How I Do Referrals

Since I’m a connector, I often make referrals.  However my referrals are different, since I am able to make connections across unusual markets or very far away internationally, both cases where there is much less trust.

Fred Wilson and other well known venture capitalists now ask for double opt in introductions.  Fred writes:

When introducing two people who don’t know each other, ask each of them to opt-in to the introduction before making it.

I don’t do this, because its I think we can do better.  I’m glad to make unannounced introductions.  However we need to do the introduction REALLY WELL.

Here’s what I look for:

  • If I’m forwarding along an email from you, is your explanation of what you’re looking for clear, well written and something the other person will immediately want to jump on?
  • Are you willing to do something of real value for the person?  If you’re well known that may be enough – or it may not be.  Maybe you will need to be willing to jump on the phone to give some free consulting.. Or take them out for a nice dinner.. Or gain special access at an event..
  • Are you willing to jump through hoops and be super responsive to the other person, even though this is something someone of your status in your market would normally never have to do?

This can be hard to take for people who are used to being top dog in their market and used to special privileges.  But the way different markets interact can be complex – what you have achieved in one arena may not translate to another.  And I’m not a world famous guy like Bill Gates.  I’m not listing these things  for fun, I’m bring these points up so the introductions will WORK.   And I’ll work with you in whatever it takes so we get it right.

I’m glad to do referrals and like to help my friends out.  I want my referrals to be powerful and useful so the person receiving them instantly says “yes, that is definitely something I want” instead of viewing it as an imposition.

And for those receiving my referrals, if I got it wrong and the referral isn’t useful feel free to just ignore it.  I’m very clear that I have to bring value.

Beginner Internet Business Setup

If you’re getting started in an internet business there’s a few services you should sign up for.  Even if you have some of these services elsewhere, in most cases you will be best off moving everything to this setup.  A lot can go wrong with this stuff and you want to spend as much time on your business as possible with as little time as possible on the technology.  I’ve had this conversation with enough people that I’ve now decided to put it into a blog post.

1.  Domain name: namecheap.   You need a domain name of your own.  I host using name cheap.  Its cheap and reliable.

2.  Your website should be hosted on  This will let you map your domain name properly and make it very easy for you to edit your site.

3.  Google apps email.  Get a business account which gives you email + a host of other services.  This will avoid a huge number of problems such as getting your email delivered.  Your email will be all set up using your domain name.  Its also a good idea to start using:

  • google docs (replacements for word, excel, etc) inside google apps – as your team grows it will make collaboration easy.
  • google drive (similar to dropbox), making filesharing easy.

4.  icontact.  To connect with your customers you should be using email regularly.  I use icontact.

5.  Facebook / twitter.  Everyone tends to start with these.  Social media is good.  Just make sure you have the rest as well.

You can hire a company to get everything set up.   There are lots out there.

With a setup like this you’ll be stable, have to spend a minimum of time on technology and can focus on building your business.

Update:  one of the nice things about this setup is all security is handled by other people.  So you don’t have to worry about things like this.

I am legend

For those who visit me in New York, you may end up with a photo like this one of my mother standing in washington square park.


Well, I watched the movie “I am Legend”, with Will Smith yesterday.  And almost the entire movie takes place in the apartment with the white door to the right of this photo.  All this happens right down the street from my apartment.

Here’s a video someone made talking about it


I know the jaded new yorkers will not find this too amazing, but I grew up in a small town in australia so this was pretty cool.  Check out the movie, its great!

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Religion and business

The reason people have a problem with gambling isn’t because they lose.  Its because they win.  They go to a casino, they bet, and they win – big!

This triggers a huge amount of excitement, even for people who are already very wealthy.  So they keep going back to get that high.  And thus a gambling problem is born.  It almost becomes a religious experience.

Business has similar elements.  We find something which works for us in business, so it becomes our religion.  And when things work, they can REALLY work, so this can be a big deal and change every part of our life massively for the better.  Its very easy for us to become religious about certain things in business.

But business changes.  And if we don’t change it with it, we can end up out of business.

