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I mentioned a point during a past post that I kind of want to expand upon.
Where you live is not trivial– at all. Your environment is everything for you. It shapes you. It’s made you who you are, from the people you spend time with to the very streets you are driving in and walking on every day.
Your city affects your ambition. It influences your lifestyle. It shapes what you are impressed by, which directs what you make your life about. As Paul Graham has said, a city is like a river. It is going somewhere. If you do not move deliberately, you are just going to go wherever it leads you. If you do move, you better hope it’s not in the opposite direction, orÂ you are gonna have a bad time.
Here, let’s use an example to address that. Currently, my company Breather is looking for engineersÂ (I mean, hell, what tech company isn’t looking for engineers these days). Since we are in Canada at the moment, here are things I am running into:
So basically, the city guides my direction and what happens to my company and the work I can do. Lucky me, I have a giant blog where I can talk about stuff, a huge network of people I can call upon, some credibility in the space, etc. But if I was a relative nobody, I would be relatively screwed. 🙂
Keep in mind that none of these things have to do with the quality of our company and idea, or the other people on our team or our traction, etc. All those things make the job comparatively harder or easier, depending. But we are looking at these sorts of ceilings, perhaps malleable ones, to what you can do.
This is sort of like the glass ceiling we hear about in the news: “the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”
Eventually you hit up against these ceilings, and when you do, the worst part about it is that the ceilings areÂ invisible. Something you’re doing isn’t working, but worse, you just don’t know why. It is an unknown unknown.
I came across this with a startup CEO I was kind of informally advising a while back. Guy has a successful thing, it’s working super well, and he’s like “well, the Montreal guys have stepped up for X and Y amount” on the amount he’s raising for his company.
So I ask whether he has gone elsewhere and asked in other cities, and he’s like, “well, Torontoâ€¦” – with the impression being, not Boston, not New York, not San Francisco.
Right. This is the point at which I realize what our city’s main problem is. You see, cities are like families. When they work, they tend to work in the same way, but when they’re dysfunctional, they are all dysfunctional and broken in different ways. And Montreal is broken in the sense that this city believes it’s a big deal. When in reality, on a global scale, it is kind of a speck. People think what’s here is all that there is out there, and in this case, it’s supremely false.
This is what I mean by unknown unknowns. You don’t know what you’re missing out on because you are inside your own ecosystem, like a fish in water, not knowing anything about land or how that works. Except, unlike the fish, you can step out of your own water anytime. But most don’t.Â They stay.
They are vaguely aware of an outside ecosystem but they have never actually walked on land. This is actually worse because, in all senses, the map is not the territory and a false impression of what is required to succeed is worse than no sense at all.
Ok, now I’m ranting. Back to the thesis.
So now we can look at, say, Silicon Valley and compare it to outside towns. I’m familiar with Canadian startups, and some French startups, and obviously American ones as well, and I can tell you immediately that, if you are not deep inside the ecosystem you are trying to affect, it’s going to be truly difficult to make something happen.
Let’s use the Hyperloop as an example. In case you were not aware, guys, this is where the future is going. Are you going to experience it? Or will you just read about it? Each one will affect what you are able to create.
Here’s another example: Google Fiber. This level of web access will transform what we can do. How? Only people who have it will know. Only they will have the ideas to make something that is based on it. Highly unlikely that someone conceiving of it in the abstract will know what to do with it.
Have you ever used TaskRabbit? What about Hotel Tonight, Lyft, or Circa? If you do not use any of the services of the present, than you will certainly not be able to imagine the future. (Disclosure: I’m an investor in Circa. Pretty proud of it too.)
In order to win over the standards of your city, you must do things differently.
1. Behave differently than they do.Â Individuals inside of a city are obviously not identical, but they tend to have a pattern, reinforced by the goings-on in the city itself. Same way that a zombie doesn’t know it’s a zombie, most people don’t know their own pattern. So find it (the river I mentioned earlier) and go not againstÂ the grain, but across it.Â
2. Meet and interact with more people from elsewhere. Dave McClure (disclosure: he’s an investor in Breather) is great at this. He knows 500 Startups isn’t Y Combinator, so he doesn’t try to be Y Combinator. Instead of a Silicon Valley market, his market is the globe. 500 Startups isn’t the Yankees; it’s the Oakland A’s. A different technique to get an edge, in the same market, with less money and prestige.
