Funemployment, Digital Marketing and Nerve Rush

I had it all planned out.

In late May, I’d write an epic post about my six week trip to Asia, where I went to South Korea (and quasi-North Korea), Russia, Guam and Japan. I’d talk about the food in Seoul, my weekend in Kyoto, the broken, snowy streets of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and an end-of-the-world inspired nudist beach party, sparklers and all.

In mid-June, I’d write about my trip to Portland, Oregon and all the amazing people I met at the World Domination Summit. I’d talk about Nate, who is walking across America; Joel, who is launching an Impossible League and Mark, who is building an online marketplace for parking spaces. It was an engaging and inspiring weekend, unlike any conference I’ve attended. #wds2012 anyone?

In July, I’d write about a one-week cost-of-living survey in Reykjavik, Iceland, where I ate fermented shark, hung out at a geothermal spa and enjoyed nearly 24 hours of continuous sunlight. I’d upload pictures, talk about the people I met and share a few stories. If I was feeling particularly sprightly, I’d even mention a road trip I took through Maine to Acadia National Park.

But no! Despite a rock star summer, it’s been 100+ days since my last update! What happened?

No excuses, folks. My break from the blogosphere was a bit too long, and for that I apologize. Let it be known that I’m back!

I, er, Left my Dream Job (the Most Amazing Job in the World)

After 3 years and 50+ countries, I ended my tenure as an international cost-of-living surveyor. As you might imagine, my travel stamina was beginning to wear thin, the jet lag starting to take its toll. I’ll cherish those years for the rest of my life and only hope I can keep the bar set as high as it’s been. A big shout out to my former employer for such a precious opportunity and set of experiences.

So, what’s next?

Excellent question. I’m currently exploring the realm of funemployment–looking at full-time gigs in the digital marketing/web analytics space and working on a number of side projects in the meantime. I landed my first freelance web consulting gig with a real estate firm, Assured Commercial Mortgage Company. I’m building a few websites, putting together a photography portfolio, selling some things on Craigslist, you know, trying to optimize my days as best as possible. It’s been tough to stay motivated, but I’ve been enjoying the hustle. The Tropical MBA guys would be proud.

Nerve Rush | Gut-Wrenching Adventure

I wanted to highlight one of the projects I’m working on, as it officially launches today. Back in June, Joel Runyon and I started talking about working together in some capacity. We’re both into the extreme sports/adrenaline space and figured that would be a  good place to start.

Fast-forward a couple of months, shared Google Docs, emails and phone calls –> and Nerve Rush was born. We’ve already got a load of content published, with more on the way. Any feedback at this point is highly appreciated, as we’re still working through the kinks and figuring out where to take the site. If anything, this will be a fun side project for us.

Talk soon! Woot woot.

Real-Time Tweeting with Becca Alper

Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 10

Welcome to a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, get in touch!

Meet Becca Alper. For the last several months, Becca has been living in New York City, working for a real-time media company called Sulia. I’ll let her tell you more, but Sulia filters Twitter content into a series of specific content channels, many of them on timely events and breaking news. These channels are made available to other media companies like Flipboard and WSJ.

I chose to feature Becca (and Sulia) for two reasons. Not only do I adore Becca–she’s a close friend of mine–but I think her situation makes a great point, that not all 9 to 5 jobs are [insert negative connotation here]. Becca raves about her job and had been given a fantastic opportunity to exploit her interests and to provide value in a corporate structure. I applaud her for sharing her experience.

How and when did you end up joining Sulia?

I started at Sulia in October of last year. My friend from high school has been with the company almost since its inception and reached out to me as soon as she learned Sulia was going to start curating Portuguese twitter content.

What are your job responsibilities? What are you working on these days?

When I arrived at Sulia, they had one Portuguese language Channel, Brazil. Sulia has thousands of live, English language Channels, so I had to play a lot of catch up. By now, I’ve built over 300 channels, based on our English taxonomy: sports and teams, fashion and beauty, politics, business and professions, living, etc. Only a few of the channels I’ve built don’t have English equivalents, like samba and Spiritism, a religion that believes in communication between spirits and living people, that is hugely popular in Brazil.

I also build channels around breaking news stories. I recently covered a horrific shooting that happened in a Rio middle school. Combing existing channels about Rio de Janeiro, public safety and national news, I created a live stream of updates from major news outlets, political leaders, and community activists. It’s fascinating to see how these live Channels evolve. In this case, from the time the story broke with few confirmed facts, through the funerals of the 12 school children who were killed, to the discovery of a video the shooter recorded before he executed his plan.

What are your hours? How is the office laid out?

I get to the office by 9:30 am and leave between 7:30 and 8 pm. The Internet doesn’t close after business hours, though, so it’s not unusual that I find myself tweeking Channels that need help or building Channels around breaking news early in the mornings or on the weekends.

You told me you loved your job. Why is that?

I have been passionate about Portuguese language and Brazilian culture, ever since I studied abroad in Northern Brazil my junior year of college. To be paid to know everything that is going on in the Portuguese speaking world and curate Portuguese Twitter content to reflect that is a dream.