An example is data driven businesses that sell products to customers.  Those who are analytical (like me) LOVE the idea of being able to track every part of a business, better and better optimizing how things work.  This is perfect in a huge array of internet businesses.

But there’s a problem with this.  If your entire business – your religion – is built around this kind of optimization, and you REALLY optimize to the maximum possible, you can only reach a certain size.  If you’re optimizing based on analytics, no matter what you do, you will end up generating more and more complaints from customers.  So you’ll have two choices – one is to consciously limit how aggressive you are at optimizing.  The other is to be shut down by the FTC due to complaint volume from your customers.  This might not happen in a bricks and mortar business, but it can with online businesses.

So while optimizing data is awesome and critical for running a business, if you’re at scale selling to customers I want to suggest a to switch to a better religion – to get close to your customers.

Here’s how Brian Chesky from Airbnb describes it:  “build something that 100 people love rather than 1 million people kind of like.”

 In the company’s earliest days, its most ardent users were in New York City. It had about 100 hosts there. “So what are you doing here?” Graham asked. “You should be in New York.” And so every week, Chesky would fly to the Big Apple.While there, he learned a lot about Airbnb’s hosts and even served as the company’s first “professional photographer.” To do the job, he borrowed a friend’s camera and went door to door in the snow. ”The thing that was so special was that you would meet them, and you would learn about their lives,” he said. He woud also use the site to stay at their places. “I was literally living with our users.”

If you’re billing customers for something and building your entire business around analytics you’re doing it wrong.  Your first religion should be being close to your customers.  Then your second religion can be analytics.

Travel Home Entertainment System

Since I’ll be travelling for the next 6 months I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at how I can reduce my key content to be able to bring it with me on the road. I’ve had quite a bit of success and here’s how you can do it too.

The solution has turned out to be a combination of the 13″ Macbook Pro with a 1 terabyte drive, along with the ipad. The 1 terabyte drive finally gives me enough storage to keep everything on one small laptop, and the ipad works as a display device.

I’m finding so far that I’m extremely comfortable whereever I go — I always have my information with me (books) and TV to watch if I want to. It is starting to feel like “home” can almost be anywhere.

Anyways, here’s how it works: There’s 4 key types of content I want to be able to travel with..

1. TV

Since quite a while now I’ve made all my content digital; downloaded from the web from a variety of sources. I’ll assume you know how to do this part already. Today’s breakthrough was when I realised I could run an Ipad application: Air Video, and display TV on my ipad. This means if I’m in a hotel room the computer sits on my desk and the TV is displayed on my ipad from bed, streamed wirelessly. It works very smoothly.

2. Books

Readers of my blog will know I have about 800 books which cost approx $25,000 over 10 years to buy. I’m getting closer and closer to the point where I no longer accept physical books in my life and only do reading on my ipad. This would mean I only buy books on the kindle, or read PDFs via goodreader. For books which I simply have to have but are not available, I am looking into a PDF scanning service where I send the book to them and they send me a PDF. Its simply too awesome to have all my books with me electronically wherever I go. I have no problems reading on my ipad unless I’m in bright sunlight.

3. Music

For now I’m just using Itunes for music with MP3s played on my laptop when I don’t have internet, and pandora when I do have internet. It works pretty well.

4. Photos

Storage has been a big issue for photography since I shoot very high resolution. Now with the bigger drive this isn’t a problem. These are displayed on the web via my smugmug site: I also display them on my screensaver on my computer, pulled down via an RSS feed.

I’ll continue to update on this topic, but so far this is looking very promising. Here are the components:

13″ macbook pro:

1 terabyte drive for 13″ macbook pro:


good reader:

kindle app:


Why the ipad will change the book industry

Right now I’m in Nassau, the Bahamas, learning to scuba drive.  I have my laptop and ipad with me.  Scuba is pretty fun, and I was very intriuged when I learned about underwater photography.  I had an interesting conversation today with a guy on the boat who told me about Cathy Church, who runs one of  the top underwater photography schools in the Cayman Islands.  A trip to the Caymans in the future to learn underwater photography was sounding pretty interesting.

