will announce my new company, BLKBOXLabs. I have partnered with Joey Nelson, who most recently founded MobileFWD, but was also part of the early team who built Rockfish Interactive. I can’t say that I have ever been more excited for the future.

Thank you John James, Terry Turpin and Acumen Brands for the past 2 years.

Why Jack Dorsey Invested in Sightglass Coffee

[ The following post reflects only my beliefs. ]

Jack DorseyAs of late, there has been much discussion surrounding the assumed “conflict of interest” Jack Dorsey must have caused with Square’s partnership with Starbucks in relation to Jack’s investment in Sightglass Coffee. It is truly amazing to see what types of theories people can come up with, but one must understand why Jack first invested in Sightglass Coffee to truly wrap their heads around this “coffee love triangle.”

I believe:

Jack Dorsey invested in Sightglass Coffee for the purpose to better understand the “intersection” by which a barista (merchant) and a coffee drinker (consumer) interact whenever a transaction is made. That one moment, defines what millions of merchants and consumers experience each and every single day. This experience is the result of a behavior that can not simply be erased from commerce, but is ripe for innovation. At this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, Jack further emphasized the importance of this interaction by saying, “Life happens at intersections; it’s important to recognize what’s happening in that intersection and determine what to do in it.”

Jack is known to enjoy walking through the city. I can only imagine all of the intersections by which people interact, that he observes and takes notice of, and ultimately learns from, daily. These intersections serve as an ongoing foundational education to how people exchange money, in real-time.

I am thankful to have a degree in Architecture with an emphasis on Urban Design as this background allows me as a technologist, to think about things from a different perspective, especially “intersections.” It allows me to constantly question human behavior as it relates to technology and how those intersections between two people, technologies or people and technologies is improved. Much like architecture whereas spaces are created, every last detail effects how one interacts, behaves and ultimately experiences said intersection. By understanding how people interact with and behave traditionally, one can better understand how to make that experience better, easier, and more fluid.

I believe:

Jack utilizes Sightglass Coffee as a human observation lab. It allows for him to observe, to test, to ask questions, and to learn better how to innovate an experience/intersection that while has traditional behaviors tied to it, historically is burdensome to so many businesses and consumers.

So one might ask, if the Starbucks, Sightglass Coffee and Square “love triangle” is a “conflict of interest?” If it were, then every coffee shop utilizing Square also causes this question to be asked. Jack’s relationship with Sightglass is one that is both, strategic and everlasting. As long as Jack has an interest in this “intersection” he will have a need for Sightglass Coffee and the teachings it offers.

While Square continues to roll out innovation after innovation around this critical human intersection of exchanging money, many others are also innovating in this space. Dwolla, Chirpify and Refurrl (ARK Challenge Startup) each have their own take on how the intersection between merchant and consumer happens and can be improved.

We all have intersections that we can and must observe and learn from. What are the intersections that you pay attention to? How are you innovating that intersection? From Doctors and Patients, Architects and the People that they design for, to the Teacher and the Student, “intersections” are happening everywhere. Take a moment and observe. You’ll learn something.

[ Image Credit: Dave Getzschman ]

Arkansas Startup Ecosystem: 6 Necessary Categories

Please disregard spelling/grammar errors and ‘rambleness’ as this was a Facebook comment (that wasn’t accepted by Facebook due to too many characters) in response to the following post within the NWAEA Facebook group:

Nick Shared:Ecosystem 101: The Six Necessary Categories To Build The Next Silicon Valley

Douglas Commented: “Thanks for the share. Out of the six categories, how do you think Arkansas and/or NWA in particular stack up? What category do you think we excel at and which needs the most work?”

Here is my attempt at answering your question, Douglas:

(Each point will feed or feed off another. That is how ecosystems work, afterall.)

1. Market – While the number of entrepreneurs and startups has continued to grow over the past few years, there is still a relatively low market here in NWA and Arkansas as a whole. Without a Market (Deal Flow) you do not have…

2. Capital – Believe it or not, but I bet there is more money in NWA per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. more than 3% of the U.S’s Billionaires live here. Think about that fact alone. Add in the 500,000+ people in NWA and there is likely much more money out there. Due to bad investments in the past by inexperienced wealthy, a lot of money has just been sidelined (kept in savings or something similar). The key here is to create a healthy Market for this Capital to become more accessible. In order for this to happen though, we need more…

3. People – There are many truly amazing people here doing amazing things. The problem is that it has been difficult to not only retain other talent but also attract talent from elsewhere. Currently, we have startups who share people, swap people, are the same people, etc. This will take place anywhere and everywhere. Here though, we need a lot more People. People help grow startups. People increase the value of startups. People start startups. People bring networks which bring access to Capital. People are key in creating a Market. But in order to have People, we must have a great…

4. Culture – There has been the start of a great culture built here in NWA and in other places around Arkansas. It is going to take much more, though. Time is a factor, sure. There are many things that can take place though, now. While the University of Arkansas and other colleges in the state have business schools and speak a bit to entrepreneurship, there is no attachment to the Startup Communities themselves. Cities and other local governments bicker, fail to get along, would never collaborate, and overlook this generation of entrepreneurs. City Chambers are starting to get the hint, but it is still competitive, city to city, and fees charged to entrepreneurs can really hurt one. More organizations, clubs, networks, coffee groups, etc need to form. Resources need to be shared. Of course many of these things are happening, but the community as a whole needs to take part, contribute, be active and involved and strive to grow, facilitate and continue to become and grow into a strong culture. In order to do that statewide we need a great…

5. Infrastructure – There is a complete disconnect between Bentonville and Fayetteville and Fort Smith and Conway/Little Rock and Pine Bluff and Jonesboro. Whether it is because of competitiveness or communication, it needs to be solved with an infrastructure that allows communication and the sharing of resources, Culture, People, Capital and Markets. It still baffles me to know that there are still some places in Arkansas that are unable to get internet. That is a clear infrastructure problem that needs to be fixed. But to fix infrastructure problems like this, it probably would take…

6. Regulation – I believe that Regulation is a byproduct of the all the former and until each of the former reach a certain level, Regulation serves little value. This generation has never relied on government before, how can we blame government now. Once the former become present and growing at a significance level, politics will take notice and begin to speak to the issues that we all feel like Regulations can help fix. The Iceberg Coworking Facility Opening / ARK Accelerator Launch Day was a perfect example of all of the former being present and getting politics to take notice.

It takes a mindset that we must improve each of these 6 traits in parallel and indefinitely, in order for us to continue to become a great home for entrepreneurs and startups. It is going to take our communities and society as a whole to buy in emotionally, and support entrepreneurship. The media, local governments, the community at large, all play a part in this. We can do this. Arkansas can do this.