December 30, 2013

Declaring Email Bankruptcy

I just declared email bankruptcy.

With nearly 70,000 unread emails in my Gmail inbox and my labels and filters in shambles, my email hygiene was at an all-time low. Before graduate school, I'd always been a staunch advocate of an Inbox Zero lifestyle, but sometime in late 2010 my inbox completely got away from me.

So, I decided today that I would give myself a blank slate and a clean start for 2014. Now, my inbox has nothing in it, and I couldn't be happier.

Here's how I did it:

I) Unsubscribe from mailing lists you don't read
I've tried in the past to manually cull my inbox for mailing lists I no longer read, unsubscribing by hand on an ad hoc basis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn't particularly effective. Today, I had to break out the big girl tools. I used a service called to scan my inbox for mailing list subscriptions. They allow you to easily unsubscribe with one-click from any and all mailing lists. I was shocked to discover that I was on 457 mailing lists -- definitely too many. Many of them were for products, services, causes, and events that I love, but I just don't read their emails. I have many other ways to connect with the organizations I want to reach, so most had to go.

II) Archive everything
I wanted to archive everything I've received to date, but I didn't want to have to click through each page of my inbox, archiving only 100 emails at a time. Here's how to do it all at once from the Gmail desktop interface:

1) In the search bar at the top, type the following search command filling in whatever date you want to use as your email bankruptcy cut-off (I used tomorrow to make sure I got everything): in:inbox before:yyyy/mm/dd

2) Below the search bar, click the checkmark menu and select "All"

3) A bar will appear at the top of your inbox that says "All conversations on this page are selected. Select all conversations that match this search." Click that second part to select everything.

4) Click the Archive button at the top under the search bar. (Alternatively, you can add a label to all of the emails, and then repeat steps 2 and 3 for all the emails with that label.)

III) Enjoy your new inbox!

My new year's resolution? Keep my inbox this clean.

P.S. This is just how I did it, but I'm sure there are many other ways to declare email bankruptcy. Feel free to share yours.

October 14, 2013

Two big updates

2013 has been a wild ride, and I'm pleased to share two very exciting updates today:

1) Bread is joining Yahoo
When we started Bread two and a half years ago, we set out to change the way people did promotions and advertising on social media (click here to learn what Bread actually did). Since 2011, we created the only rich-media advertising platform that works on every social platform and across any device. We built really great technology that re-imagined what digital advertising looks like. We made beautiful ads with some of the world's top brands. But most important, we helped a new generation of content producers (musicians, bloggers, writers, and comedians) make a living. We're thrilled today to announce that our team has joined Yahoo to continue build awesome stuff to make the web better. You can read more about the announcement here.

2) I have joined the Google Creative Lab
I'm super excited to announce that I have joined the Google Creative Lab in New York City. Although I will miss my Bread family as they go to Yahoo, I just couldn't pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with Google. Tucked away in the sky loft of the NYC office, the Creative Lab is a small, scrappy team of creatives and strategists that cooks up some of the most exciting creative projects at Google, from Google's most popular ad to envisioning the future of the Internet. (Correction: It turns out that this tear-jerker from the Lab is actually Google's most popular ad. Incidentally, it is also my favorite)

I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had over the last few years with Bread. Building something from nothing is an exhilarating experience, and I learned a lot from working with the team that did it with me. Entrepreneurship is a wild ride, and I want to especially thank all the great clients, partners, investors, advisors, and friends who've been a part of the journey.

As always, you can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, where the next chapter in my story is sure to unfold.

And now, on to the next adventure :)

What did Bread actually do?

Aside from some press when a very early beta version of the technology launched in June 2011, the ad tech start-up Bread stayed under the radar. The team focused on building tech and building relationships, and so there's not much publicly available information about what the heck Bread actually did. This post is a bit TL;DR, but for those who are interested, here's what Bread was all about...

What problem was Bread trying to solve?
Starting with a great domain name (, Bread was founded in 2011 and set out to solve two problems the team saw in the marketplace.

On one side, there were more and more non-traditional publishers building audiences online, particularly on social. The proliferation of influencers and content creators on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest caught the team's attention. Bread started to hear from lots of these bloggers, musicians, writers, and comedians that they didn't really like a lot of the ways they had to monetize their new social content. Paid tweets and sponsored posts often didn't feel authentic, adding more banner ads on their blogs felt cluttered, and these influencers were tired of having to cannibalize their own content and voice. A lot of them were saying, "We need a better way to make a living creating content online -- something that works no matter where my audience finds my content or what kind of device they're using."