I wanted to learn more.  Yes, I can browse the web, but I wanted a basic beginners summary for a decent photographer on how to do underwater photography.  But I’m currently in the Bahamas and have no clue where a bookstore is, nor transportation to get to one.  So I got on my computer and looked around for some books online.  I was able to find a PDF book by doing some ninja searches. I put it on my ipad using Goodreader.  And suddenly I was reading a book about underwater photography on my ipad.

I was reading for a while in my hotel room, but I was hungry so I went out to eat.  Along came my ipad and I continued reading during dinner.

And my conclusion?  Underwater photography is not for me.  Its too complex and the price doesn’t make sense to me for the ability to shoot shots underwater.  There are technical issues with salt getting into your camera, different color adjustments underwater and needing to use lots of flashes because its dark in the ocean.  I’ve never been interested in shooting flowers or bees and most underwater photography is focused around shooting things close to you.

A quote from the "Dear Leader" of North Korea, taken in North Korea

So the ipad made it very easy for me to get a book while on the road, read it and learn what I needed to know in order to realise I don’t want to learn underwater photography.  This has saved me a massive amount of time of asking people about it on my trip and thinking about it as a future hobby to get involved with.  I was almost going to take a multiday class on it.  So this saved me a lot of time.

Yes, I can read books on my computer or iphone, but its not the same since its not a book sized screen.

Additionally to my ipad, I’m in the process of moving.  I have about 800 books, which cost me about $25,000 to buy over 8 years.  Its my braintrust.  But so many books is such a hassle to move.  I’m seriously considering switching everything over to digital because I just don’t want bookshelves anymore.  I’m really happy with the kindle app on the ipad, and a good PDF reader.

So book distributors, watch out.  Your future doesn’t look good.

How I Almost Crashed Our Helicopter In Haiti

This is probably a post I’ll regret making, but its just such an interesting story I thought I’d share.
A friend offered for me to spend some time in Haiti.  Since it was only a 90 minute helicopter ride away from Santo Domingo, I accepted.  I also wanted to see my friend who lives in Port Au Prince and learn more about what was going on. My friend’s team had 3 helicopters over in Port Au Prince and they were delivering aid across the city.  At night they were sleeping in an orphanage.

me in front of the presidential palace in port au prince

I was offered to help the guys deliver supplies via helicopter.  “sure”, I said, not really knowing what that meant.  Our pilot was a very nice guy named Ryan who had spent 4 years flying helicopters in the middle east for the US military.  He really knew what he was doing.

So we load up into the chopper, per this shot.

See the big box on my lap in the chopper?

The back of the chopper was full and I had the big box on my lap.  That big box was going to be a problem later.  🙂

So then we fly out to a basically empty field which looked like this:

empty field (for right now)

What happens when a helicopter shows up and delivers free stuff out of the sky?  That empty field within 90 seconds looks like this:

chopper dropping supplies

I am not kidding.  The formerly barren field is suddenly filled with people who just show up out of absolutely nowhere.  We still have no idea where they all come from.  Its more than a little scary – these are people in a very desperate situation

Anyways, Ryan told me we have to get to another empty field, put the chopper down, get out and then drop off all the supplies before the haitians can run over to the chopper and try to get in and/or steal from us.  So we find an empty field and start to land.  This is immediately what I saw:

people running towards the helicopter

I got (ahem) a little nervous.  So I frantically tried to get the big box out of the chopper.  Unfortunately the box got wedged on the steering column which controls the entire helicopter.  I was pretty nervous about the guys running towards us, so I did get the box out, but almost rolled the chopper in the process.  Ryan fortunately was able to keep control of it.  He said later on a scale of 1-10 where 10 is extremely dangerous that my little maneuver with the box rated a “9”.

We were able to drop the supplies off, this is people picking them up:

people picking up supplies after we drop them off

and here’s a zoom of one of their faces as they’re looking up at us:

expression on a guys face as we're dropping off supplies

And this photo is of the moment exactly as I almost rolled the helicopter:

the exact moment i almost rolled the chopper

You can see in the above photo how close everyone got to us (and remember, this was a previously empty field).