3. Use geo-arbitrage to compete in another market. A great way to go across the grain of your own city is to directly compete with another city using your own advantage. For example. hiring Indian programmers remotely may be bad, but if you are actually in Bangalore, then it’s great. In Canada, government innovation credits, though they are nothing but the government buying jobs, can be quite effective at helping you compete– especially if you’re competing in a different market than Canada. Same with visas– it’s much easier to get them in Canada, and you can use that to your advantage.
4. Deliberately interaction with weird things.Â Do not use the typical services your city is used to. Almost everyone here seems to still read branded papers (La Presse, The Gazette, etc.) Ain’t nobody got time for that. Do it differently.
This post is getting long, so I just think I have to end it.
Conclusion is, you are going where your city is going. See the people around you, in this cafe you’re sitting at? You will become them unless you deliberately become something else.
Your decision. Make your move.
I’m totally fascinated by this imaginary article from the futureÂ on TechCrunch about Uber.
It’s moments like these when you realize what cities will become in the future. Seriously.
Driverless cars– no drivers will ever be able to compete with the lowering of prices that will occur when you make robots drive cars.Â The margins skyrocket, the staff goes down– for a business, almost nothing but good things occur. Uber just hit a $3.5B valuation and they don’t even actually have driverless cars yet. Imagine when they do.
But that’s just one aspect of what cities will look like. You can forget for a moment whether you think my companyÂ Breather will win or not, but someoneÂ will win the “smart lock” war and will build a network from it. That’s a billion dollar company for sure. You have to be braindead not to see that.
Ok, so far we have automated software-as-a-service type lock and car networks. What else could be automated? Cross-country shipping / truck driving? What other basic, “all-American” industry will be totally overturned by the internet of things? Auto repair? Farming?
More precisely, which one won’t? You will be left with fully automated processes, often with just a human watching, to make sure everything is ok. This is actually what Uber’s city HQs look like, by the way. They are central brains, often with ex-traders in them, buying and selling cars as needed.
Because once you turn it into software, the industry and its components can be bought and sold, almost like stocks.
So let’s look at the city of the future. Once you realize that driverless cars are possible, happening, and will become a service, you realize that so much more is possible than was ever imagined. The city becomes a pulsing machineÂ that just happens to have people in it. And what’s ironic bout this is that those people are actually inventing more machines.
Think about that.
The city is a machine, with people in it, which are mostly working on building other machines (software and hardware) to help us build better machines.
Is this starting to seem weird yet?
Technology creeping into cities is inevitable, and it will happen at a pre-determined rate, largely based on hardware advances as they occur.
People driving cars will become like books– they will be a luxury for the rich.
Conversation from 10 years in the future?
Rich guy A: “I prefer paper– it just feels better.”
Rich guy B: “I use a driver– it just feels better.”
Tell me this isn’t going to happen. Tell me that, when your employer can send an autocar to drive you to work, it won’t. This basically means everyone will be taking “public transportation,” except it’ll be private public transportation that comes to you. You’ll be able to use it to read or work.
And what happens after that? Well, who knows. But I have a few more bets I’m willing to take.
If you’re curious about the future of transportation in cities, you should also look at the app, Transit. It’s basically perfect if you don’t drive. Check it.
The first time I received an email from James, it was in 2010 after I published this post— definitely the most radical thing I had written at the time, I think.
He wrote me an email that said: “I think you’re right. I care too much.”
The rest is pretty much history. Three and a half years later, Altucher is basically the biggest blogger out there. I have heard world-famous CEOs talk about James admiringly, like he’s the coolest guy they ever heard of.
It’s sort of weird actually. But it worked.
All of this happened, seemingly, out of nowhere. And that’s the magic of it– is that I know that it didn’t. You can see the transformation, gradually, if you look at his blog now.
My favourite quote from him recently is: “I don’t hit publish unless I am scared I’ve gone too far.”
James is one of the guys who went out there and did it. He didn’t just talk about it. He did it.
Just by itself, that’s the single difference between most people that make it, and those that don’t.
Although James’ story is still in progress (so who knows, heh), the reality is that he went out there and acted on it.
So few people do that. Putting one foot in front of the other, every day, forever, is under-appreciated.
Check out James’ book. I haven’t read it, but everybody else has, and it’s supposed to be great.
