Nerve Rush & House of Genius

This week, I stumbled upon a remarkable, unique community called House of Genius.

From their website:

House of Genius brings together entrepreneurs and a diverse mix of collaborators from the community for an evening each month of disruptive thinking, supportive input, and creative new ideas. You’ll find Houses in many cities and countries around the world.  House of Genius is continually growing based on grassroots demand. Together, we create Genius.

The community started three years ago, in Denver, Colorado and now has a presence in over 25 cities around the world. This week, I went to the Brooklyn location, held at DUMBO Startup Lab and sponsored by TriNet.

Each meeting follows the same format:

  • 15-18 wide-ranging minds and 2-3 business presenters
  • Until the very end of the event, no one is allowed to know each other’s professional background
  • Each presenter is given 5 minutes to share their business and one key problem they are facing
  • Panelists then offer one round of feedback, where the presenter can’t say respond
  • After that first round, a moderated discussion is opened up where the presenter can work with panelists to dive deeper into particular areas of interest.
  • At the end of the evening, everyone goes around the room and talks about who they are and what they do.

I found the format refreshing. Normally when you go to an event, particularly in NYC, everyone asks you your name, and then what you do. From the website:

First names only at the start. House of Genius works best when we have a diversity of perspectives and where people candidly share their ideas freely and without filtering or ego. We ask attendees to refrain from disclosing their backgrounds at the start of the session so that ideas are accepted at face value and to encourage everyone to contribute equally.

We don’t publicize the topics for discussion ahead of time to guarantee immediate reactions and fresh ideas. Our format encourages attendees to lend their unique insights to problems that may be outside their fields of expertise — a crucial ingredient to gain novel perspectives and create innovative solutions.

I was honored to present my passion project, Nerve Rush, to the group, and received some amazing feedback. Here were my big takeaways:

  • Inject more of myself into the website. Expose more of my foibles as a pseudo adrenaline junkie. Extreme sports can be intimidating, and I can frame the website as a kind of this-is-how-you-do-it, get-your-toes-wet experience for users. One participant likened Nerve Rush as the Crunch Gym or Planet Fitness of the extreme sports world.
  • Move forward with my idea for a podcast. It’ll help me find my voice and will be a good way to connect with athletes.
  • My website traffic is at a point where I should start reaching out to advertisers. I was told to make sure that whatever partnerships I form, to ensure that they’re true to the Nerve Rush brand.

A huge thank you to Michele at BeSpoke, who I shared the presentation stage with, and to all of the House of Genius staff and panelists: Spencer, Gustavo, Caroline, Ellen, Brian, Jennifer, Ishrat, David, Shireen, Colby, Genna and Jorge!

From October to October

It’s been almost a year since I last pressed publish on this website.

Yikes…I’m still here!

A lot has happened since October 2013 – I left my job at HubSpot. I moved from Boston to New York City. I started a marketing agency. I got married!

I also traveled to Italy, ran my first marathon, and joined a rock climbing gym.

It’s been a wild and amazing year.

While I’ve written regularly online for the better part of a decade, either for myself or on behalf of clients, I still feel uncomfortable pressing the publish button.

Discomfort can lead to some amazing places. I think about all the times in my life when I’ve felt uncomfortable – from studying abroad in Nepal to public speaking or starting my own business.

I could wax philosophical on the many events and experiences that have caused my heart to skip a beat, my stomach to lurch, and beads of sweat to accumulate on my forehead. But it’s shortly after those times of discomfort when I’ve grown the most, where I’ve felt the most alive.

As 2014 draws to a close, I pledge to embrace discomfort more wholeheartedly, to publish more of my thoughts and to (hopefully) inspire you to do the same.


The Ambassador, Undercover Gonzo Journalism

I often joke with my girlfriend about our next vacation:

We’d travel to the Central African Republic! A few of my former coworkers have been there. It sounds interesting. Maybe a 5 day trip? I’m sure we could fly through Paris or Frankfurt. Wouldn’t be too difficult. You in?

My last job took me to many countries in Africa–Djibouti, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Angola and Nigeria. That said, I know very little about the Central African Republic. Former coworkers had traveled to Bangui, the country’s capital. Their thoughts were neither overwhelmingly positive or negative. Lively morning markets, a decent Lebanese restaurant, broken sidewalks–a unique location but not the kind of experience you’d share on TripAdvisor as a must-have.

I recently watched The Ambassador, a darkly comic and gut-wrenching documentary that peels back the curtain of global political corruption and exploitation in Central African Republic. It’s a real-life spy movie, rife with black-market credentials and hidden cameras.

The protagonist is Mads Brügger, a quick-thinking Danish filmmaker and journalist. Brügger goes undercover as an inquisitive, well-spoken and groomed Liberian diplomat and businessman, with a goal to build a match factory in Central African Republic. He wits his way through friendships and negotiations, ultimately revealing blood diamond and diplomatic title brokerage corruption. It’s the kind of story that only a long, hot shower can wash off.