On the other side, Bread saw brands and advertisers eager to get into social and mobile. Marketing budgets were predicted to shift from traditional media into newer digital channels, and there was a keen interest to use rich media to do more brand storytelling rather than click-driven direct response ads. Forward-thinking brands wanted to run innovative and engaging campaigns on social and mobile, but there wasn't a lot of good technology to do it.

What was the solution?
Taking these two opportunities into consideration, the Bread team came up with what it thought was a pretty elegant solution to both. Bread developed technology to serve a full-page, rich-media ad as an interstitial on any link shared on any social media platform. This first product was called Bread Social and it worked like this:

For its second product called Bread Oven, the team built a version of the technology that did the same thing for links on blogs.

But how did that make the web more awesome?
I know what you're thinking: a full page ad sounds kind of intense. How does that make the web better? The team saw three main ways:

1) Bread really tried to differentiate its ad product by being more beautiful than other units. Some of that came from its ad builder technology that allowed advertisers to be more creative with the types of imagery and storytelling they could present. Some of it came from working closely with advertisers to make sure they shared Bread's vision to make the web more beautiful. From both quantitative performance and qualitative feedback from fans and readers, it seemed that Bread was moving in the right direction for making ads a more beautiful experience.

2) The unique qualities of the Bread ad unit allowed influencers and publishers to share their own authentic content when and where they wanted, without having to redesign their sites to accommodate more banner ads. In fact, some publishers did away with banner ads and paid tweets completely and just used Bread technology to monetize.

3) The Bread team was always very sensitive to the end user experience, since the goal was to try to fix problems with online ads, not create new ones. With relevancy targeting, strict frequency capping, clear countdown clocks, and a functional skip button on every ad, Bread added several features to protect end user experience.

What technology was actually built?
At its core, Bread was a technology company. Ad tech is very fragmented market. Sometimes dozens of middle-men companies take a cut along the way between the advertiser thinking of the ad and a viewer seeing it. Bread was a very different kind of ad tech company. The team built everything itself, from a WYSIWYG custom ad builder, to ad targeting technology, to the link-based ad server, to a robust analytics tool to track performance.

Who did Bread work with?
In addition to building all its own technology in-house, Bread also built all its own relationships, too. Rather than rely on third party resellers and remnant networks, Bread sold all of its campaigns itself. The company also built its own publisher network from scratch fostering personal relationships with influencers in verticals like music, entertainment, fashion, sports, and comedy. Everyone from Lady Gaga to a niche film blogger.

How did Bread roll out its product?
Bread technology was not easy to build, and it wasn't evident from the beginning how influencers, advertisers, and end users would react to it. As such, Bread staged its tech roll-out, starting small with a democratized bare-bones version of the a link ad, open to anyone to use however they wanted. Since that launch was public, the company got some press in June 2011 when the beta went live.

As the team built out more features for the fully developed product, it was low key about the work it was doing behind the scenes. It quietly built a sizable ad network (targeted at social media and blogs) to use its technology, and the company started running paid campaigns with top advertisers in the fall of 2012.

At the time the company was acquired by Yahoo in October 2013, Bread had created the web's only full-page, rich-media ad unit that worked across every platform and every device. It worked for big publishers and tiny bloggers and everyone in between, and it was a point of pride amongst the team that they built something that helped support the content creators who make some of the most beloved stuff on the web.

October 6, 2013

The Ignorant Backlash Against Instagram Ads

Last week, Instagram posted an announcement on their company profile that they're going to start slowly rolling out ads in the United States. When Instagram dipped its toe in the monetization waters last December, the backlash was aggressive, so this company definitely understands that ads are a sensitive topic.

Full disclosure: I'm a heavy Instagram user. I love the service, and I use it daily. I appreciate the beauty and the authenticity of the product, and I don't want to see it sullied by slapdash attempts to monetize. With that in mind, I have to say, I couldn't have asked for a better announcement.

Everything about this post indicates that the Instagram team "gets" it. I've taken the liberty to highlight the parts that illustrate this best, but it really is worth a read to see that their plan for ads on Instagram is thoughtful and more considerate toward users than almost any other platform.

Click to zoom

Within seconds, the post received a flood of vicious and obscene comments.

Comments on Instagram's 10.3.13 post announcing the roll-out of ads.
Over the weekend, they continued to pour in.

Comments on Instagram's 10.3.13 post announcing the roll-out of ads.
I know I shouldn't be surprised. There's always backlash whenever a consumer technology company changes anything, and ads are a particularly touchy topic. But I was truly appalled by the reaction. These comments aren't light criticisms suggesting a different path to profitability. They're scathing attacks against a company that has provided us with an excellent service for three years.