(He didn’t ask me to write this post, in case you’re wondering.)
You might notice that the title of these blog posts are pretty much random words.
You’ll also notice that I rarely do headline grabbing. When I do, I go all the way, and the posts tend to go viral. But most of the time I don’t. I’ll tell you why.
You can do this waterfall thing– a lot of water at once. BOOM. I even advise this to bloggers (or more recently, Medium writers)– instead of writing one post a day, write every day but work on one post the whole time. The 5x work on the post in question produces much more than 5x the reward.
In other words, when something goes totally, insanely viral, it’s because you put in the extra work.
However, that is not how mountains are made.Â Mountains are made by erosion– that is to say, one drip at a time over thousands, or millions, of years.
It’s hard to notice the natural environment most of the time in the 21st century. Even though we don’t think about it, almost everything we have around us is manufactured.
But when you do notice the natural environment, that majesty, that sense of wonder, that power is made by erosion. One drop at a time, forever, instead of a waterfall, once.
You will notice that we can always rebuild after a storm. But a constant drip will wear away at anything.
Your opinion is totally irrelevant to reality.
Reality isn’t aware of the fact that you don’t like Twitter.Â Reality does not care whether you understand the new technology that’s coming out.
Technology– and life, for that matter– has a trajectory. Things are happening whether you like them or not.
That’s why it’s best for you to just forget about what you feel,Â and to focus instead on inevitabilities.
What you think has only a small basis in fact. It’s just what you think– nothing more, nothing less.
It’s possible that you’re right about the new thing. It’s also possible that you just don’t get it, and it’s the best ever. Worse,Â it’s actually impossible to tell the difference sometimes.
Become extremely comfortable with being, and admitting that, you were wrong. It’s going to happen often. In fact, you should be happy when it does!
Half the time, when you see the new thing, you are actually going to have it in your hands, and then you will reject it. You will throw it in the trash.
You’ll do this because you are confusing your opinion with reality.
The two are not connected in any way. Act accordingly.
Problems, when far away, look terrifying.
They look like they are going to destroy you, your business, your relationships, and everything else.
No matter how often you encounter them, they will always provoke the same reaction. The same pattern you lived over the years before, that is the pattern you will live now. It’s human nature. You can’t stop the reaction. You can only withstand it.
Yesterday I was in Boston doing a new talk at Inbound Marketing Summit. Before I go up, I think, oh boy, might bomb here.Â Instead, I killed it. Totally surprising. The exact opposite of what I assumed.
Another example: When I was raising money for Breather I had to talk about obtaining space, and how we would do it. I thought we would have to send out sales teams in cities to try and get spaces. Expensive stuff.
That was wrong too. Spaces so far have come to us from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Singapore, Monaco, Toronto, New York, and a dozen other cities. We didn’t even ask. The market just spoke by itself.
Once again, I was totally wrong.
Preparing for a tornado is a good idea. You don’t just ignore it, because doing so would be stupid. You plan and work with best practices. You ask what others have done. This is normal.
If you are ever panicking before something you see as cataclysmic, it’s probably cataclysmic because you haven’t thought it through, or planned, or worked on it enough.
If you have planned enough, you should be significantly calmer.
All things are like this. Remember that.
This time, right now, is probably one of the biggest opportunities you will ever have in your whole life.
This isn’t just hyperbole or cliche (though it’s also both). In reality, huge things are emerging today that you have access to at almost no cost. If you get your hands on them, they’ll let you transform your world in a way that’s unprecedented.
This can happen, if you want it to happen. Just a fact.
I got an email the other day from a guy who I’ve been talking with for a while. He told me his blog wasn’t going well, and he needed traction and wanted to know how to build his “permission asset,” etc. To gather email addresses. To develop an audience.
And I looked at my mailing list on BreatherÂ and thought “There is no blog so good that it can gather this many emails so fast. No blog is even half as interesting as a real fucking thingÂ that you are actually making. Something you invent. Nothing.”
Another way of saying this is: There is no social media expert even half as interesting as an actual entrepreneur. Even a failing one.
It’s true. It’s about skin in the game. It’s about the story. And the story of “this huge thing happened, and then… I talked about it!!!” — is just not that exciting.