I also love living in New York, which, in my book, is second best to Brazil. Part of covering trends and current events in the Brazilian Twittersphere is immersing myself in all things Brazilian, even when I’m not at my desk. I go to Brazilian bars and shows, I take samba lessons, and I even celebrate the Jewish holidays with a Latin American congregation. Not only do I love being able to pursue all these extra-curriculars, but I also appreciate that my co-workers at Sulia encourage and take an active interest in my endevors.

Where has Sulia come from, and where is it headed? What role do you see yourself playing in the future?

Sulia has not always been Sulia. CEO, Jonathan Glick, started TLISTS back in 2009 as list-making tool for web publishers and Twitter clients. Lists are a way to begin organizing twitter to make it easier for users to follow topics, instead of hunting for accounts one by one. We quickly realized that lists need a filter to sift out junk and off topic tweets. So last fall, TLISTS rebranded and launched Sulia, a realtime media company, focused on filtering Twitter into compelling, high-quality content Channels. There are lots of great lists out there in the Twittersphere, and by crowdsourcing lists on topics, we create Channels, filtered streams of Twitter content from only the best-regarded experts on any given topic.

Sulia’s Channels on thousands of evergreen topics, timely events and breaking news are available on its own website. In addition, Sulia makes its Channel streams available to media companies through its API and customizes the channels to their specifications. FlipBoard,, Gannett properties and Everyday Health are some of the companies currently featuring ourChannels. We’re also working on a bunch of different consumer experiences, across platforms, in collaboration with our partners.

Sulia has already proven it can successfully adapt to the changing media landscape, so I’m confident we will be around in some form or another, for a while to come.

I am building our Portuguese language content to the point where Sulia can start working with Brazilian media groups and American media companies with Brazilian users. A little farther down the road, I see myself spending more and more time in Brazil as Sulia begins to work more closely with Brazilian media companies and eventually opening Sulia’s first foreign office in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

I have a personal goal of living in Brazil by the start of the World Cup in 2014. I’m optimistic I can achieve it with Sulia.

You can reach Becca on Twitter (@GringaInformada) or on her newly launched blog, Manhattanlandia.

2011 Quarter 1 Update [and Quarter 2 Challenges]

And poof, just like that, we’re already three months into 2011.

Each quarter, I like to take a step back and reflect on my goals for the year. In January, I started a new goal-setting experiment by seeking out twelve month-long challenges.

Three months in, so far so good. While January’s cooking challenge and February’s writing challenge both went well, I didn’t approach March with the kind of gusto I had originally intended.

For the last thirty days, I’ve been reading about and practicing Parkour, the art of getting from point A to point B, most often in an urban environment, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The challenge, when I wrote it out, was to learn Parkour. In January and February, I had specific metrics outlined for each goal. Looking back, I should have done this in March. Learn x number of moves, or put together x number of videos. Something more concrete to keep me motivated and accountable. Something more compelling than a broad idea. It’s hard to know whether or not you’ve hit a goal if you don’t have any specific milestones laid out.

Despite my lack of direction, I did learn quite a lot about the sport. I watched Banlieu 13, or District 13, a French action movie where the main character is a Parkour traceur. I scoured the Internet for tutorial sites. I even found a few meetup groups in the Boston area to join when the weather gets warmer.

As promised, I put together a short video of one of my practice sessions. Compared to people who actually know what they’re doing (and are in much better shape), I’m as amateur as they come. That said, I had fun putting this together. Shout-out to my coworker Alex for helping me film:

Since it’s the start of a new quarter, I also wanted to let you know what I’ll be working on over the next three months.

April: Bucket List Smackdown.

The Challenge: Knock three items off of my bucket list.

The Details: Of the 38 challenges currently on my bucket list, I’ve only completed one of them. I haven’t decided which ones to tackle this month, but some are significantly easier than others. I’ll try to mix it up. Any suggestions?

Get Involved: Have a life list of your own? Let me know what you’re working on. For more inspiration, check out these lists: Nate DammSean OgleHeath TulleyTyler Tervooren, Joel Runyon

May: Hustling, Hour by Hour.

The Challenge: Work 10-15 hours on a side project or business venture.

The Details: I tend to be pretty scatterbrained when it comes to business and project ideas. The purpose of this month’s challenge is to buckle down and focus on one of these ideas, putting at least ten hours into it to push it forward.

Get Involved: All of us have side projects in the closet or under the bed. What have you been putting off? Join me this month and put some time into your idea.

June: Do it Yourself.

The Challenge: Spend 5-10 hours on a DIY project.

The Details: I’ve always looked up to my mom for being so hands-on. Problem with the sink? Ten minutes of Google research and she’ll be inside the cabinet, tightening bolts with a headlamp on. You rock, mom. This month, I’ll attempt to build a solar panel. First step..locate a soldering iron.

Get Involved: For your own DIY project, check out, or to get started.

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks. See you soon.

Off Campus Ideas with Mark Sawyier

Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 9

Welcome to a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, drop me a line.