Hunter S. Thompson once said that “absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.” The documentary is gonzo journalism at its finest. It’s told from a first-person, in-the-trenches perspective. To break the story, Brügger became the story.

Another example of gonzo journalism is Emmy-nominated VICE, an HBO series that seeks to “expose the absurdity of the modern condition. It’s a new kind of reality TV, one that showcases political assassinations in the Philippines, brings Dennis Rodman into North Korea and uncovers underground heroin clinics in Mexico.

If you haven’t seen VICE or The Ambassador, step outside your media comfort zone for a night and see just how absurd our modern condition really is.

Email Marketing, a Citi Bike Story

One of the many privileges of working on the HubSpot Academy team is that I get to teach a handful of our inbound marketing training classes. These classes are taught to our customers and administered via GoToTraining. We cover the whyhow and what of HubSpot software. We teach inbound marketing methodology, discuss best practices/tactics and walk through HubSpot software’s various moving parts.

One of my favorite classes to teach is Email.

Email marketing has been on my mind a lot these days. Despite having been cited by marketers as one of the best marketing channels in terms of ROI, many companies continue to fall short in their email marketing efforts.

As an example, I received an email from recently-launched Citi Bike, whom I gave my email address to several months ago via an “I’m interested to hear more information when you launch” landing page.

Let’s walk through the email. I’ll provide honest opinions and suggestions.

This is how the email arrived in my inbox.

There are two things I’m looking for here. Who the email is coming from, and what the subject line is. Citi Bike is relatively clear, but it would be much better if this email was sent from Tom @ Citi Bike or Pamela @ Citi Bike. Research shows that folks are much more inclined to engage with an email that comes from a real person.

I like the subject line, “The Bikes are Coming!” It’s short, clear and compelling. I’m wondering if Citi Bike A/B tested that subject line at all. Granted, open rates aren’t the most reliable metric in the world, but they can still be useful when benchmarking emails sent to similar lists.

Let’s open the email.

Everything you’re seeing in this screenshot is above the fold, meaning this is what I can see on my laptop screen without having to scroll down. As a best practice, email marketers should place their most important content and call-to-action above the fold.

1. Again, I’d rather see a specific person here. Why can’t the email come from or As a communal organization that targets a very specific buyer persona, Citi Bike could get more personalized here. As email marketers, we need to create emotional connections with reader at every opportunity.

2. Nice! Love to see this. Despite email marketers’ best efforts, it is difficult to design emails that render properly on a growing myriad of email-friendly devices. This option is a nice backup for folks who have formatting troubles.

Here’s where I’m starting to ask myself, OK, what’s the goal of this email?

Every email a company sends needs to a) build or nurture a relationship with the reader, b) offer some kind of value to the reader and c) drive one primary form of engagement via a click. As email marketers, we always want to drive our email recipients to take some kind of action, as it allows us to better measure the effectiveness of an email. How will we know where to improve if we don’t track click-through or conversion rates?

With that said:

3. I wouldn’t feature social media buttons in such prime email template real estate. Is connecting via social media the primary purpose of this email? Probably not. What about letting me know when the bikes are coming? I’m expecting to see a date at this point.

Also, I’d nix “Friend Us,” “Tweet Us” and “Forward Us.” Those actions are implied in the icons themselves and not necessary.

4. Nice fluidity between the email subject and this main title, but I’d still like to see more. Again, this is the only thing I can read without having to scroll down. At this point, I should be able to see a specific link to click, and I should understand why and how clicking that link is going to provide value.

1. They’re asking me to become an annual member? As a reminder, at this point all I’ve done is poked around their website for more information several months ago. I’m early in the buying process. I filled out one form with my name and email. That’s like asking a girl to marry you on the first date!

What should Citi Bike put here, then? What about a link to their station map? Or a reminder as to how things work? I need to be wooed and educated here, folks. I haven’t even seen what their bikes look like!

2. Most effective emails are less than 200 words. This paragraph can be tightened up. That, and I’m still not being provided a clear call-to-action yet. What link am I supposed to click? That link should be in the first few sentences, at the very top of the email.

1. There’s the link! Too bad it points directly to their home page. A decent call-to-action, but not nearly as effective as sending me somewhere more specific, like the How It Works page. That’s a more actionable and compelling request.

2. There’s redundancy here between this text and the social media icons above. Not sure this line is necessary.

3. Ooh, I like what I’m seeing here. The ability to update my subscription preferences? Say I’m interested in receiving their monthly newsletter, but not these annual membership email blasts. Usually, a link like this would point to a page where I can select what type of emails I’d like to receive from Citi Bikes, or at least how often I’d like to receive them.

Unfortunately, I’m not being offered much. I like that Citi Bike is using MailChimp to send emails, but because I know how easy it is to manage multiple email lists in MailChimp, I’m disappointed that I’m not being given more opportunities to engage or tweak my relationship on this page.