So I got a comment on my blog from someone a few months back. I don’t remember where it came from but it said: “Julien, you’re just a talker. You haven’t actually done any of this stuff before, ever. Why should we trust you? How do we know you’re steering us right?” Etc.
This guy was right.
It’s not that I was a phoney, exactly. But I was a talker— a very good one, actually. I was one for a very long time. As time went on (and I wrote the post linked above three years ago), I became conscious of it. Though, in fact, I have made millions of dollars for clients, and though I never really talked about it, I had never really made something big myself.
So when I had this idea, I thought, “My God, I could really put myself into this. This is something.” This is one year ago.
And this is a time where you realize, and you encounter, potential failure — not just private failure, but public failure. And it’s daunting. You can’t always stand up to it. It hurts– even in the abstract. So you don’t want to do it.
I was lucky though. I had written a short book about it– a book that actually called my future self out, saying: “Listen, you fucking wuss. Take the hard path. Do it. To do anything else would be to make a choice unworthy of you. Do the right thing.” So I did.
And the hard road, indeed, is hard.Â It just is. But I had to go, and I went, and here I am, mid-way through.
In a way it reminds me of walking the Camino de Santiago a few years ago with Helen. When you start, ok, there’s no problem, but when you’re on the path, you’re like holy shit!Â – and that’s when you get tested. The testing is, in fact, impossible to predict or understand while you are on the sidelines.Â And that is a good thing.
It’s a good thing because it divides people, actually. Of course, there is always the “we are all good people and everyone deserves respect” thing. So in that way, people are not divided. But they are in the “I have willingly sought out potential embarrassment and downside for myself in exchange forâ€¦” something. Glory, self-respect, whatever it is. The ability to go out and assume risk is important. It’s vital, actually.
A friend of mine,Â Chris Guillebeau, was talking at Le Web as well on the day after I launched Breather there. He said to the audience to “seek out a quest.” By that, I think he means, “go get something bigger than yourself.”
Chris is right, but the problem is that we feel so minuscule in the world today, because it is so large and ineffable. Julian Assange expressed this in an essay several years ago on this blog, saying prophetically, “I believe I have found a way to have an impact on the whole world– but just because you haven’t yet, it doesn’t mean you should quit. Keep going.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
Meanwhile, the easiest thing is still to lay back and not do much. But it is an error to do so unless it’s deliberately intended for recuperation. In Paris last week I got run over by a rollerblader (yes, really), and fucked up my elbow. So I don’t plan on going rock climbing any time soon, but if you are anything else but injured, you probably need to be doing more.
But what are you going to do more of?Â Well, exactly. It’s hard to know. But this is what I mean about opportunity.
Things are unfolding now. 3D printing. Drones. Internet of Things technology. Things people do in their spare time. The social media subway is gone, and you probably didn’t catch it, and that’s ok. There is something else coming. So what you need is just to stay on the edge.
And this is the thing about the edge. It’s hard to imagine from far away. You can’t guess about it unless you’ve seen it. It’s hard to imagine from Omaha— you have to be damn good to do it.
I was in San Francisco a few months back, mid-way through raising the $1.5mm we got for our company, and I met this dude from Montreal. And I start saying something like “oh you know how Uber lets you reserve a black car with your phone,” and he’s like, “uh,” and it’s clear he has no idea what I’m talking about.
So I tell him. No big deal. But the next thing out of my mouth, because this guy has an agency he’s trying to start, is “how can you try and make things for clients if you don’t even know what the present looks like?” You can’t!Â The future is not accessible to those that don’t understand the present. Not technology-wise, anyway. (Feel free to prove me wrong.)
Anyway, a long time ago Ryan Holiday and I realized we got confused for each other a lot. But I don’t think that’s going to happen much anymore, which is just as well, because I think he’s probably better than me. I am no longer “in marketing,” although I know about marketing. I can tell you about Twitter, if you really want, but I am not a Twitter guy, nor a social media guy, just the way, a few years ago, I became “no longer a podcasting guy.” I still have lots of friends in that business, and they are doing great work.
But I, personally, have moved on.Â I am rebuilding myself in another image.
When was the last time you did so? Do you remember when you last shed your skin?
Anyway, I wish you luck with what you are working on. Let’s keep fighting the good fight. I’m rooting for you.
Wow, ok, so today is the day.
Big launch in front of thousands of people, press, etc. It’s all happening. It’s real.