What surprised me most was how ignorant people are about how the internet works. Do they think Instagram is a charity or some kind of subsidized government program? How do they think Instagram pays for the servers that securely store all their photos in the cloud? Do they think Instagram's employees are all volunteers? Are they so indignant as to think they deserve this service for free?

You can't get something for nothing. That's just not how economics works. And I'm saying this as someone from the Napster generation. I grew up on file-sharing, CD-ripping, and bootleg everything, so it's not that I don't understand the hunger for free content. It's just that I grew up enough to know that people who make things are people, too. They have rent to pay and groceries to buy, just like the rest of us.

So I understand that people who make things -- whether those things are sandwiches or songs or beautiful mobile apps -- deserve to be compensated. Sometimes I pay them directly, like when I buy a slice of pizza or pay for my monthly Netflix subscription. But most of the time, at least for digital products and services, someone else pays on my behalf. That is, I'm exposed to ads that allow me to have my content without paying for it myself.

This seems obvious when it's explained, but we in the tech industry do a really terrible job letting people know that this is how our businesses work. We ought to be direct and say, "Content isn't free. We all have to pay, either with dollars or with eyeballs." But we don't say that. Instead, we use veiled language and jargon like "freemium," and so we can't be surprised if the average person has no idea how our businesses work.

One of the clearest examples of the general public's ignorance about how internet companies make money came from @taylorhindman, an apparent 16-year-old from Indiana. She left the following comments on Instagram's post about rolling out ads:

Comments on Instagram's 10.3.13 post announcing the roll-out of ads.

Taylor's just a teenager, so we can't be too hard on her, but I think it's worthwhile to address her arguments because they represent those of so many others. When Taylor says, "You have enough money," what exactly does she mean? Last time I checked, Instagram has no revenue, so she certainly can't be referring to the company's current income stream. Maybe she's talking about the $715 million Facebook shelled out to acquire the start-up in 2012. But where does she think that money came from? 88% of Facebook's revenue comes from ads.

Also, I can't help but point out that her financial predictions ("Doing this is going to lower stocks") didn't quite pan out. Turns out, the folks on Wall Street understand how a business works, and Facebook's stock was up 3.78% on Friday after the announcement, which is pretty much an all-time high for the company's stock price.

Facebook stock price Oct 3-4, 2013 (Source: Google Finance)

One last note on the Instagram ads brouhaha: exposing users to ads isn't the only way Instagram can make money, and criticisms that center on this point are certainly valid. Other potential sources of revenue could include user subscriptions, paid upgrades to premium features, fees charged to businesses for access to brand support, or revenues from selling user data. Given the backlash Instagram faced last year when it hinted that ads may be to come, it's safe to say the Instagram team probably explored all of its non-ad options before settling on the plan it announced on Thursday.

Although I'd personally be willing to pay for access to the Instagram service, I understand that keeping the service free to users is a big part of what's fueled its growth. The openness and democratization of information that a free global platform like Instagram empowers is dependent on it being accessible everywhere. If the occasional beautiful, high-quality photo or video from a brand can make that happen, maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.

March 16, 2013

Necessary But Not Sufficient

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit The Downtown Project in Las Vegas. The ambitious revitalization of the original downtown area includes sizable investments into infrastructure, education, health, arts, and community. My friend Tony Hsieh, the project's champion, has been telling me about his plans for years, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit and see it for myself. I came to Vegas for a program called Catalyst Week, a production of Catalyst Creativ, a Downtown Project company.

The week was a great opportunity to explore the early stages of Downtown Project development (they were just breaking ground on The Shipping Container Park, one of the first large construction projects) and meet some of the people who are driving change on the ground. Recommendations for folks who want to visit: stay in a "crashpad" at The Ogden, eat brunch at Eat and dinner at Le Thai, drink at Commonwealth (best wristbands ever), and buy all the clothes at Coterie.

I was asked to speak on the opening night of the program, and I shared a talk called "Necessary But Not Sufficient: Why Being Smart and Working Hard Aren't Enough." Huge thank you to Amanda and Staci at Catalyst for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

January 10, 2013

The World's Most Colorful Factory

Neon colors, blacklights, and a heart-shaped piece of industrial equipment? This video tour of the DayGlo factory in Cleveland, Ohio is making me hyperventilate.

Booking a flight to Cleveland in 3...2...

Thanks to Gizmodo and @barronlee for sharing.