Thursday, July 12, 2012

Unreasonable: Week 3

So we finished up our third week, and the world is moving fast. Every day the Unreasonable Team brings in more amazing mentors than you could possibly hang out with.

Let me give you some context. If I were in Austin and I met one of these mentors for an hour-and-a-half conversation, I would likely be riding high for a month. Imagine meeting 4-6 of these guys per week.

In one week's time I met with Tom Chi (Google X Project), Neal Baer (Writer and Producer of ER) and Pascal Finette (Mozilla Labs). My head was spinning after each of those meetings (in a good way).

Pitch, Pitch & Pitch

Picture this. When we're done with this six weeks, we will have the opportunity to tell 800 people about what we do at the Macky Auditorium at CU Boulder.


GULP!

Eight hundred people. Only five minutes! I've often said that if I can spend an hour with someone, they will leave with a very clear understanding of what I do. They may even want to join the team and help out some way.

But 5 minutes? I can barely say my name in that amount of time.

I quickly learned that this is how the world works. The unknown masses, unfortunately, don't have the benefit of reading through resumes and checking references prior to listening to me. Fair enough.

We had a chance to give our 5-minute presentations to two amazing mentors - and - they gave some pretty direct feedback. But it was the most valuable feedback I had received since I've been here. A clear set of eyes (not clouded by our own kool-aid) is a great gift.

For the next four days we sat down with these two mentors - and they coached us on how to get right to the point. They showed us what mattered and what was inside baseball. Those practice sessions pretty much dominated last week.

And just the other day we had a chance to get the nerves out as six of us pitched and asked questions at Boulder's New Tech Meetup. I couldn't have been more inspired by the stories of the other five fellows that presented (ashley, paseka, tambe, cameron and lorna).

Our Inability to Predict the Future

 Last week  I wrote about a lesson I was reminded of:
Don’t calculate whether or not you think a conversation here or there can help you. It doesn’t matter.
What I meant to say was, it seems that the universe is guiding us - if we are pursuing something it agrees with. I'm more convinced of that than ever. If that is the case, it makes no sense to try and manage things and to leave a little to faith (read: this doesn't mean slack off).

A month or two ago, my team applied to an incubator program that we were certain would be a long shot.

For those that are unaware, there's a wonderful organization called Code for America. Please check them out. They are crazy focused on improving the way government works in the United States. They have a fellowship program that matches bright young designers and programmers with City Governments. And they have done some amazing projects.


But this year, they decided to take the concept a step further and started a Civic Software Accelerator Program for software companies focused in this space. We found out last week that we were one of seven companies selected to join the program (it starts next month).

We'll have a chance to work with the best-of-the-best in our space and we couldn't be more excited.

Lesson From Week Three

Trying to fix a big problem is hard. At first, people think you're a bit nuts for even trying. Then, even you think you're a bit nuts for trying. But when we put our heads down and work (and work and work and work), and have a little faith in what we're doing, people notice.

I'm reminded of an affirmation I used to tell myself when I was selling books door-to-door during college: Don't think, just work. Almost fifteen years later, it really boils down to those four words.

Don't think, just work.

(let the universe take care of the rest)

Week 1 | Week 2



Friday, July 6, 2012

VIDEO - Social Work Internship Tips: Mozart Guerrier

Internships are infamous in Social Work graduate education.

Internships are mandatory for most graduate school programs. I have an unique background with internships and social good jobs. In the last 3 years I have worked, volunteered, and interned for over 10 different social good organizations across the country, worked for HBO film makers, a workers right clinic, community organized to end sexual violence, volunteered for a literary arts organization, helped struggling families find housing, worked on grants and non-profit administration, and taught life skills to families on public assistance, etc. I've learned a lot on how to perform well in a non-profit environment and I want to share these experience with non-profit and social work students everywhere. What's most important is I've been able to maintain strong relationships with all of my past jobs, volunteer organizations, and collaborators!


Here's my 5 part video series on internships!

Mozart is the community manager for Aunt Bertha.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Utility Assistance Programs and Texas Heat!

Since I’m the fresh faced and energetic (except before 10 A.M.) intern, one of the first tasks I worked on was finding all the utility assistance programs (UAPs) in Texas (que the audible gulp). Utilities Assistance Programs are programs that are designed to help lower the price of utilities to a more manageable level for low income families. I quickly began my task of finding the best UAPs (I found 65+ energy providers throughout Texas). Providing an opportunity for families across the state of Texas to have help during these Texas summers.

I was born and raised in Austin, and I’ve learned that there are only two sure-fire ways to beat the heat: go to a body of water (a pool, a creek, or even a slip-n-slide) with a tasty beverage, or the sweet relief of air conditioning.

But for some, the second option is not reasonable due to the high cost of utilities. For some the only way they can afford relief from the heat  is with UAP programs. These programs range from subsidy programs, loan programs, and discount programs.