Today is the day I launch the company I conceived of around a year ago. It’s a company called Breather. A company that I have been working on crazy hard for a very long time.
This is so big to me right now that I don’t even know how to begin, so let’s just do it this way, by telling you what I wanted to change.
I was sick of walking around in cities everywhere, trying to find a place to go.
I was no longer willing to have meetings in coffee shops, either.
I was annoyed of having to take phone calls in the street, with sirens passing by me.
I was sick of having to scavenge for electrical outlets when my phone was dying.
More than anything, I wanted a place to rest.
I’m an introvert— but a very specific kind of introvert.
I’m an introvert that needs to talk a lot for work, that needs to meet a lot of people, and that needs to recuperate mid-way through the day.
Starbucks wasn’t cutting it. Hotel lobbies weren’t cutting it.
I’m also medicated for epilepsy, and I need my sleep. So when I was under-slept, there was nowhere for me to go.
I would find myself wandering around in a city, practically ready to rent a hotel room so I could nap for a couple of hours and go to my end-of-day meetings or parties.
This is why I started working on private space, a long time ago.
I wanted space I could go to, anytime.
Not just space, but nice space. Well-designed rooms. Rooms that were quiet. Rooms I didn’t need to ask permission to get into. Rooms I could just go to whenever I wanted.
So that’s what we made. That’s what Breather is.
What we tried to do with Breather is to create on-demand space, the way it was meant to be.
Grab your phone, open an app. Reserve a room near you, anytime, anywhere. That’s Breather.
Where do the rooms come from? Well, we work with the owners of real estate in cities everywhere.
We use lock systems like Lockitron to open the doors.
The rooms are always clean, and always safe. They’re affordable. The wifi is always good.
The rooms are always open– and we’re going to get them wherever you want them to be.
So essentially, what is Breather? It’s peace and quiet on-demand.
It works in the middle of the places you travel to, and the city you live in. You can rent them, wherever they are, for as long as you want, with your phone.
If you’re a member, you can access them anytime.
Wow, it’s crazy I’m even talking about this. Honestly, I’m exhausted.
So I’ll let you go to the site, here, and see the rest.
Thank you for your support, and thanks for being understanding of the radio silence during this time.
P.S.: If this works, we are going to be changing the landscape of cities forever. So if you want to come do that with us, as an engineer, a designer, or anything else, email us. We want to hear from you.
Update: Here is the video, below.
I know who I want to be. Do you?
An important part of discovering / creating your own future is to find out, or plan, who you are going to become.
This sounds kind of obvious– doesn’t everyone think about this?– but in reality, it isn’t often done.
That’s because exerting your will on the universe is hard.
It is a constant push— back and forth– between you creating the world you want through your actions, and the world pushing back on you saying “nope,” or deflecting you, like a soccer ball hitting a goalie.
You can get distracted or upset by this. Over time, life takes over, so you spend more energy on management and juggling what exists vs creating what doesn’t exist at all.
Eventually, you lose track of exactly who you want to be. You forget about it. Momentum eventually goes to zero.
I met with Dale Stephens yesterday, who I was mentoring while he was at the Thiel Fellowship. He knows exactly who he is planning to become in the “new” education movement. In comparison to Sugata Mitra, Sal Khan, etc., he has to know or he will be forgotten and/or trampled.
I also saw Ryan Holiday say “don’t plan too much” on Chase Jarvis’ show (which I’m going to be on next week btw), but I don’t agree.Â A deliberate positioning in regards to the future is, I think, ultimately necessary.
As you get older (if you’re ambitious), you realize this. Yes, I just played the age card.Â 🙂
So ask yourself: who is it that I want to become?
Do you know? If you do, great! It will help you find out who to meet, what you need to know, what skills to obtain, and everything else.
It’s if you do not know that you have a problem. I wouldn’t know how much money to raise for our company if I didn’t know how our company worked. I wouldn’t know who to hire if I didn’t know where we were going. It’s craziness that I ever would.
Yet people let the ocean of the universe move them in whatever direction fate “intends” (as if fate really intended anything).
Well, I have news for you. No matter who you are, I know what your future is.
Your future is to grow older, slowly become irrelevant and have outdated views, eventually die and become food for the living.
That is what the universe “wants.”
I heard a great quote the other day from Horace Mann:
So get to it. Thank you.