Apparently we probably would not have been killed, but it would not have been much fun. So Ryan, thanks for keeping things under control!

I’m not sure there’s anything to be learned here other than be careful if you visit a disaster zone, and have a lot of respect for the people who are out there risking their lives.

UPDATE: One of the pilots (Ty Corbridge) dug up a video as we were doing one of the dropoffs. You can watch it here:


Perspectives From Santo Domingo About Haiti

I was on the phone conducting a MeetInnovators interview when the earthquake happened. My office rocked quite violently, and it felt like a 5.0 quake to me based on past earthquakes. We saw on the news that it was in Haiti, and immediately there were tsunami warnings. I was pretty concerned since I live on the water in Santo Domingo and would have been directly in the path. I took a photo from my balcony about 20 minutes after the quake — which got 4800 pageviews.

In the end the tsunami warning was cancelled. Apparently we did get a tsunami, 12cm big. We survived. 🙂

I’m about a 5 hour drive from Port Au Prince and have visited Haiti twice, so watching the news has been horrifying. To know that so much death and destruction is happening just a short distance away is pretty shocking, and worse that there’s nothing you can do about it. I have one friend living in Port Au Prince, but she and her family are fine I did some relaying of messages between her on facebook and calling people around the DR as emergency supplies were brought across. One girl I met in Santiago a few years ago had her mother killed. Its also been disturbing since I’ve spent a bit of time in Haiti and really like the people.

The DR and Haiti have a tense relationship. We have a lot (1m+) Haitian immigrants living in the DR and they don’t contribute much. But the DR stepped up and got a lot of supplies into Haiti quickly which was impressive. This was a lot of work for a developing country like the DR, but people really came together and worked hard to support our “brother” country.

Also impressive has been the efforts of Jeremy Johnson and Nathan Kinsella from Utah who flew some planes and helicopters in.

Less impressive was the international effort – its unclear to me why professional aid agencies like the Red Cross don’t have thousands of paratrooper style teams like the 82nd airborne who can get quickly into a disaster zone during the initial critical moments and save lives. These are professionals with very large budgets.

WARNING: This is not politically correct, but I need to share this. My views are shaped by living in the Dominican Republic since 2001.

Its about time to question whether Haiti should continue as a going concern. Did you know the Haitians buy american cement, then water it down? You wonder why everything fell down so quickly?

We’ve had NGO’s in Haiti for the past 40+ years and things continue to get worse (I worked for an NGO for 3 years, including at the international level).

Check out the GDP of Haiti vs the rest of the world, so you can see the result of billions of dollars of NGO investment for yourself.

And now with so much money coming in, its like a dotcom boom for NGO’s. Each NGO is saying “wow, now we can get into Haiti and do it RIGHT since now we have lots of money”. Yikes!

Some will say Haiti has been mistreated by various countries or bad luck. I say Haiti has a culture which doesn’t teach people to take risks and become leaders. Unfortunately I’ve been told I’m racist, ethnocentric or that Haiti has no strategic advantages. Yet the DR does fine on the same island. Cuba is embargoed by the USA and does ok, as do the other various islands and cultures in the Caribbean.

Here’s a some quotes from a haitian guy inside Port Au Prince on Twitter in the first days after the earthquake:

Mr President Stop Giving us The Victim Speech! We Need A Leader Right Now!

No Food, No Water, No Medications, Nothing! And Our President says he’a victim as well! How long we have to wait?

Mr Preval, we need 2 hear from u! Take ur responsability. Do ur job like those ppl in the streets helping each other! It’s been 4 days now

Cultures CAN be changed — in the USA people were trained not to litter. Germany has changed its culture multiple times over the past 100 years. China has seen immense changes before, during and after the cultural revolution.

Its not about education – what is needed comes before education. They need the culture instilled into them which truly values progress. Haiti feels like an NGO driven version of socialism, and as someone who has visited North Korea and Cuba, I’ve seen the results of socialism first hand.

Right now Haiti is a tax on the world — billions of dollars are going into a bottomless pit — of just 9 million people! They need capitalism now. The rest of the world needs to have use of their money to support their local communities instead of sending it to Haiti.