Meet Mark Sawyier, CEO of Off Campus Media. When Mark was in college, finding an apartment was more challenging than he expected. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, Mark set out to improve the apartment-hunting process by launching Moving Off Campus, a search engine for rental units located around college campuses.

Mark is a good friend of mine. We shared a couple of courses together at Washington University and both majored in International Studies. During my last semester, I was fortunate enough to work for him on a data entry project. I saw what it was like to work for a small, dynamic company. Mark may not know this, but those few months were a huge influence on me. To see a friend start a company, to see that friend hustle and land clients and make strategic changes–it was exciting stuff. I remember those days well.

Over the last three years, Mark’s company has evolved quite a bit. I’ll let him tell you more.

So, Mark, tell us about your company, Off Campus Media.

Off Campus Media has two main areas of business: website assets and client services (that also support our assets). is a website designed to help college students find apartments. The website will help over 1,000,000 college students find apartments off campus in 2011. We market the website primarily through search engine and campus marketing through our national Campus Ambassador program.

All of the services we offer our clients (campus, search engine and social media marketing) stem from our own experience and dependence on them for success. Put simply, we “eat our own dog food.” Moreover, these services exist in a constantly evolving landscape and there’s no better way to learn than managing your own asset that needs all of them.

Where did the idea come from? How did you originally get things off the ground?

As a college student, I was going through the process of trying to find an apartment off campus and found it to be an extremely challenging process. To solve the problem, I got together with a bunch of friends and launched the first version of From there, the business adapted to meet our needs (traffic growth and revenue).

How much has your business model changed from when you first launched Moving off Campus?

It’s been constantly evolving but within an expanding definition of what Off Campus Media is. This expansion has largely occurred in the services area (which are all core competencies we need to grow our websites) but even with – from membership to referral fees to finally traffic-based advertising, the revenue model has changed. I suspect it will continue to do so but the big picture has more or less remained the same.

What have been some of your biggest entrepreneurial hurdles so far?

First and foremost is building the right team. Understanding the value of experience and working with talent is something that I only came to appreciate as I continued “down the road.” Attracting talent is always one of the toughest challenges for any young company because of a lack of resources.

The lack of resources would definitely be my second hurdle. As an entrepreneur, you will likely never have a shortage of ideas, just the means to implement all of them. Managing available resources (cash and people) is crucial. For me, always keeping a 1, 3, 6 and 12-month goal and priority list top-of-mind has been very helpful combined with remembering when weighting priorities to consider which will have an immediate or short-term impact on revenue.

Finally, staying motivated. Starting any business invariably involves many ups and downs so keeping your team (and yourself) motivated can be difficult.

Anything exciting in the works?

Some of the highlights:

  • Expanding our Campus Ambassador program to over 70 campuses nationwide
  • Launching a new brand that focuses entirely on the search engine and social media marketing services we offer
  • Deepening our management team
  • Adding new features to to improve usability and increase revenue

Parkour Moves, Technical Issues and Mt. Shasta

Happy Monday, folks.

This is me jumping over some chairs a few years ago. And no, I’m not wearing any pants.

I hope your week (and month of March) is going well. Wanted to take this opportunity to update you on this month’s challenge, lay out a few mini-goals for the last week of the month and tell you about an exciting trip I recently returned from.

Parkour Theory

March, unfortunately, is not a Parkour-friendly month in Boston. I’ve spent most of my time reading about the sport/discipline/philosophy, watching movie clips, taking notes and scouting out locations, basically biding my time until the weather becomes more agreeable. At the end of the month, I will upload a short video clip that highlights what I’ve learned.

Parkour is a sport of efficiency, where traceurs navigate urban obstacles using only their bodies. Neophytes tend to focus on a particular set of moves/skills before linking them together in longer, more fluid sessions. A good resource for beginners can be found here: The Definitive Guide to Parkour for Beginners

Below are a few of the individual elements I’ve been working on:

The Precision Jump

Landing and Rolling

The Kong Vault

The Wall-Run

Care to join me? I know Josh Crocker and Joel Runyon have expressed interest. Let me know if you would like to contribute.

Technical Difficulties

Some of you have probably noticed a few issues over the last month. Unfinished posts. Delayed email updates. Blank pages and garbled text.

Here at The 9 to 5 Alternative HQ, things don’t always go as smoothly as I’d like them to. While I try hard to keep this blog nice and orderly, from time to time I let operations go a muck. Thanks for baring with me, folks!

Mt. Shasta, Avalanches and Winter Camping

A couple of weeks ago, I flew out to California with my brother to attempt a winter summit of Mt. Shasta, a 14,179 ft. volcanic peak near the Oregon border. While I’ve been fortunate enough to reach the summit twice during the summer months, I was itching for winter camping experience. My brother and I crashed with a former coworker of mine in San Francisco who joined us for the climb.

Avalanche conditions and impending 90 mph wind gusts held us to about 8,500 ft., but it was a fantastic weekend. We learned a lot about winter camping, gained mountain confidence, and I had the chance to snap a few photographs.