There was one program I found called Operation Round-Up which is designed to help families help other families pay their utility bill. The way this program works is that people donate a little extra money on their utility bill to help others. Let’s say your bill was $19.85, it would then be rounded up to $20.00 and those fifteen cents would go on to help those who need a little extra help with their bill.

There are over 250 counties in Texas and most counties have at least two or three separate programs designed to help people beat the heat. Finding these programs was a challenge for me so I imagine someone who hasn’t had the experience or the time may feel frustrated. I’m glad the programs are now 3 clicks away using Aunt Bertha!



Tommie Leon is the chief intern of technical stuff for Aunt Bertha. He's currently a senior Spanish and Latin American Studies major at American University and has a passion for equal access for all people.

Helping People Is Sexy?: Spreading Ideas That Matter In A Distracted World




"Helping People Is Sexy?!"



Seriously. Is this a PETA ad?


The Aunt Bertha pins were the idea of our founder, Erine Gray, and boy are these little critters feisty!



People love to put these pins on their lapels, jackets, and bookbags. We've given them out shamelessly to friends, family members, and supporters... hoping the idea of a sexy software company will stick

Let's be honest, People Magazine isn't exactly interested in the effectiveness of social service delivery! What is the message behind the buttons!?



Helping - Everyone needs help. There will come a time in all of our lives when we need a level of support that perhaps money, education, or even casual friendships can’t buy. Someday, we may caring for a sick child or parent. Someday we may get Cancer. As far fetched as it may sound, we may even be homelessness. Our life experiences have taught us this, which is why we’re taking a different approach. If we remember this, that someday we’re going to need help ourselves then we can be far more empathetic and do far more good. 


People - Everyone has that time of vulnerability in their life. Everyone. If you talk to someone in your life that has experienced tragedy or hard times, it’s likely they say something like: “We all have something we have to overcome someday.” It’s true. We do all have something and we try to remember this when we see others that seem to be more fortunate.


Sexy - Ahh, the word that gets everybody so worked up! Basically, people who help other people are more attractive, generous, and they also live longer. This isn't me just saying this, either, it is science!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Unreasonable: Week 2

You may have seen my post from last week. It was pretty intense, but a great start to the six-week Unreasonable Institute - which brings together 22 entrepreneurs from around the world.



The lesson from my first week was: we don’t know what hard is. As American entrepreneurs, we have adversity, but others have overcome many more obstacles. Read about my roommate Sheik and his entrepreneurial journey. You won't complain as much about how hard it is to start a business.

The second week’s schedule lightened up a bit and we were given much more time to catch up on work. I have to admit I fell way behind, and as the lead developer for our startup, that meant our release schedule was quite delayed.

Although, we managed to launch a relatively stable “full-text-search”, which allows people to type free form *exactly* what they’re looking for within a given area. This works for every zip code in the United States!

It’s experimental at this point, and we’re working hard to make it better and better over time. But for now, it has all the power of Google-based searches (it’s the same technology) and you can search for multiple words. For example, if you type in government housing in the search, you’ll see results that show listings with both government AND housing. Yes, Bertha’s pretty smart like that. But she’s not perfect, so stay tuned and we promise it’ll keep getting better as we learn more about you!


The rhythm of the house is starting to stabilize. On most days we have visitors that include experienced entrepreneurs, “impact” investors and representatives from more institutional capital partners. 

The most valuable connections are the meetings you just don’t expect to happen. I was up late one night working on our full-text-search release and it was almost one o’clock in the morning. A mentor, apparently, couldn’t sleep and sat down in the common area and we chatted for about a half-hour or so. He had several years of experience with startups, and we talked about some of our theories on being able to predict future activities based on historical data. It was an unexpected conversation and it was awesome to talk with someone that really gets the power of what we’re trying to accomplish.

That conversation triggered another one and you never know where things lead, but the real lesson is this: it doesn’t matter.

Lesson From Week Two

Be real with people. Don’t calculate whether or not you think a conversation here or there can help you. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have that kind of control. Don’t flatter yourself.

We live in a world that is so random. When I started Aunt Bertha I came from a world where I felt I could control my performance and the outcome. With hard work, I could carefully orchestrate a symphony - and my ideas would get enacted. Many times it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.

But when I learned to try and stop orchestrating - and be real - I’ve been quite surprised and amused about what has happened.

At the Unreasonable Institute we’re teamed up with all sorts of people: some are hot-shot investors. Some mentors are just starting out themselves - maybe just a few years ahead of where we are. The lesson is that when you meet people you don't know who: will be receptive, will be willing to help, or will even care enough to actually listen. So if you can’t control that, why play the game?

Don’t play the game. Be real. Trust that if you are real, things will work out.

And most certainly they always do. Stay tuned for next week’s post to see what I mean.

Week 1 | Week 3