So my suggestion for you is:
– support the basics of the Haiti rebuilding effort as I’m sure you have.
– don’t support NGO driven projects in Haiti — even so called sustainable programs. These still start out with handouts and effectively teach generations of Haitians not to lead. The exception would be programs which encourage real true grass roots entrepreneurship like microfinance.
– Look for top down initiatives which force true cultural/motivational change on the country
– if you know people considering cancelling their holiday to the DR, please convince them to come. The DR is 100% fine and could use the economic help especially after supporting Haiti. Your friends will have a great holiday

Further reading:
NYtimes: The Underlying Tragedy
FoxNews: Haiti Should Merge With the Dominican Republic
NYtimes: “To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature“:

“..the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it.”

There probably are no great solutions for Haiti, but to let it go back to where its been seems like such a waste of humanity. I feel like we have a global responsibility to try something new.

Startup Visa – My Story

I’ve noticed some momentum building around the web for a startup visa. I love the idea. If it had been around 10 years ago, it would have changed my life.

My dream since I was 12 (~1985) was to move to the USA and make a startup. Having grown up in Australia with the Commodore Amiga, I was amazed by the idea of a group of dentists funding an intensely smart group of engineers who ended up building the Amiga. We were blown away by companies like Epyx who made incredible games and utilities. I didn’t know it back then, but many of these companies were based in Silicon Valley.

So I followed my dream, and in 1999 I was working at Oracle in Silicon Valley. But I found the life in a big corporate machine was really not for me. I really, REALLY wanted to be in the startup world, building my own startup.

As an Australian citizen working in the USA with an H1b visa wanting to make a startup, I found 4 options:
1. Join someone’s startup, sponsored under an H1b. The problem with this approach is that if their startup fails, I have to be re-sponsored for a new visa. And, obviously I am not building my own startup this way.

2. Make my own startup. But with an H1b visa, this was going to be difficult to arrange. H1b visas are better for employees with minority ownership, not founders. And again, what happens if the startup fails after 3 months?

3. Leave the USA and move to a country close by which would enable me to use the infrastructure of the US, but avoid the visa issue entirely. (I didn’t want to return to Australia since I didn’t feel the startup culture was very strong there, and the timezone makes online work difficult).

4. Stay working at a big company until my greencard was issued. This would have taken 3-4 years. Maybe I should have followed this approach, but I really, really wanted to be out doing something on my own.

In the end, I chose #3, and now live in the Dominican Republic. I’ve done reasonably well and am quite happy here. But the problem I face locally is the lack of a startup scene and technology talent. I can’t build an ebay or a google from the caribbean. I’ve had to become extremely good at building a network remotely; thus I run

I can tell you that if there had been an option of a startup visa, where if I raised $1M in funding I would be granted a visa to live in the USA and build a company, I would have put 100% of my energy in making that happen. And, if a visa category like this is created, I may just go ahead and do it now, even though I’m now considered old by startup standards (37). (Its considered the most successful startups are built by people in their 20s). So this would have been a perfect fit for me 10 years ago.

One last comment: I’m comfortable with risk. So make the visa performance based! Give the entrepreneur 3 shots at making a company work. And if they can’t, send them home. Thats pretty rough, but it would be a much better option than I had back in 1999.

Links to My North Korea Content

Here’s all my north korea content from my trip from June 2009.

If you want one set of photos to look at, this is it:

My writeup of general perceptions:

North Korean People photos:

Unusual things from North Korea photos:

Military type guys training for something:

A female traffic police directing traffic (they don’t use traffic lights even though they have them):

Driving around Pyongyang so you can see how it looks, along with an unusual story from our british guide:

Performing the Haka (a rugby dance from New Zealand) to our guides:

A children’s show:

How you can influence north korean kids to be more positive towards westerners:

And, the 1 hour long video of our entire tour. This cost additional at the end of the tour and came on DVD. Watch this if you’re serious about going to North Korea — it will show you exactly what you will see while you are there. For anyone else, take a look since its quite funny, but it is rather odd.